Page images
PDF
EPUB

tented in the several stations of life wherein God hath thought fit to place us; because it would, in the best and easiest manner, bring us back, as it were, to that early state of the gospel, when Christians had all things in common. For, if the poor found the rich disposed to supply their wants; if the ignorant found the wise ready to instruct and direct them; or if the weak might always find protection from the mighty; they could, none of them, with the least pretence of justice, lament their own condition.

From all that hath been hitherto faid, it appears, that great abilities of any fort, when they are employed as God directs, do but make the owners of them greater and more painful servants to their neighbour and the public. However, we are by no means to conclude from hence, that they are not really blessings, when they are in the hands of good men. For, first, what can be a greater honour, than to be chosen one of the stewards and dispensers of God's bounty to mankind? What is there that can give a generous spirit more pleasure and complacency of mind, than to consider, that he is an instrument of doing much good? that great numbers owe to him, under God, their subsistence, their safety, their health, and the good conduct of their lives? The wickedeft man upon earth takes a pleasure in doing good to those he loves; and, therefore, surely, a good Christian, who obeys our Saviour's command, of loving all men, cannot but take delight in doing good, even to his enemies. God, who gives all things to all men, can receive nothing from any; and those among men who do the most good, and receive the fewest returns, do most refemble their Creator; for which reason, St. Paul delivers it as a faying of our Saviour, that it is more blessed to give, than to receive. By this rule, what must become of those things which the world values as the greatest blessings, riches, power, and the like, when our Saviour plainly determines, that the best way to make them bleflings, is, to part with them ? Therefore, although the advantages which one man hath over another, may be called blessings, yet they are by no means so, in the sense the world usually understands. Thus, for example, great riches are no blessing in themselves; because the poor man, with the common necefiaries of life, enjoys more health, and has fewer cares, without them. How then do they become blessings? No otherwise, than by being employed in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, rewarding worthy men, and, in fhort, doing acts of charity and generosity. Thus, likewise, power is no blessing in itself, because private men bear less envy, and trouble, and anguish, without it. But, when it is employed to protect the innocent, to relieve the oppreffed, and to punish the oppreffor, then it becomes a great blessing. And so, lastly, even great wisdom, is, in the opinion of Solomon, not a blefling in itfelf; for, in much wisdom is much forrow; and

men

men of common understandings, if they serve God, and, mind their callings, make fewer miftakes in the conduct of life, than those who have Better heads. And yet, wisdom is a mighty blefling, when it is applied to good purposes, to instruct the ignorant, to be a faithful counsellor, either in public or private, to be a director to youth, and to many other ends, needless here to mention.

To conclude: God fent us into the world to obey his commands, by doing as much good as our abilities will reach, and as little evil as our many infirmities will permit. Some he hath only trusted with one talent, fome with five, and some with ten. No man is without his talent; and he that is faithful or negligent in a little, shall be rewarded or punished, as well as he that hath been so in a great deal.

Consider what hath been said, &c.

This fermon is upon mutual subjection, and that duty which is owing from one man to another. A clearer style, or a discourse more properly adapted to a public audience, can scarce be framed. Every paragraph is simple, nervous, and intelligible. The threads of each argument are closely connected, and logically pursued. But in places where the Dean has the least op portunity to introduce political maxims, or to dart an arrow at the conduct of princes, he never fails to indulge himself in his usual manner of thinking; as will appear from the following quotation : " A wise man,” says Dr. Swift, “ who does not “ aslift with his counsels, a great man with his protection, a ** rich man with his bounty and charity, and a poor man with “ his labour, are perfect nuisances in a commonwealth. Nei** ther is any condition of life more honourable, in the light of

" God,

“ God than another; otherwise, he would be a respecter of per

fons, which, he assures us, he is not : for he hath proposed the “ fame falvation to all men, and hath only placed them in dif“ ferent ways or stations to work it out. Princes are born with

no more advantages of strength or wisdom than other men;

and, by an unhappy education, are usually more defective in " both, than thousands of their subjects,” p. 146. Again, in the same strain, “ The best prince is, in the opinion of wise

men, only the greatest servant of the nation; not only a fervant to the public in general, but in some fort to every man

in it,” p. 149. But the most extraordinary passage, is a co- vert stroke at the highest order of his brethren the clergy., It runs thus : “ The miseries of life are not properly owing to “ the unequal distribution of things; but God Almighty, the

great King of heaven, is treated like the kings of the earth ; " who, although, perhaps, intending well themselves, have often " most abominable minifters and stewards, and those generally " the vilest, to whom they entrust the most talents,” p. 153. Dark as it is, this paragraph requires no explanation. The author's natural turn of mind breaks forth upon all occasions, and the politician frequently outweighs the divine. If the diétates of such a spirit were capable of forcing their way from the pulpit, what a glorious, what a consistent figure must Swift have made in the rostrum at Rome, or in one of the porticos at Athens ? Orrery.

[ocr errors]

S E R

Μ Ο Ν

III.

ON THE TESTIMONY OF CONSCIENCE.

2 Cor. i. 12. part of it. -For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our

conscience. THE

Here is no word more frequently in the

mouths of men, than that of conscience ; and the meaning of it is, in some measure; geVOL. II.

o

nerally

nerally understood. However, because it is likewife a word extremely abused by many people, who apply other meanings to it, which God Almighty never intended; I shall explain it to you in the clearest manner I am able. The word conscience, properly signifies that knowledge which a man hath within himself, of his own thoughts and actions. And because, if a man judgeth fairly of his own actions, by comparing them with the law of God, his mind will either approve or condemn him, according as he hath done good or evil; therefore, this knowledge, or conscience, may properly be called both an accuser and a judge. So that, whenever our conscience accuseth us, we are certainly guilty : but we are not always innocent, when it doth not accuse us; for very often, through the hardness of our hearts, or the fondness and favour we bear to ourselves, or through ignorance or neglect, we do not suffer our conscience to take any cognitance of several sins we commit. There is another office likewise belonging to conscience, which is that of being our director and guide; and the wrong

use of this hath been the occasion of more evils under the sun, than almost all other causes put together. For, as conscience is nothing else but the knowledge we have of what we are thinking and doing; fo, it can guide us no further than that knowledge reacheth; and therefore, God hath placed conscience in us, to be our director only in those actions which scripture and reason plainly tell us to be good or evil. But, in cases

too

« PreviousContinue »