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Let your moderation be known unto all men.—PHILIPPIANS, iv. 5.
THE present state of man is neither doomed to constant misery, nor designed for complete happiness. It is, in general, a mixed state of comfort and sorrow, of prosperity and adversity; neither brightened by uninterrupted sunshine, nor overcast with perpetual shade; but subject to alternate successions of the one, and the other. While such a state forbids despair, it also checks presumption. It is equally adverse to despondency of mind, and to high elevation of spirits. The temper which best suits, is expressed in the text by moderation; which, as the habitual tenour of the soul, the apostle exhorts us to discover in our whole conduct; let it be known unto all men. This virtue consists in the equal balance of the soul. It imports such proper government of our passions and pleasures as shall prevent us from running into extremes of any kind; and shall produce a calm and temperate frame of mind. It chiefly respects our conduct in that state which comes under the description of ease, or prosperity. Patience, of which I treated in the preceding discourse, directs the proper regulation of the mind, under the disagreeable incidents of life. Moderation determines the bounds within which it should remain, when circumstances are agreeable or promising. What I now purpose is, to point out some of the chief instances in which Moderation ought to take place, and to shew the importance of preserving it.
I. MODERATION in our wishes. The active mind of man seldom or never rests satisfied with its present condition, how prosperous soever. Originally formed for a wider range of objects, for a higher sphere of enjoyments, it finds itself, in every situation of fortune, straitened and confined. Sensible of deficiency
in its state, it is ever sending forth the fond desire, the aspiring wish, after something beyond what is enjoyed at present. Hence, that restlessness which prevails so generally among mankind. Hence, that disgust of pleasures which they have tried; that passion for novelty; that ambition of rising to some degree of eminence or felicity, of which they have formed to themselves an indistinct idea. All which may be considered as indications of a certain native, original greatness in the human soul, swelling beyond the limits of its present condition, and pointing at the higher objects for which it was made. Happy if these latent remains of our primitive state served to direct our wishes towards their proper destination, and to lead us into the path of true bliss!
But in this dark and bewildered state, the aspiring tendency of our nature unfortunately takes an opposite direction, and feeds a very misplaced ambition. The flattering appearances which here present themselves to sense; the distinctions which fortune confers; the advantages and pleasures which we imagine the world to be capable of bestowing, fill up the ultimate wish of most men. These are the objects which engross their solitary musings, and stimulate their active labours; which warm the breast of the young, animate the industry of the middle-aged, and often keep alive the passions of the old, until the very close of life. Assuredly, there is nothing unlawful in our wishing to be freed from whatever is disagreeable, and to obtain a fuller enjoyment of the comforts of life. But when these wishes are not tempered by reason, they are in danger of precipitating us into much extravagance and folly. Desires and wishes are the first springs of action. When they become exorbitant, the whole character is likely to be tainted. If we suffer our fancy to create to itself worlds of ideal happiness; if we feed our imagination with plans of opulence and splendour far beyond our rank; if we fix to our wishes certain stages of high advancement or certain degrees of uncommon reputation or distinction, as the sole stations of felicity; the assured consequence will be, that we shall become unhappy in our present state; unfit for acting the part, and discharging the duties that belong to it; we shall discompose the peace and order of our minds, and foment many hurtful passions. Here, then, let Moderation begin its reign; by bringing within reasonable bounds the wishes that we form. As soon as they become extravagant, let us check them by proper reflections on the fallacious nature of those objects which the world hangs out to allure desire.
You have strayed, my friends, from the road which conducts to felicity; you have dishonoured the native dignity of your souls, in allowing your wishes to terminate on nothing higher than wordly ideas of greatness or happiness. Your imagina
tion roves in a land of shadows. Unreal forms deceive you. It is no more than a phantom, an illusion of happiness which attracts your fond admiration; nay, an illusion of happiness which often conceals much real misery. Do you imagine, that all are happy, who have attained to those summits of distinction, towards which your wishes aspire? Alas! how frequently has experienced shewed, that where roses were supposed to bloom, nothing but briars and thorns grew? Reputation, beauty, riches, grandeur, nay, royalty itself, would, many a time, have been gradually exchanged by the possessors, for that more quiet and humble station, with which you are now dissatisfied. With all that is splendid and shining in the world, it is decreed that there should mix many deep shades of woe. On the elevated situations of fortune, the great calamities of life chiefly fall. There the storm spends its violence, and there the thunder breaks; while safe and unhurt the inhabitant of the vale remains below.Retreat, then, from those vain and pernicious excursions of extravagant desire. Satisfy yourselves with what is rational and attainable. Train your minds to moderate views of human life and human happiness. Remember and admire the wisdom of Agur's wish. Remove far from me vanity and lies. Give me neither poverty nor riches. Feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.*. -Let me recommend,
II. MODERATION in our pursuits. Wishes and desires rest within. If immoderate and improper, though they taint the heart, yet society may not be affected by them. The obscure and harmless individual may indulge his dreams, without disturbing the public peace. But when the active pursuits in which we engage rise beyond moderation, they fill the world with great disorder; often with flagrant crimes. This admonition chiefly respects the ambitious men of the world. I say not that all ambition is to be condemned; or that high pursuits ought, on every occasion, to be checked. Some men are formed by nature, for rising into conspicuous stations of life. In following the impulse of their minds, and properly exerting the talents with which God has blessed them, there is room for ambition to act in a laudable sphere, and to become the instrument of much public good. But this may safely be pronounced, that the bulk of men are ready to over-rate their own abilities, and to imagine themselves equal to higher things than they were ever designed for by nature. Be sober, therefore, in fixing your aims, and planning your destined pursuits. Beware of being led aside from the plain path of sound and moderate conduct, by those false lights
* Prov. xxx. 8,9.
