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And it is well known in how great a veneration this maxim was held by the ancients; and in how high esteem the duty of self-examination, as neces. sary to it.
Thales, the Milesian, is said to be the first author of it; who used to say, 'that for a man to know himself, is the hardest thing in the world.' It was afterward adopted by Chylon, the Lacedæmonian; and is one of those three precepts, which Pliny affirms to have been consecrated at Delphos in golden letters. It was afterward greatly admired, and frequently used by others, till at length it acquired the authority of a divine oracle, and was supposed to have been given originally by Apollo himself, of which general opinion, Cicero gives us this reason, because it hath such a weight of sense and wisdom in it, as appears too great to be attributed to any man. And this opinion, of its coming originally from Apollo himself, perhaps was the reason that it was written, in golden capitals, over the door of his temple at Delphos.
And why this excellent precept should not be held in as high esteem in the Christian world, as it was in the heathen, is hard to conceive. Human nature is the same now as it was then; the heart as deceitful, and the necessity of watching, knowing, and keeping it, the same. Nor are we less assured that this precept is divine : nay, we have a much greater assurance of this than they had. They supposed it came down from heaven; we know it did. What they conjectured, we are sure of. For this sacred oracle is dictated to us in a ma. nifold light, and explained to us in various views, by the Holy Spirit, in that revelation which God hath been pleased to give us, as our guide to duty and happiness; by which, as in a glass, we may survey ourselves, and know what manner of persons we are.
This discovers ourselves to us, pierces into the inmost recesses of the mind, strips off every disguise, lays open the inward part, makes a strict scrutiny into the very soul and spirit, and critically
judges of the thoughts and intents of the heart." It shews us with what exactness and care we are to search and try our spirits, examine ourselves, and watch our ways, and keep our hearts, in order to acquire this important self-science; which it often calls us to do. •Examine yourselves; prove your own selves; know you not yourselves? Let a man examine himself;' 1 Cor, xi, 28. Our Saviour upbraids his disciples with their self-ignorance, in not knowing what manner of spirits they were of;' Luke ix. 55. And saith the apostle, • If a man (through self-ignorance) thinketh him. self to be something, when he is nothing, he de ceiveth himself. But let every man prove his work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself, and not another;' Gal. vi. 3, 4. Here we are commanded, instead of judging others, to judge ourselves; and to avoid the inexcusable rashness of condemning others for the very crimes we ourselves are guilty of; Rom. ii. 1. 21, 22, which a self-igno. rant man is very apt to do; nay, to be more of. fended at a small blemish in another's character, than åt a greater in his own; which folly, self-ignorance, and hypocrisy, our Saviour, with just severity, animadverts upon, Matt. vii. 3-5.
And what stress was laid upon this under the Old Testament dispensation appears sufficiently from those expressions :- Keep thy heart with all diligence ;' Prov. iv. 23. Commune with your own heart;' Psal. iv. 4. Search me, o God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts;' Psal. cxxxix. 23. •Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my reins and my heart;' Psal. xxvi. 2. . Let us search and try our ways;' Lam. jii. 4. • Recollect, recollect yourselves, O nation not desired;' Zeph. ii. l. And all this is necessary to that self-acquaintance, which is the only proper basis of solid peace.
Were mankind but more generally convinced of the importance and necessity of this self-knowledge, and possessed with a due esteem for it; did they but know the true way to attain it; and, under a proper sense of its excellence, and the fatal effects of self-ignorance, did they but make it their business and study every day to cultivate it; how soon should we find a happy alteration in the manners and spirits of men ! But the misery of it is, men will not think; will not employ their thoughts in good earnest about the things which most of all deserve and demand them. By which unaccountable indolence, obstinacy, and aversion to self-reflection, they are led, blindfold and insensibly, into the most dangerous paths of infidelity and wickedness, as the Jews were heretofore ; of whose amazing ingratitude and apostacy God himself assigns this single cause, My people do not consider;' Isa. i. 3.
Self-knowledge is that acquaintance with our ? selves, which shews us what we are, and do, and ought to be, and do, in order to our living comfort- ! ably and usefully here, and happily hereafter. The means of it is self-examination; the end of it self-government, and self-fruition. It principally consists in the knowledge of our souls; which is attained by a particular attention to their various powers, capacities, passions, inclinations, opera
tions, state, happiness, and temper. For a man's soul is properly himself; Matt. xvi. 26. The body is but the house, the soul is the tenant that inhabits it; the body is the instrument, the soul the artist that directs it.
This science, which is to be the subject of the ensuing treatise, hath these three peculiar properties in it, which distinguish it from, and render it preferable to, all others. (1.) • It is equally altainable by all.' It requires no strength of memory, no force of genius, no depth of penetration, as many other sciences do, to come at a tolerable acquaintance with them; which therefore renders them inaccessible by the greatest part of mankind. Nor is it placed out of their reach, through a want of opportunity, and proper assistance and direction how to acquire it, as many other parts of learning are. Every one of a common capacity hath the oppor tunity and ability to acquire it, if he will but recollect his rambling thoughts, turn them in upon himself, watch the motions of his heart, and compare them with his rule.-(2.) It is of equal importance to all, and of the highest importance to every one. Other sciences are suited to the various conditions of life: some more necessary to some, others to others. But this equally concerns every one that hath an immortal soul, whose final happiness he desires and seeks. (3.) Other knowledge is very apt to make a man vain ; this always keeps him humble.' Nay, it is always for want of this knowledge that men are vain of that they have. • Knowledge puffeth up;' 1 Cor. viii. l. A small degree of knowledge often hath this effect on weak minds. And the reason why greater attainments in it have not so generally the same effect, is, because they open and enlarge the views of the mind
so far, as to let into it, at the same time, a good degree of self-knowledge ; for the more true knowledge a man hath, the more sensible he is of the want of it, which keeps him humble.
And now, reader, whoever thou art, whatever be thy character, station, or distinction in life, if thou art afraid to look into thine heart, and hast no inclination to self-acquaintance, read no farther, lay aside this book; for thou wilt find nothing here that will latter thy self-esteem, but, perhaps, something that may abate it. But, if thou art desirous to cultivate this important kind of knowledge, and to live no longer a stranger to thyself, proceed; and keep thy eye open to thine own image, with whatever unexpected deformity it may present itself to thee; and patiently attend, whilst, by divine assistance, I endeavour to lay open thine own heart to thee, and lead thee to the true knowledge of thyself, in the following chapters.
CHAP. II. The several branches of Self-Knowledge. We must
know what sort of creatures we are, and what we
shall be. I. That we may have a more distinct and orderly view of this subject, I shall here consider the several branches of self-knowledge, or some of the chief particulars wherein it consists. Whereby, perhaps, it will appear to be a more copious and comprehensive science than we imagine. And,
(1.) To know ourselves, is to know and seriously consider what sort of creatures we are, and what we shall be. 1. What we are.'