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counsellors. They should be usually the aged and experienced ; always, if possible, such as are sincere and disinterested. I scarce need therefore to caution you against advising with your rivals and competitors. If you are so happy as to have parents, to whom you can have recourse, you must be in the right to consult with them in affairs of moment. If you have not this advantage, however, recollect the advices they have given you. Perhaps they have left with
you some counsels of prudence, as well as of virtue. When you are forming designs inconsistent with their counsels, give such designs a second consideration, before you take a final resolution. This may be reckoned a point of wisdom, as well as a piece of respect due to those who heartily wished your welfare.
After them, advise with, and hearken to, those who are most like them in a sincere and unaffected concern for your true interest. But if any whom you consult, always advise according to your own inclinations, you may be assured they are not your friends. It is not your interest they consult, but their own. So likewise, if any, of whom you honestly ask advice, with an intention to be informed and guided by them, are shy and reserved, though at other times, and upon other occasions, they are open enough, you should remember not to go to them again. It is not worth the while to reveal your designs to such. It can be of no advantage, and
be attended with some inconveniences. 5.) Restrain and govern your affections. This is of great importance to the prudent conduct of life. In all debates he who is calm and composed, as all are sensible, has a vast advantage over a heated adversary. But I mean not the restraint of anger only, or resentment upon a provocation; but a steady government of all the passions, and a calm and composed temper of mind in all occurrences. He who is overset by a cross accident, is lost beyond redress, and can never get out of a difficulty, though there still remain several ways of escape and recovery.
Avoid too great eagerness for any earthly thing. Men of violent inclinations are immediately for action. They have no sooner thought of a thing, but they must have it. They are at once passed the state of deliberation within themselves, and of consultation with others. Men who are extremely eager for gain and riches, are not always the most successful. They precipitate all their measures. They can never have an opportunity, because they cannot wait till it offers. Such usually run desperate hazards, and accordingly meet with great losses. Solomon, who has so often
spoken of the benefit of diligence, does nevertheless discourage eagerness of spirit and action, as ruinous and destructive. " The thoughts of the diligent,” says he, “tend only to plenteousness : but of every one that is hasty, only to want," Prov, xxi. 5.
Then, the men of hasty spirit often plunge themselves into great difficulties; which no after thought of their own, nor kind assistance of their friends, can extricate them out of. What Solomon says of men subject to intemperate anger is very likely to be the case of all who have any other ungoverned passion : "A man of great wrath shall suffer punishment: for, if thou deliver him, yet thou must do it again," Prov. xix. 19. If you help them out of one trouble, yet they will soon run themselves into some other. And in another place the same wise man has given a lively image of the defenceless and deplorable condition of those who are under the government of violent passions : " He that has no rule over his own spirit, is like a city that is broken down, and without walls," Prov. xxv. 28.
It seems to be for this reason, that men of lesser abilities do often succeed better in business, and indeed in some important affairs, than the more acute and penetrating. They have slow capacities, but they are abundantly recompensed by the coolness of their passions. They move on with a steady, even pace, without slips or falls; till at length, to the surprise of all who were not very discerning indeed, they distance many who set out with much more life and vigour.
These are general rules of prudence. They need not to be mentioned again. But they ought to be observed upon every particular occasion, and will be of use in all the affairs and actions of life that require prudent conduct and management.
2. I am now to lay down some particular rules of prudence concerning several branches of conduct, and divers circumstances of life. They will concern these four points before mentioned ; business, civil conversation, more intimate friendships and relations, and usefulness to others.
1.) Of business. I may not presume to give many directions relating to this matter. "But I apprehend it to be a point of great prudence, for a man to endeavour to be fully master of his employment. He who is skilful in his calling, and diligently attends to it, and is punctual to his promises and engagements, can seldom fail of encouragement. These may be generally reckoned surer means of
. success, than a large acquaintance, address, importunity, or
any other such like arts of procuring the dealings of men : though these need not be entirely neglected, and may be of use, if they are not too much depended on. Interest is a a prevailing principle, and that will dispose men to be concerned with, and employ those who are skilful, diligent, and punctual.
It is also esteemed a point of prudence for men to abide in the employment to which they have been educated, and in which they have once engaged: unless there be some great and particular inconvenience attending it, or some strong and peculiar inducement to another.
But by no means hearken to the speeches of those who would draw you off from all employment. Some there are in the world, men of sprightly and aspiring fancies, (as they would be thought,) who would persuade you, that business is below the dignity of rational beings; or, however, of all who would shine and be distinguished. You will be justified by Solomon in throwing contempt on such imaginations : " He that is despised, and has a servant, is better than he that honoureth himself, and lacketh bread," Prov. xii. 9. Again, ver. 11, “ He that tilleth his land, shall have plenty of bread, but he that followeth vain persons shall have poverty enough."
2.) The next thing concerning which I would give some directions, is civil conversation. In general, endeavour to act according to your own character, and maintain that suitably to the persons you meet with, of different abilities, principles, and circumstances.
