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SERM. may, if they will, make up their accounts
before they go hence, and are no more seen ; but the young will equally be called upon hereafter, and therefore it is equally of importance to them to keep themselves prepared; for righteousness is the only ground of hope, whether we are young or old, healthy or infirm, rich or poor ; age, and bodily strength, and outward advantages, have really nothing to do with it, “ for,” as Solomon saith, “ though the
righteous be prevented with death, yet shall he be in rest; for bonourable age is not that which standeth in length of time, nor that is measured by number of years ; but wisdom is grey hair unto men, “ and an unspotted life is old age;" and yet further, and with which I shall conclude, “ the righteous that are dead shall
condemn the ungodly that are living, and
youth that is soon perfected, the many years “ ånd old age of the unrighteous.”
ON DOING WHAT WE WILL WITH OUR OWN.
MATTHEW XX. 15.
Is it not lawful to do what I will with mine
STRICTLY speaking, there is but one SERA Being in the universe to whom this question can apply; and to him in fact it refers, when the parable in which it occurs is rightly interpreted. Except the Eternal God of all, no one has what he may really call his own; every thing is derived; the laws of society may give us a right against the intrusion and usurpations of our fellowcreatures, but they can never give us an absolute independent right to the most common earthly possession. But though
SERM. this is capable of demonstration to any one
but a confirmed atheist, yet it is astonishing how many errors men fall into by acting upon a contrary persuasion—upon a full persuasion that many things are so much their own, that it must be lawful for them to do with them exactly what they will. The laws of man, indeed, when wisely instituted, seldom go higher than to prevent our using our possessions to the detriment of others. As long as this is avoided, it is pretty generally acknowledged to be lawful, where the laws are at all liberal, that men should do what they will with their own. But how many things may be abused without immediate detriment to other men ! If individuals could be defended against themselves by human laws, as well as against others, the occasions are almost infinite in which the legislative power might justly interfere. To begin with the two great articles of life and health. Are these a man's own? Commonly speaking, and as far as they regard our fellow creatures, they are so. No man
has a natural right to deprive us of, or do SERM. violence to, either. But what others may not do, may we ourselves do? The gloomy and despondent suicide acts certainly as if he was sure his life was his own.
Yet, comparatively with the great mass of mankind, how few are so desperate. Upon calculation, they would scarce be allowed now to make an exception. I say now, for I would not place to the account those who, before the light of revelation, destroyed themselves upon principle. This was one of the wild errors which men fell into, under the system of what they chose to call natural religion ; when their religion was not strictly natural, but the fabric of their own brains. They were Gentiles; they were without the law; so without the law they will be judged hereafter. But, as I am addressing Christians, so I would be held to speak of Christian countries in particular, and therefore have ventured to assert, that in such, the instances of suicide (though at all events too frequent) are scarce so many, comparatively, as to form an exception to the general opinion, that
SERM. our own lives are not at our own disposal.
But as I do not know that there is any abatement in the troubles and distresses to which human life is naturally liable, the question we proposed seems to be decided by a fact, namely, the concurrent testimony of by far the greater part of mankind *.
I would assert, therefore, that in Christian countries life is generally, I might almost say universally, held not to be at our own disposal; neither health, of course, on which life at present depends. But if this be so, do men take no unwarrantable
* I do not know that any argument in defence of suicide has ever increased the number of these desperate acts. The antients could regard suicide as an act of greatness and magnanimity. This might be some encouragement, and supersede all nced of argument; but I believe no modern has succeeded in his attempts to prove the lawfulness of it. The wit and eloquence of Hume, I apprehend, have in no one instance whatsoever, removed a doubt that existed previous to the perusal of his works. They may have had, perhaps, the baneful and horrible effect of confirming and encouraging a pre-disposition to such madness.