1. OF near Affinity to the Vertu of Meekness, is that of Mercy and Compassion, which indeed can scarce thrive in any place where the former hath not prepared the soil: Anger and Obstinacy being like that rough East-wind which brought the Egyptian Locusts, Exod. 10. 13. to eat up every green thing in the Land. A mind harrassed with its own impatiency, is not at lesure to observe, much less to condole the calamities of others. But as a calm and clear day befriends us with a more distinct Prospect of distant Objects; so when all is quiet and serene within us, we can then look about us, and discern what exigencies of others invite our pitty.
2. I need not say much to raise an estimate of this Vertu, since 'tis so essential to our Nature, so interwoven in the composition of Humanity, that we find in Scripture phrase, compassion is generally seated in the most inward sensible part of our frame, the bowels, so Col. 3. 12. Put on therefore bowels of mercy; and Phil. 2. 1. Bowels and mercies. So that a cruel ruthless person unmans himself, and is by the common vote of mankind to be listed among brutes; nay, not among the better, but only the more hateful, noxious sort of them.
3. But this is yet more unnatural in the female Sex, which being of softer mold, is more pliant and yielding to the impressions of pitty, and by the strength of fancy redoubles the horror of any sad object; yea so remarkable is this tenderness, that God, when he would most magnify his own compassion, illustrates it by that of women, as the highest human instance. Indeed such a propension have women to commiseration, that they are usually taxed with an excess in it; so that any imprudent lenity is Proverbially called, A womanish Pitty, and therefore it may be thought an impertinence to exhort them to that which they can scarce avoid. But to this I answer; first, that in this degenerous age, 'tis no news to see people violate their instincts, as well as their duties, and be worse then their nature inclines them; many sins being committed even against the grain, and with violence to constitution.
4. Yet secondly, 'tis not a meer melting of the eyes, or yerning of the bowels I design to recommend: Alas, their tears will not be drink to a thirsty soul, nor will shivering at his nakedness cloth him, this is such an insignificant mercy as St. James describes, saying to a brother or sister, be ye warmed, be ye filled, but not giving them things needful to the body, c. 2. 16. Indeed, she that weeps over those distresses she will not relieve, might have bin fit to be enter'd in the list of the mourning women among the Jews and Heathens, who were hired to make up the Tragic pomp of Funerals with their mercenary sorrow, but had no real concern in that loss they seemed to bewail. 'Tis therefore a more active sort of Compassion to which I would invite them; and yet for method sake, I shall consider it under two distinct Heads, Giving, and Forgiving.
5. By Giving, in this place, I mean not a general liberality, (tho that prudently bounded, is an Excellence well becoming Persons of Fortune) but only such a Giving as terminates upon the needy, and is applied to succor their indigencies. To give to those from whom they may expect returns, may be a design, but at the best can be but generosity and frankness of humor. 'Tis only then mercy (as Christ Himself has defined it) when it is to those from whom they can hope for nothing again.
6. And in this Vertu women have in former Ages eminently excelled, yea so essential was it, that we find Solomon thought not their character compleat without it, but numbers it among the properties of his Vertuous Woman, Prov. 31. 20. She stretcheth forth her hand to the poor, & reacheth her hand to the needy. And it is a little observable, that after he has describ'd her Industry and Diligence for the acquiring of Wealth, this is seen in the front of her disbursments, as the principal use she made of it; and precedes her providing Scarlet for her Houshold, or fine Linnen and Purple for her self, v. 21, 22. The application is very obvions, and admonishes all that own the same Title of Vertuous Women, to prefer the necessities of others before their own superfluities and delicacies. Nay, if they look farther; and consider who it is that is personated in the poor, that begs in every needy distrest suppliant, and that will finally own every act of mercy as don to himself: methinks they should somtimes think fit to sacrifice even their most moderate enjoiments to their charity; be ashamed to serve themselves before their Savior, or let him stand naked and hungry, whilst they are solacing with that which would relieve him.
