« PreviousContinue »
and observe how every little thing moved and affected him, and what manner of impression 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, instead of this, do pass away months and years in a perfect Number 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 passeth within them, than the very beasts which perih. But here it may not be amiss to inquire into the reasons why most men have fo little conversation with themselves.
And, if, 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 steady eye, he must contract his fight, and collect all his fcattered 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 impreffions of sense: and how hard and painful a thing muft it needs be to a man of passion and infirmity, amidst such a croud of objects that are continually striking upon the fenses, and soliciting the affections, not to be moved and interrupted by one or other of them ! But,
2dly, 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 difcern good from evil ; and of the reft so much goeth away in sleep, fo much in the ordinary business of life, and 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 imperfe& 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 he hath some business to do, or fome diversion to take, some acquaintance that he must visit, or some company that he must entertain, or some crofs accident hath put him out of humour, and unfitted him for such a grave employment. And thus it comes to pass, that a man can never find leisure to look into himself, because he doth not set apart fome portion of the day for that very purpose, but foolishly deferreth it 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,
3dly, Another reason why a man doth not more frequently converse with himself, is, because such a conversation with his own heart may discover fome 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 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 instance, putteth him out of patience, and as little pleasure fofteneth and disarmeth him into ease and wantonness ? 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 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 wicked thoughts coming into his head ? These are very unwelcome difcoveries 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 away
from it, than how to converse with his own heart. ; But further, If a man were both able and willing to retire into his own heart, and to fet apart some portion
of the day for that very purpose ; yet he is still disabled from passing a fair and impartial judgment upon himfelf, by several difficulties, arising partly from prejudice and prepoffeffion, partly from the lower appetites and inclinations. And,
1/1, That the business of prepoffeffion may lead and betray a man into a false judgment of his own heart. For we may observe, that the firt opinion we take up of any thing, or of any person, doth generally stick close to us: the nature of the mind being such, that it can. not but defire, and consequently endeavour, to have fome certain principles to go upon, fomething fixed and immoveable, whereon it may rest and support itself. And hence it cometh to pass, that some persons 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 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 fo well, or by another, whose interest or diversion it
may be to make him ashamed of himself? Then,
2dly, 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 fins, 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 dressed 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 gentle men are inclined to ; and they justly think it below the dignity of a man, to stoop to fo base and low a fin: 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 confiderations whatever, can put a stop to that violence and oppression, that pride and ambition, that revelling and wantonnels,
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 fame cloud pafseth away like a shadow, and a new light springing up in the mind of a sudden, 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 several reasons, why man, the only creature in the world that can reflect and look into himself, is so very ignorant of what pafleth within him, and so much unacquainted with the standing dispositions and complexions of his own heart; I proceednow, in the
III. Third and last place, to lay down several advantages, that do moff afsuredly 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 modeit 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-fighted 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 falfe 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 busy and incoherent a thing is the imagination, even in the best and wifeft men; insomuch that every man may be said to be mad, but every man doth not sew it. Then, as to the passions, how noisy, how turbulent, and how tumultuous are they ! how eafily are they stirred and set a-going; how eager and hot in the pursuit, and what strange disorder and confufion Voi. 1.
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.
2. A due improvement in the knowledge of our: selves, doth certainly secure us from the fly and insinuating assaults, of flattery. There is not in the world a bafer, and more hateful thing, than flattery. It pro, ceedeth from so much falseness and insincerity in the man that giveth it, and often discovereth so much weakness and folly in the man that taketh it, that it is hard to tell which of the two is most to be blamed. Every man of common sense can dem strate in speculation, and may be fully convinced, that all the praises and commendations of the whole world can add no more to the real and intrinsic value of a man, than they can add to his stature. And yet, for all this, men of the best fenfe and piety, when they come down to the practice, cannot forbear thinking much better of themselves, when they have the good fortune to be spoken well of by other persons.
But the meaning of this absurd proceeding seemeth to be no other than this : There are few men that have fo intimate an acquaintance with their own hearts, as to know their own real worth, and how to set a juft rate upon themselves; and therefore they do not know, but that he who praises them most, may be most in the right of it. For, no doubt, if a man were ignorant of the true value of a thing he loved as well as himself, he would measure the worth of it according to the esteem of him who biddeth most for it, rather than of him that biddeth less.
Therefore the most infallible way, to disentangle a man from the snares of flattery, is, to consult and study his own heart; for whoever does that well, will hardly be so absurd, as to take another man's word, before his own sense and experience.