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every thing that we have not. If we did, how blameable and how pitiable should we be! We all know number of things, that we should be very glad of, and yet can bear the want of them very well : and why not the want of others as well ? What is impossible, it would be madness to covet. What we cannot obtain, is the same in relation to us, as if it were impossible in itself. Therefore we should never think of it. And what is very unlikely to be got, should scarcely be more minded, than if we knew that absolutely we could not get it. But you will say, how shall we put these things out of our minds ? Turn them to something else. Recollect the comforts that you have, and rejoice in them. ` All of us have many such. Reasonably good health, wholesome food and refreshing sleep, a provision of the other necessaries of life, a share of its conveniences, acquaintance that are agreeable to us, friends that wish us well, and, upon occasion, would shew it, opportunities of easy and cheerful conversation, the good opinion and esteem of those about us, the very sight of the sun and the view of the face of nature, are things, every one of them designed and fitted to give us pleasure, if we would but be so kind to ourselves as to take it. Consciousness, that through the grace of God's holy Spirit we mean, and on the whole behave well, persuasion that, through the merits of his blessed Son, we are interested in his favour, hopes that his fatherly providence will watch over us here, and his goodness make us perfectly happy hereafter, these are blessings of a higher order, which we all may have; and as no one ought to be, or with reason can be, content without them, so every one surely may well be content with them; and think himself enough distinguished by such mercies, let him have ever so few advantages
besides. And we should accustom ourselves to look, more than we do, on the bright side of our condition; not in order to grow vain and contemptuous upon it, which is the common use that is made of contemplating it, but to enjoy it with humble complacency. We should place a just value on all our greater comforts: and fetch out of the very least as much as they will afford us. Applying our minds to become easy and satisfied is evidently right: but why should we reason ourselves into being miserable, and resolve not to be the better for any thing, because we have not this or that?
Perhaps indeed you will allow, that grieving merely because you are not possessed of things, that are plainly above you, ,
is very blameable ; and will allege that you are not guilty of it; that you are willing to be inferior both to what you might have been, and to what many others are. But still you will plead, that such and such have no title to pre-eminence over you, or even equality with you: yet they have obtained it, and that you cannot bear. Now consider ; these very persons, who give you dissatisfaction and envy, if you knew all, you might see cause to pity. You know not how little delight they may have in all their seeming advantages : or what sufferings they may on one account or another undergo; nay, how dearly they may pay for what you imagine to be a principal part of their felicity. For usually there are great deductions to be made from all appearances of prosperity amongst men ; and often they, whose outward shew is most admired, are the most wretched within. Indeed, though doubtless there are many, with whom you would wish to change some things, there are few, if any, with whom you would consent to an intire change; and take their
their age, their health,
their temper, their situation, their employment, their connections, their vexations, their hazards, their circumstances of all kinds, for yours. And if you scarce know, with whose condition upon the whole you would be better pleased; why are you not pleased with your own? For surely, it would be too unreasonable to desire, that you should pick and chuse from each only what you like, and unite it all in yourself.
But further, your condition is just what it is, let that of others be what it will : supposing they enjoy more, or suffer less, than you; still your enjoyments and sufferings are just the same, as if this were quite the reverse. And why do you set yourself to think the contrary, and disquiet yourself with a false imagination? There will, and there must be inequalities in the world. Nothing can prevent it, but continual miracles : and if it were prevented, and we were all on a level, we should probably, on the whole, have great cause to be sorry. Think then: why is it harder, that you should be inferior to others, than that they should be inferior to you? Would your state be ever the better, if theirs were made worse? Would you wish theirs to be worse, that you might have comfort in the comparison ? If you would, yours is already much better than you deserve. Impatience and excessive agitation, under great pain, sorrow, fear, provocation, is at some times, and in some degree, hardly possible to be avoided, and therefore excusable. But the discontent of those, who have no such evils to complain of, is of their own choice: they might be easy if they would. And resolving not to be so, because they imagine others are more so than they, is not only unreasonableness, but ill-will and malice. The torment which they feel, is a guilty one : it punishes them justly here ; and they will be liable, for indulging so unchristian, so inhuman, a temper, instead of rejoicing with them that rejoice *, to far severer punishments hereafter.
But you will say perhaps, that your inferiority in this or that particular makes you despised : and who can bear contempt? But indeed scarce any one is despised for being what he is, and cannot help being, but only for affecting to be what he should not or cannot be. The lowest in all respects may be useful; and, if they behave properly, will be valued according to their usefulness. At least they can never deserve contempt: and the consciousness that they do not, will enable them to slight and overlook the little they may meet with : and indeed often to despise those who despise them. For worldly advantages only serve to lessen the esteem of such as use them ill: and some of the greatest, and, in their own and the vulgar opinion, the most accomplished, are often the farthest of all people from being truly respectable.
But probably you will plead further, that the persons, who excite your dissatisfaction, are vicious, or at least unworthy of their pre-eminences : and they will do harm with them, or however little or no good. Now in all likelihood you think them worse, or less worthy than they are : they may have good qualities with their faults, though you are unwilling to see them; and you certainly have faults with your good qualities, though you are desirous to overlook them: and how much better you are upon the whole than they, it may perhaps be neither easy nor safe for you to judge. But be they ever so bad, Providence may over-rule them, and keep them from executing their bad purposes, or may use them for its instruments, to correct the faults of others that are as bad, or exercise
Rom. xii. 15.
the virtues of others, who are much better; possibly to correct and exercise you. Therefore do not fail under the trial. But is this fear of their doing harm the real motive of your discontent, or only an excuse for it to others and yourself?
You will probably reply, that however that be, had you had such and such advantages, which you have not, you would have done a great deal of good. But perhaps others will do it in your stead : and you may if you will, and you certainly should, take pleasure in it, by whomsoever done, and not repine at it. But it may be you would not have been able to do the good you fancy, and would only have brought disquiet on yourself by attempting it. Nay, it may be, you would not have attempted it: for difference of circumstances makes a great difference in the ways of thinking of the same persons; and we often do not prove to be what we fully imagined we should.
Still, at least, you will say, what you wish for would make you very happy: and therefore you regret the want of it. But regret it as little as possible, and be as happy as you can without it. Perhaps you would be scarcely, perhaps not at all, happier than you are.
Multitudes find this to be true every day: they obtain what they desire; and very soon after, if not instantly, perceive that their condition is never the better for it. But they are thought happy, you will say, and admired or envied : and that alone is a desirable thing. Now surely it is very poor comfort, indeed it is rather an aggravation of sorrow, when we feel our condition wretched or insipid, to have it thought joyful and desirable: to be congratulated on our situation, when we know it is a subject of condolance; and so to have pity from none, but the ill will of many, to load us with more uneasiness,