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for in future. Let'us, therefore, neglect no mean with which religion can furnish us, for promoting the joys, and assuaging the bitterness, of the heart. Amidst the frailties of our nature, the inconstancy of men, and the frequent changes of human life, we shall find every assistance that can be procured, little enough, for enabling us to pass our few days with tolerable comfort and peace.
ON CHARACTERS OF IMPERFECT GOODNESS.
Then Jesus, beholding him, loved him.
MARK, X. 21.
THE characters of men which the world presents to us arc infinitely diversified. In some, either the good or the bad qualities are so predominant as strongly to mark the character; to discriminate one person as a virtuous, another as a vicious man. In others these quali'ies are so mixed together, as to leave the character doubtful. The light and the shade are so much blended, the colours of virtue and vice run in such a manner into one another, that we can hardly distinguish where the one ends, and the other begins; and we remain in suspense whether to blame or to praise. While we admire those who are thoroughly good, and detest the grossly wicked, it is proper also to bestow attention on those imperfect characters, where there may be much to praise, and somewhat to blame; and where regard to the commendable part shall not hinder us from remarking what is defective or faulty. Such attentions will be found the more useful, as characters of this mixed sort are, more frequently than any other, exhibited to us in the commerce of society.
It was one of this sort, which gave occasion to the incident recorded in the text. The incident seems to have been considered as remarkable, since it is recounted by three of the evangelical writers; and by them all, with nearly the same circumstances. The person to whom the history relates was a ruler ; one of higher rank and station than those who usually resorted to Jesus. He was a rich man: He was a young man. His whole behaviour was prepossessing and engaging. He appears to have conceived a high opinion of our Lord. He addressed him with the utmost respect; and the question which he put to luim was proper and important. He kneeled to him, and said,
good master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? His conduct in the world had been regular and decent. He could protest, that he had hitherto kept himself free from any gross vice; and in his dealings with others, had observed the precepts of God. Our Lord, beholding him, is said to have loved him ; whence we have reason to conclude, that he was not hypocritical in his professions; and that his countenance carried the expression of good dispositions, as his speech and his manners were altogether complacent and gentle. Yet this person, amiable as he was, when his virtue was put to the test, disappointed the hopes which he had given reason to form. Attached, in all probability, to the indulgence of ease and pleasure, he wanted fortitude of mind to part with the advantages of the world, for the sake of religion. When our Lord required him to fulfil his good intentions, by relinquishing his fortune, becoming one of his followers, and preparing himself to encounter sufferings, the sacrifice appeared to him too great. Impressions of virtue, however, still remained on his mind. He was sensible of what he ought to have done; and regretted his want of courage to do it. He was sorrowful: He was grieved : Yet he went away.
Persons of a character somewhat resembling this, all of us may have met with ; especially among the young; among those who have been liberally educated, and polished by a good society. They abhor open vice, and crimes that disturb the world. They have a respect for religion. They are willing to receive instruction for their conduct. They are modest and unassuming; respectful to their superiors in age or station ; gentle in their address; inoffensive and corteous in their whole behaviour. They are fond of obliging every one ; unwilling to hurt or displease any. - Such persons we cannot but love. We gladly promise well of them; and are disposed to forward and assist them; yet such is the weakness of our nature, that at the bottom of this character there may lie, as we see exemplified in the instance before us, some secret and material defects. That vigour of mind, that firmness of principle, may be wanting, which is requisite for enabling them to act with propriety, when their virtue is put to a decisive trial. The softness of their nature is unfavourable to a steady perseverance in the course of integrity. They possess the amiable qualities; but there is ground to sugpect, that in the estimable ones they are deficient. While, therefore, we by no means class them among the bad, we dare not give them the full praise of virtue. When they set out in the world, we cannot pronounce with confidence, what confirmed features their character will assume; nor how far they can be depended upon in future life. Allow me now to point out the dangers which such persons are most likely to incur; and to
shew what is requisite for them farther to study, in order to their fulfilling the part of good men and true Christians.
