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of wisdom and discretion might defy them all : but when every misrepresentation that envy can suggest is listened to with pleasure, and received without inquiry, who must not fall before it?]
The more excellent any conduct is, the more obnoxious it is to its assaults
[Even piety itself is not beyond its reach: for Solomon speaks of it as a peculiar vanity and source of vexation, that “ for every right work a man is envied of his neighbourm." To say the truth, piety is more the object of envy than any thing else; not because others affect it for themselves, but because, in the common sentiments of mankind, it gives to its possessor a transcendent excellence, and raises him almost into a higher order of beings. This was a peculiar source of Cain's resentment against his brother Abel"; as it was of Saul's against Davido; and of the Jews against Christ himselfp. Take an act of Christ's, the restoring of Lazarus from the grave; a more benevolent act could not be conceived, nor one which more strongly carried its evidence of a divine mission along with it. Was it possible for envy or enmity to be provoked by that? Yes: the very act instantly produced a conspiracy against the life of Jesus ;-against the life, too, of the man who had been raised by him. Was it so, then, that all the wisdom, or piety, or benevolence of our blessed Saviour himself could not elude this detestable enemy of God and man? No: not even he could stand before it; but, as the Evangelist informs us, he fell a prey to its insatiate rage". Against all his disciples, too, it raged in like manners : and it is in vain for any one, who will serve God with fidelity, to hope for an escape from its virulent assaults]
Methinks you are now prepared to hear, III. What a damning principle it is,
God has marked his indignation against it even here
[Greatly does this principle embitter the life of him in whom it dwells. Its operation is not momentary, like that of anger: it lurks in the bosom; it corrodes the mind; it makes a man completely miserable. We may see its operation in Saul. Saul heard the women, out of all the cities of Israel, celebrating the praises of himself and of David ; saying, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands. And Saul was very wroth, and the saying displeased him; and he
m Eccl. iv. 4. n 1 John iii. 12. • Ps. xxxviii. 20. p John viii. 45-48. 4 John ix. 45—48, 53. and xii. 10, 11. . Matt. xxvii. 18, 20. s Acts xiii. 44, 45. and xvii. 4, 5, 10—14. t 2 Tim. ii. 12.
said, They have ascribed unto David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands : and what can he have more, but the kingdom? And Saul eyed David from that day and forward. And on the very next day did Saul cast his javelin at David twice, in order to kill him;” and throughout all the remainder of his life used every possible effort to destroy him". This may enable us to understand what Solomon meant, when he called “ envy, the rottenness of the bonest." For as the corporeal system must be altogether enfeebled and destroyed when the bones are rotten; so the moral constitution of the soul is rendered one entire mass of corruption, when a man lies under the dominion of this hateful principle. He is, in fact, as near to the consummation of his misery in hell as the other is to the termination of his life on earth.]
But who can tell with what judgments it shall be visited in the eternal world ?
[It is not possible that a person under the dominion of it should ever behold the face of God in peace. “God is love:” love is his very nature and essence: but envy is hatred in its most hateful form, as terminating upon an object, not for any evil that is in him, but for the good which he manifests, and for the success he meets with in the exercise of what is good. How can two such opposites meet together? As well might light and darkness coalesce, as God and an envious man delight in each other in heaven. It is said in God's blessed word, that " without charity, whatever we possess, or do, or suffer for God, we are only as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbaly." But in that very place we are told, that "charity envieth not?." What, then, are we to infer from this, but that, as envy proves an entire want of charity, so it proves, equally and unquestionably, a state of mind that is wholly incompatible with the favour of God and the felicity of heaven. But, that we may be assured of God's indignation against it, let us see what God said to Edom by the Prophet Ezekiel: “ As I live, saith the Lord God, I will even do according to thine anger, and according to thine envy which thou hast used out of thy hatred against them: I will make myself known amongst them, when I have judged theea." True indeed it is, that in this passage God is only denouncing temporal judgments; but it amply shews what are his sentiments respecting the principle which we are speaking of, and what will be his judgment upon it in the day that he shall judge the world.]
Having thus exposed, in some measure, the true
character of envy, I beg leave to suggest to you some cautions in relation to it. Be careful, 1. Not needlessly to excite it
[Knowing, as you do, how common an evil it is, and how deeply rooted in the heart of man, you should guard against every thing which may call it into action. Whatever you possess, either of natural or acquired excellence, make not an ostentatious display of it; but rather put a veil over it, as it were, that its radiance may not offend the eyes of those who behold you. The less value you appear to put upon your attainments, and the less you arrogate to yourselves on account of them, the less will others be disposed to grudge you the enjoyment of them, and to despoil you of the honour due to them. It was unwise in Jacob to mark his partiality towards his son Joseph, by “a coat of many colours;" and he paid dearly for it by the sufferings it entailed. For your own sakes therefore, as well as for the sake of others, it will be wise in you to bear your honours meekly, and to shew that you are “ little in your own eyes."]
