Page images
PDF
EPUB

we may hear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea,

that thou should say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it."

It is, moreover, a precept particularly fitted for practice; as it involves in the very notion of it a motive stirring us up to do what it enjoins. Other moral maxims propose

naked truths to the understanding, which operate often but faintly and slowly on the will and passions, the two active principles of the mind of man: but it is the peculiar character of this that it addresseth itself equally to all these powers; imparts both light and heat to us; and at the same time that it informs us certainly and clearly what we are to do, excites us also in the most tender and moving manner to the performance of it. We can often see our neighbour's misfortune, without a sensible degree of concern; which yet we cannot forbear expressing, when we have once made his condition our own, and determined the measure of our obligation towards him, by what we ourselves should, in such a case, expect from him ; our duty grows immediately our interest and pleasure, by means of this powerful principle : the seat of which is, in truth, not more in the brain, than in the heart of man: it appeals to our very senses ; and exerts its secret force in so prevailing a way, that it is even felt, as well as understood by us.

The last recommendation of this rule I shall mention, is its vast and comprehensive influence ; for it extends to all ranks and conditions of men, and to all kinds of action and intercourse between them ; to matters of charity, generosity, and civility, as well as justice; to negative no less than positive duties. The ruler and the ruled are alike subject to it; public communities can no more exempt themselves from its obligation than private persons : “ All persons must fall down before it, all nations must do it service." And with respect to this extent of it, it is that our blessed Lord pronounces it in the text to be 66 the law and the prophets.” His meaning is, that whatever rules of the second table are delivered in the law of Moses, or in the larger comments and explanations of that law made by the other writers of the Old Testament (here and elsewhere styled the prophets,) they are all virtually comprised in this one short significant saying, “ Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them.”

III.-On Benevolence and Charity. FORM as amiable sentiments as you can, of nations, communities of men, and individuals. If they are true, you do them only justice ; if false, though your opinion does not alter their nature and make them lovely, you yourself are more lovely for entertaining such sentiments. When you feel the bright warmth of a temper thoroughly good in your own breast, you will see something good in every one about you. It is a mark of littleness of spirit to confine yourself to some minute part of a man's character: a man on generous, open, extended views, will grasp the whole of it'; without which he cannot pass a right judgment on any part. He will not arraign a man's general conduct for two or three particular actions; as knowing that man is a changeable creature, and will not cease to be so, till he is united to that Being, who is “ the same yesterday, to-day, and forever." He strives to outdo his friends in good offices, and overcomes his enemies by them. He thinks he then receives the greatest injury, when he returns and revenges one : for then he is 6 overcome of evil." Is the person young who has injured him? he will reflect that inexperience of the world, and a warmth of constitution, may betray his unpractised years into several inadvertencies, which a more advanced

age,

his own good sense, and the advice of a judicious friend, will correct and rectify. Is he old ? the infirmities of age and want of health may have set an edge upon his spirits, and made him “speak unadvisedly with his lips.” Is he weak and ignorant? he considers that it is a duty incumbent upon the wise to bear with those that are not so : 6 Ye suffer fools gladly,” says St. Paul, “ seeing ye yourselves are wise." In short, he judges of himself, as far as he can, with the strict rigour of justice ; but of others, with the softenings of humanity.

From charitable and benevolent thoughts, the transition is unavoidable to charitable actions. For wherever there is an inexhaustible fund of goodness at the heart, it will, under all the disadvantages of circumstances, exert itself in acts of substantial kindness. He that is substantially good, will be doing good. The man that has a hearty determinate will to be charitable, will seldom put men off with the mere will for the deed. For a sincere desire to do good, implies some uneasiness till the thing be done : and uneasiness sets the mind at work, and puts it upon the stretch to find out a

thousand ways and means of obliging, which will ever escape the unconcerned, the indifferent, and the unfeeling.

The most proper objects of your bounty are the necessitous. Give the same sum of money, which you

bestow on a person in tolerable circumstances, to one in extreme poverty; and observe what a wide disproportion of happiness is produced. In the latter case, it is like giving a cordial to a fainting person; in the former, it is like giving wine to him who has already quenched his thirst.-“ Mercy is seasonable in time of affliction, like clouds of rain in time of drought."

And among the variety of necessitous objects, none have a better title to our compassion, than those, who, after having tasted the sweets of plenty, are, by some undeserved calamity, obliged, without some charitable relief, to drag out the remainder of life in misery and wo: who little thought they should ask their daily bread of any but of God; who, after a life led in affluence, “cannot dig, and are ashamed to beg." And they are to be relieved in such an endearing manner, with such a beauty of holiness, that, at the same time that their wants are supplied, their confu-. sion of face may be prevented.

