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well taken notice of, before we had observed this ground and reason of it. For a great part of prudence lies in denying ourselves, so as to keep some way within the limits of virtue. A good man, if all about him were wise and good,, might be secure in his innocence alone. It might then be sufficient to mean well, and to pursue directly the good ends he has in view, without doing any harm in the prosecution of them. But now, on account of the weakness of some, he must not only be innocent, but he must also. obviate misconstructions and misrepresentations.
We may perceive this in an instance or two. Our Saviour directs his disciples at the eleventh verse of this chapter: "Into whatsoever city or town ye enter, inquire who is worthy, and there abide till ye go thence." This is more particularly expressed in another gospel: "In the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: go not from house to house," Luke x. 7. They had not then in the eastern countries houses of public entertainment. And it was usual for men of good dispositions, such as our Lord terms worthy, to entertain strangers. The disciples were sent two and two. They were not to make a long abode in any place, and would not be thought burdensome by any that were worthy or hospitable men. But our Lord charges them "not to go from house to house," or remove from the place they had first resorted to. This perhaps might be sometimes done very reasonably. But our Lord does now in a manner absolutely restrain his disciples from acting thus, whatever some others might do that they might not give any the least ground of suspicion, or insinuation, that they were curious about their entertainment.
It was upon this principle that the apostle Paul went yet farther, and in some places, particularly in Greece, waved his right to a subsistence from those he taught, as he observes to the Corinthians: "If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power, but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ," 1 Cor. ix. 12. Again, ver. 19. "Though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant to all, that I might gain the more." This rule he observed also at Thessalonica: "For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God," 1 Thess. ii. 9.
I have now given you a view of the nature of prudence, and the reasons of it.
III. In the next place, I am to lay down some rules and directions concerning a prudent conduct with regard to our words and actions.
This is indeed a work of some niceness and delicacy, and is most properly reserved for men of distinguished characters. There is likewise oftentimes a backwardness in men to pay any deference to directions of this kind, except they are delivered by men of large experience, and of great renown for wisdom. For this reason, as it seems, Solomon in his book of Proverbs, containing excellent rules of virtue and prudence, thought fit to introduce Wisdom herself proclaiming her kind intentions to mankind, and delivering many of those directions, that men might be the better induced to hearken to them. And when he was about to publish some remarks upon the world, and the affairs of men in it, he aggrandizes his own character, and sets it off to the best advantage; giving himself the title of "the Preacher," or Collector, Ecc. i. 1. One who had been long and carefully employed in laying up a store of just and useful observations; and who had good opportunities for that purpose, as he was "King in Jerusalem :" affirming likewise, that he had "given his heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven;" that he "had seen all the works that are done under the sun," and that his "heart had great experience in wisdom and knowledge," Ecc. i. 1—16.
As we have before us for our guidance the observations of those who have been eminent for wisdom, and whose character is well established in the world; it may be presumed, that all these high qualifications are not now requisite for a performance of this nature. And I would hope, that they, for whom the following directions are chiefly intended, are already so wise, or so well disposed at least, as to be willing to hearken to good counsel from any one who means them well. It will be my care to deliver such rules of prudence as have been approved and recommended by those who have had a knowledge of the world, and are esteemed good judges of mankind. And I shall generally support the rules laid down by reasons, which if they do not convince, the counsel itself may be the less regarded.
Rules of this sort are very numerous, and have been often given, as many are in the book of Proverbs, without connection or dependence on each other. I shall propose those I mention in the following method: First, I shall observe some general rules of prudence; and then some particular directions relating to business, civil conversation in the :
world, more intimate_friendship, and private relations; lastly, usefulness to others.
1. I shall mention some general rules of prudence. The preservation of our integrity in acting strictly according to the rules of religion and virtue will not be allowed a place among these rules. However, (as has been already shown,) it ought to be supposed. Our blessed Lord does not omit the innocence of the dove, when he recommends the wisdom of the serpent. I must therefore again desire it may be observed, that nothing I am about to say is to be understood as inconsistent with integrity; which, though not properly a rule of prudence, is oftentimes of advantage, and is both a mean of security, and adds weight and influence to a man's character. "He that walketh uprightly, walketh surely, but he that perverteth his way shall be known," Prov. x. 9. Again: "In the way of righteousness there is life, and in the pathway thereof there is no death," ch. xii. 28. Moreover; "The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day," ch. iv. 18. Though virtuous and upright men should for a while lie in obscurity, they may shine hereafter with a greater lustre. And, which is above all external considerations and advantages of this present world, virtue is of the highest importance to the inward peace of the mind, and our everlasting happiness in the world to come. Supposing then a strict regard to uprightness of heart, and innocence of behaviour;
1.) The first rule of prudence I lay down is this, that we should endeavour to know ourselves. He that knows not himself may undertake designs he is not fit for, and can never accomplish; in which he must therefore necessarily meet with disappointment. Nor can any man have comfort and satisfaction in an employment that is unsuitable to his temper.
