ON THE FOUR CARDINAL VIRTUES
Consider first, that there are four moral virtues which are called cardinal; because they are, as it were, hinges upon which the whole life of a Christian must constantly move, if he would be good for anything. These are prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, which the wise man tells us, (Wisdom viii. 7,) are all taught by divine wisdom, and are such things as men can have nothing more profitable in life. All other moral virtues have a necessary dependence on these four; they all fall to the ground without them. Every virtue must be prudent and discreet in all it takes in hand, otherwise it degenerates into vice. Every virtue must be stout and valiant, firm and constant, in adhering to what is right, and opposing what is wrong. And every virtue must be sober and temperate, lest it exceeds the bounds of due moderation prescribed by right reason and religion. But, oh! what treasures of virtues do they possess that have acquired these four principal ones! These will effectually arm them against all vices.
Consider 2ndly, that Christian prudence is a virtue which teaches us in all things what is good and what is evil; what is right and what is wrong; and what ought to be done, and what ought to be left undone, in all the occurrences of life. ‘Tis a virtue that directs all our words and actions in such a manner as that we neither decline out of the way, or offend ourselves, nor give occasion to others to offend; but ever setting before our eyes our great business and last end, makes always a proper choice of the means that are to bring us to this great end, and apply them accordingly. ‘Tis a virtue that directs all other virtues; combining them all by the royal middle way of our great king, that they may not go aside by excess or defect, either to the right hand or to the left. The offices of this great virtue are to design and consult well, to judge right, and to direct well the execution, of what has been rightly concerted and judged to be proper. In all which it is helped, indeed, by the remembrance of things past, by the understanding of things present, by the forecasting of things to come, by reasoning, attention, caution, and circumspection; but all this with dependence on divine grace, and not on one’s own industry, and with a continual application to our Lord, by frequent and fervent prayer for his light and assistance, without which our prudence will avail us nothing.
Consider 3rdly, the offices of the other three cardinal virtues and the excellence of them. Justice tenders to every one his due, and wrongs no one. It renders to every one his due, and wrongs no one. It teaches how to restrain every thought, every desire, every act of the will, every judgment, every word, every action, and every omission too, that any ways tend to injure one’s neighbour, or that do not rightly square with that great principle of morality, ‘Do as thou wouldst be done by.’ And with regard to God, (who has the most undoubted right, by all manner of titles, to our whole being, and to all our service,) it obliges us, before all things, to dedicate our whole hearts and souls to him by worship and love. Then fortitude arms the soul with invincible courage in her warfare against her spiritual enemies, and gives her strength and constancy to enable her to overcome all fear or dread of any of those evils which she may be exposed to in her mortal pilgrimage for doing her duty, and resolution to suffer everything rather than to sin. Lastly, temperance restrains all immoderation in eating or drinking, with all other excesses of our passions or lusts, and all that any ways carry us out of the due bounds prescribed either by right reason and the law of nature, or by the precepts of God, or by them that have their authority from him, in the employment or functions of any of our senses, whether the exterior or interior. See, my soul, how admirable are all these virtues! Oh! there is not a day, there is scarce an hour of thy mortal life, in which thou dost not stand in need of them all.
Conclude to esteem and desire, love and seek, all these blessed virtues. O spare no pains to acquire them – they are richly worth all thy labour. But ever remember whose gifts they are, and that they must come to thee by fervent prayer. All thy labour, without this, will be labour in vain.