Proverbs 16:32

Portrayed with exquisite sweetness and beauty.

I. AN HONOURED AGE. The biblical pictures of the aged pious are very charming, and Polycarp, with his eighty-six years upon him, passing to another crown, that of martyrdom, is sublime; also "Paul the aged and the prisoner." The text points out what we must all recognize for an aesthetic truth, that it is the association of age with. goodness which makes it truly respectable, venerable, beautiful.

II. MORAL HEROISM. The heathen type of heroism was strength of arm - bodily strength, manly courage against an outward foe. The spiritual and the Christian type is in strength of will against evil, self mastery, self-conquest, sublime patience. Better than to be members of any knightly order, "Companions" of the Bath, or any similar society speaking of the lower and carnal virtues, to be "companions in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ." - J.

He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.
I. WHAT IS IT TO RULE THE SPIRIT? Spirit is used sometimes for the thoughts of the mind, the passions of the heart, the emotions of sense, phantoms of imagination, and illusions of concupiscence. To rule the spirit is never to suffer one's self to be prejudiced by false ideas, always to see things in their true point of view, to regulate our hatred and our love, our desires and our inactivity, exactly according to the knowledge we have obtained after mature deliberation that objects are worthy of our esteem or deserve our aversion that they are worth obtaining or proper to be neglected. Consider man —

1. In regard to his natural dispositions. Man finds himself the slave of his heart, instead of being the master of it. He finds himself indisposed to truth and virtue, and conciliatory to vice and falsehood. Who does not feel in himself and observe in others a resistance to the practice of virtue? By virtue understand an universal disposition of an intelligent soul to devote itself to order, and to regulate its conduct as order requires. To avoid vice is to desist from everything contrary to order, from slander and anger, from indolence and voluptuousness, and so on. We bring into the world propensities hostile and fatal to such obligations. Some of these are in the body, and some are in the mind. As we feel in our constitution obstacles to virtue and propensities to vice, so we perceive also inclinations to error and obstacles to truth. Every vice, every irregular passion, includes this error, that a man who gratifies his passion is happier than he who restrains and moderates it. The disposition of mind indicated by the term "ruling the spirit" supposes labour, constraint, and exercise. A man who would rule his spirit must recreate himself.

2. In regard to surrounding objects. Society is composed of many enemies, who seem to be taking pains to increase those difficulties which our natural dispositions oppose against truth and virtue. Everywhere around us are false judgments, errors, mistakes, and preju-dices — prejudices of birth, education, country, religion, friendship, trade or profession, and of fortune. What efforts must a man make to hold his soul in perpetual equilibrium, to maintain himself against so many prejudices! As the men around us fascinate us by their errors, so they decoy us into vice by their example. To resist example we must incessantly oppose those natural inclinations which urge us to imitation. To resist example we must love virtue for virtue's sake.

3. In regard to the habits which man has contracted. Most men have done more acts of vice than of virtue; consequently we contribute by our way of living to join to the depravity of nature that which comes from exercise and habit. What a task, when we endeavour to prevent the return of ideas which for many years our minds have revolved!

II. PROVE THE TRUTH OF THE STATEMENT OF THE TEXT. By one who takes a city Solomon means a man who lives upon victories and conquests — a hero in the world's sense. He that ruleth his spirit discovers more fortitude, more magnanimity, and more courage. Compare the worldly with the Christian hero in four particulars.

1. The motives which animate them.

2. The exploits they perform.

3. The enemies they attack.

4. The rewards they obtain.The enemy whom the Christian combats is his own heart; for he is required to turn his arms against himself. He must actually deny himself. Let us religiously abide by our principle. The duty of an intelligent soul is to adhere to truth, and to practise virtue. We are born with a disinclination to both. Let us not be dismayed with the greatness of the task of ruling our spirit. "Greater is He that is in us, than he that is in the world." Grace comes to the aid of nature. Prayer gains strength by exercise. The passions, after having been tyrants, become slaves in their turn. The danger and pain of battle vanish when the eyes get sight of conquest. How inconceivably beautiful is victory then!

(J. Saurin.)

