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"Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and evil speaking
be put away from you, with all malice."—Ephesians 4:31 .
THIS list of dis-graces seems to have a connection or relationship, the one to the other, and usually, it is presumed, the relationship is inbred. The Apostle speaks in one place of a danger of having a root of bitterness spring up, and thereby many being defiled. In this case he seems to indicate how defilement grows from such a root of bitterness, and what would be the evil results from permitting such a root to grow. Bitterness is frequently represented by brackish water—not pure water, but alkaline, unpalatable. In the text under consideration it seems to represent first the heart condition. And so, if the fountain become defiled or impure, the thoughts, words and actions will be impure—brackish.
The thought seems to be to take heed to our hearts—not to have an ungenerous sentiment. And if such intrude, it must be immediately repulsed, just as we would resist anything contagious. And so we must resist everything of bitterness of spirit, not only anger toward a person, but even a disposition to criticize, or find fault with anything he would do. This is the place to watch our hearts. As soon as the bitter spirit has found place, all the faults of that person will be exaggerated and all his good qualities minimized. Then would come an angry feeling, a bitter spirit of opposition. The angry feeling persisted in would immediately lead to hatred for the individual.
The person would not merely feel indignant, but the feeling would grow to a positive dislike. It is the growing of a feeling of bitterness which will develop into a plant which will do much harm. Next would come the disposition to speak evil of that person. Naturally that which people do not love is that which they hate. And then comes the condition of malice, a resentful feeling— [R4760 : page 45] not only willingness to speak evil, but a willingness to do them some injury, and to feel glad if some injury befalls them. And thus the evil goes on.
The influence of all this is to stifle the New Creature, to mortify the New Creature. As every victory of the spirit over the flesh is a victory of the New Creature over the old creature, so any victory of the flesh over the spirit is a victory of the old creature over the New Creature.
To get a proper view of ourselves seems to be a most necessary thing to any reformation movement in connection with ourselves. It was not until we saw ourselves without strength that we appreciated the great offer of God to draw us to himself, reconciling us through the merit of his Son. The Scriptures are a mirror. So if we are living in the right attitude it will be proper to take a look into the mirror every day and see what manner of persons we are. Our Lord's prayer is, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."
We are to be in a right attitude of mind. The very suggestion, Is there anyone against whom I have trespassed, or who has trespassed against me, ought to be enough, so that if we find any trace of unforgiveness we should eradicate it, put it away. The roots of bitterness would not only be put away, but hindered, if the very first sign of such a feeling were heeded and dealt with. If any one found that he had gotten into such a condition of heart, he should think, How does the Lord view such a condition; how impossible it would be for him to have love for one who has such a disposition? Anyone who really loves God would be so shocked at the picture he would thus get in the looking-glass of God's Word that he would immediately want to ask forgiveness and go forthwith to the one he had wronged. If the wrong had proceeded to anger, evil-speaking, then this should all be overcome, nullified. If the matter had gone so far, and no one else knew it, then this would be the end of the matter.
But since anger and bitterness are entirely out of order, the flesh should be humiliated in some manner. For instance, on going to the person one had been acting bitterly against the latter should be told that he had thought bitterly of him, but that he should have left the matter in God's hand. It is our belief that some make a mistake in not giving themselves a correction in righteousness. "Well," they may say, "I will stop it and not do this thing again." When that is done, it is our opinion that the flesh is being fostered and encouraged. A special blessing comes to those who chasten themselves, judge themselves. As the Apostle says, "If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged of the Lord."—I Cor. 11:31.
In this connection we are reminded of the story that is told of a man who was driving along the road and saw a beggar and then said, "I will give this man twenty-five cents; it is Christmas morning." Then he thought, "I won't; I will give him a penny." As this thought came he thought how mean he was. He thought that he should have given him the quarter, should have allowed the generous impulse to have sway. Then he said to himself, "Give that man a dollar—make it four-fold." So he gave him a dollar, and was out seventy-five cents.
Using that same principle or illustration, we believe that it is most advisable for the Lord's people to judge themselves—not after the manner of our Catholic friends, who would say, "Now go and pray so many hours," or, "Wear something uncomfortable," or "Take a whip and lash your back." But it would be wise to judge ourselves in a more rational way. A certain kind of penance tends to produce fruit of an acceptable kind.