S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
Bishop Joseph Hall
Even the best things, ill used, become evils, and contrarily, the worst things, used well, prove good. A good tongue used to deceit; a good wit used to defend error; a strong arm to murder; authority to oppress; a good profession to dissemble; are all evil. Even Gods own word is the sword of the Spirit, which, if it kill not our vices, kills our souls. Contrariwise (as poisons are used to wholesome medicine), afflictions and sins, by a good use, prove so gainful as nothing more. Words are as they are taken, and things are as they are used. There are even cursed blessings.
Now you say, alas! Christianity is hard: I grant it; but gainful and happy. I contemn the difficulty when I respect the advantage. The greatest labours that have answerable requitals are less than the least that have no reward. Believe me, when I look to the reward I would not have the work easier. It is a good Master whom we serve, who not only pays, but gives; not only after the proportion of our earnings, but of His own mercy.
Rich people who are covetous are like the cypress-tree: they may appear well, but are fruitless; so rich persons have the means to be generous, yet some are not so: but they should consider that they are only trustees for what they possess, and should show their wealth to be more in doing good than merely in having it. They should not reserve their benevolence for purposes after they are dead: for those who give not till they die, show that they would not then, if they could keep it any longer.
It is no small commendation to manage a little well. He is a good wagoner that can turn in a little room. To live well in abundance is the praise of the estate, not of the person. I will study more how to give a good account of my little, than how to make it more.
We are often infinitely mistaken, and take the falsest measures, when we envy the happiness of rich and great men; we know not the inward canker that eats out all their joy and delight, and makes them really much more miserable than ourselves.
Whence is this delicate scent in the rose and the violet? It is not from the root,that smells of nothing; not from the stalk,that is as scentless as the root; not from the earth whence it grows, which contributes no more to these flowers than to the grass that grows by them; not from the leaf, not from the bud, before it be disclosed, which yields no more fragrance than the leaf, or stalk, or root; yet here I now find it: neither is there any miraculous way but in an ordinary course of nature, for all violets and roses of this kind yield the same redolence: it cannot be but that it was potentially in that root and stem from which the flowers proceed; and there placed and thence drawn by that Almighty Power which hath given those admirable virtues to several plants, and induces them, in His due season, to those excellent perfections.
There is no creature in the world wherein we may not see enough to wonder at: for there is no worm of the earth, no spire of grass, no leaf, no twig, wherein we see not the footsteps of a Deity: the best visible creature is man; now, what man is he that can make but an hair, or a straw, much less any sensitive creature? so as no less than an infinite power is seen in every object that presents itself to our eyes, if therefore we look only on the outside of these bodily substances, and we do not see God in everything, we are no better than brutish; make use merely of our sense, without the least improvement of our faith or our reason. Contrary, then, to the opinion of those men who hold that a wise man should admire nothing, I say that a truly wise and good man should admire everything, or rather that infiniteness of wisdom and omnipotence which shows itself in every visible object.
Infidelity and Faith look both through the same perspective glass, but at contrary ends. Infidelity looks through the wrong end of the glass; and, therefore, sees those objects near which are afar off, and makes great things little,diminishing the greatest spiritual blessings, and removing far from us threatened evils. Faith looks at the right end, and brings the blessings that are far off in time close to our eye, and multiplies Gods mercies, which in the distance lost their greatness.
The lives of most men are misspent for want of a certain end of their actions; wherein they do, as unwise archers, shoot away their arrows they know not at what mark. They live only out of the present, not directing themselves and their proceedings to one universal scope: whence they alter upon every change of occasions, and never reach any perfection; neither can do other but continue in uncertainty and end in discomfort. Others aim at one certain mark, but a wrong one. Some, though fewer, level at a right end, but amiss. To live without one main and common end is idleness and folly. To live at a false end is deceit and loss. True Christian wisdom both shows the end and finds the way; and as cunning politics have many plots to compass one and the same design by a determined succession, so the wise Christian, failing in the means, yet still fetcheth about to his steady end with constant change of endeavours: such an one only lives to purpose and at last repents not that he hath lived.
How sweetly doth this music sound in this dead season! In the daytime it would not, it could not, so much affect the ear. All harmonious sounds are advanced by a silent darkness: thus it is with the glad tidings of salvation: the gospel never sounds so sweet as in the night of preservation, or of our own private affliction; it is ever the same, the difference is in our disposition to receive it. O God, whose praise it is to give songs in the night, make my prosperity conscionable, and my crosses cheerful.
Recreation is intended to the mind as whetting is to the scythe, to sharpen the edge of it, which otherwise would grow dull and blunt. He, therefore, that spends his whole time in recreation is ever whetting, never mowing; his grass may grow and his steed starve: as, contrarily, he that always toils and never recreates is ever mowing, never whetting; labouring much to little purpose. As good no scythe as no edge. Then only doth the work go forward when the scythe is so reasonably and moderately whetted that it may cut, and so cut that it may have the help of sharpening.
The ear and the eye are the minds receivers; but the tongue is only busy in expending the treasure received. If, therefore, the revenues of the mind be uttered as fast, or faster, than they are received, it must needs be bare, and can never lay up for purchase. But if the receivers take it still without utterance, the mind may soon grow a burden to itself, and unprofitable to others. I will not lay up too much and utter nothing, lest I be covetous; nor spend much and store up little, less I be prodigal and poor.
Security is the bane of good success; it is no contemning of a foiled enemy: the shame of a former disgrace and miscarriage whets his valour and sharpens it to revenge: no power is so dreadful as that which is recollected from an overthrow.
What a world of thought is here packed up together! I know not whether this sight doth more dismay or comfort me. It dismays me to think that here is so much that I cannot know; it comforts me to think that this variety affords so much assistance to know what I should . What a happiness is it that, without the aid of necromancy, I can here call up any of the ancient worthies of learning, whether human or divine, and confer with them upon all my doubts; that I can at pleasure summon whole synods of reverend fathers and acute doctors from all the coasts of the earth, to give their well-studied judgments in all doubtful points which I propose. Nor can I cast my eye casually upon any of these silent masters but I must learn somewhat. It is a wantonness to complain of choice. No law binds us to read all; but the more we can take in and digest, the greater will be our improvement.
Blessed be God who hath set up so many clear lamps in his church: none but the wilfully blind can plead darkness. And blessed be the memory of those, his faithful servants, who have left their blood, their spirits, their lives, in these precious papers; and have willingly wasted themselves into these enduring monuments to give light to others.
Bishop Joseph Hall: Meditation on the Sight of a Large Library.
It is not, I suppose, a more bold than profitable labour, after the endeavours of so many contemplative men to teach the art of meditation: an heavenly business as any belongeth either to man or Christian, and such as whereby the soul doth unspeakably benefit itself.