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in our whole conduct, and especially to beware of the beginnings of things. It is the policy of Satan to draw men on by degrees, to entice them first into something of doubtful appearance, something that borders upon sin, and yet strictly is not sin, or has an innocent look however, and so to proceed step by step to what at length is undoubtedly sinful and dangerous. The way to avoid this snare is, to be wary and circumspect; not to venture to the utmost limits of what is lawful ; but to keep at a due distance, and to observe our compass; to deny ourselves some innocent liberties, for fear of their betraying us further; and not to trust ourselves where we suspect the combat may be unequal, or our strength fail us.
By these and other the like prudent precautions, God's grace preventing and assisting us, we may preserve ourselves from presumptuous sins, may be undefiled and “innocent from the “ great transgression.”
The Misery, Causes, and Remedies of a dejected
PROVERBS xviii. 14.
The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity ; but a wounded
spirit who can bear ? THIS
passage of scripture may be rendered otherwise with a
slight variation in the latter part of the sentence, thus: The spirit of a man (of a brave man) will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded (dejected) spirit, who shall raise it up ?
The words, as I conceive, carry in them an important lesson of instruction, though it is rather obliquely insinuated, than directly expressed. Here is a caution given, or intimated rather, against yielding too far to any misfortunes or troubles ; against letting our spirits sink or our courage fail us in our day of calamity. It is of infinite advantage, under all emergencies, to keep up strength of mind, and to bear up against disasters or difficulties, with a firm and undaunted heart. For a vigorous mind, a manly spirit, will support us under bodily infirmities within, or cross accidents without: but if the spirit itself be broken and cast down, if the mind becomes feeble, and sinks under the weight, what can be then thought on to raise it up! When the buttresses themselves give way, and the main underprops fail, what can then be expected but sudden and irrevocable ruin? The turn and the manner of the expression in the text is very like to what our Lord makes use of in a different subject ; where he
says, “If the salt hath lost its savour, wherewith shall “ it be salted a ?" If that which should season other things does itself want seasoning, what can then be done to it? And so in the instance of the text, if that which should support the weaker parts does itself want supporting, what remedy can then be hoped for? The case is then melancholy indeed, and beyond all recovery. Great care therefore should be taken in time, to prevent, if possible, so sad a crisis, and that no calamities whatever be permitted to reduce us to this so disconsolate extremity. Such I take to be the general drift and purport of the text now before us.
The subject therefore of my discourse must be a troubled and dejected mind.
I. The misery of it.
The subject is undoubtedly very useful, and may well deserve our attentive thoughts and serious application.
I. I shall begin with some brief strictures upon the miserable case of a dejected, broken mind.—“A wounded spirit who can bear ?"" as our translation renders it; or, who can raise it up? as the other. Both renderings are grammatical, and we may very well take in both senses, as they are both of them true and pertinent: for the misery of a broken spirit is, that it is intolerable to bear, and is without support, or remedy.
The words of the text have been vulgarly understood of a wounded conscience, tending to despair : but I see no reason for confining the text to that case only. The words are spoken of a wounded spirit in the general, wounded by grief, and sinking under its load of troubles; but not expressing either the particular kind of troubles or the special causes they spring from.
I shall enumerate the several causes which may be supposed in such cases under
next head of discourse. But at present all I have to take notice of is, the sad and disconsolate condition of a dejected, broken mind, be the cause of it what it will.
But, in order to have a right understanding of this case, let us consider, in the first place, what a dejected mind, or a wounded spirit, means.
Matth. v. 13. Mark ix. 50. Luke xiv. 34.
We may observe, that all manner of trouble and misery, as felt by the patient, is resolvable into pain of body or pain of mind; into some uneasy sensations, which we commonly call pain, or uneasy thoughts and reflections, which we commonly call anguish. Strictly speaking, all pains that we feel are in the mind, or in the soul. The body is but the organ or instrument which transmits the pain to the soul. The soul only feels, in and through the body: so that every uneasy sensation of the body, as we call it, is properly the soul's. And besides uneasy sensations, the mind, over and above, hath many uneasy reflections, which increase the pain, and more than double the misery.
These things being premised, we may the more clearly perceive of what advantage it is in all kinds of uneasinesses, to have a mind well fortified and steeled against them. The mind, by fencing against the mischief, keeps it out in a great measure, and does not let in one half of the anguish: while the spirit bears up against it with manly courage, it wards off the blow, or breaks the force of the impression. And if you would know more particularly how it does it, you may please to consider, that no pain whatever is so much as felt, any longer than while it is attended to, or reflected upon : but there is that force in the mind, when firm and well resolved, that it can turn the thoughts off from dwelling upon the present or threatening pain, and can employ itself with brave and comfortable reflections. This is what the text means in saying, that “the spirit of a man will “ sustain its infirmity.” It will bear up against danger or trouble, will be so flushed with a sense of honour, and other generous views, and with high and noble expectations, that the sense of pain shall scarce be felt at all, or shall be slight in comparison. Those other joyous reflections will counterbalance it, or will so fill the mind, as scarce to leave room for the reception of any thing else. This is what we call strength of mind, and sometimes fortitude : and it is of admirable use to repel uneasiness and pain, and to prevent its making any deep or durable impressions. Something indeed will be felt by us after we have done all we can: for there is no being perfectly insensible to smart, or unconcerned at misfortunes. But the smart being less attended to, in such a case, receives no increase by any galling reflections ; yea, it is much abated and deadened by joyous thoughts and high expectations. Thus “the spirit of a man," while firm and erect,“ sustains its infirmity,” and becomes a kind of armour of proof against either inward pains or outward disasters.
But if once the spirit itself begins to yield and give way ; if the mind, by continual troubles, or long struggling, at length faints and sinks under them; then comes the case which the text speaks of, the case of a “ wounded spirit," a dejected, , broken mind. The misery of it is manifest, in some measure, from what hath been already said. It is like giving up the fort, or citadel, upon which the enemy enters, and makes terrible havock and devastation. While the mind retained its force and strength, the adversary was kept at some distance, and not suffered to do much harm: but as soon as ever the mind loses its courage, and lays down its arms, the adversary rushes in, and makes fearful ravages. To speak out of metaphor ; when the spirit thus sinks, and bears up no longer, then every calamity puts on the blacker face, and every pain and uneasiness stings to the quick, and is much increased by galling reflections. The mind is haunted with dark images, with melancholy scenes of horror and distress. The man sits down and indulges his sorrow, hugs his grief, abandons himself to impatience, bitter wailing, and despair, refusing to be comforted, or so much as to hear of the name. This may serve for an imperfect description of “ a wounded spirit,” and of the misery attending it. But as the mind may be more or less wounded, with almost infinite variety of degree; so the calamity of the case is more or less grievous, and of consequence more or less removed from possibility of recovery.
Having described the case as briefly as I well could, I now proceed, as I proposed, to my second general head :
II. To point out the principal causes which lead to this melancholy extremity. The occasional and immediate causes of this malady are either from without or from within ; either from outward afflictions, or inward disorder of body, or trouble of conscience. I shall consider them severally and distinctly.
1. The outward calamities of life are many and various. The most afflicting, generally, are not those which bring the greatest smart or the acutest pain with them; but those rather which bear hardest upon the soft and tender passions.
One shall scarce know a man overtaken with melancholy on account of what he suffers by the gout, or stone, or by an ulcer,