There is not an instance of this kind in history so affecting, as that beautiful one of Boaz to Ruth. He knew her family, and how she was reduced to the lowest ebb: when, therefore, she begged leave to glean in his fields, he ordered his reapers to let fall several handfuls, with a seeming carelessness, but really with a set design, that she might gather them up without being ashamed. Thus did he form an artful scheme, that he might give, without the vanity and ostentation of giving; and she 'receive, without the shame and confusion of making acknowledgments.-Take the history in the words of scripture, as it is recorded in the book of Ruth. 56 And when she was risen up to glean, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, Let her glean even among the sheaves, and rebuke her not; and let fall also some of the handfuls on purpose, and leave them that she may glean them, and reproach her not.” This was not only doing a good action ; it was doing it likewise with a good grace.

It is not enough we do no harm, that we be negatively good; we must do good, positive good, if we would “enter into life.” When it would have been as good for the world, if such a man had never lived; it would perhaps have been

better for him, " if he had never been born."

A scanty fortune may limit your beneficence, and confine it chiefly to the circle of your domestics, relations, and neighbours; but let your benevolence extend as far as thought can travel, to the utmost bounds of the world : just as it may be only in your power to beautify the spot of ground that lies near and close to you; but you could wish, that, as far as your eye can reach, the whole prospect before you were cheerful, every thing disagreeable were removed, and every thing beautiful made more so.

1V-On Happiness. THE great pursuit of man is after happiness : it is the first and strongest desire of his nature ;-in every stage of his life he searches for it as for bid treasure ;-courts it under a thousand different shapes ;-and, though perpetually disappointed-still persists-runs after and inquires for it afresh-asks every passenger who comes in his way, “Who. will show him any good ??? —Who will assist him in the attainment of it, or direct him to the discovery of this great end of all his wishes ?

He is told by one, to search for it among the more gay and youthful pleasures of life; in scenes of mirth and sprightliness, where happiness ever presides, and is ever to be known by the joy and laughter which he will see at once painted in her looks. ,

A second, with a graver aspect, points out to him the costly dwellings which pride and extravagance have eréct

ed ;-tells the inquirer that the object he is in search of . inhabits there ;—that happiness lives only in company with

the great, in the midst of much pomp and outward state. That he will easily find her out by the coat of many colours she has on, and the great luxury and expense of equipage and furniture with which she always sits surrounded.

The miser wonders how any one would mislead and wil. fully put him upon so wrong a scent-convinces him that happiness and extravagance never inhabited under the same roof; that, if he would not be disappointed in his search, he must look into the plain and thrifty dwelling of the prudent man, who knows and understands the worth of money, and cautiously lays it up against an evil hour: that it is not the prostitution of wealth upon the passions, or the parting with it at all, that constitutes happiness—but that it is the keeping it together, and the having and holding it fast to

Y

him and his heirs for ever, which are the chief attributes that form this great idol of human worship, to which so much incense is offered up every day.

The epicure, though he easily rectifies so gross a mistake, yet, at the same time, he plunges him, if possible, into a greater: for, hearing the object of his pursuit to be happiness, and knowing of no other happiness than what is seated immediately in his senses--he sends the inquirer there;-tells him it is in vain to search elsewhere for it, tban where nature herself has placed it--in the indulgence and gratification of the appetites, which are given us for that end : and in a word—if he will not take his opinion in the matter-he may trust the word of a much wiser man, who has assured us—that there is nothing better in this world, than that a man should eat and drink, and rejoice in his works, and make his soul enjoy good in his labour—for that is his portion.

To rescue him from this brutal experiment-ambition takes him by the hand and carries him into the worldshows him all the kingdoms of the earth and the glory of them-points out the many ways of advancing his fortune and raising himself to honour,-lays before his eyes all the charms and bewitching temptations of power, and asks if there be any happiness in this world like that of being caressed, courted, fattered, and followed ?

To close all, the philosopher meets him bustling in the full career of his pursuit-stops him-tells him, if he is in search of happiness, he is gone far out of his way:—That this deity has long been banished from noise and tumults, where there was no rest found for her, and was fled into solitude far from all commerce of the world; and, in a word, if he would find her, he must leave this busy and intriguing scene,

and

go back to that peaceful scene of retirement and books from which he first set out.

In this circle, too often does a man run, tries all experiments, and generally sits down wearied and dissatisfied with them all at last—in utter despair, of ever accomplishing what he wants—not knowing what to trust to, after so many disappointments—or where to lay the fault, whether in the incapacity of his own nature, or the insufficiency of the enjoyments themselves.

In this uncertain and perplexed state—without knowing which

way to turn or where to betake ourselves for refuge --so often abused and deceived by the many who pretend

« PreviousContinue »