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FRET NOT THYSELF. PSALM XXXvii. 1.
IT is of more importance to every man, that his mind should be at peace, than that his body should be in health. We use great caution for the preservation of our bodily ease; and are at great expences for the restoring of it when lost. But as a restless mind is a worse evil, and hath also an effect in impairing the faculties of the body, all proper preservatives are diligently to be sought for and applied.
We are sent hither, into a world, where sin produces a thousand disorders: we are therefore born to meet with such things as will disturb and vex us, more or less, according to our different principles and propensities.
We must see right invaded, innocence oppressed, wisdom disregarded, merit neglected, justice hated, truth misrepresented and opposed, hypocrisy, rapine and violence unpunished, and sometimes applauded.
At these things the wisest of mankind are apt to be agitated with unreasonable indignation: while the weak, ignorant, and impatient, are driven to despair, madness and suicide.
When persons of delicate habits, and tender irritable minds, are without principle; which is too often the case in this age of uninformed sentiment; the prospect is dreadful. For when such are disappointed, they become desperate; accusing Providence, when they ought to accuse themselves; and flying
out of life, in a rage at those evils, which, perhaps, need not have been; or might have been cured; or at least, rendered very supportable.
Our blessed Saviour, knowing how his disciples were exposed to all the trials common to other men, and to other uncommon ones brought upon them by their profession, gives them this necessary adviceIn your patience possess ye your souls. Of which passage, the physiology is strict and true: for the impatient are not in possession of their souls: they are no more masters of themselves than persons divested of their reason. And the two cases are so much alike, that the fashion of the times hath confounded them; by making no distinction, in cases of suicide, between the wickedness of impatience, and the weakness of lunacy.
And what can we find within ourselves to give us patience? Human prudence may be allowed the wisdom of experience, to make us cautious; but it hath nothing positive, to give us strength: no gifts, no doctrines, no promise; all of which are necessary to us in our present state.
The pride of heathen philosophy affected an indifference to pain and pleasure; and having adopted the principles of a blind fatality in nature, fled to insensibility, as the grand remedy for all the evils of life.
Under the state of the gospel, zeal and piety bring Christian people into difficulties, by exposing them to the hatred of the world. To avoid which, we are under a temptation of betaking ourselves to the convenient policy of offending nobody: and, to put a face upon our pusillanimity, we call it discretion; the cheapest of all the virtues: because the reputation of it is obtained by doing nothing; at least, by doing no good, for fear of interrupting our own ease. The
brightness of the rainbow is attended by another circle, of an inferior light wherein the order of the colours is inverted. So is the bright circle of the virtues attended by another set, of a spurious kind, which mock the true; and this faint-hearted discretion is one of them. It may please us for a time, but it will deceive us at last.
The thing to be desired, therefore, is a true, religious serenity of mind. We call it patience, in respect to the ways of men; and faith or resignation, in respect to the ways of God,
This is to be attained
First, from reasonable consideration ;
The text saith, when the context is added, Fret not thyself because of the ungodly! The troubles of good men arise chiefly from the ways of evil men; of which we have many examples from the life and ministry of Jesus Christ; whose enemies were the greatest of villains and hypocrites, from Herod the king down to Judas the traitor. When good men trouble one another, they do it by mistake: but a bad man cannot act as such, without molesting society, and injuring his neighbours. Vice, as a cause, will have its proper effects, as brutes, by invariable instinct, follow the ferocity or uncleanness of their natures. Idleness will rob and plunder and run in debt; avarice will cheat: error will persecute the truth which it hates; ambition, to raise itself, must reduce other men; malice must gratify itself with lying and defamation; and revenge must live, like a vulture, upon blood.
When we see these things, we are to consider, that the wicked who disturb the world are themselves in
a very perilous situation; which is abundantly described in the psalm from whence the text is taken. It is observed of them,
First, that they are all weak and mortal like ourselves that they shall soon be cut down like the grass and withered even as the green herb. We are all under one common sentence of death; and no man hath in this respect any pre-eminence above another. However great and powerful a sinner may be in his wickedness, he must be cut down and withered. When we lament our own mortality, we may lament his; and so long as we can lament his fate we shall be more patient towards his failings.
But the condition of his life, while it lasts, is not such as it may appear to be from some partial circumstances: it is unhappy and ensnaring, in its best estate. If we find a man's ill humour troublesome to us, we may be assured it is much more troublesome to himself. He who giveth light, must first be illuminated: he who troubleth others, must first be troubled himself. The sea is agitated by the wind, before the ship is tossed about and endangered by it; so the people who disturb mankind are like the troubled sea, which can never rest, but casteth up mire and dirt, and defiles its own waves with the foulness of its own bottom.
The temporary success of a wicked man is a snare to him. His prosperity, while it lasts, is not a blessing, as to good men, but a temptation and a curse. Therefore it is said, in the book of Proverbs, the prosperity of fools shall destroy them*: it shall beget a blind confidence and presumption, which shall lead them on from one ruinous step to another. It shall furnish them with all the means and instruments of
* Prov. i. 32.
corruption, and bring them into captivity to the worst of passions: in which miserable condition, they may be so absurd as to be proud of themselves: but certainly they are no objects of envy to us. They may despise our lot; but we have all the reason in the world to pity them; and so long as we are under the influence of pity, we shall not be disturbed with anger.
We are farther to consider, that evil doers are not only mortal, but worse. The man who is executed is more miserable than he who dieth in the course of nature. Besides the evil of mortality, the evil of vengeance awaits a bad man and while he is whetting the weapon of malice, a sword of judgment, which he doth not see, is hanging over him, ready to drop upon his head. The eye of God is upon his ways, though not in his thoughts; and when the measure of his sins is filled up, he shall be rooted out. While he is counselling for himself, or against better men, the Lord, who sees what he is upon and that his day is coming, is represented as laughing his confidence to scorn: knowing, that instead of prevailing against the just, he is sharpening a sword which will be turned against himself, and go through his own heart. "I myself," saith the Psalmist, have seen the ungodly in great power, and flourishing like a green bay-tree. I went by and lo he was gone; I sought him but his place could no "where be found." His power is at an end; he can trouble us no longer; he is gone, as if he had never been.
Such is the real lot of evil men, under the flattering appearances of their temporary successes.: therefore, " grieve not thyself at him, whose way "doth prosper; against the man who doeth after