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SERMON XXXVIII, .
1 CORINTHIANS, xiii. 4.
Charity envieth not
ENVY is a sensation of uneasiness and disquiet,
arising from the advantages which others are supposed to possess above us, accompanied with malignity towards those who possess them. This is universally admitted to be one of the blackest passions in the human heart. In this world we depend much on one another; and were therefore formed by God to be mutually useful and assisting. The instincts of kindness and compassion which belong to our frame, show how much it was the intention of our Creator that we should be united in friendship. If any infringe this great law of nature, by acts of causeless hostility, resentment may justly arise. No one is to be condemned for defending his rights, and showing displeasure against a malicious enemy. But to conceive ill-will at one who has attacked none of our rights, nor done us any injury, solely because he is more prosperous than we are, is a disposition altogether unnatural; it suits not the human constitution, and partakes more of the rancour of an evil spirit. Hence, the character of an envious man is universally odious. All disclaim it ; and they who feel themselves under the influence of this passion, carefully conceal it.
But it is proper to consider, that among all our passions, both good and bad, there are many different gradations. Sometimes they swim on the surface of the mind, without producing any internal agitation. They proceed no farther than the beginnings of passion. Allayed by our constitution, or tempered by the mixture of other dispositions, they exert no considerable influence on the temper. Though the character in which envy forms the ruling passion, and reigns in all its force, be one too odious, I hope, to be common; yet some shade, some tincture, of this evil disposition mixes with most characters in the world. It is, perhaps, one of the most prevailing infirmities to which we are subject. There are few but who, at one time or other, have found somewhat of this nature stirring within them ; some lurking uneasiness in their mind, when they looked up to others, who enjoyed a greater share than had fallen to their lot, of some advantages wbich they wished, and thought themselves entitled to possess. Though this should not embitter their disposition ; though it should create the uneasiness only, without the malignity of envy; yet still it is a disturbed state of mind; and always borders upon, if it actually include not, some vicious affections. In order, as far as possible, to remedy this evil, I shall now consider what are the most general grounds of the envy which men are apt to bear to others; and shall examine what foundation they afford, for any degree of this troublesome and dangerous passion. The chief grounds of envy may be reduced to three; Accomplishments of mind; advantages of birth, rank, and fortune; superiour success in worldly pursuits.
I. ACCOMPLISHMENTS, or endowments of the mind. The chief endowment for which man deserves to be valued, is virtue. This unquestionably forins the most estimable distinction among mankind. Yet this, which may appear surprising, never forms any ground of envy. No man is envied for being more just, more generous, more patient, or forgiving than others. This may, in part, be owing to virtue producing in every one who beholds it, that high degree of respect and love, which extinguishes envy. But, probably, it is more owing to the good opinion which every one entertains of his own moral qualities. Some virtyes, or at least the seeds of them, he finds within his breast. Others he, vainly attributes to himself. Those in which he is plainly deficient, he undervalues, as either not real virtues, or virtues of very inferiour rank; and rests satisfied that, on the whole, he is as worthy and respectable as his neighbour.
The case is different, with regard to those mental abilities and powers which are ascribed to others. As long as these are exerted in a sphere of action remote from ours, and not brought into competition with talents of the same kind, to which we have pretensions, they create no jealousy. They are viewed as distant objects, in which we have not any concern. It is not until they touch our own line, and appear to rival us in what we wish to excel, that they awaken envy. Even then envy is, properly speaking, not grounded on the talents of others. For here, too, our self-complacency brings us relief; from the persuasion that, were we thoroughly known, and full justice done to us, our abilities would be found not inferiour to those of our rivals. What properly occasions envy, is the fruit of the accomplishmeyts of
others; the pre-eminence which the opinion of the world bestows, or which we dread it will bestow, on their talents above ours. Hence, distinguished superiority in genius, learning, eloquence, or any other of those various arts that attract the notice of the world, often become painful grounds of envy; not indeed to all indifferently, but to those who follow the same line of pursuit. Mere rivality, inspired by emulation, would carry no reproach; were not that rivality joined with obliquity, and a malignant spirit; did it not lead to secret detraction, and unfair methods of diminishing the reputation of others. Too frequently has such a spirit tarnished the character of those who sought to shine in the elegant arts ; and who, otherwise, had a just title to fame.
Let such as are addicted to this infirmity consider how much they degrade themselves. Superiour merit, of any kind, always rests on itself. Conscious of what it deserves, it disdains low competitions and jealousies. They who are stung with envy, especially when they allow its malignity to appear, confess a sense of their own inferiority; and in effect pay homage to that merit from which they endeavour to detract.
But in order to eradicate the passion, and to cure the disquiet which it creates, let such persons farther consider, how inconsiderable the advantage is which their rivals have gained, by any superiority over them. They whom you envy, are themselves inferiour to others who follow the same pursuits. For how few, how very few, have reached the summit of excellence, in the art or study which they cultivate? Even that degree of excellence which they have at- ' tained, how seldom is it allowed to them by the
world, till after they die? Public applause is the most fluctuating and uncertain of all rewards. Admired as they may be by a circle of their friends, they have to look up to others, who stand above them in public opinion; and undergo the same mortifications which you suffer in looking up to them. Consider what labour it has cost them to arrive at that degree of eminence they have gained ; and, after all their labour, how imperfect their rècompence is at last.
Within what narrow bounds is their fame confined ? With what a number of humili. ations is it mixed ? To how many are they absolutely unknown ? Among those who know them, how many censure and decry them? Attending fairly to 'these considerations, the envious might come in the end to discern, that the fame acquired by any accomplishment of the mind, by all that skill can contrive, or genius can execute, amounts to no more than a small elevation, raises the possessor to such an inconsiderable height above the crowd, that others may, without disquiet, sit down contented with their own mediocrity.
II. ADVANTAGES of fortune, superiority in birth, rank, and riches, even qualifications of body and form, become grounds of envy. Among external advantages, those which relate to the body ought certainly, in the comparative estimation of ourselves and others, to hold the lowest place; as in the acquisition of them we can claim no merit, but must ascribe them entirely to the gift of nature. But envy has often showed itself here in full malignity; though a small measure of reflection might have discovered that there was little or no ground for this