- Sermon I. the Rising Generation Exhorted to Adopt the Religion of Their Christian Forefathers.
- Sermon II. Hope In God.
- Sermon III. On the Means and the Importance of Grace.
- Sermon IV. Corruption of Heart the Source of Irreligion and Immorality.
- Sermon V. Against Despair and Suicide.
- Sermon VI. On the Folly and Danger of Thoughtlessness.
- Sermon VII. Perseverance In the Religious Principles Taught In Youth, and Particularly In Faith and Hope, Recommended.
- Sermon VIII. Good Intentions the Least Fallible Security For Good Conduct.
- Sermon IX. Religion the Chief Concern of Life.
- Sermon X. On Conformity to Fashion and the Customs of the World
- Sermon XI. On Seeking a Remedy For Sorrow, In Vice and Dissipation.
- Sermon XII. Christian Politeness
- Sermon XIII. On the Duty of Preventing Evil, By Actual Coercion, As Well As By Advice and Remonstrance.
- Sermon XIV. On Pursuing Visionary Schemes of Happiness, Without Attending to Scripture, and Revealed Religion
- Sermon XV. the Pride of Human Learning and False Philosophy, a Great Obstacle to the Reception of Christianity.
- Sermon XVI. On the Duty of Servants.
- Sermon XVII. On the Wickedness and Misery of Envy and Contention.
- Sermon XVIII. the Cunning Oe the Wicked Inconsistent With Wisdom.
- Sermon XIX. On the Snares of the Devil, and Means of Escaping Them.
- Sermon XX. Moderation Necessary to All Solid and Durable Enjoyment.
- Sermon XXI. Happiness to Be Found Rather In the Enjoyment of Health and Innocence, Than In the Successful Pursuits of Avarice and Ambition.
- Sermon XXII. On the Duties of the Preacher and the Hearer.
- Sermon XXIII. * On the Benefits to Be Derived From the Sight of a Funeral.
- Sermon XXIV. a Preparatory Persuasive to the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
- Sermon XXV. the Prospect of Perpetual and Universal Peace to Be Established On the Principles of Christian Philanthropy.
- Sermon XXVI. On the Necessity of Increasing the Places of Public Worship On the Establishment; and On the Duty of Supporting the Objects of the Philanthropic Society.
- Sermon XXVII. the Support of the Magdalen Hospital Recommended.
- Sermon XXVIII. the Education of the Poor Recommended.
against despair and suicide.
Jeremiah, xviii. 12.—And they said,there is no hope;but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart.
SUCH is the sullen and gloomy resolve of minds under the influence of despair; a despair that often leads to the last sad catastrophe of human woe, self-assassination.
It is said by foreigners, that our countrymen are peculiarly prone to melancholy, and all its wretched consequences. It is but too true, that instances of despair and suicide abound in the happiest nation in the globe. Despair and suicide—dismal subjects indeed∗ but when there are hopes of affording relief, what good physician is deterred from his duty by the loathsomeness of an object, or the difficulty of an operation? And what mortal now assembled within these walls, however healthy, wise, or opulent, knows what sorrows and miseries may be his lot in life; into what sins and infirmities he may fall before he has finished his course; whether his reason may not die before him, whether the fine fibres of his brain may not be deranged by casualty or disease, whether the whole system of his nerves may not give way, and cause insanity or idiotism? for the human body, like a stringed instrument of music, if the master's hand for one moment turn the screw in the wrong direction, becomes totally relaxed, and retains only the lifeless form of a disarranged machine.
And let no man presume to say he has no interest in the discussion of such a subject. How little did many excellent men in our own memory, men of enlightened minds, virtuous dispositions, affluent circumstances; men honoured in their generation; how little did they deem that they should finish their illustrious career prematurely, with their own hand, by a cord, a razor, a pistol, a pool, or a poisoned phial? Almost every day's paper of intelligence brings an instance of suicide∗
In truth, neither riches, grandeur, learning, nor unassisted virtue, can give stability to the mind of man in the hour of his infirmity. When the prospect around is darkened, and frightful forms start up before the disordered imagination, religion only, the religion of Christ only, is capable of restoring that perpetual cheerfulness, of preserving that constant equilibrium, that cool, rational, dispassionate frame, which precludes despondency. When the sun of Faith arises in the heart, it diffuses a sun-shine around, tinges every object with the gayest hue, and causes every thing to be seen in its genuine shape and colour.
