Page images

springs and motives which in general have the tender impressions in favour of so old a directed the actions of his life; he may hang friend, which disabled us from thinking of him out false colours and deceive the world, but as he is, and seeing him in the light, may be, in how can a man deceive himself? That a man which every one clse sees him. can, is evident, because he daily does so. So that, however easy this knowledge of one's Scripture tells us, and gives us many historical self may appear at first sight, it is otherwise proofs of it, besides this to which the text when we come to examine; since not only in refers:- That the heart of man is treacher- practice, but even in speculation and theory, ous to itself, and deceitful above all things ;' we find it one of the hardest and most painful and experience and every hour's commerce lessons. Some of the earliest instructors of with the world confirm the truth of this mankind no doubt found it so too; and, for seeming paradox,-'That though man is the that reason, soon saw the necessity of laying only creature endowed with reflection, and such a stress upon this great precept of selfconsequently qualified to know the most of knowledge, which, for its excellent wisdom himself; yet so it happens, that he generally and usefulness, many of them supposed to be knows the least; and with all the power which a divine direction; that it came down from God has given him of turning his eyes inward | Heaven, and comprehended the whole circle upon himself, and taking notice of the chain of both of the knowledge and the duty of man. his own thoughts and desires, yet in fact is And indeed their zeal might easily be allowed generally so inattentive, but always so partial, in so high an encomium upon the attainment an observer of what passes, that he is as much of a virtue, the want of which so often baffled nay often a much greater, stranger to his own their instructions, and rendered their endeadisposition and true character, than all the vours of reforming the heart vain and useless. world besides !'

For who could think of a reformation of tho By what means he is brought under so mani- faults without him, who knew not where they fest a delusion, and how he suffers himself to be lay, or could set about correcting, till he had so grossly imposed upon in a point which he is first come to a sense of the defects which re

capable of knowing so much better than others, quired it? i is not hard to give an account of; nor need we But this was a point always much easier re

seek further for it than amongst the causes commended by public instructors than shown which are every day perverting his reason and how to be put in practice; and therefore others, misleading him. We are deceived in judging who equally sought the reformation of mankind, of ourselves, just as we are in judging of other observing that this direct road which led to it things, when our passions and inclinations are was guarded on all sides by self-love, and consecalled in as counsellors, and we suffer ourselves quently very difficult to open access, soon found to see and reason just so far and no further out that a different and more artful course was than they give us leave. How hard do we find requisite: as they had not strength to remove it to pass an equitable and sound judgment in this flattering passion which stood in their way a matter where our interest is deeply con- and blocked up all the passages to the heart, cerned! and even where there is the remotest they endeavoured by stratagem to get beyond consideration of SELF connected with the point | it, and by a skilful address, if possible, to debefore us, what a strange bias does it hang upon ceive it. This gave rise to the early manner of our minds, and how difficult it is to disengage conveying their instructions in parables, fables, our judgments entirely from it! With what and such sort of indirect applications; which, reluctance are we brought to think evil of a though they could not conquer this principle friend whom we have long loved and esteemed! of self-love, yet often laid it asleep, or at least and though there happen to be strong appear-over-reached it for a few moments, till a just ances against him, how apt are we to overlook judgment could be procured. or put favourable constructions upon them, and The prophet Nathan seems to have been a even sometimes, when our zeal and friendship great master in this way of address. David had transport us, to assign the best and kindest greatly displeased God by two grievous sins motives for the worst and most unjustifiable which he had committed; and the prophet's parts of his conduct!

commission was to go and bring him to a conWe are still worse casuists; and the deceit viction of them, and touch his heart with a is proportionably stronger with a man when he sense of guilt for what he had done against the is going to judge of himself, -that dearest of honour and life of Uriah. all parties,-so closely connected with him,-s0 The holy man knew that, was it any one's much and so long beloved, -of whom he has so case but David's own, no man would have been early conceived the highest opinion and esteem, so quick-sighted in discerning the nature of the and with whose merit he has all along, no doubt, injury,--more ready to have redressed it,-or found so much reason to be contented. It is not who would have felt more compassion for the an easy matter to be severe where there is such party who had suffered it, than he himself. an impulse to be kind ; or to efface at once all Instead, therefore, of declaring the real inten tion of his errand, by a direct accusation and of a conscious and guilty man, who knew he reproof of the crimes he had committed, he was going to pass sentence upon himself. comes to him with a fictitious complaint of a I take notice of this particular, because it cruel act of injustice done by another, and ac- places this instance of self-deceit, which is the cordingly he frames a case, not so parallel to subject of the discourse, in the strongest light, David's as he supposed would awaken his sus- and fully demonstrates the truth of a fact in picion, and prevent a patient and candid hear- this great man, which happens every day among ing; and yet not so void of resemblance, in the ourselves, namely, that a man may be guilty of main circumstances, as to fail of striking him very bad and dishonest actions, and yet reflect when shown in a proper light.

