Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

III.-On Benevolence and Charity.

FORM as amiable sentiments as you can, of nations, communities of men, and individuals. If they are true, you do them only justice; if false, though your opinion does not alter their nature and make them lovely, you yourself are more lovely for entertaining such sentiments. When you feel the bright warmth of a temper thoroughly good in your own breast, you will see something good in every one about you. It is a mark of littleness of spirit to confine yourself to some minute part of a man's character: a man of generous, open, extended views, will grasp the whole of it; without which he cannot pass a right judgment on any part. He will not arraign a man's general conduct for two or three particular actions; as knowing that man is a changeable creature, and will not cease to be so, till he is united to that Being, who is "the same yesterday, to-day, and forever." He strives to outdo his friends in good offices, and overcomes his enemies by them. He thinks he then receives the greatest injury, when he returns and revenges one : for then he is "overcome of evil.” Is the person young who has injured him? he will reflect that inexperience of the world, and a warmth of constitution, may betray his unpractised years into several inadvertencies, which a more advanced age, his own good sense, and the advice of a judicious friend, will correct and rectify. Is he old? the infirmities of age and want of health may have set an edge upon his spirits, and made him "speak unadvisedly with his lips." Is he weak and ignorant? he considers that it is a duty incumbent upon the wise to bear with those that are not so: "Ye suffer fools gladly," says St. Paul, "seeing ye yourselves are wise." In short, he judges of himself, as far as he can, with the strict rigour of justice; but of others, with the softenings of humanity.

From charitable and benevolent thoughts, the transition is unavoidable to charitable actions. For wherever there is an inexhaustible fund of goodness at the heart, it will, under all the disadvantages of circumstances, exert itself in acts of substantial kindness. He that is substantially, good, will be doing good. The man that has a hearty determinate will to be charitable, will seldom put men off with the mere will for the deed. For a sincere desire to do good, implies some uneasiness till the thing be done and uneasiness sets the mind at work, and puts it upon the stretch to find out a

thousand ways and means of obliging, which will ever escape the unconcerned, the indifferent, and the unfeeling.

The most proper objects of your bounty are the neces-sitous. Give the same sum of money, which you bestow on a person in tolerable circumstances, to one in extreme poverty; and observe what a wide disproportion of happiness is produced. In the latter case, it is like giving a cordial to a fainting person; in the former, it is like giving wine to him who has already quenched his thirst." Mercy is seasonable in time of affliction, like clouds of rain in time of drought."

And among the variety of necessitous objects, none have a better title to our compassion, than those, who, after having tasted the sweets of plenty, are, by some undeserved calamity, obliged, without some charitable relief, to drag out the remainder of life in misery and wo who little thought they should ask their daily bread of any but of God; who, after a life led in affluence, "cannot dig, and are ashamed to beg." And they are to be relieved in such an endearing manner, with such a beauty of holiness, that, at the same time that their wants are supplied, their confusion of face may be prevented.

There is not an instance of this kind in history so affecting, as that beautiful one of Boaz to Ruth. He knew her family, and how she was reduced to the lowest ebb: when, therefore, she begged leave to glean in his fields, he ordered his reapers to let fall several handfuls, with a seeming carelessness, but really with a set design, that she might gather them up without being ashamed. Thus did he form an artful scheme, that he might give, without the vanity and ostentation of giving; and she receive, without the shame and confusion of making acknowledgments.--Take the history in the words of scripture, as it is recorded in the book of Ruth. "And when she was risen up to glean, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, Let her glean even among the sheaves, and rebuke her not; and let fall also some of the handfuls on purpose, and leave them that she may glean them, and reproach her not." This was not only doing a good action; it was doing it likewise with a good grace.

It is not enough we do no harm, that we be negatively good; we must do good, positive good, if we would "enter into life" When it would have been as good for the world, if such a man had never lived; it would perhaps have been

A scanty

better for him, "if he had never been born." fortune may limit your beneficence, and confine it chiefly to the circle of your domestics, relations, and neighbours; but let your benevolence extend as far as thought can travel, to the utmost bounds of the world: just as it may be only in your power to beautify the spot of ground that lies near and close to you; but you could wish, that, as far as your eye can reach, the whole prospect before you were cheerful, every thing disagreeable were removed, and every thing beautiful made more so.

IV.-On Happiness,

THE great pursuit of man is after happiness: it is the first and strongest desire of his nature;-in every stage of his life he searches for it as for hid treasure ;-courts it under a thousand different shapes ; and, though perpetually. disappointed-still persists-runs after and inquires for it fresh asks every passenger who comes in his way, "Who will show him any good?"-Who will assist him in the attainment of it, or direct him to the discovery of this great end of all his wishes?

