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way thereof there is no death," ch. xii. 28. Moreover; "The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day," ch. iv. 18. Though virtuous and upright men should for a while lie in obscurity, they may shine hereafter with a greater lustre. And, which is above all external considerations and advantages of this present world, virtue is of the highest importance to the inward peace of the mind, and our everlasting happiness in the world to come. Supposing then a strict regard to uprightness of heart, and innocence of behaviour;
1.) The first rule of prudence I lay down is this, that we should endeavour to know ourselves. He that knows not himself may undertake designs he is not fit for, and can never accomplish; in which he must therefore necessarily meet with disappointment. Nor can any man have comfort and satisfaction in an employment that is unsuitable to his temper.
Besides a knowledge of our own genius, temper and inclination; it is needful, that we should be also possessed of a just idea of our outward circumstances and condition, and the relation we bear to persons about us. It is one branch of prudence for a man to behave agreeably to his own particular character. If he mistake that, he will be guilty of many improprieties. But a just discernment of our own circumstances, and of our relation to other men, will make way for an agreeable and acceptable deportment.
The knowledge of yourselves will prevent conceit on the one hand, and meanness of spirit and conduct on the other. You will readily act with that modest assurance, which becomes your birth, estate, age, station, abilities, skill and other advantages; without departing from your just right, or assuming more than ought to be reasonably allowed you.
2.) Endeavour to know other men. It is a point of charity to hope the best of every man, and of prudence to fear the worst. Not that these are inconsistent. It would be to misrepreşent a Christian virtue extremely, to suppose, that it obliged us to trust men without any knowledge of them. We are to hope and suppose of every man, that he is good and honest, till we have some proof to the contrary. This is the judgment of charity. But we are not bound to employ men, or confide in them, till we have some positive evidences of their honesty and capacity for the trust we would commit to them, or the work in which we would employ them.
Some men are unreasonably suspicious and jealous. Because they are bad themselves, or because they have had dealings with some that are so, they have formed a notion that all men are false and unfaithful. This is a wicked extreme. They who are in it are fitly punished for so disadvantageous and unjust an opinion of their fellow-creatures. Such must needs become contemptible themselves. They may be safe, but they can never make any figure in society; it being, I suppose, impossible for one man alone to carry on any important design, or do any thing considerable in any business or profession. There is therefore a necessity of mutual confidence among men.
On the other hand, some good men are apt to think, that all other men are so. This is oftentimes the sentiment likewise of the young and unexperienced. And indeed it must be some uneasiness to those who are innocent and undesigning themselves, to suspect other men, or to withhold trust and confidence from them. But however kind and favourable their apprehensions and inclinations may be, it would certainly be imprudent to trust to all appearances, and give credit to every pretence. The counsel in the text is given by our Lord to his honest well-meaning disciples, because he knew there were men in the world of bad dispositions, more than these unexperienced disciples were aware of: "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents." Solomon has an observation to this purpose: "The simple believeth every word, but the prudent looketh well to his goings," Prov. xiv. 15. The confidence placed in men ought to be proportioned to the evidences of their faithfulness and capacity. If any act otherwise, there is danger of shame and disappointment. It must therefore be of great advantage in life to be able to form a true judgment of men.
The knowledge of men, the skill of discerning their talents and dispositions, will be of use not only in business, but also in civil conversation, in the choice of friendships and relations, in designs of usefulness, and indeed in every occasion and occurrence of life. You will thereby know, whom to trust with safety, whom to be free and open with in conversation, whose favour it is your interest to seek, on whom you can bestow your favours and services with a likely prospect of doing some good, or with hopes of grateful returns, if ever you should want them.
3.) Watch, and embrace opportunities. This is a rule which ought to be observed with regard to our words and actions. There is a season for every thing, and every thing is beautiful in its time," Ecc. iii. 1, 11. "There is a time to speak, and a time to keep silence," says Solomon, ver. 7. Again, "A word spoken in due season, how good is it?" Prov. xv. 23. "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver," ch. xxv. 11.
In all affairs there are some special opportunities, which it is a point of wisdom to improve. "He that gathers in summer is a wise son. But he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame," Prov. x. 5. Some opportunities, like that here mentioned by Solomon, are obvious to all. And it must be gross stupidity not to know them, and incorrigible sloth to neglect them. But there are some opportunities which will be observed and taken by none but those who are discerning and attentive. Every one can see an opportunity, when it is past: but he only who is wise, sees it beforehand, or perceives and embraces it, when present.
