Page images

perhaps attended with the rightest judgment in all other matters. In others, this partiality is not so general, has not taken hold of the whole man, but is confined to some particular favorite passion, interest, or pursuit: suppose ambition, covetousness, or any other. And these persons may probably judge and determine what is perfectly just and proper, even in things in which they themselves are concerned, if these things have no relation to their particular favorite passion or pursuit. Hence arises that amazing incongruity; and seeming inconsistency of character, from whence slight observers take it for granted, that the whole is hypocritical and false; not being able otherwise to reconcile the several parts: whereas, in truth, there is real honesty, so far as it goes. There is such a thing as men's being honest to such a degree, and in such respects, but no further. And this, as it is true, so it is absolutely necessary to be taken notice of, and allowed. them; such general and undistinguishing censure of their whole character, as designing and false, being one main thing which confirms them in their self-deceit. They know that the whole censure is not true, and so take it for granted that no part of it is.

But to go on with the explanation of the thing itself: Vice in general consists in having an unreasonable and too great regard to ourselves, in comparison of others. Robbery and murder is never from the love of injustice or cruelty, but to gratify some other passion, to gain some supposed advantage and it is false selfishness alone, whether cool or passionate, which makes a man resolutely pursue that end, be it ever so much to the injury of another. But whereas, in common and ordinary wickedness, this unreasonableness, this partiality and selfishness, relates only, or chiefly, to the temper and passions; in the characters we are now considering, it reaches to the understanding, and influences the very judgment.* And,

*That peculiar regard for ourselves which frequently produces this partiality of judgment in our own favor, may have a quite contrary effect, and occasion the utmost diffidence and distrust of our

besides that general want of distrust and diffidence concerning our own character, there are, you see, two things, which may thus prejudice and darken the understanding itself: that over-fondness for ourselves, which we are all so liable to; and also being under the power of any particular passion or appetite, or engaged in any particular pursuit. And these, especially the last of the two, may be in so great a degree as to influence our judgment, even of other persons and their behaviour. Thus a man, whose temper is formed to ambition or covetousness, shall even approve of them sometimes in others.

This seems to be in a good measure the account of self-partiality and self-deceit, when traced up to its original. Whether it be, or be not, thought satisfactory, that there is such a thing is manifest; and that it is the occasion of great part of the unreasonable behaviour of men towards each other: that by means of it they palliate their vices and follies to themselves: and that it prevents their applying to themselves those reproofs and instructions, which they meet with either in Scripture or in moral and religious discourses, though exactly suitable to the state of their own mind, and the course of their behaviour. There is one thing further to be added here, that

selves; were it only, as it may set us upon a more frequent and strict survey and review of our own character and behaviour. This search or recollection itself implies somewhat of diffidence; and the discoveries we make, what is brought to our view, may possibly increase it. Good will to another may either blind our judgment, so as to make us overlook his faults; or it may put us upon exercising that judgment with greater strictness, to see whether he is so faultless and perfect as we wish him. If that peculiar regard to ourselves leads us to examine our own character with this greater severity, in order really to improve and grow better, it is the most commendable turn of mind possible, and can scarce be to excess. But if, as every thing hath its counterfeit, we are so much employed about ourselves, in order to disguise what is amiss, and to make a better appearance; or if our attention to ourselves has chiefly this effect, it is liable to run up into the greatest weakness and excess, and is, like all other excesses, its own disappointment; for scarce any show themselves to advantage, who are over solicitous of doing so.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

the temper we distinguish by hardness of heart with respect to others, joined with this self-partiality, will carry a man almost any lengths of wickedness, in the way of oppression, hard usage of others, and even to plain injustice, without his having, from what appears, any real sense at all of it. This indeed was not the general character of David; for he plainly gave scope to the affections of compassion and good will, as well as to his passions of another kind.

But as some occasions and circumstances lie more open to this self-deceit, and give it greater scope and opportunities than others, these require to be particularly mentioned.

