« AnteriorContinuar »
own errors than we can possibly have, with all the inquisitiveness of an idle curiosity, of the errors of others. We are eager enough to blame them without knowing their motives. We are no less eager to vindicate ourselves, though we cannot be entirely ignorant of our
Thus two virtues will be acquired by the same act, humility, and candor ; an impartial review of our own infirmities, being the likeliest way to make us tender and compassionate to those of others.
Nor shall we be liable so to over-rate our own judgment, when we perceive that it often forms such false estimates, is so captivated with trifles, so elated with petty successes, so dejected with little disappointments. When we hear others commend our charity which we know is so cold; when others extol our piety which we feel to be so dead
; when they applaud the energies of our faith, which we must know to be so faint and feeble ; we cannot possibly be so intoxicated with the applauses which never would have been given had the applauder known us as we know, or ought to know ourselves. If we contradict him, it may be only to draw on ourselves the imputation of a fresh virtue, humility, which perhaps we as little deserve to have ascribed to us as that which we have been renouncing.
If we kept a sharp look out, we should not be proud of praises which cannot apply to us, but should rather grieve at the involuntary fraud of imposing on others, by tacitly accepting a character to which we have so little real pretension. To be delighted at finding that people think so much better of us than we are conscious of deserving, is in effect to rejoice in the success of our own deceit.
We shall also become more patient, more forbearing and forgiving, shall better endure the harsh judgment of others respecting us, when we perceive that their opinion of us nearly coincides with our own real though unacknowledged sentiments. There is much
. less injury incurred by others thinking too ill of us, than in our thinking too well of ourselves.
It is evident then, that to live at random, is not the life of a rational, much less of an immortal, least of all of an accountable being. To pray, occasionally, without a deliberate course of prayer ; to be generous
without proportioning our means to our expenditure ; to be liberal without a plan, and charitable without a principle ; to let the mind float on the current of public opinion, lie at the mercy of events for the probable occurrence of which we have made no provision ; to be every hour liable to death without any habitual preparation for it ; to carry within us a principle which we believe will exist through all the countless ages of eternity, and yet to make little enquiry whether that eternity is likely to be happy or miserable-all this is an inconsiderateness which, if adopted in the ordinary concerns of life, would bid fair to ruin a man's reputation for common sense ; yet of this infatuation he who lives without self-examination is absolutely guilty
Nothing more plainly shews us what weak vascillating creatures we are, than the difficulty we find in fixing ourselves down to the very self-scrutiny we had deliberately resolved on. Like the worthless Roman Emperor we retire to our closet under the appearance of serious occupation, but might now and then be surprised, if not in catching flies, yet in pursuits nearly as contemptible. Some trifle which we should be ashamed to dwell upon at any time, intrudes itself on the moments dedicated to serious thought ; recollection is interrupted ; the whole chain of reflection broken, so that the scattered links cannot again be united. And so inconsistent are we that we are sometimes not sorry to have a plausible pretence for interrupting the very employment in which we had just before made it a duty to engage. For
want of this home acquaintance, we remain in utter ignorance of our inability to meet even the ordinary trials of life with cheerfulness ; indeed by this neglect we confirm that inability. Nursed in the lap of luxury, we have an indefinite notion that we have but a loose hold on the things of this world, and of the world itself.
But let some accident take away, not the world, but some trifle on which we thought we set no value while we possessed it, and we find to our astonishment, that we hold, not the world only, but even this trivial possession with a pretty tight grasp. Such detections of our self-ignorance, if they do not serve to wean, ought at least to humble us.
There is a spurious sort of self-examination which does not serve to enlighten but to blind. A person who has left off some notorious vice, who has softened some shades of a glaring sin, or substituted some outward forms in the place of open irreligion, looks on his change of character with pleasure. He compares himself with what he was, and views the alteration with self-complacency. He deceives himself by taking his standard from his former conduct, or from the character of still worse men, instead of taking it from the unerring rule of scripture. He looks rather at the discredit than the sinfulness of his former life, and being more ashamed of what is disreputable than
grieved at what is vicious, he is, in this state of shallow reformation, more in danger in proportion as he is more in credit. He is not aware that it is not having a fault or two less that will carry him to heaven, while his heart is still glued to the world and estranged from God.
If we ever look into our hearts at all, we are naturally most inclined to it when we think we have been acting right. Here inspection gratifies self-love. We have no great difficulty in directing our attention to an object when that object presents us with pleasing images. But it is a painful effort to compel the mind to turn in on itself, when the view only presents subjects for regret and remorse. This painful duty however must be performed, and will be more salutary in proportion as it is less pleasant. Let us establish it into a habit to ruminate on our faults. With the recollection of our virtues we need not feed our vanity. They will, if that vanity does not obliterate them, be recorded elsewhere.
We are also most disposed to look at those parts of our character which will best bear it, and which consequently least need it; those parts which afford most self-gratulation. If a covetous man, for instance, examines himself, instead of turning his attention to the peccant part, he applies the probe where he