« PreviousContinue »
character, before such approbation could be obtained. Has it been a part of your daily discipline to mix in the society of those with whom you ought to have neither views nor interests in common? and has pain been inflicted by their marked neglect, or, more probably still, by their total indifference? Whence could this pain arise but from wounded vanity? It is, indeed, in this respect that a cautious and occasional intercourse with gay, worldly society, may be a very profitable species of discipline for those who are too proud to be tempted to lay aside their profession of stricter religious principles than others, and, at the same time, too vain not to feel acutely the dislike excited, the isolation caused by it. Their great danger, however, is lest they should be tempted "by the wiles of the devil" to mistake the emotions of wounded vanity for a taking up of the cross of Christ, a * Ephes. vi. 11.
fellowship in His sufferings who "endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself." Their feelings are, on the contrary, altogether worldly; but, if looked upon as a part of the discipline of life, they may be turned to profit, by revealing "the root of bitterness" that lay unsuspected in the depths of their heart.
In fact, society of every kind, be it worldly or religious, intellectual or commonplace, is the only sure test of the existence of vanity. To the vain, society is, in one form or another, among the most painful parts of the discipline of daily life. Here I speak of those who are of quick perception and refined mind. To others, more coarsely constituted, the very same occurrences that would inflict pain on the vanity of the acutely sensitive, serve, on the contrary, as food for the gratification of theirs. But with such persons we have, at present, nothing to do. It is to an Hebrews, xii. 15.
* Hebrews, xii. 3.
altogether different and more refined class of characters that the discipline of daily life is at once more painful, and that pain more necessary. It is of them I ask, has your intercourse with society caused you any annoyance during the past hours; and from what did that annoyance arise? If you had entered upon it in a meek and lowly spirit, esteeming others better than yourself, would you have experienced the same degree of pain from comparative neglect? would you have been so apt to fancy that neglect without any just grounds? More probably, however, you entered upon the social scene with a very strong consciousness of superiority (that was pride), and a consequent expectation and desire that this superiority should be recognised by every one else (this was vanity). When you see, or fancy you see, the talents, the conversation, the good opinion of others admired and valued above your own, it will undoubtedly give you
the more pain if you had before, in imagination, pictured the contrary. It will make the discipline of society much more effective for the formation of your character, if you exercise vigilant watchfulness and self-examination as to the pleasures you expect from it. If they should prove to be the display of your own personal or intellectual advantages, and the homage rendered them by others, then the scene on which you are about to enter will, if your vanity is gratified, be altogether dangerous; if it is not gratified, it will be altogether painful. It is quite true that "retirement shows us what we should be; society shows us what we are." And, therefore, society is a very important and necessary part of the discipline of life.
The next daily trials to be noticed are of a class chiefly, but not exclusively, experienced by the very young. They are often given pain during the course of the day by being reminded of faults, by
having their opinions contradicted and the expression of them checked, and by being given directions respecting their dress, conduct, or manner in very unceremonious terms, perhaps very uncourteous tones. There can, indeed, be no abstract doubt as to the expediency of scrupulous courtesy towards children and dependents. But it is also certain that a part of the appointed discipline of the latter is to bear patiently with the unpleasant habits of those placed in authority over them, besides that no want of patience or proper respect on their part will be likely to improve the discourtesy they complain of. On the contrary, it is very probable that the expectation (from former experience) of sharp answers and angry contradictions to the censures those in authority may deem necessary to pass, or the directions they may think proper to give, will insensibly influence the tone and manner in