ROM. xiv. 7.‘"For none of us liveth to himself."’

THE use of many of the precepts and maxims of scripture, is not so much to prescribe actions, as to generate some certain turn and habit of thinking: and they are then only ap­plied as they ought to be, when they furnish us with such a view of, and such a way of considering, the subject to which they relate, as may rectify and meliorate our dispositions; for from dispositions, so rectified and meliorated, particular good actions, and particular good rules of acting, flow of their own accord. This is true of the great christian maxims of loving our neighbour as ourselves; of doing to others, as we would that others should do to us; and (as will appear, [Page 6] I hope, in the sequel of this discourse) of that of the text. These maxims being well impressed, the detail of conduct may be left to itself. The subtleties of casuistry, I had almost said the science, may be spared. By presenting to the mind one fixed consideration, such a temper is at length formed within us, that our first impressions and first impulses are sure almost of being on the side of virtue; and that we feel likewise an almost irresistible inclination to be governed by them. When this disposition is perfected, the influence of religion, as a moral institution, is sufficiently established.

It is not in this way, but in another, that human laws, espe­cially the laws of free countries, proceed to attain their objects. Forasmuch as their ultimate sanctions are to be dispensed by fallible men, instead of an unerring and omniscient judge, the safety, as well as the liberty, of the subject, requires, that dis­cretion should be bound down by precise rules both of acting, and of judging of actions. Hence lawgivers have been obliged to multiply directions and prohibitions without number: and this necessity, for such I acknowledge it to be, hath drawn them into a prolixity, which incumbers the law as a science to those who study or administer it; and sometimes perplexes it, as a rule of conduct, to those who have nothing to do with: it, but to obey it. Yet still they find themselves unable to make laws as fast as occasions demand them: they find them­selves [Page 7] perpetually called upon to pursue, by fresh paths, the inventive versatility of human fraud, or to provide for new and unforeseen varieties of situation. Now should religion, which professes to guide the whole train and range of a man's con­duct, interior as well as external, domestic as well as civil; and which, consequently, extends the operations of its rules to many things which the laws leave indifferent and uncon­trolled; should religion, I say, once set about to imitate the precision of human laws, the volume of its precepts would soon be rendered useless by its bulk, and unintelligible by its intri­cacy. The religion of Mahomet, as might be expected from the religion of a military prophet, constituted itself into the law of the states into which it was received. Assuming the functions of legislators and magistrates, in conjunction with the character of interpreters of the Koran and depositaries of the supplemental laws of the religion, the successors of the Arabian have, under the name of traditionary rules, compiled a code for the direction of their followers in almost every part of their conduct. The seventy-five thousand precepts of that code* serve only to shew the futility of the attempt; to prove by experiment, that religion can only act upon human life by general precepts, addressed and applied to the disposi­tion; [Page 8] 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 may 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 relations in which we are placed, which, if attended to (and no instruction 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; [Page 9] 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 in 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 [Page 10] line of their prosessions, 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 proscribed 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 [Page 11] 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 shew, 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 share of power and influence necessarily [Page 12] 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 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 lamented 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 [Page 13] 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 further evidence of the intention of the donor: we ought to see 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 enquiry, 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 judgement of mankind does not often fail them in the choice of the objects or species of their benevolence: but what fails them is the sense of the obligation, the consci­ousness of the connection 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 [Page 14] are concerned in them, the duties that belong to superior stations, is a language, from their infancy familiar to them, viz. 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. It is not true therefore that men of ele­vated stations are exempted from work; it is only true that there is assigned to them work of a different kind: whether more easy, or more pleasant, may be questioned; but certain­ly not less wanted, not less essential to the common good. Were this maxim once properly received as a principle of con­duct, it would put men of fortune and rank upon enquiring, what were the opportunities of doing good (for some, they may depend upon it, there are) which, in a more especial manner, belonged to their situation or condition: and were this princi­ple carried into any thing like its full effect, or even were this way of thinking sufficiently inculcated, it would completely remove the invidiousness of elevated stations. Mankind would [Page 15] see in them this alternative. If such men discharged the duties which were attached to the advantages they enjoyed, they de­served these advantages. If they did not, they were morally speaking in the situation of a poor man who neglected his bu­siness and his calling; and in no better. And the proper re­flection in both cases is the same: the individual is in a high degree culpable, yet the business and the calling beneficial and expedient.

