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with the drunkard and debauchee, among the herd of the sensual, until poverty overtakes them, or disease cuts them off; or, they are such as, retaining some remains of vigour, are impelled, by their passions, to venture on a desperate attempt for retrieving their ruined fortunes.
In this case, they employ the art of the fraudulent gamester to insnare the unwary. They issue forth with the highwayman to plunder on the road; or with the thief and the robber, they infest the city by night. From this class, our prisons are peopled; and by them the scaffold is furnished with those melancholy admonitions, which are so often delivered from it to the crowd. Such are frequently the tragical, but weh known, consequences of the vice of idleness.
In the third, and last place, how dangerous soever idleness may be to virtue, are there not pleasures, it may be said, which attend it ? Is there not ground to plead, that it brings a release from the oppressive cares of the world ; and sooths the mind with a gentle satisfaction, which is not to be found amidst the toils of a busy and active life?—This is an advantage which, least of all advantages, we admit it to possess. In behalf of incessant labour, no man contends. Occasional release from toil, and indulgence of ease, is what nature demands, and virtue allows. But what we assert is, that nothing is so great an enemy to the lively and spirited enjoyment of life, as a relaxed and indolent habit of mind. He who knows not what it is to labour, knows not what it is to enjoy. The felicity of human life, depends on the regular prosecution of some laudable purpose or object, which keeps awake and enlivens all our powers. Our happiness consists in the pursuit, much more than in the attainment, of any temporal good. Rest is agreeable ; but it is only from preceding labours, that rest requires its true relish. When the mind is suffered to remain in continued inaction, all its powers decay. It soon languishes and sickens ; and the pleasures which it proposed to obtain from rest, end in tediousness and insipidity. To this, let that miserable set of men bear witness, who, after spending great part of their life in active industry, have retired to what they fancied was to be a pleasing enjoyment of themselves in wealthy inactivity, and profound repose. Where they expected to find an elysium, they have found nothing but a dreary and comfortless waste. Their days have dragged on, in uniform languor ; with the melancholy remembrance often returning, of the cheerful hours they passed, when they were engaged in the honest business, ard labours of the world.
We appeal to every one who has the least knowledge or observation of life, whether the busy, or the idle, have the most agreeable enjoyment of themselves ? Compare them in their families. Compare them in the societies with which they mingle; and remark, which of them discover most cheerfulness and gaiety, which possess the most regular flow of spirits ; whose temper is most equal ; whose good humour, most unclouded. While the active and diligent both enliven, and enjoy society, the idle are not only a burden to themselves, but a burden to those with whom they are connected; a nuisance to all whom they oppress with their company.
Enough has now been said to convince every thinking person, of the folly, the guilt, and the misery, of an idle state. Let these admonitions stir us up to exert ourselves in our different occupations, with that virtuous activity which becomes men and Christians. Let us arise from the bed of sloth ; distribute our time with attention and care ; and improve to advantage the opportunities which Providence has bestowed. The material business in which our several stations engage us, may often prove not sufficient to occupy the whole of our time and attention. In the life even of busy men, there are frequent intervals of leisure. Let them take care, that into these, none of the vices of idleness creep. Let some secondary, some subsidiary employment, of a fair and laudable kind, be always at hand to fill up those vacant spaces of life, which too many assign, either to corrupting amusements, or to mere inaction. We ought never to forget, entire idleness always borders, either on misery, or on guilt. At the same time, let the course of our employments be ordered in such a manner, that in carrying them on, we may be also promoting our eternal interest. With the business of the world, let us properly intermix the exercises of devotion. By religious duties, and virtuous actions, let us study to prepare ourselves for a better world. In the midst of our labours, for this life, it ought never to be forgotten, that we must “first seek the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and give diligence to make our calling and election sure:” otherwise, how active soever we may seem to be, our whole activity will prove only a labo
ous idleness : we shall appear in the end, to have been busy to no purpose, or to a purpose worse than none. Then only we fulfil the proper character of Christians, when we join that pious zeal which becomes us as the servants of God, with that
industry which is required of us, as good members of society; when, according to the exhortation of the Apostle, we are found “not slothful in business,” and at the same time, "fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.”
The choice of our situation in life, a point of great importance.
The influence of a new situation of external fortune is so great ; it gives so different a turn to our temper and affections, to our views and desires, that no man can foretell what his character would prove, should he be either raised or depressed in his circumstances, in a remarkable degree; or placed in some sphere of action, widely different from that to which he has been accustomed in former life.
