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By considering then in what manner we bear the particular afflictions God is pleased to allot us, and what benefit we receive from them, we may come to a very considerable acquaintance with ourselves.
(3.) In a time of peace, prosperity, and pleasure, when the soul is generally most unguarded, what is its temper and dispofition then?
This is the warm season that nourishes and impregnates the feeds of vanity, selfconfidence, and a supercilious contempt of others. If there be such a root of bitderness in the heart, it will be very apt to shoot forth in the sunshine of uninterrupted prosperity, even after the frost of adversity had nipped it, and, as we thought, killed it.
Prosperity is a trial as well as adversity, and is commonly attended with more dangerous temptations. And were the mind but as seriously, disposed to self-reflection, it would have a greater advantage of attaining a true knowledge of itself under the former than under the latter. But the unhappiness of it is, the mind is seldom rightly turned for such an employment under those circumstances. It has someshing else to do; has the concerns of the
world to mind; and is too much engaged by the things without it, to advert to those within it ; and is more disposed to enjoy than examine itself. However, it is a very neceffary season for felf-examination, and a very proper time to acquire a good degree of self-knowledge, if rightly improved.
(Lastly,) How do we behave in bad company?
And that is to be reckoned bad company, in which there is no probability of our doing or getting any good, but apparent danger of our doing or getting much harm ; I mean, our giving offence to others, by an indiscreet zeal, or incurring guilt to ourselves by a criminal complio ance.
Are we carried down by the torrent of vanity and vice? Will a flash of wit, or a brilliant fancy, make us excuse a profane expression ? If so, we shall foon come to relish it, when thus seasoned, and use it ourselves. This is a time when our zeal and wisdom, our fortitude and firmness, are generally put to the most delicate proof, and when we may too often take notice of the unsuspected escapes of folly, fickleness, and indiscretion.
At such seasons as these then we may en discern what lies at the bottom of
our hearts better than we can in the more even and customary scenes of life, when the passions are all calm and fțill: and therefore, would we know ourselves, wę fhould be very attentive to our frame, temper, disposition, and conduct, upon such occasions.
To know ourselves, we must wholly abstract
from external Appearances. VIII.“ W OULD you know yourself,
" you must, as far as pof“ Gible, get above the influence of exter« nal appearances and circumstances.”
A man is what his heart is. The knowledge of himself is the knowledge of his heart, which is entirely an inward thing; to the knowledge of which then, outward things (such as a man's condition and circumitances in the world) can contribute nothing; but, on the other hand, if taken into any consideration, will be a great bar and hinderance to him in his pursuit of self-knowledge.
(1.) Are your circumstances in the world easy and prosperous, take care you do not
judge of yourself too favourably on that account.
These things are without you, and there. fore can never be the measure of what is within you; and however the world may respect you for them, they do not in the least make you either a wiser or more valuable man.
In forming a true judgment of yourself then, you must entirely set aside the confideration of your estate and family, your wit, beauty, genius, health, &c. which are all but the appendages or trappings of a man, or a smooth and shining varnish, which may lacquer over the basest metal *.
A man may be a good and happy man without these things, and a bad and wretched one with them. Nay, he may have all there, and be the worse for them. They are so far from being good and excellent in themselves, that we often fee Providence bestows them upon the vileft of men, and in kindness denies them to some of the best. They often are the greateft temptations that can put a man's faith and firmness to the proof. Or,
(2.) Is * Si perpendere te voles, sepone pecuniam, do. mum, dignitatem; intus te ipse consule. Sen.
(2.) Is your condition in life mean and afflicted? Do not judge the worse of yourself for not having those external advantages which others have.
None will think the worse of you for not having them, but those who think the better of themselves for having them : in both which they show a very depraved and perverted judgment. These are (vá šx šQ speõv) things entirely without us; and out of our power; for which a man is neither the better nor the worse, but according as he uses them: and therefore you ought to be as indifferent to them as they are to you. A good man shines a- . miably through all the obscurity of his low fortune, and a wicked man is a poor little wretch in the midst of all his grandeur *.
Were we to follow the judgment of the world, we should think otherwise of these things, and by that mistake be led into a mistaken notion of ourselves. But we have a better rule to follow, to which if we ad
here, * Parvus pumilio, licet in monte constiterit; colofsus magnitudinem suam servabit, etiam fi fteterit in puteo. Sen. Epift. 77. “ Pygmies are pygmics still, though plac'd in Alps; " And pyramids are pyramids in vales.