7. But how then shall they answer it, who suffer him to be supplanted, not by their needs, but excesses; who have so devoted their hearts and purses to vanity and luxury, that they have neither will nor power to succor the wants of others? How unequal and disproportionate is it, that those who study to fling away mony upon themselves, cannot be temted by any opportunity and distress, to drop an alms to the poor? What a preposterous sight is it to see a Lady, whose gay Attire gives her the glittering of the Sun, yet have nothing of its other properties, never to cheer any drooping, languishing creature by her influence? 'Tis the counsel of the son of Sirach, not to give the poor any occasion to curse thee. Ecclus. 4. 5. But sure such persons do it, if the poor happen not to have more Charity then they exemplify to them. For when they shall find such hard hearts under such soft raiment, see them bestow so much upon the decking their own bodies, and do nothing towards the necessary support of theirs; 'tis a shrewd trial of their Meekness. Poverty is apt of it self to imbitter the spirit, and needs not such an additional temtation.
8. Nay farther, when a poor starving wretch shall look upon one of these gay creatures, and see that any one of the baubles, the loosest appendage of her dress; a fan, a busk, perhaps a black patch, bears a price that would warm his emty bowels; will he not have sharp incitations not only to execrate her pride, and his own poverty, but consequently to repine at the unequal distribution of Providence, and add sin to his misery? The denial therefore of an alms may be a double cruelty, to the soul as well as to the body. 'Tis said of Xenocrates, that a chased Bird flying to his bosom, he rescued it with much satisfaction, saying he had not betraid a suppliant; but this is in that case reverst, and in an higher instance; for what can be more the betraying of a suppliant, then instead of supplying his wants, to rob him of his innocence, and be his snare in lieu of his refuge? This is a consideration I wish more deeply imprest upon the women of this Age; and truly 'tis their concern it should be so; for since at the last day the inquest shall be so particular upon this very thing, 'tis but necessary they should examin how they are fitted to pass that test.
9. Let them therefore keep a preparatory audit within their own brest, reflect upon the expences of their vanity, what the delicacy of their food, what the richness and variety of their cloths, nay what the meer hypocrisies of their dress, in false hair, and complexion has cost them; to which they may also add the charge of their recreations and divertisements, those costly arts of chasing away that time, which they will one day wish to recal: let them I say compute all this, and then confront to it the account of their charity, and I much fear the latter will with many of them be comparatively as undiscernible, as Socrates found Alcibiades's lands in the Map of the whole world, be so perfectly overwhelm'd, that it will appear little in their own sight and nothing in Gods.
10. For if the poor Widows mite acquired a valu meerly from her poverty, that she had no more; by the rule of contraries we may conclude, how despicable the scanty oblations of the rich are in Gods account. If even their liberality who gave much, was outvied by a farthing, Mar. 12. 41 to what point of diminution must their niggardly offerings, who give little, be reduced? especially when they shall be compared with the numerous and costly sacrifices they make to pride and luxury; nay I wish some were not guilty of more then the disproportion, even the total omission of charity, that in a multitude of Taylors bills cannot produce the account of one Garment for the poor, that amidst the delicacies of their own diet (nay perhaps of their dogs too) never ordered so much as the crumbs of their Table to any hungry Lazarus. But let all such remember, that there will come a time, when one of Tabitha's coats Acts 9. 39. will be of more valu then all their richest Wardrobes, tho they could number Gowns with Lucullus's Cloaks, which the Roman Story reports to be 5000, and that when their luxurious fare shall only feast the worms, and render them passive in that Epicurism they acted before, they will wish they had made the bellies of the poor their refectory, and by feeding them nurished themselves to immortality.
