Abbildungen der Seite


It has long been received as a maxim amongst those who have studied politics, in connection with the philosophy of human nature, that the surest and shortest way of making men good subjects and good citizens, is to make them happy subjects and happy citizens, When we say that a man is happy as a subject, or as a citizen, or as a member of any society, we feel that we are just saying, in other words, that he is attached to the government, or state, or society under, or in which he lives; and that he is, of course, disposed to fulfil the duties connected with these relations. It is a maxim founded on the instincts of man; and however it may be neglected in practice, it has too much obvious truth in it, to be often controverted in the abstract. Some speculative philanthropists have given this maxim a more splendid and imposing form. They say,

66 Surround a man with circumstances, and you make of him what you please; command his circumstances, and you command his character.” This proposition has not met with so favourable a reception as the other, although it is probably intended to convey precisely. the same idea, namely, that a man's character de

Men may

pends on, or is moulded by events and facts external to himself. Indeed, it is impossible to make a man happy in any relation, without commanding his circumstances in some degree,--and so those, who admit the first proposition, are bound in reason to admit the second. Perhaps the equivocal use of the word circumstances may

have occasioned some part of the coldness with which it has been received. But, certainly, the chief part is to be ascribed to the unmasked openness with which it comes forward. It assumes a postulate which can never be granted, namely, that it is in the power of man to command circumstances to an indefinite .extent. flatter themselves that they can make each other happy, in general, but when they are brought to particulars, they know and acknowledge that their power is very limited, that they cannot avert pain, or death, or remorse. We are in the habit of calling a man's visible relations, and especially his fortune, health, and family. circle, exclusively his circumstances and as we have many proofs that these circumstances, in their most prosperous state, cannot ensure happiness, we think ourselves entitled to deny it of all circumstances.

But every thing which comes in contact with a man's feeling or thought; every thing which occasions joy or sorrow, hope or fear, love or hate, may come properly under the denomination of circumstances. In truth, every feeling arises from some circumstance or cause in contact with us, and yet external to us--and we know neither happiness nor misery except from circumstances. It is no exaggeration then to say, that

[ocr errors]

if we could command the circumstances of a man we could also command his happiness and his character. But of whom can it be said, without exaggeration, that he really can command the circumstances of any sensitive, and intelligent, and immortal being? The relations of human existence are numerous, and to each of these relations belong its peculiar circumstances. Men are fathers, brothers, husbands, sons, friends, masters, servants, rulers and subjects. They are connected by blood, by business, and by mutual interest—and there are many supposable circumstances in these relations, capable of producing much joy or much sorrow, Who can command these circumstances? Moreover, men are creatures accountable to their Creator. This is the grand and permanent relation. All other relations cease with our life, and even with the lives of others. ceases to be a father, when he dies himself, or when all his children are dead,-he ceases to be a husband, when his wife is dead, but he cannot cease to be a creature whilst his existence continues in


mode or form whatever. Who can command the circumstances of this relation? Who is it that can surround the spirit of a man with the light of the divine countenance? and make this light an abiding and a continual circumstance, accompanying him through life, and bringing into near and distinct vision, the undisturbed, unfading, and increasing glories of eternity? Who is he that can remove from a mind convinced of its rebellion against God, and of the justice and awfulness of his displeasurewho can remove from such a mind, the fearful look.

A man

And our

ing for of judgment? Besides, this great relation is not only permanent, it is also the root, and the regulator of all the rest. Who placed us in these various passing relations? Our Creator. relation to him it is, which binds us to fulfil the duties of these relations faithfully.

Of these inferior relations, some are more important to our happiness than others. Thus, a man's peace is not so much destroyed by having a worthless servant, or by meeting with a reverse of fortune, as by having a wicked son, or a false friend. Whilst the circumstances belonging to the more important relations of life continue favourable, adverse ones in the less important, can be easily supported. But one unfavourable circumstance in the closer and nearer relations, will often cast its own dark shadow over a uniform prosperity in all the lower relations. We find that this is the case in the temporary relations of this world, and it is so also in the first and highest relation. A man can generally escape from what is painful in this world's relations. leave. his country, and whatever it contains, if he does not like it; or if he cannot do this, he knows that a few years must free him from oppressive rule, from bad health, from unkind friends, and from all other evils peculiar to this life. The thought of a near deliverance is a powerful mitigator of affliction. There are many hours too, in which he may withdraw himself from his circumstances of sorrow, and then he

have some repose.

But if the circumstances of his chief relation, his state before God, .be favourable; then, even in the midst of the

He can

most overwhelming of this world's calamities, he is an enviable man; there may be, and will be, in spite of occasional eclipses, a deep substantial peace within him, the reflected image of the Sun of Righteousness, he does not look on passing events, as the channels of joy or sorrow, but as the indications of his gracious Father's will, calling him to the exercise of faith and love, those holy principles, in the perfection of which, consists the perfection of happiness—he hath a refuge which the world sees not, and into it he fleeth and is safe—he can even rejoice in tribulations, whilst he thinks of “ the man of sorrows,” and of the exceeding and eternal weight of glory which is wrought out by these light afflictions which are but for a moment-he looks forward to the glorious morning of the eternal sabbath, and he feels that he is free and happy for ever.

But if the circumstances of this highest relation be wrong, all is wrong. They may be wrong, and often are, without being felt to be so.

There are many who have not set down their relation to God in the list of their relations, who have never regarded his favour or displeasure, as circumstances of their condition, and who have never looked into eternity as their own vast, untried dwelling-place, destined to be either their heaven or their hell. And yet this is the chief relation, and these are the chief circumstances of their being. The very root of the moral existence of such persons is dead. Their circumstances are, in truth, most deplorable, and their insensibility to pain from them, arises from palsy, not from health. But in some, just so much

« ZurückWeiter »