Page images
[blocks in formation]

He, that ruleth his spirit, is better than he, that taketh

a city.

T E RÉ we to judge of these words by the first im

V pressions they inake on the mind, we should place them among such hyperbolical propositions as imagination forms to colour and exceed truth. The mind on some occasions is so struck as to magnify the object in contemplation. The more susceptible people are of lively impressions, the more subject they are to declaration and hyperbole. We find these maxims sometimes necessary in explaining the sacred authors. Were we to adhere scrupulously to their words, we should often mistake their meaning, and extend their thoughts beyond due bounds. The people of the east seldom express themselves with precision. A cloud inter- ' cepting a few rays of light is the sun darkened: A meteor in the air is the powers of the heavens shaken : Jonah in the belly of the fish is a man down at the bottom of the mountains : thunder is the voice of Jehovah, powerful and full of majesty, dividing flames of fire, breaking cedars of Lebanon, muking Syrians skip, and stripping forests bare: a swarm of insects is a nation set in battle array, marching evcry one on his ways, not breaking their ranks, besieging a city, having the teeth of a lion, and the cheek teeth of a great lion, Joel i. 6. and ji. 7. 9.,

If we be ever authorized to solve a difficult text by examining the licence of hyperbolical style: if ever it be necessary to reduce hyperbole to precision, is it not so now in explains ing the text before us, He, that ruleth his spirit, is better


than he, that taketh a city? What justness can there be in comparing a man, who by reflection corrects his passions, with an hero, who, in vịrtue of concerted plans, great fatigues, spending days and nights on horseback, surmounting difficulties, enduring heats and colds, braving a variety of dangers, at last arrives, by marching through a shower of shot darkening the air, to cut through a squadron, to scale a wall, and to hoist his flag in' a conquered city?

But however júst this commentary may appear, you will make no use of it here, unless you place christianity in the exercise of easy virtues, and after the example of most men accommodate religion to your passions instead of reforining your passions by religion. - Endeavour to form principles, resist fashion and custom, eradicate prejudice, undertake the conquest of yourself, carry fire and sword into the most sensible part of your soul, enter the lists with your darling sid, mortify your members which are upon earth, rise above flesh and blood, nature and self-love, and, to say all in one word, endeavour to gule your spirit; and you will find, that Saloman hath rigorously observed the laws of precision, that he hath spoken the language of logic and not of oratory, and that there is not a shadow of hyperbole, or exaggeration in this proposition, He, that ruleth his spirit, is better than he, that taketh a city. . · But to what period shall we refer the explication of the text? We will make meditation supply the place of experience, and we will establish a truth, which the greatest part of you have not experienced, and which perhaps you never will experience. This is the design of this discourse. Our subject is true beroism, the real hero.

I enter into the matter. The word heroism is borrowed of the heathens. They called those men heroes, whom a remainder of inodesty and religion prevented their putting into the number of their gods, but who for the glory of their exploits were too great to be enrolled among mere men Let us purify this idea. The man, of whom Solomon speaks, he who ruleth his spirit, ought not to be confounded with the rest of mankind; he is a man transformed by grace, one wlio, to use the language of seripture, is a parlaker of the divine nature. We are going to speak of this man, and we will first describe him, and next set forth his magnanimity, or, to keep to the text, we will first explain what it is to rule the spirit, and, secondly, we will prove that le, that ruleth his spirit, is better than he, that taketh a city. If we proceed further, it will only be to add a few reflections tending to convice you, that you are all called to heroism; that there is nọ middle way in religions; that you must of necessity either bear the shame and infamy of being mean and dastardly souls, or be crowned with clue glory of heroes.


bjectsge wes and views

I. Let os first explain the words of the text, to rule the spirit. Few words are more equivocal in the sacred language than this which our interpreters have rendered spirit.

is put in different places for the thoughts of the mind, the passions of the heart, the emotions of sense, phantoms of imagination, and illusions of concupiscence. We will not trouble you with grammatical dissertations. In our idióm, to rule the spirit, (and this is precisely the idea of Solomon) to rule the spirit is never to suffer ones-self to be prejudiced by false ideas, always to see things in their true point of view, to regulare our hatred and our love, our desires and our inac tivity, 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.

But, as this manner of speaking, to rule the spirit, supposes exercise, pains, labours, and resistance, we ought not to confine ourselves to the general idea which we have given. We consider man in three points of light; in regard to his natural dispositions ; in regard to the objects thar surround him ; and in regard to the habits which he hath contracted.