11. Let this I say be seriously remember'd now, lest hereafter they fall under the same exprobrating remembrance with the rich man in the Gospel, Luke 16. 25. Remember that thou in thy life time receivedst thy good things, and Lazarus that which was evil, but now he is comforted and thou art tormented. A Text which St. Gregory professes was ever sounding in his ears, and made him look with suspicion and dread upon that grandeur to which he was advanced, as fearing it might be design'd as his final reward. With what terror then may those look upon their present good things, who by ingrossing them wholly to themselves, own them as their entire portion, and implicitly disclaim their share of the future? For to that none must pretend, who receive their transitory goods under any other notion, then that of a Steward or Factor: as we may see in the parable of the Talents, where those that had the reward of the five and ten Cities were not such as had consumed their Talents upon their own riot and excesses, but such as had industriously emploied them according to the design of their Lord: and if it there fared so ill with the meer unprofitable servant, who had horded up his Talent, what shall become of those, who squander away theirs, and can give no account either of use or principal?
12. Were these considerations duly laid to heart, we might hope to see some of the primitive charity revive, when women of the highest rank converted their ornaments and costly deckings into clothing for the poor, and thought no retinue so desirable, so honorable as a train of Alms-folks: but I speak improperly, when I make the poor their attendants, for indeed they rather attended the poor, did not only order the supply of their wants, but were themselves their ministers, waited about their sick beds, drest their most loathsom ulcers, and descended to all the most servile offices about them.
13. But these were such heights, such transcendendies of mercy, as required a deeper foundation of humility then will now be often met with: yet let me take the occasion to say, that it may be a good managery of a charity to act (as far as they can) personally in it. For besides that it prevents some abuses and frauds, which deputed agents may somtimes be temted to; they pay God a double tribute in it, of their persons as well as their fortunes; next they bring themselves into acquaintance with the poor, and by that means correct those contemts and nice disdains, which their own prosperity is too apt to create farther yet, they excite their own compassion, which being a motion of the sensitive part of the mind, cannot be stirr'd so effectually by any thing, as by the presence of the object, the most pathetic tragical description of a distress, being not able to affect us half so much as one ocular demonstration. Lastly 'tis an apt means to increase their thankfulness to Almighty God, whose bounty to themselves must needs make a deeper impression, when 'tis compared with the necessitous condition of others: for things are best illustrated by their contraries, and 'tis too observable in our depraved nature, that we valu not things by their real positive worth, but comparatively as they excell others, nor ever make a right estimate of what we enjoy, till our own or others wants instruct us.
14. Upon all these considerations it may be a very becoming useful circumstance in any charitable ministery to be themselves the actors; and to that end 'twill be a very commendable industry to qualifie themselves to be helpful to the poor in as many instances as they can; not only opening their purses, but dispensatories too, providing medecines for such as either by disease, or casualty want that sort of relief. A charity which I doubt not is practised by many, and I wish it were by more, that our nicer Dames who study only Cosmetics for themselves, would change the Scene, & instead of repairing or disguising their own complexions, study the restauration of their decrepit patients limbs. And sure tho it be a less fashionable, 'tis a much better sight, to see a Lady binding up a sore, then painting her face; and she will cast a much sweeter savor in Gods nostrils, with the smell of unguents and balsoms, then with the most exquisit odors and perfumes. For since God professes Esay 1. that that very incense which was design'd as a part of his worship, was an abomination to him, because not accompanied with the acts of Mercy, we cannot think he will better like of those, which have no higher aim then delicacy and sensuality.
15. But besides this part of mercy in giving, there is another, that of forgiving; which may happen to be of a larger extent then the former: for whereas that was confin'd to the poor, this has no such limits, but as it is possible to be injured by persons of all ranks, so this pardoning mercy is to reach equally with that possibility. This is that part of Charity which we peculiarly call Clemency, a Vertu which not only Christianity but Morality recommends. The Ancient Romans had it in such veneration, that they number'd it not only among Vertues but Deities, and built it a Temple: and they were somwhat towards the right in it, for it was, tho not God, yet so eminent an attribute of his, that nothing can more assimilate man unto him.
