« السابقةمتابعة »
It is a sad thing to observe, how miserably some men debase and prostitute their capacities. Those gifts and indulgences of nature, by which they outshine many others, and by which they are capable of doing real service to the cause of virtue and religion, and of being eminently useful to mankind, they either entirely neglect, or shamefully abuse, to the dishonour of God, and the prejudice of their fellow creatures, by encouraging and emboldening them in the ways of vice and vanity. For the false glare of a profane wit will sometimes make such strong impressions on a weak, unsettled mind, as to overbear the principles of reason and wisdom, and give it too favourable sentiments of what it before abhorred. Whereas the same force and sprightliness of genius would have been very happily and usefully employed in putting sin out of countenance, and in rallying the follies and exposing the inconsistencies of a vicious and profligate character.
The more talents and abilities men are blessed with, the more pains they ought to take. This is Chrysostom's observation. And the reason is obvious ; because they have more to answer for than other men ; which I take to be a better reason than what is assigned by their father, viz. because they have more to lose.
When a man once knows where his strength lies, wherein he excels, or is capable of excelling, how far his influence extends, and in what station of life providence hath fixed him, and
the duties of that station ; he then knows what talents he ought to cultivate, in what manner and to what objects they are to be chiefly directed and applier, in order to shine in that station, and be useful in it. This will keep him even and steady in his pursuits and views ; consistent, with himself, uniform in his conduct, and useful to mankind ; and will not permit his shooting at a wrong mark, or missing the right one he aims at; as thousands do, for want of this necessary branch of self knowledge. See Part I. Chap. V.
Self knowledge leads to a decorum and consistency of
IX. " A MAN that knows himself, knows how to act with discretion and dignity in every station and character.
Almost all the ridicule we see in the world takes its rise from self ingnorance, and to this mankind by common assent ascribe it, when they say of a person that acts out of character, he does not know himself. Affectation is the spring of all ridicule, and self ignorance the true source of affectation. A man that does not know his proper character, nor what becomes it, cannot act suitably to it. He will often af fect a character that does not belong to him ;
and will either act above or beneath himself, which will make him equally contemptible in the eyes of them that know him.
A man of superiour rank and character, that knows himself, knows that he is but a man ; subject to the same sicknesses, frailties, disappointments, pains, passions, and sorrows as other men ; that true honour lies in those things, in which it is possible for the meanest peasant to excel him ; and therefore he will not be vainly arrogant. He knows that they are only transitory and accidental things, that set him above the rest of mankind; that he will soon be upon a level with them ; and therefore learns to condescend. And there is a dignity in this condescension; it does not sink, but exalts his reputation and character.
A man of inferiour rank, that knows himself, knows how to be content, quiet, and thankful. in his lower sphere. As he hath not an extravagant veneration and esteem for those external things which raise one man's circumstances so much above another’s, so he does not look up. on himself as the worse or less valuable man, purely because he has them not ; much less does he envy them that have them. As he has not their advantages, so neither has he their temptations. He is in that state of life, which the great Arbiter and Disposer of all things hath allotted him; and he is satisfied : But as a de. ference is owing to external superiority, he knows how to pay a proper respect to those
that are above him, without that abject and servile cringing which discovers an inordinate es teem for their condition. As he does not over esteem them for those little accidental advantages in which they excel him, so neither does he over value himself for those things in which he excels others.
Were hearers to know themselves, they would not take upon them to dictate to their preachers, or teach their ministers how to teach them; (which, St. Austin observes, is the same thing as if a patient, when he sends for a physician, should prescribe to him what he would have him prescribe ;) but if they happen to hear something not quite agreeable to their former sentiments, would betake themselves more diligently to the study of their bibles, to know whether those things were so.?*
And were ministers to know themselves, they would know the nature and duty of their office, and the wants and infirmities of their hearers better than to domineer over their faith, or shoot over their heads, and seek their own popularity, rather than their benefit. They would be more solicitous for their edification than their approbation ; (the most palatable food faithful physician, would earnestly intend and endeavour their good, though it be in a way they may not like ; and rather risk their own characters with weak and captious men, than
* Acts xyii, 11.
be unfaithful to God and their own consciena on
withhold any thing that is needful for them, Patients must not expect to be always pleased, nor physicians to be always applauded.
X. SELF knowledge tends greatly to cultivate a spirit of true piety.
Ignorance is so far from being the mother of devotion, that nothing is more destructive of it. And of all ignorance, none is a greater bane tò it than self ignorance. This indeed is very consistent with superstition, bigotry, and enthusiasm, those common counterfeits of piety, which by weak and credulous minds are often mistaken for it. But true piety and real devotion can only spring from a just knowledge of God and ourselves; and the relation we stand in to him, and the dependence we have upon him. For when we consider ourselves as the creatures of God, whom he made for his hon. our, and as creatures incapable of any happiness, but what results from his favour; and as entirely and continually dependent upon him for every thing we have and hope for ; and whilst we bear this thought in our minds, what can