4.) Advise with those who are able to give you good counsel. "Without counsel purposes are disappointed, but in the multitude of counsellors they are established," Prov. xv. 22. At least, in all important and difficult cases call in the aid of some friends. Every purpose is established by counsel, and with good advice make war," ch. xx. 18. It is great presumption in any man to be self-sufficient, and to suppose, that in all cases he can act well by his own
As counsel ought to be asked, so there should be a disposition to hearken to it; or at least to weigh well the reasons that are brought for or against any design. "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkens unto counsel is wise," Prov. xii. 15.
But yet there is need of some discretion in the choice of counsellors. They should be usually the aged and experienced; always, if possible, such as are sincere and disinterested. I scarce need therefore to caution you against advising with your rivals and competitors. If you are so happy as to have parents, to whom you can have recourse, you must be in the right to consult with them in affairs of moment.. If you have not this advantage, however recollect the advices they have given you. Perhaps they have left with you some counsels of prudence, as well as of virtue. When you are forming designs inconsistent with their counsels, give such designs a second consideration, before you take a final resolution. This may be reckoned a point of wisdom, as well as a piece of respect due to those who heartily wished your welfare.
After them, advise with, and hearken to, those who are most like them in a sincere and unaffected concern for your true interest. But if any whom you consult, always advise according to your own inclinations, you may be assured they are not your friends. It is not your interest they consult, but their own. So likewise, if any,, of whom you honestly ask advice, with an intention to be informed and guided by them, are shy and reserved, though at other times, and upon other occasions, they are open enough, you should remember not to go to them again. It is not worth the while to reveal your designs to such. It can be of no advantage, and may be attended with some inconveniences.
5.)- Restrain and govern your affections. This is of great importance to the prudent conduct of life. In all debates he who is calm and composed, as all are sensible, has a vast advantage over a heated adversary. But I mean not the restraint of anger only, or resentment upon a provocation; but a steady government of all the passions, and a calm and composed temper of mind in all occurrences. He who is overset by a cross accident, is lost beyond redress, and can never get out of a difficulty, though there still remain several ways of escape and recovery.
Avoid too great eagerness for any earthly thing. Men of violent inclinations are immediately for action. They have no sooner thought of a thing, but they must have it. They are at once passed the state of deliberation within themselves, and of consultation with others. Men who are extremely eager for gain and riches, are not always the most successful. They precipitate all their measures. They can never have an opportunity, because they cannot wait till it offers. Such usually run desperate hazards, and accordingly meet with great losses. Solomon, who has so often spoken of the benefit of diligence, does nevertheless discourage eagerness of spirit and action, as ruinous and destructive." The thoughts of the diligent," says he, "tend only to plenteousness: but of every one that is hasty, only to want," Prov. xxi. 5.
Then, the men of hasty spirit often plunge themselves into great difficulties; which no after thought of their own, nor kind assistance of their friends, can extricate them out of. What Solomon says of men subject to intemperate anger is very likely to be the case of all who have
any other ungoverned passion: "A man of great wrath shall suffer punishment: for, if thou deliver him, yet thou must do it again," Prov. xix. 19. If you help them out of one trouble, yet they will soon run themselves into some other. And in another place the same wise man has given a lively image of the defenceless and deplorable condition of those who are under the government of violent passions: "He that has no rule over his own spirit, is like a city that is broken down, and without walls," Prov. xxv. 28.
It seems to be for this reason, that men of lesser abilities do often succeed better in business, and indeed in some important affairs, than the more acute and penetrating. They have slow capacities, but they are abundantly recompensed by the coolness of their passions. They move on with a steady, even pace, without slips or falls; till at length, to the surprise of all who were not very discerning indeed, they distance many who set out with much more life and vigour.
These are general rules of prudence. They need not to be mentioned again. But they ought to be observed upon every particular occasion, and will be of use in all the affairs and actions of life that require prudent conduct and management.
2. I am now to lay down some particular rules of prudence concerning several branches of conduct, and divers circumstances of life. They will concern these four points beforementioned; business, civil conversation, more intimate friendships and relations, and usefulness to others.
1.) Of business. I may not presume to give many directions relating to this matter. But I apprehend it to be a point of great prudence, for a man to endeavour to be fully master of his employment. He who is skilful in his calling, and diligently attends to it, and is punctual to his promises and engagements, can seldom fail of encouragement. These may be generally reckoned surer means of success, than a large acquaintance, address, importunity, or any other such like arts of procuring the dealings of men: though these need not be entirely neglected, and may be of use, if they are not too much depended on. Interest is a prevailing principle, and that will dispose men to be concerned with, and employ those who are skilful, diligent and punctual.
It is also esteemed a point of prudence for men to abide in the employment to which they have been educated, and in which they have once engaged: unless there be some great and particular inconvenience attending it, or some strong and peculiar inducement to another.