The habit and the disposition which we wish to re­commend, namely that of casting about for opportunities of doing good, readily seizing those which accidentally present themselves, and faithfully using those which naturally and re­gularly belong to our situations, appear to be sometimes check­ed by a notion, very natural to active spirits, and to flattered talents. They will not be content to do little things. They will either attempt mighty matters, or do nothing. The small effects, which the private endeavours of an individual can pro­duce upon the mass of social good, is so lost, and so unper­ceived, in the comparison, that it neither deserves, they think, nor rewards the attention which it requires. The answer is, that the comparison, which thus discourages them, ought ne­ver to be made. The good which their efforts can produce, may be too minute to bear any sensible proportion to the sum of public happiness, yet may be their share; may be enough [Page 16] for them. The proper question is not, whether the good we aim at be great or little; still less, whether it be great or little in comparison with the whole; but whether it be the most which it is in our power to perform. A single action may be, as it were, nothing to the aggregate of moral good; so also may be the agent. It may still therefore be the proportion, which is required of him. In all things nature works by numbers. Her greatest effects are achieved by the joint operation of multi­tudes of, separately considered, insignificant individuals. It is enough for each that it executes its office. It is not its con­cern, because it does not depend upon its will, what place that office holds in, or what proportion it bears to, the general result. Let our only comparison therefore be, between our opportuni­ties and the use which we make of them. When we would extend our views, or stretch out our hand, to distant and ge­neral good, we are commonly lost and sunk in the magnitude of the subject. Particular good, and the particular good which lies within our reach, is all we are concerned to attempt, or to enquire about. Not the smallest effort will be forgotten; not a particle of our virtue will fall to the ground. Whether successful or not, our endeavours will be recorded; will be estimated, not according to the proportion which they bear to the universal interest, but according to the relation which they hold to our means and opportunities; according to the disinterestedness, [Page 17] the sincerity, with which we undertook; the pains and perseve­rance with which we carried them on. It may be true, and I think it is the doctrine of scripture, that the right use of great faculties or great opportunities, will be more highly rewarded, than the right use of inferior faculties and less opportunities. He that, with ten talents, had made ten talents more, was placed over ten cities. The neglected talent was also given to him. He who, with five talents, had made five more, though pro­nounced to be a good and faithful servant, was placed only over five cities*. This distinction might, without any great harsh­ness to our moral feelings, be resolved into the will of the su­preme benefactor: but we can see perhaps enough of the sub­ject to perceive that it was just. The merit may reasonably be supposed to have been more in one case, than the other. The danger, the activity, the care, the solicitude, were greater. Still both received rewards, abundant beyond measure when compared with the services, equitable and proportioned when compared with one another.

That our obligation is commensurate with our opportunity, and that the possession of the opportunity is sufficient, without any further or more formal command, to create the obligation, is a principle of morality and of scripture; and is alike true in [Page 18] all countries. But that power and property so far go together, as to constitute private fortunes into public stations, as to cast upon large portions of the community occasions which render the preceding principles more constantly applicable, is the effect of civil institutions, and is found in no country more than in ours; if in any so much. With us a great part of the public business of the country, is transacted by the country itself: and upon the prudent and faithful management of it, depends, in a very considerable degree, the interior prosperity of the nation, and the satisfaction of great bodies of the people. Not only offices of magistracy, which affect and pervade every dis­trict, are delegated to the principal inhabitants of the neigh­bourhood, but there is erected in every county a high and venerable tribunal, to which owners of permanent property, down almost to their lowest classes, are indiscriminately called; and called to take part, not in the forms and ceremonies of the meeting, but in the most efficient and important of its func­tions. The wisdom of man hath not devised a happier insti­tution than that of juries, or one founded in a juster knowledge of human life, or of the human capacity. In jurisprudence, as in every science, the points ultimately rest upon common sense. But to reduce a question to these points, and to pro­pose them accurately, requires not only an understanding su­perior to that which is necessary to decide upon them when [Page 19] proposed, but oftentimes also a technical and peculiar crudi­tion. Agreeably to this distinction, which runs perhaps through all sciences, what is preliminary and preparatory, is left to the legal profession; what is final, to the plain understanding of plain men. But since it is necessary that the judgement of such men should be informed; and since it is of the utmost importance that advice, which falls with so much weight, should be drawn from the purest sources; judges are sent down to us, who have spent their lives in the study and administration of the laws of their country, and who come amongst us, strangers to our contentions, if we have any, our parties and our preju­dices; strangers to every thing, except the evidence which they hear. The effect corresponds with the wisdom of the design. Juries may err, and frequently do so; but there is no system of error incorporated with their constitution. Corruption, terror, influence, are excluded by it; and prejudice, in a great degree, though not entirely. This danger, which consists in juries view­ing one class of men, or one class of rights, in a more or less favorable light than another, is the only one to be feared, and to be guarded against. It is a disposition, which, whenever it rises up in the minds of jurors, ought to be repressed, by their probity, their consciences, the sense of their duty, the remem­brance of their oaths.

And this institution is not more salutary, than it is grateful [Page 20] and honorable to those popular feelings of which all good go­vernments are tender. Hear the language of the law. In the most momentous interests, in the last peril indeed of human life, the accused appeals to God and his country, "which country you are." What pomp of titles, what display of honors, can equal the real dignity, which these few words confer upon those to whom they are addressed? They shew, by terms the most solemn and significant, how highly the law deems of the functions and character of a jury: they shew also, with what care of the safety of the subject it is, that the same law has provided for every one a recourse to the fair and indiffe­rent arbitration of his neighbours. This is substantial equa­lity; real freedom: equality of protection; freedom from in­justice. May it never be invaded; never abused! May it be perpetual! And it will be so, if the affection of the country continue to be preserved to it, by the integrity of those who are charged with its office.


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