« PreviousContinue »
SERM. than truly observed : especially so subtile, so intriXLIV.
cate, so obscure a thing as a man's heart is, requireth an extraordinary application of mind in observing it with judgment and fruit.
This is then our duty, recommended by the Wise Man: to be continually, with extreme diligence, looking inward upon ourselves, observing what thoughts spring up within us; what imaginations find most welcome harbour in our breasts; what objects most affect us with delight or displeasure ; (what it is that we love and readily embrace; what we distaste and presently reject ;) what prejudices do possess our minds ; wherefore we propose to ourselves such undertakings, conversing with ourselves, and, as it were, discoursing in this manner: What is it that I think upon ? are my thoughts serious, seasonable, and pure? Whither do I propend ? are my inclinations compliant to God's law and good reason? What judgments do I make of things? are my apprehensions clear, solid, sure, built upon no corrupt prejudice? What doth most easily stir me, and how is my heart moved? are my affections calm, and orderly, and well placed? What plots do I contrive, what projects am I driving on? are my designs good, are my intentions upright and sincere ? Let me thoroughly inquire into these points, let me be fully satisfied in them: thus should we continually be doing. The holy scripture doth often bid us to judge ourselves ; to examine our works; to
search and try; to weigh, to heed, to watch over our 1 Cor. xi. ways: If, saith St. Paul, we would judge (discern, El invrous or distinguish) ourselves, we should not be judged; desnervous that is, we should avoid those miscarriages which
bring the divine judgments upon us : and, Let us,
Gal. vi. 4.
saith the prophet Jeremy, search and try our ways, SERM. and turn unto the Lord; and, I said, I will take
XLIV. heed to my ways, saith the Psalmist; and, Ponder Lam. iii. the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be esta- Ps
. xxxix. blished, is the Wise Man's advice. Search our ways, Prov. iv.26. and ponder our paths; this implies that we first do examine and weigh our hearts, for there our ways begin, thence is motion derived to our feet and to our hands also; all our actions depend as effects of them, all do receive their moral quality thence : whatever in our doings is good or bad, čowley èKTOpeú- Mark vii. Etal, doth, as our Lord expresses it, issue from within us; our actions are but streams, sweet or bitter, clear or foul, according to the tincture they receive at those inward sources of good or evil inclinations, of true or false judgments, of pure or corrupt intention: there consequently we are principally obliged to exercise the scrutiny and trial required of us.
Socrates is reported to have much admired that Gell. xiv. verse in Homer,
“Οττι τοι εν μεγάροισι κακόντ’ αγαθόντε τέτυκται: affirming, that in it the sum of all wisdom is comprised; the sense and drift thereof being this, as he took it: Seek and study what good or bad is at home, within thy house; see how all goes in thy breast; employ thy chief inquiry upon the affairs of thy soul; there confining thy curiosity and care.
Such is the duty; and the practice thereof is of huge profit and use, bringing many great benefits and advantages with it; the neglect of it is attended with many grievous inconveniences and mischiefs: and for persuading to the one, dissuading from the other, I shall propound some of them, such
SERM. as are most obvious, and offer themselves to my
The most general and most immediate advantage arising hence is this, that, by such a constant and careful inspection, or study upon our hearts, we may arrive to a competent knowledge of, and a true acquaintance with ourselves, (a most useful know
ledge, a most beneficial acquaintance,) neither of Jer. xvii. 9. them being otherwise attainable. The heart, as you
know the prophet says, is deceitful above all things; and who, adds he, can know it? Who can know it? None, it seems, but God that made it, and the man that hath it: he that hath it must, I say, be able competently to know it: even in regard to him the question may intimate some difficulty, but it doth not denote an absolute impossibility. Hard it may be for us to know the heart, by reason of its deceitfulness; but the sliest imposture, if narrowly looked into, may be detected: it is a very subtile and abstruse, a very various and mutable thing; the multiplicity of objects it doth converse with, the divers alterations it is subject to from bodily temper, custom, company, example, other unaccountable causes ; especially its proneness to comply with, and to suit its judgments of things unto present circumstances without, and present appetites within, do render it such ; wherefore it is not indeed easy to know it; but yet possible it is ; for under severe penalties we are obliged not to be
deceived by it, or, which is all one, not to suffer it Cor. iii. to be deceived: Let no man, saith St. Paul, deceive Luke xxi.8. himself: See that ye be not deceived, saith our
Saviour: Take heed, saith Moses, to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived. Such precepts
there are many, obliging us to know our hearts, SERM. and to discover the fallacies put on them, or upon
XLIV. us by them; carrying with them directions how to compass it; that is, by looking about us, and taking heed, by careful circumspection and caution. It is therefore a feasible thing to avoid being imposed upon, and well to understand ourselves : but as other abstruse pieces of knowledge, so this especially cannot be attained without industrious applications of our mind, and constant observations, to find the corners wherein the deceit lurks; we must pursue its secret windings and intrigues; we must trace it step by step, as hunters do wild beasts, into the utmost recesses of its first desires and most deeply radicated prejudices; we must do as David did, when he strove to free himself from distrust and impatience in his straits : I communed with my Psal. lxxvii. own heart, saith he, and my spirit made diligento, 10. search: by which practice he found, as he further acquaints us, that it was his infirmity, which moved him to doubt of God's mercy and benignity toward him. Cicero, having somewhere commended philosophy as the most excellent gift by Heaven bestowed upon man, assigns this reason : because it teaches us, as all other things, so especially this of all most difficult thing, to know ourselves a. But he, with his favour, doth seem to promise for his friend more than she is able to perform; the main part of this knowledge doth lie beyond the reach of any particular method; the empiric seems to have more to do here than the doctor. Philosophy
a Hæc enim una nos cum cæteras res omnes, tum quod est difficillimum docuit, ut nosmetipsos nosceremus. Cic. de Leg. 1.
SERM. may perhaps afford us some plausible notions conXLIV.
cerning the nature of our soul, its state, its power, its manners of acting; it may prescribe some wide directions about proceeding in the discovery of ourselves; but the particular knowledge (and therein the chief difficulty lieth) of ourselves, how our souls stand inclined and disposed, that only our particular earnest study and assiduous observation can yield unto us; and it is an inestimable advantage to obtain it. All men are very curious and inquisitive after knowledge; the being endued therewith passeth for a goodly ornament, a rich possession, a matter of great satisfaction, and much use: men are commonly ashamed of nothing so much as ignorance ; but if any knowledge meriteth esteem for its worth and usefulness, this, next to that concerning Almighty God, may surely best pretend thereto; if any ignorance deserveth blame, this certainly is most liable thereto: to be studious in contemplating natural effects, and the causes whence they proceed; to be versed in the writings and stories of other men's doings; to be pragmatical observers of what is said or done without us, (that which perchance may little concern, little profit us to know,) and in the mean while to be strangers at home, to overlook what passeth in our own breasts, to be ignorant of our most near and proper concernments, is a folly, if any, to be derided, or rather greatly to be pitied, as the source of many great inconveniences to us. For it is from ignorance of ourselves that we mistake ourselves for other persons than we really are; and accordingly we behave ourselves toward ourselves with great indecency and injustice; we assume and attribute to ourselves that