« 上一頁繼續 »
the world are upon you. Be entreated then to cultivate all your noble powers, and to show yourselves men, in whatever departments of life divine Providence shall place you. Piety and knowledge will prepare you for a useful and honorable life, and for a peaceful and triumphant death. Let these then be the supreme objects of your pursuit. Early consecrate all your time and all your talents to the service of God, and of your fellow-men. Seek for knowledge, as for silver, and search for it, as for hid treasures; and sacrifice every object which obstructs your pursuit of it. Through desire a man having separated himself,” says Solomon,“ seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom." If you would make progress in learning, and rise to any distinguishing degrees of knowledge, you must separate yourselves from the vanities of youth, and devote those vacant hours to mental improvements, which too many of your age trifle away in folly and vice. In particular, flee youthful lusts, which war against both the body and the mind. Shun that all-devouring monster intemperance, by which so many strong minds have been cast down and destroyed. Avoid bad company and unmanly diversions, which are an inlet to every vice. Hold in steady contempt beaux and fops, those butterflies which live upon the filth and dregs of the earth. Diogenes, walking the streets of Athens at noon-day with a lantern in his hand, and being asked, as he intended to be, what he was searching after, tartly replied, “I am looking for men." A severe satire upon the luxury and effeminacy of that once manly and virtuous people. The dignity of man appears in the ornaments of the mind, and not in those of the body. Seek therefore to adorn and embellish your minds both by reading and observation, and your gifts and abilities will make room for you, and bring you before great men.
You have peculiar advantages and encouragements to animate you to great and noble exertions. Therefore set your mark of intellectual attainments as high as you please, and, according to the common course of events, you will, by uniformity, diligence and perseverance, infallibly reach it. Your generous benefactor hath set you an example, as well as given you the means of intellectual improvements. That great man, in the morning of life, was surrounded with uncommon difficulties and embarrassments, but by the mere dint of genius and of application he surmounted every obstacle thrown in his way, and by his rapid and astonishing progress in knowledge, he hath risen, step by step, to the first offices and honors of his country, hath appeared with dignity in the courts of Britain and of France, and now fills more than half the globe with his fame. Keep this illustrious example in your eye, and show yourselves men.
THE EVIL EFFECTS OF SIN.
DELIVERED NOVEMBER 3, 1790, AT THE FORMATION OF A SOCIETY IN FRANK
LIN FOR THE REFORMATION OF MORALS.
BUT sin is a reproach to any people. -- PROTERAS xiv. 34.
The whole verse is this : “ Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” As the mode of expression here requires a more full and pointed antithesis, so the spirit of the original allows us to read the verse with a small variation. “ Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is the poverty, depression, or sinking of any people.” This latter construction, instead of weakening, serves to corroborate the sense of the former; for reproach as naturally follows poverty and depression, as the shadow follows the body in motion. But without any critical remarks, the very face of the text carries this plain and obvious meaning, that sin naturally tends to involve a people in ruin and reproach. This therefore shall be the leading sentiment in the following discourse.
We have had great opportunity for discovering the nature of sin. For sin hath prevailed more or less, in every person and family, as well as in every community and society of men; and invariably displayed, by all its various operations and appearances, the same malignant nature and tendency. The history of particular persons, and of particular nations, and indeed of the whole world, is but the history of their vices, and of the natural and penal evils which have flowed from them. The Bible draws a shocking picture of the lusts and corruptions which ruined the old world ; and of the enormous vices which finally destroyed Sodom, Egypt, Babylon, Nineveh, and many other great and ancient kingdoms. And if we open the leaves of profane history, we find every leaf, like Ezekiel's roll, full
“ of lamentations, mourning and wo," the dire effects of sin. It wounds a tender mind to read the history of Alexander, of Mohammed, of the Man of sin, and of those unhappy nations, who have fallen under their cruel and bloody hands; but it would be more than our hearts could endure, could we collect into one vie all the scenes of misery and horror which sin has ever produced in our malevolent world. If therefore we may give the least regard to sacred and profane history, and to the observation and experience of all ages, we are constrained to believe, that sin has a malignant nature, and directly tends to involve a people in ruin and reproach. We know the nature of sin better than the nature of any other object around us; for we have heard, and read, and seen, and felt, more of its evil and fatal effects, than of any other object in the whole circle of our knowledge, observation, or experience. We know that sin is a corrupt tree, because it always bears corrupt fruit. We know therefore, according to the analogy of things, that fire has not a more natural tendency to consume wood, nor water to extinguish fire, than sin has to injure and destroy any people, among whom it is suffered to spread and prevail.