which self-flattery is always ready to hang out. By aiming at a mark too high, you may fall short of what it was within your power to have reached. Instead of attaining to eminence, you may expose yourselves to derision; nay, may bring upon your heads manifold disasters. I say to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly.*
Whatever your aims be, there is one exercise of moderation which must be enjoined to those of the greatest abilities, as well as to others; that is, never to transgress the bounds of moral duty. Amidst the warmth of pursuit, accustom yourselves to submit to the restraints, which religion and virtue, which propriety and decency, with regard to reputation and character, impose. Think not, that there are no barriers which ought to stop your progress. It is from a violent and impetuous spirit that all the evils spring, which are so often found to accompany ambition. Hence, in private life, the laws of truth and honour are violated. Hence, in public contests, the peace and welfare of nations have been so often sacrificed to the ambitious projects of the great. The man of moderation, as he is temperate in his wishes, so in his pursuits he is regulated by virtue. A good conscience is to him more valuable than any success. He is not so much bent on the accomplishment of any design, as to take a dishonourable step, in order to compass it. He can have patience. He can brook disappointments. He can yield to unsurmountable obstacles; and, by gentle and gradual progress, is more likely to succeed in the end, than others are, by violence and impetuosity. In his highest enterprise, he wishes not to have the appearance of a meteor, which fires the atmosphere ; or of a comet, which astonishes the public by its blazing eccentric course; but rather to resemble those steady luminaries of Heaven, which advance in their orbits, with a silent and regular motion. He approves himself thereby to the virtuous, the wise, and discerning; and, by a temperate and unexceptionable conduct, escapes those dangers which persons of an opposite description are perpetually ready to incur.
III. BE moderate in your expectations. When your state is flourishing, and the course of events proceeds according to your wish, suffer not your minds to be vainly lifted up. Flatter not yourselves with high prospects of the increasing favours of the world, and the continuing applause of men. Say not within your hearts, my mountain stands strong, and shall never be moved, I shall never see adversity. To-morrow shall be as this day, and more abundantly.-You are betraying yourselves; you are laying a sure foundation of disappointment and misery
* Rom. xii, 3.
when you allow your fancy to soar to such lofty pinnacles of confident hope. By building your house in this airy region, you are preparing for yourselves a great and cruel fall. Your trust is the spider's web. You may lean on your house: but it shall not stand. You may hold it fast; but it shall not endure. For, to man on earth it was never granted, to gratify all his hopes; or to preserve in one tract of uninterrupted prosperity, Unpleasing vicissitudes never fail to succeed those that were grateful. The fashion of the world, how gay or smiling soever, passeth, and often passeth suddenly, away.
By want of moderation in our hopes, we not only increase dejection when disappointment comes, but we accelerate disappointment; we bring forward, with greater speed, disagreeable chan
ges in our state. For the natural consequence of presumptuous
expectation, is rashness in conduct. He who indulges confident security, of course neglects due precautions against the dangers that threaten him; and his fall will be foreseen and predicted. He not only exposes himself unguarded to dangers, but he multiplies them against himself. By presumption and vanity, he either provokes enmity or incurs contempt.
The arrogant mind, and the proud hope, are equally contrary to religion, and to prudence. The world cannot bear such a spirit; and Providence seldom fails to check it. The Almighty beholds with displeasure those who, intoxicated with prosperity forget their dependence on that Supreme Power which raised them up. His awful government of the world has been in nothing more conspicuous than in bringing low the lofty looks of man, and scattering the proud in the imaginations of their minds.Is not this the great Babylon which I have built by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty ?* Thus exclaimed the presumptuous monarch in the pride of his heart. But lo! when the word was yet in his mouth, the visitation from Heaven came, and the voice was heard; Oh Nebuchadnezzar ! to thee it is spoken; thy kingdom is departed from thee.-He that exalteth himself, shall be humbled; and he that humbleth himself, shall be exalted.† A temperate spirit, and moderate expectations, are the best safeguard of the mind in this uncertain and changing state. They enable us to pass through life with most comfort. When we rise in the world, they contribute to our elevation; and if we must fall, they render our fall the lighter.
IV. MODERATION in our pleasures is an important exercise of the virtue which we are now considering. It is an invariable law of our present condition, that every pleasure which is pursued to excess, converts itself into poison. What was intended for the cordial and refreshment of human life, through Luke, xiv. 11,
Daniel, iv. 30, 31.