Page images

an ill cause, than it doth in a good one? and to exert itfelf to better purpose, when it is to ferve its own pride, or luft, or revenge, or any other paffion, than when it is to ferve God upon the motives of the gospel, and upon all the arguments that have ever been made use of to bring men over to religion and a good life? And thus having fhewn that a man is wonderfully apt to deceive and impofe upon himself, in paffing through the feveral ftages of that great duty, repentance, I proceed now, in the

II. SECOND place, To inquire into the grounds and reafons of this ignorance, and to fhew whence it cometh to pass, that a man, the only creature in the world that can reflect and look into himself, fhould know fo little of what paffeth within him, and be fo very much unacquainted even with the standing difpofitions and comple Etion of his own heart. The prime reafon of it is, because we so very feldom converfe with ourselves, and take fo little notice of what paffeth within us. For a man can no more know his own heart than he can know his own face, any other way than by reflection: he may as well tell over every feature of the smaller portions of his face without the help of a looking-glafs, as he can tell all the inward bents and tendencies of the foul, those ftanding features and lineaments of the inward man, and know all the various changes that this is liable to, from custom, from paffion, and from opinion, without a very frequent use of looking within himself.

FOR our paffions and inclinations are not always upon the wing, and always moving towards their respective objects; but retire now and then into the more dark and hidden receftes of the heart, where they lie concealed for a while, until á fresh occafion calls them forth again: fo that not every tranfient, oblique glance upon the mind, can bring a man into a thorough knowledge of all its ftrengths and weaknesses; for a man may sometimes turn the eye of the mind inward upon itself, as he may behold his natural face in a glafs, and go away, and ftraight forget what manner of man he was. man must rather fit down, and unravel every action of the past day into all its circumstances and particularities,

But a


and observe how every little thing moved and affected him, and what manner of impreffion it made upon his heart: this done with that frequency and carefulness which the importance of the duty doth require, would in a short time bring him into a near and intimate acquaintance with himself.

BUT when men, inftead of this, do pass away months and years in a perfect flumber of the mind, without once awaking it, it is no wonder they should be so very ignorant of themselves, and know very little more of what paffeth within them, than the very beafts which perifh. But here it may not be amifs to inquire into the reasons why most men have fo little converfation with themselves.

AND, 1ft, Because this reflection is a work and labour of the mind, and cannot be performed without fome pain and difficulty. For before a man can reflect upon himself, and look into his heart with a fteady eye, he muft contract his fight, and collect all his scattered and roving thoughts into fome order and compass, that he may be able to take a clear and diftinct view of them; he muft retire from the world for a while, and be unattentive to all impreffions of fenfe: and how hard and painful a thing muft it needs be to a man of paffion and infirmity, amidst such a croud of objects that are continually ftriking upon the fenfes, and foliciting the affections, not to be moved and interrupted by one or other of them! But,

2dly, Another reason why we fo feldom converfe with ourfelves, is, because the business of the world taketh up all our time, and leaveth us no portion of it to fpend upon this great work and labour of the mind, & Thus twelve or fourteen years pafs away before we can well difcern good from evil; and of the reft fo much goeth away in fleep, fo much in the ordinary business of life, and so much in the proper bufinefs of our callings, that we have none to lay out upon the more ferious and religious employments. Every man's life is an imperfect fort of a circle, which he repeateth and runneth over every day; he hath a fet of thoughts, defires, and incli.. nations, which return upon him in their proper time and order, and will very hardly be laid afide to make room


for any thing new and uncommon fo that call upon him when you please, to fet about the study of his own heart, and you are fure to find him pre-engaged; either he hath fome business to do, or fome diverfion to take, fome acquaintance that he muft vifit, or fome company that he must entertain, or fome crofs accident hath put him out of humour, and unfitted him for fuch a grave employment. And thus it comes to pafs, that a man can never find leifure to look into himself, because he doth not fet apart fome portion of the day for that very purpose, but foolishly deferreth it from one day to another, until his glafs is almoft run out, and he is called upon to give a miserable account of himself in the other world. But,

