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The characters of many of them who are strangers to piety and virtue, are manifested to themselves, and to the world. Opportunities present themselves, to exhibit what is within them. They are tempted to do wrong, and they do it. They are condemned by the world, and they condemn themselves. They know themselves to be vicious, and make no pretensions to the praise of virtue.
But there are others, who, though in reality little better, if at all, than these, neither appear so to others, or to themselves. Their situations are such as shut up their true character in total shade, and prevent it from coming into the light. Though destitute, therefore, of the spirit which animates the friends of virtue, they consider themselves as standing in that class. Their manners are decent; their reputation is fair; their neighbours respect them, and they can find no fault in themselves.
It is among persons of this description that moral pride abounds. Free from all outward immorality, and never looking within them to attend to what passes there, they conceive themselves to be faultless. It is from such as these that the notoriously wicked receive the loftiest looks, and the loudest reproaches. Attend to the censures, which every day so freely circulate through every part of society; observe if the majority, and if the severest of them do not fall from their lips, whose situations secure them from the faults they con
demn. Who are they, that with most asperity censure the fraudulent and dishonest? The rich and independent. Who are the persons, that are most severe upon avarice, and the omissions of munificence? The poor and destitute. By whom is the vanity and the pride of the great the most freely censured? By those whom obscurity preserves from the infection of flattery. Take notice who are among the first to lift up their hands and their eyes to Heaven, and to wonder that the pecuniary profusion of the age is not punished with pestilence, or famine, or earthquake. Observe if they be not the sordidly parsimonious, and the naturally dispassionate, who, in consequence of this complexion, are under no temptation to luxury and prodigality. We all of us think of the selfdestroyer with horror. He has done a deed which shocks all the feelings of nature, which shakes us all to the very centre of our soul! It is foul! It is impious! But who are they that fling at his memory the heaviest curse, that regard his grave with the most angry eye, with a detestation that would prevent, if it were possible, a flower from flourishing near it, or a sun from shining upon it; with an abhorrence that says, 'Let there be no dew, neither let there rain descend upon it?' Mark if they be not the gay, the prosperous, and the happy; whose imagination no animal melancholy has ever possessed; whose hearts no agonies have
ever wrung; whose reason no disappointments have shaken. How eloquently they talk of the impiety and cowardice of deserting the post in which Providence places us! All that they say, is true; they cannot paint the crime they condemn, in darker colors than it deserves; but he whom they thus upbraid, he also could have talked as they do; and once perhaps he did. To declaim, is an easy thing; to declaim eloquently, is an easy thing; but to act well, is a more arduous task. And many a one, I doubt not, has censured another's fatal despair; has approached the unconsecrated ground, where staked through he lay, with horror, and called the place accursed as he passed it, who was not himself possessed of any more piety to God, or regard to society, to arrest the hand of selfdestruction, had similar distresses tempted him to lift it up. Many have harangued upon the pusillanimity of sinking under distress, without possessing any more fortitude than those that have fainted in the day of adversity. Any man may stand upon the shore, and deride the shrieks of the terrified wretches whom the tempest is tossing.
It is one thing to condemn what is done wrong, and another to do better. We can all of us be very virtuous in our closets; we can all of us be very heroic in the safe and easy fields of speculation, and rise into the heights of moral sublimity, as we recline in the chair of moral criticism.
We can all explain, with the nicest propriety, how the situations we do not fill, ought to be filled; how the burdens we do not bear, ought to be borne. We can be very patient under the pressure of another's sorrows; we can be very brave in the face of another's dangers; we can be very generous in the disposal of another's property. We can sit by the side of a brokenhearted sufferer, and tell him that it is unbecoming a Christian to sorrow as those who are without hope,' with a firm and intrepid tone; we can go to the opulent, and point out to them, very clearly, the many benevolent plans which it is in their power, and which it is their duty, therefore, to prosecute; but actually to perform, what we can thus accurately explain and sagely advise, requires more exertion than that of the breath.
I would not be understood to intimate, that all of those who are not tempted to do wrong, would do it if they were. I am the last to say so. No doubt there are many, who, though their virtue has been but little tried, and though trials strengthen virtue more than any thing else, have yet vigor of mind enough to acquit themselves honorably, in the day of temptation. Neither would I wish any truly honest and good man to mistrust his character, because Providence puts his virtue to no outward proof. He has a sufficient evidence of it within him, to preserve him from all painful dif
fidence, and religious melancholy. He who is conscious to himself of an inward ardor in the cause of truth and virtue; who has taken pains in the cultivation of his character; who has to look back upon a course of serious and close meditation upon religious and moral subjects; and who, in consequence of this cultivation, feels within him a lively love to God and man; and who does all the good he can, and is desirous of doing more; such a man may look up with confidence towards God; such a man has a right to say, 'I am incapable, in any situation, of a deliberately base and dishonorable action.' The amount of what I have said is merely this; that there are many persons of very decent manners, and of unspotted reputation in the world, who are less chargeable with the crimes which others have committed, only because they have not had equal temptation to the commission of them, and that this selfignorance, arising out of this situation, a frequent and fruitful source of moral pride.