so little, or so partially, upon what he has done, And Nathan came and said unto him, 'There as to keep his conscience free, not only from were two men in one city; the one rich and the guilt, but even the remotest suspicions that he other poor. The rich man had exceeding many is the man, which in truth he is, and what the flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing. tenor and evidence of his life demonstrate. If save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought we look into the world—David's is no uncomand nourished up; and it grew up together mon case—we see some one or other perpetually with him and his children; it did eat of his copying this bad original, sitting in judgment own meat, and drink of his own cup, and lay upon himself, hearing his own cause, and not in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter. knowing what he is doing; hasty in passing And there came a traveller unto the rich man; sentence, and even executing it too with wrath and he spared to take of his own flock, and of upon the person of another, when, in the lanhis own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man guage of the prophet, one might say to him with that was come unto him; but took the poor justice, “Thou art the man.' man's lamb, and dressed it for the man that Of the many revengeful, covetous, false, and was come unto him.'

ill-natured persons which we complain of in the The case was drawn up with great judgment world, though we all join in the cry against and beauty; the several minute circumstances them, what man amongst us singles out himself which heightened the injury truly affecting, as a criminal, or ever once takes it into his head and so strongly urged that it would have been that he adds to the number? or where is there impossible for any, maa, with a previous sense a man so bad, who would not think it the of guilt upon his mind, to have defended him- hardest and most unfair imputation, to have self from some degree of remorse, which it must any of those particular vices laid to his charge? naturally have excited.

If he has the symptoms ever so strong upon The story, though it spoke only of the injus- him, which he would pronounce infallible in tice and oppressive act of another man, yet it another, they are indications of no such malady pointed to what he had lately done himself, in himself. He sees what no one else sees, some with all the circumstances of its aggravation ; secret and flattering circumstances in his favour, and withal, the whole was so tenderly addressed which no doubt make a wide difference betwixt to the heart and passions as to kindle at once his case and the party's which he condemns. the utmost horror and indignation. And so it What other man speaks so often and vehedid; but not against the proper person. In his mently against the vice of pride, sets the weaktransport he forgot himself; his anger greatly ness of it in a more odious light, or is more hurt kindled against the man; and he said unto with it in another, than the proud man himself? Nathan, 'As the Lord liveth, the man that It is the same with the passionate, the designhath done this thing shall surely die: and he ing, the ambitious, and some other common shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did characters in life ; and being a consequence of this thing, and because he had no pity.'

the nature of such vices, and almost inseparable It can

scarce be doubted here but that from them, the effects of it are generally so David's anger was real, and that he was, what gross and absurd, that where pity does not forhe appeared to be, greatly provoked and exas-bid, it is pleasant to observe and trace the cheat perated against the offender; and indeed his through the several turnings and windings of sentence against him proves he was so, above the heart, and detect it through all the shapes measure. For to punish the man with death, and appearances which it puts on. and oblige him to restore fourfold besides, was Next to these instances of self-deceit and highly unequitable, and not only dispropor-utter ignorance of our true disposition and tioned to the offence, but far above the utmost character, which appear in not seeing that in rigour and severity of the law, which allowed a ourselves which shocks us in another man, there much softer atonement; requiring, in such a is another species still more dangerous and decase, no more than an ample restitution and lusive, and which the more guarded perpetually recompense in kind. The judgment, however, fall into, from the judgments they make of difseems to have been truly sincere and well meant, ferent vices, according to their age and comand bespoke rather the honest rashness of an plexion, and the various ebbs and flows of their unsuspicious judge than the cool determination passions and desires.