2. Not wickedly to indulge it
· [Envy is a principle in our fallen nature far more powerful than men in general are apt to imagine. “Do you think that the Scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy b?" If you will watch the motions of your own hearts, you will find a sad propensity to it, whenever a powerful occasion arises to call it forth. Suppose a person, whom you have regarded as inferior to yourself in industry and talent, has got before you, and attained a higher eminence than you in your own peculiar line; are you not ready to ascribe his success to chance, or to the partiality of friends, rather than to his own intrinsic merit? and would it not be gratifying to you to hear a similar judgment passed on him by others ? Suppose he were by any means to fall from his eminence; would not his degradation give you pleasure? If you praise him, is it with the same decisive tone as you would have wished for, if the praise had been conferred on you? It is when your own honour or interest comes in competition with that of another, that envy betrays its power over you: and if you have been observant of the workings of your own mind, you will be no strangers to the operation of this principle within you. But remember what has been said of its odiousness and enormity; and cry mightily to God to deliver you from its baneful influence. Remember how transitory is all distinction here; and content yourselves with the honour which cometh from God, and will endure for ever.]
o Jam. iv. 5. See also Tit. iii. 3.
· 3. Not basely to fear it· [Though you are not to make an ostentatious display of any excellence you may possess, and especially of piety, you are not to put your light under a bushel, through the fear of any hostility which a discovery of it may provoke. Whatsoever your duty is, whether to God or man, that you are to do; and to leave all consequences to the disposal of an all-wise Providence. It should be in your mind“ a very small matter to be judged of man's judgmente." If you have “ the testimony of your own conscience that you are serving God in simplicity and godly sincerity," that should bear you up against all the obloquy that the envy or malignity of others can heap upon you. You must expect that “they who render evil for good will be against you, if you follow the thing that is good ;" and you must commit yourself to Him who judgeth right, and who will, in due season, both vindicate your character, and make your righteousness to shine forth as the noon-day.]
4. Not angrily to resent it· [Supposing you to be traduced and injured in a variety of ways; “what temptation has befallen you but that which is common to men?” Instead of grieving that you are persecuted for righteousness sake, you should rather regard the hatred of men as a homage paid to your virtue; and should “ rejoice that you are counted worthy to suffer shame for Christ's sake.” You will remember the prayer of our blessed Lord for his murderers: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” This is the pattern which it becomes you to follow. Your envious neighbours really do not know what they do: they are not aware by what spirit they are actuated, or what evil they commit. Instead, therefore, of being angry with them for the evil they do you, you should rather pity them for the evil they do to themselves. This was the way in which David requited Saul, sparing him when he had him in his power, and mourning for him when he was removed to another world a. Your rule, under all circumstances, must be this; “Not to be overcome of evil, but to overcome evil with good."]
c 1 Cor. iv. 3.
THE HEARTS OF MEN ALIKE. Prov. xxvii. 19. As in water face answereth to face, so the
heart of man to man. THERE are many things which are justly considered as axioms, of the truth of which we are fully
convinced, because they are the result of observation and experience : yet, being declared also by the voice of inspiration, they come to our minds with authority, and demand from us an unhesitating acquiescence. Such is the truth which we have just read from the Book of Proverbs. Any man conversant with the world, knows that human nature is, to a certain degree, the same in every age and in every place. But there are, amongst men, so many discrepancies arising out of incidental circumstances, and so many changes too in the same persons, that if the heartsearching God himself had not determined the point, we should scarcely have ventured to speak respecting it in terms so strong and unqualified as Solomon has used in the passage before us. His words, beyond all doubt, are true: but yet, if not well understood, they are capable of much misapprehension and perversion. In discoursing upon them, I will, I. Explain his assertion
It needs explanation : for if we were to take it as importing that all men in all circumstances manifest the same dispositions and desires, it would be the very reverse of what we see and know to be true. It is evident, that, though Solomon does not make any distinction, he does not intend to confound all persons in one common mass, and to affirm that, under all their diversified conditions, they are all alike: he supposes, that, amongst the persons so compared, there exists a parity, which may render them proper objects of comparison. He takes for granted, that there is in them a parity, 1. Of age
[If we take men in the various stages of human existence, from infancy to old age, we know that there exists in them a vast diversity of sentiment. To imagine that amongst them all there should be found the same views, desires, and pursuits, would be to betray an ignorance and folly bordering on fatuity. Old men and children can no more be supposed to accord with each other in such respects, than light and darkness. Children must be compared with children ; young men with youths; and old men with those that are advanced in years.]