Besides a knowledge of our own genius, temper, and inclination; it is needful, that we should be also possessed of a just idea of our outward circumstances and condition, and the relation we bear to persons about us. It is one branch of prudence for a man to behave agreeably to his own particular character. If he mistake that, he will be guilty of many improprieties. But a just discernment of our own circumstances, and of our relation to other men, will make way for an agreeable and acceptable deportment.
The knowledge of yourselves will prevent conceit on the one hand, and meanness of spirit and conduct on the other. You will readily act with that modest assurance, which be
comes your birth, estate, age, station, abilities, skill, and other advantages; without departing from your just right, or assuming more than ought to be reasonably allowed you.
2.) Endeavour to know other men. It is a point of charity to hope the best of every man, and of prudence to fear the worst. Not that these are inconsistent. It would be to misrepresent a christian virtue extremely, to suppose, that it obliged us to trust men without any knowledge of them. We are to hope and suppose of every man, that he is good and honest, till we have some proof to the contrary. This is the judgment of charity. But we are not bound to employ men, or confide in them, till we have some positive evidences of their honesty and capacity for the trust we would commit to them, or the work in which we would employ them.
Some men are unreasonably suspicious and jealous. Because they are bad themselves, or because they have had dealings with some that are so, they have formed a notion that all men are false and unfaithful. This is a wicked extreme. They who are in it are fitly punished for so disadvantageous and unjust an opinion of their fellow-creatures. Such must needs become contemptible themselves. They may be safe, but they can never make any figure in society; it being, I suppose, impossible for one man alone to carry on any important design, or do any thing considerable in any business or profession. There is therefore a necessity of mutual confidence among men.
On the other hand, some good men are apt to think, that all other men are so. This is oftentimes the sentiment likewise of the young and unexperienced. And indeed it must be some uneasiness to those who are innocent and undesigning themselves, to suspect other men, or to withhold trust and confidence from them. But however kind and favourable their apprehensions and inclinations may be, it would certainly be imprudent to trust to all appearances, and give credit to every pretence. The counsel in the text is given by our Lord to his honest, well meaning disciples, because he knew there were men in the world of bad dispositions, more than these unexperienced disciples were aware of: "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents." Solomon has an observation to this purpose: "The simple believeth every word, but the prudent looketh well to his goings," Prov. xiv. 15. The confidence placed in men ought to be proportioned to the evidences of their faithfulness and capacity. If any act otherwise, there is danger of shame and
disappointment. It must therefore be of great advantage in life to be able to form a true judgment of men.
The knowledge of men, the skill of discerning their talents and dispositions, will be of use not only in business, but also in civil conversation, in the choice of friendships and relations, in designs of usefulness, and indeed in every occasion and occurrence of life. You will thereby know, whom to trust with safety, whom to be free and open with in conversation, whose favour it is your interest to seek, on whom you can bestow your favours and services with a likely prospect of doing some good, or with hopes of grateful returns, if ever you should want them."
3.) Watch, and embrace opportunities. This is a rule which ought to be observed with regard to our words and actions. "There is a season for every thing, and every thing is beautiful in its time," Ecc. iii. 1, 11. "There is a time to speak, and a time to keep silence," says Solomon, ver. 7. Again, " A word spoken in due season, how good is it!" Prov. xv. 23. "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver," ch. xxv. 11.
In all affairs there are some special opportunities, which it is a point of wisdom to improve." He that gathers in summer is a wise son. But he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame," Prov. x. 5. Some opportunities, like that here mentioned by Solomon, are obvious to all. And it must be gross stupidity not to know them, and incorrigible sloth to neglect them. But there are some opportunities which will be observed and taken by none but those who are discerning and attentive. Every one can see an opportunity, when it is past: but he only who is wise, sees it beforehand, or perceives and embraces it, when present.
4.) Advise with those who are able to give you good counsel. "Without counsel purposes are disappointed, but in the multitude of counsellors they are established," Prov. xv. 22. At least, in all important and difficult cases call in the aid of some friends. "Every purpose is established by counsel, and with good advice make war," ch. xx. 18. It is great presumption in any man to be self-sufficient, and to suppose, that in all cases he can act well by his own skill alone.
As counsel ought to be asked, so there should be a disposition to hearken to it; or at least to weigh well the reasons that are brought for or against any design. "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkens unto counsel is wise," Prov. xii. 15.
But yet there is need of some discretion in the choice of