Page images


Gentleness, humanity, and compassion,

upon it.
flow from it as their native spring. Open and cheer-
ful in itself, it diffuses cheerfulness and good-humour
over all who are under its influence. It is the chief
ground of mutual confidence and union among men.
It prevents those animosities from arising, which are
the offspring of groundless prejudice; or, by its
benign interposition, allays them when arisen. In
the magistrate, it tempers justice with lenity. Among
subjects, it promotes good order and submission. It
connects humanity with piety. For he who is not
given to think evil of his fellow-creatures, will not
be ready to censure the dispensations of his Creator.
Whereas the same turn of mind which renders one
jealous and unjust towards men, will incline him to
be querulous and impious towards God.

In the second place, As a suspicious uncharitable spirit is inconsistent with all social virtue and happiness, so, in itself, it is unreasonable and unjust. In order to form sound opinions concerning characters and actions, two things are especially requisite, information and impartiality. But such as are most forward to decide unfavourably, are commonly destitute of both. Instead of possessing, or even requiring, full information, the grounds on which they proceed are frequently the most slight and frivolous. A tale, perhaps, which the idle have invented, the inquisitive have listened to, and the credulous have propagated, or a real incident which rumour, in carrying it along, has exaggerated and disguised, supplies them with materials of confident assertion, and decisive judgment. From an action, they presently look into the heart, and infer the motive. This

[ocr errors]

supposed motive they conclude to be the ruling principle and pronounce at once concerning the whole character.

Nothing can be more contrary both to equity and to sound reason, then such precipitate judgments. Any man who attends to what passes within himself, may easily discern what a complicated system the human character is, and what a variety of circumstances must be taken into the account, in order to estimate it truly. No single instance of conduct whatever, is sufficient to determine it. As from one worthy action, it were credulity, not charity, to conclude a person to be free from all vice; so from one which is censurable, it is perfectly unjust to infer that the author of it is without conscience and without merit. Did you know all the attending circumstances, it might appear in an excusable light; nay, perhaps, under a commendable form. The motives of the actor may have been entirely different from those which you ascribe to him; and, where you suppose him impelled by bad design, he may have been prompted by conscience and mistaken principle. Admitting the action to have been in every view criminal, he may have been hurried into it through inadvertency and surprise. He may have sincerely repented; and the virtuous principle may have now regained its full vigour. Perhaps this was the corner of frailty; the quarter on which he lay open to the incursions of temptation; while the other avenues of his heart were firmly guarded by conscience. Las


No error is more palpable than to look for uniformity from human nature; though it is commonly on the supposition of it that our general conclusions

Mankind are

concerning character are formed. consistent neither in good nor in evil. In the present state of frailty, all is mixed and blended. The strongest contrarieties of piety and hypocrisy, of generosity and avarice, of truth and duplicity, often meet in one character. The purest human virtue is consistent with some vice; and in the midst of much vice and disorder, amiable, nay respectable qualities may be found. There are few cases in which we have ground to conclude that all goodness is lost. At the bottom of the character there may lie some sparks of piety and virtue, suppressed, but not extinguished; which, kept alive by the breath of Heaven, and gathering strength in secret from reflection, may, on the first favourable opening which is afforded them, be ready to break forth with splendour and force. - Placed, then, in a situation of so much uncertainty and darkness, where our knowledge of the hearts and characters of men is so limited, and our judgments concerning them are so apt to err, what a continual call do we receive, either to suspend our judgment, or to give it on the favourable side? especially when we consider, that as, through imperfect information we are unqualified for deciding soundly, so, through want of impartiality, we are often tempted to decide wrong. How much this enforces the argument for candour will appear by considering,

[ocr errors]

IN the third place, What the sources are of those severe and uncharitable opinions which we are so ready to form. Were the mind altogether free from prepossession and bias, it might avail itself to more advantage of the scanty knowledge which it possesses.

But this is so far from being the case, that on every şide we are encumbered with prejudices, and warped by passions, which exert their influence in nothing more than in leading us to think evil of others. At all times we are justly said to see through a glass darkly; but passion and prejudice, looking through a glass which distorts the form of the objects, make us also see falsely.

It is one of the misfortunes of our present situation, that some of the good dispositions of human nature are apt to betray us into frailties and vices. Thus, it often happens, that the laudable attachment which we contract to the country, or the church, to which we belong, or to some political denomination under which we class ourselves, both confines our affections within too narrow a sphere, and gives rise to violent prejudices against such as come under an opposite decription. Not contented with being in the right ourselves, we must find all others in the wrong. We claim an exclusive possession of goodness and wisdom; and from approving warmly of those who join us, we proceed to condemn, with much acrimony, not only the principles, but the characters, of those from whom we differ. Hence, persons of well-disposed minds are too often, through the strength of partial good affection, involved in the crime of uncharitable judgment. They rashly extend to every individual the severe opinion which they have unwarrantably conceived of a whole body. This man is of a party whose principles we reckon slavish; and therefore his whole sentiments are corrupted. That man belongs to a religious sect which we are accustomed to deem bigotted; and therefore he is incapable of any generous or liberal

[ocr errors]

thought. Another is connected with a sect which we have been taught to account relaxed; and therefore he can have no sanctity. Are these the judgments of candour and charity? Is true piety or virtue so very limited in its nature, as to be confined to such alone as see every thing with our eyes, and follow exactly the train of our ideas? Was there ever any great community so corrupt as not to include within it individuals of real worth?

Besides prepossessions of this nature, which sometimes mislead the honest mind, there are other, and much more culpable, causes of uncharitable judgment. Pride is hurt and wounded by every excellence in which it can claim no share; and, from eagerness to discover a blemish, rests upon the slightest appearance of one, as a satisfying proof. When rivalry and competition concur with pride, our desire to espy defects increases, and, by consequence, the grounds of censure multiply. Where no opposition of interest takes place, envy has too much influence in warping the judgment of many. Even when none of these causes operate, the inward consciousness of depravity is sufficient to fill the mind with evil thoughts of others. Whence should a man so readily draw his opinion of men as from that character with which he is best acquainted, because it is his own? A person of low and base mind naturally imputes to others the sentiments which he finds congenial to himself; and is incredulous of every excellency, which to him is totally unknown. He enjoys, besides, consolation in the thought that others are no better than himself; that his weaknesses and crimes are those of all men; and that such as appear most distinguished for virtue possess no real superiority,

« PreviousContinue »