صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

the creation, consists, in their acting according to truth, rectitude, and propriety, (in their respective stations, whether higher or lower in the scale of being, whether in states of discipline, or reward,) in all cases or circumstances that regard either themselves, their fellow-beings, or their Creator. Whatever moral agent strictly and universally observes this rule, he is of that character which we and all rational beings call good, is amiable in the sight of the Supreme Judge of rectitude and goodness; and it is as certain, that every such being must be finally happy, as that the nature of things is what it is, and that perfect wisdom and goodness must act rightly in governing the world.

What makes the duty of such poor, short-sighted creatures as we are, who are yet but in the infancy of our being, is likewise the grand rule which every angel and archangel in heaven observes. Nay, it would be blasphemy to think of the Supreme Governor of the Universe, as conducting his immense and august economy otherwise than according to the sacred rule which himself has prescribed for the conduct of his reasonable creatures, and which is an attribute of his own infinitely perfect nature; I mean, immutable and eternal rectitude.

In what light does this show the Dignity of Human Nature! What may we yet come to be? Made in the image of God himself! and taught to imitate his example! to what heights may we thus come to be raised? Would to God, we could be brought to consider our own importance! Did we sufficiently reverence ourselves, we should act a part worthy of the honours for which our Creator gave us our being.

The rectitude of that part of our conduct, which regards ourselves, consists in the due care of our minds and our bodies, which two parts constitute our whole nature in the present state.

Our mental powers are generally considered under the heads of intelligence and passion. The office of the first, to judge, and distinguish between what ought to be pursued, and what avoided; of the latter, to excite to action. Where these two capital powers of the mind hold each her proper place, where the understanding is faithfully

exerted in the search of truth, and the active powers for attaining the real good of the creature, such a mind may be properly said to be duly regulated, and in a good condition.

The proper exertion of the understanding is in inquiry into important truth; and that understanding which is furnished with extensive and clear ideas of things, and enriched with useful and ornamental knowledge, is applied as the Divine Wisdom intended every rational mind in the universe should be, if not in one state, yet in another; if not universally in a state of discipline, as that we are now in, yet in a state of perfection, to which we hope hereafter to be raised. And whoever, in the present state, is blest with the proper advantages for improving his mind with knowledge, (as natural capacity, leisure, and fortune,) and neglects to use those advantages, will hereafter be found guilty of having omitted an important part of his duty.

Having in the foregoing book treated pretty copiously of the improvement and conduct of the understanding, there is the less occasion to enlarge upon that subject in this place. Let us therefore proceed to consider wherein the rectitude of that part of our conduct, which regards the active powers of the mind, consists.

In general, it is evident, that the will of every individual being in the universe ought to be effectually formed to an absolute and implicit submission to the disposal of the Universal Governor, which is saying, in other words, that every created being in the universe ought to study perfect rectitude in all his desires and wishes. He who desires any thing contrary to the Divine Nature, and will, or to what is right and good, is guilty of rebellion against the Supreme Governor of the Universe.

The passions, as they are commonly, but improperly called, of the human mind, are various, and some of them of so mixed and compounded a nature, that they are not casily ranged under classes. The following are the principal. Love, or complacence, or desire, whose object is, whatever appears to us good, amiable, or fit for us, as God, our fellow-creatures, virtue, beauty; joy, excited by happiness, real or imaginary, in possession, or prospect; sympathy, or a humane sense of the good or bad condition of our fellow-creatures; self-love; ambition, or desire of

glory, true, or false; covetousness; love of life; appetites of eating, drinking, recreation, sleeping, and mutual desires of the sexes; mirth; anger; hatred; envy; malice; revenge; fear; jealousy; grief.

It is the whole soul, or whole man, that loves, hates, desires, or fears. Every passion is a motion of the whole being, toward or from some object, which appears to him either desirable or disagreeable. And objects appear to us desirable or disagreeable, either from the real excellence our understanding perceives to be in them, as in virtue, beauty, proportion; and their contraries, as vice, deformity, and confusion; or from some peculiar fitness, or congruity between the objects and our particular make, or cast of mind, which is the pure arbitrary effect of our make; as in the reciprocal love of the sexes, and the antipathy we have to certain creatures.

