« ПретходнаНастави »
seems impossible, that a mind possessed in any sort of this persuasion should so far sink under, or repine at the misery of its condition, as to be driven to this last act of discontentment and distrust. If suicide be lawful, what is the exceeding great use or excellence of patience, that it should obtain a place amongst the foremost duties of the christian profession? In vain are we exhorted to take up the example and the cross of Christ, to look forward unto Jesus, the finisher of our faith, to rejoice, inasmuch as we are made partakers of his sufferings, to endure the chastisement of the Lord, and not to faint, when we are rebuked of him, to struggle, in a word, through all the dangers and difficulties of life, if we may take refuge at once in a voluntary death. The accidental temper in which a ,man dies does not determine his fate, any further than as it is the effect or indication of more established principles. But that death can never be safe which proceeds from a total want or decay of those principles, which it was the first care of Christianity to inculcate.
Fourthly; it does not appear that any of the first disciples of Christ did, in fact, ever admit this crime amongst them, though provoked to it by the most extreme and intolerable sufferings. As far as relates to this life, they were, both by their history and profession, of all men the most miserable. If they had conceived themselves at liberty to choose under these circumstances, it is extraordinary that they should all have preferred life, when they universally proiessed and believed that to be with Christ was life, and to die was gain. I rest it here.
One argument, however, which rises from our reasoning against suicide, deserves an answer.
As a man cannot give what he has not, if he has no right over his own life, how can he transfer that right to another ? and how, then, can any state derive, from any implied and social compact with its citizens, that right which it claims and exercises of punishing by death? I answer, that the state derives this right, not from any secret or supposed consent of the subject, but immediately from God; I mean, from that presumption upon God Almighty's concurrence with every necessary means of upholding society ; upon which presumption, the whole right and obligation of civil authority relies. This power in private hands, and in the hands of the magistrate, has very opposite effects upon the general welfare. For the same reasons, therefore, of public utility, God has delegated it to the one, and denied it to the other. These reasons may be sufficient to evince the unlawfulness
of suicide, considered in a general sense when it is wanton and unprovoked, when it is called in to put a period to a life made miserable by our crimes.
But is there no exception or excuse for those who flee for refuge to the grave from the injuries of fortune or the never ceasing anguish of a wounded mind? If selfmurder be unlawful, these reasons afford only the same excuse for it, that any violent temptation does for the sin it prompts us to commit; that want does for theft, thirst for drunkenness, or revenge for murder. We know that the sufferings of life may be aggravated beyond the ordinary patience of human nature; we know too, that there is born with some men, and generated in others, a certain horror and dejection of spirits, which spreads a dismal shade over the fairest scenes, and fills our evil days with sorrow and disconsolation. But we will not allow that this is either insupportable or incurable. We mistake the remedy ; let them cease to expect it from riot and excess, which serve only to stupify the feelings, while they exasperate the malady. Let them try what temperance, soberness, and chastity will do; the satisfaction of virtue, and the hopes of religion, the exhilarating activity of some benevolent pursuit, or the triumph of successful struggles with our passions and ourselves. Lastly, let them resort to that gracious Being, who despises not the sighings of a contrite heart, nor the desire of such as be sorrowful; who will relieve, and in his own good time reward, those sufferings with which, for some kind but mysterious purpose, it hath pleased him to visit us.
THE LAW OF HONOR.
LUKE XVI. 15.
For that which is highly esteemed amongst men is abomination in the sight
A CONSIDERABLE part of mankind, and those too of the higher orders of society, govern their conduct, so far as they do govern it at all, by the rule of reputation, or, as it is better known, by the name of the law of honor.
In the first place, I acknowledge that it is a great thing to act according to any rule ; for, generally speaking, men fail not so much in the choice of their rule, as in not being able to act up to it. To obey every impulse of passion; to yield to any or every temptation; to catch at all opportunities of all sorts of pleasure, with plan, prospect, and condition, is the lowest state of moral character. To proceed by some rule, to aim at some standard, to possess an authority over our conduct, and exercise our judgment at all, is the next state, and compared with the last, a state of improvement. To take for our guidance the rule of reason and the rule of scripture, to inquire after it, to inform ourselves of it, to endeavour to understand it, and when we do understand it to conform our behaviour to it, is the perfection of moral excellence; and like perfection in every thing, seldom perhaps absolutely and completely attained, but what we should always aim at, and gradually advance towards.
Again ; I would by no means decry or disparage the law of honor universally. It holds many to order, whom nothing else would. Part of mankind seem, in a great measure, incapable of reasoning about their duty, or inquiring for themselves. These must of necessity proceed a great deal by the rule of honor and reputation; that is, in other words, by what they hear praised and esteemed by the persons they converse with. In a multitude of instances, the law of honor in all civilized countries, and we have no concern with any other on this subject, prescribes the same behaviour that reason and religion prescribe. St Paul himself, who had no extraordinary deference for human judgment in these matters, enjoins upon his followers whatever things are praiseworthy, whatever things are of good report; which is a good general rule, though it may contain exceptions and defects.
