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THE LAW OF GOD.
THE SEVENTH COMMANDMENT.
THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTERY.
EXODUS XX, 14,
HAVING in the preceding Discourse considered the origin, nature, and benefits of marriage; the institution, which is the basis of the prohibition in the Text; I shall now proceed to examine the prohibition itself.
The thing, which is here universally prohibited, is lewdness : lewdness in every form ; in thought, word, and action. This is unanswerably evident from our Saviour's comment on this precept;
He that looketh on a woman, to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.'
Before I begin the immediate discussion of this subject, I shall premise a few general observations.
It is universally known, that there is, and for a great length of time has been, a riveted prejudice against the introduction of this subject into the Desk. When the peculiar delicacy attending it is considered, it cannot be thought strange, that such a prejudice should in some degree exist. Even the most chaste and correct observations concerning it are apt to give pain, or at least to excite an alarm in a refined and apprehensive mind. What nature itself, perhaps, dictates, custom and manners have not a little enhanced. The opinions and feelings to which I have referred, have been carried to a length unwarranted either by the Scriptures, or common sense. The subject seems, in fact, to bave been banished from the desk; and ministers, by their general and profound silence concerning it, appear to have sanctioned the conclusion, that there is one, and that not a small part of Scripture, which, so far as preaching is concerned, is not ' profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, nor for instruction in righteousness.'
But let me solemnly ask every religious man, whether this conduct can be justified? The rejoicing' of St. Paul, at the close of his life, was the testimony of a good conscience, that not by fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, he had his conversation in the world ;' the testimony of a good conscience, that he was ' pure from the blood of all men,' because • he had not shunned to declare the whole counsel of God.' Is it not a plain and prominent part of the counsel of God, to forbid, to discourage, to prevent this profligate conduct of mankind? Why else was this precept inserted in the Decalogue, and promulgated amid the lightnings of Sinai? Why else is it throughout the Scriptures made the subject of such forcible prohibitions, and the object of such awful threatenings?
What reason can be given, why it should not be introduced into the Desk ? Can common sense either prove or discern the usefulness of excluding it? Is it fit, is it safe, is it not preposterous, is it not ruinous to the best interests of mankind, to leave the whole management of it to loose and abandoned men; and to suffer them from year to year, and from century to century, to go on in a course of corruption, seducing and destroying thousands and millions, especially of the young, the gay, and the giddy; while we, ministers of Christ, divinely appointed to watch for the souls of men, quietly sit by, and see them burried on to perdition? Shall we be awed by the cry of indelicacy, originally raised by the most indelicate of mankind, only to keep the field open for its own malignant occupancy? Shall we not infinitely rather lay hold on every opportunity, and all the means furnished here, as well as elsewhere, to rescue our fellow creatures from destruction?
And shall not the house of God, and this sacred day, both
divinely consecrated, not only to his worship at large, but to this very end, that the wicked' may be' warned of the error of his way, that he turn from it, and save his soul alive,' shelter this subject, a solemn, prominent subject of his own express cominands, awful exhortations, and terrible threatenings, from misconception, sport, and sneer? Shall not the known presence of this tremendous Being in his house silence every unscriptural complaint, check every wayward thought, forbid every roving of an unhallowed imagination, and appal every light-minded sinner, however prone he may be to forget the presence of his Maker, or unwilling to remember, that this great Being is, at the very time, ' searching his heart, and trying bis reins,' to reward him according to his works?'
