« PreviousContinue »
without it there can be no proper enjoyment of life: therefore, let us now proceed to enquire, how so great a blessing may be promoted amongst us.
He who revolves this subject in his mind, will soon discover, that the passion which propagates the greatest misery in this world, is no other than pride. Let pride be out of the question, and the world will soon be quiet; as the waves of the sea settle into a calm when the wind has done blowing. How is a man to stop the workings of his own pride, but by thinking meanly of himself, and being contented with his own station? Why do we quarrel with others, but because we give ourselves the preference, and wish to be set above them? So weak and silly is this vain passion of self-esteem, that two families have frequently been divided for life, only because they could not agree, which of the two ought to walk into a room before the other. Peace can be the effect only of a meek and humble spirit. A proper opinion of ourselves will prevent all those murmurings and complainings, which are apt to arise in our hearts, when we see others preferred before us, either in the dispen. sations of divine Providence, or the favour of the world. In such a case we shall be ready to confess, either that they owe more to their own industry than we do, or that they deserve better for their abilities, or, if neither of these, that the Providence of God hath some ends to serve by their advancement, into which, though we cannot penetrate at present, we may take it for granted they are the best and the wisest, and that they will appear so to us, when God shall be pleased to lay open before us his own secret ways and counsels,
If any man is tempted to repine at his own lot, let him consider, that it is absolutely necessary there
should be a subordination of ranks in the world, each subservient to the other. All the members in a na. tural body cannot have the same place and the same office, some being appointed, as the apostle reminds us, to honour, and some to dishonour. The same God who hath disposed the limbs of the natural body in such an admirable order, hath given to men their proper stations in society, without error and without partiality. None ought to complain, that God hath set them no higher, but to be thankful that he hath not placed them still lower. The poorest reptile or insect in nature hath life and being; is wonderfully made, and as wonderfully supported : which is much more than it could demand from its Creator by any natural right: so the lowest state of life among mankind hath many blessings and privileges, for which a tribute of thanks is due to the bountiful author of them. Many comforts are to be enjoyed by a thankful mind in the lowest station. The temperate and healthy in. habitant of the cottage is free from those distempers, which are brought upon the rich and honourable by luxury and indolence, and is unacquainted with the ridiculous cares and mortifications, which people of an higher rank are too apt to bring upon themselves by the boundless cravings of artificial appetites. To this consideration, a much higher may be added, which is this, that God hath given to the meanest of his servants au opportunity of obtaining and enjoying all the blessings of a better life: if he has with-held from them the riches and honours of this world, he has given to the poorest beggar, if a Christian, the privilege of claiming a crown of glory, and all the riches of immortality. There is a time drawing near, when we shall all be upon a level; the prospect of which is sufficient to raise the expectations of the
poor, and bring down the high looks of the proud. Those differences and distinctions amongst men, about which there is such a mighty bustle upon the stage of this present life, are but as shadows and dreams, which shall vanish away when the morning appeareth: and that they may not raise any disturbances amongst us, God hath found a way of bringing them to nothing already, in the judgment of every true disciple of Jesus Christ; whose gospel is intended to pull down this world in the heart, with all its vain distinctions, and to set up, in the place of these empty shadows, the great realities of the world to come. The gospel teaches Christians to consider themselves as members of Christ's body, and citizens of heaven. In this respect, they are all upon an equal footing: the rich has nothing to boast of; the poor hath nothing to complain of. St. James therefore makes the following proclamation to small and great- Let the brother of low degree rejoice'in that he is exalted; but the rich in that he is made low ; because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. The poor has no reason to complain any longer of his poverty, if God has made him rich in faith, and brought him into that society, every member of which is heir to a crown : and the rich has no reason to boast of that honour, which will set him never the higher in the kingdom of heaven; which is now but dross in the sight of God, and will soon be dust in the sight of men.
If these considerations were in force among Christians, there would be but little fighting and striving about the distinctions of this world. The doctrine of Christ and his Apostles would as certainly promote peace on earth, as it brings Glory to God in the highest heavens. If men did but permit the Gospel to take effect upon them, it would give them power to bridle the tongue; that unruly member, which is so often the instrument of discord and destruction : an offensive weapon, in the strictest sense; and, which often wounds deeper than the sword. What mischief and bloodshed might have been prevented, if the tongue could but have been silent, when it was under no obligation to speak! How great a fire hath been kindled by one little spark! one envious word hath set families into a flame, and lighted up that fire, to which the devil will endeavour to add fewel, all the days of their life. There is no remedy in this case, but from the fear of God, and that faith, whicli will lead a man to self-abasement. Good principles may lay an axe to the root of the evil, and devotion may get the better of impertinence. Let the judgment be corrected, and the heart amended, and then the tongue may become the instrument of peace. He was a wise philosopher, who bound his scholars to a silence of five years; that they might not use their tongues, till they knew how to govern them ; nor speak, till they had something to say. He is said to have used this as a test of his disciples; concluding, that the scholar who could deny himself in that which is most difficult, would be able to govern himself iu all other things.
Thus far I have endeavoured to shew you, that humility is a necessary qualification in those who would live peaceably with all men. I am now to observe, that patience in bearing with the weaknesses of our brethren, and forgiving the injuries we receive from them, is another qualification, as necessary as the former. The wisest among mankind are subject to errors and frailties, which require a charitable and favourable interpretation, and though we have
no right to dispense with the laws of God, or our country, every man has a claim upon us for as many allowances as we can reasonably make; and it will be prudent in us to make them; because we ourselves are compassed with infirmity, and may stand in need of that indulgence which we refuse to other people. Human nature being so prone to offences, it must needs happen that our own persons and interest will be touched upon some occasions by those with whom we have to do; and then it will appear, whether that spirit of patience and moderation which most men would be thought to possess, is real or affected. We know how to excuse those that offend others; but if the same persons offend ourselves, then we can give as many reasons why we ought to be revenged on them, as why they ought to be pardoned in all other cases.
In order to correct this mistake, let us consider, that when any injury is forgiven, all the ill consequences which might have followed, and which are generally ten times worse than the injury itself, are prevented in the beginning. Affronts and injuries are like venomous serpents, which creep about to spread poison and destruction among mankind: and here, it is not so much the injury itself (which perhaps is a mere trifle) that does all the mischief, but the evil thoughts and passions which are stirred up in the heart. The hurt is not owing to the teeth of the viper; which give but a very small wound, but to the venom which they communicate to the mass of blood. Let an injury be rated according to its real value, and this evil will be prevented.
There is another advantage in this, of a much higher nature: for if we are ready to forgive others, we have reason to expect that God in like manner