To illustrate and impress this idea, permit me to enter into - particulars, and observe,
1. It is the nature of sin to lessen and diminish a people. The most populous nations have been reduced to a handful, by the prevalence of vice. Though Israel, at certain seasons, were numerous as the stars of heaven, yet by their lusts and corruptions they were “minished and brought low.” When they left the kingdom of Egypt, they amounted to about three millions, but before they reached the land of promise, near half their numbers pined away in their iniquities, and perished in the wilderness. And though they increased again in the reign of Solomon, yet in the next succeeding reign they departed from God, and for their groundless revolt half a million were destroyed in one day. Nor did their open vices and immoralities ever fail to diminish their numbers, from that time to the time of their final dispersion and rain. The Greeks, for many ages, maintained their virtue, and continued to increase; but as soon as the vices of Asia corrupted their morals, they immediately began to diminish. Rome was once extremely populous. It contained more inhabitants than are now contained in all the United States. But vice, in a few years, not only thinned the capital, but diminished the whole empire. Vice has a natural as well as a moral tendency to waste and destroy every human society. For indolence, intemperance, luxury, and prodigality, serve to weaken and enervate the human frame, and of course, to expose men to the attacks and ravages of every malignant disorder. Hence we find, that the
whole train of painful and mortal diseases, have always raged with the greatest violence among those nations who have sunk the deepest in moral pollutions.
2. It is the nature of sin to sink and depress the spirits of a people. This is a fair and just conclusion from the last particular. The soul and body are intimately connected, and mutually strengthen or weaken each other. If vice therefore serves to weaken and enervate the body, it must in the same proportion serve to sink and depress the spirit. Besides, the vicious and profligate sensibly feel, that vice immediately affects and contaminates their minds, sets their reason, conscience, and passions at variance, and effectually restrains them from great and noble exertions. Hence says the Father of spirits by the prophet, whoredom, and wine, and new wine, take away the heart.”
A people confirmed in the habits of vice, have no heart to labor, no heart to think, no heart to form, nor execute any virtuous and laudable designs. Their genius withers, their exertions languish, their hopes, and honors, and virtues perish. These are not imaginary, but real and natural effects of the prevalence of vice. And these have been actually experienced, by the most brave and enlightened nations, in the last stages of luxury and corruption. There never was a people, perhaps, more brave and sprightly, and more perfectly polished in their taste and manners, than the ancient people of Athens. They carried learning in general, and the fine arts in particular, next to the last degree of refinement. Their works of genius and taste are still considered and admired as the standards of perfection. But indolence, prodigality and luxury, gradually enslaved and enfeebled their minds, and finally reduced them to the lowest state of savage stupidity and ignorance. The Romans, after they had subdued the Greeks and all other nations within the reach of their arms, finally subdued and enslaved themselves, by their own vices. In the time of Augustus, they reigned masters of the world, and stood without a rival in arms and arts. But at the close of the Augustan age, not only their spirit of enterprise, but their spirit of refinement began to languish; and after that corrupt and dissolute period, they never produced but two men of genius and eminence; the one to relate, and the other to satirize their vices.* The corruption of morals, which now prevails in some of the principal nations of Europe, already. begins to impair their mental powers and improvements. Many of their modern productions of genius and taste bear strong and visible marks of declension. Their late publications are extremely superfi
* Tacitus and Juvenal.
cial. They discover neither strength of mind nor energy of expression. They appear more like the feeble births of leisure and memory, than the strong and masculine offspring of genius and study. They merit the corner of a monthly or weekly paper, but ought never to occupy the page of a serious volume. În short, their plays, novels, epigrams, extracts, and abridgments, which compose the catalogue of their learned labors, are much better suited to amuse and stupify, than to enlighten and enlarge the mind; and therefore they naturally tend to diminish, rather than to increase the common stock of useful knowledge. The British nation, in particular, have been gradually declining in point of literature, ever since the licentious reign of Charles JI. This is confirmed by the venerable authority of their own most venerable monuments. Their Newton continues to reign in philosophy; their Locke in metaphysics; their Milton in poetry; and their Addison in neat and nervous composition. When these illustrious and virtuous men went off the stage, the republic of letters sustained a loss, which will never be repaired by the feeble and languishing genius of Britain. Such plain and undeniable facts carry convincing evidence, that the prevalence of vice among a people will impair their minds, obstruct the progress of learning and knowledge, and reduce them to that ignorance and barbarity, which must issue in their ruin and reproach.
3. It is the nature of sin to destroy the wealth of a nation, and subject them to all the evils and reproaches of poverty. Though some species of fraud and dishonesty may, for a certain time, and under certain circumstances, advance a person or people in wealth and grandeur; yet vice, according to its common and natural course, will eventually involve them in poverty and shame. Solomon assures us, “the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty; and drowsiness shall cover a man with rags.” And again, “slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep; and an idle soul shall suffer hunger.” Luxury and prodigality not only waste the wealth which a people have already acquired; but, by destroying the spirit of industry, effećtually prevent the future acquisitions of property. Besides, these vices stupify the minds of a people, and forbid them to reflect where their folly and dissipation will carry them, till poverty and distress awaken their fears, and plunge them into remorse and despair. We have a remarkable instance of this, in the stupid conduct and miserable fate of the corrupt and degenerate Romans. They had acquired immense treasures from their conquered subjects; but their immense prodigality and profusion soon wasted their wealth, and reduced them to extreme poverty. Their houses, their tables,