Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

present envied superiority to all around them. Ambitious men are frequently vain, and sooner or later are always proud. Vanity rests chiefly on personal attributes. Pride, in addition to these, fastens on every thing, which is supposed to create distinction.

This love of superiority is the most remarkable exercise of Covelousness; and, united with the disconteniment and envy, by which it is regularly accompanied, appears to constitute the principal corruption of the human mind. It is impossible, without wonder, to observe the morles, in which mankind exercise it; and the objects, in which it finds its gratification. They are of every kind; and are found every where. We are proud and vain of whatever, in our own view, raises us above others; whether a gift of nature, an attainment of our own, or a mere accident. Our pride and vanity are excited by the possession of personal beauty, strength, or agility; by a lively imagination, clear judgment, and tenderness of feeling; by patrimonial wealth, and distinction of family ; by the fact, that we live in the same neighbourhood, or even in the same country, with persons of eminence; that we know them; or even that we have seen them. No less commonly are we proud and vain of bodily feats, graceful motions, and becoming manners ; of our.gains; of our learning, inventions, sallies of wit, efforts of eloquence, and exploits of heroism; of the employments, to which we are devoted; of the taste, which we display in our dress, entertainments, manner of living, building, and planting; of our industry, prudence, generosity, and piety; of our supposed interest in the Favour of God; nay, even of our penitence, and humility. We are proud, also, of the town, in which we were born ; of the Church, to which we are attached ; of the country, in which we live; of the beauty of its surface, the fertility of its soil, and the salubrity of its climate. In a word, these emotions are excited by every thing, from which a roving, eager imagination, and a corrupt heart, can elicit the means of personal distinction.

So far as these gratifications of pride are not in our possession, but are yet supposed to be attainable; or so far as they are supposed capable of being increased, when already possessVOL. IV.

56

[ocr errors]

ed by us; they become objects of Ambition. We eagerly covet them, and labour strenuously to acquire them.

In the humble circles of life, the first, and very frequently the last, aim of this desire of superiority is to rise above those, who are in the same humble station. To be the first in a village would, it is said, have been more acceptable to Cæsar himself, than to have been the second in Rome. Most men certainly raise their ambition no higher than this very limited superiority. Neither their views, nor their circumstances, permit them to grasp at more extensive and more elevated objects. Persons, who move in a larger sphere, are apt to look down with contempt and pity upon the lowly struggles for pre-eminence, which spring up in the cottage, and agitate the hamlet; without remembering, that they are just as rational, and just as satisfactory, while they are less distressing, and less guilty, than their own more splendid, and violent, efforts to obtain superior consequence.

Minds of a more restless cast, of more expanded views, and more inordinate wishes, never stop, voluntarily, at such objects as these. The field of distinction is co-extended with the globe. The means, by which it may be acquired, are endless in their multitude, and their application ; and the prize is always ready to crown the victor. It cannot be wondered at, that minds of such a cast, should, therefore, enter the race, and struggle vigorously to gain the prize.

I have remarked, that the means of distinction are endless in their multitude, and their application. The objects, from which it is immediately derived, are, however, comparatively few. These are chiefly wealth, splendour, learning, strength of mind, genius, eloquence, courage, place, and power. To these are to be added those remarkable actions, which excite the admiration and applause of mankind.

Among the objects, most immediately coveted by ambitious men, especially by those whose ambition has been peculiarly ardent and insatiable, fame, splendour, place, and power, have held the first rank. Splendour has been sought as the means of fixing, and dazzling, the eyes of their fellow-men; place, and fame, as being partly the means of distinction, and partly the

distinction itself; and power, as involving in its nature the most decisive and acknowledged superiority; as including place, fame, and splendour; and as furnishing all the earthly means of distinction. Into the chase for these objects, the great body of mankind have entered, whenever they have found an opportunity. The humble have striven for little places, and the show, which was intended to excite the stare of a neighbourhood. The aspiring have aimed at stations of high political consequence, and struggled to set the world agape. Men of limited views have confined their labours to the attainment of a character, which should circulate, with respect, through a village ; or be engraved, with marks of distinction, upon a tomb-stone: while the lofty-minded have demanded a name, which should sound through the world, and awaken the wonder of future generations. The powers of subaltern magistracy have satisfied multitudes : while others have panted to grasp the sceptre of the monarch, and the sword of the conqueror.