To conceive this, let any man look into his Thus we are nice in grains and scruples, but. own heart, and observe in how different a degree knaves in matters of a pound weight; every of detestation numbers of actions stand there, day straining at gnats, yet swallowing camels; though equally bad and vicious in themselves : miserably cheating ourselves, and torturing our he will soon find that such of them as strong reason to bring us in such a report of the sin as inclination or custom has prompted him to com- suits the present appetite and inclination. mit, are generally dressed out, and painted with Most of us are aware of, and pretend to detest, all the false beauties which a soft and flattering the barefaced instances of that hypocrisy by hand can give them; and that the others, to which men deceive others; but few of us are which he feels no propensity, appear at once upon our guard to see that more fatal hypocrisy naked and deformed, surrounded with all the by which we deceive and overreach our own true circumstances of their folly and dishonour. hearts! It is a flattering and dangerous distem

When David suprised Saul sleeping in the per, which has undone thousands. We bring cave, and cut off the skirt of his robe, we read, the seeds of it along with us into the world ; his heart smote him for what he had done : they insensibly grow up with us from our childstrange, it smote him not in this matter of hood; they lie along concealed and undisUriah, where it had so much stronger reason to turbed, and have generally got such deep root. take the alarm! A whole year had almost in our natures, by the time we are come to years passed, from the first commission of this injus- of understanding and reflection, that it requires tice, to the time the prophet was sent to reprove all we have got to defend ourselves from their him ; and we read not once of any remorse or effects. compunction of heart for what he had done : To make the case still worse on our sides, 'tis. and it is not to be doubted, had the same pro with this as with every grievous distemper of phet met him when he was returning up out of the body,--the remedies are dangerous and the cave, and told him that, scrupulous and doubtful, in proportion to our mistakes and conscientious as he then seemed and thought ignorance of the cause ; for in the instances of himself to be, he was deceiving himself, and self-deceit, though the head is sick, and the was capable of committing the foulest and most whole heart faint, the patient seldom knows dishonourable actions; that he should one day what he ails. Of all the things we know and murder a faithful and a valiant servant, whom learn, this necessary knowledge comes to us the he ought in justice to have loved and honoured; last. that he should without pity first wound him Upon what principle it happens thus, I have in the tenderest part, by taking away his dearest endeavoured to lay open in the first part of this. possession, and then unmercifully and treache- discourse ; which I conclude with a serious exrously rob him of his life :-had Nathan, in a hortation to struggle against them ; which we prophetic spirit, foretold to David that he was can only hope to do by conversing more and capable of this, and that he should one day oftener with ourselves than the business and actually do it, and from no other motive but diversions of the world generally give us leave. the momentary gratification of a base and un- We have a chain of thoughts, desires, engageworthy passion, he would have received the pre-ments, and idlenesses, which perpetually return diction with horror, and said possibly, with upon us in their proper time and order. Let us, Hazael upon just such another occasion, and I beseech you, assign and set apart some small with the same ignorance of himself, — What! portion of the day for this purpose, of retiring is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great into ourselves, and searching into the dark corthing?' And yet, in all likelihood, at that very ners and recesses of the heart, and taking notice time, there wanted nothing but the same degree of what is passing there. If a man can bring of temptation, and the same opportunity, to himself to do this task with a curious and iminduce him to the sin which afterwards over- partial eye, he will quickly find the fruits of it came him.

will more than recompense his time and labour. Thus the case stands with us still. When He will see several irregularities and unsusthe passions are warmed, and the sin which pected passions within him which he never was presents itself exactly tallies to the desire, ob- aware of ; he will discover in his progress many serve how impetuously a man will rush into it, secret turnings and windings in his heart to and act against all principles of honour, justice, which he was a stranger, which now gradually and mercy! Talk to him the moment after

open, and disclose themselves to him upon a upon the nature of another vice to which he is

nearer view. In these labyrinths, he will trace not addicted, and from which perhaps his age, out such hidden springs and motives for many his temper, or rank in life secure him, take of his most applauded actions, as will make notice how well he reasons-with what equity | him rather sorry and ashamed of himself than he determines—what an honest indignation and proud. sharpness he expresses against it, and how in- In a word, he will understand his errors, and. sensibly his anger kindles against the man who then see the necessity, with David, of implorhath done this thing !

