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2. The next source of impatience before-mentioned is sorrow: which sometimes is mere sympathy with the calamities of others. But this does not commonly rise to the height of impatience: much oftener we are impatient with the wretched through our want of sympathy. There are those however, who are made so uneasy by the distresses which they see, that they will not bear the uneasiness of attending to them enough to give them due assistance. Now this excessive tenderness is an unhappy infirmity. It argues indeed somewhat of a right disposition: but perverted to a quite different purpose from what nature meant. And we should moderate the passive feeling, in order to exert the requisite active goodness; nor would this, on trial, be found very difficult.
But our grief is usually for things happening, which we apprehend to be evils to ourselves: and they may be of various sorts. The more considerable are, unkindness or loss of friends, diminutions of fortune, disappointments in worldly views, imputations on our characters, consciousness of imprudent or sinful behaviour. All these may be needlessly aggravated by the voluntary workings of our own minds; and so far belong to the head of discontent: but much of the concern, which they give, is unavoidable, and relates to the present subject.
Unkindness, where we had peculiar reason to expect the contrary, is one of the bitterest afflictions of life. We should labour to prevent it, by chusing the objects both of our love and esteem with great caution; and restrain our affection towards them within due bounds; instead of letting it run, or perhaps forcing it, into romantic extremes, which must end in something wrong; and we should most attentively endeavour to give no cause of dislike and alienation.
When it happens notwithstanding, that our most reasonable hopes are frustrated; change of opinion concerning the blameable party must naturally, if we are considerate, produce in us change of regard. And we must comfort ourselves, that the fault is not on our side; take care to continue still equally unreproachable; apply our thoughts to the duties of such other connections and ties, as remain upon us after this is weakened or dissolved; raise our hearts more to him, who always makes a gracious return; and then no ingratitude or infidelity, which we can experience on earth, will be able to overwhelm us.
Concern for the loss of our friends by death, in itself a sore trial, is aggravated sometimes by a confused imagination, as if death were a misfortune to them: whereas, if they were good and virtuous, it is in truth the greatest possible gain. It can therefore be only ourselves, that we bemoan with justice: and the damage to us may be very considerable: for which reason we should be solicitous, both to make all the improvement by our friends, and shew all the kindness to them that we can, whilst we have them; lest we should regret our negligence when it is too late. But, though the common fault is under-rating the value of those who are near and ought to be dear to us, yet present grief on losing them may possibly overdo it; and we may find ourselves àble to go on without them, far more tolerably, than we imagined. Necessity will put us on exerting our powers: we shall seek for other helps and other comforts; and, in some degree at least, we shall find them. Or, supposing the accident to be as grievous, and as irreparable, as we apprehend it; yet this consolation is left, that the painful feeling of it will greatly diminish, however impossible we may at the time con
ceive that to be. Indeed some appear unwilling that this should happen; and account it a duty to afflict themselves as much and as long as they can: whilst others go on to do it, though they profess to believe it a great sin. But, in reality, moderate concern, for a moderate season, is the useful dictate of nature: and immoderate concern is pardonable weakness; only it ought not to be wilfully indulged, wrought up to a great height and lengthened. Even if we affect to do these things, God has mercifully provided, in the unchangeable frame of our nature, that they should have an end: and we should instead of absurdly resisting him, co-operate with him by prudent reflection: not aim at insensibility: but only at such a rational degree of disengagement, as suits our condition: thus preparing by due behaviour under one stroke, to bear others which are to be expected. Persons on a journey quit many things, one after another, that are very agreeable to them: regret them all, but go forward however with composed minds. Now we are travellers through life: our friends are so too: our appointed stages are different: and we must learn to part.
Another cause of sorrow, loss of worldly substance, if it be so great as to bring on absolute painful want, hath been already considered: and if it doth no more than lower us in comparison with others, will be considered hereafter. But a few things may be observed here. We commonly urge it, as a great aggravation of our grief, if we not only are destitute of the conveniences, which wealthier persons enjoy, but have had them, and known them, and been deprived of them. Now surely on the whole, our condition is better for this, than if we had never had them, unless we make it worse by repining. Besides,
when we had them, did they make us extremely happy? In all likelihood far from it. And why then should foregoing them make us extremely miserable? Or how happy soever we were before, why should we not now be as easy as we can? Why indeed should we not provide for such accidents, by living in the midst of plenty, as if we had less of it, and doing good with the remainder? This would be the best use of it, were we ever so sure of keeping the whole; but hath a singular advantage, if we are to lose part. For then we shall be able afterwards to afford ourselves, perhaps nearly, if not quite, as much as we did before: the poor and the public will be the sufferers: and our concern for them will, instead of a selfish, be a virtuous one, and probably seldom excessive.
Disappointments in other worldly matters, failure of obtaining rank, power, favour, or loss of them after they are obtained, require scarce any other considerations to alleviate them than disappointments about wealth do. Only it is yet more uncertain, whether they, who seek them, shall be able to acquire them, or they, who acquire them, to retain them; and indeed, whether they, who do both, shall be the better or the worse for them; there is less reason to set our hearts upon them, and afflict ourselves at crosses in relation to them.
But perhaps our grief is, that our character in the world is impaired: and this we cannot tell how to bear. Yet the case may be, that it had been raised too high; and now is reduced only to what it should be. Surely we may bear this: it will teach us to know ourselves, keep us from aiming in any respect at things above us, and do us good many ways. Or if others think too lowly of us, yet provided they impute nothing bad to us, we may still be very easy.
We ourselves are ignorant of the worth of many: no wonder, if many be ignorant of ours. But supposing, that even downright ill is spoken of us; possibly it is because we have deserved just the contrary, because we have done our duty; and then what saith the Scripture? That we have cause to be sorrowful and dejected? No. Suffering for conscience sake is the very case, of which our Saviour saith in the text, In your patience possess ye your souls. Elsewhere he saith more. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you and say all manner of evil falsely against you for my name's sake: rejoice and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in Heaven*. Nay, he goes further still: Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of yout. Not that a good reputation is in itself a blameable thing: but that when all men, particularly bad men, applaud any one highly, it is a ground for him to suspect himself of being too much conformed to this world. Or, if we are not defamed for having acted wisely and well, yet perhaps it is for something indifferent, that we are misrepresented; and we cannot be fairly accused of acting foolishly or wickedly. In this case, if we have not merit, we have innocence, to support us. And a great support it is, had we none else. But there will always be some in the world to do us justice. And, by the assistance of their friendship, indeed sooner or later without it, time will bring truth to light.
But possibly we think our behaviour hath been imprudent; and we have brought our sufferings on ourselves; and this causes our sorrow. Yet possibly also we may charge ourselves, as persons under affliction often do, either unjustly, or however much * Matth. v. 11, 12. † Luke vi. 26.
Rom. xii. 2.