He is happy in the art of conversation, who can preserve a mean, without being light, or formal; neither too reserved, nor too open. Reservedness is disagreeable and offensive: too great openness, in mixed company, with which you are not well acquainted, is often attended with dangerous consequences. It may be a good rule for every man, to guard especially against that extreme which he is most liable to fall into; by which he is in the greatest danger of exposing himself, or offending others. Which is the worst extreme, may not be easy to determine. But I think, if we will take the judgment of Solomon, too great openness must be the most inconsistent with prudence. For silence is with him a mark of wisdom, and there is scarce any one thing he has oftener recommended than the government of the tongue; nor any thing he has more plainly and more frequently condemned, than talkativeness. I shall remind you of some of his sayings upon this argument.“ In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin. But he that refraineth his lips
is wise," Prov. x. 19. “ He that hath knowledge, spareth his words: even a fool, when he holdeth his
is counted wise, and he that shutteth his lips, is esteemed a man of understanding," ch. xvii, 27, 28. “ The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright. But the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness," ch. xv. 2. 66 A fool uttereth all his mind, but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards,” ch. xxix. 11. 6 Wisdom resteth in the heart of him that has understanding : but that which is in the midst of fools is made known," Prov. xiv. 33. “ He that keepeth his
. mouth, keepeth his life: but he that openeth wide his mouth, shall have destruction," ch. xii. 3. Especially, be cautious of what you say of others; and be not too forward in giving characters, either by way of praise or dispraise.
The only end of conversation is not to entertain, or instruct others. You are likewise to aim at your own improvement, and the increase of your present stock of learning and knowledge. Nor is it necessary, in order to be agreeable, that you should entertain the company with discourse. You may as much oblige some men by patient attention to what they say, as by producing just and new observations of your own. For young persons particularly, silence and modesty must be advantageous qualities in conversation. St. James's precept is general: “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak.” Jam. i. 19: And if attended to, would lessen the multitude of some men's words, very much to their own benefit, and the improvement of society.
Another rule of prudence relating to this matter, which is also a point of duty, is : “ If possible, live peaceably with all men,” Rom. xii. 18. Do not needlessly offend, or disoblige any. A resolution to please men at all adventures, amidst the present variety of sentiments and affections in the world, would engage us, at seasons, to desert the cause of truth, liberty, and virtue. And therefore our Lord has justly pronounced a woe upon those who are universally applauded, saying: “ Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you,” Luke vi. 26. Such a reputation is rarely to be obtained without a base and criminal indifference for some things very valuable and important to the general interest of mankind. However, do not despise any man, though ever so mean. Malice and hatred are active principles. And, as has been often observed, one enemy may do you more mischief, than
friends can do you good. Nor is there any man so mean, or so feeble, but he may some time have an opportunity of doing you much good, or much harm.
You are not to be afraid of men, nor too solicitous to please them, nor to stoop to flattery or meanness to gain their favour. These are methods neither very virtuous, nor very prudent. For they seldom procure lasting esteem or affection. If you gain men's favour by flattery, you can keep it no longer than you are willing to be their slaves, or their tools. But you may endeavour by easy civilities, and real services, to oblige and gain all you can. This we may do, this we ought to do, according to the rules of Christianity, good breeding, and prudence.
Choose, as much as may be, the conversation of those who are wiser and more experienced than yourselves. Avoid the company of those who indulge intemperate mirth, and neglect the rules of decency; from whom you can expect no benefit, and from whom you are in danger of receiving a taint to your virtue, or a blot to your reputation. “ He that walketh with wise persons,” saith Solomon, “ shall be wise, but a companion of fools shall be destroyed,” Prov. xiii. 20.
3.) In the third place I shall mention some observations concerning more intimate friendships and private relations. It is a rule to choose friends among acquaintance, and not to enter into intimacy with those m
have had no trial, because a false friend is the most dangerous enemy. Solomon has a direction relating to this point : “ Thine own friend, and thy father's friend, forsake not,” Prov. xxvii. 10. The meaning is not, that we should not desert such, or refuse to assist them when they are in distress: but it is a rule of prudence, to choose for friends, or to apply to those, when we are in any trouble or difficulty, whose sincerity and faithfulness have been tried and experienced.
In the choice of friends it may be prudent to have some regard to equality of age, as well as circumstances, and to an agreement of sentiments and dispositions.
If you are to avoid the conversation of the openly vicious, (as was before observed) you are to make friendship only with men of known and approved virtue. Let those be friends whom God himself loves; the meek, the humble, the peaceable who abhor strife and contention. Solomon's caution against familiarity with men of a contrary disposition is delivered with some peculiar concern and earnestness : “ Make no friendship,” says he,“ with an angry man, and with a furious man thou shalt not go; lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul,” Prov. xxii. 24, 25. You may likewise consider, whether they show a good economy in their own affairs : what has hitherto been their