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Resentment of wrong, is an useful principle in human nature; and for the wisest purposes, was implanted in our frame. It is the necessary guard of private rights, and the great restraint on the insolence of the violent, who, if no resistance were made, would trample on the gentle and peaceable.
Resentment, however, if not kept within due bounds, is in hazard of rising into fierce
and cruel revenge. It is the office of patience, to temper resentment by reason. this view, it is most properly described in the text, by a man's possessing his soul; acting the part which self-defence, which justice, or honour require him to act, without being transported out of himself by the vehemence of anger, or insisting on such degrees of reparation as bear no proportion to the wrong that he has suffered. What proportion, for instance, is there between the life of a man, and an affront received by some rash expression in conversation, which the wise would have slighted; and which, in the course of a few weeks, would have been forgotten by every one? How fantastic, then, how unjustifiable, are those sup. posed laws of modern honour, which, for such an affront, require no less reparation than the death of a fellow-creature; and which, to obtain this reparation, require a man to endan
ger his own life? Laws which, as they have no foundation in reason, never received the least sanction from any of the wise and polished nations of antiquity, but were devised in the darkest ages of the world, and are derived to us from the ferocious barbarity of Gothic manners.
Nothing is so inconsistent with self-posses sion as violent anger. It overpowers reason; confounds our ideas; distorts the appearance, and blackens the colour, of every object. By the storm which it raises within, and by the mischiefs which it occasions without, it generally brings, on the passionate and revengeful man, greater misery than he can bring on his enemy. Patience allays this destructive tempest, by making room for the return of calm and sober thought. It suspends the blow which sudden resentment was ready to inflict. It disposes us to attend to the alleviating circumstances, which may be discovered in the midst of the wrongs we suppose ourselves to have suffered. Hence it naturally inclines to the moderate and gentle side; and while it allows all proper measures to be taken, both for safety, and for just redress, it makes way for returning peace. Without some degree of patience exercised under inju ries, human life would be rendered a state of
perpetual hostility; offences and retaliations would succeed to one another in endless train ; and the world would become a field of blood. It now remains to recommend,
V. Patience under adversity and affliction. This is the most common sense in which this virtue is understood; as it respects disease, poverty, old age, loss of friends, and the other calamities which are incident to human life. Though a man live many years, and rejoice in them all, yet let him remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many.* The various duties to which patience, under this view, gives rise, afford a larger subject to discourse than I am at present to pursue. In general, there are two chief exercises of patience under adversity; one respecting God, and another respecting men.
Patience, with respect to God, must, in the day of trouble, suppress the risings of a murmuring and rebellious spirit. It must appear in that calm resignation to the will of Heaven, which is expressed in those pious sentiments of ancient good men; I was dumb: I opened not my mouth, because thou didst it. It is the Lord, let him do what seemeth good in his eyes.
Eccles. xi. 8.
Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil also? This is loyalty to the great Governor of the universe. This is that reverence which so well becomes creatures who know they are dependent, and who must confess themselves to be sinful. Such a spirit is fitted to attract the favour of Heaven, and to bring the severe visitation sooner to a close. Whereas the stubborn and impatient, who submit not themselves to the decrees of the Most High, require to be humbled and subdued by a continuance of chastisement.
Patience in adversity, with respect to men, must appear by the composure and tranquillity of our behaviour. The loud complaint, the querulous temper, and fretful spirit, disgrace every character. They shew a mind that is unmanned by misfortunes. We weaken thereby the sympathy of others; and estrange them from the offices of kindness and comfort. The exertions of pity will be feeble, when it is mingled with contempt. At the same time, by thus weakly yielding to adversity, we allow its weight to bear us down with double pressure. Patience, by preserving composure within, resists the impression which trouble makes from without. By leaving the mind open to every consolation, it naturally tends to alleviate our burden.To maintain a
steady and unbroken mind, amidst all the shocks of the world, forms the highest honour of a man. Patience, on such occasions, rises to magnanimity. It shews a great and noble mind, which is able to rest on itself, on God, and a good conscience; which can enjoy itself amidst all evils; and would rather endure the greatest hardships, than submit to what was dishonourable in order to obtain relief. This gives proof of a strength that is derived from Heaven. It is a beam of the immortal light, shining on the heart. Such patience is the most complete triumph of religion and virtue; and accordingly it has ever characterised those whose names have been transmitted with honour to posterity. It has ennobled the hero, the saint, and the martyr. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.
Thus I have traced Patience, through several of its most important operations, in different circumstances of life: under provocations; under disappointments; under restraints; under injuries; and under afflictions. We now see it is a virtue of universal use. No man, in any condition, can pass his days with to
* 2 Cor. iv. 8, 9.