« ПредишнаНапред »
around in vain, or almost in vain, to find proper objects of its beneficence, and means and modes of administering it with
To the happiness of good neighbourhood succeeds a train of grovelling, base, serpentine hostilities ; depraving all who practise them, and distressing all against whom they are practised. Anxiety and dismay haunt every fire side; and a funeral gloom settles upon every prospect, and broods over every hope.
4. The slanderer ought to be deterred from his purpose by the incalculable mischiefs which he will do to himself.
It cannot be supposed that in such a course of hostilities against his fellow-men, the slanderer will escape from the common resentment of those whom he has injured. As he is an enemy to all men, all men become at length enemies to him. Such as have smarted severely from his tongue will usually take effectual care to make him smart in his turn. The vengeance executed upon him will often be exemplary. Sometimes he will be chastised. Sometimes he will be proI secuted. Sometimes be will be excluded from all decent society; and often, if not always, he will be openly insulted with indignities which he knows not how to brook, and yet dares not resist. The consciousness of his guilt will make him a coward; while a painful conviction that his sufferings are a mere and just retribution of his crimes, will point every sting, and give a double force to every blow.
Still more ought he to be alarmed at the certain prospect of depraving himself. Slander is a compound of falsehood, injustice, unkindness, and meanness; forming in itself a character eminently depraved. What is so unhappily begun, proceeds with a rapid and dreadful declension. All the designs wbich he forms in the indulgence of this characteristical propensity, all the measures which he feels obliged to employ, all the instruments which he can summon to his assistance, all the gratification which he can experience in his success, are such, and such only, as contribute to shrink, debase, and pollute his mind. In such a soil a noble generous thought would instantly wither. To such a bosom honourable friendship cannot approach. At the door of such a heart Christianity kuocks for admittance in vain. His career is the career of abandonment only, through a path of steep and rapid descent, going down to the chambers of death.'
THE LAW OF GOD.
THE TENTH COMMANDMENT.
THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOUR'S HOUSE, THOU SHALT
NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOUR's wife, NOR HIS MAN-SERVANT, NOR HIS MAID-SERVANT, NOR HIS Ox, NOR HIS ASS, NOR ANY THING THAT IS THY NEIGHBOUR's.
EXODUS XX. 17.
The preceding precepts of the Decalogue, so far as the language in which they are written is concerned, are apparently intended to regulate chiefly the external conduct of mankind. Had they not been explained by the prophets who followed Moses, and still more by our Saviour and his apostles, plausible reasons might be alleged why all of them, even the fourth, might be satisfied by external observances. But the precept in the text is directed immediately and only to the heart, and is intended supremely to control the disposition. The propensity forbidden in it is covetousness : an inordinate desire of worldly enjoyments; and particularly an inordinate desire of such enjoyments when in the possession of others. We may lawfully desire the enjoyments furnished by this world ; and that even when they belong to our fellow-men, if the de.
sire is confined within due bounds. We may desire lawfully the lands and houses of others, when they are willing to part with them, and we are equally willing to purchase them at an equitable price. We may lawfully wish to obtain any share of worldly good with which God may crown our honest and industrious efforts, and which we may be prepared to enjoy with a spirit of gratitude, beneficence, and moderation. I know,' says Solomon, that there is no good in them' (that is, in the creatures which God has made in this world, or the things created here,) but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in bis life; and also, that every man should eat, and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour : it is the gift of God.'
An inordinate desire of natural good seems, in the order of things, to be the commencement of sin in a virtuous being. Our first parents began their apostasy by coveting the forbidden fruit as an enjoyment, and wishing to become ' gods, knowing good and evil.' In this disposition seem naturally to be involved, ambition, avarice, and voluptuous wishes for its attainment: and out of it to spring, as consequences, Pride, vanity, and criminal sensuality, in its enjoyment; envy towards those, who possess more of it than ourselves; anger and malice towards those who hinder us from acquiring it; revenge towards those who have deprived us of it; falsehood, as the means of achieving and securing it; forgetfulness, and therefore ingratitude, with respect to such as give it; and impiety, and consequent rebellion, repining, and profaneness, towards him from whom we receive less of it than our unreasonable wishes demand. In a word, to this disposition may be traced with no great difficulty most, if not all, of the sins committed by mankind. The text therefore appears to be levelled at the root of bitterness; at a sinful disposition in its original form, and in the very commencement of its existence. If we obey this precept with the heart, and it cannot otherwise be obeyed, that obedience will immediately fulfil all the demands of the other precepts belonging to the second table, or those regulating our duty to mankind; and, consequentially, will fulfil those of the first. The tenth command therefore may be regarded as, in an extensive sense, a summary of our duty.
