Page images
PDF
EPUB

thing, that is completely, he knoweth nothing yet, as he ought to know *. And such conceited fancies, making men negligent and rash, and prompting them to despise the judgments and reasons of others, lead them into perpetual errors.

As for the other temptations to pride, which prevail with the gay and thoughtless, it would scarce be proper to say more about them from hence, than to beg they would reflect, how short-lived and precarious, how trifling and ridiculous, the things often are on which they, in good earnest, plume themselves : how few have ever been lastingly the happier for them even in this world, beyond which they cannot extend ; how many have been betrayed to eternal as well as temporal ruin by injudicious fondness of excelling in them. So important is it to proportion our affections duly: for want of which, multitudes are proud of their vices, and glory in their shame f.

3. After this we must proceed to examine, what deductions are to be made from the value of our accomplishments and advantages, on account of our deficiencies and disadvantages. For till we have balanced the one against the other, we can no more judge of our own merit, than we can of our wealth, by casting up the sums, which are in our possession, or due to us, without stating what we owe. One immoral, mean, or disagreeable quality, may obscure the lustre of many virtues and ornaments. Nay, some faults may give so unhappy a turn to dispositions very laudable in themselves, as to make them do harm, instead of good : and much more then may those which are of a nature indifferent, or valuable only in a lower degree, be so perverted. Unless therefore we search into this matter, we shall in effect * I Cor. viii. 1, 2.

+ Phil. iï. 19.

know nothing of ourselves. And as it is yet more mortifying to acknowledge things which make against us, than to quit our pretensions to those which make for us; without the utmost care, we shall certainly decide partially in our own favour on the present head. But

4. Supposing that danger avoided, a further direction, equally needful, is, to be cautious in comparing ourselves with others. This we are commonly in so much haste to do, that it plainly shows, which of the scales we design beforehand shall preponderate. Now judging too harshly of others, both injures them, and may greatly mislead us : judging at all of them is but seldom needful : and usually judging right is very difficult. Their circumstances and characters are often unknown, often purposely misrepresented. Modest secret merit is frequently the greatest: and qualifications, not so shining as ours, may be more beneficial. They, who have considerable defects, which we have not, may be free from as considerable ones, which we have; or be endued with virtues, which may amply compensate for them. If we resolve to compare, we ought to make allowance for every thing of this kind: and provided we make it duly, we may begin our comparisons as soon as we please ; but shall perhaps have more comfort in letting them alone. For if we begin, we must not think to stop at those instances, where we previously know the result will be such as we like. Most persons may find some, or many others, beneath them, in birth, fortune, influence, agreeableness, understanding, temper, morals. But it would be generally full as easy, if it were but near so pleasing, to meet with many more, greatly above them in these respects, without seeking extremely far for it. Now, if we make the comparison only with such as we despise ; it is a poor pre-eminence to be superior to the despicable. If only with such as are just about us; we lie open to St. Paul's reproof, of those, who measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves amongst themselves, are not wise*. And if we extend our enquiry to a greater distance, we may quickly discover numbers, to whom we shall be tempted to look up with envy; and they to look down upon us, if we are known to them, with pity or contempt.

But, even on the supposition that we could maintain a rank, in our several pretensions, amongst the foremost of mankind; yet there remains,

5. Another most material point to be considered, What is man? Still we should find ourselves poor, helpless, frail, short-lived wretches, liable every moment to lose every thing that is valuable in us, and suffer every thing that is dreadful to us. Still the imperfections that we have in common with the basest of our kind, would make up a far greater part of our condition than the advantages that exalt us above them. And why is earth and ashes proud t?

But if it be needful to make us more fully sensible of our low estate, let us lift up our thoughts to those numberless hosts of celestial natures, whose perfections, though finite, are yet beyond our conception, much more our attainment: and to whom probably the first of men bears no greater a proportion than the creeping worm to one of us. For indeed, if we do but reflect how little we are removed from the brute creation; how like them we are in our make, our wants, our passions, our follies : there will be cause to think, that we are the meanest of rational animals, barely deserving the name : above whom * 2 Cor. x. 12.

+ Ecclus. x. 9.

there are innumerable orders and worlds of beings, each rising beyond the other; and yet the highest immensely distant from that One, before whom they are all less than nothing and vanity *.

What then are we? Were we underived, were we independent, yet our whole race, and the whole earth we tread on, is a trifle in the universe, that makes no figure in it, and would scarce be missed out of it. But indeed the low existence that we have, and the little pre-eminences that belong to each of us in it, are not from ourselves, but owing to the bounty, and held by the pleasure, of another. All our natural powers and accomplishments are the work of his forming hand: all our outward advantages are appointed by his providence: all our improvements in goodness flow from his grace. Who then hath made thee to differ from another; and what hast thou, which thou didst not receive ? Now if thou didst receive it; why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it ta

But a still more important consideration is, that we have received whatever we have, not as a gift to be used in the manner we please; but as a trust, to be employed for our own advancement in piety and virtue, for the benefit of our fellow-creatures, for the honour of our Creator; to whom we must shortly render an account of our stewardship. The more hath been committed to us, the more we have to answer for: and not one of us is able to answer otherwise, than that in a greater degree or less, (God grant it be not a very great one!) we have neglected our duty, committed sins, and abused every talent put into our hands. If then we will think of ourselves soberly, and as we * Isa. xl. 17.

† 1 Cor. iv. 7.

[ocr errors]

ought to think, we have abundant cause to think with the utmost self-abasement : instead of unprofitable and misleading comparisons one with another, each to compare our own hearts and lives with God's holy laws: and being thence made sensible how much we need his mercy, submissively to apply for it, in the method which he hath prescribed, through the merits of our blessed Redeemer, taking His yoke upon us, and learning of Him to be meek, and lowly in heart: for so shall we find rest unto our souls*: being all subject one to another, and clothed with humility; for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humblet.

* Matt. xi. 29.

+ 1 Peter v. 5.

« PreviousContinue »