Page images
PDF
EPUB

you will supply his place in his family, and order his affairs, and dispose of his goods, as you think convenient? Which is such an intolerable indignity as cannot but kindle a resentment in the most indulgent nature, and arm even an infinite patience with thunderbolts. And accordingly, if you consult either sacred or profane history, you will find that there is no one sin which God hath so remarkably punished in this world, as this of injustice between man and man. For this he hath been observed to plague not only the unjust persons themselves with such judgments as have echoed and resounded their crimes, but hath many times entailed a curse upon their posterity; which, like a flying scourge, hath pursued them generation after generation, and marked their descendants with dire events, like a coat of arms, charged with crosses and croslets. For this he hath pursued whole nations to utter ruin and desolation; and it was for this that he cut off his own people the Jews, and converted his beloved Sharon into an eternal desert. And if his vengeance thus smoke against injustice in this life, which is the school of discipline, how will it burn against it in the other, which is the stage of execution! If the posterity of the unjust be thus racked for it upon earth, how will the unjust themselves roar for it in hell! In a word, if these temporary flashes and eruptions of God's vengeance against unrighteousness be so dreadful, how terribly must it flame against it within the bottomless volcanoes of everlasting burnings! Wherefore, as you would not provoke an infinite vengeance, which you can neither withstand nor endure, it concerns you diligently to avoid all unrighteousness in your dealings and intercourse with men; which if you take care to do, and to add to your justice mercy, to your mercy sobriety, and to your sobriety walking humbly with God, you shall be sure, not only to escape his vengeance both here and hereafter, but also from these seeds of holiness to reap everlasting life.

CHAP. I. Of mercy, as it relieves the miseries of the soul. AFTER the consideration of justice, that of mercy is to follow : and the proper object of mercy being misery, it will be requisite, in order to the explaining of this virtue, to consider what those human miseries are which it relates to, and what are the particular acts of mercy which belong to them. Now the miseries which men are liable to in this life are reducible to these heads: first, either they are such as do affect their souls; or, secondly, such as do affect their bodies.

1. The miseries which do affect the souls of men ; which may all be comprehended under these five heads : 1. Sorrow and dejection of mind. 2. Errors and mistakes in matters of lesser importance. 3. Blindness and ignorance in things of the greatest moment. 4. Malice and obstinacy of will in destructive and mischievous courses. 5. Impotency, or want of power to free and recover themselves of them.

1. One of the miseries which affect men's souls is sorrow and dejection of mind, which, like a consumption in the body, preys upon the soul, dispirits

its faculties, and renders them faint and languid in all their operations. By sorrow of the heart, saith Solomon, the spirit is broken, Prov. xv. 13. And indeed sorrow is that sense of the soul by which it feels and perceives its own miseries, and without which it could no more be affected with calamitous things, than iron is with the blows of the hammer. This is the sting by which all sad accidents do wound and inflame our spirits, and with which the least trifle in the world can make us miserable in the most prosperous state, and turn all our enjoyments into wormwood. Sorrow therefore and dejection of mind being the point and edge of all our miseries, is upon that account a most proper object of mercy; whose peculiar province it is to ease and relieve the miserable. Whensoever therefore we do converse with the sorrowful and dejected, the law of mercy requires us to do what we can to support and relieve them; and that first by sympathising with them, by sharing their griefs, condoling their sorrows, and pitying their calamities, or, as the apostle expresses it, Rom. xii. 15. by weeping with those that weep; which upon the first breaking out of great sorrow is the properest remedy we can administer. For when a passion is in its rage and fury, it is no more to be pacified with reason and discourse, than the northern wind is with a lecture of consolation; and till it hath tired itself a while with the transports of its own rage, to endeavour to check it with arguments would be as vain an attempt, as to dam up the cataracts of Nile with a hurdle; which, instead of suppressing their violence, would but cause them to roar the louder, and to swell and break forth into more impetuous torrents. The best course therefore that can be taken at present is to humour and gratify the passion by condoling with it the calamity which caused it. For as the fiercest creatures are most easily tamed by gentle management, by soothing and stroking, and being kindly treated; so the best expedient to mitigate violent sorrows is to soothe and indulge them, till their violence is abated; to conform ourselves to them, and mingle our tears and lamentations with them. And accordingly we find that to be pitied and condoled is a real ease and comfort to the miserable; and that so far as we partake with other men's griefs, we do translate them out of their breasts into our own: so that by sympathising with them, we take part of their sorrows from them; which, like dimensions, may be so divided by us, as to become at least insensible, if not indivisible. Wherefore, since it is not the tears of their own eyes only, but of their friends' eyes too, that do exhaust the current of their griefs; which falling into many streams will run more peaceably, and by degrees contract themselves into narrower channels; it is an act of mercy that we owe to the sorrowful to condole and sympathise with them in their afflictions. And not to do so, or, instead of that, to be either insensible of their sorrows, or to take no other notice of them, but to mock at and deride them, is a certain argument of a cruel and barbarous temper. And as we ought to sympathise with them in their sorrows, so, when they are capable of it, we are obliged by the laws of mercy to use our best endeavour to support and comfort them under their heaviness, as the apostle exhorts, 2 Cor. i. 4. sometimes by lessening and extenuating their affliction,

a

sometimes by applying to them the consolations of religion, sometimes by representing to them the evil of immoderate sorrow, and sometimes by diverting them with innocent pleasantry and cheerfulness. For sorrow diverts the mind from all comfortable thoughts, and, like a black perspective-glass, represents all objects mournfully and tragically: so that unless others will have mercy on it, and thrust comforts into its mouth, it will have no mercy on itself, but sit pining and languishing under incessant grief and discontentedness. Wherefore, to cheer and comfort dejected and sorrowful minds is both a great and a necessary act of mercy; as on the contrary, for any man causelessly to afflict and grieve another, to add weight to his sorrows, and wormwood to his gall, and take pleasure in his griefs and vexations, is not only inhuman, but diabolical: for to rejoice in the afflictions, and recreate with the sorrows of the miserable, is the blackest character that can be given to a devil.

2. Another of the miseries which affect men's souls is the errors and mistakes they are liable to in matters of less importance. The understandings of men are naturally weak and shortsighted, apt to be imposed upon by shows of truth, and to swallow lies for realities, when they are gilded with a fair probability: and though we make loud boasts of certainty and demonstration, yet God knows many times our certainties are the dictates of our wild imaginations, and our demonstrations prove nothing but our own confidence. For prejudice, error, and inadvertency are as incident to our minds, as diseases are to our bodies; and there are certain springs and principles in all men's understandings, which do

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »