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DIFFICULTY OF KNOWING ONE'S-SELF.*
2 KINGS, VIII. PART OF THE 13TH VERSE.
And Hazael said, But what! is thy servant a dog,
that he should do this great thing? We have a very singular instance of the deceitfulness of the heart, represented to us in the person of Hazael: who was sent to the prophet Elisha, to enquire of the Lord concerning his master the King of Syria's recovery. For the man of God, having told him that the king might recover from the disorder he was then labouring under, began to set and fasten his countenance upon him of a sudden, and to break out into the most violent expressions of sorrow, and a deep concern for it; whereupon, when Hazael, full of shame and confusion, asked, “Why weepeth my lord ?" he answered, Because I know all the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel : their strong holds wilt thou set on fire, and their young men wilt thou slay with the sword, and wilt dash their children, and rip up their women with child." Thus much did the man of God say and know of him, by a light darted into his mind from heaven. But Hazael, not knowing himself so well as the other did, was startled and amazed at the relation, and would not believe it possible that a man of his temper could ever run out into such enormous instances of cruelty and inhumanity. “What!” says he, “is thy servånt a dog, that he should do this great thing?"
* « When I first gave this sermon to be published, I had some doubts whether it were genuine; for, though I found it in the same parcel with three others in the Dean's own hand, and there was a great similitude in the writing, yet, as some of the letters were differently cut, and the hand in general much fairer than his, I gave it to the world as dubious. But as some manuscripts of his early poems have since fallen into my hands, transcribed by Stella, I found, upon comparing them, that the writing was exactly the same with that of the sermon; which was therefore copied by her. Swift, in his Journal to that lady, takes notice that he had been her writing master, and that there was such a strong resemblance between their hands, as gave occasion to some of his friends to rally him, upon seeing some of her letters addressed to him at the bar of the coffee-house, by asking him, how long he had taken up the custom of writing letters to himself? So that I can now fairly give it to the public as one of his, and not at all unworthy of the zuthor." H.
And yet, for all this, it is highly probable, that he was then that man he could not imagine himself to be; for we find him, on the very next day after his return, in a very treacherous and disloyal manner, murdering his own master, and usurping his kingdom; which was but a prologue to the sad tragedy which he afterward acted upon the people of Israel.
And now the case is but very little better with most men, than it was with Hazael; however it cometh to pass, they are wonderfully unacquainted with their own temper and disposition, and know very little of what passeth within them;
for, of so many proud, ambitious, revengeful, envying, and ill-natured persons that are in the world, where is there one of them, who, although he hath all the symptoms of the vice appearing upon every occasion, can look with such an impartial eye upon himself, as to believe that the imputation thrown upon him is not altogether groundless and unfair? who, if he were told, by men of a discerning spirit and a strong conjecture, of all the evil and absurd things which that false heart of his would at one time or other betray him into, would not believe as little, and wonder as much, as Hazael did before him? Thus, for instance; tell an angry person that he is weak and impotent, and of no consistency of mind; tell him, that such or such a little accident, which he may then despise and think much below a passion, shall hereafter make him say and do several absurd, indiscreet, and misbecoming things: he may perhaps own that he hath a spirit of resentment within him, that will not let him be imposed on; but he fondly imagines, that he can lay a becoming restraint upon it when he pleaseth, although it is ever running away, with him into some indecen
cy or other.
Therefore, to bring the words of my text to our present occasion, I shall endeavour, in a farther prosecution of them, to evince the great necessity of a nice and curious inspection into the several recesses of the heart, being the surest and the shortest method that a wicked man can take to reform himself; for let us but stop the fountain, and the streams will spend and waste themselves away in a very little time; but if we go about, like children, to raise a bank, and to stop the current, not taking notice all the while of the spring which continually feedeth it, when the
next flood of temptation rises and breaketh in up on it, then we shall find that we have begun at the wrong end of our duty; and that we are very little more the better for it, than if we had sat still, and made no advances at all.
But, in order to a clearer explanation of the point, I shall speak to these following particulars:
First, By endeavouring to prove, from particular
instances, that man is generally the most igno
rant creature in the world of himself. Secondly, By inquiring into the grounds and rea
sons of his ignorance. Thirdly and lastly, By proposing several advan
tages, that do most assuredly attend a due im. provement in the knowledge of ourselves,
First, then, to prove that man is generally the most ignorant creature in the world of himself.
To pursue the heart of man through all the instances of life, in all its several windings and turnings, and under that infinite variety of shapes and appearances which it putteth on, would be a difficult and almost impossible undertaking ; so that I shall confine myself to such as have a nearer reference to the present occasion, and do, upon a closer view, show themselves through the whole business of repentance. For we all know what it is to repent; but whether he repenteth him truly of his sins or not, who can know it?
Now the great duty of repentance is chiefly made
up of these two parts: a hearty sorrow for the follies and miscarriages of the time past, and a full purpose and resolution of amendment for the time to come. And now, to show the false,