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to the side of severity, is harsh in his censures, and narrow in his opinions. He cannot condescend to others in things indifferent. He has no allowance to make for human frailty; or for the difference of age, rank, or temper, among mankind. mankind. With him, all gaiety is sinful levity; and every amusement is a crime. To this extreme, the admonition of Solomon may be understood to belong: Be not righte ous overmuch; neither make thyself overwisc. Why shouldst thou destroy thyself?* When the severity of manners is hypocritical, and assumed as a cloak to secret indulgence, it is one of the worst prostitutions of religion. But I now consider it, not as the effect of design, but of natural austerity of temper, and of contracting maxims of conduct. Its influence upon the person himself, is to render him gloomy and sour; upon others, to alienate them both from his society, and his counsels; upon religion, to set it forth as a morose and forbidding principle. The opposite extreme to this is, perhaps, still more dangerous; that of too great facility, and accommodation to the ways of others. The man of this character, partly from indolent weakness, and partly from softness of temper, is disposed to a
Eccles. vii. 16.
tame and universal assent. Averse either to contradict or to blame, he goes along with the manners that prevail. He views every character with indulgent eye; and with good dispositions in his breast, and a natural reluc tance to profligacy and vice, he is enticed to the commission of evils which he condemns, merely through want of fortitude to oppose others.
Nothing, it must be confessed, in moral conduct, is more difficult, than to avoid turning, here, either to the right hand or to the left. One of the greatest trials, both of wisdom and virtue, is, to preserve a just medium between that harshness of austerity, which disgusts and alienates mankind, and that weakness of good nature, which opens the door to sinful excess. The one separates us too much from the world. The other connects us too closely with it; and seduces us to follow the multitude in doing evil. One who is of the former character, studies too little to be agreeable, in order to render himself useful. He who is of the latter, by studying too much to be agreeable, forfeits his innocence. If the one hurt religion, by clothing it in the garb of unneces sary strictness; the other, by unwarrantable compliance, strengthens the power of corrup
tion in the world. The one borders on the
character of the Pharisee; the other, on that of the Sadducee. True religion enjoins us to stand at an equal distance from both; and to pursue the difficult, but honourable aim, of uniting good nature with fixed religious principle; affable manners, with untainted virtue.
Farther; we run into one extreme, when we contemn altogether the opinions of mankind; to another, when we court their praise too eagerly. The former discovers a high degree of pride and self-conceit. The latter betrays servility of spirit, We are formed by nature and Providence, to be connected with one another, No man can stand entirely alone, and independent of all his fellow-creatures. A reasonable regard, therefore, for their esteem and good opinion, is a commendable principle. It flows from humanity, and coincides with the desire of being mutually useful. But if that regard be carried too far, it becomes the source of much corruption. For, in the present state of mankind, the praise of the world often interferes with our acting that steady and conscientious part which gains the approbation of God. Hence arises the difficulty of drawing a proper line, between the allowable regard for reputation, and the excessive desire of praise. On the one side
and on the other, danger meets us; and either extreme will be pernicious to virtue.
He who extinguishes all regard to the sentiments of mankind, suppresses one incentive to honourable deeds; nay, he removes one of the strongest checks on vice. For where there is no desire of praise, there will be also no sense of reproach and shame; and when this sense is destroyed, the way is paved to open profligacy. On the other hand, he who is actuated solely by the love of human praise, encroaches on the higher respect which he owes to conscience, and to God. Hence, virtue is often counterfeited; and many a splendid appearance has been exhibited to the world, which had no basis in real principle, or inward affection. Hence religious truths have been disguised, or unfairly represented, in order to be suited to popular taste. Hence the Scribes and Pharisees rejected our Blessed Lord, because they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. Turn, therefore, neither to the right hand nor to the left. Affect not to despise what the world thinks of your conduct and character; and yet, let not the sentiments of the world entirely rule you. Let a desire of esteem be one motive of your conduct; but let it hold a subordinate place. Measure the regard that is due to the opinions of men, by
the degree in which these coincide with the law of God.
Allow me next to suggest the danger of running to the extreme of anxiety about worldly interests on the one hand, and of negligence on the other. It is hard to say which of these extremes is fraught with most vice and most misery. Industry and diligence are unquestionable duties, strictly enforced on all Christians; and he who fails in making suitable provisions for his household and family, is pronounced to be worse than an infidel. But there are bounds, within which our concern for worldly success must be confined. For anxiety is the certain poison of human life. It debases the mind; and sharpens all the passions. It involves men in perpetual distractions, and tormenting cares; and leads them aside from what ought to be the great of human action. Anxiety is in gene ral the effect of a covetous temper. Negli gence is commonly the offspring of licentiousness, and always the parent of universal disorder. By anxiety you render yourself miserable. By negligence, you too often occa sion the ruin of others. The anxious man is the votary of riches; the negligent man the votary of pleasure. Each offers his mistaken