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that a regard to God Almighty lies at the root of every thing which is good, is the only restraint from every thing that is bad; that whatever in any degree diminishes, or tends to diminish that regard, is of all hurtful things the most so. For if it be allowed, which I think it may, that to see the moral evil of swearing, is to look farther than the generality of men do look, and that these evil effects, though real, and great, and certain, are not, like the effects of murder or theft, sensible and immediate ; allowing this, then in what situation does the subject stand with those who have not considered the effects at all? It stands thus; it stands with them upon the ground of religion. The religion of the case, the religious command is clear; that at least is obvious and intelligible; of that at least they must be apprised. Wherefore, if they be of the number of those who do not comprehend the reason, or have never much considered the reason which makes swearing and cursing an evil, upon principles of morality, then it becomes a test and trial whether religion alone, whether religion as such, and independently of other considerations, has any authority or influence with them at all. Rules of morality, such as, commonly speaking, are called so, do not afford this test; for they are either enforced by the terrors or penalties of law, or the violation of them is attended with direct and immediate public mischief, or with cruelty, or with injury to individuals; under all which circumstances, although religion operate in keeping us to our duty, yet it operates in conjunction and combination with other powerful motives. In the case before us, that is to say, in curbing, and checking, and breaking the practice of profane swearing, religion operates by itself, and therefore shows what degree of force and strength and weight it really has with us. This observation is applicable to a higher class than those who are vulgarly addicted to this vice, and the very truth is, that those who have upon their minds a sense of religion as such, and in any degree proportioned to its immense importance, are not drawn into the practice of swearing by any position of circumstances whatever; those in whom this sense is feeble, or wanting, or lost, are drawn into this practice, if it so happen that their profession, their company, or their temper, or their habit, lead them into it. I shall conclude with one reflection. If there be one description of men more than another who ought to have the dread of God Almighty upon their minds, and in whom that dread ought to check all profane, all contemptuous, all idle, all impious treatment of his name and his
commands, it is those who carry their lives in their hands. * Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do; but I will forewarn you whom you shall fear; fear him, who, after he hath killed, hath power to cast into hell; yea I say unto you fear him.’
RoMANs XIII. 13.
Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness.
WHoEveR considers the purity and strictness of the christian religion; how it extends its rules, not only to our actions, but our words, not only to words, but to thoughts; how it requires selfcommand, selfgovernment, at almost every turn, and in every point of our duties; mastery and management of our passions of every kind; a constraint over every inclination, so as to be able to check and call it back to its subjection to reason ; whoever considers this, will see that we stand in need of perpetual vigilance and circumspection; how liable we are to fall; how little able to maintain a complete adherence to God’s laws, even in our soberest hours, with the perfect use of our faculties, and without any extraordinary violence or impetuosity added to our acquired or constitutional propensities; that consequently, when a great advantage is thrown by intemperance into the wrong scale, the passions of every sort are inflamed and put in motion, our reflection and sense of duty is confused, our judgment disordered, the admonitions of conscience laid asleep, and we are surrounded with temptations and with provocations; in this condition it cannot be expected from human strength that a man should preserve an unblameable conduct, or a steady regard to the rules of morality and religion. Accordingly, I suppose it is the fact, that few, or none, recover from a fit of intemperance but who are conscious, when they come to themselves, of some impropriety or extravagance into which drunkenness has betrayed them; some action or some outrage of which they are ashamed ; some expression or word which has escaped them, and which they wish in vain could be recalled;
some quarrel which they have drawn upon themselves; some enmity of which they have sown the seed, and, universally, a loss of that command of ourselves in which both our happiness and virtue consist. But then comes the specious consideration, that the crimes a man commits in that condition are excused by the very condition he is in ; that he is not chargeable with what he does when he is not himself; when he has no command perhaps left of his conduct; when his nature and disposition are altered as to all moral purposes; that, like the insane person, he is entitled to all the indulgence and excuses of that condition. This plea is made by thousands; it is a kind of discourse you often hear; and weighs, I am apt to suppose, much in the private thoughts of persons addicted to intemperate courses. We allow, too, that it carries enough of the semblance of reason to impose upon many, and to deserve examination. Now, the first observation that occurs, is, that if this plea were allowed in its full extent, a man would be at liberty when he found himself disordered by intemperance to commit any crime or any extravagance; for his drunkenness, according to his argument, would cover and excuse it all; and a conclusion so absurd leads one to suspect the argument from which it flows. The truth of the case seems to be this; that if we look no further than the point of time when a drunken man commits his crime, it will be difficult to distinguish between his case and that of an insane person; for he is at that moment more completely bereft of his reason, at least as completely delivered over to the impulse of