Now the Divine Will, the dignity of our nature, and perfect rectitude, unite in requiring that every one of our passions and appetites be properly directed, and exerted in a proper manner and degree; not that they be rooted out and destroyed, according to the romantic notion of the ancient stoic philosophers. It is in many cases equally unsuitable to the dignity of our nature, that the motions of our minds be too weak and languid, as that they be too strong and vigorous. We may be as faulty in not sufficiently loving God and Virtue, as in loving the vanities of this world too much.

Previous to what may be more particularly observed on the conduct of the natural inclinations or passions of the mind, it may be proper briefly to mention some general directions, which will be found of absolute necessity towards our undertaking the business of regulating our passions with any reasonable prospect of success.

The first preparatory direction I shall give, is, To habituate ourselves as early, and as constantly as possible, to consideration.

The faculty or capacity of thought is what raises our nature above the animal. But if we do not use this noble faculty for the purpose of distinguishing between right and wrong, for finding out, and practising our duty, we had been as well without it. Nay, the beasts have the

advantage of those of our species who act the part of beasts; in as far as they are not capable of being called to an account, or punished, as unthinking men, for the neglect or abuse of the noblest of God's good gifts-sacred reason. It is dreadful to think of the conduct of by far the greatest part of our species, in respect of inconsiderateness. Mankind seem to think nothing more is necessary, to remove at once all guilt, than only to drown all thought and reflection, and then give themselves up to be led or driven at the pleasure of passion or appetite. But how will those poor unthinking creatures be hereafter confounded, when they find the voluntary neglect of thought and consideration treated as a most atrocious insult upon the goodness of the Author of our being! And what indeed can be more impious, or contemptuous, than for beings, endowed with a capacity of thought and understanding, to spurn from them the inestimable gift of heaven, or bury that talent which was given them to be used for the most important purposes of distinguishing between good and evil, and pursuing their own happiness, and then pretend, in excuse for all the madness they are guilty of, that they did not think, because they cared not to take the pains?

If thought be the very foundation of the dignity of our nature; if one man is preferable to another, according as he exerts more reason, and shows more understanding in his conduct, what must be said of those who glory in what ought to be their shame, in degrading themselves to the level of inferior beings?

Especially, what prospect does the present age yield, in which we seem to vie with one another, who shall carry pleasure and vanity to the greatest height, and shall do the most to discountenance sober thought and regular conduct? To determine of times and seasons, and how long a nation may continue to flourish, in which luxury and extravagance have taken place of all that is rational and manly, is what I do not pretend to. But I appeal to those who best understand human nature, and the nature of government, and who know the history of other states and kingdoms, which have been corrupted in the same manner, whether we have not every thing to fear

from the present universal inconsiderate dissolution of manners, and decay of virtue, public and private. May heaven take into its own hands the reformation of a degenerate people; and give comfort, and more agreeable prospects, to those who bleed inwardly, for the decline of their sinking country!

To return; let any person consider the natural effects which an attentive and habitual consideration of his own character and conduct are likely to produce; and then judge, whether it is not his duty to resolve to act the part of a reasonable creature. With respect to the conduct of his passions and appetites, let a man make it his constant custom to spend some time every day in considering the following points, viz. Whether he indulges passion and appetite beyond the intention of nature; whether, for example, he sets his heart upon gratifying the bodily appetites, for the sake of luxurious indulgence, or if he only consults health in eating, drinking, sleeping, and recreations; whether he gives himself up to anger upon small or no provocation; whether he sets his love wholly upon the vanities of life, or if he aspires habitually after something nobler than any worldly pursuit, and so of the rest. Let a man accustom himself to recollect every evening the miscarriages of the day in respect of his passions and appetites, and he will soon find, if he be faithful to himself, which are prevalent, and ought to be subdued.

Unless we can bring our minds to some tolerable degree of tranquillity and sobriety, we cannot hope to redress the irregularities of our passions and inclinations. What condition must that soul be in, which is continually engaged, and distracted various ways after pleasure, honour, or riches? If any irregularity, or redundancy, springs up in such a mind, there it must abide, and flourish, and strengthen more and more, till it become too deeply rooted ever to be eradicated. How do we aceordingly see the gay, the ambitious, and the covetous, give themselves to be driven in a perpetual whirl of amusements and pursuits, to the absolute neglect of all that is worth attending to? But if men of business cannot find time, for getting of money, and the sons and

« السابقةمتابعة »