Above all conquests of states and cities is the greater conquest of self. Greater is the man who conquers himself, who rules his own spirit, and brings his whole being under the supremacy of will, than he who takes a city — greater in his character, deeds, results. The outcome of a life depends on the answer to two questions — what a man thinks of himself; what he does with himself. The two closely-related and all essential conditions of genuine manhood are self-respect and self-control.

I. SELF-RESPECT involves a sense of the dignity which belongs to humanity: a sense of one's individuality, and the consequent maintenance of one's selfhood. Distinction, in such a world as this, is gained, not by following the multitude, but by standing aside in your own personality while the vulgar crowd sweep by. As a reason for conduct, "They all do it" is a cheap and silly excuse. There comes with a sense of dignity and individuality an insight into the significance of a man's life, and an overmastering thought of its measureless responsibilities, and a full impression of the sacredness of life. There is too much that is great and sacred in man's nature and destiny to permit him to misuse a life so richly endowed. Such self-respect is in no way self-conceit.

II. SELF-CONTROL, OR SELF-GOVERNMENT. If such is our being, there must be some strong power to preside over it. "I must be my own master," the self-respecting man says. Then he will want to know the scope of the government to be maintained. It must seek a man's own highest interests, the real interests of others, and the honour of God; and it must fulfil all obligations arising from this highest of relationships. This a first law: nothing deleterious to character — either of our own or that of another — shall ever be permitted. But true self-government does not stop with self-restraint. It demands the right exercise of every power to the fullest measure of ability. It involves the highest self-development, and the largest happiness to others.


1. All the higher parts of a man's being are ennobled and given their rightful sway; all the lower are rightly held in subjection. The conscience becomes supreme. All the moral powers are in full development and play. The will is chief executive, and God is an active power, a real factor in practical life. The entire man is at his best.

2. Thus is realised the proper end of all true education.

3. This quality of self-control pre-eminently prepares us for great emergencies. Self-respect is the early form in which greatness appears; it is our practical perception of the Deity in man.

"Self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control,

These three alone, lead life to sovereign power."

(C. H. Payne, D.D., LL.D.)

Important is an early discipline of the passions, and a steady attention to the government of our conduct. Such are the frailties and imperfections of man, that even his virtues are often blended with corresponding vices, and are always united with errors congenial to them. Previous to the cultivation of good dispositions is the duty of guarding against evil ones. The evil now dealt with is what self-love would be content to call a foible, or a mere natural infirmity; but religion always associates it with folly and condemns it as sin. I mean a peevish temper and an irritable disposition. Consider this —

I. AS THE SOURCE OF CONTINUAL UNHAPPINESS TO OURSELVES AND OTHERS. The ills and vexations of life are of themselves sufficiently numerous, without cherishing such dispositions in our own bosoms as are calculated to give them additional violence. The best tempers will indeed sometimes be ruffled. And the good cannot always resist the encroachments of passion. But the passionate man magnifies every trifle that thwarts him into a real evil. But no one ever harboured in his bosom the gloomy passions of anger, hatred, and revenge, without feeling a pang that corroded his own heart, while he wished to disturb the peace of others. Repeated hours of vexation and sorrow, which sprang wholly from internal disorder or irritable passions, has led some, from mere self-love, to inure their minds to discipline at a more advanced season of life. Such are the effects of an irascible temper, that the dearest blessings and the most rational satisfactions which this life can afford are often lost by it. However careful we may be in disciplining our own minds, we cannot hope to live secure against the wild and unprovoked attacks of anger, or the hourly vexations of peevishness. And those who are contented to live under the loose dominion of the passions must be in constant fear of saying or doing something today which they may be truly ashamed of to-morrow. And the passionate man may justly apprehend dreadful consequences. He is in danger of every species of injustice and every degree of guilt. The temper to evil is cherished within his own breast.

II. THE PEEVISH TEMPER IS INCOMPATIBLE WITH THAT FRAME OF MIND WHICH THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST TEACHES AND REQUIRES US TO CULTIVATE. Our Lord requires of His disciples a holy disposition, which may well be regarded as the good ground in which the seed of every virtue will grow up to perfection. And He requires of us also works of charity and neighbourly love, mutual forbearance, long-suffering, and steady perseverance in the course of every duty. The efficacy of piety and prayer will, in a great measure, be destroyed by an evil disposition. We must cultivate habits of religion as well as of virtue.

