« PreviousContinue »
made himself a king in his own imagination, raves if he is not treated as such by people in their senses. Lighter cases, but the same in kind, occur to us every day; and men make such mistakes about themselves, as bring them into great trouble: whereas an humble mind is not easily hurt. When we have abased ourselves, we cannot be thrown down: but he that has placed himself aloft in his own estimation, is exposed to many a downfall. Humanity will be tender to a vain man, and the religious will pity him; but the inconsiderate always take a delight in pulling him down.
The order and regularity of a methodical life hath great effect in keeping the mind recollected and undisturbed. When people live, as too many do, not by rule, but slothfully and by chance, their affairs are perplexed; and when they are out of temper with themselves, they are less able to bear with the perverseness of others. While every thing about them is wrong, their minds can never be right; but great inconveniences are avoided by œconomical attention, and the regularity of an industrious spirit; which is one of the greatest blessings in life.
Moderation and contentment are absolutely necessary to our peace; for when our ways and means are exceeded by our wants, we must either fall into distress, or be forced upon mean and base expedients; to the loss of our honour, and the wounding of our consciences. Ungoverned appetite is either sick or poor : often both at once; and poverty, which we have brought upon ourselves, is always vexatious. We never see people happy who outlive their fortunes; but generally fretful, restless and quarrelsome; or dejected and melancholy; and this may serve to shew
us what a large share of the evil we complain of, is of our own making.
Moderation, as it signifies temperance in meat and drink, hath a great effect upon the temper. It keeps the mind cool as well as the body; and the influence of the one upon the other is undisputed. The sick man is careful of his diet, and lives sparingly in a fever, lest he should inflame his distemper. We are all sick, of sin; and fretfulness is the hectic of the mind; which must be corrected by the same regimen as reduces a feverish heat in the body. Christianity gives us knowledge for the correcting of every error; but it bids us add temperance. Devils go not out without fasting; and it is as true, that evil passions cannot be kept under, but by habits of self-denial. He who can deny himself not only reduces his mind to a temperate state, but disarms the malice of his enemies; because he does that voluntarily, for his own good, which another would do maliciously to his hurt; he mortifies himself.
In the next place let us beware of being hurt by little offences and slight accidents. Great calamities work upon the rational and manly affections of the mind. Small affronts have nothing to work upon but our pride; a tender and irritable principle. We are so apt to be surprised by light occasions of vexation, that they often give us more trouble than heavy causes of affliction, against which we are better provided. We arm ourselves against lions and tygers, or keep out of their way; while we are often tormented with sleepless nights from rats and insignificant noises.
To cure this infirmity, the mind should accustom itself to great objects; it should present to itself the
dreadful dangers of temptation; the future certain approaches of death; the just judgment of God; the torments of hell; the joys of heaven; and while it is thus acting like a man, it will not be fretted like a child, with little things.
It will also lessen our embarrassment, on many occasions, if we make it a rule to be silent before our enemies. If a man is under a mistake, or slow of apprehension, or poisoned with misinformation; we may do him and ourselves good by discoursing with him but if we once discover that he has a bad, that is, a malicious design, we should make it a rule never to talk with him, we have no chance with such a person but by being silent. If we speak never so long, we shall do him no good; but only give him an opportunity of misreporting our words, and turning them against us. The Scribes and Pharisees, from the malice of their hearts, urged our Saviour vehemently to speak of many things; laying wait for him, and seeking to catch something out of his mouth, that they might accuse him. Malice will work in other men now, as it did in them: and as our Saviour himself was silent, when he could do no good by speaking; there are many occasions in life, when we shall very much lessen our danger and trouble by following the wisdom of his example.
It will also contribute greatly to our peace, if we view things on the bright side, and make the best of them, in our private meditations and in our conversation. As all lead contains some silver in it, so hath all evil some good, which a skilful mind may extract. The sagacious bee, when it traverses the fields, turns not aside from a poisonous flower; but is possessed of a chemical art, which can draw honey from every
* Luke xi. 53.
plant so saith the Apostle, supposing us to have the like faculty, in every thing give thanks, for this is the will of God.
3rdly. Such are the considerations with which we are to fortify our minds, and the rules by which we are to direct our lives, for the preservation of our tranquillity. But I am now to observe, that all other rules and considerations will be ineffectual, without the practice of piety; that is, without the prayers and devotions of a Christian. When we would move men to consider and learn, we tell them that peace of mind is an art; but when we would move them to pray, we must remind them, that it is a gift. The composure of a devout mind is called the peace of God, which passeth all understanding; it must therefore come from God himself; and if we do not ask for it, we cannot have it. O, pray for the peace of Jerusalem, saith the Psalmist to the Church: so must we admonish every individual, " O pray for the peace of thine "own heart, if thou dost expect to find it." Our religion hath every wise doctrine, and every wholesome precept; but, throughout the whole, Faith acts as the sovereign power, and the universal remedy; without which there can be neither the comfort of Hope not the patience of Charity. This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith: and why doth the world overcome so many, but because they are without it? and, consequently without prayer, which is the speech of faith, and the evidence of our spiritual life? If we live, we shall speak: and that we may never be at a loss for proper expressions, the whole book of Psalms is provided for private as well as public use, and fitted for every occasion that can befall us.
The advantages of keeping up this communion
with God, are too many to be enumerated, and too great to be described: but certainly nothing composes the mind under all its trials like that great expedient of opening our grief to him who is able to help us, and hath promised never to leave us nor forsake us. Great and instructive in the issue of it, is the example of the good king Hezekiah; who when he had received that letter of defiance and blasphemy from the king of Assyria, went into the Temple, and spread it before the Lord*; and by his prayer obtained a signal deliverance to himself and his people. We cannot even present ourselves before God, without this good effect; that we are thereby instantly detached from the world which troubles us. We dare not, we cannot, give way to the weaknesses of Nature, while his eye is upon us, to restrain us. It is related of one of our kings, whose devotion supported him under all the trials of persecution and martyrdom: that when he had received some afflicting intelligence, while he was upon his knees at the public prayers, he continued in the same posture till they were ended; and then he relapsed into the condition of a man, and retired to give vent to his sorrow.
If we could go into heaven, the world, with all its cares, would be left behind us and although this cannot be, so long as we are in the body; yet we may at all times lift up our hearts, and ascend thither with our thoughts and affections. Faith can fix an anchor there, which will keep us steady under all the changes and chances of this mortal life.
· 2 Kings xix. 14.