ing God to cleanse him from his secret faults ;



and with some hope and confidence to say, with able proof of God's favour to the same person, this great man after his conviction,—. Try me, in the restoration of her dead son to life, one O God, and seek the ground of my heart; cannot but consider both miracles as rewards of prove me, and examine my thoughts ; look that act of piety, wrought by Infinite power, well if there be any way of wickedness in me,- and left upon record in Scripture, not merely as and lead me in the way everlasting.'

testimonies of the prophet's divine mission, but Now to God the Father, etc. etc.

likewise as two encouraging instances of God Almighty's blessing upon works of charity and benevolence.

In this view I have made choice of this piece of sacred history, which I shall beg leave to make use of as the groundwork for an exhorta

tion to charity in general; and, that it may RICHARD OSPALDISTON, D.D., better answer the particular purpose of this

solemnity, I will endeavour to enlarge upon it ! DEAN OF YORK.

with such reflections as, I trust in God, will SIR,—I have taken the liberty to inscribe excite some sentiments of compassion, which this Discourse to you, in testimony of the great may be profitable to so pious a design. respect which I owe to your character in gene

Elijah had fled from two dreadful evils; the ral, and from a sense of what is due to it, in approach of a famine, and the persecution of particular, from every member of the Church of Ahab—an enraged enemy; and, in obedience to York.

the command of God, had hid himself in the I wish I had as good a reason for doing that, brook Cherith that is before Jordan. In this which has given me the opportunity of making safe and peaceful solitude, blessed with daily so public and just an acknowledgment : being marks of God's providence, the holy man dwelt, afraid there can be little left to be said upon

free both from the cares and glories of the the subject of Charity, which has not been often

world: by · miraculous impulse, 'the ravens thought, and much better expressed, by many and bread and flesh in the evening; and he

brought him bread and flesh in the morning, who have gone before : and, indeed, it seems so beaten and common a path, that it is not an

drank of the brook;' 'till, by continuance of easy matter for a new-comer to distinguish him- drought (the windows of heaven being shut up self in it, by anything except the novelty of his in those days for three years and six months, vehicle.

which was the natural cause likewise of the I beg, however, sir, your kind acceptance of famine), it came to pass, after a while, that the it, and of the motives which have induced me

brook, the great fountain of his support, dried to address it to you; one of which I cannot

up; and he is again directed, by the word of conceal, in justice to myself, because it has the Lord, where to betake himself for shelter. proceeded from the sense of many favours and

He is commanded to arise and go to Zarephath, civilities which I have received from you. I which belongeth to Zidon, with an assurance

that he had disposed the heart of a widow am, REVEREND SIN,

woman there to sustain him. Your most obliged

The prophet follows the call of his God; the And faithful humble Servant,

same hand which brought him to the gate of

the city, had led also the poor widow out of her LAURENCE STERNE.

doors, oppressed with sorrow. She had come

forth upon a melancholy errand—to make pre(A CHARITY SERMON.)

paration to eat her last meal, and share it with

her child. V.-THE CASE OF ELIJAH AND THE No doubt she had long fenced against this WIDOW OF ZAREPHATH CONSIDERED. tragical event with all the thrifty management

which self-preservation and parental love could * And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the inspire; full, no doubt, of cares and many cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord

tender apprehensions, lest the slender stock which lie spake by the prophet Elijah.'-1 Kings

should fail them before the return of plenty.

But as she was a widow, having lost the only THE words of the test are the record of a faithful friend who would best have assisted miracle wrought in behalf of the widow of Za- her in this virtuous struggle, the present rephath, who had charitably taken Elijah under necessity of the times at length overcame her, her roof, and administered unto him in a time and she was just falling down an easy prey to of great scarcity and distress. There is some- it, when Elijah came to the place where she thing very interesting and affectionate in the ' And he called unto her, and said, Fetch manner this story is related in holy writ; and me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that as it concludes with a second still more remark- I may drink. And as she was going to fetch

