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“ ceitful above all things ;" and experience and every hour's commerce with the world confirms the truth of this seeming paradox, “that though man " is the only creature endowed with reflection, and “ consequently qualified to know the most of him« self ;-yet, so it happens, that he generally knows " the least ;-—and with all the power which God has “ "given him of turning his eyes inward upon him.
self, and taking notice of the chain of his own
thoughts and desires--yet, in fact, is generally so “ inattentive, but always so partial an observer of "what passes, that he is as much, nay often a much
greater stranger to his own disposition and true " character, than all the world besides !"
By what means he is brought under so manifest a delusion, and how he suffers himself to be so grossly imposed upon in a point which he is capable of knowing so much better than others, is not hard to give an account of, nor need we seek farther for it than amongst the causes which are every day perverting his reason and misleading him. We are deceived in judging of ourselves, just as we are in judging of other things, when our passions and inclinations are called in as counsellors, and we suffer ourselves to see and reason just so far and no farther than they give us leave. How hard do we find it to pass an equitable and sound judgment in a matter where our interest is deeply concerned !and even where there is the remotest consideration of self connected with the point before us, what a strange bias does it hang upon our minds, and how difficult is it to disengage our judgments entirely from it! With what reluctance are we brought to think evil of a friend whom we have long loved and
esteemed ! and though there happens to be strong appearances against him, how apt are we to overlook or put favourable constructions upon them, and even sometimes, when our zeal and friendship transport us, to assign the best and kindest motives for the worst and most unjustifiable parts of his conduct!
We are still worse casuists; and the deceit is proportionably stronger with a man, when he is going to judge of himself,—that dearest of all parties, so closely connected with him, so much and so long beloved, of whom he has so early conceived the highest opinion and esteem, and with whose merit he has all along, no doubt, found so much reason to be contented. It is not an easy matter to be severe, where there is such an impulse to be kind, or to efface at once all the tender impressions in favour of so old a friend, which disabled us from thinking of him as he is, and seeing him in the light, may be, in which every one else sees him.
So that, however easy this knowledge of one's self may appear at first sight, it is otherwise when we come to examine; since not only in practice, but even in speculation and theory, we find it one of the hardest and most painful lessons. Some of the earliest instructors of mankind, no doubt, found it so too; and for that reason soon saw the necessity of laying such a stress upon this great precept of selfknowledge, which, for its excellent wisdom and usefulness, many of them supposed to be a divine direction ; that it came down from heaven, and comprehended the whole circle both of the knowedge and the duty of man. And indeed their zı zat: might easily be allowed in so high an encomiyim upon the attainment of a virtue, the want of which
so often baffled their instructions, and rendered their endeavours of reforming the heart vain and useless. For who could think of a reformation of the faults without him, who knew not where they lay, or could set about correcting, till he had first come to a sense of the defects which required it?
But this was a point always much easier recommended by publick instructors than shewn how to be put in practice : and therefore others, who equally sought the reformation of mankind, observing that this direct road which led to it was guarded on all sides by self-love, and consequently very difficult to open access, soon found out that a different and more artful course was requisite ; as they had not strength to remove this flattering passion which stood in their way and blocked up all the passages to the heart, they endeavoured by stratagem to get beyond it, and by a skilful address, if possible, to deceive it. This gave rise to the early manner of conveying their instructions in parables, fables, and such sort of indirect applications; which, though they could not conquer this principle of self-love, yet often laid it asleep, or at least over-reached it for a few moments, till a just judgment could be procured.
The prophet Nathan seems to have been a great master in this way of address.. David had greatly displeased God by two grievous sins which he had committed ; and the prophet's commission was to go and bring him to a convietion of them, and touch his heart with a sense of guilt for what he had done against the honour and life of Uriah.
The holy man knew, that was it any one's case. but David's own, no man would have been so quicksighted in discerning the nature of the injury,
more ready to have redressed it, or who would have felt more compassion for the party who had suffered it, than he himself.
Instead therefore of declaring the real intention of his errand, by a direct accusation and reproof for the crimes he had committed, he comes to him with fictitious complaint of a cruel act of injustice done by another, and accordingly he frames a case, not so parallel to David's as he supposed would awak. en his suspicion, and prevent a patient and candid hearing; and yet not so void of resemblance in the main circumstances, as to fail of striking him when shewn in a proper light.
And Nathan came and said unto him, “ There 6 were two men in one city, the one rich and the 4 other poor ;-the rich man had exceeding many " flocks and herds; but the poor inan had nothing 66 save one little ewe-lamb which he had bought and " nourished up ;-and it grew up together with him 6 and with his children ;-it did eat of his own meat,
and drink of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, « and was unto him as a daughter:-and there came ( a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to « take of his own flock and of his own herd to dress “ for the wayfaring man that was come unto him, « but took the poor man's lamb and dressed it for « the man that was come unto him."
The case was drawn up with great judgment and beauty ;-the several minute circumstances which heightened the injury, truly affecting, and so strongly urged, that it would have been impossible for any man with a previous sense of guilt upon his mind, to have defended himself from some degree of remorse, which it must naturally have excited.
The story, though it spoke only of the injustice and oppressive act of another man,-yet it pointed to what he had lately done himself, with all the cira cumstances of its aggravation ;-and withal, the whole was so tenderly addressed to the heart and passions, as to kindle at once the utmost horror and indignation. And so it did ;—but not against the proper person. In his transport he forgot himself; -his anger greatly kindled against the man ;-and he said unto Nathan, “ As the Lord liveth, the man « that hath done this thing shall surely die, and he 66 shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did " this thing, and because ho had no pity.”
It can scarce be doubted here, but that David's anger was real, and that he was, what he appeared to be, greatly provoked and exasperated against the offender: and, indeed, his sentence against him proves he was so, above measure.
For to punish the man with death, and oblige him to restore fourfold besides, was highly unequitable, and not only disproportioned to the offence, but far above the utmost rigour and severity of the law, which allowed a much softer atonement ; requiring, in such a case, no more than an ample restitution and recom. pense in kind. The judgment, however, seems to have been truly sincere and well-meant, and be. spoke rather the honest rashness of an unsuspicious judge, than the cool determination of a conscious and guilty man, who knew he was going to pass sentence upon himself.
I take notice of this particular, because it places this instance of self-deceit, which is the subject of the discourse, in the strongest light, and fully demonstrates the truth of a fact in this great man,