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in to our aid that more spiritual and refined species of forgiveness, which is seldom enforced doctrine introduced upon it by Christ, namely, or thought of, and yet is no way below our -To forgive a brother not only to seven times, regard : I mean the forgiveness of those, if we but to seventy times seven : that is, without may be allowed the expression, whom we have limitation.
injured ourselves. One would think that the In this the excellency of the gospel is said difficulty of forgiving could only rest on the by some one to appear with a remarkable ad- side of him who has received the wrong ; but vantage : *That a Christian is as much disposed the truth of the fact is often otherwise. The to love and serve you when your enemy as the consciousness of having provoked another's remere moral man can be when he is your friend.' sentment often excites the aggressor to keep This, no doubt, is the tendency of his religion; beforehand with the man he has hurt, and not but how often, or in what degrees, it succeeds, only to hate him for the evil he expects in -how nearly the practice keeps pace with the return, but even to pursue him down, and put theory, the allwise Searcher into the hearts of it out of his power to make reprisals. men alone is able to determine. But it is to be The baseness of this is such that it is sufficient feared that such great effects are not so sensibly to make the same observation which was made felt as a speculative man would expect from upon the crime of parricide among the Grecians: such powerful motives; and there is many a It was so black, their legislators did not Christian society which would be glad to com- suppose it could be committed, and therefore pound amongst themselves for some lesser de- made no law to punish it. grees of perfection on one hand, were they sure to be exempted on the other from the bad effects of those fretful passions which are ever
XIII.-DUTY OF SETTING BOUNDS TO taking, as well as ever giving, the occasions of
OUR DESIRES. strife; the beginnings of which Solomon aptly compares to the letting out of waters - the "And he said unto him, Say now unto her, Behold, thou
hast been careful for us with all this care; what is to opening of a breach which no one can be sure
be done for thee? wouldst thou be spoken for to the to stop till it has proceeded to the most fatal
king, or the captain of the host? And she answered, events.
I dwell among mine own people.'-2 Kings IV. 13. With justice, therefore, might the son of Sirach conclude concerning pride, that secret The first part of the text is the words which stream which administers to the overflowings the prophet Elisha puts into the mouth of his of resentments, that it was not made for man; servant Gehazi, as a message of thanks to the nor furious anger for him that is born of a woman of Shunem for her great kindness and
That the one did not become his hospitality; of which, after the acknowledgstation; and that the other was destructive to ment of his just sense,-which Gehazi is bid to all the happiness he was intended to receive deliver in the words, Behold, thou hast been from it. How miserably, then, must those men careful for us with all this care,-he directs him turn tyrants against themselves as well as to inquire in what manner he may best make a others, who grow splenetic and revengeful, not return in discharge of the obligation :- What only upon the little unavoidable oppositions shall be done for thee? wouldst thou be spoken and offences they must meet with in the com- for to the king, or the captain of the host ?' merce of the world, but upon those which only The last part of the text is the Shunammite's reach them by report, and accordingly torment answer, which implies a refusal of the honour their little souls with meditating how to return or advantage which the prophet intended to the injury before they are certain they have bring upon her by such an application, which received one! Whether this eager sensibility she indirectly expresses in her contentment and of wrongs and resentment arises from that satisfaction with what she enjoyed in her pregeneral cause to which the son of Sirach seems sent station:—'Idwell among mine own people.' to reduce all fierce anger and passion; or This instance of self-denial in the Shunammite is whether to a certain sourness of temper, which but properly the introduction to her story, and stands in everybody's way, and therefore sub-gives rise to that long and very pathetic transject to be often hurt;-from whichever cause action which follows, --in the supernatural grant the disorder springs, the advice of the author of a child, which God had many years denied of the Book of Ecclesiasticus is proper : ‘Ad-her; the affecting loss of him as soon as he was monish a friend,' says he, ‘it may be he hath grown up, and his restoration to life by Elisha not done it; and if he have, that he do it not after he had been some time dead; the whole again. Admonish thy friend, it may be he hath of which, though extremely interesting, and not said it; and he have, that he speaks it forming such incidents as would afford suffinot again. There is that slippeth in his speech, cient matter for instruction, yet as it will not but not from his heart : and who is he who hath fall within the intention of this discourse, I not offended with his tongue?'
