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save one little ewe-lamb, which he had bought "and nourished up-and it grew up together with "him and with his children-it did eat of his 66 own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay "in his bosom, and was unto him as a daugh"ter-and there came a traveller unto the rich 66 man, and he spared to take of his own flock "and of his own herd to dress for the way-faring 66 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, so truly affectingand 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 circumstances 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 shall restore the "lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and "because he 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 re
store fourfold besides, was highly unequitable,and not only disproportioned to the offence, but far above the utmost rigor and severity of the law, which allowed a much softer atonement, requiring, in such a case, no more than an ample restitution and recompence in kind. The judgment, however seems to have been truly sincere, and well-meant; and bespoke 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, which happens every day among ourselves, namely that a man may be guilty of very bad and dishonest actions, and yet reflect so little, or so partially, upon what he has done, as to keep his conscience free, not only from guilt, but even the remotest suspicions that he is the man which in truth he is, and what the tenor and evidence of his life demonstrate. If we look into the world -David's is no uncommon case ;-we see some one or other perpetually copying this bad original, -sitting in judgment upon himself,-hearing his own cause, and not knowing what he is doing ; hasty in passing sentence, and even executing it too, with wrath, upon the person of another, when, in the language of the prophet, one might say to him, with justice, "Thou art the man."
Of the many revengeful, covetous, false, and ill-natured persons which we complain of in the world, tho' we all join in the cry against themwhat man amongst us singles out himself as a criminal, or ever once takes it into his head that he adds to the number?-or, where is there a man so bad, who would not think it the hardest and most unfair imputation, to have any of those particular vices laid to his charge?
If he has the symptoms never so strong upon him, which he would pronounce infallible in another, they are indications of no such malady in himself He sees, what no one else sees, some se cret and flattering circumstances in his favor, which, no doubt, make a wide difference betwixt his case and the party's which he condemns.
What other man speaks so often and vehemently against the vice of pride, sets the weakness of it in a more odious light, or is more hurt with it in another, than the proud man himself? It is the same with the passionate, the designing, the ambitious, and some other common characters in life; and being a consequence of the nature of such vices, and almost inseparable from them, the effects of it are generally so gross and absurd, that, where pity does not forbid, it is pleasant to observe and trace the cheat through the several turnings and windings of the heart, and detect it thro' all the shapes and appearances which it puts on.
Next to these instances of self-deceit, and utter ignorance of our true disposition and character, which appear in not seeing that in ourselves which shocks us in another man; there is another species still more dangerous and delusive, and which the more guarded perpetually fall into, from the judgments they make of different vices, according to their age and complexion, and the various ebbs and flows of their passions and desires.
To conceive this, let any man look into his own heart, and observe in how different a degree of detestation numbers of actions stand there, though equally bad and vicious in themselves: He will soon find, that such of them as strong inclination or custom has prompted him to commit, are ge nerally dressed out and painted with all the false beauties which a soft and flattering hand can give them; and that the others, to which he feels no propensity, appear at once, naked and deformed,
surrounded with all the true circumstances of their folly and dishonor.
When David surprized Saul sleeping in the cave, and cut off the skirt of his robe, we read, his heart smote him for what he had done.Strange, it smote him not in this matter of Uriah, where it had so much stronger reason to take the alarm !— A whole year had almost passed, from the first commission of this injustice, to the time the prophet was sent to reprove him ;-and we read not once of any remorse or compunction of heart for what he had done; and it is not to be doubted, had the same prophet met him when he was returning up out of the cave,-and told him, that, scrupulous and conscientious as he then seemed, and thought himself to be, that he was deceiving himself, and was capable of committing the foulest and most dishonorable actions;-that he should one day murder a faithful and a valiant servant, whom he ought in justice, to have loved and honored ;- that he should, without pity, first wound him in the tenderest part, by taking away his dearest possession-and then unmercifully and treacherously rob him of his life.-Had Nathan, in a prophetic spirit, foretold to David, that he was capable of this, and that he should one day actually do it, and from no other motive but the momentary gratification of a base and unworthy passion, he would have received the prediction with horror, and said, possibly, with Hazael, upon just such another occasion, and with the same ignorance of himself,-What! is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing? And yet, in all likelihood, at that very time, there wanted nothing but the same degree of temptation, and the same opportunity, to induce him to the sin, which af terwards overcame him.
Thus the case stands with us still. When the passions are warmed, and the sin which presents
itself exactly tallies to the desire, observe how impetuously a man will rush into it, and act against all principles of honor, justice, and mercy.-Talk to him the moment after upon the nature of another vice to which he is not addicted, and from which, perhaps, his age, his temper, or rank in life, secure him; take notice how well he reasons -with what equity he determines-what an honest indignation and sharpness he expresses against it, and how insensibly his anger kindles against the man who has done this thing.
Thus are we nice in grains and scruples,-but knaves in matters of a pound weight;-every day straining at knats, yet swallowing camels ;-miserably cheating ourselves, and torturing our reason, to bring us in such a report of the sin, as suits the present appetite and inclination.
Most of us are aware of, and pretend to detest, the bare-faced instances of that hypocrisy by which we deceive others; but few of us are upon our guard to see that more fatal hypocrisy by which we deceive & over-reach our own hearts. It is a flattering and dangerous distemper, which has undone thousands ;-we bring the seeds of it along with us into the world-they insensibly grow up with us from our childhood, they lie long concealed and undisturbed, and have generally got such deep root in our natures, by the time we are come to years of understanding and reflection that it requires all we have got to defend ourselves from their effects.
To make the case still worse on our sides, it is with this,as with every grievous distemper of the body, the remedies are dangerous and doubtful in proportion to our mistakes and ignorance of the cause: For, in the instances of self deceit, tho' the head is sick, and the whole heart faint, the patient seldom knows what he ails :-Of all the things we know and learn, this necessary knowledge comes to us the last.