XVII. 16.


it, he called unto her, and said, Bring me, I partner almost in the same affliction with her. pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand. self; she considered he had come a weary And she said, As the Lord thy God liveth, I pilgrimage, in a sultry climate, through an have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a exhausted country, where neither bread nor barrel, and a little oil in a cruse : and, behold, water were to be had but by acts of liberality; I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and that lie had come, too, an unknown traveller; dress it for me and my son, that we may eat and as a hard heart never wants a pretence, and die. And Elijah said unto her, Fcar not, that this circumstance, which should rather but go and do as thou hast said: but make me have befriended, might have helped to oppress thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto mo, him. She considered--for charity is ever fruitand after make for thee and for thy son: for ful in kind reasons—that he was now far from thus saith the Lord God of Isracl, the barrel of his own country, and had strayed out of the meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of reach of the tender offices of some one who oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth affectionately mourned his absence; her heart rain upon the earth.'

was touched with pity; she turncd in silence, True charity is always unwilling to find and went and did according as he had said. excuscs, --else here was a fair opportunity of 'And behold, both she, and lie, and her house, pleading many; she might have insisted over did eat many days;' or, as in the margin, one again upon her situation, which necessarily tied | whole year. "And the barrel of meal wasted up her hands; she might have urged the not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, until the unreasonableness of the request; that she was day that God sent rain upon the earth.' reduced to the lowest extremity already, and Though it may not seem necessary to raise that it was contrary to justice and the first law conjectures here upon this event, yet it is of nature, to rob herself and child of their last natural to suppose, the danger of the famine morsel, and give it to a stranger.

being thus unexpectedly got over, that the But, in generous spirits, compassion is some- mother began to look hopefully forwards upon times more than a balance for self-preservation; the rest of her days. There were many widows 1 for, as God certainly interwove that friendly in Israel at that time when the heavens were softness in our nature to be a check upon too shut up for three years and six months, yet, as great a propensity towards self-love, so it St. Luke observes, 'to none of them was the seemed to operate here. For it is observable prophet sent, save to the widow of Sarepta.' that, though the prophet backed his request | In all likelihood she would not be the last in with the promise of an immediate recompense making the same observation, and drawing from in multiplying her stock, yet it is not evident it some flattering conclusion in favour of her she was influenced at all by that temptation; son. Many a parent would build high upon a for, if she had, doubtless it must have wrought worse foundation. “Since the God of Israel such a mixture of self-interest into the motive has thus sent his own messenger to us in our of her compliance as must greatly have allayed distress, to pass by so many houses of his own the merit of the action. But this, I say, does people, and stop at mine, to save it in so not appear, but rather the contrary, from the miraculous a manner from destruction, doubtreflection she makes upon the whole, in the less this is but an earnest of his future kind last verse of the chapter: ‘Now by this I know intentions to us: at least his goodness has that thou art a man of God, and that the word decreed to comfort my old age by the long life of the Lord in thy mouth is truth.'

and health of my son. But perhaps he has Besides, as she was an inhabitant of Zare. something greater still in store for him; and I phath (or, as it is called by St. Luke, Sarepta, shall live to see the same hand hereafter crown subject to Zidon, the metropolis of Phænicia, his head with glory and honour.' We may without the bounds of God's people), she had naturally suppose her innocently carried away been brought up in gross darkness and idolatry, with such thoughts, when she is called back by in utter ignorance of the Lord God of Israel ; an unexpected distemper, which surprises her or, if she had heard of his name, which is all son, and in one moment brings down all her that seems probable, she had been taught to hopes; ‘for his sickness was so sore that there disbelieve the mighty wonders of his hand, and was no breath left in him.' was still less likely to believe his prophet.

The expostulations of immoderate grief are Moreover, she might argue, If this man, by seldom just. For, though Elijah had already some secret mystery of his own, or through the preserved her son, as well as herself, from power of his God, is able to procure so preter- | immediate death, and was the last cause to be natural a supply for me, whence comes it to suspected of so sad an accident, yet the paspass that he now stands in want himself, sionate mother, in the first transport, challenges oppressed both with hunger and thirst?

him as the author of her misfortune; as if he It appears, therefore, that she must have had brought down sorrow upon a house which been wrought upon by an unmixed principle of had so hospitably sheltered him. The prophet humanity. She looked upon him as a fellow. was too full of compassion to make reply to so

« EelmineJätka »