shall beg leave at this time barely to consider I cannot help taking notice here of a certain those previous circumstances of it to which the
text confines me; upon which I shall enlarge and had just happened before her knowledge of with such reflections as occur, and then proceed him, no doubt she had heard the story with all to that practical use and exhortation which will the tender circumstances which a true report naturally fall from it.
would give it in his favour, namely, that a We find that, after Elisha had rescued the certain woman, whose husband was lately dead, distressed widow and her two sons from the and had left her with her children in a very hands of the creditor, by the miraculous multi- helpless condition,—very destitute, and, what plication of her oil,-he passed on to Shunem, was still worse, charged with a debt she was where, we read, was a great woman, and she not able to pay; that her creditor bore exceedconstrained him to eat bread; and so it was, ing hard upon her, and, finding her little worth that as often as he passed by he turned in in substance, was going to take the advantage thither to eat bread. The sacred historian which the law allowed of seizing her two sons speaks barely of her temporal condition and for his bondsmen; so that she had not only lost station in life,-'That she was a great woman,' her husband, which had made her miserable but describes not the more material part of her enough already, but was going to be bereaved (her virtues and character), because they were of her children, who were the only comfort and more evidently to be discovered from the trans- support of her life : that upon her coming to action itself ; from which it appears that she Elisha with this sad story, he was touched with was not only wealthy, but likewise charitable, compassion for her misfortunes, and had used and of a very considerate turn of mind ; for all the power and interest which he had with after many repeated invitations and entertain- his God to relieve and befriend her, which, in ments at her house, finding his occasions called an unheard-of manner, by the miraculous inhim to a frequent passage that way, she moves crease of her oil, which was the only substance her husband to set up and furnish a lodging for she had left, he had so bountifully effected as him, with all the conveniences which the sim- not only to disentangle her from her difficulties plicity of those times required : ‘And she said in paying the debt, but withal, what was still unto her husband, Behold, now I perceive that more generous, to enable her to live comfortably this is a holy man of God, which passeth by us the remainder of her days. She considered that continually. Let us make him a little chamber, charity and compassion was so leading a virtue, I pray thee, on the wall, and let us set for him and had such an influence upon every other part there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a of a man's character, as to be a sufficient proof candlestick ; and it shall be when he cometh to by itself of the inward disposition and goodness us that he shall turn in thither.' She perceived of the heart; but that so engaging an instance he was a holy man ; she had many opportuni- of it as this, exercised in so kind and so seasonties, as he passed by them continually, of ob-able a manner, was a demonstration of his; and serving his behaviour and deportment, which that he was in truth, what outward circumshe had carefully remarked, and saw plainly stances bespoke, a holy man of God. As the what he was,-that the sanctity and simplicity Shunammite’s principle and motive for her hospiof his manners, the severity of his life, his tality to Elisha was just, as it sprung from an zeal for the religion of his God, and the un- idea of the worth and merit of her guest, so common fervency of his devotion, when he likewise was the manner of doing it kind and worshipped before him, which seemed his whole considerate. It is observable, she does not business and employment upon earth,-all be solicit her husband to assign him an apartment spoke him not a man of this world, but one in her own house, but to build him a chamber whose heart and affections were fixed upon on the wall, apart; she considered that true another object, which was dearer and more piety wanted no witnesses, and was always most important to him. But as such outward ap- at ease when most private ; that the tumult pearances may be, and often have been, counter and distraction of a large family were not fit feited, so that the actions of a man are certainly for the silent meditations of so holy a man, who the only interpreters to be relied on, whether would perpetually there meet with something such colours are true or false, -so she had heard either to interrupt his devotion or offend the that all was of a piece there, and that he was purity of his manners; that, moreover, under throughout consistent; that he had never in such an independent roof, where he could take any one instance of his life acted as if he had shelter as often as his occasions required, she any views in the affairs of this world, in which thought he might taste the pleasure which was he had never interested himself at all, but natural to man in possessing something like where the glory of his God, or the good and what he could call his own, and, what is no preservation of his fellow-creatures, at first small part of conferring a favour, he would inclined him : that, in a late instance, before scarce feel the weight of it, or at least much he came to Shunem, he had done one of the seldomer in this manner than where a daily kindest and most charitable actions that a goot. invitation and repetition of the kindness perman could have done, in assisting the widow petually put him in mind of his obligation. If and the fatherless; and as the fact was singular, anything could still add to this, it was that it did not appear to be the dry offer of a faint should requite his benefactress, he had concivility, but that it came directly from the sidered that to one of her affluent condition, heart. There is a nicety in honest minds which who had all the reasonable comforts of an indewill not accept of a cold and suspected offer ; pendent life,--if there was any passion yet unand even when it appears to be sincere and satisfied, it must certainly be ambition ; that truly meant, there is a modesty in true merit though in general it was an irregular appetite, which knows not how to accept it ; and no which in most cases 'twas dangerous to gratify, doubt she had one, if not both these difficulties yet, in effect, 'twas only so far criminal as the to conquer in their turns,-for we read that power which is acquired was perverted to bad she constrained him, and in all likelihood and vicious purposes, which it was not likely to forced his acceptance of it, with all the warmth be here, from the specimen she had already and friendly openness of a humane and hospi- given of her disposition, which showed that, if table temper.
