« ElőzőTovább »
cumstanced, is restrained from action by his fears, is not a coward, because did he act, though ignorant of the issue, we should pronounce him rash and fool-hardy. What makes a blind man lift his feet higher, and take shorter steps, than other men? Is it not the same reason that obliges us to use the like caution in the dark ? And are we not in the dark as to all events, which we cannot foresee? If necessity forces, or probability encourages us, to action, when the success is yet doubtful, is it bravery to be as quick and expeditious as in cases where we have a clear prospect before us? No; here our fears are the monitors of our reason; and teach us, if time will allow, 10 make little trials, and small approaches to the business in hand, that we may forbear altogether, if we find reason to dislike the business; or change our measures, if judged unpromising.
Such are often the difficulty and perplexity of our affairs, such the danger that may attend them, manage them as we will, and such the short-sightedness of our minds as to what ought to be done, that were we not thus assisted by our fears, we should generally buy wisdom by experience at too dear a rate; and before we could acquire the skill to act right, should frequently lose the power of acting at all. It is happy therefore that fear stays to restrain us, till wisdom comes to relieve it, and takes away that ignorance, which was the cause and justification of our fears.
Who then is the coward ? It is he, who, judging amiss of things, and putting his imagination in the place of his reason, takes that for dangerous, or dreadful, which is really neither; and is scared from the pursuit of his duty, his interest, or his happiness, by that which hath no being, or that which could no way obstruct his pursuit, or even that which might assist him therein. We call him a coward, because we expected more resolution from him; and we expected more resolution, because we think he ought to have had more sense. But we certainly censure him unjustly, if we charge him with more fear than ignorance, or with more ignorance than his opportunities of knowledge put it in his power to avoid.
And who is the brave man? It is not he who is altogether fearless, for there is no such man; but he who knows what ought to be feared, and fears that alone; whose under
standing is led by the real reasons of things, and followed by a heart steadily resolved to execute whatever his judgment shall recommend. This man knows those things to be safe and good, which others take to be dangerous or evil; that is, he knows them to be highly good in the end, although somewhat painful in the pursuit; and, having weighed the one against the other, while his judgment aims at the good, his heart despises and tramples on the pain.
How then? does courage resolve itself into wisdom, and cowardice into ignorance? They so far actually do, that if you totally take away his ignorance from the coward, he can no longer fear; and if you as totally strip the brave man of his wisdom, you reduce him to a madman, who encounters pain and trouble, which he feels, for a good, which he knows not either how to rate, or arrive at. Since both the hero and the coward have the passion of fear, how can you otherwise, than on the principles laid down, give them such opposite appellations ? The truth is, that in this as well as other matters, we are too apt to assign wrong causes, and give improper names, to things. Can a genuine coward be a wise man? Or can a hero be a fool? No; but wisdom, says the world, is one thing, and courage another; and between ignorance and cowardice there is the same difference. A man often knows what is best for him to do ; but fears to do it, on the account of the pain or danger that may attend it. But I should be glad to know, whether he ever declines the action, unless when the pain and danger are higher in his imagination, than the good he hopes for in the action. If they really are, and ought not to be, he is, in that respect, far from being a wise man; and it is still his ignorance that denominates him a coward. If wisdom and courage are not the same thing, it is certain, however, that'wisdom is absolutely necessary to true courage, and cannot be separated from it even in thought. But the vulgar mistake in this matter proceeds from that share which the constitution and spirits are apprehended to have in our fears and resolutions. Now, granting this to be as great as you please ; yet when high spirits prompt to resolution, is not that resolution rashness, if wisdom does not countenance it? And when low spirits forbid our attempts, is our backwardness to be called
cowardice, if right reason forbids as well as they? All that can be said on the subject may be summed up in this, that our passions prompt us to some actions, and deter us from others; but our obedience, in either case, is neither to be called virtue nor vice, till right reason approves or prohibits. Resolation therefore is not a virtue, is not courage, till reason vouches for it; nor is fear a vice, if avoidable ignorance is not at the bottom of it,
From this explanation of fear it follows, that nothing can concern us more than to know what we ought, and what we ought not, to fear; because none of our passions hath a greater share either in our conduct or happiness. Whatsoever motives we may have from other passions, or from our affections, for what we do, fear always interferes, and puts us sensibly in mind of the evils to be dreaded, in case we do
Here she seconds the other springs of action, although but indirectly; whereas, when she forbids us to act, or prevails on us to deliberate, she either takes the lead of all the rest, or directly opposes them. Hence it appears, that in all parts of our conduct this passion is deeply concerned; which ought to convince us, that an infinite deal depends on the right or wrong application of it.
