« AnteriorContinuar »
two; because the part which is external, will proportionably destroy its essence.
What then remains but the cause internal ? the very cause which we have supposed, when we place the sovereign good in mind,-in rectitude of conduct.
SECTION II. Virtue and piety man's highest interest. 1. I FIND myself existing upon a little spot, surrounded every way by an immense unknown expansion.- Where am I? What sort of place do I inhabit? Is it exactly accommodated in every instance to my convenience ? Is there no excess of cold, none of heat, to offend me? Am I never annoyed by animals, either of my own, or a different kind? Is every thing subservient to me, as though I had ordered all myself?--No-nothing like it—the farthest from it possible.
2. The world appears not, then, originally made for the private convenience of me alone ?-It does not. But is it not possible so to accommodate it, by my own particular industry? If to accommodate man and beast, heaven and earth, if this be beyond me, it is not possible. What consequence then follows; or can there be any other than this-If I seek an interest of my own detached from that of others, I seek an interest which is chimerical, and which can never have existence.
3. How then must I determine ? Have I no interest at all? If I have not, I am stationed here to no purpose. But why no interest? Can I be contented with none but one separate and detached? Is a social interest, joined with others, such an absurdity as not to be admitted ? The bee, the beaver, and the tribes of herding animals, are sufficient to convince me, that the thing is somewhere at least possible.
4. How, then, am I assured that it is not equally true of man? Admit it; and what follows? If so, then honour and justice are my interest; then the whole train of moral virtues are my interest; without some portion of which, not even thieves can maintain society.
5. But, farther still—I stop not here - I pursue this social interest as far as I can trace my several relations. I pass from my own stock, my own neighbourhood, my own nation, to the whole race of mankind, as dispersed throughout the earth. Am I not related to them all, by the mutual aids of commerce, by the general intercourse of arts and letters, by that common nature of which we all participate ?
6. Again-I must have food and clothing. Without a proper genial warmth, I instantly perish. Am I not related, in this view, to the very earth itself; to the distant sun, from whose beams Í derive vigour? to that stupendous course and order of the infinite host of heaven, by which the times and seasons ever uniformly
7. Were this order once confounded, I could not probably survive a moment; so absolutely do I depend on this common general welfare. What, then, have I to do, but to enlarge virtue into piety? Not only honour and justice, and what I owe to man, is my interest; but gratitude also, acquiescence, resignation, adoration, and all I owe to this great polity, and its great Governour our common Parent.
SECTION III. The injustice of an uncharitable spirit. 1. A suspicious, uncharitable spirit, is not only inconsistent with all social virtue and happiness, but it is also, in itself unreasonable and unjust. In order to form sound opinions concerning characters and actions, two things are especially requisite, infor. mation and impartiality. But such as are most forward to decide unfavourably, are commonly destitute of both. Instead of possessing, or even requiring, full information, the grounds on which they proceed are frequently the most slight and frivolous.
2. A tale, perhaps, which the idle have invented, the inquisitive have listened to, and the credulous have propagated ; or & real incident which rumour, in carrying it along, has exaggerated and disguised, supplies them with materials of confident assertion, and decisive judgement. 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.
3. Nothing can be inore contrary both to equity and to sound reason, than this precipitate judgement. 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 ít.
4. 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
and where we suppose him impelled by bad design, he may have been prompted by conscience and mistaken principle.
5. Admitting the action to have been in every view criminal, he may have been hurried into it through inadvertency 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.
6. 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.
SECTION IV. The misfortunes of men mostly chargeable on themselves. 1. We find man placed in a world, where he has by no means the disposal of the events that happen. Calamities sometimes befall the 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 hånd of Heaven. For such visitations of trial, many good and wise reasons can be assigned, which the present subject leads me not to discuss.
2. 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.
3. 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 blessing 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 indulgences, has he any title to complain, as if he were suffering unjustly?
4. Were we to survey the chambers of sickness and distress, we should often find them peopled 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 see 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.”
5. 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.
6. 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 opportuuities which Providence offered you, for bettering and advancing your state? If you have chosen to indulge your humour, or your taste, in the gratifications of indolence or pleasure, can you complain because others, in preference to you, have obtained those advantages which naturally belong to usefuí labours, and honourable pursuits ?
7. Have not the consequences of some false steps, into which your passions, or your pleasures, have betrayed you, pursued yon through much of your life; tainted, perhaps, your charactere, 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 & man, unless through his own fault. “ Religion is,” in general, profitable unto all things."
8. 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.
9. 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 against Providence.”
10. 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.
11. When, from the condition of individuals, we look abroad to the publick 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 dissensions, 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 exposed.
12. 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."
13. Did man control his passions, and form his conduct 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, bis ignorance, and folly. Let him be humbled by the mortifying view of his own perverseness; but let not his "heart fret against the Lord.”
On disinterested friendship. 1. I AM informed that certain Greek writers, (philosophers, it seems, in the opinion of their countrymen,) have advanced some very extraordinary positions relating to friendship; as, indeed, what subject is there, which these subtle geniuses have not tortured with their sophistry ?
2. The authors to whom 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.
3. They recommend it also, in all connexions of this kind, 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 cares, in which he has no necessary and personal interest, must never hope to possess."
4. I have been told likewise, that there is another set of pretended philosophers, of the same country, whose tenets, concerning this subject, are of a still more illiberal and ungenerous cast. The proposition they attempt to establish, is, that " friendship is an affair of self-interest entirely; and that the proper motive for engaging in it, is, not in order to gratify the kind and benevolent affections, but for the benefit of that assistance and support which are to be derived from the connexion."
5. Accordingly they assert, that those persons are most disposed to have recourse to auxiliary alliances of this kind, who are least qualified by nature, or fortune, to depend upon their own strength and powers: the weaker sex, for instance, being generally more inclined to engage in friendships, than the male part of our species; and those who are depressed by indigence, or labouring under misfortunes, than the wealthy and the prosperous.
6. Excellent and obliging sages, these, undoubtedly! To strike out the friendly affections from the moral world, would be like extinguishing the sun in the natural; each of them being the source of the best and most grateful satisfactions, that Heaven has conferred on the sons of men. But I should be glad to know, what the real value of this boasted exemption from care, which they promise their disciples, justly amounts to? ati exemption flattering to self-love, I confess; but which, upon many occurrences in human life, should be rejected with the utmost disdain.
7. For nothing, surely, can be more inconsistent with a wellpoised and manly spirit, than to decline engaging in any laudable action, or to be discouraged from persevering in it, by an apprehension of the trouble and solicitude, with which it may probably be attended.
&.. Virtue herself, indeed, ought to be totally renounced, if it be right to avoid every possible means that may be productive of uneasiness: for who, that is actuated by her principles, can observe the conduct of an opposite character, without being affected with some degree of secret dissatisfaction ?
9. Are not the just, the brave, and the good, necessarily exposed to the disagreeable emotions of dislike and aversion, when they respectively meet with instances of fraud, of cowardice, or of villany? It is an essential property of every well-constituted mind, to be affected with pain, or pleasure, according to the nature of those moral appearances that present themselves to observation.
10. If sensibility, therefore, he not incompatible with true wisdom, (and it surely is not, unless we suppose that philosophy deadens every finer feeling of our nature,) what just reason can be assigned, why the sympathetick sufferings which may result from friendship, should be a sufficient inducement for banishing that generous affection from the human breast ?