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riment, that religion can only act upon human life by general precepts addressed and applied to the disposition; that there is no ground for the objection that has sometimes been made to Christianity, that it is defective, as a moral institution, for the want of more explicit, more circumstantial, and more accurate directions; and that when we place by the side of each other human and Divine laws, without understanding the distinction in the two methods by which they seek to attain their purpose, and the reason of that distinction, we form a comparison between them which is likely to be injurious to both. We
find fault with the Scriptures for not giving us the precision of civil laws; and we may blame the laws for not being content with the conciseness and simplicity of Scripture; and our censure in both cases be unfounded and undeserved.
The observation of the text is exactly of the nature I have been alluding to. It supplies a principle. It furnishes us with a view of our duty, and of the relation in which we are placed, which, if attended to (and no construction can be of use without that), will produce in our minds just determinations, and, what are of more value, because more wanted, efficacious motives.
“None of us liveth to himself.” We ought to regard our lives (including under that name our faculties, our opportunities, our advantages of every kind), not as mere instruments of personal gratification, but as due to the service of God; and as given us to be employed in promoting the purpose of his will in the happiness of our fellow-creatures. I am not able to imagine a turn of thought which is better than this. It encounters the antagonist, the check, the destroyer of all virtue,—selfishness. It is intelligible to all; to all different degrees applicable. It incessantly prompts to exertion, to activity, to beneficence.
In order to recommend it, and in order to render it as useful as it is capable of being made, it may be proper to point out how the force and truth of the apostle's assertion bears upon the different classes of civil society. And in this view, the description of men which first, undoubtedly, offers itself to our notice, is that of men of public characters; who possess offices of importance, power, influence, and authority. If the rule and principle which I am exhibiting to your
observation can be said to be made for one class of mankind more than another, it is for them. They, certainly, “live not to themselves.” The design, the tenure, the condition of their offices; the public expectation, the public claim ; consign their lives and labours, their cares and thoughts and talents, to the public happiness, whereinsoever it is connected with the duties of their stations, or can be advanced by the fidelity of their services. There may be occasions and emergencies when men are called upon to take part in the public service, out of the line of their professions, or the ordinary limits of their vocation. But these emergencies occur I think seldom. The necessity should be manifest before we yield to it. A too great readiness to start out of our separate precincts of duty, in order to rush into provinces which belong to others, is a dangerous excess of zeal. In general the public interest is best upheld, the public quiet always best preserved, by each one attending closely to the proper and distinct duties of his station. In seasons of peril or consternation, this attention ought to be doubled. Dangers are not best opposed by tumultuous or disorderly exertions; but by a sedate, firm, and calm resistance, especially by that regular and silent strength which is the collected result of
each man's vigilance and industry in his separate station. For public men, therefore, to be active in the stations assigned to them, is demanded by their country in the hour of her fear or danger. If ever there was a time when they that rule “should rule with diligence;” when supineness, negligence, and remissness in office, when a timidity or love of ease, which might in other circumstances be tolerated, ought to be prescribed and excluded; it is the present. If ever there was a time to make the public feel the benefit of public institutions, it is this.
But I shall add nothing more concerning the obligation which the text, and the lesson it conveys, imposes upon public men, because I think that the principle is too apt to be considered as appertaining to them alone. It will, therefore, be more useful to show how what are called private stations are affected by the same principle. I say, what are called private
. stations; for such they are only as contradistinguished from public trusts publicly and formally confided. In themselves, and accurately estimated, there are few such; I mean, that there are few so destined to the private emolument of the possessor, as that they are innocently occupied by him when they are occupied with no other attention but to his own enjoyment. Civil government is constituted for the happiness of the governed, and not for the gratification of those who administer it. Not only so, but the gradations of rank in society are supported, not for the advantage or pleasure of those who possess the highest places in it, but for the common good; for the security, the repose, the protection, the encouragement of all. They may be very satisfactorily defended upon this principle; but then this principle casts upon them duties. In particular it teaches every man who possesses a fortune to regard himself as in some measure occupying a public station ; as obliged to make it a channel of beneficence, an instrument of good to others, and not merely a supply to himself of the materials of luxury, ostentation, or avarice. There is a a share of power and influence necessarily attendant upon property ; upon the right or the wrong use of which, the exertion or the neglect, depends no little part of the virtue or vice, the happiness or misery, of the community. It is in the choice of every man of rank and property to become the benefactor or the scourge, the guardian or the tyrant, the example or the corrupter of the virtue of his servants, his tenants, his neighbourhood; to be the author to them of peace
l or contention, of sobriety or dissoluteness, of comfort or distress. This power, whencesoever it proceeds, whether expressly conferred or silently acquired (for I see no difference in the two cases), brings along with it obligation and responsibility. It is to be la
. mented when this consideration is not known or not attended to. Two causes appear to me to obstruct, to men of this description, the view of their moral situation. One is, that they do not perceive any call upon them at all; the other, that, if there be one, they do not see to what they are called. To the first point I would answer, in the words of an excellent moralist, * “ The delivery of the talent is the call;" it is the call of Providence, the call of Heaven. The supply of the means is the requisition of the duty. When we find ourselves in possession of faculties and opportunities, whether arising from the endowments and qualities of our minds, or from the advantages of fortune and station, we need ask for no farther evidence of the intention of the donor: we ought to see
* The late Abraham Tucker, Esq., author of the Light of Nature,' and of the ‘Light of Nature and Revelation pursued,' by Edward Search, Esq.
in that intention a demand upon us for the use and application of what has been given. This is a principle of natural as well as revealed religion ; and it is universal. Then as to the second inquiry, the species of benevolence, the kind of duty to which we are bound, it is pointed out to us by the same indication. To whatever office of benevolence our faculties are best fitted, our talents turned; whatever our opportunities, our occasions, our fortune, our profession, our rank or station, or whatever our local circumstances, which are capable of no enumeration, put in our power to perform with the most advantage and effect, that is the office for us ; that it is, which, upon our principle, we are designed, and being designed, are obliged, to discharge. I think that the judgment of mankind does not often fail them in their choice of the objects or species of their benevolence : but what fails them is the sense of the obligation, the consciousness of the connexion between duty and power, and, springing from this consciousness, a disposition to seek opportunities, or to embrace those that occur, of rendering themselves useful to their generation.
Another cause, which keeps out of the sight of those who are concerned in them the duties that belong to superior stations, is a language from their infancy familiar to them, namely, that they are placed above work. I have always considered this as a most unfortunate phraseology. And, as habitual modes of speech have no small effect upon public sentiment, it has a direct tendency to make one portion of mankind envious, and the other idle. The truth is, every man has his work. The kind of work varies, and that is all the difference there is. A great deal of labour exists beside that of the hands; many species of industry beside bodily operation, equally necessary, requiring equal assiduity, more attention, more anxiety.