To the sanctuary of religion, therefore, I mean to invite the erring crowd who say there is no hope; who have pierced themselves through and through with many sorrows, amidst the briars of the world, and the thorns of false philosophy. I exhort them to listen to that friendly voice, which in accents sweeter than music to the ear of man, invites them, saying, Come into me all ye that travel and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.
In the eyes of imagination, I picture to myself a crowd of mortals, straying from the path of peace, and lost in a wilderness over-shadowed with the darkest foliage. The cypress and the yew-tree form the gloomy grove. I will advance a few steps, and speak to the forlorn wanderers. Peradventure they are not too far gone to admit of a return. Some of them I see standing on the brink of deep and sombrous pools, overhung by weeping willows, just on the point of leaping forwards; others, in solitary recesses, armed with daggers, furnished with halters, and cups of poison. As there is still life, there is still hope. I will call to them. Their lot may be mine, may be that of the happiest of us all, the fairest, the youngest, the richest, in this congregation. Let us run and rescue the sufferer from perdition∗
Stay, stay thy footstep, mistaken brother, who standest on the margin of that dark pool. Think not thy misfortunes too heavy to be borne. At least impart them to a faithful ear. Yes; I hear thy murmur. Thou art reduced, on a sudden, from affluence to poverty. Thou canst not dig, to beg thou art ashamed.—For this then thy soul refuses to be comforted, and, in a melancholy hour, thou hast taken the dreadful resolution of plunging into a watery grave. Before thou fallest, and the waters are gone over thy head; before thou art gone hence and art no more seen, pause a while; and in that awful pause, fall upon thy knees and pray, and say, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done. Thou canst not, it seems, bend thy stubborn knees∗ Thou hast not been accustomed to religious acts∗ Reluctant as thou art, yet obey my voice. The very time which thou spendest in this exercise, will contribute to cool that rage which has driven thee beyond the restraint of reason. Ask for grace, and it shall be given thee, for there is one,—a Friend, a Father, who only waits for thy return to him, and is more ready to hear than we to pray.
And now thy passion, which represented every thing misshapen and discoloured, has a little subsided, let me expostulate a moment, with all the tender solicitude of brotherly love. It was, then, the fear of poverty, which reduced thee to this dreadful degree of despair. The haggard spectre, clothed in rags, affrighted thee, and drove thee, all pale and trembling, to yonder precipice. It seems, then, that poverty, in thy estimation, is the sorest of evils, and what the philosopher called the most formidable of all formidable things, death, is to be preferred to it. Thy mistake was great. Poverty, with health, is capable of all real happiness. By virtuous industry thou mayest acquire a decent maintenance, and, by patience and contentment, be happier than in the day of thy thoughtless prosperity. Seek in religion that comfort which the world denies thee. Reason, philosophy, and experience, will unite to teach thee, that poverty is by no means such an evil as can justify the least degree of despair. Consider the poor with attention. View their countenances and behaviour. They appear to be equally cheerful with the rich, often more so. Withdraw thy step then from the gloomy path that leadeth to death, lay hold on Jesus Christ before thou sinkest, return to thy house and family—be contented, be happy and be thankful.
A little time elapses, and now let me ask you, was not thy misery as a dream of the night; a shadowy spectre conjured up by a temporary phrensy; an air-formed phantom? Awake in the morning, and see the bright sun-beams breaking into thy chamber-window; the bells from yonder village spire, that glistens in the sun-shine, redouble their cheerful peals; the birds twitter from thy roof; the playful school-boys shout with the voice of joy and gladness; the hammer of industry clatters on the anvil; all is joyous, gay, and lively around. Thus heaviness may endure for a night, but joy, you see, cometh in the morning. Thy heart dances in unison, and thou goest forth to the labours and pleasures of many-coloured life, not without surprise that thou couldst ever think of leaving the pleasant scene, to plunge into the dark waters, in the valley of the shadow of death.
