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II. To suggest some Reasons for the adoption of this character by the Youth, who are before me.
I. I shall enquire what is meant by being Sober-minded.
1st place, Sobriety of mind denotes that habitual state, in which we are prone to estimate things according to their real Value,
The members of the Corinthian church were very desirous of those miraculous gifts, which, during the Apostolic age, so much engrossed the attention, and awakened the astonishment of mankind. Particularly, they coveted the gift of speaking with tongues ; because it engaged this attention, and produced this astonishment, in a peculiar degree ; and rendered those, who possessed it, objects of distinguished admiration and applause. Yet St. Paul solemnly declares to these Christians, that he would rather speak five words in the church with his understanding, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. What was the ground of this decision ? St. Paul himself has told us." In the church,” he says, “ I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue :" as it is rendered by Dr. Macknight, “ I would rather speak five words with my meaning understood, that I might instruct others also.” Nothing could with more force teach us, that St. Paul, under the direction of God, felt himself bound to estimate every thing, whether natural, supernatural, or moral, according to its Utility; or, in other words, according to its real Value.
To this complete decision of the Scriptures, Common sense joins her strongest attestation. No man is ever pronounced wise by the dispassionate voice of his fellow men, who does not estimate things in this manner, and who does not regularly prove by his conduct, that this is his habitual mode of judging.
I will illustrate the subject by examples.
The value of Business, that is, of such as is honest and useful, is incomparably greater than that of Amusements, or what is appropriately styled Pleasure. Business, wisely followed, procures for us property, knowledge, the capacity of being useful to our
selves and others, reputation, comfort, and many other blessings. Amusements procure none of these blessings; but either prevent, or destroy, them all; and have no other value, even when innocent, and confined within rational bounds, except as they yield us a trifling degree of enjoyment, or as they invigorate us for future business. When they are immoderate, or in their nature sinful; they are only pernicious.
Still we find a multitude of youths, and among them many of those who are present, consider their amusements as of very great value; and their business as of very little. The appropriate business of these youths is the acquisition of knowledge; of knowledge highly valuable in itself, and invaluable as the means of future usefulness to themselves and others. This preference does not spring from sobriety of mind. It does not accord with the dictates of a sound, uncorrupted understanding. It is hostile to the true interests of the man, by whom it is made; and has cut off thousands and millions of youths from knowledge, property, reputation, comfort, and hope ; and plunged them in disgrace, beggary, and ruin. Surely such a mode of estimating things is not the result of soundness of mind. The judgment, here exercised, is that of a mind, whose faculties are disordered, whose optics are bedimmed, whose vision is disturbed or obscured.
The preparation for business, and all the means of accomplishing it, being indispensable to its existence, have exactly the same value. Study is the preparation for knowledge, and knowledge is the indispensable means of useful business, to the youths in this assembly. To prefer amusement to study is a proof, that the mind is disordered, which is exactly of the same nature. Not indeed, that it is disordered by that kind of delirium, in which the violent passions predominate, and the miserable subject of it is tossed by wrath, revenge, and fury; but of the kind, which is gay and sportive, engrossed by trifles and gewgaws, and blown about by a spirit of frivolity. Happy would it be for mankind, if this species of madness were never found without the walls of bedlam.. Happy would it probably be for some of those who are before me, if it were not found within the walls of this seminary,
Eternal things are of more value than temporal things. The soul is more valuable than the body; as an immortal being capable of endless knowledge, virtue, and enjoyment, is of more value than a mass of dirt. Heaven is better than this miserable world. The sufferings of perdition are more numerous, and more distressing, than any, which are undergone by piety, in its struggles to secure the everlasting love of God. Eternity is more enduring than time; and our future being, for all these reasons, of higher importance than our present existence. To realize these truths, according to their solemnity and importance, is in this respect to have a sober mind. But to prefer this world to that which is to come, and our present enjoyments to those which are future; or to esteem the sufferings of this life of more consequence than those which lie beyond the grave; is the strongest proof, which can be given, of a mind unsound, possessing a perverted judgment, deciding without evidence or in opposition to it, and bewildered by false lights, and a diseased vision.
