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and how far they are unsuitable, ensnaring and pernicious. This, and not the common opinion of the world, will be his rule of judgment concerning them. By this he will see quite through them, see what they really are at bottom ; and how far a wise man ought to desire theni. The reason why men value them so extravagantly is, because they take but a superficial view of them, and only look upon their outside, where they are most showy and inviting. Were they to look within them, consider their intrinsick worth, their ordinary effects, their tendency, and their end, they would not be so apt to over-value them. And a man that has learned to see through himself can easily see through these.
Self knowledge directs to the proper exercise of self
VII. A MAN that knows himself best, knows how, and wherein, he ought to deny himself.
The great duty of self denial, which our Saviour so expressly requires of all his followers, plain and necessary as it is, has been much mistaken and abused ; and that not only by the church of Rome, in their doctrines of penance, fasts, and pilgrimages, but by some protestant
christians in the instances of voluntary abstinence and unnecessary austerities. Whence they are sometimes apt to be too censorious against those who indulge themselves in the use of those indifferent things, which they make it a point of conscience to abstain from. Whereas, would they confine their exercise of self denial to the plain and important points of christian practice, devoutly performing the necessary duties they are most averse to, and resolutely avoiding the known sins they are most inclined to, under the direction of scripture, they would soon become more solid, judicious, and exemplary christians; and did they know themselves, they would easily see that herein there is occasion and scope enough for self denial ; and that to a degree of greater severity and difficulty than there is in those little corporeal abstinences and mortifications they enjoin themselves.
1. Self knowledge will direct us to the necessary exercises of self denial, with regard to the duties our tempers are most averse to.
There is no one, but, at some times, finds a great backwardness and indisposition to some duties which he knows to be seasonable and necessary. This then is a proper occasion for self discipline. For to indulge this indisposition is very dangerous, and leads to an habitual neglect of known duty ; and to resist and oppose it, and to prepare for a diligent and faithful discharge of the duty, notwithstanding the many pleas and excuses that carnal disposition may
urge for the neglect of it, this requires no small pains and self denial ; and yet it is very necessary to the peace of conscience.
As for our encouragement to this piece of self denial, we need only remember that the difficulty of the duty, and our unfitness for it, will, upon the trial, be found to be much less than we apprehended. And the pleasure of reflecting, that we have discharged our consciences, and given a fresh testimony of our uprightness, will more than compensate the pains and difficulty we found therein. And the oftener the criminal propensions to the wilful neglect of duty are opposed and conquered, the seldomer will they return, or the weaker will they grow; till at last, by divine grace, they will be wholly overcome ; and in the room of them will succeed an habitual “readiness to every good work, ** and a very sensible delight therein : A much happier effect than can be expected from the severest exercises of self denial, in the instances before mentioned.
2. A man that knows himself will see an equal necessity for self denial, in order to check and control his inclinations to sinful actions ; To subdue the rebel within ; to rest the solicitations of sense and appetite ; to summon all his wisdom to avoid the occasions and temptations to sin, and all his strength to oppose it.
All this (especially if it be a favourite constitutional iniquity) will cost a man pains and
* Tit. iii. 1.
mortification enough. For instance, the subduing a violent passion, or taming a sensual inclination, or forgiving an apparent injury and affront. It is evident, such a self conquest can never be attained without much self knowledge and self denial.
And that self denial which is exercised this way, as it will be a better evidence of our sincerity, so it will be more helpful and ornamental to the interests of religion, than the greatest zeal in those particular duties which are most suitable to our natural tempers, or than the greatest austerities in some particular instances of mortification, which are not yet so necessary, and perhaps not so difficult or disagreeable to us as this.
To what amazing heights of piety may some be taught to mount, (raised on the wings of flaming zeal, and distinguished by uncommon preciseness and severity about little things) who all the while, perhaps, cannot govern one passion, and appear yet ignorant of, and slaves to, their darling iniquity ; through an ignorance of themselves, they misapply their zeal, and misplace their self denial; and by that means blemish their characters with a visible inconsistency.
Self knowledge promotes our usefulness in the world.
VIII. THE more we know of ourselves, the more useful we are like to be, in those stations of life in which providence hath fixed us.
When we know our proper talents and capacities, we know in what manner we are capable of being useful ; and the consideration of our characters and relations in life, will direct us to the proper application of those talents ; show us to what ends they were given us, and to what purposes they ought to be improved.
• Many of those who set up for wits, and pretend to a more than ordinary sagacity and delicacy of sense, do, notwithstanding, spend their time unaccountably; and live away whole days, weeks, and sometimes months together, to as little purpose, though it may not be so innocently, as if they had been asleep all the while. But if their parts be so good as they would have others believe, sure they are worth improving ; if not, they have the more need of it. Greatness of parts is so far from being a discharge from industry, that I find men of the most exquisite sense in all ages were always most curious of their time. And therefore I very much suspect the excellency of those men's parts, who are dissolute and careless misspenders of it.'