she did wish for an increase of wealth or honour, It is with benefits as with injuries, in this she wished it only as it would enable her more respect, that we do not so much weigh the generously to extend her arm in kind offices, accidental good or evil they do us as that which and increase the power as well as the opportuni. they were designed to do us,—that is, we con- ties of doing good. sider no part of them so much as their inten- In justice to Elisha's motive, which must have tion; and the prophet's behaviour consequent been good, we must suppose he considered his upon this shows he beheld it through this offer in this light ; and what principally led medium, or in some such advantageous light him to propose it was the great interest that he as I have placed it.
had with the king of Israel at that time, which There is no burthen so heavy to a grateful he had merited by a signal service ; and as he mind as a debt of kindness unpaid, and we had no views for himself, he thought it could may believe Elisha felt it so, from the earnest not be employed so well as in establishing the desire which he had, upon the immediate receipt fortune of one whose virtue might be so safely of this, to discharge himself of it; which he trusted with it. It was a justifiable prepossesexpresses in the text in the warmest manner : sion in her favour, though one not always to
– Behold, thou hast been careful for us, with be relied on; for there is many a one who in a all this care; what shall be done for thee? moderate station, and with a lesser degree of Wouldst thou be spoken for to the king, or power, has behaved with honourand unblemished the captain of the host ?' There is a degree reputation, and who has even borne the buffetof honest impatience in the words, such as was ings of adverse fortune well, and manifested natural to a good man, who would not be be great presence and strength of mind under it, hind hand with his benefactor. But there is whom nevertheless a high exaltation has at one thing which may seem strange at first sight, once overcome, and so entirely changed as if that, as her station and condition of life was the party had left not only his virtue, but even such that she appeared rather to have abounded himself, behind him. already than stood in want of anything in this Whether the Shunammite dreaded to make this world which such an application could supply, dangerous experiment of herself, or, which is why the prophet should not rather have pro- more likely, that she had learned to set bounds posed some spiritual advantage, which, as it to her desires, and was too well satisfied with would better have become the sanctity of his her present condition to be tempted out of it, character on the one hand, so, on the other, it she declines the offer in the close of the text, – would have done a more real and lasting service 'I dwell amongst mine own people :' as if she to his friend.