But by no means hearken to the speeches of those who would draw you off from all employment. Some there are in the world, men of sprightly and aspiring fancies, (as they would be thought) who would persuade you, that business is below the dignity of rational beings; or, however, of all who would shine and be distinguished. You will be justified by Solomon in throwing contempt on such imaginations: "He that is despised, and has a servant, is better than he that honoureth himself, and lacketh bread," Prov. xii. 9. Again, ver. 11. "He that tilleth his land, shall have plenty of bread, but he that followeth vain persons shall have poverty enough."
2.) The next thing concerning which I would give some directions is civil conversation. In general, endeavour to act according to your own character, and maintain that suitably to the persons you meet with, of different abilities, principles and circumstances.
He is happy in the art of conversation, who can preserve a mean, without being light, or formal; neither too reserved, nor too open. Reservedness is disagreeable and offensive: too great openness, in mixed company, with which you are not well acquainted, is often attended with dangerous consequences. It may be a good rule for every man, to guard especially against that extreme which he is most liable to fall into; by which he is in the greateat danger of exposing himself, or offending others. Which is the worst extreme, may not be easy to determine. But I think, if we will take the judgment of Solomon, too great openness must be the most inconsistent with prudence. For silence is with him a mark of wisdom, and there is scarce any one thing he has oftener recommended than the government of the tongue; nor any thing he has more plainly and more frequently condemned, than talkativeness. I shall remind you of some of his sayings upon this argument. "In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin. But he that refraineth his lips is wise," Prov. x. 19. "He that hath knowledge, spareth his words: even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise, and he that shutteth his lips, is esteemed a man of understanding," ch. xvii. 27, 28. "The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright. But the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness," ch. xv. 2. "A fool uttereth all his mind, but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards,” ch. xxix. 11. "Wisdom resteth in the heart
of him that has understanding: but that which is in the midst of fools is made known," Prov. xiv. 33. "He that keepeth his mouth, keepeth his life: but he that openeth wide his mouth, shall have destruction," "ch. xiii. 3. Especially, be cautious of what you say of others; and be not too forward in giving characters, either by way of praise or dispraise.
The only end of conversation is not to entertain, or instruct others. You are likewise to aim at your own improvement, and the increase of your present stock of learning and knowledge. Nor is it necessary, in order to be agreeable, that you should entertain the company with discourse. You may as much oblige some men by patient attention to what they say, as by producing just and new observations of your own. For young persons particularly, silence and modesty must be advantageous qualities in conversation. St. James's precept is general: "Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak." Jam. i. 19: And if attended to, would lessen the multitude of some men's words, very much to their own benefit, and the improvement of society.
Another rule of prudence relating to this matter, which is also a point of duty, is: “If possible, live peaceably with all men," Rom. xii. 18. Do not needlessly offend, or disoblige any. A resolution to please men in all adventures, amidst the present variety of sentiments and affections in the world, would engage us, at seasons, to desert the cause of truth, liberty and virtue. And therefore our Lord has justly pronounced a woe upon those who are universally applauded, saying: "Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you," Luke vi. 26. Such a reputation is rarely to be obtained without a base and criminal indifference for some things very valuable and important to the general interest of mankind. However, do not despise any man, though ever so mean. Malice and hatred are active principles. And, as has been often observed, one enemy may do you more mischief, than many friends can do you good. Nor is there any man so mean, or so feeble, but he may some time have an opportunity of doing you much good, or much harm.
You are not to be afraid of men, nor too solicitous to please them, nor to stoop to flattery or meanness to gain their favour. These are methods neither very virtuous, nor very prudent. For they seldom procure lasting esteem or affection. If you gain men's favour by flattery, you can keep it no longer than you are willing to be their slaves, or their tools. But you may endeavour by easy civilities, and real services, to oblige and gain all you can. This we may do, this we ought to do, according to the rules of Christianity, good breeding and prudence.
Choose, as much as may be, the conversation of those who are wiser and more experienced than yourselves. Avoid the company of those who indulge intemperate mirth, and neglect the rules of decency; from whom you can expect no benefit, and from whom you are in danger of receiving a taint to your virtue, or a blot to your reputation. "He that walketh with wise persons," saith Solomon, "shall be wise, but a companion of fools shall be destroyed," Prov.
3.) In the third place I shall mention some observations concerning more intimate friendships and private relations. It is a rule to choose friends among acquaintance, and not to enter into intimacy with those of whom you have had no trial, because a false friend is the most dangerous enemy. Solomon has a direction relating to this point: "Thine own friend, and thy father's friend forsake not," Prov. xxviii. 10. The meaning is not, that we should not désert such, or refuse to assist them when they are in distress: but it is a rule of prudence, to choose for friends, or to apply to those, when we are in any trouble or difficulty, whose sincerity and faithfulness have been tried and experienced.
