Alexander the Great was one of the few men of history who deserved the adjective "great." His biographer describes him as by nature fervently passionate and impulsive. He was strong in his loves and his loyalties; and, although hatred was foreign to his magnanimous nature, he was often swept by storms of anger. Yet by a magnificent display of will power he held the reins upon his passions. In the midst of the sensuous temptations of the Asiatic courts, where his army passed in conquest, he seems to have held himself in complete mastery and kept himself unspotted from the world.
But to this long chapter of noble self-control there is one sad and tragic exception. At a banquet given for Dionysius a song was sung comparing Alexander with Castor and Pollux, to his advantage. Then someone disparaged the old Macedonian officers who had fought under Alexander's father, Philip. This aroused one of Alexander's generals, Clitus, who commanded the famous Hetairoi. Clitus reminded Alexander how he had saved his life in one of the recent battles, and said Alexander had bought his fame with the blood of the Macedonian officers. He told Alexander to associate with his lickspittle Persians, who bowed the knee to him and told him only what he wanted to hear. Alexander, stung by this remark of Clitus, reached for his sword, which a discreet officer had hidden away. Then in his anger, falling—as men always do at such a time—into his native idiom, the Macedonian, he ordered die trumpeter to sound the call, and when he delayed, smote him with his fist.
Before he could inflict hurt upon Clitus, the friends of that half-intoxicated officer hurried him out of the banqueting hall. But he soon entered by another door, where he stood under the curtains quoting lines from a Greek poet to the disparagement of Alexander's conquests. "Quick as a flash, Alexander snatched a spear from the hand of the guard and hurled it at the figure by a raised curtain. The deed was done. The friend of his childhood, his life companion and rescuer, lay gasping out his life."
The passion of remorse followed quickly upon the fury of his anger. Alexander himself drew out the fatal spear, and but for his officers he would have fallen upon it himself. All through the night, and for several days, he lay writhing in his remorse, piteously calling Clitus by name and chiding himself as the murderer of his friend. Alexander the Great conquered the world, but he could not conquer himself. In his conquests he stormed and took almost every great city of the ancient world. Yet he was not able to subdue that more important city, to conquer which is the greatest of all achievements—the city and citadel of his own spirit.
Jonah is an example of how the character of a good and a great man can be marred by anger, and his usefulness impaired. His story suggests the folly, the danger, and the injury of anger. Unfortunately, when a man feels anger and gives unrestrained expression to it, as Jonah did, his fellowman is not as patient and long suffering as God was and does not always return the soft answer which God returned to the angry and petulant Jonah. Anger is one of the most common sins, yet one of the most dangerous and injurious to the peace and well-being of man. More than any other sin, it blasts the flower of friendship, turns men out of Eden, destroys peace and concord in the home, incites to crime and violence, and turns love and affection into hatred.
Another great man injured by anger was Moses. When the people murmured and asked for water, Moses was commanded to strike the rock at Horeb. Out of all patience with the people and their waywardness, Moses struck the rock twice, as if the rock had been the head of the people, crying out as he did so, "Hear, ye rebels!" This burst of rage cost Moses the Promised Land, because it was for this transgression that Moses —in spite of his grand service and his pathetic pleading at the end of Israel's long wandering—was not permitted to go into the land of Canaan. That was not the first nor the last time that a land of promise and of happiness was lost through anger. Moses was not as patient as God.
Anger weakens a man. It puts him at a disadvantage in every undertaking in life. When Sinbad and his sailors landed on one of their tropical islands, they saw high up in the trees coconuts which could quench their thirst and satisfy their hunger. The coconuts were far above the reach of Sinbad and the sailors, but in the branches of the trees were the chattering apes. Sinbad and his men began to throw stones and sticks up at the apes. This enraged the monkeys and they began to seize the coconuts and hurl them down at the men on the ground. That was just what Sinbad and his men wanted. They got the apes angry so that the apes would gather their food for them. That is a good illustration of how by indulgence in anger we play into the hands of our foes.
When Lee's army escaped across the Potomac into Virginia after the defeat at Gettysburg, Lincoln was greatly distressed; and in his disappointment and anger he wrote a sharp letter to the commander of the Union army, General Meade. But after the letter had been written he decided not to send it. That letter contains many true sentiments, and to us at this distance it does seem that Meade should never have permitted Lee to get safely over the river into Virginia. But lest in the intensity of his feeling, and in his mortification, he should wound or do an injustice to a faithful general, Lincoln did not send the letter. Some of the best letters ever written are those which were never sent.
What would one not give to have seen Elijah confronting Ahab after the murder of Naboth, and telling him that "in the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood" (I Kings 21:19)? What would one not give to have seen John the Baptist stand before Herod and Herodias and denounce them for their adulterous union? What would one not give to have seen Paul in the Sanhedrin, when the high priest commanded one to smite Paul, and Paul turned on the high priest like a flame, exclaiming, "God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: and sittest thou to judge me according to the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?" (Acts 23:3). What would one not give to have seen Ambrose forbidding the bloodstained Emperor Theodosius from entering his church at Milan? Or John Knox, almost too ill to stand, when the news came of the massacre of St. Bartholemew's Day in Paris, mounting the pulpit in St. Giles in Edinburgh to express the righteous indignation and horror of the Protestant world, commanding the French ambassador to "tell his master, that murderer, the King of France, that God's vengeance shall not depart from him nor from his house"?
These are magnificent exhibitions of righteous anger and indignation.
"A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger." (Prov. 15:1.) It is said that when an elephant is enraged nothing calms him so well as a little lamb, and it is a well-known fact that Andrew Jackson in the battle of New Orleans stopped the cannon balls of the British artillery with bales of cotton.
We read that in a court, presided over by Judge Ivan Lee Holt, Jr., a twenty-seven-year-old woman drew a three year prison sentence for a fatal shooting which followed an argument over ownership of a nickel.
Charlie and Nancy had quarreled. After their supper Mother tried to re-establish friendly relations. She told them of the Bible verse, "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath."
"Now, Charlie," she pleaded, "are you going to let the sun go down on your wrath?"
Charlie squirmed a little. Then: "Well, how can I stop it?"
When a husband loses his temper he usually finds his wife's.
It is easy enough to restrain our wrath when the other fellow is the bigger.