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lesser moralities a ; that is, those inferiour
a duties, which, not being of absolute necessity to the support of human society, are frequently
, overlooked by other moralists, and yet, as contributing very much to the comfortable enjoyment of it, are of real moment, and deserve a suitable regard.
The text is an instance of this sort-in honour preferring one another—the NATURE, and GROUND, and right APPLICATION, of which duty, it is my present purpose to explain.
1. The general NATURE of this virtue consists in a disposition to express our good will to others by exteriour testimonies of respect; to consult the credit and honour of those we converse with, though at some expence of our own vanity and self-love. It implies a readiness to prevent them in the customary decencies of conversation ; a facility to give way to their reasonable pretensions, and even to abate something of our own just rights. It requires us to suppress our petulant claims of superiority; to decline all frivolous contests and petty rivalries; to moderate our own demands of preeminence and priority; and, in a word, to please others, rather than ourselves.
a Les petites morales; as the French moralists call them.
It is an easy, social, conciliating virtue; a virtue made up of humility and benevolence ; the former, inclining us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought; and the latter, to give our Christian brother an innocent satisfaction when we can.
And our obligation to the practice of this virtue is FOUNDED,
II. On the clearest reasons, taken both from the nature of man, and the genius of our holy Religion.
And, FIRST, from the nature of man.
Among the various principles, some of them, in appearance, discordant and contradictory, which constitute our common nature, one of the first to take our attention is, “A conscious sense of dignity;" an opinion of self-conse-, quence, which inixes itself with all our thoughts and deliberations ; prompting us to entertain lofty sentiments of our own worth, and aspiring to something like superiority and dominion over other men. This principle, which
appears very early, and is strongest in the more generous dispositions, is highly necessary to a being formed for virtuous action; and naturally leads to the exertion of such qualities as are proper to benefit society, as well as to gain that ascendency in it, to which we pretend. It is the spring, indeed, of every commendable emulation; puts in act all our better and nobler faculties; and gives nerves to that labour and industry, by which every worthy accomplishment is attained.
But now this principle (so natural and useful), when it is not checked by others, but is suffered to take the lead and predominate on all occasions, undisciplined and uncontrolled, easily grows into a very offensive and hurtful quality: offensive, because it is now exerted to the humiliation of every other, who is actuated by the same principle; and hurtful, because, in this undue degree, it counteracts the very purpose, the good of human society, for which it was designed.
This quality we know by the name of Pride. The other moderate degree of self-esteem, which is allowable and virtuous, seems not (I suppose, from its rare appearance under that form) to have acquired in our language a disTo Pride, then, the pernicious and too common issue of self-love, it became necessary, that some other principle should be opposed. And such a principle, as is proper to correct the malignity of pride, we find in that philanthropy, which, by an instinct of the same common nature, disposeth us to consult the happiness, and to conciliate to ourselves the good will and affection, of mankind. This benevolent movement of the mind is, further, quickened by the mutual interest all men have in the exercise of it. For Pride is disarmed by submission; and, by receding from our own pretensions, we take the most likely way to moderate those of other men. Thus, the generous affections are kept in play ; reciprocal civilities are maintained ; and, by the habit of each preferring other, which prudence would advise, if instinct did not inspire, the peace of society is preserved, its joy encreased, and even our vanity, so far as it is a just and natural affection, gratified and indulged.
The reason of the Apostolic precept is, then, laid deep in the constitution of human nature; which is so wonderfully formed, that its perfection requires the reconciliation of contrary qualities; and its happiness results from making benevolepce itself subservient to self-love.
1.2. If, from the philosophic consideration of man, we turn to the genius of the Gospel, we shall there find this conclusion of natural reason strengthened and confirmed by evangelical motives.
- Benevolence, which, in the Gospel, takes the name of Charity, hath a larger range in this new dispensation, than in that of nature. The doctrine, and still more the example, of Jesus, extends the duty of humility and selfdenial; requires us to make ampler sacrifices of self-love, and to give higher demonstrations of good-will to others, than mere reason could well demand or enforce. He, that was so far from seeking his own, that he emptied himself of all his glory, and stooped from heaven to earth, for the sake of man, hath a right to expect, from his followers, a more than ordinary effort to conform to so divine a precedent, a peculiar attention to the mutual benefits and concerns of each other. It is but little that we keep within some decent bounds our aspiring tempers and inclinations: we are now to subject ourselves to our Christian brethren ; to renounce even our innocent and lawful
pretensions; and to forego every natural gratification, when the purposes of Christian Clrarity call us to this arduous task.