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JOSEPH'S HISTORY CONSIDERED.
FORGIVENESS OF INJURIES.
GENESIS L. 15.
And when Joseph's brethren saw that their father was dead, they
said, Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evils which we did unto him.
THERE are few instances of the exercise of particular virtues which seem harder to attain to, or which appear more amiable and engaging in themselves, than those of moderation and the forgiveness of injuries ; and, when the temptations against them happen to be heightened by the bitterness of a provocation on one hand, and the fairness of an opportunity to retaliate on the other, the instances then are truly great and heroick. The words of the text (which are the consultation of the sons of Jacob amongst themselves upon their father Israel's death, when, because it was in Joseph's power to revenge the deadly injury they had formerly done him, they concluded, in course, that it was in his intention)will lead us to a beautiful example of this kind in the character and behaviour of Joseph consequent thereupon ; and, as it seems a perfect and very engaging pattern of forbearance, it may not be improper to make it serve for the ground-work of a dis- : course upon that subject. The whole transaction,
from the first occasion given by Joseph in his youth, • to this last act of remission, at the conclusion of his life, may be said to be a master-piece of history. There is, not only in the manner throughout, such a happy, though uncommon, mixture of simplicity and grandeur, which is a double character, so hard to be united, that it is seldom to be met with in compositions merely human ;--but it is likewise related with the greatest variety of tender and
affecting circumstances, which would afford matter for reflections useful for the conduct of almost every part and stage of a man's life. But as the words of the text, as well as the intention and compass of this discourse, particularly confine me to speak only to one point, namely, the forgiveness of injuries, it will be proper only to consider such circumstances of the story as will place this instance of it in its just light, and then proceed to make a more general use of the great example of moderation and forbearance which it sets before us.
It seenis strange, at first sight, that, after the sons of Jacob had fallen into Joseph's power, when they were forced by the soreness of the famine to go down into Egypt to buy corn, and had found him too good å man even to expostulate with them for an injury, which he seemed then to have digested, and piously to have resolved into the over-ruling provi
... derce of God, for the preservation of much people, how they could ever after question the uprightness of his intentions, or entertain the least suspicion that his reconciliation was dissembled. Would one have imagined, that the man who had discovered suclr a goodness of soul, that he sought where to weep, because he could not bear the struggles of a
counterfeited harshness, could ever be suspected afterwards of intending a real one!--and that he only waited till their father Israel's death, to requite them all the evil which they had done unto him ? What still adds to this difficulty is that his affeca tionate inanner in making himself known to them, his goodness in forbearing not only to reproach. them for the injury they had formerly done him, but extenuating and excusing the fault to themselves, his comforting and speaking kindly to them, and seconding all with the tenderest marks of an undisguised forgiveness, in falling upon their necks and weeping aloud, that all the house of Pharaoh heard him ;---that, moreover, this behaviour of Joseph could not appear to them to be the effect of any warm and sudden transport, which might as suddenly give way to other reflections, but that it • evidently sprung from a settled principle of uncommon gcnerosity in his nature, which was above the temptation of making use of an opportunity for revenge, which the course of God's providence had put into his hands for better purposes; and, what might still seem to confirm this, was the evidence of his actions to them afterwards, in bringing them and all their household up out of Canaan, and placing them near him in the land of Goshen, the richest part of Egypt, where they had had so many years experience of his love and kindness :-and yet it is plain all this did not clear his motive from suspicion, or, at least, themselves of some apprehensions of a change in his conduct towards them. And was it not that the whole transaction was written under the direction of the Spirit of Truth, and that other historians concur in doing justice to Joseph's char
acter, and speak of him as a compassionate and mer. ciful man, one would be apt, you will say, to imag. ine here, that Moses might possibly have omitted some civcumstances of Joseph's behaviour, which had alarmed his brethren, betwixt the time of his first reconciliation and that of their father's death ; --for they could not be suspicious of his intentions without some cause, and fear where no fear was : But does not a guilty conscience often do so,-and, though it has the grounds, yet wants the power to think itself safe?
And could we look into the hearts of those who know they deserve ill, we should find many an instance, where a kindness from an injured hand, where there was least reason to expect one, has
struck deeper, and touched the heart with a degree • of remorse and concern, which, perhaps, no severis ty or resentment could have reached. This reflection will, in some measure, help to explain this difficulty, which occurs in the story ; for it is obseryable, that, when the injury they had done their brother was first committed, and the fact was fresh upon
their minds, and most likely to have filled them with a sense of guilt, we find no acknowledgment or complaint to one another of such a load as, one might imagine, it had laid upon them; and from that event, through a long course of years, to the time they had gone down to Egypt, we read not once of any sorrow, or compunction of heart, which they had felt during all that time, for what they had done. They had artfully imposed upon their parent (and, as men are ingenious casuists in their own affairs) they had, probably, as artfully imposed upon their own consciences;-and, possibly, had never
impartially reflected upon the action, or considered it in its just light, till the many acts of their brother's love and kindness had brought it before them, with all the circumstances of aggravation which his behaviour would naturally give it they then began maturely to consider what they had done ;-that they had first undeservedly hated him in his childkood for that which, if it was a ground of complaint, ought rather to have been charged upon the indiscretion of the parent, than, considered as a fault in him ;-that, upon a more just examination and a better knowledge of their brother, they had wanted even that pretence. It was not a blind partiality which seemed first to have directed their father's affection to him,--though then they thought so;-for, doubtless, so much goodness and benevolence as shone forth in his nature, now that he was a man, could not lie all of it so deep concealed in his youth, but the sagacity of a parent's eye would discover it; and that, in course, their enmity towards him was founded upon that which ought to have won their esteem.-- That, if he had incautiously added envy to", their ill-will in reporting his dreams, which presaged his future greatness, it was but the indiscretion of a youth unpractised in the world, who had not yet found out the art of dissembling his hopes and expectations; and was scarce arrived at an age to comprehend there was such a thing in the world as envy and ambition ;-that if such offences in a brother, so fairly carried their own excuses with them, what could they say for themselves, when they considered it was for this they had almost unanimously conspired to rob him of his life ; and, though they were happily restrained from shedding his blood upon