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that is set before us.”—“I have finished my course.” —“That I may finish my course with joy.”—“Ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.”—These expressions appear to me inconsistent with the opinion, that we are at liberty to determine the duration of our lives for ourselves. If this were the case, with what propriety could life be called a race that is set before us; or, which is the same thing, “our course;” that is, the course set out or appointed to us? The remaining quotation is equally strong;-“That, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.” The most natural meaning that can be given to the words, “after ye have done the will of God,” is, after ye have discharged the duties of life so long as God is pleased to continue you in it. According to which interpretation, the text militates strongly against suicide: and they who reject this paraphrase, will please to propose a better. 2. There is not one quality which Christ and his apostles inculcate upon their followers so often, or so earnestly, as that of patience under affliction. Now this virtue would have been in a great measure superseded, and the exhortations to it might have been spared, if the disciples of his religion had been at liberty to quit the world as soon as they grew weary of the ill usage which they received in it. When the evils of life pressed sore, they were to look forward to a “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory:” they were to receive them as “chastenings of the Lord,” as intimations of his care and love: by these and the like reflections they were to support and improve themselves under their sufferings: but not a hint has any where escaped of seeking relief in a voluntary death. The following text in particular strongly combats all impatience of distress, of which the greatest is that which prompts to acts of suicide: —“Consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” I would offer my comment upon this passage, in these two queries: first, whether a Christian convert, who had been impelled by the continuance and urgency of his sufferings to destroy his own life, would not have been thought by the author of this text “to have been weary,” to have “fainted in his mind,” to have fallen off from that example which is here proposed to the meditation of Christians in distress? And yet, secondly, Whether such an act would not have been attended with all the circumstances of mitigation which can excuse or extenuate suicide at this day? 3. The conduct of the apostles, and of the Christians of the apostolic age, affords no obscure indication of their sentiments upon this point. They lived, we are sure, in a confirmed persuasion of the existence, as well as of the happiness, of a future state. They experienced in this world every extremity of external injury and distress. To die was gain. The change which death brought with it was, in their expectation, infinitely beneficial. Yet it never, that we can find, entered into the intention of one of them to hasten this change by an act of suicide; from which it is difficult to say what motive could have so universally withheld them, except an apprehension of some unlawfulness in the expedient. Having stated what we have been able to collect in opposition to the lawfulness of suicide, by way of direct proof, it seems unnecessary to open a separate controversy with all the arguments which are made use of to defend it; which would only lead us into a repetition of what has been offered already. The following argument, however, being somewhat more artificial and imposing than the rest, as well as distinct from the general consideration of the subject, cannot so properly be passed over. If we deny to the individual a right over his own life, it seems impossible, it is said, to reconcile with the law of nature that right which the state claims and exercises over the lives of its subjects, when it ordains or inflicts capital punishments. For this right, like all other just authority in the state, can only be derived from the compact and virtual consent of the citizens which compose the state; and it seems self evident, if any principle in morality be so, that no one, by his consent, can transfer to another a right which he does not possess himself. It will be equally difficult to account for the power of the state to commit its subjects to the dangers of war, and to expose their lives without scruple in the field of battle; especially in offensive hostilities, in which the privileges of self defence cannot be pleaded with any appearance of truth; and still more difficult to explain how in such, or in any circumstances, prodigality of life can be a virtue, if the preservation of it be a duty of our nature. This whole reasoning sets out from one error, namely, that the state acquires its right over the life of the subject from the subject's own consent, as a part of what originally and personally belonged to himself, and which he has made over to his governors. The truth is, the state derives this right neither from the consent of the subject, nor through the medium of that consent; but, as I may say, immediately from the donation of the Deity. Finding that such a power in the sovereign of the community is expedient, if not necessary, for the community itself, it is justly presumed to be the will of God, that the sovereign should possess and exercise it. It is this presumption which constitutes the right; it is the same indeed which constitutes every other: and if there were the like reasons to authorize the presumption in the case of private persons, suicide would be as justifiable as war or capital executions. But until it can be shown that the power over human life may be converted to the same advantage in the hands of individuals over their own, as in those of the state over the lives of its subjects, and that it may be intrusted with equal safety to both, there is no room for arguing, from the existence of such a right in the latter, to the toleration of it in the former.
IN one sense, every duty is a duty towards God, since it is his will which makes it a duty: but there are some duties of which God is the object as well as the author; and these are peculiarly, and in a more appropriated sense, called duties towards God. That silent piety, which consists in a habit of tracing out the Creator's wisdom and goodness in the objects around us, or in the history of his dispensations; of referring the blessings we enjoy to his bounty, and of resorting in our distresses to his succour; may possibly be more acceptable to the Deity than any visible expressions of devotion whatever. Yet these latter (which, although they may be excelled, are not superseded, by the former) compose the only part of the subject which admits of direction or disquisition from a moralist. Our duty towards God, so far as it is external, is divided into worship and reverence. God is the immediate object of both ; and the difference between them is, that the one consists in action, the other in forbearance. When we go to church on the Lord's day, led thither by a sense of duty towards God, we perform an act of worship; when, from the same motive, we restin a journey upon that day, we discharge a duty of reverence. Divine worship is made up of adoration, thanksgiving, and prayer.—But, as what we have to offer concerning the two former may be observed of prayer, we shall make that the title of the following chapters, and the direct subject of our consideration.
OF THE DUTY AND OF THE EFFICACY of PRAYER, so FAR AS THE SAME APPEAR FROM THE LIGHT OF NATURE.
WHEN one man desires to obtain anything of another, he betakes himself to entreaty; and this may be observed of mankind in all ages and countries of the world. Now what is universal may be called natural; and it seems probable that God, as our supreme governor, should expect that towards himself which, by a natural impulse, or by the irresistible order of our constitution, he has prompted us to pay to every other being on whom we depend. The same may be said of thanksgiving. Prayer likewise is necessary to keep up in the minds of mankind a sense of God's agency in the universe, and of their own dependency upon him. Yet, after all, the duty of prayer depends upon its efficacy: for I confess myself unable to conceive, how any man can pray, or be obliged to pray, who expects nothing from his prayer; but who is persuaded, at the time he utters his request, that it cannot possibly produce the smallest impression upon the Being to whom it is addressed, or advantage to himself. Now the efficacy of prayer imports that we obtain something in consequence of praying, which we should not have received without prayer; against all expectation of which, the following objection has been often and seriously alleged —“If it be most agreeable to perfect wisdom and justice that we should receive what we desire, God, as perfectly wise and just, will give it to us without asking; if it be not agreeable to these attributes of his nature, our entreaties cannot move him to give it us, and it were impious to expect that they should.” In fewer words, thus: “If what we request be fit for us, we shall have it without praying; if it be not fit for us, we cannot obtain it by praying.”