« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
tion of a man's innocence or guilt, it is not necessary to as: certain the degree, to which he has violated the law. That may be necessary to a right apportioning of punishment, but not to a decision, that punishment is due. If I have walked uprightly in ninety nine instances, and perversely in one, it is as true, that the law is broken, as if the instances of perverseness were more numerous ; though the merited punishment is less. There are, in our civil code, laws against murder, robbery, theft, and forgery. Should a man be indicted for the last crime, and brought to trial, it would avail nothing to plead, that the crime had been committed but once. Nothing more than that is contained in the indictment. It does not set forth, that the crime has been repeated. Nor does the law declare, that forgery is no crime, unless repeated. One act of the kind renders a man liable to condemnation. So, if a person commit robbery on the highway, it will avail nothing to plead, that he has suffered a hundred persons to pass without injury. It being conceded, that all have sinned in some instances, let those instances be ever so few, it is no less certain, that all are justly condemned; it being always understood, that punishment, following condemnation, will be proportionate to the degree of guilt. Let us now inquire, whether the quantity of human guilt be small. Perhaps there is no crime, which finds fewer advocates than ingratitude. Persons accused of this, may deny the charge; but they never attempt to justify the disposition. They never say, that there is no obliquity and demerit in being unmindful of benefits. If a moral fitness is discernable on any occasion, it is so on an occasion of favours bestowed and received. In proportion to these favours is the degree of demerit attached to ingratitude. Agreeable to this, is the sentence, so often quoted from Publius Syrus, Omne diveris maledietum, quum ingratum hominem diveris. With what feelings do we receive and enjoy favors bestowed by our Creator? Our dependence on him is abso
lute and universal. Existence is not more truly his gift. than are all those objects, which render existence valuable. To his munificence are we indebted for intellectual powers, and the means of their cultivation—for the sustenance daily provided;—for the enjoyments, derived from the active and varying scenes of the day, and, from the rest and tranquility of the night. His gift are the relations and friends, whom we love, and from whose affection to us, so considerable a part of the joy of life is derived. His are the showers, which moisten, and the sun, which warms the earthFrom Him are the pleasure and animation of spring, and the riches of harvest—all, that satisfies the appetite, supports or restores the animal system, gratifies the ear, or charms the eye. With what emotions, let it be asked, are all these objects viewed, and these blessings enjoyed? Is it the habit of man to acknowledge God in his works, and to attribute all the pleasures and security of life to the Creator's munificence? Possession and prosperity are enjoyed, not as a gift to the undeserving; but as the result of chance or good fortune, or as the merited reward of our own prudence and effort. Were gratitude a trait in the human character, it would be proportionate to obligation; and where much is received, much would be acknowledged. In this case, the liveliest sense of obligation would be exhibited among the wealthy, and those whose prosperity had been long and uninterrupted. But do facts correspond with this supposition? Are God, his providence, and bounty most sensibly and devoutly acknowledged by you, who feel no want, and are tried with no adversity 2 The truth is, our sense of obligations usually diminishes in proportion to the greatness and duration of blessings bestowed. A long course of prosperity renders us the more insensible and irreligious.
But, on no subject is human ingratitude so remarkably apparent, as in regard to the christian religion. I speak not of those, who reject; but of those, who believe christianity; and who, of course, believe that God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth on him, might
not perish. Search all the records of every era and nation; look through the works of God, so far as they are open to human inspection, and you find nothing, which equally displays the riches of divine mercy. The son of God died to save culprits from merited condemnation. But is this subject contemplated with interest, with joy, with astonishment? It is viewed with the most friged indifference, or heart felt reluctance. The human mind, far from considering this, as a favorite subject, flies from it, when occasionally presented.
What inference are we to make from this circumstance 7 What conclusion is that, to which reason impels us? for we ask no gratuitous concessions. We ask you to entertain no opinions in theology, but such as are supported, and such, as, all things considered, it would be irrational to deny. Ingratitude is universally allowed to imply baseness—moral corruption. Ingratitude towards God cannot, in its nature, be less criminal, than ingratitude to men. Our ingratitude towards our Maker is undeniably clear, and astonishingly great. We are therefore chargeable with a high degree of baseness and ill desert.
So far, as moral corruption is evinced by ingratitude, flagrant and long continued, the existence of such corruption in our species has been shown. The conclusion rests on this ground. 1. That ingratitude is a crime; and, 2. That men are ungrateful to the Supreme Being. If neither of these propositions is questionable, the conclusion is not to be resisted. If the want of grateful feelings is highly criminal; if it betrays peculiar baseness of temper; and if, at the same time, great munificence is exercised on the part of Deity, the amount of human demerit is not inconsiderable.
We will now attend to another argument. As in the material world the nature of different substances is known by their affinities; so, by its objects of affection and aversion, we ascertain moral character. Let it be known, with persons of what character a man is most fond of associating, and you find no difficulty in determining his own. Attachment to profligate characters, indicates profligacy. Attachment to the virtuous and upright, indicates purity of mind. Should there be in any town, or village, a person of unusual suavity of temper, benevolence of design, and universal correctness of behaviour; whose knowledge and discernment always selected the most suitable seasons and objects for the exercise of his benevolence, would it not follow, that his
neighbours were extremely deficient in taste and good feelings, if they were not disposed to seek his society, and to consult his judgment? would indifference as to his moral character leave us in any doubt as to theirs 2 The conclusion would be more obvious still, if the person contemplated were known to be easy of access, conciliatory in his manners, and habituated to express his mind in terms, which, all things considered, were most apppropriate. Now there is, present with every person, a being, whose character is similar to that described, but, in degree, infinitely superior. There is a being, whose knowledge of every subject is perfect, and whose decisions are infallible: a being, who interests himself in our situation, and is disposed to impart counsel, and communicate relief: whose benevolence is greater, than human language can describe, or human intellects conceive. He has never refused a favor, when goodness and wisdom required its bestowment; and, far from being inaccessible, he has invited mankind to express to him their situation and desires. Now, if it can be shown, either that mankind have no love for this divine being, or that they love him in a very low degree, it will follow, that they have a perverse, or depraved taste. That He, in whose character are united the most glorious attributes in the highest possible degree, should not be an object of affection and veneration to creatures of correct moral feelings, is a supposition perfectly absurd. Could it be proved, that our race in general, though not entirely destitute of love to God, possess this quality but in a low degree; a degree altogether disproportionate to their ability of comprehending his perfections; the existence of moral corruption would be no less certain; though its amount would be smaller. But how, you inquire, does it appear, that there is in mankind generally, this deficiency of love to their Maker? I answer, that this is evident by their not exhibiting those marks of the contrary, which they certainly would exhibit, if such deficiency did not exist.