had said, “The intended kindness is far from But we are to reflect that, in returning favours, being small, but it is not useful to me. I live we act differently from what we do in conferring here, as thou art a witness, in peace, in a conthem : in the one case we simply consider what tented obscurity ; not so high as to provoke is best; in the other, what is most acceptable. envy, nor so low as to be trodden down and The reason is, that we have a right to act ac- despised. In this safe and middle state, as I cording to our own ideas of what will do the have lived amongst my own people, so let me party most good, in the case where we bestow a die, out of the reach both of the cares and glories favour; but where we return one we lose this of the world. 'Tis fit, o holy man of God ! right, and act according to his conceptions who that I learn some time or other to set bounds has obliged us, and endeavour to repay in such to my desires ; and if I cannot fix them now, a manner as we think it most likely to be ac- when I have already more than my wants recepted in discharge of the obligation. So that, quire, when shall I hope to do it? Or how though we are not to imagine Elisha could be shall I expect that even this increase of honour wanting in religious duties, as well as wishes, or fortune would fully satisfy and content my to so hospitable a friend, we may yet suppose ambition, should I now give way to it?' he was directed here by this principle of equity; So engaging an instance of unaffected moderaand that in reflecting in what manner he tion and self-denial deserves well to be considered by the bustlers in this world; because, the goods of fortune: they were never intended if we are to trust the face and course of things, to be talked out of the world. But as virtue we scarce see any virtue so hard to be put into and true wisdom lie in the middle of extremes, practice, and which the generality of mankind-on one hand, not to neglect or despise riches seem so unwilling to learn, as this of knowing so as to forget ourselves ; and, on the other, when they have enough, and when it is time not to pursue and love them so as to forget to give over their worldly pursuits. Ay! but God: to have them sometimes in our heads, nothing is more easy, you will answer, than to but always something more important in our fix this point, and set certain bounds to it. hearts. “For my own part (you will say), I declare I want, and would wish no more, but a sufficient
XIV.-SELF-EXAMINATION. competency of those things which are requisite to the real uses and occasions of life, suitable to 'The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's the way I have been taught to expect from use
crib; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not and education.'—But recollect how seldom it
consider.'-ISAIAN 1. 3. ever happens, when these points are secured, 'Tis a severe but an affectionate reproach of the but that new occasions and new necessities prophet's laid against the Israelites, which may present themselves ; and every day, as you safely be applied to every heedless and ungrow richer, fresh wants are discovered, which thankful people, who are neither won by rise up before you as you ascend the hill; so God's mercies nor terrified by his punishments. that every step you take--every accession to There is a giddy, thoughtless, intemperate spirit your fortune, sets your desires one degree further gone forth into the world, which possesses the from rest and satisfaction ; that something you generality of mankind; and the reason the have not yet grasped, and possibly never shall ; world is undone is because the world does not that devil of a phantom, unpossessed and un- consider,-considers neither the awful character possessable, is perpetually haunting you, and of God, nor the true relation themselves bear stepping in betwixt you and your contentment. to him. Could they consider this, and learn Unhappy creature !-to think of enjoying that to weigh the causes and compare the conseblessing without moderation ! or imagine that quences of things, and to exercise the reason so sacred a temple can be raised upon the which God has put into us for the government foundation of wealth or power! If the ground and direction of our lives, there would be some work is not laid within your own mind, they hopes of a reformation. But, as the world goes, will as soon add a cubit to your stature as to there is no leisure for such inquiries; and so your happiness. To be convinced it is so, full are our minds of other matters, that we pray look up to those who have got as high as have not time to ask nor a heart to answer the their warmest wishes could carry them in this questions we ought to put to ourselves. ascent. Do you observe they live the better, Whatever our condition is, 'tis good to be the longer, the merrier? or that they sleep the acquainted with it in time, to be able to supply sounder in their beds for having twice as much what is wanting, -and examine the state of our as they wanted, or well know how to dispose accounts before we come to give them up to an of? Of all rules for calculating happiness, this impartial Judge. is the most deceitful, and which few but weak The most inconsiderate see the reasonableness minds, and those unpractised in the world too, of this,-there being few, I believe, either so ever think of applying as the measure in such thoughtless, or even so bad, but that they an estimation. Great and inexpressible may sometimes enter upon this duty, and have some be the happiness which a moderate fortune and short intervals of self-examination, which they moderate desires, with a consciousness of virtue, are forced upon, if from no other motive, yet at will secure. Many are the silent pleasures of least to free themselves from the load and opthe honest peasant who rises cheerful to his pression of spirits they must necessarily be labour : why should they not? Look into his subject to without it. But, as the Scripture house, the seat of each man's happiness : has frequently intimates—and observation conhe not the same domestic endearments, the firms it daily—there are many mistakes attendsame joy and comfort in his children, and as ing the discharge of this duty, -I cannot make flattering hopes of their doing well, to enliven the remainder of this discourse more useful his hours and gladden his heart, as you could than by a short inquiry into them. I shall conceive in the highest station? And I make therefore, first, beg leave to remind you of some no doubt, in general, but if the true state of of the many unhappy ways by which we often bis joys and sufferings could be fairly balanced set about this irksome task of examining our with those of his betters, whether anything works without being either the better or the would appear at the foot of the account but wiser for the employment. what would recommend the moral of this dis- And first, then, let us begin with that which course. This, I own, is not to be attained to is the foundation of all the other false measures by the cynical stale trick of haranguing against we take in this matter,--that is, the setting about the examination of our works before we and frequent fastings, exactness in the debts are prepared with honest dispositions to amend and ceremonies of the law ; not balancing the them : this is beginning the work at the wrong account, as he ought to have done, in this end. These previous dispositions in the heart manner :- What I though this man is a publiare the wheels that should make this work go can and a sinner, have not I my vices as well as easily and successfully forwards; and to take he? 'Tis true his particular office exposes him them off, and proceed without them, 'tis no to many temptations of committing extortion miracle if, like Pharaoh's chariots, they that and injustice; but then am not I a devourer drive them, drive them heavily along.
