There is something telling about the insights from earlier centuries written by thoughtful people who were not so nearly as distracted as we are by our pace of life. Such are the reflections of Hannah More (1745 – 1833): poet, playwright, abolitionist, and philanthropist.
Jérémie Kroubo notes that “she was an unusual woman: she remained unmarried and very publicly voiced her opinions. Throughout her life, two main political issues were embodied in her work: anti-slavery and the promotion of education for the poor and women.”
Clearly, she was of a vastly different era – so that Pickersgill’s painting looks nearly comical to our sensibilities. But she was no laughing matter; in her book, “Religion of the Heart,” she distilled the importance of “cultivating the inferior duties.” Yes, you read that right: inferior – not interior. Inferior – as in duties that get so little attention, but that are instrumental to character development.
“Irritability is [one] of the minor miseries,” she continues:
… Life itself, though sufficiently unhappy, cannot devise misfortunes as often as the irritable person can supply impatience… belligerence is the common resource of those whose knowledge is small, and whose arguments are weak. Anger is the common refuge of insignificance. People who feel their character to be slight, hope to give it weight by inflation. But the blown balloon at its fullest distension is still empty.
Would we apply this observation to our daily conflicts; would we recognize ourselves in them? Impatience has a way of creeping toward belligerence, but surely the big conflicts of our day have a larger source, don’t they? More asks:
Do small faults, continually repeated, always retain their original weakness? Is a bad temper which is never repressed not worse after years of indulgence than when we first gave reins to it?
More has a way of connecting the dots of early “small faults” that emerge in worse forms as they are let go – let to grow and deform into greater disintegrations. She concludes by exhorting us to ponder:
It is an awesome consideration… whether or not small faults willfully persisted in, may in time not only dim the light of conscience, but extinguish the spirit of grace. Will indulgence in small faults ultimately dissolve all power of resistance against great evils?
More died the same year that the Slavery Abolition Act (for which she worked to become law) was enacted in the British Empire. It was a time of capitalism in early mutation (the industrial revolution; sic), of trading slaves like any other commodity, and of battles & wars that never seemed to settle anything. It was a time like ours.
What willpower do we yet possess to resist the persistence of small irritabilities that extinguish the spirit of grace. What indulgences have dulled our senses so as to erode our powers of resistance against great evils?
I have taken a few attempts to speak around grace as if it were a great and vast territory. I suppose I can talk about it as a concept, or as a thing, but it would continually miss the mark of the source and destination of Grace – the person of Jesus Christ. The Letter to the Romans has the most to say about Grace in the New Testament; and that is because is has a lot to say about Jesus – not just as an example, but as the fountain of grace to reconcile us to the One who made us for Himself, and to inspire us to be gracious with others & with ourselves.
So, while “life… cannot devise misfortunes as often as the irritable person can supply impatience,” we can find the grace to live through irritabilities most beautifully articulated in relationship with Jesus (Romans 5:1-11):
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
My invitation to you is not to a less indulgent life, or to a less willful life; nor to a more tempered life, or even to more of a moral life; it is to the mystery of Jesus Himself. Welcome to His world!
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