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capable of sustaining a long course of prosperity with moderation, that mankind have agreed to adopt this criterion as the best evidence of superior excellence, and the same practical sense, whose results are above appeal, has established as a maxim that adversity is the nurse of heroism.' – Neglect of God, then, and of those religious duties which we owe to him, is in all common cases attendant on great success. And as the temptation of the highest course of fortune is generally found to be irresistible, the same effect will in every situation be proportionably consequent upon the same cause.
If the head is dizzy on the
top of a pyramid, it will scarcely be quite calm, though placed on a less fearful elevation. — As, then, is the disease, such must be the remedy. The drunken delirium of dangerous felicity can only be removed by the bitter draught of affliction ; — bitter, indeed, to all, but bitter, above all, to him whose taste has long been vitiated by luxurious enjoyments: - many a sigh of proud disappointment shall he heave, many a groan of sullen desperation shall he pour forth, before his spirit shall be subdued to reflection, and penitence gently lead him unto peace. They who are fluttering in the sunshine of gaiety, little know how deep are those mental agonies which throng the chamber of affliction, when the spirits droop, and life has lost its lustre; when the pride of intellectual greatness is humbled in the dust, when every thing around us is gloomy, all behind dreadful, and all before desolate; – yet (praised be God) they little know, too, that even in these shades of sorrow, hope waves her wing, virtue slowly revives, repentance cheers, humility purifies, expectation kindles, faith animates, and the poor deserted Christian bursting the darkness that surrounds him, grasps the promised immortality, and anticipates on earth the glory of a better mansion. - Ву
affliction the mind is drawn to God as the great physician of our souls ; the glare of life no longer distracts us, and our duty and disposition are the same. A faithful friend is best known in adversity, and in adversity will He surely be resorted to, when the idle companions of our folly have shaken us off, for whom, perhaps, in the day of our wealth we despised him. — Oh, then, let us not forget that our unchanging Parent, even in the depth of despair, is our parent still, able to assist and willing to support us; and when we sink under the burthen of our sorrows, let us hear his voice and smile; For a moment have I forsaken thee, but in great mercies will I gather thee; in a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment, but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer.'
“ Thus have we seen the beneficial effects of adversity in drawing our minds to God, nor is it less powerful in promoting the social virtues. - Of these the head and foundation certainly is justice, and with this duty affliction may seem little connected; but as in every well regulated community the performance of this virtue is enforced by public penalties, which are also highly aided by the weight of general opinion, few of us feel disposed to hazard any gross infraction of this class of duties, which can never be violated without shame, and seldom without retribution. In cases, therefore, of this nature, the interference of christianity is the less felt, because motives are supplied independently of her sanctions, which we are apt to think more operative. — But the objects of society are but half obtained when security only is afforded us; the grand outline, indeed, is sketched, but all the softer colouring is still wanting. Could we calculate the moments of misery which we owe to the faults of our fellow creatures, those which arise only from gross acts of injustice would . scarcely be visible, amid the mass
of unhappiness originating in their malice, caprice, passion, and fretfulness, all of which hourly harass us in every situation. These are the real thorns that render life unsweet; and more is gained towards improving the general happiness of mankind by softening a rugged temper, than by the most powerful instigations to probity and honour. In this service, then, affliction will be found a most powerful mistress; perhaps, indeed, the only one whose lessons produce a lasting impression. Almost all young persons enter life with a large share of petulance, and none more than they who are, or think they are, possessed of superior abilities. A strong imagination naturally forms high ideas of perfection, of which inexperienced pride will demand the reality; those who think highly of their own excellence, look with contempt on the qualities of others which they consider as inferior in degree, when, perhaps, they are different only in kind; and youth, little skilled to conceal its feelings, will soon venture to insult what it has presumed to despise: hence arise the fierce conflicts of injured merit and imperious self-conceit, contests so frequent, that whoever considers the violence of increasing acrimony, will bless the gracious Providence who, by chastising his sons with sorrow, compels them to forget their mutual animosities in their private sufferings. Thus are the furious passions corrected, or their violence diverted to another channel. We see the youth of every generation step forth into life, filled with all those expectations, the fallaciousness of which their fathers have experienced; we see them, at first, irritated with disappointment, and embroiling in their anger or wantonness the happiness of their fellow-creatures; and we see them, at last, like those who have preceded them, content to reduce their claims to the level of possibility, and gently steal on to the attainment of that object which
they have failed to reach by violent aggression. The discipline of a few years is generally found sufficient to tame the fiercest spirit, and the world is thus kept in equilibrium. But what would be the consequence, if the same vehemence which actuates our earliest years operated to the latest period of life, it is scarce possible to conjecture. The most dreadful picture of barbarous violence which history has ever recorded, would probably fall far short of the reality ; for where every one is a claimant, and every claim is exorbitant, most must certainly be oppressed, and all be rendered miserable. Thus we see, that even to the discipline which the vexations of common life supply, we are indebted for that mutual abatement of demand and selfgovernment, which alone render that life tolerable. If we enquire more closely who are they whose gentleness is most conciliating, whose charity is most diffusive, whose candour most largely allows for the faults of their brethren, we shall find them not among the active, but the passive part of mankind; not among those who have walked in the paths of fortune, and attract the eyes of the envious by their splendour or prosperity, but among the sad sufferers, to whom life has been a vale of tears, and the asperity of whose passions has been softened down by the rough hand of affliction. Prosperity almost always hardens the heart, and deadens the affections; adversity, though it may sometimes irritate us for a moment, always disposes us in the end to pity the faults and sufferings of others. Nor must it be forgotten, that sorrow, if it draw us nearer unto God, must necessarily improve our social virtues; for the Christian religion is so graciously adapted to our nature, that he who performs best his duties towards his Maker, must, at the same time, contribute most to the general happiness of mankind.
66 Nor is affliction less efficient to instruct us in those virtues which relate only to ourselves: such are temperance, fortitude, prudence, and purity. How closely these are connected with the sufferings we are called to undergo, is evident to the slightest observation. The pangs of disease will quickly controul our appetites; he who has much to endure, must put forth his vigour to the contest; cautious wisdom is best taught by the fatal consequences of folly; and the man who has learned in adversity the lessons of temperance, fortitude, and prudence, will have obtained the best safeguard against the solicitations of impurity. In conclusion, we need only observe, that as all moral duties have a common bond of union, so the same cause which we have seen to be thus powerful in promoting our duties to God and our brethren, must necessarily act with equal force in regard to those which we owe to ourselves.
Before, however, I quit this part of my subject, I must add, that misfortunes of every kind, though often considered as instances of God's vengeance upon sinners, ought, perhaps, rather always to be viewed as evidences of divine mercy, for mercies they equally are, whether sent as trials, or as discipline, or as judgments. If as trials, because they are the earnest of higher rewards, which they enable us to obtain through the endurance of greater difficulties ; if as discipline, because they are the admonitions of a kind father, warning us of danger and conducting us to blessings; if as judgments, because, though they prove the wrath of God against sinners, they prove also that we are not considered by him as wholly alienate; that he still sees us with an eye of mercy, and, instead of storing up retribution against the day of judgment, is willing to deal forth the dole of vengeance in the hour of our probation, that his stripes may heal even while they punish. Whenever,