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JOSEPH IN POTIPHAR'S HOUSE.
“Let high birth triumph! what can be more great ?
“Oh, that clear honour
The dignity of religious principle never appears to greater advantage than when its possessor is placed in circumstances of obscurity and meanness. It is an easy matter to be contented in the midst of affluence; but to be resigned and cheerful when wonted comforts are withdrawn, is an exercise of soul which cannot, without great self-discipline, be performed. Nothing more easy than to be honest, when the means of rendering to all their dues are plentifully in one's hands ; but to maintain the same high sense of moral obligation when temptations abound on the right hand and the left is an effort of virtue as heroic as it is severe. Adversity, is indeed, the surest test of character; and we doubt not that, in the great day when all actions shall be weighed in an even balance, not a few of the fair deeds, that have been applauded by the world in whose face they were performed, shall be pronounced much inferior in point of moral value to the humble and every-day virtues of domestic life. A great prince, who has ample means of charity at his disposal, may scatter many blessings over the land in which he bears rule-may even carry with him into the cottages of the poor the comforts which they stand in need of—and, what with the sums which he expends in providing for the safety of widows, and the instruction of orphans, may be lauded as the most liberal benefactor of his race. But, after all, he may have denied himself almost nothing in accomplishing those works of beneficence, and the moral worth of his charity may be far less than that of an obscure man whose name is not heard of beyond the neighbourhood in which he dwells. Only conceive that the latter has divided his own morsel of bread with another more indigent than himself-that, to benefit a neighbour whom he knew to be in want, he refrained from taking the use of that which, with the sweat of his own brow, he had lawfully acquired—and that, out of his own scanty earnings, he dedicated a portion which with difficulty he could spare to the relief of those who were ready to perish; -and then say, whether such an one be not indeed more largely liberal than the mighty monarch who gives indeed, but who gives out of an abundance which he can well spare, and with an ease that costs him nothing. The one does well in that he gives so much ; the other does yet better, in that he gives at all.
The handful of meal which the one parts with, is, morally speaking, worth all the thousands of gold and silver which the other bestows. It costs him more, and in Heaven's estimation, it is more. Thus it is likewise in regard to every other virtue. By how much the more difficult is its exercise, by so much the
more amiable is its lustre. The meaner the estate in which excellence is cultivated, the more dignified and venerable the agent. The flower may indeed “blush unseen,” but the sweetness of its fragrance finds its way to heaven, and, when the time for transplanting comes, it will bloom with immortal beauty in the paradise above. It has been beautifully remarked by Dr Paley, that a conscientious slave who performs his duty conscientiously, is a person of extraordinary virtue, and that, however gentle the master of such a slave may be, he is yet in point of real virtue inferior to the slave. For, the condition of the one being much more hard than the other's, the relative duty is, if we may so speak, more expensive and precious.
And thus, too, it was with Joseph, a servant in Egypt. There existed many temptations to seduce him from the path of integrity. The love of liberty is natural to all; and Joseph, without doubt, if he had so pleased, might have discovered opportunities enough of effecting his emancipation. With the gold of Potiphar at his command, he might have so enriched himself as to render this at least a possible occurrence. Already he had been sold for twenty pieces of silver ; and very soon, by dishonest peculation, he might have doubled that sum. Every article in the house was at his command; and, placed as he was at the head of the establishment, it would have been easy for him to persuade the inferior servants to assist him in his designs. There were those, no doubt (as there are in every great man's house), who would have greedily closed with the terms, and, at the prospect of enriching themselves a little, would have helped him to escape. But Joseph had carried with him into Egypt the principles of virtue and religion. It was enough for him that Providence had ordered his lot there, and that to the situation which he held sacred duties were attached. No matter that, by an imperceptible series of purloinings, he might be able to collect enough to effect his liberation. It sufficed that a sacred trust had been put into his hands, and that he might not, with a good conscience, violate it. No matter that even suspicion might be silent in regard to him, and that a thought of his dishonesty might not enter into the imagination of his employer. Enough for him that the eyes of the Lord were in every place, beholding the evil and the good. And what although there might be many to countenance his schemes of spoliation, when a day was ordained of God on which they would all stand speechless together before the witness of secret things ? Joseph, therefore, maintained his integrity, and would not let it go. Not even to regain the liberty which is dear to every soul would he defraud his master of the smallest sum. Rather would he continue in servitude until death, than escape from it by the slightest transgression of equity and truth.
1. We are hence taught the advantages resulting from a religious education.-Had Joseph gone down into that strange land, unacquainted with the great principles of moral obligation, he would have fallen an easy prey to the great adversary of souls. The scenes that surrounded him were widely different from those to which in other days he had been accustomed. Hitherto he had spent his life in comparative seclusion, and known little or nothing of the busy world. Now, he was placed, so to say, in the very heart of it; and many temptations there must have been to draw his mind aside from God. The idolatrous usages of the place the buzz and bustle connected with a great man's house, and the new companions with whom he had to mingle-must of necessity have operated unfavourably upon any young person whose principles had not previously been formed. He was now away from parental control, and could not be called to account by his venerable father for any of the excesses into which he might go. But the lessons of his younger days were not forgotten ; and he remained faithful to the Lord's covenant. From the presence of the Almighty he knew well that he could no where flee that in Egypt as well as in Canaan the eye of omniscience rested on him_and that, although even a confederacy of sinners should entice him, he might not with impunity consent.
Let the young man, who has been brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, derive to himself instruction from the example. When called in the course of Providence to leave the paternal dwelling, carry with you into the house of the stranger the principles which from your earliest remembrance you have been taught to hold sacred; forget not your obligations to fear and honour your father's God. Cast not aside the restraints of religion because you are about to be freed from the control of parental discipline; cherish with pious care the serious dispositions which the counsels and prayers of affectionate parents were the means of producing on your hearts ; avoid the snares against which they cautioned you ; treasure up in your memories the maxims they delivered ; and retain a grateful sense of the interest