« VorigeDoorgaan »
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 confession, 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 professed 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 self-murder 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 HONOUR.
LUKE XVI. 15.
For that which is highly esteemed amongst men is abomination in the sight of God.
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 honour.
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 honour 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 honour 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 honour in all civilized countries (and we have no concern with any other on this subject) prescribes the same behaviour that reason and religion prescribe. Saint Paul himself, who had no extraordinary deference for human judgement 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 honour, and of those who go by it, and who challenge to themselves the character and title of men of honour, and who are certainly much to be preferred to those who go by no rule but present inclination;