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profanation, when the rest of the world treat us as being nearly on the level with them, which yet they certainly will. And if we go to measure those around us by these ideas, we shall look on persons, whenever we have a mind to do so, as monsters not to be supported, who, in a reasonable way of thinking, would appear very tolerably good people. We should therefore endeavour, by frequent reflection, to form a habit of judging with moderation concerning our neighbours and ourselves. Man is a fallen being, defective in his understanding, and depraved in his inclinations; placed in circumstances, in which many things call him off from what he should do, many things prompt him to what he should not do; and often, before he hath well learned to distinguish one from the other, or too suddenly for him to apply the distinction rightly. .
Almost every one is apt to join some notion of peculiar dignity to his own person, and to imagine that offences are greatly aggravated by being committed against him ; that his character and concerns, his family and friends, his opinions and taste, ought to be treated with a singular degree of regard. But then really we should remember, that multitudes besides may just as allowably think the same thing of theirs ; indeed, that all men are as dear to themselves, as we can be to ourselves : which brings us back so far upon the level again. And the serious consideration of it must surely convince us, that our common interest, as well as our duty, is to think and act mildly; that “pride was not made for man, nor furious anger for them that are born of a woman” (Ecclus. x. 18).
Other directions must be given more briefly. One is not to indulge ourselves in any sort of over great niceness and delicacy : for it hardly ever gives real pleasure, and it furnishes perpetual occasions of disgust and fretfulness. Another is, to avoid inquisitiveness after materials for anger to work upon. It is better not to hear of every little wrong thing that is done about us, or said of us. And therefore we should never en
HELPS TO EQUANIMITY.
courage persons in the officiousness of acquainting us with them needlessly : but always have some suspicion of such as are peculiarly forward in it. For innumerable are the friendships and agreeable acquaintances that have been broken off, and the resentments and animosities raised, by tales and insinuations of this kind, either wholly or in part false; or idle and trifling, though true. Two other important rules, and closely connected, are : first, never to engage by choice in more business than we can easily manage; for that, by causing hurry and frequent miscarriages, will certainly cause vexation and peevishness: then, to preserve a steady attention to what we do engage in. Men are often grossly negligent of their affairs; and afterwards furiously angry at those disorders in them, for which they themselves are almost, if not quite, as much to blame, as others. Now, regular care would have prevented mismanagement, which alternate fits of remissness and rage will never do. Indeed, we should obviate, as far as we can, everything that we find apt to ruffle our minds, and carry the precaution down even to our diversions and amusements. For some of these have often so very bad an effect upon the temper, that not to apply so easy a remedy as laying them aside is really inexcusable. Another material thing to be shunned, is familiarity with passionate persons; not only for the very plain reason, lest they should provoke us, but also lest their example should infect us.
“Make no friendship 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.” But to converse with those who are of mild dispositions, to observe how they take things, and be advised by them how we should take them, will be of unspeakable service.
These are preparations before danger. When it approaches near, the main point is, to recollect how dreadful it would be to give way and lose ourselves, and to resolve that we will not. Towards keeping this resolution, we shall find it one great pre
servative, though it may seem a slight matter, not to let the accent of our speech, or any one of our gestures be vehement. For these things excite passion mechanically; whereas a soft answer, the scripture tells us, “turneth away wrath :” composes the spirit of the giver himself, as well as the receiver of it. Also making use of the gentlest and least grating terms that we can, will be extremely beneficial : and accordingly it follows there, that “grievous words stir up anger.”
But if such begin to present themselves, and struggle for vent, we must resolve to utter as few of any sort as possible : or, if it become requisite, none at all; but shut fast the door of our lips, till the mastiff within hath done barking, as is related to have been the practice of Socrates. It is a painful restraint; but if we will remain masters of ourselves, it is absolutely necessary. For one hasty expression bursting out makes freer way for another, till at last the banks are levelled, and the torrent carries all before it.
