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which rumour, in carrying it along, has exaggerated and disguised, suppies them with materials of confident assertion, and decisive judgment. From an action they presently look into the heart, and infer the motive. This supposed motive they conclude to be the ruling principle; and pronounce at once concerning the whole character.
Nothing can be more contrary both to equity and to sound reason, than this precipitate judgment. Any man who attends to what passes within himself, may easily discern what a complicated system the human character is ; and what a variety of circumstances must be taken into the account, in order to estimate it truly. No single instance of conduct whatever, is sufficient to determine it. As from one worthy action, it were credulity, not charity, to conclude a person to be free from all vice; so from one which is censurable, it is perfectly unjust to infer that the author of it is without conscience, and without merit. If we knew all the attending circumstances, it might appear in an excusable light; nay, perhaps, under a commendable form. The motives of the actor may have been entirely different from those which we ascribe to him; and where we suppose him impelled by bad design, he may have been prompted by conscience and mistaken principle. Admitting the action to have been in every view criminal, he may have been hurried into it through inad. vertency and surprise. He may have sincerely repented ; and the virtuous principle may have now regained its full vigour. Perhaps this was the corner of frailty; the quarter on which he lay open to the incursions of temptation ; while the other avenues of his heart were firmly guarded by conscience.
It is therefore evident, that no part of the government of temper deserves attention more, than to keep our minds pure from uncharitable prejudices, and open to candour and humanity in judging of others.-- The worst consequences, both to ourselves and to society, follow from the opposite spirit.
The misfortunes of men mostly chargeable on themselves.
We find man placed in a world, where he has by no means the disposal of the events that happen. Ca. lamities sometimes befall die worthiest and the best, which it is not in their power to prevent, and where nothing is left them, but to acknowledge, and to submit to the high hand of Heaven. For such visitations of trial, many good and wise reasons can be assigned, which the present subject leads me not to discuss. But though those unavoidable calamities make a part, yet they make not the chief part, of the vexations and sorrows that distress human life. A multitude of evils beset us, for the source of which we must look to another quarter. No sooner has any thing in the health, or in the circumstances of men, gone cross to their wish, than they begin to talk of the unequal distribution of the good things of this life; they envy the condition of others; they repine at their own lot, and fret against the ruler of the world.
Full of these sentiments, one man pines under a broken constitution. But let us ask him, whether he can, fairly and honestly, assign no cause for this but the unknown decree of heaven? Has he duly valued the bles. sing of health, and always observed the rules of virtue and sobriety? Has he been moderate in his life, and temperate in all his pleasures? If now he is only paying the price of his former, perhaps his forgotten indul. gences, has he any title to complain, as if he were suffering unjustly? Were we to survey the chambers of sickness and distress, we should often find them pec-. pled with the victims of intemperance and sensuality, and with the children of vicious indolence and sloth. Among the thousands who languish there, we should find the proportion of innocent sufferers to be small.
We should sce faded youth, premature old age, and the prospect of an untimely grave, to be the portion of multitudes, who, in one way or other, have brought those evils on themselves ; while yet these martyrs of vice and folly, have the assurance to arraign the hard fate of man, and to “ fret against the Lord.”
But you, perhaps, complain of hardships of another kind; of the injustice of the world ; of the poverty which you suffer, and the discouragements under which you labour ; of the crosses and disappointments of which your life has been doomed to be full.—Before you give too much scope to your discontent, let me desire you to reflect impartially upon your past train of life.' Have not sloth or pride, or ill temper, or sinful passions, misled you often from the path of sound and wise conduct? Have you not been wanting to yourselves, in improving those opportunities which Provi. dence offered you, for bettering and advancing your state? If you have chosen to indulge your humour, or your taste, in the gratification of indolence or pleasure, can you complain because others, in preference to you, have obtained those advantages which naturally belong to useful labours and honorable pursuits ? Have not the consequences of some false steps, into which your passions, or your pleasures, have betrayed you, pursued you through much of your life ; tainted, perhaps, your characters, involved you in embarrassments, or sunk you into neglect ? It is an old saying, that every man is the artificer of his own fortune in the world. It is certain, that the world seldom turns wholly against a man, unless through his own fault. “Religion is" in general,“ profitable unto all things.”. Virtue, diligence, and industry, joined with good temper and prudence, have ever been found the surest road to prosperity ; and where men fail of attaining it, their want of success is far oftener owing to their having deviated from that road, than to their having encountered insuperable bars in it. Some, by being too artful, forfeit the reputation
of probity. Some, by being too open, are accounted to fail in prudence. Others, by being fickle and changeable, are distrusted by all. The case commonly is, that men seek to ascribe their disappointments to any cause rather than to their own misconduct ; and when they can devise no other cause, they lay them to the charge of Providence. Their folly leads them into vices their vices into misfortunes; and in their misfortunes they “ murmur against Providence." They are doubly unjust towards their Creator. In their prosperity, they are apt to ascribe their success to their own diligence, rather than to his blessing: and in their adversity, they impute their distresses to his providence, not to their own misbehaviour. Whereas, the truth is the very reverse of this. “ Every good and every perfect gift cometh from above ;" and of evil and misery, man is. the author to himself.
When, from the condition of individuals, we look abroad to the public state of the world, we meet with more proofs of the truth of this assertion. We see great societies of men torn in pieces by intestine dis. sentions, tumults, and civil commotions.
We see mighty armies going forth, in formidable array, against each other, to cover the earth with blood, and to fill the air with the cries of widows and orphans. Sad evils these are, to which this miserable world is expos." ed. But are these evils, I beseech you, to be imputed to God? Was it he who sent forth slaughtering armies into the field, or who filled the peaceful city with massacres and blood ? Are these miseries any other than the bitter fruit of men's violent and disorderly passions? Are they not clearly to be traced to the ambition and vices of princes, to the quarrels of the great, and to the turbulence of the people ?-Let us lay them entirely out of the account, in thinking of Providence; and let us think only of the “ foolishness of man."
Did man controul his passions, and form his condact according to the dictates of wisdom, humanity, and virtue, the earth would no longer be desolated by cruelty; and human societies would live in order, harmony, and peace. In those scenes of mischief and violence which fill the world, let man behold, with shame, the picture of his vices, his ignorance, and folly. Let him he humbled by the morrifying view of his own perverseness ; but let not “ his heart fret against the Lord."
On disinterested friendship. I An informed that certain Greek writers (philosóphers, it seems, in the opinion of their countrymen) have advanced some very extraordinary positions relasing to friendship ; as, indeed, what subject is there, which these subtle geniuses have not tortured with their sophistry?
The authors to whoin I refer, dissuade their disciples from entering into any strong attachments, as unavoidably creating supernumerary disquietudes to those who engage in them; and, as every man has more than sufficient to call forth his solicitude, in the course of his own affairs, it is a weakness, they contend, anxiously to involve himself in the concerns of others. They recommend it also, in all connexions of this kiod, to hold the bands of union extremely loose ; so as always to have it in one's power to straiten or relax them, as circumstances and situations shall render most expedient. They add, as a capital article of their doctrine, that, “ to live exempt from cares, is an essential ingredient to constitute human happiness : but an ingredient, however, which he, who voluntarily distresses himself with care, in which he has no necessary and personal interest, must never hope to possess."
I have been told likewise, that there is another set of pretended philosophers, of the same country, whøse.