Having premised thus much in behalf of the law of honor, and of those who go by it, and who challenge to themselves the character and title of men of honor, and who are certainly much to be preferred to those who go by no rule but present inclination, I shall now proceed to show that the rule is not, alone, either safe or complete. By safe, I mean sure to conduct to future and final happiness; by complete, I mean, containing all the duties which are required of us by the will of our Creator.
It is not safe or complete, because it omits some duties, and tolerates some vices; so that a person may be deemed and may be a man of honor, notwithstanding he neglects some 'necessary duties, and allows himself in some vices.
It is my business to make this appear. Now, as the motive and law of honor is calculated principally, if not wholly, to secure and make easy the intercourse between people of equal, or nearly equal condition in life, by regulating the behaviour of such as are governed by or resting upon fidelity, punctuality, civility ; between such this may be the view and object of the rule. It prescribes duties only between equals, or those who account themselves such ; omitting, as well that whole class of duties which relate immediately to the Deity, as those which we owe to our inferiors; and the reason of the omission is substantially this; that a man is not the worse companion, nor the worse to deal with, in those concerns which are usually transacted between persons of honor. Hence it comes to pass, that the profanation of God's name and attributes, of his religion, religious ordinances, and all the effect of passions, levity, or infidelity, are no breaches of honor, nor accounted such, even by those who think them wrong. And if this be not a true account that I have given of the law of honor, that it is confined to the duties and offices between equals, we would desire to know how it happens that it is not the same as the law of God. At least, it is a demonstration that the law of Moses does not embrace the extent and compass of our duty; since there are points, such as those I have mentioned, relating to the Deity, which we acknowledge to be duties, though yet the violation of them is accounted no breach of the law of honor.' The con sequence of this is, that those who set up for persons of honor, and look no farther than to maintain the character of men of honor in the world, find no obligation or inducement to any of those duties which we owe immediately to God. They may allow the evil habits of cursing and swearing to grow upon them and keep hold of them; they may indulge themselves in the utmost licentiousness in the treatment of many things that belong to religion ; they may be as remiss and negligent as they please in their attendance upon public worship, and behave as irreverently as they please when they do attend ; they may utterly lay aside any act of private devotion; they may cease, in a word, froin every expression of homage, piety, gratitude, and acknowledgment to the Supreme Preserver of us all, without suffering in their character as men of honor, or incurring a stain or imputation upon their honor on that account.
Nevertheless, these are duties. God is entitled to our affection and devotion, our love and honor; and he has commanded that
we pay it. This is not disputed; nor do I insinuate that it is. What I argue is, that the law of honor is not considered to concern itself with these duties, even by those who confess them to be duties. · This, then, will be admitted ; that what respects the Divine Being lies out of the province of the law of honor. But in all that concerns man and man, in that great and important class of duties which are called relative duties, the law of honor may be depended upon as an adequate rule; and there, it is enough if we act but up to and support the character of men of honor. I wish it were so, for the sake of all who profess this character ; but I fear the observations we have laid down, that the law of honor takes notice only of what passes between equals, will be found here also; and that those duties which, we owe to our dependents and inferiors, which form together a very considerable part of a good man's virtues and a bad man's vices, are omitted in the law of honor ; that is, may be either observed or violated, without any effect upon a man's honor, or reputation for honor, one way or other. Of this kind the following are examples; the cruel and barbarous treatment of our domestic servants; the worrying them out of their happiness by, causeless or immoderate anger, habitual punishments, groundless suspicion, wanton restraint, harsh, scornful, or opprobrious lan+ guage. It is not to be computed the quantity of misery a fierce, overbearing temper may produce in his family and amongst his dependents by these means. Yet what has all this to do with his honor? He is not the worse accounted as a man of honor for this behaviour. Notwithstanding, the justifiableness of such behaviour no one will assert; for a conduct which occasions so much unnecessary misery to any, no matter to whom, must be criminal.
Bounty to the poor is 'a christian duty; no one doubts it'; but I do not find it affects a man's honor either way, whether he is bountiful to the poor or not bountiful.
And not only want of charity, but want of justice, is tolerated and connived at by the law of honor. The great and grievous injuries done to tradesmen by delay of payment, oftener by not paying their just demands at all, and by persons of rank and distinction, and who assume the name of men of honor, however inconsistent they be with any principle of moral probity and every pretension to it, are not inconsistent with the reputation of honor, provided the man be careful of his conduct amongst his equals, and preserve a regard to truth, fidelity, and punctuality in his dealings with his equals, or with persons of honor; for all these