(J. Hewlett, B.D.)

The text may be resolved into this proposition — that the private rule or government over our passions is far more honourable than any other rule or dominion whatever. The passion of anger is specially mentioned in the text. The excellency of dominion over this passion appears —

1. Because it carries us to a nearer resemblance of the Divine nature than any other power or authority. The great excellency of our natures, or our likeness and conformity to God, does not consist in any one single perfection, but requires a great variety to complete it. Those are the noblest perfections that most improve and better the temper of our minds. The right temper of our minds depends on the regularity of our passions. A just government over these is therefore a much greater perfection than might and power. The great glory of God Himself is that His eternal mind is always acted by eternal reason, without passion or resentment. He delights and glories in this, that He is slow to anger.

2. Because it gives us a reputation of greater wisdom and understanding. Solomon always links together a man of temper and a man of understanding. Take one branch of understanding, that which goes by the name of prudence and discretion. Prudence, as a moral virtue, is wholly employed about the private conduct and government of our own selves. To exercise rule over others is more of an art and policy than a moral virtue. There is nothing that deserves the name of prudence but what relates to a man's self, and the private economy within himself. A wise man is the greatest self-lover, in a true sense, and prudence as well as charity begins at home. No man can be fitted to command others that never made the experiment of governing himself. The art of quieting our spirits is the noblest piece of wisdom in relation to our own selves.

3. Because it bespeaks more true courage and bravery than any other conquest. It is the true fortitude and bravery of the mind to quell those passions that are enemies to our reason. A fierce, ungovernable temper only shows the greatness of a man's passion, not the greatness of his mind. The greatness of a man's mind as much consists in the command over its passions as that of a prince in the command over his subjects. So great is the bravery of conquering one single passion, it leaves always an honourable impression of a great mind.

4. Because it affords the truest freedom and liberty. If the right notion of human liberty were an entire exemption from the will of a Superior, the advantages of liberty would lie on the side of might and power. But this account of liberty is false. By liberty we mean that inward freedom and vigour of mind that consist in the absolute command over its own acts; in the free and undisturbed exercise of its powers. This implies the free exercise of our reason, the ruling of our spirits, and the subjection of our passions. Where there is the most perfect reason, there is the most perfect liberty. It is thought by some that those have the best pretensions to liberty that are left absolutely at large, and nowise confined to the commands of reason. But that is the idea of human passions, not of human reason. Where is there any such thing as human liberty without the observance of rules and laws?

5. Because it gives us more ease and quiet. Our passions naturally break our repose and quiet. There is some trouble and difficulty in conquering a passion, but there is infinitely greater in being a slave to it. Whether we are concerned in bearing the evils or enjoying the good things of this world, we find a mighty difference in point of ease and quiet betwixt the conduct of our reason and the misgovernment of our passions. The main spring of the passion of anger is an opinion of our being slighted and despised, or a fancy of some indignity that is offered to us. Now this fancy and opinion, just like jealousy, is always tormenting. Every imaginary slight, every groundless and trifling accident, will soon be made a fresh occasion of trouble and disquiet. How much it makes for the ease and quiet of our minds to keep them within the bounds of reason and discretion! In conclusion, enforce this advice, of being "slow to anger," and of "ruling our spirits." Nothing better recommends the Christian religion than this, that it is most fitted and accommodated for the sweetening men's tempers, and for taking off the edge and keenness of their spirits. It not only provides rules, but also sufficiency of grace for carrying them out.

(George Rouse, D.D.)

The records of the past are replete with the triumphs of human genius. In all lands monuments are the marks of greatness. To be recorded in history, to be eulogised in panegyric, is the dream of this world's ambition. But what shall we say to him who has gained the mastery of himself? What Phidias shall rear for him the temple of his renown? Only God is the competent eulogist of such a man. Three things essential to self-mastery — self-knowledge, self-denial, and self-consecration. Self-control is not self-destruction. All the great appetites and passions of our natures were given for a beneficent purpose, and when gratified within the limitations of law, the gratification is as pure as a saint's prayer or an angel's song. There is no sin in temptation. The sin comes in yielding to temptation. Temptation is the evidence of virtue. Totally depraved spirits are never tempted. Self-mastery is the harmonious action of sensibilities, of all our mental appreciations, of all our physical functions, in harmony with the purpose for which they were created. There is an old saying in the Church that "vice is the excess of virtue." That which is holy in itself becomes unholy by transcending the law of limitations.