The performance of our duty is the true preparation for eternal life, and the indispensable means of obtaining it. Its value therefore to us, is the same, as that of the life itself. Yet how many of those, who are before me, in all probability prefer to the performance of their own duty what they, and others like them, call pleasure: a thing, which hitherto, instead of doing them real good, has only done them harm: a poison, swallowed because it has been sugared. How unsound, how remote from sobriety, will this preference seem, when we enter the world of spirits.
2. Sobriety of mind includes an exact, and habitual control of our affections ; particularly of those, which are customarily denominated passions, and appetites.
All persons, who have arrived at adult years, and have observed the characters of men with any attention, have seen, and of ten with astonishment, different individuals, judging not only differently from each other, but in modes directly opposite; where the subjects, and the evidence, were exactly the same, and equally in the possession of all. This diversity cannot be the result of mere understanding. Among the proofs, which are abundant
ly furnished of this truth, a decisive one is, that, where we have exactly the same means of judging, and are entirely uninterested, or have exactly the same interest, we judge in the same manner. The cases, in which we judge differently, (the same evidence being in our possession,) are those, in which we are interested to judge differently. Our passions and appetites in such cases in. fluence, and often absolutely control, our judgment. This influence is the great evil, under which we labour in all those intellectual decisions, which respect subjects, of any serious importance to what we think our own good. We judge in modes, directly opposite to each other ; with slender evidence, with no evidence; and in direct opposition to all evidence. Of this truth he, who looks even with slight attention at the political and religious divisions of mankind, existing every where, and in every age, will ask for no additional proof. All doctrines have had their partizans; and the worst doctrines, and the grossest absurdities, have had more numerous supporters than truth and righteousness could ever boast. Mankind have arrayed themselves in great numbers, not only on the side of the calves in Bethel and Dan, and the bull of Egypt, but of cats also, and frogs, and flies, blocks of wood, and images of stone. They have worshipped Moloch, and Juggernaut; the worst of men; and even demons.
The most abandoned profligates of the human race have multiplied their trains of devotees. Crowds have attached themselves to Jeroboam, Nero, Charles the second, and Napoleon. More than three fourths of the human race are now, and ever have been, either Heathen, or Mahommedans. A few of the leaders, in each case, have probably seen the absurdity of the opinions, adopted by the train of their followers. The great mass, and among them many persons of understanding, have judged, as well as acted in accordance with their professed opinions. But no errors can be more monstrous, or more mischievous, than these. Passion and appetite, therefore, influence men to, judge, and conclude, and that every where, in favour of the worst of errors.
All our passions and appetites have this influence : pride, vanity, ambition, avarice, voluptuousness, prodigality, sloth together with those, which are appropriately called affections of the mind, such as love and hatred, hope and fear, joy and sorrow. These causes of our unhappy judgments are very numerous and powerful; are always at hand; and exert their efficacy with respect to every subject, in which we are interested.
That this efficacy is most malignant, with regard to our real interests, is sufficiently evident from what has been already said. If it can persuade mankind, that calves and carts, frogs and flies, stocks and demons, are gods ; if it can persuade men to sacrifice their fellow men, parents their children, and husbands their wives, to their deities; if it can induce them to renounce all connexion with their Maker, and all hope of his favour ; there is no absurdity, which it cannot persuade them to receive ; no crime, which it cannot induce them to perpetrate. From reasonable beings it can convert them into lunatics and fiends.
By this time my audience are probably convinced, that passion and appetite exert a real, extensive, powerful, dangerous, and malignant domination over our judgment. The consequence follows irresistibly. If we would escape from all these mischiefs ; we must establish an exact, and habitual control over our passions and appetites. So long as they govern our judgments, we shall regularly judge falsely, and be led to the commission of innumerable sins. In this case we shall have no soundness of mind. Our understandings will be disordered, as well as our dispositions ; our opinions will be false ; our affections polluted; and our conduct odious in the sight of God. In a word, all these things, will be, as we actually find them. Our judgments will be false, our opinions absurd, and our actions criminal, just as we see those of others, and just as ours have been heretofore.
3. Sobriety of mind includes, or perhaps more properly infers, that Conduct which springs of course from the character, already
Whatever we highly value, when it is within our reach, we diligently pursue. Useful business, and real religion, are always