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shall flow in a stream as unruffled as the human state admits. The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest. But the work of righteousness is peace; and the effect of righteousness is quietness and assurance for ever.
On the MISFORTUNES of MEN being chargeable on themselves.
PROVERBS, Xix. 3.
The foolishness of man perverteth his way, and his heart fretteth against the Lord.
HOW many complaints do we hear from every quarter, of the misery and distress that fill the world? In these the high and the low, the young and the aged, join; and since the beginning of time no topic has been more fertile of declamation than the vanity and vexation which man is appointed to suffer. But are we certain that this vexation, and this vanity, is altogether to be ascribed to the appointment of Heaven? Is there no ground to suspect that man himself is the chief and immediate author of his own sufferings? What the text plainly suggests is, that it is common for men to complain groundlessly of Providence; that they are prone to accuse God for the evils of life, when in reason they ought to accuse themselves; and that after their foolishness hath perverted their way, and made them undergo the consequences of their own misconduct, they impiously fret in heart against the Lord. This is the doctrine which I now propose to illustrate, in order to silence the sceptic, and to check a repining and irreligious spirit. I shall for this end make
some observations, first, on the external, and next, upon the internal, condition of man, and then conclude with such serious and useful improvement as the subject will naturally suggest.
I. LET us consider the external condition of man. We find him placed in a world where he has by no means the disposal of the events that happen. Calamities sometimes befal the worthiest and the best, which it is not in their power to prevent, and where nothing is left them, but to acknowledge and to submit to the high hand of Heaven. For such visitations of trial, many good and wise reasons can be assigned, which the present subject leads me not to discuss. But though those unavoidable calamities make a part, yet they make not the chief part, of the vexations and sorrows that distress human life. A multitude of evils beset us, for the source of which we must look to another quarter. No sooner has any thing in the health, or in the circumstances of men, gone cross to their wish, than they begin to talk of the unequal distribution of the good things of this life; they envy the condition of others; they repine at their own lot, and fret against the Ruler of the world.
Full of these sentiments, one man pines under a broken constitution. But let us ask him, whether we can, fairly and honestly, assign no cause for this but the unknown decree of Heaven. Has he duly valued the blessing of health, and always observed the rules of virtue and sobriety? Has he been moderate in his life, and temperate in all his pleasures? If now he be only paying the price of his former, perhaps his forgotten indulgences, has he any title to
complain, as if he were suffering unjustly? Were you to survey the chambers of sickness and distress, you would find them peopled with the victims of intemperance and sensuality, and with the children of vicious indolence and sloth. Among the thousands who languish there, you will find the proportion of innocent sufferers to be small. You would see faded youth, premature old age, and the prospect of an untimely grave, to be the portion of multitudes who, in one way or other, have brought those evils on themselves; while yet these martyrs of vice and folly have the assurance to arraign the hard fate of man, and to fret against the Lord.
But you, perhaps, complain of hardships of another kind; of the injustice of the world; of the poverty which you suffer, and the discouragements under which you labour; of the crosses and disappointments of which your life has been doomed to be full. Before you give too much scope to your discontent, let me desire you to reflect impartially upon your past train of life. Have not sloth, or pride, or ill-temper, or sinful passions, misled you often from the path of sound and wise conduct ? Have you not been wanting to yourselves in improving those opportunities which Providence offered you, for bettering and advancing your state? If you have chosen to indulge your humour or your taste, in the gratifications of indolence or pleasure, can you complain, because others, in preference to you, have obtained those advantages which naturally belong to useful labours, and honourable pursuits? Have not the consequences of some false steps, into which your passions or your pleasures have betrayed you, pursued you through much of your life; tainted,
perhaps, your character, involved you in embarrassments, or sunk you into neglect? It is an old. saying, that every man is the artificer of his own fortune in the world. It is certain that the world seldom turns wholly against a man, unless through his own fault. Godliness is, in general, profitable unto all things. Virtue, diligence, and industry, joined with good temper and prudence, have ever been found the surest road to prosperity; and where men fail of attaining it, their want of success is far oftener owing to their having deviated from that road, than to their having encountered insuperable bars in it. Some, by being too artful, forfeit the reputation of probity. Some, by being too open, are accounted to fail in prudence. Others, by being fickle and changeable, are distrusted by all. The case commonly is, that men seek to ascribe their disappointments to any cause, rather than to their own misconduct; and when they can devise no other cause, they lay them to the charge of Providence. Their folly leads them into vices; their vices into misfortunes; and in their misfortunes they fret against the Lord. They are doubly unjust towards God. In their prosperity, they are apt to ascribe their success to their own diligence, rather than to God's blessing; and in their adversity, they impute. their distresses to his Providence, not to their own misbehaviour. Whereas the truth is the very reverse of this. Every good and every perfect gift cometh from above; and of evil and misery, man is the author to himself.
When, from the condition of individuals, we look abroad to the public state of the world, we meet with. more proofs of the truth of this assertion. We see