But I have hitherto considered only one of the evils which occasion despondency, the fall from opulence to penury. The fear of want is, however, but one among the grisly troop of phantoms that frighten the wretched to the gulf of despair.
Once more I look forward, and see, in fancy's eye, a numerous tribe succeed, with folded arms, with bloodless, woe-worn cheeks, and hollow eyes, that lack their lustre. There stands the disappointed lover, with a dagger uplifted at his bare bosom; and thou, poor luckless maiden, betrayed by villainy, forsaken or crossed by avarice, in thy first pure virtuous affection, weaving garlands for thy love, and singing the frantic song, while thou formest the fatal noose∗ There the gamester, with haggard looks, and eyes that glare distraction, with a pistol at his head∗ and there the poor religious enthusiast on his knees, his beads and prayer-book in one hand, and a knife pointed at his throat in the other∗ there also the haughty unfeeling infidel, with an air of defiance, coolly drinking the bowl of hemlock, and hurling, as it were, in the face of heaven, its choicest, best gifts, with contempt and indignation.
Sons and daughters of affliction—co-heirs with me in all the frailties, infirmities and miseries which flesh inherits—list∗ O list one moment—before you venture on an act, which never can be recalled, and the consequences of which may be dreadful beyond all description and all conception.
If you have no regard for yourselves, have you no relatives, whom you love, and to whom you are dear? Is there no sweet prattling babe, whom you have brought into a world, which you confess to be miserable, and whom you are going to leave in it, an orphan, to the cold protection of charity? Is there no parent, whose grey hairs you will bring with sorrow to the grave?—no partner whose heart will feel the wound you inflict yourself with tenfold anguish∗ no friends, no family, whom you will involve in disgrace as well as woe∗
I only ask of you at first, time for recollection. Let your passions grow cool and let your present ideas be changed by shifting the melancholy scene. You will soon see your rashness in its true light, and shudder at the danger which you have just escaped. Away with the sharpened steel, the opiate drug, the poison, and the halter, and lift up the hands that held them, and were on the point of destroying life—to the Giver of life, to the Giver of every comfort of life; continue instant in prayer, and presently the sun-shine of grace shall shine in the benighted chambers of your heart. Light and warmth shall return where all was cold and dismal; welcome as the first sun-beam that broke into the subterraneous dungeon of some breathing skeleton, on the demolition of a Bastile. Go to thy God in thy distress, as the wailing infant to the nurse's breast, and there recline, and smile in sweet repose, till all is hushed in peace.
And now the paroxysm is passed, let us commune together. The time will not permit me to address each of you separately; but as your error is similar in its origin and consequences, a general address may be applicable to you all. You are recovered from the temporary phrensy of your passion, and I will therefore venture to apply, in the first place, to your reason.
I approach you, unhappy brethren, with respect. Great tenderness is due to your infirmity. Sacred be your sorrows,-unexplored the cause, but by God and your own consciences∗ But I doubt not, there is something of bodily disorder blended with your mistakes; and the aid of medicine may be necessary to co-operate with reason, in the removal of your mental malady. The suicide who falls into the extremity of woe from mistakes in religion, is an object of peculiar compassion. You are all, perhaps, more the objects of pity than of censure, except the philosophical infidel, who defends suicide by arguments, and publishes to his fellow-creatures persuasives to the practice. The ridicule of such attempts is lost in the horror of them.
Notwithstanding the sophistry of a Hume and his admirers, you must all know that self-murder is against the law of nature, against the laws of your country, and against the laws of God. To prove this were to waste time. Common sense wants no proof, and sophistry will admit none.