He is told by one, to search for it among the more gay and youthful pleasures of life; in scenes of mirth and sprightliness, where happiness ever presides, and is ever to be known by the joy and laughter which he will see at once painted in her looks.

A second, with a graver aspect, points out to him the costly dwellings which pride and extravagance have erected; tells the inquirer that the object he is in search of inhabits there;-that happiness lives only in company with the great, in the midst of much pomp and outward state. That he will easily find her out by the coat of many colours she has on, and the great luxury and expense of equipage and furniture with which she always sits surrounded.

The miser wonders how any one would mislead and wilfully put kim upon so wrong a scent-convinces him that happiness and extravagance never inhabited under the same roof; that, if he would not be disappointed in his search, be must look into the plain and thrifty dwelling of the prudent man, who knows and understands the worth of money, and cautiously lays it up against an evil hour: that it is not the prostitution of wealth upon the passions, or the parting with it at all, that constitutes happiness-but that it is the keeping it together, and the having and holding it fast to

him and his heirs for ever, which are the chief attributes that form this great idol of human worship, to which so much incense is offered up every day.

The epicure, though he easily rectifies so gross a mistake, yet, at the same time, he plunges him, if possible, into a greater: for, hearing the object of his pursuit to be' happiness, and knowing of no other happiness than what is seated immediately in his senses-he sends the inquirer there; tells him it is in vain to search elsewhere for it, than where nature herself has placed it—in the indulgence and gratification of the appetites, which are given us for that end and in a word-if he will not take his opinion in the matter he may trust the word of a much wiser man, who has assured us that there is nothing better in this world, than that a man should eat and drink, and rejoice in his works, and make his soul enjoy good in his labour-for that is his portion.

To rescue him from this brutal experiment-ambition takes him by the hand and carries him into the world→ shows him all the kingdoms of the earth and the glory of them-points out the many ways of advancing his fortune and raising himself to honour,-lays before his eyes all the charms and bewitching temptations of power, and asks if there be any happiness in this world like that of being caressed, courted, flattered, and followed?

To close all, the philosopher meets him bustling in the. full career of his pursuit-stops him-tells him, if he is in search of happiness, he is gone far out of his way :-That this deity has long been banished from noise and tumults, where there was no rest found for her, and was fled into solitude far from all commerce of the world; and, in a word, if he would find her, he must leave this busy and intriguing scene, and go back to that peaceful scene of retirement and books from which he first set out.

In this circle, too often does a man run, tries all experi ments, and generally sits down wearied and dissatisfied with them all at last--in utter despair of ever accomplishing what he wants-not knowing what to trust to, after so many disappoi tments-or where to lay the fault, whether in the incapacity of his own nature, or the insufficiency of the enjoyments themselves.

In this uncertain and perplexed state-without knowing which way to turn or where to betake ourselves for refuge so often abused and deceived by the many who pretend

[ocr errors]

thus to show us any good-Lord! says the psalmist, lift up the light of thy countenance upon us.-Send us some rays of thy grace and heavenly wisdom, in this benighted search after happiness, to direct us safely to it. O God! let us not wander for ever without a guide, in this dark region, in endless pursuit of our mistaken good; but enlighten our eyes that we sleep not in death-open to them the comforts of thy holy word and religion-lift up the light of thy countenance upon us, and make us know the joy and satisfaction of living in the true faith and fear of Thee, which only can carry us to this haven of rest where we would be-that sure haven, where true joys are to be found, which will at length not only answer all our expectations—but satisfy the most unbounded of our wishes for ever and ever.

There is hardly any subject more exhausted, or which at one time or other has afforded more matter for argument and declamation, than this one, of the insufficiency of our enjoyments. Scarce a reformed sensualist, from Solomon down to our own days, who has not, in some fits of repentance or disappointment, uttered some sharp reflection upon the emptiness of human pleasure, and of the vanity of vanities which discovers itself in all the pursuits of mortal man.— But the mischief has been, that, though so many good things have been said, they have generally had the fate to be considered, either as the overflowings of disgust from sated appetites which could no longer relish the pleasures of life, or as the declamatory opinions of recluse and splenetic men, who had never tasted them at all, and, consequently, were thought no judges of the matter. So that it is no great wonder, if the greatest part of such reflections, however just in themselves, and founded on truth and a knowledge of the world, are found to have little impression where the imagination was already heated with great expectations of future happiness; and that the best lectures that have been read upon the vanity of the world, so seldom stop a man in the pursuit of the object of his desire, or give him half the conviction, that the possession of it will, and what the experience of his own life, or a careful observation upon the life of others, does at length generally confirm to us all.

I would not be understood as if I were denying the realfty of pleasures, or disputing the being of them, any more than any one would the reality of pain-yet I must observe, that there is a plain distinction to be made betwixt pleasure

« VorigeDoorgaan »