But why, it may be asked, may not the evil be left to other correctives? Why is it necessary that ministers of the Gospel should make it the theme of their public discourses? Why may not the business of reformation be entrusted to the sati. rist, the poet, and the moralist; to private conversation, and to the religious instruction of Parents ? The answer to these questions is at hand. God has required Ministers to cry aloud and spare not; to lift up their voices as a trumpet; and to show his people their transgressions. He has declared to ministers, that if they warn not the wicked of his way, the wicked shall die in his sins ; but bis blood he will require at their hands. The point in debate must, I think, be allowed to be here finally settled ; unless some argument can be devised to show, that a minister is bound to make himself answerable for the blood of those sinners to whom he preaches. Besides, the satirist, the poet, and the moralist, in a multitude of instances, have been enlisted on the side of vice, and have endeavoured to stimulate, rather than repress, the evil under examination. Where they are not, how few persons read their books, compared with the number of those who are present at the preaching of the Gospel! Probably two thirds of a million of persons hear the Gospel preached weekly in New England. Not one in a thousand of these, perhaps, has ever read a book seriously exposing this unhappy part of the human character. Even where their books are read, and read with attention, they are little regarded, and produce little effect. The desk possesses means of appalling and overthrowing vice, and upholding morality, which nothing else can boast. The day, the place, the circumstances of the assembly, the purposes for which they are gathered, and the solemn commission of Jehovah, furnish ministers with advantages for this great end, unrivalled and unexampled. Accordingly, their office has been more efficacious in producing real reformation, than all the other means employed by man. “The Pulpit,” says a poet of distinguished excellence and wisdom,
“ The pulpit, when the sat’rist has at last,
With these things in view, I consider it as my own daty to bring this subject into the desk without hesitation, and to treat it in the same definite and earnest manner which is demanded by the precepts of the Gospel. I shall make it my business, however, to treat it in such a manner, that if any of my audience shall entertain thoughts concerning it forbidden by their Creator, it shall be their own fault, and not mine.
With these preliminary remarks, I proceed to observe,
I. That this command forbids all impure thoughts.
The proof of this I have already given in our Saviour's comment on this precept.
Impure thoughts are the immediate and only sources of impure conversation, and an impure life. If the thoughts be cleansed, the man will be clean of course.
There is scarcely a more dangerous employment, than the indulgence of a licentious imagination. This is an evil to which youths are peculiarly exposed. The peculiar strength of every passion, and the peculiar want of watchfulness and self-restraint, render them an easy prey to every vice which solicits admission. Still greater is the danger, when vice approaches under a form especially alluring; and, at the same
time, steals gradually, and therefore insensibly, upon the mind, By all these evils is the sin under consideration accompanied. It rises in the minds of the young instinctively, surrounded with many allurements, and unaccompanied by that loathing and horror with which the mind naturally regards vice of many other kinds. At the same time, the mind is prone to be utterly unconscious of any transgression, and of any danger. The imagination, thoughtless and unrestrained, wanders over the forbidden ground, often without thinking that it is forbidden; and has already been guilty of many and perilous transgressions, when it is scarcely aware of having transgressed at all. In this manner its attachment to these excursions continually gains strength. Continually are they repeated with more eagerness, and with more frequency. At length they become habitual ; and scarcely any habit is stronger, or with less difficulty overcome. In every leisure season, the mind, if it will watch its own movements, will find itself roving without restraint, and often without being aware that it has begun to rove, on this interdicted ground; and will be astonished to perceive, after a sober computation, how great a part of all its thinking is made up of these licentious thoughts.
Most unhappily, aids and allurements to this licentious indulgence are never wanting. Genius, in every age, and in every country, has to a great extent prostituted its elevated powers for the deplorable purpose of seducing thoughtless minds to this sin. The unsuspecting imagination, ignorant of the dangers which spread before it, has by this gay and fiery serpent, glittering with spots of gold, and painted with colours of enchantment, been allured to pluck the fruit of this forbidden tree, and hazard the death denounced against the transgression. The numbers of the poet, the delightful melody of song, the fascination of the chisel, and the spell of the pencil, have been all volunteered in the service of Satan, for the moral destruction of unhappy man. To finish this work of malignity, the stage has lent all its splendid apparatus of mischief, the shop been converted into a show-box of temptations, and its owner into a pander of iniquity. Feeble, erratic, and giddy, as the mind of man is in its nature; prepared to welcome temptation, and to bail every passing sin; can we wonder that it should yield to this formidable train of seducers?
To a virtuous mind scarcely any possession is of more value,