What have you, mistaken mortals, to urge in your defence? Nature, reason, law, religion, are against you. You have nothing to offer but your feelings, which, you urge, are intolerable; Feelings∗ a fashionable word, substituted for mental operations, and savouring much of materialism. You feel yourselves wretched in the extreme, and seek relief in non-existence.
But let me persuade you to compare yourselves, and situation, with others; with your inferiors, with the greater crowd of the more miserable. Feel a little for others that are confessedly wretched; and your own woes will appear diminished, or annihilated, on the comparison. Think of the poor sable sons of woe in the West Indies; of the sons, did I say? think of the poor sable daughters of woe, for the tender sex is little spared, driven by whips to work under a vertical sun, allowed but little rest after severe labour, and fed scantily. Think of all their sufferings which you have heard so lately described in the British senate, where worldly policy and mercantile interest superseded for a time only the plainest dictates of humanity, and the most express precepts of Jesus Christ, who was sent to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and to set at liberty them that are bruised with an iron rod, in a state of slavery, without hope of release or alleviation.
Many of you, it is to be feared are impatient of trifling evils, and resentful under slight provocations. In a fit of rage you wreak your vengeance on yourselves. It is not that your reason is convinced, that the evil which oppresses you cannot be removed, but that your temper will not bear it. Depend upon it, a little time would mitigate the ferocity of your temper, remove the evil, or at least render it tolerable. Evils, granting that they are real, wear themselves, like water, smooth channels by long continuance. Habit is wonderfully efficacious in giving the mind a power to bear its miseries. Habit blunts the edge of them. The great point is to bear the first attack, not to be so stunned by a blow, as to lose all power of self-defence. It is in the first fits of your passion, that many of you fall into despair. Cultivate self-command, cultivate humility, cultivate the milder affections, submit to your reason and your conscience, be a Christian, and be happy.
Be a Christian, I say, and be happy. You have heard what comfortable words our Saviour saith to all those who truly turn to him—Come unto me, all ye that travel and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you. Hither then, ye distressed and mistaken tribes, repair, in your distress, to your friend and physician, who will send his Paraclete, the Holy Ghost the Comforter, to give you a spiritual joy in your hearts, which the busy, dissipated world knows little of, and can neither give nor take away.
Let us recapitulate thy complaints then, and apply the sovereign remedy, the grand medicine of the human soul in all its maladies. Does poverty come upon thee like an armed man? Fear him not, when thou art clad in the panoply or complete armour of Christianity. Does hapless love cast down thy soul? Set thy affections on things above, and thy heart shall feel no comfortless void, but be filled with all joy in believing. Have thy vices, thy passions, thy gaming, thy gluttony, thy drunkenness, brought thee to shame? Repent—sacrifice them all to Jesus Christ, and there shall be joy in heaven over thee; and there shall be joy in thine own bosom, such as thy vicious indulgences never gave thee in the hour of juvenile intoxication.
Come unto me, says the Redeemer. O give ear, ye melancholy wanderers, listen to his voice, and turn from the ga vanities of the world. It may be, you have loved the world too well; if it were not so, ye would not be so deeply affected with the loss of any part of it, or indeed with any thing which happens in it. But ye thought not of heavenly things; ye were ingulphed in earthly things, and ye have found them, as all others have done who have trusted in them, delusive and unsatisfactory∗ Ye never could have been reduced to despair, if ye had taken refuge in sound and rational religion, because such religion cherishes HOPE, as an essential principle; hope of the assistance and comfort of God under all afflictions, and hope of a better state in a better world.
Come unto Jesus Christ then, and go not to those deceivers, who are themselves perhaps deceived, but who certainly delude the world by false philosophy. Would any one have supposed it possible, that writers would have arisen to maintain the lawfulness of suicide, and to recommend the practice of it? I say nothing of an old divine of our church, who, with good intentions, was egregiously mistaken; but recent times have produced a Hume, who puts a dagger into our hands, that we may plunge it into our bosoms, with all the coolness of what is called a philosophical insensibility. Avoid such books, as you would shun a pestilential contagion. Not that they carry conviction with them; they are absurd; but they are dark and subtle, and if you are in a melancholy mood, or have a predisposition to scepticism and wickedness, they may tempt you to say, in the words of the text—There is no hope; but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart.
