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Supposing the ideas which I have set before you, in this discourse, to be no more than the speculations of a contemplative mind, such as were wont of old to be indulged by the philosophers of the Platonic school, still they would deserve attention, on account of their tendency to purify and elevate the mind. But when they are considered in connection with a revelation, which, upon grounds the most unquestionable, we believe to be divine, they are entitled to command, not attention only, but reverence and faith. -- They present to us such high expectations as are sufficient to determine every reasonable man to the choice of virtue; to support him under all its present discouragements, and to comfort him in the hour of death. Justly may they excite in our hearts, that ardent aspiration of the Psalmist : My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God; Oh! when shall I come, and appear before him! - But, with this wish in our hearts, never, I beseech you, let us forget what was set forth in the first part of this discourse; that in order to arrive at the presence of God, the path of life must previously be shown to us by him, and that in this path we must persevere to the end. These two things cannot be disjoined, a virtuous life and a happy eternity. Who shall ascend unto the hill of the Lord? and who shall stand in his holy place? He only who hath clean hands and a pure heart. Between a corrupted heart and the God of light and love, there never can be any connection. But of this we may rest assured, that the path of piety and virtue, pursued with a firm and constant spirit, will, in the end, through the merits of our blessed Redeemer, bring us toʻthat presence, where is fulness of joy, and where are pleasures for evermore.
SERMON LVIII. On Curiosity concerning the Affairs of Others.
John, xxi. 21, 22.
Peter seeing him, saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall
this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that, he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow
HESE words occurred in a conference which
our Lord held with Simon Peter, after his resurrection from the dead. Conscious of the disgrace which he had incurred by his late denial of his Master, Peter must at this time have appeared before him with shame. Our Lord, after a tacit rebuke, implied in the question which he repeatedly puts to him, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? restores him, with great benignity, to his office as an apostle, by giving the commandment to feed his sheep; and intimates also, that it should be his lot to suffer death in the cause of his Master. The apostle John, distinguished here by the denomination of the disciple whom Jesus loved, being present at this conversation, Peter, who was always eager and forward, looking to John, puts this question to our Saviour, Lord, and what shall this man do? “What shall be his employment ? “ what his rank and station in thy kingdom ? what “ his future fate in life?” — By what principle Peter was moved to put this unseasonable and improper
question to his Master, whether it arose from mere curiosity, or from some em otion of rivalship and jealousy, does not appear ; but it is plain that our Lord was dissatisfied with the enquiry which he made, and presently he checks Peter's curiosity, by a severe reply; What is that to thee ? 66 What is it to thee 6 what this man shall do? what shall be his rank? or " what the circumstances of his life or his death ? “ Attend thou to thine own duty. Mind thy proper
Fulfil the part which I have allotted to 66 thee. Follow thou me." - The instruction which arises from this conversation of our Lord's with Peter, is, That all prying enquiries into the state, circumstances, or character of others, are reprehensible and improper ; that to every man a particular charge is assigned by his Lord and Master, the fulfilment of which ought to be the primary object of his attention, without officiously thrusting himself into the concerns of others. The illustration of these points shall make the subject of the present discourse.
That idle curiosity, that inquisitive and meddling spirit, which leads men to pry into the affairs of their neighbours, is reprehensible on three accounts. It interrupts the good order, and breaks the peace of society. It brings forward and nourishes several bad passions. It draws men aside from a proper attention to the discharge of their own duty.
It interupts, I say, the order, and breaks the peace of society. In this world we are linked together by many ties. We are bound by duty, and we are prompted by interest, to give mutual assistance, and to perform friendly offices to each other. But those
friendly offices are performed to most advantage, when we avoid to interfere unnecessarily in the concerns of our neighbour. Every man has his own part to act, has his own interest to consult, has affairs of his own to manage, which his neighbour has no call to scrutinise. Human life then proceeds in its most natural and orderly train, when every one keeps within the bounds of his proper province; when, as long as his pursuits are fair and lawful, he is allowed, without disturbance, to conduct them in his own way. That ye study to be quiet, and to do your own * business, is the apostolical rule, and indeed the great rule, for preservation of harmony and order. But so it is, that, in every age, a set of men have existed, who, driven by an unhappy activity of spirit, oftener perhaps than by any settled design of doing ill, or any motives of ambition or interest, love to intermeddle where they have no concern, to enquire into the private affairs of others, and, from the imperfect information which they collect, to form conclusions concerning their circumstances and character. These are they who, in Scripture, are characterised as tatlers, and busy bodies in other men's matters, and from whom we are called to turn away.
Though persons of this description should be prompted by nothing but vain curiosity, they are, nevertheless, dangerous troublers of the world. While they conceive themselves to be inoffensive, they are sowing dissension and feuds. Crossing the lines in which others move, they create confusion, and awaken resentment. For every man conceives himself to be injured, when he finds another intruding
* 1 Thess. iv, 11..
into his affairs, and, without any title, taking upon him to examine his conduct. Being improperly and unnecessarily disturbed, he claims the right of disturbing in his turn those who wantonly have troubled him. Hence, many a friendship has been broken the peace of many a family has been overthrown; and much bitter and lasting discord has been propagated through society.
While this spirit of meddling curiosity injures so considerably the peace and good order of the world, it also nourishes among individuals who are addicted to it, a multitude of bad passions. Its most frequent source is mere idleness, which, in itself a vice, never fails to engender many vices more. The mind of man cannot be long without some food to nourish the activity of its thoughts. The idle, who have no nourishment of this sort within themselves, feed their thoughts with enquiries into the conduct of their neighbours. The inquisitive and curious are always talkative. What they learn, or fancy themselves to have learned, concerning others, they are generally in haste to divulge. A tale which the malicious have invented, and the credulous have propagated; a rumour which, arising among the multitude, and transmitted by one to another, has, in every step of its progress, gained fresh additions, becomes in the end the foundation of confident assertion, and of rash and severe judgment.
It is often by a spirit of jealousy and rivalry, that the researches of such persons are prompted. They wish to discover something that will bring down their neighbour's character, circumstances, or reputation, to the level of their own; or that will flatter