1. Consider the natural dispositions of inan. Man, as soon as he is in the world, finds himself the slave of his heart, instead of being master of it. I mean, that instead of a na tural facility to admit only what is true, and to love only what is amiable, he feels I know not what interior power, which disposes him to truth and virtue, and conciliates him to vice and falsehood. i

I am not going to agitate the famous question of frec-will, nor to enter the lists with those, who are noted in the church for the heresy of denying the doctrine of human depravity; nor will I repeat all the arguments good and bad, which are alleged against it. If their be a subject, in which we ought to have no implicit faith, either in those who deniy, or in those who affirm; if there be a subject, in the discussion of which they who embrace the side of error advance truth, and they who embrace the side of truth advance falsehoods, this is certainly the subject. But we will not litigate this doctrine.. VOL. IV. Dd


soon as bf being amit only ik

We will allège here only one proof of our natural depravitys that shall be taken from experience, and, for evidence of this fatal truth, we refer each of you to his own feelings. - Is virtue to be practised? Who does not feel, as soon as he is capable of observing, an inward power of resistance? By virtue, here I understand an universal disposition of an intelligent soul to devote itself to order, and to regulate its conduct as order requires. Order demands that, when I suffer, I should şubmit myself to the mighty hand of God, which afflicts me. When I am in prosperity, order requires me to acknowledge the bounty of my benefactor. If I possess talents superior to those of my neighbour, order requires me to use them for the glory of 'him from whom I received them. If I ain obliged to acknowledge, that my neighbour hath a richer endowment than I; order requires me to acquiesce with submission, and to acknowledge with humility this difference of endowment : should I revolt with insolence, or dispute through jealousy or self-love, I should act disorderly. . What I affirm of virtue, that it is a general disposition, that I affirm also in regard to an indisposition to-sin. To avoid vice is to desist alike from every thing contrary to of: der, from slander and anger, from indolence and voluptuousness, and so on.

He, who forms such ideas of the obligations of men, wil! have too many reasons to acknowledge, by his own inward feelings and experience, that we bring into the world with us propensities hostile and fatal to such obligations. Some of these are in the body; others in the mind.

Some are in the body. Who is there, that finds in his Senses that suppleness and readiness of compliance with a vo lition, which is itself directed by laws of order? Who does not feel his constitution rebel against virtue? I am not speaking now of such men as brutally give themselves up to their senses, who consult no other laws than the revolutions of their own minds, and who, liaving abandoned for many years the government of their souls to the humours of their bodies, have lost all dominion over their senses. I speak of such as have the most sincere desire to hear and obey the laws of erder. How often does a tender and charitable soul find in a body subject to violence and anger obstacles against the exercise of its charity and tenderness? How often does a soul, penetrated with respect for the laws of purity, find in a body rebellious against this virtue terrible obstacles; to which it is in a manner constrained to yield ?

Disorder Disorder is not only in the body; the soul is in the same condition. Consult yourselves in regard to such virtues, and vices as are, so to speak, altogether spiritual, and have no relation, or a very distant one to matter, and you will find you brought into the world an indisposition lo some of these virtues, and an inclination to the opposite vices. For example, avarice is one of these spiritual vices, having only a very distant relation to matter. I do not mean, that avarice does not incline us toward sensible objects, I only say, that it is a passion less seated in the material than in the spiritual part of inan; it rises rather out of reflections of the mind than out of motions of the body. Yet how many people are born sordid; people always inclined to amass inoney, and to whom the bare thought of giving, or parting with any thing, gives pain; people who prove, by the very manner in which they exercise the laws of generosity, that they are naturally inclined to violate them; people who never give except by constraint, who tear away, as it were, what they bestow on the necessities of the poor ; and who never cut off those dear, parts of themselves without taking the most affectionate leave of them ? Envy. and jealousy are dispositions of the kind, which we call spiritual. They have their seat in the soul. There are many persons, who acknowledge the jojustice and baseness of these vices, and who hate them, and who nevertheless are not sufficient masters of themselves to prevent the dominion of them, at least to prevent a repetition of them, and not to find sometimes their own misery in the prosperity of other persons.

As we feel in our constitution obstacles to vistue, and propensities to vice, so we perceive also inclinations to error, and obstacles to truth. These things are closely connected; for if we find within us natural obstacles to virtue, we find for that very reason natural obstacles to truth; and if we be born with propensities to vice, we are born on that very account prone to error. Strictly speaking, all ideas of yice may be referred to one, that is to error. Every vice, every irregular passion openly or lacitly implies a falsehood. Every vice, every irregular pæsion includes this error, that a man, who gratifies his passion, is happier than he, who restrains and moderates it. Now every man judging in this manner, whether he do so openly or covertly, takes the side of error. Lf we be then naturally inclined to some vices we are naturally inclined to some errors, I mean, to adınit that false principle, on which the irregular passion establisheth the Dd2


« PreviousContinue »