3dly, Another reason why a man doth not more frequently converfe with himself, is, because fuch a converfation with his own heart may discover fome vice or fome infirmity lurking within him, which he is very unwilling to believe himself guilty of. For can there be a more ungrateful thing to a man, than to find, that, upon a nearer view, he is not that perfon he took himfelf to be that he hath neither the courage, nor the honesty, nor the piety, nor the humility, that he dreamed he had? that a very little pain, for inftance, putteth him out of patience, and as little pleasure softeneth and difarmeth him into eafe and wantonnefs? that he hath been at more pains, and labour, and coft, to be revenged of an enemy, than to oblige the best friend he hath in the world? that he cannot bring himself to say his prayers without a great deal of reluctancy; and when he doth say them, the fpirit and fervour of devotion evaporate in a very short time, and he can scarcely hold out a prayer of ten lines, without a number of idle and impertinent, if not vain and wicked thoughts coming into his head? These are very unwelcome difcoveries that a man may make of himself; fo that it is no wonder that every one who is already flushed with a good opinion of himself, fhould rather study how to run away from it, than how to converfe with his own heart.

Bur further, If a man were both able and willing to retire into his own heart, and to fet apart fome portion


of the day for that very purpose; yet he is ftill difabled from paffing a fair and impartial judgment upon himfelf, by feveral difficulties, arifing partly from prejudice and prepoffeffion, partly from the lower appetites and inclinations. And,

If, THAT the business of prepoffeffion may lead and betray a man into a falfe judgment of his own heart. For we may observe, that the first opinion we take up of any thing, or of any person, doth generally ftick close to us: the nature of the mind being fuch, that it cannot but defire, and confequently endeavour, to have fome certain principles to go upon, fomething fixed and immoveable, whereon it may reft and fupport itself. And hence it cometh to pass, that fome perfons are with fo much difficulty brought to think well of a man they have once entertained an ill opinion of; and, perhaps, that too for a very abfurd and unwarrantable reason. But how much more difficult then must it be, for a man who taketh up a fond opinion of his own heart, long before he hath either years or fense enough to underftand it, either to be perfuaded out of it by himself, whom he loveth fo well, or by another, whose interest or diverfion it may be to make him afhamed of himself?


2dly, As to the difficulties arifing from the inferior appetites and inclinations, let any man look into his own heart, and obferve, in how different a light, and under what different complexions, any two fins, of equal turpitude and malignity, do appear to him, if he hath but a ftrong inclination to the one, and none at all to the other. That which he hath an inclination to is always dreffed up in all the false beauty that a fond and bufy imagination can give it; the other appeareth naked and deformed, and in all the true circumftances of folly and dishonour. Thus, ftealing is a vice that few gentlemen are inclined to; and they justly think it below the dignity of a man, to ftoop to fo bafe and low a fin: but no principle of honour; no workings of the mind and confcience, not the ftill voice of mercy, not the dreadful call of judgment, nor any confiderations whatever, can put a stop to that violence and oppreffion, that pride and ambition, that revelling and wantonnefs,

which we every day meet with in the world. Nay, it is easy to obferve very different thoughts in a man, of the fin that he is most fond of, according to the different ebbs and flows of his. inclination to it. For as foon as the appetite is alarmed, and feizeth upon the heart, a little cloud gathereth about the head, and fpreadeth a kind of darkness over the face of the foul, whereby it is hindered from taking a clear and diftinct view of things but no fooner is the appetite tired and fatiated, but the fame cloud paffeth away like a fhadow, and a new light fpringing up in the mind of a fudden, the man feeth much more, both of the folly and of the danger of the fin, than he did before.


AND thus having done with the feveral reasons, why man, the only creature in the world that can reflect and look into himself, is fo very ignorant of what paffeth within him, and fo much unacquainted with the ftanding difpofitions and complexions of his own heart; I pro ceednow, in the

!HI. THIRD and last place, to lay down several advantages, that do moft affuredly attend a due improvement in the knowledge of ourselves. And,

1. ONE great advantage is, that it tendeth very much to mortify and humble a man into a modeft and low opinion of himself. For let a man take a nice and cu rious infpection into all the feveral regions of the heart, and obferve every thing irregular and amifs within him; for inftance, how narrow and fhort-fighted a thing is the understanding! upon how little reafon do we take up an opinion, and upon how much lefs fometimes do we lay it down again! how weak and false ground do we often walk upon, with the biggest confidence and affurance; and how tremulous and doubtful we are very often, where no doubt is to be made! again, how wild and impertinent, how bufy and incoherent a thing is the imagination, even in the best and wisest men; infomuch that every man may be faid to be mad, but every man doth not fhew it. Then, as to the paffions, how noify, how turbulent, and how tumultuous are they! how eafily are they stirred and fet a-going; how eager and hot in the purfuit, and what strange diforder and confufion VOL. I..

E e


« PreviousContinue »