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The Prohibition of Revenge juftifiable by Reafon..
O vitious difpofitions of the mind more obstinately refift both the counfels of philofophy, and the injunctions of religion, than those which are complicated with an opinion of dignity; and which we cannot difmifs without leaving in the hands of oppofition fome advantage iniquitoufly obtained, or fuffering from our own prejudices. fome imputation of pufillanimity.
For this reason fcarcely any law of our Redeemer is more openly tranfgreffed, or more induftriously evaded, than that by which he commands his followers to for-give injuries, and prohibits under the fanction of eternal mifery, the gratification of the defire which every man feels to return pain upon him that inflicts it. Many who could have conquered their anger, are unable to combat against pride, and purfue offences to extremity of vengeance, left they should be infulted by the triumph+ of an enemy.
But certainly no precept could better become him, at whofe birth peace was proclaimed to the earth. For what could fo foon deftroy all the order of fociety, and deform life with violence and ravage, as a permiffion to every one to judge his own caufe, and to apportion his own recomper.ce for imagined injuries.
It is difficult for a man of the ftrictest justice not to favour himself too much in the calmeft moments of foli-. tary meditation. Every one wishes for the diftin&tions for which thousands are wifhing at the fame time, in their own opinion, with better claims. He that, when his reafon operates in its full force, can thus, by the mere prevalence of felf-love, prefer himself to his fellow beings, is very unlikely to judge equitably when his paffions are agitated by a fenfe of wrong, and his attention wholly engroffed by pain, intereft, or danger.. Whoever arrogates to himfelf the right of vengeance fhews how little he is qualified to decide his own claims,
face he certainly demands what he would think unfit to be granted to another.
Nothing is more apparent than that, however injured er however provoked, some must at last be contented to forgive. For it can never be hoped, that he who first. commits an injury, will contentedly acquiefce in the penalty required; the fame haughtiness of contempt and vehemence of defire, that prompt the act of injustice, will more ftrongly incite its juftification: and refentment can never fo exactly balance the punishment with the fault, but there will remain an overplus of vengeance which even he who condemns his first action will think himself intitled to retaliate. What then can enfue but a continual exacerbation of hatred, an unextinguishable feud, an inceffant reciprocation of mifchief, a mutual vigilance to entrap, and eagerness to deftroy.
Since then the imaginary right of vengeance must be at last remitted, because it is impoffible to live in perpetual hofility, and equally impoffible that of two enemies, either fhould firit think himself obliged by justice to fubmiffion, it is furely eligible to forgive early. Every paffion is more eafily fubdued before it has been long accustomed to poffeffion of the heart; every idea is obliterated with lefs difficulty as it has been more flightly impreffed, and lefs frequently renewed. He who has often brooded over his wrongs, pleased himself with fchemes of malignity, and glutted his pride with the fancied fapplications of humbled enmity, will not eafily open his bofom to amity and reconciliation, or indulge the gentle fentiments of benevolence and peace.
It is easiest to forgive, while there is yet little to be forgiven.. A fingle injury may be foon difmiffed from the memory; but a long fucceffion of ill offices by degrees affeciates itself with every idea, a long contest involves for many circumstances, that every place and action will recall it to the mind, and fresh remembrance of vexation muft ftill enkindle rage, and irritate revenge.
A wife man will make hafte to forgive, because he knows the true value of time, and will not fuffer it to, pafs away in unneceffary pain. He that willingly fuffers the corrofions of inveterate hatred, and gives up
his days and nights to the gloom of malice, and perturbations of ftratagem, cannot surely be faid to confult his ease. Refentment is an union of forrow with malignity, a combination of a paffion which all endeavour to avoid, with a paffion which all concur to deteft. The man who retires to meditate mischief, and to exafperate his own rage; whofe thoughts are employed only on means of diftrefs and contrivances of ruin; whofe mindnever pauses from the remembrance of his own fufferings, but to indulge fome hope of enjoying the calamities of another, may juftly be numbered among the most miserable of human beings; among those who are guilty without reward, who have neither the gladness of profperity, nor the calm of innocence.