Turn from such seducers, and come to Jesus Christ. Ye have erred and strayed like lost sheep; but the kind shepherd, not easily provoked, still calls you to his friendly fold. He abandons none who has an inclination to return. He draws them gently with the cords of love. O taste and see how good he is∗ He would not that any should perish; why then will ye perish, O ye of little faith, as well as of little hope?
While ye listen to the voice of your shepherd, attend also to his example. He was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. The iron entered into his soul, and he sweated, as it were, great drops of blood. Which now among you, who lament so wofully, and wish to imbrue your hands in your own blood, has suffered as he suffered, he in whom was no sin? But what are his words in the extremity of his anguish? Father, if thou be willing,remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not mi will, but thine, be done. He resigned himself into the hands of him whose goodness is equal to his power, leaving us an example of patience amidst the severest pangs of which human nature is susceptible.
In the school of affliction, many of the most amiable, honourable, and useful virtues are best acquired. Humility, patience, resignation, are not taught in the circles of fashionable life, nor in the volumes of fashionable philosophy; but in the school of affliction, where Christ is the great instructor. The Christian scholar there learns, that he is to bear his cross, and to be tried by afflictions, as gold is proved in the furnace. When dejected and oppressed, he denies not the superintendence of Providence, he arraigns not the goodness of' his Maker. He accepts his trials thankfully, and seeks improvement from them in wisdom and virtue, which was the genuine effect intended to be produced. He says within himself, It is good fur me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes, O Lord; for before I was afflicted 1 went wrong; but now 1 have kept thy word. In patience he possesseth his soul; knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and, patience experience, and experience hope. Wherefore he girdeth up the loins of his mind, is sober, and hopeth to the end. He casteth not away his confidence, but taketh joyfully the spoiling of his goods, knowing in himself that he hath in heaven a better and an enduring substance.
Instead of attempting to precipitate his own death, he makes it the business of his life to prepare for that hour when God shall take him to himself by disease, and the decays of age. He considers, that to leave the world with all his sins on his head unrepented of, with all his worst passions violently agitated, like those of the suicide, is not the likeliest means of gaining admission to the realms of eternal bliss and uninterrupted tranquillity. To die well, furnishes a happy presage of a glorious resurrection from the dead, and a presumptive proof that the soul is not unfit for the heaven to which it aspires.
A calm death, such as the divines have called Euthanasia, is necessary to crown and complete a good life. It is like lying down in peace on our pillow at the close of a well-spent day. Away then with all the bloody weapons, all the tragical apparatus of the mistaken suicide. Let us take up in their place, the Bible and the Prayer-book, and knowing our own weakness, pray for strength from above, and learn by faith, hope, and charity, to rejoice evermore.
The gradual decays of nature, the appearance of grey hairs, the loss of our teeth, the wrinkles on our brows, the weakness of our knees, all these are monitors to prepare us for our final dissolution. A sudden death, which many, from a fear of suffering, wish for, certainly rescinds opportunities for improvement and repentance. Let us remember, that the sufferings of our bodies may contribute to the improvement of our souls: and who knows whether the punishment due to our sins may not sometimes be mercifully allotted us in this life, that we may escape the bitter pains of future torments, and be prepared for the presence of our Maker, immediately on emerging from this tenement of clay? Prayer, and trust in God, will infallibly alleviate the heaviest loads of human evils, by the solid comfort they afford the heart in this life, besides their powerful influence in leading us to hope for a happy immortality.
Let us therefore resolve to employ much of our time in fervent prayer, in the vital energies of a warm piety, and place our reliance on God under all the evils that can possibly befall us in our pilgrimage. He careth for us. Let us beware therefore of being either over-anxious or over-righteous. No wisdom and no happiness is to be found in extremes; no, not in the extremes of religion or virtue.