16. There are many Heroic acts of this kind to be met with among the vertuous Hethens. Lycurgus not only forgave Alcander who had struck out his eye, but entertain'd him in his house, and by his gentle admonitions reclaim'd him from his former vicious life. Aristides being after signal services and without crime, unjustly banished by his Citizens, was so far from acting or imprecating against them, that at his departure from Athens he solemnly praied the Gods, that they might never by any trouble or distress be forced to recal him. So Phocion being unjustly condemned, left it as a solemn charge to his son Phocas, that he should never revenge his death. A multitude of the like examples might be produced, but we need not borrow light from their faint Tapers, when we have the Sun beams, I mean the Sun of righteousness our blessed Savior, who as he has recommended this grace by his precept, so he has signally exemplified it to us in his practice; the whole design of his descent to earth being only to rescu his enemies from destruction, and as every part of his life, so the last Scene of it was particularly adapted to this end, and his expiring breath expended in mediating for his crucifiers; father forgive them, Luk. 23. 34. And this copy of his was transcribed by his first followers, the Primitive Christians in their severest Martyrdoms praying for their persecutors.
17. Thus are we in the Apostles phrase compassed about with a cloud of witnesses, Heb. 12. 1. of eminent examples, which ought to have a forcible influence upon all, but methinks should not fail to have it on that Sex, whose native tenderness predisposes them to the Vertu, and who need but swim with the stream of their own inclinations. How can we think that their melting eyes should ever sparkle fire, or delight in spectacles of cruelty, that their flexible tender hearts should turn into Steel or Adamant, be uncapable of all impressions of pitty? Yet God knows such changes have too often bin seen: women have not only put off that softness peculiar to them, but the common instincts of humanity, and have exceeded not only savage men, but beasts in cruelty. There have bin too frequent instances of the implacable malice, and insatiable cruelties of women: I need not call in the aid of Poetique fiction and tell them of Clytemnestra, Medea, or the Belides, with hundreds of others, celebrated as instances of Heroic wickedness. There are examples enough in more authentic Stories, The Roman Tullia, the Persian Parysatis; and that we may not pass by the sacred Annals, Jezebel, and Athalia. I forbear to multiply examples of this kind, of which all ages have produced some so eminent, as have render'd it a common observation, that no cruelty exceeds that of an exasperated woman: & it is not much to be wonder'd at, since nothing can be so ill in its pristine state as that which degenerates from a better. No enmity we know so bitter, as that of alienated friends; no such persecution as that of Apostats, and proportionably no such ferity as that of a perverted mildness. So that the Poets were not much out, who as they represented the Graces under the figures of women, so the Furies too: and since 'tis in their election which part they will act, they ought to be very jealous over themselves. The declinations to any vice are gradual, somtimes at first scarce discernable; and probably the greatest monsters of cruelty, would at the beginning have detested those inhumanities which afterwards they acted with greediness.
18. It concerns them therefore to ward those beginnings whose end may be so fatal. She that is quick in apprehending an affront perhaps will not be so quick in dismissing that apprehension; & if it be permitted to stay, 'twill quickly improve, twenty little circumstances shall be suborn'd to foment it with new suspicions, till at last it grow to a quarrel; from thence to hatred, from that to malice, and from that to revenge: and when that black passion has overspread the mind, like an Egyptian darkness it admits no gleam of reason or Religion, but hurries them blindfold to their own ruine often as well as others.
