Page images
PDF
EPUB

with better hope of success.

Hence the contest becomes more equal, and consequently more fierce and lasting. His flesh contends for present, worldly, and sensible enjoyments; the spirit for good things, unseen, and future. His flesh recommends its choice by the natural sweetness and certainty of the gratification it proposes; the spirit urges the purity and eternity of that happiness, on which it labours to fix his attention. "The Spirit searcheth even the hidden things of God; nor is he less perfectly acquainted with those of man, for he is the Spirit of wisdom, understanding, and counsel,' and therefore is able to guide us into all truth. Now his compassion and tenderness for us are as great as his wisdom, and it is therefore he is called our Comforter.' Under the direction of such a guide, we can never go astray.

But our ungoverned affections are irregular and blind, and therefore surely, of all things, the most unqualified either to direct or support us. While we are under their inAuence, we are exactly in the state of one who is drunk, and knows not how to stand or walk. Any violent passion disturbs the brain in the same manner as strong liquor : • There is,'says St. Chrysostom, a drunkenness without wine, otherwise the prophet had never said, Woe be to those who are drunk, but not with wine; nor St. Paul, Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; intimating, that there are other things which intoxicate. There is a drunkenness in anger, in concupiscence, in covetousness, in vain glory, and in other affections; for drunkenness is nothing else, but a departure from right reason, and a deprivation of understanding. As he who hath drank much, is lavish of rude words, and sees one thing for another; so a person under the violence of any passion speaks, like a fool, unintelligibly, rudely, and with a strange mixture of silly laughter. His eyes mistake their most accustomed objects, and are often blind to things the most visible. He, particularly, who is angry, is unquestionably drunk; for his voice is hoarse, his eyes are bloodshot and distorted, his understanding is benighted, his tongue faulters, his ears misrepresent what he hears.'

That which puts a man in such a condition, is surely not fit to be trusted with the direction or government of his

actions; for in this state of madness, there is no folly nor crime, which he is not ready to run headlong into.

While our corrupt passions thus bias and pervert our understandings, they, at the same time, as unhappily deprave our will, disposing it to the foulest intentions, and the vilest actions. All the black and horrible crimes, which we come to the knowledge of, by our own experience, or history, spring entirely from lawless and licentious passions. Our desires being fitted by nature to an infinite object, are rendered, in respect to all other objects, boundless and insatiable. Hence it is, that being turned aside from that only object, that could satisfy them, they, in vain, seek for contentment from earthly things. Luxurious tables, delicious wines, stately houses, soft beds, music, lewd women, riches, honour, and power, are pursued with an eagerness and fury, that overturn every thing in their way; treading under foot the laws of God and man, burning cities, wasting kingdoms, and filling the world with fraud and false politics; with rapes, robberies, murders, massacres, and ruinous wars. When one object of this sort proves unsatisfactory, another is sought for, cost what it will to conscience; and that proving as empty and defective, the whole circle of sensuality is rummaged, but to no purpose; all things under the sun are not able to satisfy the immortal soul. From whence come wars and fightings among you?' says St. James, ‘Come they not hence, even of your lusts, that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not; ye kill and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war; ye ask, and receive

ask amiss, to consume it upon your lusts. Ye adulterers, and adultresses, know ye not, that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?'

The law was delivered from Mount Sinai, not with the sound of cymbals, psalteries, and other the like instruments of peaceful music, used in religious services, but with the sound of a trumpet, to signify the fierce and perpetual war between the commandments of God, and the lusts of mankind. He who professes himself the servant of God, engages in this warfare against the enemies of God and his own soul. Now this is a war of the greatest consequence ; for in this we fight not for riches, nor honours, or worldly

not,

because ye

1

power; but for our very souls, while all the glories of heaven, and all the horrible torments of hell, are at stake; a war truly terrible! A war of a most dangerous and singular nature! In other battles, he who attacks is a different person from him who defends; but in this, I am engaged against myself; I, the inward man, against me, the outward. How, therefore, shall I guard against myself, and deliver myself from myself? It is extremely difficult for the soul to obtain the victory in this case, because it fights against an enemy it loves. “No man ever hateth his own Hesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it. If therefore, it be difficult to conquer an enemy we hate ; what must it be to subdue that enemy, whom we find a pleasure in submitting to, and who can, with the greatest ease, prevail on us to betray ourselves? In every other warfare the combatants sometimes separate, lay by their weapons, and take breath; but in this there is not a moment's respite, the battle is fierce and continual, and the enemies can never be parted but by death. Other enemies pitch their tents apart, and are divided by walls and ramparts; these encamp on the same spot, and therefore can never agree upon a minutes truce.

