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EPHES. V. 15, 16.
See then that ye walk circumfpectly, not as fools, but as wile,
redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
and used by all, and in the use of which every person finds pleasure and profit, to the use of which therefore none need excitation or encouragement, and yet
which require a certain recommendation if we would perceive their entire value, use them in the best manner, and obtain as much pleasure and profit from them as they are calculated to afford. Of this kind, undoubtedly, is social life. Who does not know and feel that man is formed for intercourse with his brethren, for communicating to them of what he is and has, for the exchange of his thoughts and fentiments with theirs ? 'Who has not tafted the pleasures and joys of social life, and been charmed with the sweets of them? Who does not prefer it to absolute and constant folitude ? Who then does not find in himself sufficient impulse to the use and enjoyment of it? How seldom is it neceffary, comparatively speaking, to caution our acquaintance against too strong a propensity to retirement, or to exhort them to go into company, in
the ordinary sense of the word! How much more easily, and how much more frequently, upon the whole, do we not run into the extreme on this side than on the other !
But whether this sociability is and procures us all that it might be and procure? Whether we prize and affect it, not merely from blind impulse, not merely to fly from ourselves, not merely for following the prevailing fashion, but on plain and acknow. ledged principles ? Whether we understand and feel what it is that gives it its really great value ? And whether it is of that value to us, or affords us all those fatisfactions and advantages, which we may feek in it and expect from it? These are matters whereon, notwithstanding the univerfally strong propensity to social life, perhaps but few people ever reflect, and in regard to which probably but few are able to give themselves a satisfactory account. Man is a focial being, since he naturally possesses difpofitions and capacities for society, and finds pleasure in it; fince he hears sociability praised, and readily complies with the fashion that is most prevalent at certain times and among particular people. But, whether he be social in the best and most honourable manner to the wise and virtuous man, to the christian, and reap from 'his sociable turn the greatest utility possible, the most harmless and most noble pleafures, about this he too seldom concerns himself; and hence it is that this very instinct is so often a burthen, even to its admirers and encomiasts, and so
feldom comes up to their expectations. My design at present is to give you a few directions in reflecting on sociableness, towards a founder judgment and a better use of it. Accordingly, we will investigate together the value of social life.
For more accurately ascertaining it, we shall have two questions to answer. The first is : How must social life be managed in order to render it of a certain value? The other : What gives it this value, or, wherein consists the value of it?
These investigations will teach us how we are to walk circumspectly, according to the apostolical exhortation in our text, and not to behave as fools in regard of social life, but as wise, adapting ourfelves to times or circumstances, and making the best use of both.
Sociableness, my pious hearers, is always better than unfociableness; a defective use of this natural impulse, or this propensity founded in education and improved by intercourse, is better than the total difuse of it. But all fociableness is not rational and christian, every kind of social life is not of great value. Neither all sociableness nor every kind of focial life is able to procure us lasting advantage and real pleasure. Principally, by the absence and avoidance of several defects and imperfections; principally by the presence and the united activity of several good properties and virtues, does social life become and afford what it may and ought; by this means does it principally acquire that value which renders it worthy of our high esteem and participa.
tion. And what are then the good properties, the virtues, we are to bring with us into social life, and exert therein ; what the faults we have to avoid, if we would have it of great value to us ?
Honesty and openness of heart is the first good property, the first virtue we must introduce with us and exercise in social life; to be deltitute of all reftraint and all circumspection, is, on the other hand, the first fault we must avoid, and therewith the grossness which is its inseparable attendant. To be fociable implies to communicate to one another our thoughts, our sentiments, to compare together our opinions and views, to barter them against each other, and to rectify and improve them by each other. Would you reap this benefit from it, my pious hearers? Then must truth be in your discourses, in your gestures, in your looks, in the tone of your voice, and in your whole attitude and behaviour ; then must you actually think and feel what you pretend to think and to feel, be that in reality for which you are desirous to be taken. Then must you therefore not lock up your thoughts within your own breasts, and not reject every reflection and sentiment, every opinion which is not yet marked with the stamp of the mode, or the prevailing fashion of the day, and is not thoroughly and universally current ;- then must you not sedulously strive to conceal yourself from others ; not torment yourself with a scrupulofity that kills all the vivacity and sprightliness of conversation, at every word you
every feature of
utter, every sentiment that arises in your bofom,
your face, every gesture of your body, as if you were afraid of betraying the true state of your mind; then must you neither regard focial life as an intercourse of impostures, nor use it as a school of dissimulation. This would not be a fair, honourable and obliging commutation of what we are and have, but an artful, and fraudulent intercourse, imposing upon others what we are not and do not possess, and yet would appear to be and to have. By this means social life would be turned into a low farce; and what value could it then be of to thinking and fenfible men ?
Beware, however, of imagining that honesty and openness of heart is incompatible with circumspection and prudence. Though you communicate freely and honestly with others, you have no need on that account to repose a blind confidence in all you meet; to disclose to every one the inmost thoughts and sentiments of your heart. Though you do not dissemble, do not give yourself out for better than
you are, you are not therefore unnecessarily to reveal all your infirmities and failings. Though you say to others nothing but what you think and feel, you need not therefore directly tell every one whatever you think and whatever you feel. Though you shun the anxiety of excessive fcrupulofity about whatever you speak and do, you need not therefore speak and act without prudence and circumspection.