Whoever confiders the weaknefs both of himself and others will not long want perfuafives to forgiveness. We know not to what degree of malignity any injury is to be imputed; nor how much its guilt, if we were to in-fpect the mind of him that committed it, would be extenuated by mistake, precipitance, or negligence ;we cannot be certain how much more we feel than wasintended to be inflicted, or how much we increase the mifchief to ourselves by voluntary aggravations. We may charge to defign the effects of accident; we may think the blow violent only because we have made ourfelves delicate and tender; we are on every fide in danger of error and of guilt, which we are certain to avoid only by speedy forgiveness.
From this pacific and harmless temper, thus propitious to others and ourselves, to domeftic tranquillity and to focial happiness, no man is with-held but by pride, by the fear of being infulted by his adverfary, or defpifed by the world.
It may be laid down as an unfailing and univerfal axiom, that, "all pride is abject and mean." It is always an ignorant, lazy, or cowardly acquiefcence in a falfe appearance of excellence, and proceeds not from consciousness of our attainments, but infenfibility of
Nothing can be great which is not right. Nothing which reafon condemns can be fuitable to the dignity of
the human mind. To be driven by external motives from the path which our own heart approves, to give way to any thing but conviction, to fuffer the opinion of others to rule our choice, or overpower our refolves, is to submit tamely to the lowest and moft ignominious flavery, and to refign the right of directing our own lives.
The utmost excellence at which humanity can arrive, is a conftant and determinate purfuit of virtue, without regard to prefent dangers or advantage; a continual reference of every action to the divine will; an habitual appeal to everlasting juftice; and an unvaried elevation of the intellectual eye to the reward which perfeverance only can obtain. But that pride which many who prefume to boast of generous fentiments, allow to regulate their measures, has nothing nobler in view than the approbation of men, of beings whofe fuperiority we are under no obligation to acknowledge, and who, when we have courted them with the utmost affiduity, can confer no valuable or permanent reward; of beings who ignorantly judge of what they do not understand, or partially determine what they never have examined; and whofe fentence is therefore of no weight till it has received the ratification of our own confcience.
He that can defcend to bribe fuffrages like these at the price of his innocence; he that can fuffer the delight of fuch acclamations to with-hold his attention from the commands of the univerfal fovereign, has little reason to congratulate himself upon the greatnefs of his mind; whenever he awakes to feriousness and reflection, he must become defpicable in his own eyes, and fhrink with fhame from the remembrance of his cowardice and folly.
Of him that hopes to be forgiven it is indifpenfibly required, that he forgive. It is therefore fuperfluous to urge any other motive. On this great duty eternity is fufpended, and to him that refufes to practise it, the throne of mercy is inacceffible, and the SAVIOUR OF the world has been born in vain.
The Pleasures and Advantages of Industry.
HE evils infeparably annexed to the prefent condition of man, are fo numerous and afflictive, that it has been, from age to age, the task of fome to bewail, and of others to folace them: and he therefore will be in danger of feeming a common enemy, who fhall attempt to depreciate the few pleafures and felicities which nature has allowed us.
Yet I will confefs, that I have fometimes employed! my thoughts in examining the pretenfions that are made to happiness, by the fplendid and envied conditions of life; and have not thought the hour unprofitably spent, when I have detected the impofture of counterfeit advantages, and found difquiet lurking under falfe appear. ances of gaiety and greatness.
It is afferted by a tragic poet, that "eft mifer nemo nifi 99 66 comparatus," no man is miferable, but as he is compared with others happier than himself:" this pofition is not ftrictly and philofophically true.. He might have faid, with rigorous propriety, that no man is happy, but as he is compared with the mife-. rable; for fuch is the ftate of this world, that we find in it abfolute mifery, but happinefs only comparative ;; we may incur as much pain as we can poffibly endure,, though we can never obtain as much happiness as we might poffibly enjoy.
Yet it is certain likewife, that many of our miferies are merely comparative: we are often made unhappy, not by the prefence of any real evil, but by the ab. fence of fome fictitious good; of fomething which is not required by any real want of nature, which has not in itfelf any power of gratification, and which neither reafon nor fancy would have prompted us to wifh, did we not fee it in the poffeffion of others..
For a mind difeafed with vain longings after unattainable advantages, no medicine can be prefcribed, but an impartial enquiry into the real worth of that which is fo ardently defired. It is well known, how