« PoprzedniaDalej »
where religion and morality are concerned. In times of prevailing licentiousness, to maintain unblemished virtue, and uncorrupted integrity; in a public or a private cause, to stand firm by what is fair and just, amidst discouragements and opposition; despising groundless censure and reproach; disdaining all compliance with public manners, when they are vicious and unlawful; and never ashamed of the punctual discharge of every duty towards God and man ;-this is what shows true greatness of spirit, and will force approbation even from the degenerate multitude themselves. "This is the man," (their conscience will oblige them to acknowledge,) "whom we are unable to bend to mean condescensions. We see it in vain either to flatter or to threaten him; he rests on a principle within, which we cannot shake. To this man we may, on any occasion, safely commit our cause. He is incapable of betraying his trust, or deserting his friend, or denying his faith.'
It is, accordingly, this steady inflexible virtue, this regard to principle, superior to all custom and opinion, which peculiarly marked the characters of those in any age, who have shone with distinguished lustre; and has consecrated their memory to all posterity. It was this that obtained to ancient Enoch the most singular testimony of honour from heaven. He continued to "walk with God," when the world apostatized from him. He pleased God and was beloved of him; so that living among sinners, he was translated to heaven. without seeing death; "Yea, speedily was he taken away, lest wickedness should have altered his understanding, or deceit beguiled his soul." When Sodom could not furnish ten righteous men to save it, Lot remained unspotted amidst the contagion. He lived like an angel among spirits of darkness; and the destroying flame was not permitted to go forth, till the good man was called away by a heavenly messenger, from his devoted city. When all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth," then lived Noah, a right
cous man, and a preacher of righteousness. He stood alone, and was scoffed by the profane crew. But they by the deluge were swept away; while on him, Providence conferred the immortal honour, of being the restorer of a better race, and the father of a new world. Such examples as these, and such honours conferred by God on them who withstood the multitude of evil doers, should often be present to our minds. Let us oppose them to the numbers of low and corrupt examples, which we behold around us; and when we are in hazard of being swayed by such, let us, fortify our virtue, by thinking of those who, in former times, shone like stars in the midst of surrounding darkness, and are now shining in the kingdom of heaven, as the brightness of the firmament, for ever and ever.
The mortifications of vice greater than those of virtue.
THOUGH NO Condition of human life is free from uneasiness, yet it must be allowed, that the uneasiness belonging to a sinful course, is far greater than what attends a course of well-doing. If we are weary of the labours of virtue, we may be assured that the world, whenever we try the exchange, will lay upon us a much heavier load. It is the outside only, of a licentious life, which is gay and smiling. Within, it conceals toil, and trouble, and deadly sorrow. For vice poisons human happiness in the spring, by introducing disorder into the heart. Those passions which it seems to indulge, it only feeds with imperfect gratifications; and thereby strengthens them for preying, in the end, on their unhappy victims.
It is a great mistake to imagine, that the pain of self-denial is confined to virtue. He who follows the world, as much as he who follows Christ, must "take
up his cross ;" and to him assuredly, it will prove a more oppressive burden. Vice allows all our passions to range uncontrolled; and where each claims to be superior, it is impossible to gratify all. The predominant desire can only be indulged at the expense of its rival. No mortifications which virtue exacts, are more severe than those, which ambition imposes upon the love of ease, pride upon interest, and covetousness upon vanity. Self-denial, therefore, belongs, in common, to vice and virtue; but with this remarkable difference, that the passions which virtue requires us to mortify, it tends to weaken; whereas, those which vice obliges us to deny, it, at the same time, strengthens. The one diminishes the pain of self-denial, by moderating the demand of passion; the other increases it by rendering those demands imperious and violent. What distresses that occur in the calm life of virtue, can be compared to those tortures, which remorse of conscience inflicts on the wicked ;to those severe humiliations, arising from guilt combined with misfortunes, which sink them to the dust; to those violent agitations of shame and disappointment, which sometimes drive them to the most fatal extremities, and make them abhor their existence ! How often, in the midst of those disastrous situations, into which their crimes have brought them, have they execrated the seductions of vice; and with bitter regret, looked back to the day on which they first forsook the path of innocence !
CONTENTMENT produces, in some measure, all those effects which the alchymist usually ascribes to what he cails the philosopher's stone; and if it does not bring riches, it does the same thing, by banishing the desire
of them. If it cannot remove the disquietudes arising from a man's mind, body, or fortune, it makes him easy under them. It has indeed a kindly influence on the soul of man, in respect of every being to whom he stands related. It extinguishes all murmur, repining, and ingratitude, towards that being who has allotted him his part to act in this world. It destroys all inordinate ambition, and every tendency to corruption, with regard to the community wherein he is placed. It gives sweetness to his conversation, and a perpetual serenity to all his thoughts.
Among the many methods which might be made use of for acquiring this virtue, I shall mention only the two following. First of all, a man should always consider how much he has more than he wants; and secondly, how much more unhappy he might be than he really is.
First, a man should always consider how much he has more than he wants. I am wonderfully pleased with the reply which Aristippus made to one, who condoled with him upon the loss of a farm: "Why," "said he, I have three farms still, and you have but one; so that I ought rather to be afflicted for you, than you for me." On the contrary, foolish men are more apt to consider what they have lost, than what they possess; and to fix their eyes upon those who are richer than themselves, rather than on those who are under greater difficulties. All the real pleasures and conveniences of life lie in a narrow compass: but it is the humour of mankind to be always looking forward; and straining after one who has got the start of them in wealth and honour. For this reason, as none can be properly called rich who have not more than they want, there are few rich men in any of the politer nations, but among the middle sort of people, who keep their wishes within their fortunes, and have more wealth than they know how to enjoy. Persons of a higher rank live in a kind of splendid poverty; and are perpetually wants
ing, because, instead of acquiescing in the solid pleasures of life, they endeavour to outvie one another in shadows and appearances. Men of sense have at all times beheld, with a great deal of mirth, this silly game that is playing over their heads; and, by contracting their desires, they enjoy all that secret satisfaction which others are always in quest of. The truth is, this ridiculous chase after imaginary pleasures, cannot be sufficiently exposed, as it is the great source of those evils which generally undo a nation. Let a man's estate be what it may, he is a poor man, if he does not live within it and naturally sets himself to sale to any one that can give him his price. When Pittacus, after the death of his brother, who had left him a good es tate, was offered a great sum of money by the king of Lydia, he thanked him for his kindness; but told him he had already more by half than he knew what to do with. In short, content is equivalent to wealth, and luxury to poverty; or, to give the thought a more a greeable turn, "Content is natural wealth," says Socrates; to which I shall add, luxury is artificial poverty. I shall therefore recommend to the consider ation of those, who are always aiming at superfluous and imaginary enjoyments, and who will not be at the trouble of contracting their desires, an excellent saying of Bion the philosopher, namely, "That no man has so much care, as he who endeavours after the most happiness."
In the second place, every one ought to reflect how much more unhappy he might be, than he really is.— The former consideration took in all those, who are sufficiently provided with the means to make themselves easy; this regards such as actually lie under some pressure or misfortune. These may receive great alleviation, from such a comparison as the unhappy person may make between himself and others; or between the misfortune which he suffers, and greater misfortunes which might have befallen him..