his passions, as the other; and if that be an excuse for the one, why should it not be so for both 2 So it may be argued, if we confine our attention to the precise period of committing the offence. But here the two cases differ exceedingly; that the one person suffers under the visitation of an inevitable calamity; the other is the author of his own distemper; and this is what, properly, the drunkard’s guilt consists in ; not in committing faults when he is in a condition in which he cannot help it, but in knowingly and voluntarily bringing himself into such a condition. And when we once understand the proper foundation of the guilt, we shall be enabled to estimate the crime of the action of a drunken man, compared with the same action in a sober man. The rule of reason and justice appears to be this; whatever proportion the chance of falling into such and such crimes bears to the absolute certainty, the same proportion does the crime of any evil action in a #on man bear to the guilt of the same action in a sober
man; so that if there be, as there always is, unjustifiable licentiousness, if not of action, at least of language and thought, to which all persons inflamed with liquor are subject; or if there be certain particular feelings and extravagances which the infirmity of particular constitutions when disordered by intemperance is sure to draw men into, then, and to both these, the guilt may be deemed equal to the deeds, if committed with all our senses and faculties about us; for it makes little or no difference whether we deliberately commit a crime, or deliberately put ourselves into a condition in which we know beforehand that we shall be tempted to commit it. Of crimes and outrages which are the effects of drunkenness, but are unusual or unthought of, the judgment is not quite the same ; they cannot be accounted of, as if proceeding from deliberate wickedness, because they are the effects of a condition which admits of no deliberation; nor can it be said here, as before, that the drunken man foresaw, or might have foreseen these effects, when he suffered himself to be brought into such a condition; for they are by the supposition unusual, and therefore not foreseen; but though unusual, they are not impossible, nor perhaps, all things considered, very improbable. Therefore there is a guilt, and a very great one, in incurring the hazard, or even the possibility of perpetrating those crimes and outrages from which we had power or had reason to withhold us; and from which we are safe, or at least distant, so long as we neither abused that power nor that reason. I here put the supposition more in favor of intemperance than it will properly bear; for I supposed that the disorder occasioned by it deprives a man of the use of his understanding, and leaves him, at the time of committing the crime, in the absolute condition of an insane person; so that the very guilt he was capable of, consisted in bringing himself into that condition. Now this is seldom the case in reality. In intoxication, some selfcommand, some conscientious sense of right and wrong remains with men; and for so much as does remain they are accountable, as much then as ever. Another circumstance should likewise always be noticed, which is a great aggravation of drunkenness; when a man finds by experience the mischievous, the pernicious consequences which intemperance produces to himself, or through him to others, and does not take warning by them, but returns to his drunkenness at every opportunity, and whenever the temptation comes round, it will be difficult to distinguish such a man’s misconduct from the same misconduct in a sober person; at least, there is a wide difference between this case, and his who has been casually betrayed into intemperance, and, by intemperance, into improper behaviour, and takes little caution from the experience of his own infirmity, to keep out of the way of a second temptation, or gains little resolution to withstand it. One considerable part of the mischiefs and evil tendency of intemperance, is the ea ample, especially in people whose example is likely to influence others; as of masters of families, persons in public stations, those who are, or ought to be, the instructers of others. Drunkenness effectually puts an end to all authority; for it so degrades and debases the drunkard, as not only to bring him upon a level with the lowest of those over whom his authority should be preserved, but much beneath them. It is ridiculous in a drunkard to talk to others of decency, order, good manners, quietness, peaceableness, industry, activity, usefulness, who himself, in this one vice, exhibits a public example of the violation of all these duties. And this matter of example, in this, as well as in a thousand other instances, may lead us to enlarge our views of the consequences of our actions, and see a guilt in them which we may not discern in them considered simply in themselves. In the case before us, expense, for instance, may not be a consideration to all; but their example, or their company, may draw in others to make it a consideration very serious. In like manner, the shame, and distress, and terror, and uneasiness which intemperance is sure to occasion to a person’s own family, is an important aggravation of the offence. This is not applicable to those who have no family; but then the infection of their example, or the exercise of their vice, propagates itself to those who have families, and so makes them indirectly the authors of misery which, very possibly, they never intended or suspected. I have thus enumerated the effects of drunkenness, without exaggeration; for I do not wish to indulge in invective or excite indignation against it, further than the solid mischief it produces will justify. Universally we ought to take into the account, not merely the mischief it produces at the very moment of committing the crime, but altogether, sooner or later, directly or indirectly ; to ourselves, in our fortunes, health, constitutions, understandings; to our families, in their subsistence, expectations, morals, peace, and satisfaction; to the neighbourhood and the public at large, by the outrages, indecencies, and extravagances into which it betrays us; or more generally, by the evil tendency of our example, which will operate afterwards