“A patient man,
therefore, will bear for a time, and afterwards joy shall spring up unto him. He will hide his words for a time, and the lips of many shall declare his wisdom” (Ecclus. i. 23, 24). But, above all, we should inviolably observe never to act in a heat. Thoughts, alas, will be too quick for us : a few improper words may escape; but actions are much more in our power. We may be too angry at present to venture upon acting at all : a little delay can do no harm, and may do a great deal of good. Only, when we take time, we should make a right use of it; not revolve an insignificant offence in our minds, interpret little incidents with perverse acuteness, and lay stress upon groundless fancies, till we work it up into a heinous crime. The best understandings, without good tempers, can go the greatest lengths in this way; and employing their reflection to excite the displeasure which it ought to restrain, the longer they ruminate the more untractable they grow. Now passion may be trusted very safely to suggest all the aggravating circumstances. Reason,
WHAT TO DO WHEN AGGRIEVED.
therefore, should be called in only to represent the alleviating considerations, of which we perpetually overlook so many and so important ones, that we should give those about us all possible encouragement to remind us of them. And if the person, by whom we think ourselves aggrieved, be one with whom we have any close connexion, or of whom we have ground to think advantageously, laying our complaint mildly before him, and hearkening impartially to his answer, may very possibly set all right, and place us on a better footing than ever we were before.
“ Admonish a friend : it may be he hath not done it; and if he have done it, that he do it no more. Admonish thy friend : it may be he hath not said it; and if he have, that he speak it not again. Admonish a friend : for many times it is a slander : and believe not every tale. There is one, that slippeth in his speech ; but not from his heart : and who is he that hath not offended with his tongue ? Admonish thy neighbour before thou threaten him : and, not being angry, give place to the law of the most High” (Ecclus. xix. 13-17). Only this caution ought to be observed in the case, that such as are naturally warm and impatient, should but seldom risk a personal explanation at first; but rather employ some common well-wisher, on whose probity and prudence they can safely depend, that he will moderate, not inflame, matters by interposing. And when thus, or any way, the subject of difference is rightly stated, if the other party be innocent, let us admit it with pleasure; if he own his fault, though not so fully as he should, let us receive his acknowledgment with generosity. And if, in return, he brings a charge against us, let us say with calmness what we have to say justly in our own favour; confess frankly, with due concern, whatever hath been amiss; and where there is no room for a defence, attempt no palliation, but follow the injunction of Scripture : "If thou hast done foolishly, or if thou hast thought evil, lay thine hand upon thy mouth" (Prov. xxx. 32). It will be very dishonourable, and very strange in him, to treat us unkindly upon this. But if he doth, we must submit patiently to what we have brought upon ourselves, and not be guilty of a second misdemeanour, because our first is not handsomely forgiven us.
Set Thine House in Order.
Not many, it may be feared, have reason to be contented, that everything should lie at the hour of their death, just as it doth now.
Some have spent a great part of their lives in putting their houses out of order, in perplexing and ruining their affairs by extravagance, negligence, or ill-management. These have singular need to restore them without delay to the best posture they can. And such as may have acted very prudently on the supposition of living long, may yet have done little or nothing in regard to the possibility of dying soon. Now sickness frequently affords but little time; and almost always brings along with it uneasiness full enough for us to bear, without the additional weight of business. Besides, in that condition, our judgment, or memory, or attention may be impaired. Weakness of spirits may subject us to undue impressions from those who are about us: our truest friends and ablest and properest advisers may be accidentally absent, or artfully kept from us: in short, one way or another, there is a great hazard of our doing things wrongly, or at best imperfectly. Fears or suspicions of this may grievously disquiet us, and add to our danger: or, though we apprehend that no evils will arise, from our want of timely caution, to those whom we leave behind us, they may come to feel very dreadful ones. And why should not all this be prevented? We must leave what we have, whether we dispose of it or not. And if we defer disposing of it, because we have not the heart to do it, such a heart should not be indulged, but amended. The difficulty of settling things, or the uncertainty how to settle them, will