A little, with the blessing of God upon it, is better than a great deal, with the encumbrance of His curse; His blessing can multiply a mite into a talent, but His curse will shrink a talent into a mite; by Him the arms of the wicked are broken, and by Him the righteous are upholden: so that the great question is, whether He be with or against us, and the great misfortune is, that this question is seldom asked. The favour of God is to them that obtain it a better and enduring substance, which, like the widows barrel of oil, wasted not in the evil days of famine, nor will fail.
When men cease to be faithful to their God, he who expects to find them so to each other will be much disappointed. The primitive sincerity will accompany the primitive piety in her flight from the earth, and then interest will succeed conscience in the regulation of human conduct, till one man cannot trust another further than he holds him by that tie: hence, by the way, it is, that although many are infidels themselves, yet few choose to have their families and dependents such; as judgingand rightly judgingthat true Christians are the only persons to be depended on for the exact discharge of their social duties.
Man was formed with an understanding for the obtainment of knowledge; and happy is he who is employed in the pursuit of it. Ignorance is in its nature unprofitable; but every kind of knowledge may be turned to use. Diligence is generally rewarded with the discovery of that which it seeks after; sometimes of that which is more valuable.
Human learning, with the blessing of God upon it, introduces us to divine wisdom; and while we study the works of nature the God of nature will manifest himself to us; since, to a well-tutored mind, The heavens, without a miracle, declare his glory, and the firmament showeth his handy-work.
Patience is the guardian of faith, the preserver of peace, the cherisher of love, the teacher of humility. Patience governs the flesh, strengthens the spirit, stifles anger, extinguishes envy, subdues pride; she bridles the tongue, refrains the hand, tramples upon temptations, endures persecutions, consummates martyrdom. Patience produces unity in the church, loyalty in the state, harmony in families and societies; she comforts the poor and moderates the rich; she makes us humble in prosperity, cheerful in adversity, unmoved by calumny and reproach; she teaches us to forgive those who have injured us, and to be the first in asking forgiveness of those whom we have injured; she delights the faithful, and invites the unbelieving; she adorns the woman, and improves the man; is loved in a child, praised in a young man, admired in an old man; she is beautiful in either sex and every age.
That conversation may answer the ends for which it was designed, the parties who are to join in it must come together with a determined resolution to please and to be pleased. If a man feels that an east wind has rendered him dull and sulky, he should by all means stay at home till the wind changes, and not be troublesome to his friends: for dulness is infectious, and one sour face will make many, as one cheerful countenance is productive of others. If two gentlemen desire to quarrel, it should not be done in a company met to enjoy the pleasures of conversation.
Avoid stories, unless short, pointed, and quite apropos. He who deals in them, says Swift, must either have a very large stock, or a good memory, or must often change his company. Some have a set of them hung together like onions: they take possession of the conversation by an early introduction of one; and then you must have the whole rope, and there is an end of everything else, perhaps, for that meeting, though you may have heard all twenty times before.
Among the grievances of modern days, much complained of, but with little hope of redress, is the matter of receiving and paying visits, the number of which, it is generally agreed, has been increasing, is increased, and ought to be diminished. Nor is this complaint by any means peculiar to the times in which we have the honour to live. Cowley was out of all patience on the subject above a hundred years ago. If we engage, says he, in a large acquaintance, and various familiarities, we set open our gates to the invaders of most of our time; we expose our life to a quotidian ague of frigid impertinencies, which would make a wise man tremble to think of.
But as Cowley was apt to be a little out of humour between whiles, let us hear the honourable, pious, and sweet-tempered Mr. Boyle, who, among the troubles of life, enumerates as one the business of receiving senseless visits, whose continuance, if otherwise unavoidable, is capable, in my opinion, to justify the retiredness of a hermit.