19. Let none think this only a fancy or scheme of Discourse: there have bin too many tragical experiments of its truth: how many men have bin mortally engaged upon no weightier original, then the spleen of a woman? the frantic notion of honor among our Duellists fitly corresponding with the as frantic impulses of feminine revenge, and any imaginary injury (or perhaps but just imputation) to the Lady, obliging her Gallant to rush upon the most real sin and danger. A madness somthing beyond that which the Romances describe of Knight Errantry; for that generally is for the relief of distressed Damsels, but this is only to humor the too prosperous ones, the insolent and the proud. Those therefore that have observed the common occasions of Duels, have not unfitly divided them between Wine and Women; it being hard to say which is the most intoxicating and besotting. The Son of Sirach couples them together, Ecclus. 19. 2. Wine and Women will make men of understanding fall away. The many modern examples of this mischief, as it should strike an extreme terror into those Women who have bin any way accessary to the death, or but danger of any man; so it is just matter of caution to all, so to regulate their Passions, that they never come within distance of implacability; for if once they arrive there, themselves can give no stop.
20. In order to this, 'twill be well to consider at the first incitation, what the real ground is; perhaps somtimes they are angry (as the Galatians were at St. Paul, Gal. 4. 16.) at those that tell them the Truth; som scandalous, or at least suspicious behavior, may have engaged a freind to admonish them; (an office that has somtimes proved very fatal; those commonly that have most guilt having less patience to hear of it.) And if this be the cause, 'tis the greatest injustice in the world to make that a quarrel which is really an obligation: and therefore instead of maligning their Monitor, they ought to thank and reverence him. Nay, tho the accusation be not with that candid design, but be meant as a reproch; yet if it be true, it should not excite anger at their accusers but remorse, and reformation in themselves.
21. It was the saying of a Wiseman, that he profited more by his enemies then his friends because they would tell him more roundly of his faults: and this is excellently improved by Plutarch, in his Tract, Of the benefits to be reap'd from Enemies: so that even a malicious accusation may be a kindness, and consequently ought not to be repaid with an injury. But suppose in the last place, that the aspersion be not only unkind, but untru, it will not even then be safe to let loose to their indignation: first, in respect of Prudence, an angry vindication serving the design of the enemy, and helping to spread the calumny; whereas a wise neglect and dissemblie does often stifle and suppress it. Secondly, respect of duty, for all that own themselves Christians, must confess they are under an obligation to forgive, and not to revenge. Now if they intend to pay a real obedience to this Precept, 'twil be the more easie, the sooner they set to it. He that sees his house on fire, will not dally with the flame much less blow, or extend it, resolving to quench it at last. And anger is as little to be trusted which if once throughly kindled, will scarce expire but with the destruction of the subject it works on.
22. Let therefore the disoblig'd not look back upon the injury, but forward to those mischiefs which too sharp a resentment may betray them to: let them consider, that the boiling of their blood may finally cause the effusion of anothers, and wrath may swell into murder. If they would do thus, and instead of those magnifying optics wherein they view the wrong, make use of the other end of the perspective, to discern the dismal event at distance; it would sure fright them from any nearer approch, would keep them within those bounds which their duty prescribes them; and thereby acquaint them with a much greater, and more ingenious plesure then their highest revenge can give them; I mean that of forgiving injuries, and obliging the injurious. This is a plesure so pure and refined, so noble and heroic, that none but rational natures are capable of it; whereas that of spight and revenge (if it can be called a plesure) is a meer bestial one; every the most contemtible animal can be angry when 'tis molested, and endevor to return the mischief.
23. It should therefore, methinks, be an easie determination, whether to embrace that clemency and compassion which we see exemplified in the wisest and best of men, nay in the Omniscient, Immortal God, or that savage fierceness of the ignoblest creatures. This is certain, that no woman would be content to assume the outward form of any of those; why then should they subject their nobler part, the mind, to such a transformation? For, as there are no monsters so deformed, as those which are compounded of man and beast: so among them all, nothing can be more unnatural, more odious, then a woman-Tiger. I conclude all with the advice of Solomon, Prov. 17. 14. The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water: therefore leave off contention before it be medled with. When once a breach is made upon the spirit by immoderate anger, all the consequent mischiefs will flow in, like a rapid stream when the banks are broken down; nor is there any way to prevent it, but by keeping the bounds entire, preserving that tenderness and compassion which God and Nature do equally inforce and recommend.