This command directly prohibits coveting; or, in other
words, ambition, avarice, and voluptuous desire. Of course it requires universally contentment, and, by easy implication, charity. Of consequence, also, it forbids discontentment and envy. Contentment, the virtue required in this precept, shall be the principal subject of the present Discourse. With this subject I sball connect some observations concerning discontentment and envy. Concerning voluptuous desires I shall not here enter into
The nature of contentment has been very often misapprehended. Persons often suppose themselves to be contented, when they are merely gay, or glad ; when a native or accidental sprightliness of mind excludes sorrow and gloom; or when a multiplicity of enjoyments, the gratification of a darling wish, or the success of a favourite enterprize, or the arrival of some unexpected benefit, fills the heart with pleasure. Others mistake indifference and phlegm for contentment; and others still, that kind of dull equanimity which springs from uniform, grave, and spiritless employments ; destroying all the elasticity of the mind, and settling it down in an immoveable stagnation. The contentment which is the object of this precept differs radically from all these dispositions. A man may be gay, or glad, and yet be totally destitute of this virtue. His natural disposition may incline him to flutter from one amusement to another, without suffering him to settle seriously upon any. Still the disposition which he mistakes for contentment is only sportiveness. But no man will mistrust, that sportiveness is the disposition required by this precept. A man may be greatly delighted with his present enjoyments. But no person beside bimself will mistake his pleasure for contentment; and a reverse of fortune may convince even him, that there is a wide difference between these two states of mind. Much less can the other attributes which I have mentioned lay a claim to this title. There is nothing excellent nor amiable in being merely grave, insensible of sufferings, or indifferent about them.
The words used in the Scriptures to denote contentment, involve, as one of their significations, the restraining of ourselves ; and, as another, the supporting of such burdens as are incumbent on us. It includes, therefore, the supposition, that the contented person is placed in circumstances which demand the restraint of his inclinations, and the sustentation of difficulties. Such plainly are the circumstances of every being who can, with strict propriety, be "said to be contented. To say, that an angel was contented, would certainly be incorrect phraseology. An angel is happy; all his circumstances being completely gratifying to bis desires. A man, wbom many troubles befal, and many burdens press, may, by steadily restraining his inclinations to murmur at the former, and serenely supporting the latter, be contented. Such is always the situation of man, upon the whole. He is never, for any length of time, in a situation entirely agreeable to bim. On the contrary, he is always required, in some degree, and at short intervals, to suffer. If he possess a contented spirit, he will suffer with quietness and serenity,
Having premised these general remarks, I observe, that evangelical contentment, the object of the command in the text, involves,
1. A fixed belief of the reality and excellency of the Divine government.
The Divine government is, throughout the Scriptures, made the foundation of every delightful, and even every comfortable thought. This scheme is perfectly accordant with the dictates of reason. Both the views and prospects of the Atheist, as I have heretofore shown at large, * are gloomy and desolate, full of perplexity and discouragement, and destitute alike of comfort and hope. The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice ;' is a declaration, and a precept founded on it, which a very limited understanding will show us to be just, and a very moderate degree of rectitude incline us to obey.
It is not, however, sufficient to insure our obedience, how.. ever well disposed, that we believe in the superintendence of some all-controlling agent. It is the government of Jehovah in wbich we are required to rejoice; the result of the wisdom, power, and goodness which constitute the perfect character of this glorious Being. No man can be contented who does not believe that the administration by which all bis own