« PreviousContinue »
mind, without once awaking it, it is no wonder they should be so very ignorant of themselves, and know very little more of what passeth within them than the very beasts which perish. But here it may not be amiss to inquire into the reasons why most men have so little conversation with them. selves.
And, first, Because this reflection is a work and labour of the mind, and cannot be performed without some pain and difficulty: for, before a man can reflect upon himself, and look into his heart with a steady eye, he must contract his sight, and collect all his scattering and roving thoughts into some order and compass, that he may be able to take a clear and distinct view of them; he must retire from the world for a while, and be unattentive to all impressions of sense; and how hard and painful a thing must it needs be to a man of passion and infirmity, amid such a crowd of objects that are continually striking upon the sense, and soliciting the affections, not to be moved and interrupted by one or other of them! But,
Secondly, Another reason why we so seldom converse with ourselves, is, because the business of the world taketh up all our time, and leaveth us no portion of it to spend upon this great work and labour of the mind. Thus twelve or fourteen years pass away before we can well discern good from evil; and of the rest, so much goes away in sleep, so much in the proper business of our callings, that we have none to lay out upon the more serious and religious employments. "Every man's life is an imperfect sort of a circle, which he repeateth and runneth over every day; he hath a set of thoughts, desires, and inclinations, which return upon him in their proper time and order,
and will very hardly be laid aside to make room for any thing new and uncommon : so that call upon him when you please, to set about the study of his own heart, and you are sure to find him pre-engaged; either lie has some business to do, or some diversion to take, some acquaintance that he must visit, or some company that he must entertain, or some cross accident hath put him out of humour, and unfitted him for such a grave employment. And thus it cometh to pass, that a man can never find leisure to look into himself, because he doth not set apart some portion of the day for that very purpose, but foolishly deferreth from one day to another, until his glass is almost run out, and he is called upon to give a miserable account of himself in the other world. But,
Thirdly, Another reason why a man doth not more frequently converse with himself, is, because such conversation with his own heart may discover some vice, or some 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 person he took himself to be? that he had neither the courage, nor the honesty, nor the piety, nor the humility, that he dreamed he had?" that a very little pain, for instance, putteth him out of patience, and as little pleasure softeneth and disarmeth him into ease and wantonness ? that he hath been at more pains, and labour, and cost, 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 spirit 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 wick ed thoughts coming into his head? These are very unwelcome discoveries that a man may make of himself; so that it is no wonder that every one who is already flushed with a good opinion of himself, should rather study how to run away from it, than how to converse with his own heart.
But farther, If a man were both able and willing to retire into his own heart, and to set apart some portion of the day for that very purpose; yet he is still disabled from passing a fair and impartial judgment upon himself, by several difficulties, arising partly from prejudice and prepossession, partly from the lower appetites and inclinations. And,
First, That the business of prepossession may lead and betray a man into a false judgment of his own heart. For we may observe, that the first opinion we take up of any thing, or any person, doth generally stick close to us; the nature of the mind being such, that it cannot but desire, and consequently endeavour to have some certain principles to go upon, something fixed and un. moveable, whereon it may rest and support itself. . And hence it cometh to pass, that some persons are, with so much difficulty, brought to think well of a man they have once entertained an ill opinion of; and, perhaps, that too for a very absurd 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 sense enough to understand it, either to be persuaded out of it by himself, whom he loveth so well, or by another, whose interest or diversion it may be to make him ashamed of himself! Then,
Secondly, As to the difficulties arising from the
inferior appetites and inclinations; let any man look into his own heart, and observe in how different a light, and under what different complexions, any two sins of equal turpitude and malignity do appear to him, if he hath but a strong inclination to the one, and none at all to the other. That which he hath an inclination to, is always drest
up in all the false beauty that a fond and busy imagination can give it; the other appeareth naked and deformed, and in all the true circumstances of folly and dishonour. Thus, stealing is a vice that few gentlemen are inclined to; and they justly think it below the dignity of a man to stoop to so base and low a sin; but no principle of honour, no workings of the mind and conscience, not the still voice of mercy, not the dreadful call of judgment, nor any considerations whatever, can put a stop to that violence and oppression, that pride and ambition, that revelling and wantonness, which we every day meet with in the world. Nay, it is easy to observe very different thoughts in a man of the sin that he is most fond of, according to the different ebbs and flows of his inclination to it. For, as soon as the appetite is alarmed, and seizeth upon the heart, a little cloud gathereth about the head, and spreadeth a kind of darkness over the face of the soul, whereby it is hindered from taking a clear and distinct view of things; but no sooner is the appetite tired and satiated, but the same cloud passeth away like a shadow; and a new light springing up in the mind of a sudden, the man seeth much more, both of the folly and of the danger of the sin, than he did before.
. And thus, having done with the several reasons why man, the only creature in the world that can reflect and look into himself, is so very ignorant of what passeth within him, and so much unacquaint
ed with the standing dispositions and complexions of his own heart: I proceed now, in the
Third and last place, to lay down several advantages, that do, most assuredly, attend a due improvement in the knowledge of ourselves. And,
First, One great advantage is, that it tendeth very much to mortify and humble a man into a modest and low opinion of himself. For, let a man take a nice and curious inspection into all, the several regions of the heart, and observe every thing irregular and amiss within him : for instance; how narrow and short-sighted a thing is the understanding! upon how little reason do we take up an opinion, and upon how much less sometimes do we lay it down again! how weak and false ground do we often walk upon, with the biggest confidence and assurance and how tremulous and doubtful are we very often where no doubt is to be made! Again: how wild and impertinent, how busy and incoherent a thing is the imagination, even in the best and wisest men; insomuch, that every man may be said to be mad, but every man doth not show it! Then, as to the passions; how noisy, how turbulent, and how tumultuous are they! how easy they are stirred and set a-going, how eager and hot in the pursuit, and what strange disorder and confusion do they throw a man into; so that he can neither think, nor speak, nor act, as he should do, while he is under the dominion of any one of them !
Thus, let every man look with a severe and impartial eye into all the distinct regions of the heart; and no doubt, several deformities and irregularities, that he never thought of, will
open and disclose themselves upon so near a view; and rather make the man ashamed of himself than proud.
Secondly, A due improvement in the knowledge