In the choice of friends it may be prudent to have some regard to equality of age, as well as circumstances, and to an agreement of sentiments and dispositions.
If you are to avoid the conversation of the openly vicious, (as was before observed) you are to make friendship only with men of known and approved virtue. Let those be your friends whom God himself loves; the meek, the humble, the peaceable who abhor strife and contention. Solomon's caution against familiarity with men of a contrary disposition is delivered with some peculiar concern and earnestness: "Make no friendship," says he, "with an angry man, and with a furious man thou shalt not go; lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul," Prov. xxii. 24, 25. You may likewise consider, whether they shew a good economy in their own affairs: what has hitherto been their behaviour among their friends and acquaintance: what proofs they have given of fidelity, discretion, candour, generosity. generosity. The more good pro
perties meet in your friend, the more entire and comfortable will be your friendship, and the more likely is it to be durable. Happy is the man who has a few friends, true, discreet, ge nerous. But to admit into intimacy men destitute of all good qualities, who neither have faithfulness nor generosity to stand by you in distresses and afflictions, nor wisdom to direct you in 'difficulties, would be only to increase the troubles and vexations of life, without abating any of them, or making provision for a perplexed and difficult circumstance.
Solomon, who was sensible of the blessing of a true friend, and has described the advantages and the offices of friendship, has also strongly represented the disappointment and vexation of misplaced confidence. Concerning the advantages of friendship he speaks in this manner : friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity," Prov. xvii. 17. "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow but woe to him that is alone when he falleth: for he has not another to help him up." Again, "If two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a three-fold cord is not easily broken," Ecc. iv. 9, 10, 11, 12. But then he has observed likewise by way of caution and admonition: "Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint," Prov. xxv. 12.
When you have adopted any into intimacy and friendship, they are in a great measure upon a level with relations. Though they differ somewhat, I shall speak of them jointly, to avoid prolixity.
There are here two things principally to be aimed at one is, that friendships and alliances be preserved without open ruptures: the other is, that whilst there remains an outward show of friendship, or alliances subsist, there may be a real harmony, and a mutual exchange of affections and services.
In the first place, it is of great importance, that friendships and alliances, once contracted, should be preserved, without open ruptures. For, though you have right on your side; yet* breaches between friends, or relatives, are seldom without scandal to both parties. But if you escape that, you will not avoid all uneasiness in yourselves. A distant strangeness, or open variance, after mutual endearments, will be grievous to men of kind and generous dispositions. The other end is the preservation of real harmony.
In order to secure both these ends several things are of great use. It is an observation of Solomon relating to this point: "A man that has friends must shew himself friendly," Prov. xviii. 24. You must not admit a selfish temper. You are to be concerned for your friend's interest, as well as your own.
As perfection is not to be found on earth, you are to be prepared and disposed to overlook some faults. You are not to know every thing which you see or hear. "He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter, separateth very friends," Prov. xvii. 9. "A fool's wrath is presently known: but a prudent man covereth shame," ch. xii. 16. If any difference happen, drop it again as soon as you recover your temper. "The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water: therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with,”. ch. xvii. 14. You are not to break with a friend for a small matter.
The better to secure the lasting love and good-will of your friends, aim not barely at the preservation of a real affection for them, and the performance of real services; but consult likewise the manner of performing benefits. You think this worthy of your regard in order to gain a friendship: why should you not also for preserving, or cherishing it?
Indeed, all good offices should be done in an obliging manner. And friendly actions are to be improved by friendly words. There is a polite piece of advice in the book of Ecclesiasticus : "My son, blemish not thy good deeds; neither use uncomfortable words, when thou givest any thing. Shall not the dew assuage the heat? So is a word better than a gift. Lo, is not a word better than a gift? But both are with a gracious man," Ecc. xviii. 15, 16, 17.
Trespass not too far on the goodness and affection of the kindest and most loving friend or
a It will not be amiss to transcribe here a passage of Photius. Some readers will be pleased to see, how this thought is expressed by so fine a writer. Μη ταχυς ησθα ζεύγνυειν εις Φιλιάν συζεύξας. δε, παντι τρόπῳ τον δεσμον αλυτον συντηρεί, απαν το πλήσιο ανέχων το βάρος, πλην ει μήπω ψυχής κίνδυ
νον επαγει· αι γαρ προς τις φιλος διασασεις την όλην προαιρεσιν εκφαυλίζεσι των ανθρώπων, και 8 τον υπαιτιον μόνον,
αλλά και τον αναιτιον εις την αυτήν υπονοιαν κατασκωδικο Phot. Ep. 1. p. 27.