The Text is directed against this spirit in every form and degree. Mind not high things, says St. Paul to the Christians at Rome. The English word, mind, appears very happily to express the meaning of the original term, ogovxvTES : Give not your minds to high things with either attention or desire. It will be easily seen, that this precept cuts up by the roots both the spirit, and the consequences, of Ambition. If we pay not the regard, here forbidden, to the objects of Ambition ; it is plain, that we shall neither cherish the spirit, nor pursue the conduct which it dictates. It is hardly necessary to observe, that the precept is directed to us, with the same force and obligation, as to the Christians at Rome.

The reasons for this prohibition are of the most satisfactory and sufficient nature. As proofs of this truth I shall allege the following.

1. Ambition is a primary part of our Rebellion against the Law and Government of God.

In the first discourse on the Tenth Command, I observed, that an inordinate desire of Natural good seems to be the commencement of sin, in a being, originally virtuous. The two great branches of this spirit, or the two great modes in which it operates, are Ambition and Avarice. Of these, Ambition is without a question the most universal, and the most powerfully operative. It extends to more objects; exerts itself in a far greater variety of modes; occupies, so far as we can judge, the minds of much greater multitudes; is more restless, vehement, and, if possible, more craving. In every just consideration it holds, of course, the primary place.

God has assigned his place and duties, his situation and enjoyments, to every Intelligent creature. Impatience, with regard to this situation, and the duties which it involves; discontentment with the enjoyment, which it furnishes; and those inordinate desires for the stations and allotments of others, out of which impatience and discontentment spring; are, I think, evidently the first risings of the mind against its Maker. In these emotions, the mind declares, that its Maker's Government is, in its own view, unreasonable and unjust; and that his Dispensations are such, as to make it justifiably unwilling to regard them with obedience and submission. Thus it arraigns the Wisdom and Goodness of Jehovah; and withdraws itself from allegiance to the Ruler of all things. Ambition, then, the principal branch of this spirit, is the original rebellion against the Government of God. Accordingly, the principal ingredient in the first transgression, was the ambition of our first Parents to become as gods, knowing good and evil. A precept, which forbids the assumption of so dangerous a character, and the pursuit of such fatal conduct, can need no additional proof of its rectitude. Still, that, which is unnecessary to produce conviction, may be useful for the purpose of making impressions on the heart. I observe, therefore,

2. Thal Ambition is falal to the Happiness of the Ambitious

[ocr errors]

man.

It is proverbially acknowledged, that Envy and Discontent are only other names for misery. Yet these wretched attributes are always attendant on ambition. No mind can be contented, whose desires are ungratified. When those desires are eager, it will be still more discontented; and when he, who cherishes those desires, sees the good which he covets, in the possession of others, he cannot fail to be envious. But the desires

of an ambitious man are always ungratified. That they are ea. ger, needs no proof; and eager desires invariably overrun the measure of the expected enjoyment. When it is attained, therefore, it falls regularly short of the expectations, and wishes ; and thus the mind regularly fails of being satisfied, even when its efforts are crowned with success. The happiness of Heaven, we are taught, will be commensurate to the utmost desires of its inhabitants. In this world, ardent wishes were never satis. fied; nor high hopes ever indulged without disappointment.

The man, who enters the career of Political advancement, nerer acquires any thing, like satisfaction, until he sees with absolusi conviction, that he can gain nothing more. Then, indeed, he may sometimes sit down quietly; because there is nothing with. in the horizon of his view to rouse his energy to new hopes, and new exertions. But his quiet is only the stagnant dulness, left by disappointment; the paralytic corpor of despair. At first, he aims at a humble office. He attains it; and with new eagerness raises his views to one which is higher. Ile attains this also; and, more eager still, bends his efforts to the acquisition of a third. The acquisition of this, only renders more intense his thirst for another. Thus he heats himself, like a chariot-wheel, merely by his own career; and will never cease to pant more and more ardently for promotion, until he finds his progress stopped by obstacles, which neither art, nor influence, can remove.

In the same manner, the Candidate for Literary eminence, commences the chase of fame, with wishes usually moderate. His first success, however, enlarges his views; and gives new vigour to his desires. Originally, he would have been satisfied with the distinction of being celebrated through a village. Thence he wishes to spread his name through a city ; thence through a country; thence through the world; and thence through succeeding generations. Were sufficient means of communication furnished, he would be still more ardently desirous to extend his fame throughout the planetary regions ; and from them to the utmost extent of the stellary system. Were all the parts of this immeasurable career possible, his mind, at the end of it, would be less contented, than at the commencement; and would find, with a mixture of astonishment and agony, that the

« AnteriorContinuar »