1. Each one of us must sit in judgment upon his own temperament. How shall we gain the necessary self-knowledge? Science will throw light upon your path, but you may see yourself in this precious book photographed in pen-portraiture. The Divine illumination it gives will be more than a Mentor, it will be a Divine companion suggesting thoughts, awakening desires, creating motives, exalting purposes.

2. Indispensable to self-mastery is self-denial. This is of two kinds — the refusal to do those things which are prohibited in the Divine law; the magnanimity of self-abnegation for the sake of, and service of, others. This is the higher self-denial. A man should deny himself of what is lawful to him, that he may be a benefactor of mankind.

3. Most important of all is self-consecration. Conscious weakness is more often an element of real strength and victory than conscious power, for weakness may lean on the strength of God. You will never get this self-mastery otherwise than here in the reading of the Scripture. I reject everything except the Divine Saviour, who has power to invest me with power to master every passion and every appetite, and then to refine all my sensibilities, and give tone and character to my conversation, and spirit to all my life.

(Bp. Newman, U.S.A.)

Book of Proverbs is the best of all manuals for the formation of a well-balanced mind. We go to this book, not so much for full and definite statements of the distinguishing doctrines of revealed religion, as for those wise and prudential canons whereby we may reform extravagance, prune down luxuriance, and combine the whole variety of traits and qualities into a harmonious and beautiful unity. Here in this text is described and recommended a certain kind of temper which should be possessed and cherished by the people of God.

1. DESCRIBE THIS TEMPER. It is Christian moderation. St. Paul writes, "Let your moderation be known unto all men." He who ruleth his spirit is characterised by sobriety and equanimity. He is never driven to extremes in any direction. A well-poised and symmetrical character floated, as an unattainable ideal, before the minds of the better pagan philosophers. This is the famous "temperance" of Plato and Aristotle.


1. It is opposed to the appetites and passions of the body. It is one of the effects of the apostasy, that human nature is corrupted on the physical side of it, as well as upon the mental and moral sides. The bodily appetites are very different now from what they would have been had man remained in his original and holy condition.

2. Christian sobriety and moderation meets with an obstacle in man's disordered mental nature. How lawless and ungoverned is the human imagination! It is in some respects easier to control the physical appetites than to rule an inflamed and extravagant fancy. And a man's purely intellectual conclusions and convictions may be so one-sided and extreme as to spoil his temper. Fanaticism in every age furnishes examples of this.

III. THE TRUE SOURCE OF CHRISTIAN TEMPERANCE AND MODERATION. It must have its root in love. The secret of such an even temper is charity. No man can have this large-minded, comprehensive, and blessed equilibrium who does not love God supremely, and his neighbour as himself. Our subject, therefore, teaches the necessity of the new birth. There may be outward self-control without any inward self-improvement. Without a change of heart, there is nothing but the austere and ungenial attempt of a moralist to perform a repulsive task. Love — holy and heavenly charity — must be generated, and then under its spontaneous and happy impulse, it will be comparatively easy to rectify the remaining corruption, and repress the lingering excesses and extremes of appetite and passion.

(G. T. Shedd, D.D.)

"For myself I lay no claim to any exceptional fineness of nature. But I say that, beginning life as a rough, ill-educated, impatient man, I have found my schooling in these very African experiences I have learned by actual stress of imminent danger that self-control is more indispensable than gunpowder, and that persistent self-control is impossible without real, heartfelt sympathy."

(H. M. Stanley.)