1. Persons of this description are not qualified for discharging aright many duties, to which their situation in life may call them. In certain circumstances, they behave with abundance of propriety. When all is calm and smooth around them ; when nothing occurs to agitate the mind, or to disturb the tenor of placid life, none of their defects come forward. They are beloved, and they are useful. They promote the comfort of human society; and, by gentleness and courtesy of manners, serve to cement men together in agreeable union. But to sail on the tranquil surface of an unruffled lake, and to steer a safe course through a troubled and stormy ocean, require different talents : and alas ! human life oftener resembles the stormy ocean, than the unruffled lake. We shall not have been long embarked, without finding the resemblance to hold too closely.
Amidst the bustle of the world, amidst the open contentions and secret enmities which prevail, in every society, mildness and gentleness alone are not sufficient to carry us with honour through the duties of our different stations; as heads of families, citizens, subjects, magistrates, or as engaged in the pursuits of our several callings. Disturbances and trials arise, which demand vigorous exertions of all the moral powers; of patience, vigilance, and self-denial; of constancy and fortitude, to support us under danger and reproach; of temperance, to restrain us from being carried away by pleasure; of firm and determined principle, to make us despise the bribes of sin. These manly dispositions of mind are indispensably necessary to prepare one for surmounting the discouragements of virtue, and for struggling honourably through the hardships of life. Unless he be thus armed and fortified, whatever good intentions have been in his heart, they are likely to be frustrated in action. Nothing that is great, can be undertaken. Nothing that is difficult or hazardous, can be accomplished. Nor are we to imagine, that it is only in times of persecution or war, or civil commotions, that there is occasion for those stronger efforts, those masculine virtues of the soul, to be displayed. The private, and seemingly quiet stations of life, often call men forth, in the days of peace, to severe trial of firmness and constancy. The life of very few proceeds in so uniform a train, as not to oblige them to discover, in some situation or other, what proportion they possess of the estimable qualities of man. Hence it sometimes happens, that persons whose manners were much less promising and engaging than those of others, have, nevertheless, when brought to act a part in critical circumstances, performed that part with more unsullied honour and firmer integrity than they.
II. Persons of the character I have described are ill fitted, not only for discharging the higher duties of life, but also for resisting the common temptations to vice. With good dispositions in their mind, with a desire, like the young ruler, in the text, to know what they shall do in order to inherit eternal life; yet when the terms required of them interfere with any favourite enjoyment, like him, they are sorrowful, and go away. The particular trial to which he was put, may appear to be a hard one, and to exceed the ordinary rate of virtue. Our Lord, who discerned his heart, saw it to be necessary, in his case, for bringing his character to the test. But in cases, where trials of much less difficulty present themselves, they who partake of a character similar to his, are often found to give way. The good qualities which they possess, border on certain weaknesses of the mind; and these weaknesses are apt to betray them insensibly into vices with which they are connected.
Good nature, for instance, is in danger of running into that unlimited complaisance, which assimilates men to the loose manners of those whom they find around them. Pliant and yielding in their temper, they have not force to stand by the decisions of their own minds, with regard to right and wrong. Like the animal which is said to assume the colour of every object to which it is applied, they lose all proper character of their own; and are formed by the characters of those with whom they chance to associate. The mild are apt to sink into habits of indolence and sloth. The cheerful and gay, when warmed by pleasure and mirth, lose that sobriety and self-denial, which is essential to the support of virtue.-Even modesty and submission, qualities so valuable in themselves, and so highly ornamental to youth, sometimes degenerate into a vicious timidity; a timidity which restrains men from doing their duty with firmness ; which cannot stand the frown of the great, the reproach of the multitude, or even the ridicule and sneer of the scorner.
Nothing can be more amiable than a constant desire to please, and an unwillingness to offend or hurt. Yet in characters where this is a predominant feature, defects are often found. Fond always to oblige, and afraid to utter any disagreeable truth, such persons are sometimes led to dissemble. Their love of truth is sacrificed to their love of pleasing. Their speech, and their manners assume a studied courtesy. You cannot always depend on their smile ; nor, when they promise, be sure of the performance. They mean and intend well. But the good intention is temporary. Like wax, they yield easily to every impression; and the transient friendship contracted with one person, is effaced by the next. Undistinguishing desire to oblige, often proves, in the present state of human things, a dangerous habit. They who cannot, on many occasions, give a firm aħd steady denial, or