It is to be observed then, that as there are express determinate acts of wickedness, such as murder, adultery, theft; so, on the other hand, there are numberless cases in which the vice and wickedness cannot be exactly defined, but consists in a certain general temper and course of action, or in the neglect of some duty, suppose charity or any other, whose bounds and degrees are not fixed. This is the very province of self-deceit and self-partiality : Here it governs without check or control. "For what commandment is there broken? Is there a transgression where there is no law? A vice which cannot be defined?"

Whoever will consider the whole commerce of human life will see, that a great part, perhaps the greatest part, of the intercourse amongst mankind, cannot be reduced to fixed determinate rules. Yet in these cases, there is a right and a wrong: a merciful, a liberal, a kind and compassionate behaviour, which surely is our duty; and an unmerciful contracted spirit, a hard and oppressive course of behaviour, which is most certainly immoral and vicious. But who can define precisely wherein that contracted spirit and hard usage of others consist, as murder and theft may be defined? There is not a word in our language which expresses more detestable wickedness than oppression: yet the nature of this vice can

not be so exactly stated, nor the bounds of it so determinately marked, as that we shall be able to say, in all instances, where rigid right and justice ends, and oppression begins. In these cases, there is great latitude left for every one to determine for, and consequently to deceive himself. It is chiefly in these cases, that selfdeceit comes in; as every one must see, that there is much larger scope for it here, than in express, single, determinate acts of wickedness. However it comes in with respect to the circumstances attending the most gross and determinate acts of wickedness. Of this, the story of David, now before us, affords the most astonishing instance. It is really prodigious, to see a man, before so remarkable for virtue and piety, going on deliberately from adultery to murder, with the same cool contrivance, and, from what appears, with as little disturbance, as a man would endeavor to prevent the ill consequences of a mistake he had made in any common matter. total insensibility of mind, with respect to those horrid crimes, after the commission of them, manifestly shows that he did some way or other delude himself: and this could not be with respect to the crimes themselves, they were so manifestly of the grossest kind. What the particular circumstances were, with which he extenuated them, and quieted and deceived himself, is not related.


Having thus explained the nature of internal hypocrisy and self-deceit, and remarked the occasions upon which it exerts itself, there are several things further to be observed concerning it: that all of the sources to which it was traced up, are sometimes observable together in one and the same person; but that one of them is more remarkable, and to a higher degree, in some, and others of them are so in others: that, in general, it is a complicated thing, and may be in all different degrees and kinds that the temper itself is essentially in its own nature vicious and immoral. It is unfairness, it is dishonesty, it is falseness of heart; and is, therefore, so far from extenuating guilt, that it is itself the greatest of all

guilt in proportion to the degree it prevails; for it is a corruption of the whole moral character in its principle. Our understanding, and sense of good and evil, is the light and guide of life: "If, therefore, this light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness?"* For this reason our Saviour puts an evil eye as the direct opposite to a single eye; the absence of that simplicity, which these last words imply, being itself evil and vicious. And whilst men are under the power of this temper, in proportion still to the degree they are so, they are fortified on every side against conviction: and when they hear the vice and folly of what is in truth their own course of life, exposed in the justest and strongest manner, they will often assent to it, and even carry the matter further; persuading themselves, one does not know how, but some

or other persuading themselves, that they are out of the case, and that it hath no relation to them. Yet, notwithstanding this, there frequently appears a suspicion, that all is not right, as it should be; and perhaps there is always at bottom somewhat of this sort. There are doubtless many instances of the ambitious, the revengeful, the covetous, and those whom, with too great indulgence, we only call the men of pleasure, who will not allow themselves to think how guilty they are, who explain and argue away their guilt to themselves; and though they do really impose upon themselves, in some measure, yet there are none of them but have, if not a proper knowledge, yet at least an implicit suspicion, where the weakness lies, and what part of their bebaviour they have reason to wish unknown or forgotten for ever. Truth, and real good sense, and thorough integrity, carry along with them a peculiar consciousness of their own genuineness: there is a feeling belonging to them, which does not accompany their counterfeits, error, folly, half-honesty, partial and slight regards to virtue and right, so far only as they are consistent with that course of gratification which men happen to be set upon. And,

*Matt. vi. 23.

« PreviousContinue »