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of one's self, though so interesting, is not an easy acquisition; and to pass a strictly unbiassed judgment on our own character, is an act of impartiality, of which the records of the human mind never have furnished, and, probably, never will furnish an example.
The duty of self-knowledge is one of those few, which the heathens estimated according to its importance. To the precept, know thyself, they ascribed, with no great propriety, a heavenly origin; for there
ne, whose utility unassisted reason sooner discovers. The passages, also, in scripture, which urge this personal virtue, are numerous, pointed, weighty, We are taught its value, sometimes by direct injunction, sometimes by interesting narrative; we gather it, in one place, from the prayers of the pious ; in another, from their expressions of regret; and in another, from the examples of their presumptuous confidence. When we read the parable of the ewe lamb, by which the holy prophet taught the monarch of Israel the enormity of his guilt, who marks not the wretched blindness of the royal scholar, who suspected not his own character, till the fearless Nathan exclaimed, Thou art the man? Hear, too, the aspiring Hazael, when the prophet warned him of his guilty usurpation : Is thy servant a dog, says he, that he should do this? Who weeps not, too, when he finds the ardent, but too confident, Peter, declaring, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee? Yes, Peter, you will deny him once, twice, thrice, even within the reach of that eye, which, while it tells you, that you are forgiven, teaches you more of yourself; than you ever yet have known.
If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. Let us consider the difficulty, the advantages, and the means of forming a correct estimate of ourselves. The portions of our character, which it most concerns us to understand aright, are, the ex
tent of our powers, and the motives of our conduct. But, on these subjects, every thing conspires to de
No man, in the first place, can come to the examination of himself with perfect impartiality. His wishes are all necessarily engaged on his own side; and though he may place the weights in the balance with perfect fairness and accuracy, he places them in scales unequally adjusted. He is, at oncé, the criminal, the accuser, the advocate, the witness, and the judge.
Another difficulty, which prevents our passing a correct judgment on our own characters, is, that we can always find excuses for ourselves, which no other person can suspect. The idea of possessing an excuse, which it would be improper to communicate to others, is consolatory beyond expression. Frivolous as the apology may be, it appears satisfactory, because, while no one knows its existence, tio one can dispute its value. From repeated failures in any undertaking few men learn their own incapacity; because success depends upon such a concurrence of circumstances, minute as they are numerous, that it is much easier to lament the blameless omission of something, which would have ensured success, than to look full in the face our own deficiencies. It is the same with the opinions we form of our moral worth. The motives, which co-operate in producing almost every action, are so various and almost imperceptible, that, in contemplating our conduct, we can select those that are honourable, and assign them that influence afterwards, which they ought to have had before. By frequently defending, also, the purity of our motives, we learn, at last, to believe, that they are precisely what they ought to be ; and mistake the eloquence of self-apology for the animation of conscious integrity.
Another, and very essential cause, of our ignorance of ourselves, is, that few men venture to inform us of
our real character. We are flattered, even from our cradles. The caresses of parents, and the blandishments of friends, transmute us into idols. A man must buffet long with the world, ere he learns to estimate himself, according to his real importance in society. He is obliged to unlearn much of what he has been told by those, who, in flattering him, have long been used to flatter themselves. And when, at last, he learns to compare himself with others, to correct his false estimates, and to acquiesce in the rank, which society assigns him, he is assisted, not by the kind admonitions of friends, not by the instructions of those, who take an affectionate interest in his character; but he must gather it from the cold indifference of some, from the contempt and scorn of others; he must be taught it by the bitterness of disappointment, and the rudeness of superiority, or the smiles of exulting malice.
This leads us to the last difficulty, which we shall mention, as preventing our forming a correct estimate of our own characters. We fondly imagine, that no one can know us as well as we know ourselves; and that every man is interested to depreciate, even when he knows, the worth of another. Hence, when reproved, we cannot admit, that we have acted amiss. It is much more easy to conclude, that we have been misrepresented by envy, or misunderstood by prejudice, than to believe in our ignorance, incapacity, or guilt. Nothing, also, more directly tends to swell into extravagance a man's opinion of his moral or intellectual worth, than to find, that his innocence has, in any instance, been falsely accused, or his powers inadequately estimated. In short, unless a person has been long accustomed to compare himself with others, to scrutinize the motives of his conduct, to meditate on the occurrences of his life, to listen to, nay, even to court the admonitions of the wise and good, and to hearken to the language of calumny itself, he may pass through life intimate with every heart, but that which beats in his own bosom, a stranger in no mansion so much as his own breast.
Notwithstanding the difficulties, which oppose themselves to the forming of an impartial judgment of ourselves, a good degree of self-knowledge, however, is not unattainable. When we shall have considered, secondly, its advantages, perhaps we shall be encouraged to enter with vigour on this new course of study. You may, at first, find the investigation difficult. You will, no doubt, make many unpleasant discoveries. Entering on a region, which you have never explored, a full prospect of your heart, if it could be presented at one view, must surprise and appal you. But proceeding, step by step, in the survey, though you will find, at first, many dark and narrow defiles, many hidden and dangerous pit-falls, many spectacles of unexpected deformity, yet, if you regularly, carefully, and perseveringly pursue the investigation of yourself, the prospect will, at last, brighten, the region will become more open and level, and your progress, at last, smooth, easy, and delightful. To encourage you, then, in this inspection of yourselves, we observe,
1. That an intimate knowledge of ourselves is absolutely necessary to the security and improvement of our virtue and holiness. It is true, that a good man may be ignorant of his own comparative worth ; but no good man is ignorant of his own absolute defects. He, who is unacquainted with those portions of his character, in which reformation is most needed, will never make any progress in virtue, for empty wishes and indefinite desires of improvement alone cannot make us better. To be stationary in religion, morals, knowledge or capacity is impossible ; and the character, which does not improve, will infallibly degenerate. If, then, you would secure the conquests, which, with the blessing of God,
you may have already attained over the enemies of your virtue, you must endeavour to place a guard at every gate, a sentinel in every watch-tower; you must visit all the weak places of your hearts, mark them, and place there a stronger force ; you must be aware of every stratagem, and watcbful of every bymptom of defection, or remissness.
2. The knowledge of ourselves would preserve us from much of the calumny, the censure, and the contempt of others. If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. When we look round upon the judgments of men, we shall find, that most of the severity, ridicule, and reproach of the world is bestowed upon what are called follies, rather than upon vices. We laugh at vanity, oftener than we censure pride. We condemn mistakes with asperity, where we pass over sins with gentleness. Conceited ignorance, ostentatious parade, blind zeal, and glaring absurdity are treated by the world at large with greater severity, than open profligacy, sensuality, and crime. Against the contempt, which pursues such qualities, self-knowledge will effectually guard us. He, who thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, deceiveth himself, says the apostle; he doceives not others. But he, who thinks of himself soberly, even as he ought to think, will seldom be mortified by the contempt, or degraded by the derision of the public.
3. A man, who knows himself, will know more of others, than one who boasts of studying mankind by mixing with all their follies and vices. Man has often been termed a little world, a world in miniature ; and every individual is an epitome, perhaps, of the society, in which he lives. In general, we are impelled by similar passions, and occasionally engaged in similar pursuits. The same temptations assail, the same artifices deceive, the same motives impel us, though with various success, and unequal