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FOURTHLY, whatever merit a man may pość sess, this fond complacency of mind can hardly fail to deprive him of it. For this conceit of his own sufficiency puts him off his guard, and makes him more liable to fall into any misconduct, when, apprehending no danger to himself, he employs no care ; just as nothing is more fatal to an army, than a confidence in its own strength, inducing a neglect of that watchfulness and discipline, ' by which alone its security can be maintained.
This sufficiency also leads to ignorance, as well as misconduct, by cutting off all hopes of further improvement. For he, that is proud of his own knowledge, is not anxious to extend it; and, indeed, does not easily apprehend there is much room or occasion for his so doing. Now, from the moment a man stands still, and interrupts his intellectual, as well as moral course, by the known constitution of things, he necessarily goes backward; and, for his just punishment, relapses fast into that ignorance, in a freedom from which he had before placed his confidence and triumph.
Lastly, this presumptuous conceit is belyed in the EVENT, I mean in the opinion of those very persons, to whom the vain man would willingly recommend himself. For the natural effect of such presumption is, to excite the contempt of the wise, and the envy of the rest. . Men of discernment easily penetrate the delusion, and, knowing how little reason there is for any man to pride himself in his knowledge or virtue, are provoked to entertain an ostentatious display of those qualities with that ridicule, it so well deserves : while the weaker sort always take themselves to be insulted by superior accomplishments; and rarely wait the just provocation of vain-glory to malign and envy those, to whom they belong.
But the misfortune does not stop here. Contempt and Envy are active and vigilant passions ; they are quick at espying a weakness, and spare no pains to expose it: and where can this merciless inquisition end, but in the proud man's mortification to see his best faculties slighted, or traduced, and all his imperfections laid bare and exposed ? So good reason had the Apostle to warn the Galatian teachers against vain-glory, in the close of the preceding chapter — Let us, says he, not be vainglorious, provoking one another, envying one another; an exhortation which the vain-glorious among
them should have listened to, even for their own sakes.
We see, then, that, in these several respects, a man, who takes himself to be something, in effect proves himself to be nothing. So full of instruction is the plain unpretending aphorism in the text to the persons concerned!
The Apostle adds — that such a man DECEIVETH HIMSELF - which must needs be, and cannot want to be enlarged upon; since it appears in the very instances, in which his nothingness has been shewn. The vain-glorious Christian is manifestly and notoriously deceived in thinking himself something-while that very conceit shews the contrary ---- While it shews that he overlooks the very principles of his religion — while it proves him to be void of Christian charity, the very end of the commandment — while it betrays him into ignorance and folly, and therefore tends to subvert the very foundation, on which his vain-glory is raised — while, lastly, in the event, it deprives him of that very consideration to which he aspires.
“ Such are the mischiefs of Self-conceit ! a vice, which Reason universally condemns, but which our Christian profession renders prost contemptible and ridiculous. Eren in the pursuits of human Science, where Reason can do most, all the efforts of the ablest understanding penetrate but a little way. We know enough of the nature of things, to serve the purposes of common life; and enough of the nature of man, to discover our duty towards each other. And within this narrow circle all our knowledge, be we as proud of it as we please, is confined. Clouds and darkness cover the rest; and this the ablest men of all times have seen and confessed. If there be a man, whom Heaven has formed with greater powersand stronger faculties than are commonly met with in the species, he is the first to discover, and to lament, his own blindness and weakness: a Socrates and a Pascal have been considered as prodigies of parts and ingenuity ; yet, while the meanest Sophister is puffed up with the conceit of his own knowledge, these divine men confess nothing so readily as their own ignorance.
And, if this be the case of human learning, what must we think of divine? where Reason teaches nothing, beyond the existence and attributes of God, and, as to every thing else, without the aid of Revelation, is stark-blind. The things of God knoweth no man but the Spirit of God - is an assertion, to which common sense and common experience must assent. Yet shall every idle Speculatist, who has but the confidence to call himself a Philosopher, treat the divine word, as freely as any ordinary subject; and pronounce as peremptorily of the revealed will of God, which the Angels themselves adore in silence, as if he knew for certain that his poor and scanty understanding was commensurate with the councils of the most High!
To these professors of Science, whether human or divine, who know so little of themselves as to presume they know every thing, may the Apostle's aphorism be most fitly addressed — If a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth him- self ; — and, through all the simplicity of the expression, the good sense of the observation must be felt by the proudest understanding.
Not, that the proper remedy for this evil, of Self-conceit, is a vile subjection of the understanding, which our holy Religion disdains, and to which none but slaves will submitnor yet Scepticism, another vice, to which the less sanguine disputers of this world are much addicted_but a modest use of the faculties we possess, and above all, charity. It