Изображения страниц

more sprightly in errors, and active to his own prejudice.

Discretion does not only make a man the master of his own parts, but of other men's. The discreet man finds out the talents of those he converses with; and knows how to apply them to proper uses. Accordingly, if we look into particular communities and divisions of men, we may observe, that it is the discreet man, not the witty, nor the learned, nor the brave, who guides the conversation, and gives measures to society, A man with great talents, but void of discretion, is like Polyphemus in the fable, strong and blind; endued with an irresistible force, which, for want of sight, is of no use to him.

Though a man has all other perfections, yet if he wants discretion, he will be of no great consequence in the world; on the contrary, if he has this single talent in perfection, and but a common share of others, he may do what he pleases in his particular station of life.

At the same time that I think discretion the most useful talent a man can be master of, I look upon cunning to be the accomplishment of little, mean, ungenerous minds. Discretion points out the noblest ends to us; and pursues the most proper and laudable methods of attaining them: cunning has only private selfish aims; and sticks at nothing which may make them succeed. Discretion has large and extended views; and, like a well-formed eye, commands a whole horizon cunning is a kind of short-sightedness, that discovers the minutest objects which are near at hand, but it is not able to discern things at a distance. Discretion, the more it is discovered, gives a greater authority to the person who possesses it: cunning, when it is once detected, loses its force, and makes a man incapable of bringing about even those events which he might have done, had he passed only for a plain man. Discretion is the perfection of reason; and a guide to us in all the duties of life: cunning is a kind of instinct,

that only looks out after our immediate interest and welfare. Discretion is only found in men of strong sense and good understandings: cunning is often to be met with in brutes themselves; and in persons who are but the fewest removes from them. In short, cun

ning is only the mimic of discretion; and it may pass upon weak men, in the same manner as vivacity is of ten mistaken for wit, and gravity, for wisdom.

The cast of mind which is natural to a discreet man, makes him look forward into futurity, and consider what will be his condition millions of ages hence, as well as what it is at present. He knows that the misery or happiness which is reserved for him in another world, loses nothing of its reality by being placed at so great a distance from him. The objects do not ap pear little to him because they are remote. He considers, that those pleasures and pains which lie hid in eternity, approach nearer to him every moment; and will be present with him in their full weight and measure, as much as those pains and pleasures which he feels at this very instant. For this reason, he is careful to secure to himself that which is the proper happiness of his nature, and the ultimate design of his being. He carries his thoughts to the end of every action; and considers the most distant, as well as the most immediate effects of it. He supersedes every little prospect of gain and advantage which offers itself here, if he does not find it consistent with his views of an hereafter. In a word, his hopes are full of immortality; his schemes are large and glorious; and his conduct suitable to one who knows his true interest, and how to pursue it by proper methods.



On the goverment of our thoughts.

A MULTITUDE of cases occur, in which we are no less accountable for what we think, than for what we do.

As, first, when the introduction of any train of thought depends upon ourselves, and is our voluntary act, by turning our attention towards such objects, awakening such passions, or engaging in such employments, as we know must give a peculiar determination to our thoughts. Next, when thoughts, by whatever accident they may have been originally suggested, are indulged with deliberation and complacency. Though the mind has been passive in their reception, and, therefore, free from blame; yet, if it be active in their continuance, the guilt becomes its own. They may have intruded at first, like unbidden guests; but if when entered, they are made welcome, and kindly entertained, the case is the same as if they had been invited from the beginning. If we are thus accountable to God for thoughts either voluntarily introduced, or deliberately indulged, we are no less so, in the last place, for those which find admittance into our hearts from supine negligence, from total relaxation of attention, from allowing our imagination to rove with entire licence, "like


eyes of the fool, towards the end of the earth." Our minds are, in this case, thrown open to folly and vanity. They are prostituted to every evil thing which pleases to take possession. The consequences must all be charged to our account; and in vain we plead excuse from human infirmity. Hence it appears, that the great object at which we are to aim in governing our thoughts, is, to take the most effectual measures for preventing the introduction of such as are sinful; and for hasten

ing their expulsion, if they shall have introduced themselves without consent of the will.

[ocr errors]

But when we descend into our breast, and examine how far we have studied to keep this object in view, who can tell, "how oft he hath offended?" In no article of religion or morals are men more culpably remiss, than in the unrestrained indulgence they give to fancy; and that too, for the most part, without remorse. Since the time that reason began to exert her powers, thought, during our waking hours, has been active in every breast, without a moment's suspension or pause. The current of ideas has been always flowing. The wheels of the spiritual engine, have circulated with perpetual motion. Let me ask, what has been the fruit of this incessant activity, with the greater part of mankind? Of the innumerable hours that have been employed in thought, how few are marked with any permanent or useful effect? How many have either passed away in idle dreams; or have been abandoned to anxious dis contented musings, to unsocial and malignant passions, or to irregular and criminal desires? Had I power to lay open that storehouse of iniquity which the hearts of too many conceal; could I draw out and read to them a list of all the imaginations they have devised, and all the passions they have indulged in secret; what a picture of men should I present to themselves! What crimes would they appear to have perpetrated in secrecy, which to their most intimate companions they durst not reveal!

Even when men imagine their thoughts to be innocently employed, they too commonly suffer them to run out into extravagant imaginations, and chimerical plans of what they would wish to attain, or choose to be, if they could frame the course of things according to their desire. Though such employments of fancy come not under the same description with those which are plainly criminal, yet wholly unblamable they seldom are. Besides the waste of time which they occa

sion, and the misapplication which they indicate of those intellectual powers that were given to us for much nobler purposes, such romantic speculations lead us always into the neighbourhood of forbidden regions. They place us on dangerous ground. They are, for the most part, connected with some one bad passion; and they always nourish a giddy and frivolous turn of thought. They unfit the mind for applying with vigour to rational pursuits, or for acquiescing in sober plans of conduct. From that ideal world in which it allows itself to dwell, it returns to the commerce of men, unbent and relaxed, sickly and tainted, averse to discharging the duties, and sometimes disqualified even for relishing the pleasures of ordinary life.



On the evils which flow from unrestrained passions.

WHEN man revolted from his Maker, his passions rebelled against himself; and, from being originally the ministers of reason, have become the tyrants of the soul. Hence, in treating of this subject, two things may be assumed as principles: first, that through the present weakness of the understanding, our passions are often directed towards improper objects; and next, that even when their direction is just, and their objects are innocent, they perpetually tend to run into excess; they always hurry us towards their gratification, with a blind and dangerous impetuosity. On these two points then turns the whole government of our passions: first, to ascertain the proper objects of their pursuit; and next, to restrain them in that pursuit, when they would carry us beyond the bounds of reason. If there is any passion which intrudes itself unseasonably into our mind, which darkens and troubles our judgment, or habitually discomposes our tem

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »