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To this of Boasting may not unfitly be subjoined another inordinancy of the Tongue, viz. murmuring and complaining. For though these faults seem to differ as much in their complexions, as Sanguine does from Melancholy, yet there is nothing more frequent than to see them united in the same person. Nor is this a conjunction of a later date, but is as old as St. Jude’s days, who observes that murmurers and complainers are the very same with those who speak great swelling words, Jude 16.
2. Nor are we to wonder to find them thus conjoined, if we consider what an original cognation and kindred they have, they being (however they seem divided) streams issuing from the same fountain. For the very same Pride which prompts a man to vaunt and overvalue what he is, does so forcibly incline him to contemn and disvalue what he has; whilst measuring his enjoyments by that vast Idea he has formed of himself, tis impossible but he must think them below him.
3. This indeed is the true original of those perpetual complainings we hear from all sorts and conditions of men. For let us pass through all Degrees, all Ages, we shall rarely find a single person, much less any number of men, exempt from this Querulous, this sullen humor: as if that breath of life wherewith God originally inspired us, had been given us not to magnify his Bounty, but to accuse his illiberality, and like the more dismal sorts of instruments, could be tuned to no other Strains but those of Mourning and Lamentation. Every man contributes his note to this doleful Harmony, and after all that God has done to oblige and delight mankind, scare any man is satisfied enough, I will not say to be thankful, but to be patient. For alas, what tragical complaints do men make of their infelicity, when perhaps their prosperity is as much the envious outcry of others? Every little defeat of a design, of an appetite, every little disregard from those above them, or less solemn observance from those below them, make their Heart hot within them, Psa. 39. 3. and the tongue (that combustible part) quickly takes fire and breaks out into extravagant exclamations. It is indeed strange to see how weighty every the trivialest thing is when a passion is cast into the scale with it, how every the slightest inconvenience or petty want preponderates hundreds of great substantial blessings; when indeed, were it in an instance never so considerable, it could be no just Counterpoise. Yet so closely is this corruption interwoven with our constitution that it has sometimes prevailed even upon good men. Jacob though he had twelve sons, yet upon the supposed death of one despised the comforts of all the rest, and with an obstinate sorrow resolves to go mourning to his Grave. Gen. 35. 37. David after that signal victory which had preserved his life, reinstated him in his Throne, and restored him to the Ark and Sanctuary, yet suffered the loss of his rebellious son, who was the Author of his danger, to overwhelm the sense of his deliverance, and instead of Hymns and praises, breaks out into ejaculations and effeminate wailings. 2. Sam. 18. 33.
4. But God knows the most of our complaints cannot pretend to such considerable motives: they are not the bowels of a Father, the impresses of Nature that excite our repinings, but the impulses of our lusts and inordinate appetites. Our discontents are usually such as Ahab’s for his neighbor’s vineyard, Haman’s for Mordecai’s obeisance, Achitophel’s for having his counsel rejected. Every disappointment of our avarice, ambition, and pride, fills our hearts with bitterness and our mouths with clamors. For if we should examine the numerous complaints which sound in every corner, it would doubtless be found that the greatest part of them have some such original: and that whether the pretended grievances be public or private. For the first: many a man is a state malcontent merely because he sees another advanced to that honor or wealth which he thinks he has better deserved. He is always inveighing against such unequal distributions, where the best services (such you may be sure his own are) are the worst rewarded: nor does he ever cease to predict public ruins, till his private are repaired. But as soon as that is done, his Augury grows more mild: and as if the estate and he were like Hippocrate’s twins, his recruits give new vigor to that, and till his next suit is denied everything is well administered. So full, alas, are men of themselves, that tis hard to find any the most splendid pretenses which have not something of that at the bottom: and would every man ransack his own heart, and resolve not to cast a stone till he had first cleared it of all sinister respects, perhaps the number of our complainers would be much abated.
5. Nor is it otherwise in private discontents. Men are apt to think themselves ill used by any man who will not serve their interest or their humor, nay, sometimes their vices; and are prone in all companies to arraign such an unpliant Person, as if he were an enemy to mankind, because he is not a slave to their will. How many have quarreled even with their dearest friends, because they would not assist them to their own ruin, or have striven to divert them from it: so forcible are our propensions to mutiny, that we equally take occasions from benefits or injuries.
6. But the highest and most unhappy instance of all is in our behavior toward God, whose allotments we dispute with the same, or rather greater boldness than we do those of men. What else mean those impatient murmurs at those things which are the immediate issues of Providence? Such are our native blemishes, disease, death of friends, and the like. Nay, what indeed are our displeasure even at those things which we pretend to fasten upon the Second Causes? For those being all under the subordination of the first, cannot move but by its permission. This holy Job well discerned, and therefore does not indite the Chaldeans or Sabeans for his plunder, but knowing they were but the instruments he submissly acknowledges that there was a higher agent in his loss, The Lord has taken away, Job 1. 21. When therefore, we ravingly execrate the rapine of one man, the deceit of another for our impoverishment, when we angrily charge our defamation on the malice of our maligners, our disappointments on the treachery or negligence of our friends, we do interpretatively conclude either that there is no over-ruling providence which could have restrained those events, or else (which is equally horrid) we accuse it as not having done well in permitting them. So that against whomsoever we direct our clamors, their last rebound is against Heaven; this Querulous humor carrying always an implicit repugnance to God’s disposals: but where it is indulged to, it usually is its own expositor, and explicitly avows it, charges God foolishly, and by impious murmurs blasphemes that power which it cannot resist. Indeed, the progress is very natural for our impatiences at men to swell into mutinies against God: for when the mind is once embittered, it distinguishes not of objects, but indifferently lets fly its venom. He that frets himself, the Prophet tells us, will curse his King, nay his God, Isa. 8. 21. and he that quarrels at God’s distributions is in the direct road to defy His Being.
7. By this we may estimate the danger of our discontents, which though at first they are introduced by the inordinate love of ourselves, yet are very apt to terminate in hatred and Blasphemies against God. He therefore, that would secure himself from the highest degree, just watch against the lowest; as he that would prevent a total Inundation must avert the smallest breach in his Banks. Not but that even the first beginnings are in themselves well worth our guarding: for abstracting from all the danger of this enormous increase, there murmurings (like a mortiferous Herb) are poisonous even in their first Spring, before they arrive to their full maturity. To be always moralizing the Fable of Prometheus upon one’s self, playing the Vulture upon one’s own entrails, is no desirable thing, though we were accountable to none but ourselves for it: to dip our tongues in gall, to have nothing in our mouths but the extract, and exhalation of our inward bitterness, is sure no greater Sensuality. So that did we consult only our own ease, we might from that single Topic draw arguments enough against our mutinies.
8. But besides our duty and ease, our credit and reputation make their plea also. Fortitude is one of the noblest of moral virtues, and has the luck to appear considerable even to those who despise all the rest. Now one of the most proper and eminent acts of that is, the bearing adverse events with evenness and temper. This passive valor is as much the mark of a great mind as the active, nay, perhaps more, the later being often owing to the Animal, this to the Rational part of man. And sure we must strangely have corrupted the principles of Morality as well as Religion, if every turbulent, unruly Spirit, that fills the world with blood and rapine, shall have his ferocity called gallantry; yet that sober courage that maintains itself against all the shocks of Fortune, that keeps its Post in spite of the rudest encounters, shall not be allowed at least as good a name. And then on the contrary we may conclude, that to sink under every cross accident, to be still whining and complaining, crying our upon every touch, is a note of a mean, degenerous soul, below the dignity of our reasonable nature. For certainly God never gave us reason for so unkind a purpose, as only to quicken and enhance the resentment of our sufferings, but rather to control those disorders, which the more tumultuous part of us, our senses, are apt to raise in us: and we are so far men and no farther, as we use it to that end. Therefore, if the dictates of religion cannot restrain our murmurs, if we are not Christians enough to submit to the divine precepts of meekness and acquiescence: yet let us at least keep within those bounds which ingenious nature has set us, and not by our unmanly impatiences enter common with Brutes and Animals.
9. Nay, I may fuller add, if neither for God’s nor our own sakes, yet for others, for humane society’s sake, this querulous inclination should be suppressed; there being nothing that renders a man more unpleasant, more uneasy company. For (besides that tis very apt to vent itself upon those with whom he converses, rendering him capricious and exceptious; and tis a harsh, a grating sound to hear a man always in complaining Key) no man would willingly dwell within the noise of shrieks and groans; and the exclamations of the discontented differ from those only by being more articulate. It is a very unwelcome importunity, to entertain a man’s company with remonstrances of his own infelicities and misadventures, and he that will relate all his grievance to others, will quickly make himself one to them. For though he that is full of the inward sense of them, thinks it rather an ease than oppression to speak them out, yet the case if far otherwise with his Auditors: they are perhaps as much taken up with themselves, as he is, and as little at leisure to consider his concerns, as he theirs. Alas, we are not now in those primitive days, when there was as it were one common sense among Christians, when if one member suffered, all the members suffered with it. 1 Cor. 12. 26. That Charity which gave that sympathetic motion to the whole, is now itself benumbed, flows rarely beyond the narrow compass of our personal interest; and therefore we cannot expect that men should be very patient of our complaints who are not concerned in the causes of them. The Priest answer to Judas does speak the sense of most men in the case What is that to us? See thou to that. Matt. 27. 4. I do not deny but that the discharging one’s griefs into the bosom of a true friend, is both innocent and prudent: nay indeed, he that has such a treasure is unkind to himself if he use it not. But that which I would dissuade, is the promiscuous use of this liberty in common Conversation, the satisfying our Spleen, when we cannot ease our hearts by it, the loud declaimings at our misery, which is seldom severed from as severe reflections on those whom we suppose the causes of it; by which nothing can be acquired but the opinion of our Impatience, or perhaps some new grievance from some, who think themselves concerned to vindicate those whom we asperse. In a word, tis as indecent as it is unacceptable, and we may observe all men are willing to slink out of such company, the Sober for the hazards, and Jovial for the unpleasantness. So that the murmurer seems to be turned off to the company of those doleful Creatures which the Prophet mentions which were to inhabit the ruins of Babylon, Isa. 13. 12. For he is ill Conversation to all men, though the worst of all to himself.
10. And now upon the force of all these considerations, I may reasonably impress the Wise man’s Counsel, Therefore beware of murmuring, Wisd. 1. 11. And indeed, it is not the precept of the Wise man alone, but of all who have made any just pretence to that title. For when we consider those excellent lectures of contentation and acquiescence, wherewith the writings of Philosophers abound, tis hard to say whether they speak more of instruction or reproach to us. When their confused notions of a Deity had given them such impressions of His Wisdom and goodness, that they would not pretend to make any elections for themselves, how does it shame our more explicit knowledge, who dare not depend on Him in the smallest instance? who will not take His disposals for good unless our senses become His sureties? which amounts but to that degree of credit, which the most faithless man may expect from us, the trusting him as far as we see him. This is such a contumely to Him, as the Ethic world durst not offer Him, and is the peculiar insolence of us degenerated Christians, who sure cannot be thought in earnest when we talk of singing Hallelujahs in the next world to Him, whilst we entertain Him here only with the sullen noise of murmurs and repinings. For we are not to think that Heaven will Metamorphose us on a sudden, and turn our exclamations and wild clamors into Lauds and Magnificats. It does indeed perfect and crown those graces which were here inchoate and begun, but no man’s conversion ever succeeded his being there: for Christ has expressly told us, That except we be converted, we shall not enter the kingdom of heaven; and if we go hence in our froward discontents, they will associate us with those with whom is Weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
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