The things which cost a man the greatest effort and the hardest work may be done with no bodily exertion at all; as a man sits in his easy chair with his eyes shut. The hardest of all work is that which puts the soul upon the stretch; there is no wear like the wear of a heart and brain. The text points out to us a certain work, very difficult to do, very noble when done, which yet is done with so little outward appearance and physical effort that some might perhaps fancy that it is no work at all. Every one who has sought to believe in the Saviour, and to lead a Christian life, must have learned by experience how great a part of the work of an immortal being is mental work, is work that makes no bodily show. I am not thinking of merely intellectual effort; I am thinking of the exertion of the whole spiritual nature. Our entire spiritual life is, in one sense, a "ruling of our spirit." The idea of unseen exertions, of spiritual strivings and efforts, is one with which all believers are perfectly familiar. To rule our spirit rightly is a difficult thing, and a thing from doing which great and valuable results are to follow. This implies that within the heart of man are many unruly tendencies. There is a great deal in every human soul that needs to be kept down. If man's spirit were always ready to do right, it would need no ruling, or the ruling would be a very easy thing. But as it is, it is very difficult. What are the things about our spiritual nature that stand especially in need of ruling? There are impulses to think and feel wrong, and impulses to do wrong. The first of these takes in little impulses, which to resist is no more than matter of worldly prudence, as well as grander temptations, to resist which is of the very essence of religion. It is a noble thing to hold the tendency of anger in check, whether it manifest itself in fretfulness, or in sullenness, or in violent outbursts of passion. To give way to little spurts of petulance, or fretfulness, or general ill-temper is a symptom that something is amiss in your Christian character. The sullen humours or peevish outbursts of a professing Christian are not small matters, if they go to fix in the mind of the young a disagreeable and painful idea of what Christianity and Christian people are. Little duties and little temptations make up, for most of us, the sum of human life. Consider the tendency, in most hearts, to discontent with the allotments of God's providence; to envy and jealousy as regards those of our fellow-creatures who are more favoured and fortunate than we. We should rule our spirit so as to become reconciled to painful things, to acquiescence in mortification and disappointment when they come; and to feel rightly towards people to whom we are disposed to feel unkindly and bitterly. In all professions and occupations there is competition, and there will be temptation to envy, jealousy, and detraction, as regards a man's competitors. That ruling of thee spirit which is needful in Christianity to meet disappointment brings out the best and noblest qualities that can be found in man. Then there is the tendency to procrastination as to our spiritual interests. Many a soul has dated its ruin to yielding to an impulse that ought to have been resolutely put down, to postponing till to-morrow a work which should have been done to-day.

(A. K. H. Boyd.)

Homiletic Review.
Ruling the spirit is better than outward conquest, because —


1. Its inherent excellence. Life in a single individual endowed with intellectuality, conscience and aesthetic feeling, hope, etc., is of more value than any number or extent of soulless possessions: a single spirit outweighs the material globe.

2. It is the object of God's love. He is interested in things, but loves spirits.

3. It is immortal. Empires gone; cities desolate; all else but spirits passing away.

II. IT REQIURES MORE PERSONAL STRENGTH TO RULE ONE'S OWN SPIRIT THAN TO MAKE OUTWARD CONQUEST. The outward conquest is through the machinery of circumstance; the inner by one's own resources.

III. Self-conquest is better than secular, because it IS ACCOMPLISHED THROUGH A HIGHER PROCESS OF WARFARE, It drills not with arms, but with virtues. Its manual consists in "whatsoever things are honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report." The fight itself pays independently of the promised results. What the control of one's spirit involves.

1. The independent ordering of one's own words and actions. Few are able to determine within themselves what shall be the outcome of their lives.

2. Back of this, self-control involves not only the ordering of one's own conduct, but also the deliberate moulding of one's desires and purposes in accordance with one's best judgment. Reason must check or encourage the feelings.

3. And back of this, self-control involves the deliberate determination of one's own judgment in the light of evidence.It rigidly excludes prejudice. What helps have we for the control of our own spirits?

1. The Holy Spirit: an impartation of peace, purity, and a sound mind.

2. The sense of the presence of Christ: the influence of the knowledge that the greatest and holiest of beings is watching and encouraging us.

3. Engrossment with the great things of God: all life lifted above the plane of its own littleness; meditating the eternal, the spiritual, the mighty laws of the glorious kingdom; and thus unaffected by temporary influences, as the stars are unaffected by the winds.

4. Charity in the heart: a loving man unjostled by enmities, envies, the pinches of pride; an essential serenity.

(Homiletic Review.)

Do not people often say to us, "Conquer yourself "? Can anybody conquer himself? God can conquer him! "Better." Why is a person who conquers himself "better" than a general who takes a city?