of widows' houses, and guilty of one of the most Besides, if a man is not sincerely inclined to cruel instances of the same crime? He, possibly, reform his faults, 'tis not likely he should be is a profane person, and may set religion at inclined to see them; nor will all the weekly nought; but do not I myself for a pretence preparations that ever were wrote bring him make long prayers, and bring the greatest of all nearer the point : so that, with how serious a scandals upon religion, by making it a cloak to face soever he begins to examine, he no longer my ambitious and worldly views? If he, lastly, does the office of an inquirer, but an apologist; is debauched and intemperate, am not I conwhose business is not to search for truth, but scious of as corrupt and wanton dispositions ; skilfully to hide it. So long, therefore, as this and that a fair and guarded outside is my best pre-engagement lasts betwixt the man and his pretence to the opposite character?' old habits, there is little prospect of proving If a man will examine his works by a comhis works to any good purpose, of whatever parative view of them with others, this, no kind they are, with so strong an interest and doubt, would be the fairer, and least likely to power on their side. As in other trials, so in mislead him. But this is seldom the method this, 'tis no wonder if the evidence is puzzled this trial has gone through ; in fact, it generally and confounded, and the several facts and turns out to be as treacherous and delusive to circumstances so twisted from their natural the man himself as it is uncandid to the man shapes, and the whole proof so altered and con- who is dragged into the comparison; and whofirmed on the other side, as to leave the last ever judges of himself by this rule, so long as state of that man even worse than the first. there is no scarcity of vicious characters in the
A second unhappy, though general, mistake world, 'tis to be feared he will often take the in this great duty of proving our works is that occasions of triumph and rejoicing, where in which the Apostle hints at; in doing it not by a truth he ought rather to be sorry and ashamed. direct examination of our own actions, but from A third error in the manner of proving our a comparative view of them with the lives and works is what we are guilty of when we leave actions of other men.
out of the calculation the only material parts of When a man is going to enter upon this work them ; I mean the motives and first principles of self-examination, there is nothing so com- whence they proceeded. There is many a fair mon as to see him look round him, instead of instance of generosity, chastity, and self-denial, looking within him. He looks round,-finds which the world may give a man the credit of ; out someone who is more malicious,-sees which, if he would give himself the leisure to another that is more covetous, –
-a third that is reflect upon, and trace back to their first springs, more proud and imperious than himself; and he would be conscious proceeded from such so indirectly forms a judgment of himself, not views and intentions as, if known, would not be from a review of his life and a proving of his to his honour. The truth of this may be made own works, as the Apostle directs him, but evident by a thousand instances in life; and rather from proving the works of others, and yet there is nothing more usual than for a man, from their infirmities and defects drawing a when he is going upon this duty of self-examinadeceitful conclusion in favour of himself. In tion, instead of calling his own ways to rememall competitions of this kind, one may venture brance, to close the whole inquiry at once with to say there will be ever so much of self-love in this short challenge, – That he defies the world a man as to draw a flattering likeness of one to say ill of him.' If the world has no express of the parties ; and 'tis well if he has not so evidence, this indeed may be an argument of much malignity too as to give but a coarse his good luck; but no satisfactory one of the picture of the other, finished with so many real goodness and innocence of his life. A man hard strokes as to make the one as unlike its may be a very bad man, and yet through original as the other.
caution, through deep-laid policy and design, Thus the Pharisee, when he entered the may so guard all outward appearances as never temple, no sooner saw the publican but that to want this negative testimony on his side, – moment he formed the idea to himself of all That the world knows no evil of him,'-how the vices and corruptions that could possibly little soever he deserves it. Of all assays upon enter into the man's character, and with great a man's self, this may be said to be the slightest; dexterity stated all his own virtues and good this method of proving the goodness of our qualities over against them. His abstinence I works differing but little in kind from that