As, in the present frame of our nature, the soul and body are closely bound together and united into one person ; and as our effections and passions proceed entirely from the body; so it always happens, that they rise in vehemence, as that does in vigour, and abate in proportion as the blood grows cool and languid. This is found by experience to be true of them all, excepting fear and modesty, which follow in this respect a rule exactly opposite to the rest. But as these two affections are most easily engaged on the side of religion and virtue, no method can be thought of so helpful to that best of causes, as that which shall strengthen these, and at the same time humble and reduce the others; I mean temperance and mortification.

To this end, in well-disposed natures, a strict and regular temperance will be sufficient.

• He,' says Epictetus,' who at a feast behaves himself according to the rules of moderation and modesty, is a guest for the gods.' He did not mean, that this only virtue could qualify a person, otherwise vicious, for the company of celestial beings; but that the virtue of temperance, being productive of all the rest, must render him who is adorned with it wholly virtuous. Be that as it will, I must take the liberty to say, no one is a fit guest for the Lord's table, who does not shew himself moderate and temperate at his own. We are unspeakably happy, did we observe it, in this, that those temptations, which, in the natural order of things, come foremost, are always the weakest. Temptations to intemperance may be easily resisted ; for the mere pleasures of the palate, when nature is satisfied, are very inconsiderable. But if we once yield to intemperance, it is then a task of no small difficulty to bridle those lusts and passions, that are fed by it. This, however, is considered only by a few, who, of all men, stand least in need of remarking it; I mean those whose appetites are moderate, and passions manageable. In these, the principles of Christianity require no other assistance, than such as may keep the passions within the bounds of moderation, and render them barely amenable. But in persons whose passions are naturally more violent, there is a necessity for the severer measures of fasting, and other acts of self-denial. There are two ways of preserving and promoting the virtue of a Christian, either by strengthening the Christian principles, which, humanly speaking, is to be effected by reading the word of God, and by meditation; or by weakening the principles of vice, which is the work of temperance in a few, and of mortification in the rest of mankind. If temperance alone can so reduce the passions to reason, that they may be won over by that and faith to Christianity, the work is done in the most effectual manner, by a revolt of the enemy's forces. But when this intention cannot be accomplished, they must be subdued by mortification, and thus either converted, or conquered.

As to temperance, it is of so great use to virtue, that the worst religion, with it, can do more than the best without it. Nicolaus, speaking of a Scythian nation, that lived entirely on milk, says, ' None of them was ever known to be moved with envy, hatred, or fear.' He says also, of the ancient Iberians, ' That when they came to full growth, a girdle was given to each of them, of a very moderate length, which, if it ever grew too short for the wearer, he was publicly exposed as an infamous person.' This people was also remarkable among their neighbours for the practice of every virtue. The Americans, and inner Africans, who are wholly ignorant of the gluttony and luxury of Europe, are also utter strangers to the horrible vices of the Europeans.

Libertines think a religion that is unable to restrain a luxurious glutton from pride, lust, and anger, cannot be the true religion, although they might, with as much reason, say, water is not water, because a small quantity of it cannot extinguish a fire, into which great quantities of oil or sulphur are perpetually thrown. Without any regard to this, they are continually twitting us with the morality of the Americans. But were they and we to exchange religions, we should be infinitely a worse, and they incomparably a better people, than they are. The religion of those people, is almost wholly calculated to spoil their morality, ours to render us highly virtuous. Yet such is the force of temperance, that it makes even the worshippers of the devil chaste, sober, and honest; such is the effect of luxury, that it turns the worshippers of the true God into the servants of the devil.

Moderation in diet, keeps the head clear, the spirits calm, the passions manageable, confirms health, and prolongs life; among all which, it is hard to single out that one, which conduces most to a virtuous and happy discharge of duty. There is no other man, but he who practices this mother virtue, that is, in any sense, master of himself. "I do insist, says Agapetus to Justinian, 'that you are truly a king, because, being adorned with the crown of temperance, and clothed with the royal robe of justice, you are able to rule and moderate your pleasures. Death follows every other sort of power; but this extends to all eternity. All other principalities find an end in the present world, but this delivers from eternal punishment. The king is lord of all men, and, in respect to God the fellow-servant of all men; but he is then more especially styled lord, when he is able to lord it over himself, and is not enslaved to foolish pleasures ; when supported with the alliance of reason and religion, which maintain an absolute dominion over the irregular affections, he subdues his otherwise all conquering desires with the whole armour of temperance.'

He who governs his appetites by the rules of temper

« PreviousContinue »