And here let me observe, that the evils which urge the desponding sinner to despair, are often imaginary; the whims of caprice, the day-dreams of idleness, and the humours of discontent.
Amidst all our devotion, which should be constant aud fervent, I must recommend a due attention to the ordinary affairs of life, and occasionally to its innocent amusements, the charms of elegance, the graces of the fine arts, and the innocent pleasures of polished society. Industry, manual industry, an attention to some art or science; some employment, useful or ornamental, has a wonderful effect in ventilating the mind, and preserving the very soul in a state of health. Dejection of spirits, or what is called by the delicate, nervousness, with all its sad effects, is more frequently occasioned by idleness and inactivity, than by the pressure of any real evil. The mind stagnates and becomes putrid, and a real evil has sometimes been salutary in causing exercise. The weeds of peevishness and ill-humour grow up in the indolent uncultivated mind, like nettles and briars in a neglected garden. The evil spirit sows tares where wheat is not allowed to vegetate. How seldom do we hear of suicide among the honest and industrious poor? The refinements of life are confined to the rich, the exalted, and the philosophical; and so are some of the greatest evils of life, false delicacy, a satiety of enjoyment, the lamguor of superabundance, a difficulty to be pleased, universal dissatisfaction and weariness of existence. They who will not employ themselves in any useful undertaking, and who have wearied themselves in the pursuit of vicious pleasure, are, of all men, the most likely to say, in the words of the text, There is no hope; but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of our hearts. Tired with the sameness of life, satiated with pleasure, their senses dull and worn out before the time, their fortunes impaired, their characters lost, they are ready, with blasphemous audacity, to curse God and die. They know not who will, show them any good; little thinking, from their want of religious principles, of the lively pleasures which the grace of God can excite in the heart of man, independently of all external circumstances, riches or want, youth or age, glory or obscurity.
Let us, who see their error, paint to ourselves its dreadful consequences, and avoid their example. Let us, at every return of the cheerful daylight, with unceasing diligence, while the breath is in our nostrils, employ ourselves in the service of God, and then go forth cheerfully to exert our abilities in good offices to man. Life was given for these purposes; and when employed for the purposes bestowed, it never will become intolerably-irksome. It is surely in itself a most, valuable gift. To be made a sentient being, capable of enjoying all the delights of this world, and promised everlasting existence in a better; is not this enough to fill us with all joy and gratitude? What were we before we were animated by a particle of the Divine Spirit? Dust; and to dust the suicide is not only contented, but desirous, to return; without a hope of re-animation. How mean and abject bis ideas∗ The Christian hero dares to live. The Christian hopes to bloom again, in a perennial spring-, after the winter of death—to rise a glorified body in a happier state; but the suicide is eager to return to the dust from which he was taken, and would rejoice if he were certain of annihilation.
Upon reviewing the whole of the suicide's state, we may truly exclaim of him, O wretched in thy life, wretched in thy end, and wretched in thy expectations of futurity∗
May the great God, before whom we stand, in whose hands are the issues of life and death, give his grace to all who hear me this day, that throughout life they may preserve cheerfulness and hope, by useful activity, and sincere piety, benevolent affections, and beneficent actions; and that when he, in his wisdom, shall bring their years to their natural close, or take them to himself by an earlier visitation, they may die the death of the righteous, and their latter end may be like his∗ To them, and them only, who can say with truth, that to live is Christ, to die will be gain∗ And when our hour approaches, O then, may some gentle disease, or gradual decay, without pain, without horror, full of comfort and hope, dismiss our bodies to our safe retreat, with decent rites, beneath the turf in yonder church-yard, or to the dark chambers under the stones of those ailes, where sleep our fathers, our once-loved partners, and our dear departed children∗ O God, make thou all our bed in our last sickness, and grant that every one of us may, with holy Job, resolve and say, looking up to Heaven with the confidence of children to their Father—All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come∗