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RIGHT REVEREND FATHER IN GOD,
LORD BISHOP OF NORWICH.
WHEN I read the excellent Discourses you have given to the Public, I feel as if the world could not want any thing of the same kind from myself; and I consider your Lordship as one of the last persons to whom I ought to offer them. But, as they come abroad in consequence of your own advice to the Author, which, as you are now become my Diocesan, has the force of a command, they are sure of a favourable reception from yourself; and I am persuaded they will, on that account, be better received by the Public.
In my late Lectures on the Figurative Language of the Holy Scriptures, I have carried the apostolical mode of interpreting them as far as I thought it needful; and have laid down rules from the scripture itself, by the observation of which, good and learned men may carry it much farther. I have therefore omitted, for the present, the publication of many discourses of the expository kind, which I have by me, and have confined myself chiefly to such subjects as tend to make the Christian wiser and happier, and more useful in the conduct of his life.
* This Dedication was prefixed to the two Volumes of Sermons published in the life-time of the Bishop.
I have followed your Lordship's judgment in the choice of one moral subject with which these volumes are concluded *; and I wish young men of fortune would consider it for themselves, as earnestly as I have considered it for them.
Every age hath its favourite errors; to which fashion gives dignity and influence. When these come in my way, I never spare them: yet I endeavour to correct them as mildly and prudently as I can. But when I say this, I am sensible there is an Author, whose happy manner and temper, on such occasions, few will be able to equal, or even to imitate.
The present time gives me an opportunity of congratulating the Church of England on the addition of such a Prelate to the already-excellent and learned bench of English Bishops: and it would be criminal in me, if I were not to add my own to the general voice of the Public, on this occasion.
That there may be in the diocese the same disposition, as there will be in your Lordship to promote the peace, piety, and edification of all orders of people in it, is the wish, and shall be the prayer of,
NAYLAND, May 30, 1790.
Your Lordship's ever-obliged Friend,
The Sermons above alluded to are the 13th and 14th in the 4th Volume.
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 advice— In 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