Page images

manners; which was both regular in point of confiftency, and not fo much beneath the dignity of our Lord's miffion as may at firft fight be fuppofed, for bad manners are

bad morals.

It is fufficiently apparent, that the precepts we have recited, or rather the difpofition which these precepts inculcate, relate to perfonal conduct from perfonal motives; to cafes in which men act from impulse, for themselves, and from themselves. When it comes to be confidered, what is neceffary to be done for the fake of the public, and out of a regard to the general welfare, (which confideration, for the most part, ought exclufively to govern the duties of men in public ftations) it comes to a cafe to which the rules do not belong. This distinction is plain; and, if it were lefs fo, the confequence would not be much felt, for it is very feldom that, in the intercourfe of private life, men act with public views. The perfonal motives, from which they do act, the rule regulates.


The preference of the patient to the heroic character, which we have here noticed, and which the reader will find explained at large in the work to which we have referred him, is a peculiarity in the Chriftian inftitution, which I propofe as an argument of wisdom, very much beyond the fituation and natural character of the perfon who delivered it.

II. A fecond argument, drawn from the morality of the New Testament, is the stress which is laid by our Saviour upon the regulation of the thoughts. And I place this confideration next to the other, because they are connected. The other related to the malicious paffions; this to the voluptuous. Together they comprehend the whole cha


"Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, &c.These are the things which defile a man.” Mat. xv. 19.

[blocks in formation]

"Wo unto you scribes and pharifees, hypocrites, for ye make clean the outfide of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excefs.-Ye are like unto whited fepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleannefs; even fo ye alfo outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrify and iniquity." Mat. xxiii. 25. 27.

And more particularly that strong expreffion, (Mat. v. 28.) "Whofoever looketh on a woman to luft after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart."

There can be no doubt with any reflecting mind, but that the propenfities of our nature must be fubjected to regulation; but the question is, where the check ought to be placed, upon the thought, or only upon action. In this queftion, our Saviour, in the texts here quoted, has pronounced a decifive judgment. He makes the control


of thought effential. Internal purity with him is every thing. Now I contend that this is the only discipline which can succeed: in other words, that a moral fyftem, which prohibits actions, but leaves the thoughts at liberty, will be ineffectual, and is therefore unwife. I know not how to go about the proof of a point, which depends upon experience, and upon a knowledge of the human constitution, better than by citing the judgement of perfons, who appear to have given great attention to the fubject, and to be well qualified to form a true opinion about it. Boerhaave, speaking of this very declaration of our Saviour, "Whofoever looketh on a woman to luft after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart," and understanding it, as we do, to contain an injunction to lay the check upon the thoughts, was wont to fay, that "our Saviour knew mankind better than Socrates." Haller, who has recorded this faying of Boerhaave's, adds to it the following remarks of his own*: "It did not escape the obfer* Letters to his Daughter. D 4


vation of our Saviour that the rejection of any evil thoughts was the best defence against vice; for, when a debauched person fills his imagination with impure pictures, the licentious ideas which he recals, fail not to ftimulate his defires with a degree of violence which he cannot refift. This will be followed by gratification, unless some external obftacle should prevent him from the commiffion of a fin, which he had internally refolved on." "Every moment of time (fays our author) that is spent in meditations upon fin, increases the power of the dangerous object which has poffeffed our imagination." I suppose these reflections will be generally affented to.

III. Thirdly, had a teacher of morality been afked concerning a general principle of conduct, and for a fhort rule of life; and had he instructed the perfon who confulted him "conftantly to refer his actions to what he believed to be the will of his Creator, and conftantly to have in view, not his own intereft and gratification alone, but


« PreviousContinue »