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PSALM XXVii. 3.
Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear.
IS world is a region of danger, in which perfect safety is possessed by no man. Though we live in times of established tranquillity, when there is no ground to apprehend that an host shall, in the literal sense, encamp against us; yet every man, from one quarter or other, has somewhat to dread. Riches often make to themselves wings and flee away. The firmest health may in a moment be shaken. The most flourishing family may unexpectedly be scattered. The appearances of our security are frequently deceitful. When our sky seems more settled and serene, in some unobserved quarter gathers the little black cloud, in which the tempest ferments, and prepares to discharge itself on to discharge itself on our head. Such is the real situation of man in this world; and he who flatters himself with an opposite view of his state, only lives in the paradise of fools.
In this situation, no quality is more requisite than constancy, or fortitude of mind; a quality which the Psalmist appears, from the sentiment in the text, to have possessed in an eminent degree. Fortitude was
justly classed, by the ancient philosophers, among the cardinal virtues. It is indeed essential to the support of them all; and it is most necessary to be acquired by every one who wishes to discharge with fidelity the duties of his station. It is the armour of the mind, which will fit him for encountering the trials and surmounting the dangers, that are likely to occur in the course of his life. It may be thought, perhaps, to be a quality, in some measure, constitutional; dependent on firmness of nerves, and strength of spirits. Though, partly, it is so, yet experience shows that it may also be acquired by principle, and be fortified by reason; and it is only when thus acquired, and thus fortified, that it can be accounted to carry the character of virtue. Fortitude is opposed, as all know, to timidity, irresolution, a feeble and a wavering spirit. It is placed, like other virtues, in the middle between two extremes; standing at an equal distance from rashness on the one hand, and from pusillanimity on the other. In discoursing on this subject, I propose, first, to show the importance of fortitude or constancy; next to ascertain the grounds on which it must rest; and lastly, to suggest some considerations for assisting the exercise of it.
I. THE high importance of fortitude will easily appear, if we consider it as respecting either the happiness of human life, or the proper discharge of its duties.
Without some degree of fortitude there can be no happiness; because, amidst the thousand uncertainties of life, there can be no enjoyment of tranquillity.. The man of feeble and timorous spirit lives under perpetual alarms. He foresees every distant danger
and trembles. He explores the regions of possibility, to discover the dangers that may arise. Often he creates imaginary ones; always magnifies those that are real. Hence, like a person haunted by spectres, he loses the free enjoyment even of a safe and prosperous state. On the first shock of adversity, he desponds. Instead of exerting himself to lay hold on the resources that remain, he gives up all for lost; and resigns himself to abject and broken spirits. On the other hand, firmness of mind is the parent of tranquillity. It enables one to enjoy the present without disturbance; and to look calmly on dangers that approach, or evils that threaten in future. It suggests good hopes. It supplies resources. It allows a man to retain the full possession of himself, in every situation of fortune. Look into the heart of this man, and you will find composure, cheerfulness, and magnanimity. Look into the heart of the other, and you will see nothing but confusion, anxiety, and trepidation. The one is the castle built on a rock, which defies the attacks of surrounding waters. The other is a hut placed on the shore, which every wind shakes, and every wave overflows.
Ir fortitude be thus essential to the enjoyment of life, it is equally so to the proper discharge of all its most important duties. He who is of a cowardly mind is, and must be, a slave to the world. He fashions his whole conduct according to its hopes and fears. He smiles, and fawns, and betrays, from abject considerations of personal safety. He is incapable of either conceiving, or executing any great design. He can neither stand the clamour of the multitude nor the frowns of the mighty. The wind
of popular favour, or the threats of power, are sufficient to shake his most determined purpose. The world always knows where to find him. He may pretend to have principles; but on every trying occasion, it will be seen, that his pretended principles bend to convenience and safety. The man of virtuous fortitude, again, follows the dictates of his heart, unembarrassed by those restraints which lie upon the timorous. Having once determined what is fit for him to do, no threatenings can shake, nor dangers appal him. He rests upon himself, supported by a consciousness of inward dignity. I do not say that this disposition alone will secure him against every vice. He may be lifted up with pride. He may be seduced by pleasure. He may be hurried away by passion. But at least on one quarter he will be safe; by no abject fears misled into evil.
Without this temper of mind, no man can be a thorough Christian. For his profession, as such, requires him to be superiour to that fear of man which bringeth a snare; enjoins him, for the sake of a good conscience, to encounter every danger; and to be prepared, if called, even to lay down his life in the cause of religion and truth. All who have been distinguished as servants of God, or benefactors of men; all who, in perilous situations, have acted their part with such honour as to render their names illustrious through succeeding ages, have been eminent for fortitude of mind. Of this we have one conspicuous example in the apostle Paul, whom it will be instructive for us to view in a remarkable occurrence of his life. After having long acted as the Apostle of the Gentiles, his mission called him to go to Jerusalem, where he knew
that he was to encounter the utmost violence of his enemies. Just before he set sail, he called together the elders of his favourite church at Ephesus, and in a pathetic speech, which does great honour to his character, gave them his last farewell. Deeply affected by their knowledge of the certain dangers to which he was exposing himself, all the assembly were filled with distress, and melted into tears. The circumstances were such as might have conveyed dejection even to a resolute mind; and would have totally overwhelmed the feeble. They all wept sore, and fell on Paul's neck, and kissed him; sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more. What were then the sentiments, what was the language of this great and good man? Hear the words which spoke his firm and undaunted mind: Behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there! save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth, in every city, saying, that bonds and afflictions abide me. But none of these things move me; neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. * There was uttered the voice, there breathed the spirit, of a brave and a virtuous man. Such a man knows not what it is to shrink from danger when conscience points out his path. In that path he is determined to walk; let the consequences be what they will. Till I die, I will not remove my integrity from me. My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go. My heart shall not
* Acts, XX. 22, 23, 24. 37, 38.