Proverbs 16:32 says, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city” (NASB). Among other things, this verse teaches the value and benefit of self-control. Or, as W. G. T. Shedd preached, this is a “certain kind of temper which should be possessed and cherished by the people of God…in a word, Christian moderation.” In discussing this topic, Shedd noted the source of Christian moderation: love. Note how he talks about the “power of a new affection” and “something strangely powerful and transforming in love.”
Such a spirit [of moderation] as we have been speaking of must have its root in love. The secret of such an even temper is charity; the “charity that suffereth long and is kind, that vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, thinketh no evil.” No man can have this large-minded, comprehensive, and unshaken equilibrium, who does not love God supremely and his neighbor as himself.
We have already noticed that the wise pagan thinkers had an idea of some such well-balanced temper and spirit. They were painfully conscious of the passionateness of the human soul, and its inclination to rush into extremes—extremes of physical license, and extremes of intellectual license. But they knew no method of curing the evil, and they never cured it. And there was a good reason. They could not generate holy love in their own hearts, or in the hearts of others. The human heart is carnal, and thereby at enmity with God; it is selfish, and thereby at enmity with man.
So long as this is the character of man, it is impossible for him to be “slow to anger” and to “rule his spirit.” The physical appetite will be constantly breaking over its proper limits, the imagination will be lawless, and the understanding proud and opinionated. But the instant the enmity ceases and the charity begins, the selfish passionateness and license disappear. You cannot rule your impulsive spirit, you cannot curb and control your lawless appetites, by a mere volition. You cannot bring all your mental and physical powers into equilibrium by a dead lift. The means is not adequate to the end.
Nothing but the power of a new affection; nothing but the love of God shed abroad in your heart, and the love of Christ sweetly swaying and constraining you, can permanently and perfectly reduce all the restlessness and recklessness of your nature to order and harmony. And this can do it. There is something strangely powerful and transforming in love. It is not limited in its influence to any one part of the soul, but it penetrates and pervades the whole of it, as quicksilver penetrates the pores of gold. A conception is confined to the understanding; a volition stops with the will; but an affection like heavenly charity diffuses itself through the entire man. Head and heart, reason, will, and imagination, are all modified by it.
The revolutionizing effect of this feeling within the sphere of human relations is well understood. …When this [love] springs up in the soul, all the thoughts, all the purposes, all the passions, and all the faculties of the soul are changed by it. And particularly is its influence seen in rectifying the disorder and lawlessness of the soul. Heavenly charity cannot be resisted. Pride melts away under its warm breath; selfishness disappears under its glowing influence; anger cannot stand before its gentle force. Whatever be the form of sin that offers resistance, it inevitably yields before “love unfeigned; love out of a pure heart.” “Charity never faileth,” says the Apostle PaulWilliam G. T. Shedd, Sermons to the Spiritual Man (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1884), 29–31.
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015