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if we should overtake it, is generally, if not universally, presumptuous and rash. Yet this is the course that we commonly take. Whatever we see others follow, we follow too, just as fast, without asking ourselves why; encourage our wild fancies, instead of checking them ; fill our hearts with imaginary wants, and become as eager for multitudes of things one after another, all which we might do very well without, as if the whole felicity of our being consisted in them. If men allow themselves in such behaviour, all that success can do for them, is to engage them still deeper in the same folly. For these cravings have no end, and therefore should be curbed and quieted in the beginning.
But though men are not vehemently agitated by discontent, yet if they are dejected and sunk by it, mourn over the disadvantages of their condition, and live in a state of affliction, be it ever so calm affliction, on account of them, even this is by no means right. It may
indeed sometimes be in a great measure, mere bodily disease: or it may, when the degree of it is low, be the fault of one who is, on the whole, virtuous and good. But still it shews an undue attachment to the world, yet unfits persons at the same time both for the comforts to be enjoyed, and the duties to be done in it. If indulged to any considerable length, it may disorder not only the temper, but the understanding. And to strange lengths it sometimes runs in people, of whom one must think, that if they have cause to lament, it is hard to say, who hath cause to be satisfied.
Or suppose the various disadvantages of men to be as great as they think them; yet happiness doth not arise from outward circumstances, or the accomplishments usually admired : else how unspeakably
happy would the rich and great, the learned and ingenious, the beautiful and gay be, who all, at times, confess themselves to be far from it; and how miserable the rest of mankind, who, God be thanked, relish their being very comfortably! Every state hath not only its inconveniences, but its consolations : and the discontented would see this, if they did not perversely look solely at the former in their own case, and the latter in that of others : magnify what they themselves want, and under-rate what they have; over-value what their neighbours enjoy, and forget to make allowance for what perhaps they suffer. We know the worst of the condition we are in : but what evils belong to that which we wish to be in, we know not. Besides, every one cannot have every thing, that he desires, and where is the greater hardship, that we should fail of it, than that others should: Many appear or succeed better, it may be : but many also not near so well. Would they have cause to be wretched, were they in our circumstances? If not, why have we!
But further yet: perhaps our disadvantages proceed from ourselves : possibly it is our virtue and our honour that keeps us back from what we long for: and surely, the possession of good qualities ought to give us more pleasure, than any disappointments owing to them should give us pain. Or possibly some fault of ours produces what we complain of: our negligence or expensiveness brings us into straits, our imprudences create us difficulties, our ill temper makes things uneasy around us, our irregularities impair our health and spirits : correct these errors instead of repining at their consequences, and all will be well.
It may be you will say indeed, that you have endeavoured to correct your faults, but without success; and your chief discontent is at yourselves. Now, if this be really your case, it is a very uncommon one. Many are dissatisfied with other persons and things, some with almost all about them; but few with their own temper and conduct. Such as really take pains to amend it, deserve great esteem: and, when they find the work peculiarly difficult, as they often may, especially after long indulgence, great pity likewise. But though they should never be so far contented with themselves, as to cease from the attempt of reformation, yet while they are sure they attempt it in earnest, they should acquiesce very calmly, notwithstanding, that their progress is but slow. The nature of all men is both imperfect and corrupt : and that of some much more than of others. The disparity of the faculties of our minds and the dispositions of our hearts is as great, as our bodily qualifications or externalcircumstances: and every one must submit to his lot in the former, as well as the latter : for grieving and murmuring will make nothing better in either. Those creatures, which cannot at all improve themselves, appear to be content with being what they are: but we can improve ourselves greatly; and if we labour to do it chiefly in what best deserves our labour, goodness and virtue, we shall out of weakness be made strong *, provided we trust not presumptuously to our own efforts, but humbly join with them, faith in God, and prayer for the aid of his Holy Spirit, through the mediation of Jesus Christ: for his grace shall be sufficient for us, and his strength made perfect in our weakness t. Without him we can do nothing I: every wrong inclination, dissatisfaction amongst others with every thing within and without, in their * Heb. xi. 34.
turns, will prevail over us : but through Christ : who strengtheneth us, we can do all things * To him we owe our deliverance from the wrath to come +: and well may we be easy with an inferior share of worldly advantages : for the best of us deserve none. From him proceeds all the good, that we think or do : and surely we have no title to greater abilities in any respect, than he bestows on us. On him depend our hopes of future happiness : and the lowest place in it is too high for us. Yet we know not how far we may advance in spiritual attainments by modest perseverance. We may be enabled in time to out-do both ourselves and others, and be rewarded accordingly. But however that proves, it may abundantly suffice us all, that we shall make our calling and election sure I, and enter into some degree of the joy of our Lord s, in return for our faithful improvement of the talents committed to us, be they more or fewer, if in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, we keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience ||, though it be in very different proportions, some an hundred fold, some sixty, some thirty 1.
* Phil. iv. 13. + Matth. is. 7. # 2 Pet. i. 10. $ Matth. xxv. 21. || Luke viii. 15. I Matth. xiii. 8.
PSALM XXXIX. 10.
I became dumb, and opened not my mouth; for it was
It would be our wisdom and our duty, though we had no knowledge of religion, to bear the sufferings of life with patience, and submit to the inequalities of it with contentment. I have therefore hitherto inforced upon you the practice of these two virtues, chiefly from prudential and moral considerations, though I could not altogether forbear adding some inducements of piety also. But these last are both so superior to the former, and so necessary in human circumstances, that I must now dwell upon them distinctly.
Pains of the body, and uneasiness of the mind, may, sometimes be so grievous, that, had we no invisible sovereign to obey, and nothing to hope or fear after death, it would be hard to persuade ourselves to continue in life. At least we should undergo in it a great deal of misery, with few and poor consolations. Those indeed, which I have mentioned to you, are in many cases of considerable use by themselves: in all cases they may be of service, when combined with reflections of a higher nature. And our groveling minds are often more affected with feeble reasons, that are level to them; than with strong ones, that seem above them: or however may be best quieted a