« FöregåendeFortsätt »
The chief sources of man's infelicity are to be found in his guilty conscience, and his disordered passions; and till some effectual remedy be applied to these evils, he cannot long be at rest under any government or in
I. A sense of guilt naturally produces fear; fear of divine displeasure, and of its awful consequences beyond this life. It is to relieve themselves from this anxiety that men turn towards every quarter, and apply to every resource; to the engagements of business, or the dissipations of pleasure; to philosophic speculations, or to some species of religion or of superstition.
1. To assert that men often have recourse to business as a relief to that inward disquiet which arises from an unpacified conscience, is to assert what charity must be pained to admit, but what I fear is unques- . tionable fact. When Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, we are told that he dwelt in the land of Nod, eastward of Eden* ; or, as it might be rendered, he was a wanderer in the land eastward of Eden. The next news we hear of him is, that he built a city; which some suppose to have been with intent to divert his attention from settling on himself, in his present reduced state of guilt and fearful apprehension. Whether this interpretation be just or not, it is certain that much of the building and planting, and other busy occupations that are going forward in the world, can be ascribed to no higher or better origin. It must be granted, indeed, that a natural love of employment, together with that love of variety which arises less from guilt than from imperfection, constitute two powerful springs that set the world in motion. But after this deduction is made, there still remains a considerable portion of human activity that must be resolved into the cause of which we are speaking; and whose chief object it is to divert the mind from painful reflections on its own moral situation.
* Gen. iv. 16.
2. That pleasure is pursued for the same end, and with still greater vehemence and expectation, must be obvious to all. Theatres and masquerades, with other spectacles and mummeries of which the wits of men are so strangely inventive, whatever positive gratification they may be supposed to afford, are doubtless, at times, resorted to merely as so many diversions of uneasy thought; or as charms and opiates to suspend or lay asleep the secret reproaches of a guilty mind, and its fearful bodings of what may come hereafter. The inefficacy of these, or similar devices, to answer such purposes, we find strongly pictured in the stories of Damocles and of Belshazzar; of whom the former, (it is said) at the court of Dionysius, when provided with every thing that was suited to regale the sense, or enchant the imagination, could find no relish for his entertainment, on account of a pointed dagger which he observed suspended over his head *; and the latter, we know, amidst a magnificent banquet, and before a thousand of his lords, shook with consternation at the sight of a hand writing upon the wall*,
3. Nor is it uncommon, in this philosophic age, to meet with men who seek the same relief in their metaphysical or moral speculations; like those unhappy spirits described in Paradise Lost, who, apart from the vulgar crowd that endeavoured to divert their griefs by musical strains, and various feats of war and agility,
“Sat on a hill, retired,
Of the metaphysician I shall take more particular notice in a subsequent section.
* Dan. v. 5.
Of the moralist, who imagines that virtue alone is a sure recommendation to divine favour, and consequently is a sufficient balm for a wounded conscience, I would briefly observe, that if in his idea of virtue he include piety, it will be granted him, that a man of virtue is entitled both to divine favour and to inward peace. But, after this concession, he inust allow me to insist that no one, while he continues proudly to reject the aids held out to him by revelation, will become, in the sense here stated, a man of virtue. And if, in defiance of apostles and prophets, he should still presume to wrap himself in his own excellence and sufficiency, I must leave him, for the present, to the grave and monitory rebuke of a celebrated wit and patriot : « Whoever,” says he, “ to the prejudice of our Saviour's merit, and debasing the operation of the Holy Ghost, shall attribute too much to his own natural vigour and performances, will be in some danger of finding his virtue perniciosa ad salutem*.”
* See And. Marvel's Rehcarsal transprosed. Partii. p. 251.