The seeds of various qualities, good and bad, lie in all our hearts. But until proper occasions ripen, and bring them forward, they lie there inactive and dead. They are covered up
and concealed within the recesses of our nature : or, if they spring up at all, it is under such an appearance as is frequently mistaken, even by ourselves. Pride, for instance, in certain situations, has no opportunity of displaying itself, but as magnanimity, or sense of honour. Avarice appears as necessary and laudable economy. What in one station of life would discover itself to be cowardice and baseness of mind, passes in another for prudent circumspection. What in the fulness of power would prove to be cruelty and oppression, is reputed, in a subordinate rank, no more than the exercise of proper discipline. For a while, the man is known neither by the world, nor by himself, to be what he truly is. But bring him into a new situation of life, which accords with his predominant disposition; which strikes on certain latent qualities of his soul, and awakens them into action ; and as the leaves of a flower gradually unfold to the sun, so shall all his true character open
full to view. This may, in one light, be accounted not so much an alteration of character, produced by a change of circumstances, as a discovery brought forth of the real character, which formerly lay concealed. Yet, at the same time, it is true that the man himself undergoes a change. For opportunity being given for certain dispositions, which had
been dormant, to exert themselves without restraint, they af course gather strength. By means of the ascendancy which they gain, other parts of the temper are borne down ; and thus an alteration is made in the whole structure and system of the soul. He is a truly wise and good man, who, through Divine assistance, remains superior to this influence of fortune on his character; who, having once imbibed worthy sentiments, and established proper principles of action, continues constant to these, whatever his circumstances be ; maintains, throughout all the changes of his life, one uniform and supported tenour of conduct; and what be abhorred as evil and wicked, in the beginning of his days, continues to abhor to the end. But how rare is it, to meet with this honourable consistency among men, while they are passing through the different stations and periods of life! "When they are setting out in the world, before their minds have been greatly misled or debased, they glow with generous emotions, and look with contempt on what is sordid and guilty. But advancing farther in life, and inured by degrees to the crooked ways of men ; pressing through the crowd, and the bustle of the world ; obliged to contend with this man's craft, and that man's scorn ; accustomed, sometimes, to conceal their sentiments, and often to stifle their feelings, they become at last hardened in heart, and familiar with corruption. Who would not drop a tear over this sad, but frequent fall of human probity and honour ? Who is not humbled, when he beholds the refined sentiments and high principles on which we are so ready to value ourselves, brought to so shameful an issue ; and man, with all his boasted attainments of reason, discovered so often to be the creature of his external fortune, moulded and formed by the incidents of his life?
Let us for a moment reflect on the dangers which arise from stations of power and greatness ; especially, when the elevation of men to these has been rapid and sudden. Few have the strength of mind which is requisite for bearing such a change with temperance and self-command. The respect which is paid to the great, and the scope which their condi. tion affords for the indulgence of pleasure, are perilous circumstances to virtue. When men live among their equals, and are accustomed to encounter the hardships of life, they are of course reminded of their mutual dependence on each other, and of the dependence of all upon God. But when they are highly exalted above their fellows, they meet with
few objects to awaken serious reflection, and with many to feed and inflame their passions. They are apt to separate their interests from that of all around them ; to wrap themselves up in their vain grandeur; and, in the lap of indolence and selfish pleasure, to acquire a cold indifference to the concerns even of those whom they call their friends. The fancied independence into which they are lifted up, is advérse to sentiments of piety, as well as of humanity, in their heart.
But we are not to imagine, that elevated stations in the world furnish the only formidable trials to which our virtue is exposed. It will be found, that we are liable to no fewer, nor less dangerous temptations, from the opposite extreme of poverty and depression. When men who have known better days are thrown down into abject situations of fortune, their spirits are broken, and their tempers soured: envy rankles in their breast at such as are more successful : the providence of Heaven is accused in secret murmurs; and the sense of misery is ready to push them into atrocious crimes, in order to better their state. Among the inferior classes of mankind, craft and dishonesty are too often found to prevail. Low and penurious circumstances depress the human powers. They deprive men of the proper means of knowledge and improvement ; and where ignorance is gross, it is always in hazard of engendering profligacy.
Hence it has been, generally, the opinion of wise men in all ages, that there is a certain middle condition of life, equally remote from either of those extremes of fortune, which, though it wants not also its own dangers, yet is, on the wholé, the state most favourable both to virtue and to happiness. For there, luxury and pride on the one hand, have not opportunity to enervate or intoxicate the mind, nor want and dependence on the other, to sink and debase it; there, all the native affections of the soul have the freest and fairest exercise, the equality of men is felt, friendships are formed, and improvements of every sort are pursued with most success; there, men are prompted to industry without being overcome by toil, and their powers called forth into exertion, without being either superseded by too much abundance, or baffled by insuperable difficulties ; there a mixture of comforts and of wants, at once awaken their gratitude to God, and reminds them of their dependence on his aid ; and therefore, in this state, men seem to enjoy life to most advantage, and to be least exposed to the pares of vics