It is true, that fear is that one of all our passions, which gives us pain alone. Anger hath its revenge, love its enjoyment, hope its probability; and even envy makes a feast on the miseries of others : but fear only bodes, forbids, alarms. Yet we can no more rid ourselves of it, than we can make ourselves over again, or bestow a new nature on our being. Nor ought we indeed to wish it, because infinitely greater evils must follow from the want of it. All we have to do, in order to make it highly instrumental to our happiness, in order to make us fear, without being cowards and fools, is, to look out for its proper object, and, if possible, for an object which alone ought to be feared, that our apprehensions may be no longer abused, or dissipated. Here the true religion comes in, and points out this object to us. But it is no sooner known to be God, than our libertine prepossessions are apt to object, that God, of all beings, is least to be feared ; because he is infinitely good. Now, I say,
, qiat even as such, he is infinitely more to be feared by us than all other beings, and for this strong reason, because
we are not good. Can the Almighty Being be good, without being just? or just, without being feared by creatures so corrupt and frail ? Does he not govern the world he made, and will he not judge that world in righteousness? Can sin be bid from such a Governor? Or can it escape unpunished from such a Judge? We, who are so prone by nature and habit to sin ; we, who are assaulted by so many temptations from without, and betrayed by so great weakness from within, ought surely to fear him, who knows all things, and who can forget nothing ; who is of so great power, that he doth what he will, both in heaven and earth ;' who is of such inconceivable majesty, that 'the earth and the heaven fiy away from before his face;' who makes justice and judge ment the habitation of his seat;' who will render to every man according to his deeds, to them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, and honour, and immortality, eternal life; but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indig. nation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doth evil; but glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good.' Nay, even the mercy of God is a reason for our fears; for the Psalmist says, “ There is mercy with thee: therefore shalt thou be feared.'
What now was fear made for, if not for this object, in all respects so infinitely awful ? too wise to be deceived ! too just to be biassed! too mighty to be resisted ! too great, too glorious, too majestic, to be thought of by angels without infinite reverence, or by men, guilty men, without terror and trembling!
In respect to all other objects of fear, we may observe, that the more we know them, the less we fear them. The first attempts, in thinking minds, are always attended with fear. The first speech before a great assembly, the first storm at sea, or the first battle, shake those minds which gather confidence, and contract a contempt for their former terrors, front a farther familiarity with such trials. This shews experimentally how ignorance and rawness are concerned in our fears. The fear of every thing, but God, waits on ignorance, and frightens us in the dark, like phantoms, that shun the approach of light. But in respect to God, it is quite otherwise, the more we know of his boliness, and our own vileness, the more reason we find to fear him, inasmuch as we cannot possibly judge what resolutions he may have formed as to the eternal state of our souls. Some men complain of obscurity in his word; but without reason; for we may easily see therein, what are the terms on which pardon and mercy are offered. But we cannot so easily understand ourselves, or find out whether we are comprehended in those terms; whether we have that faith, that repentance, that charity, which are necessary to entitle us to the promises, and exempt us from the threatenings, that are annexed to our covenant. Hence must unavoidably arise such deep and keen apprehensions, as nothing but a total reformation of manners, that only sign of peace with God, can ever banish.
As reason should direct all the passions to their proper objects, so it should place our fear, in particular, on that Being, who only hath it in his power to make us happy or miserable. From him all our pleasures and pains, all our joys and sorrows, proceed; and therefore on him should we turn all our fears, disdaining to humble them to inferior causes, that can affect us no farther than they are permitted or directed by the first-moving Cause of all things, the absolute Disposer of all events. Here we should listen to the advice of our blessed Saviour, who thus accosts us by the name of friends ; 'Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom you shall fear: fear him who, after he hath killed, hath power to cast into hell. Yea, I say unto you, fear him.'
It is God then whom we should, not principally, but only, fear. It is gross ignorance, it is superstition, nay, it is a degree of Atheism, to fear any thing else; for whoever hath embraced the true religion, ought to know, that all things else are his instruments, not even excepting the wicked, who, although they act by a will contrary to his, are nevertheless overruled, and forced into his service, in their most rebellious actions; so that be the power they are for a time permitted to exercise what it will, God shall in the end be found to have been the master, and they the servants, though servants whose' wages is death.'
The wisdom and happiness of fearing God will appear as evident as the fore mentioned motives that excite it, if we