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itude. The duties of life are equally binding upon us in sorrow as in joy ; we may not abandon our post because it is difficult to maintain. Nor is it in shrinking from social duty, but in patiently and perseveringly performing it, that we shall find the truest source of consolation. We cannot mix daily with our fellow-creatures, and take our due share in their employments and pursuits, without feeling that many sources of interest and pleasure, in which self has no place, are yet open to us.
We may forget our own sorrows in sympathy with the joy or sor. row of others. Life ceases to be desolate when we find that we have still power to give pleasure, to do good, to be ourselves a blessing though we be not blessed. And the blessing will not fail to come even to us at last, - the
of a heart that has won the victory over itself, that has subdued passion to principle. One dark enigma of life will then be solved, and we shall have learnt that not the enjoyment of happiness, but the fulfilment of duty, is the object of our existence on earth.
The necessity of self-knowledge and self-control, to enable us to form a habit of strict conscientiousness, was adverted to in a former chapter. They are, indeed, the principal and indispensable instruments of all moral discipline. The one implies the study of the object to be pursued; the other, the power of attaining it.
Self-knowledge may justly be called the key to wisdom; for not only is self-improvement impossible without it, but unless we have reflected on our own minds, examined the causes which affect them, and the principles on which they act, we shall be incapable of reading the minds of others ; human nature and human life must remain to us as sealed books.
Our purpose here, however, is to speak of it simply as an instrument of self-improvement.
It has been repeatedly said, and is commonly believed, that it is very difficult to know one's self; and certainly the almost incredible degree of self-delusion that we occasionally meet with would go far to justify such a conclusion. Nevertheless, we hold it to be a false one ; and we believe that all those who choose to know themselves may do
without more difficulty than attends any other study, namely, the exercise of attention and reflection. If we attend to the operations of our own minds, and apply, in judging our own actions, the same tests by which we judge others, we can be at no loss to discover either the good or the bad qualities to which we are most prone ; we shall even be enabled to estimate our own characters more justly than those of our neighbors, in so far as we are better acquainted with our own motives and intentions.
If we were not capable of such an estimate, if we could not arrive at the knowledge of our defects and failings, it would be impossible to correct them. How could we guard against temptations arising from inclinations in our own hearts, of which we should know nothing? How could we remedy deficiencies of which we should be unconscious ? Or how can we suppose that the Creator, who has made progressive improvement the law of our being, has not also made us capable of attaining that knowledge without which conscious, and therefore moral, improvement is impossible? Such absurdities refute themselves. Nor does the diffident modesty of the great and the virtuous mind argue against self-knowledge. Such minds also know themselves, but their attention is too earnestly fixed on a higher standard of excellence to allow them to feel selfsatisfaction in the degree they have attained. When St. Paul declared himself the chief of sinners, the declaration proved, not that he was deficient in self-knowledge, but that he measured himself by the perfect standard of Him“ in whose sight even the angels are not pure.” The virtuous man, who habitually resists the temptations of life, often humbles himself in deeper self-abasement than they who habitually yield to them, for his endeavors tend to a higher goal; he knows the secret weaknesses which still keep his course of life below the aspirations on which he delights to dwell ; and he is conscious how far short he yet remains of perfect conformity to his ideal of moral beauty, the image of the invisible God in his own soul.
Wherever self-delusion does exist, we may be sure that it arises from carelessness, vanity, or insincerity of purpose, far more than from any real difficulty in arriving at the truth.. Vanity makes us shrink from the painful task of unveiling every defect and analyzing every folly. We would rather see ourselves through the eyes of others (or as we wish to appear in their eyes), than honestly look into our own hearts and
minds, and acknowledge their poverty, their infirmity, or their baseness. Here lies the true difficulty of self-knowledge, we do not wish for it. If we did, an hour's reflection would teach us enough to make us feel how necessary was the inquiry, and how urgent the task of reformation.
It is not, however, by an isolated act of inquiry, but by a daily habit of self-scrutiny, that thorough self-knowledge can be attained. We must habitually examine the general tendency of our thoughts, and sift our motives and intentions, our aims, inclinations, and feelings, no less than our actions. To say
in general terms that we will struggle against evil, is only a form of expression. If we purpose to begin the struggle in earnest, it must be with each individual failing, with each reprehensible thought and propensity. We must not only check every wrong desire, lest it proceed into action, but also examine the source whence it springs, and purify that also. 66 Out of the heart are the issues of life ” : if that be not pure, the issues, which are our actions, can never be virtuous.
The importance of investigating the motives of our actions follows necessarily from the fact that it is the motive which determines the character of the act, and which forms the habit of the mind. “To set the outward actions right,” says Archbishop Leighton," though with an honest intention, and not so to regard and find out the inward disorder of the heart, is but to be still putting the index of a clock right with your finger while it is foul and out of order within, which is a continual business, and does no good."
The same conduct, as we all know, may proceed from very different motives. The cruelty of a Nero and of a Spanish inquisitor, for instance, arise from totally different principles. In the first, it was the brutal delight in human suffering ; in the latter, the effect of a blind - but, as in many cases we must believe, an honest - fanaticism. Virtues which are imposed by the laws of society, as modesty in women and bravery in men, may in like manner be traced to very different sources in different individuals. With some they are a form, with others a principle; and in the latter case only do they really indicate character,
Unfortunately, self-delusion attaches most especially to our motives. Determined to see ourselves only as others may be supposed to see us, we wilfully shut out of sight what is really hidden from them, and deceive ourselves with the mask we have ourselves put on! Our very consciousness of what is right makes us unwilling to own that we depart from it in practice, and we really persuade ourselves that we are actuated by certain principles, because we are in the habit of acknowledg. ing their truth. Some such strange process of mental legerdemain must be supposed, to account for the blindness so frequently seen. In no other manner can we explain how some persons pique themselves on a generosity which really springs from ostentation; or take credit for exertions to please others which were prompted only by vanity ; or view with complacency acts of piety and self-denial originating in the fear of punishment. It is impossible to doubt that such persons really have deceived themselves, and often it is not till after years of self-delusion that the veil is accidentally torn from their eyes ; then, if any moral sensibility has survived this long deadness to true impressions, they are startled to find that they are neither pious, nor amiable, nor generous, and that, under that fair show of virtue, evil passions have grown up and strengthened into active principles, which only want opportunity to show themselves in their naked deformity.
Habitual honest self-examination will be an effectual safe. guard against this danger; and though difficult at first, exercise will make it more and more easy, till it will seem to us as impossible to live on in careless indifference to the motives and tendencies of our actions, as it does to others to bestow one hour's serious thought upon the subject. Those who are not in the habit of reflecting on their past conduct, always leave them
. . selves open to future danger; experience teaches them nothing ; they act in the same manner as a general who, once assailed on a weak point, should make no provision against future attacks, and should allow himself to be surprised again and again. In the current of busy life, we have no time to meditate before we act; the necessity for action presses upon us; the claims of in