1. He is a greater hero; he does a more difficult thing — a nobler deed. Shall I tell you why it is so difficult? Because God meant it to be difficult. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they were friends with the devil. But God said, in great mercy, "You shall not always be friends. I will put enmity between you." And when boys or girls begin to try to conquer themselves, they find the "enmity": they find what a hard thing it is to fight against their sins.

2. And the reason why it is so difficult to conquer any bad habit is because there are all sorts of powers fighting with that fault against you.

3. It is not only a braver but a happier thing to conquer one's self than to "take a city." There is happiness in one's conscience if one succeeds in conquering something that is naughty; and there is no happiness like it in the world. If you take cities it will not make you happy. When Alexander the Great took nearly all the cities in the world, he sat down crying, because he could not find more worlds to take. But if you try to do good, and gradually conquer your own besetting sin, you will feel within such a peace as no words can describe !

4. Now, there is another thing — it is not only braver and happier, but something better still — it pleases God. That must be best. Now, the reason why it pleases God so much for you to conquer your sins is because you will be growing like Jesus Christ.

(J. Vaughan, M.A.)

You remember the story of "Sindbad the Sailor": how the Old Man of the Sea, when he got Sindbad to lift him up in pity for his infirmities, sat astride upon his shoulders, clinging closely to the poor man wherever he went, compelling him to do whatever he wanted until his life became a burden to him. So the lower nature when it gets the better of the higher makes it its slave and compels it to do its bidding, until the degrading bondage becomes so irksome that one would give anything to throw it off. Now, you are all born with a sinful nature. You inherit a tendency to sin. God only can give you power to rule your spirit, and through your ruling spirit to rule your whole body and life. God only can crown the king in you again and make him master of all your unruly passions and rebellious desires. You can reign as kings over yourselves, only in subjection to Him. Now, it is to be feared that in every one's nature there is a devil's corner; that while strict in some points you are apt to be lax in others, and to compound for sins that you love by condemning sins that you do not care for. You want to be considered good, while you sacrifice a part of your nature to evil. But this is a terrible delusion. If a corner of that kind is allowed to remain waste and uncared for in your hearts it will assuredly corrupt the whole of your nature.

1. The very first thing you have to do in ruling your own spirit is to commit your spirit to God. That is what David did; that is what Jesus did. You are apt to think that you commit your spirit to God only when you die and give up the breath of your body. But you can do that now in your youth, in your health and strength. You will have on your side the strength of Omnipotence. God will help you to subdue every rebellious attempt your spirit makes to escape from its blessed yoke. You can defy the devil in the name of the righteous Lord who claims you. I remember when sailing one day in a steamer, the captain's son, a bright little fellow of five or six years of age, was on board and wanted to take the place of the man at the helm. The good-natured steersman, to humour him, put the spoke of the wheel into his little hand, which was hardly able to grasp it. But he was careful at the same time to put his own big hand on the child's tiny fingers, and took a firm hold and moved the wheel in the right direction. And the boy was in high glee, imagining that he himself was steering the huge steamer. Now, so God deals with you. He puts His almighty hand on your feeble hand when you are ruling your own spirit, and makes His strength perfect in your weakness.

2. Now, I want you to rule your spirit, not under the influence of fear, but under the influence of love. He who asks you to do this, who gives you strength to do it, rules you in love.

3. And is it not a happy thing to rule your own spirit under God? You have seen a piece of complicated machinery with all the cog-wheels fitting into each other, and all set going and controlled by one central force. How smoothly the machine worked toward the one good result! In a model city where every one obeyed the governor and did his own work, and the good of each was the good of all, how pleasant would life be! And so when the spirit in each one of you is ruled by the love of God, by the supreme desire to do His will, your condition is a truly happy one. You are so made that all your faculties and powers, when working in their just relations, make up the most complete unity in the universe, the image of the very unity of God. Better far is it to rule your spirit and produce this blessed unity than to conquer the grandest city in the world. The conqueror of a city overcomes it by force and rules it by fear. He enters it against the wish of its inhabitants, and there is disorder and bloodshed, fire and sword; and if he succeeds in producing order it is all on the surface — beneath, in the hearts of the people, there are hatred and the desire for revenge. But if you rule your own spirit, then all your powers fall into their right order, and all that is within you willingly obeys the control of the spirit.

(H. Macmillan, D.D.)

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