1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Charity suffers long, and is kind; charity envies not; charity braggs not itself, is not puffed up,…
Envy is a sensation of uneasiness arising from the advantages which others are supposed to possess above us, accompanied with malignity towards those who possess them. The character of an envious man is universally odious. All disclaim it; and they who feel themselves under the influence of this passion carefully conceal it. But it is proper to consider that among all our passions, both good and bad, there are many different gradations. Sometimes they swim on the surface of the mind, without producing any internal agitation. They proceed no farther than the beginnings of passion. Allayed by our constitution, or tempered by the mixture of other dispositions, they exert no considerable influence on the temper. Though the character in which envy forms the ruling passion be one too odious to be common, yet some tincture of this evil disposition mixes with most characters in the world. The chief grounds of envy may be reduced to three.
I. ACCOMPLISHMENTS, or endowments of the mind. The chief endowment for which man deserves to be valued is virtue. This forms the most estimable distinction among mankind. Yet this, which may appear surprising, never forms any ground of envy. No man is envied for being more just, more generous, more patient, or forgiving than others. This may, in part, be owing to virtue producing in every one who beholds it that high degree of respect which extinguishes envy. But probably it is more owing to the good opinion which every one entertains of his own moral qualities. Some virtues, or at least the seeds of them, he finds within his breast. Others he vainly attributes to himself. Those in which he is plainly deficient he undervalues; on the whole he is as worthy as his neighbour. The case is different with regard to those mental abilities and powers which are ascribed to others. As long as these are exerted in a sphere of action remote from ours, and not brought into competition with talents of the same kind, to which we have pretensions, they create no jealousy. They are viewed as distant objects, in which we have not any concern. Even then, envy is, properly speaking, not grounded on the talents of others. For here, too, our self-complacency brings us relief; from the persuasion that, were we thoroughly known, and full justice done to us, our abilities would be found not inferior to those of our rivals. What properly occasions envy, is the fruit of the accomplishments of others; the pre-eminence which the opinion of the world bestows, or which we dread it will bestow, on their talents above ours. Mere rivality, inspired by emulation, would carry no reproach; were not that rivality joined with obliquity, and a malignant spirit; did it not lead to secret detraction, and unfair methods of diminishing the reputation of others. Let such as are addicted to this infirmity consider how much they degrade themselves. Superior merit of any kind always rests on itself. Conscious of what it deserves, it disdains low competitions and jealousies. They who are stung with envy, especially when they allow its malignity to appear, confess a sense of their own inferiority; and, in effect, pay homage to that merit from which they endeavour to detract. But in order to eradicate the passion, and to cure the disquiet which it creates, let such persons further consider how inconsiderable the advantage is which their rivals have gained by any superiority over them. They whom you envy are themselves inferior to others who follow the same pursuits. Public applause is the most fluctuating and uncertain of all rewards. Within what narrow bounds is their fame confined? With what a number of humiliations is it mixed? To how many are they absolutely unknown? Among those who know them, how many censure and decry them?
II. ADVANTAGES of fortune, superiority in birth, rank, and riches, even qualifications of body and form, become grounds of envy. Among external advantages those which relate to the body ought certainly to hold the lowest place, as in the acquisition of them we can claim no merit, but must ascribe them entirely to the gift of nature. Yet envy has often showed itself here in full malignity. It would have proved a blessing to multitudes to have wanted those advantages for which they are envied. How frequently has beauty betrayed the possessors of it into many a snare, and brought upon them many a disaster? Short-lived at the best, and trifling at any rate, in comparison with the higher and more lasting beauties of the mind. But of all the grounds of envy among men superiority in rank and fortune is the most general. Hence the malignity which the poor commonly bear to the rich, as ingrossing to themselves all the comforts of life. Alas! all this envious disquietude which agitates the world, arises from a deceitful figure which imposes upon the public view. False colours are hung out: the real state of men is not what it seems to be. The order of society requires a distinction of ranks to take place; but, in point of happiness, all men come much nearer to equality than is commonly imagined. The poor man possesses not, it is true, some of the conveniences and pleasures of the rich; but, in return, he is free from many embarrassments to which they are. subject. When you think of the enjoyments you want, think also of the troubles from which you are free. Often, did you know the whole, you would be inclined to pity the state of those whom you now envy.
III. SUPERIOR success in the course of worldly pursuits is a frequent ground of envy. Among all ranks of men competitions arise. Wherever any favourite object is pursued in common, jealousies seldom fail to take place among those who are equally desirous of attaining it. "I could easily bear," says one, "that some others should be more famous, should be richer than I. It is but just that this man should enjoy the distinction to which his splendid abilities have raised him. It is natural for that man to command the respect to which he is entitled by his birth or his rank. But when I and another have started in the race of life, upon equal terms, and in the same rank, that he, without any pretension to uncommon merit, should have suddenly so far outstripped me; should have engrossed all that public favour to which I am no less entitled than he; — this is what I cannot bear; my spirit swells with indignation at this undeserved treatment I have suffered from the world." Complaints of this nature are often made by them who seek to justify the envy which they bear to their more prosperous neighbours. But if such persons wish not to be thought unjust, let me desire them to inquire whether they have been altogether fair in the comparison they have made of their own merit with that of their rivals? and whether they have not themselves to blame more than the world for being left behind in the career of fortune? The world is not always blind or unjust in conferring its favours. Supposing, however, the world to have been unjust with regard to you, this will not vindicate malignity and envy towards a more prosperous competitor. You may accuse the world, but what reason have you to bear ill-will to him? You, perhaps, preferred the enjoyment of your ease to the stirs of a busy or to the cares of a thoughtful life. Ought you then to complain if the more laborious have acquired what you were negligent to gain? Consider that if you have obtained less preferment you have possessed more indulgence and ease. The causes that nourish envy are principally two, and two which, very frequently, operate in conjunction: these are pride and indolence. The connection of pride with envy is obvious and direct. The high value which the proud set on their own merit, the unreasonable claims which they form on the world are perpetual sources, first of discontent, and next of envy. When indolence is joined to pride the disease of the mind becomes more inveterate and incurable. Pride leads men to claim more than they deserve. Indolence prevents them from obtaining what they might justly claim. Disappointments follow; and spleen, malignity, and envy rage within them. As, therefore, we value our virtue or our peace, let us guard against these two evil dispositions of mind. Let us be modest in our esteem, and by diligence study to acquire the esteem of others. So shall we shut up the avenues that lead to many a bad passion, and shall learn, in whatsoever state we are, therewith to be content. Finally, in order to subdue envy, let us bring often into view those religious considerations which regard us particularly as Christians. Let us remember how unworthy we are in the sight of God; and how much the blessings which each of us enjoy are beyond what we deserve. Let us nourish reverence and submission to that Divine government which has appointed to every one such a condition in the world as is fittest for them to possess.
(H. Blair, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,