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darkness, so the mind inured to misfortune finds alleviation and comfort in the most desperate condition.
But to those who look for a future day of retribution and account, the lawfulness of suicide becomes a question of a very different nature. The self-murderer, though he fears not him that killeth the body, and after that can do no more, has the same reason with others to fear Him who casteth soul and body into hell-fire. And here I would premise, but without the least distrust of my argument, that should the guilt of suicide turn out at last to be a matter of doubt only, we are bound by that very doubt to abstain from it. There can be no question but that we may, if we will, lawfully continue in existence: there is a question whether we may law- . fully quit it. It is a contempt of authority to incur even the danger of disobedience, when a safe and certain choice is in our power. Besides that, the action in this case would want that entire acquiescence and approbation of conscience, which should accompany every important step of a good man's conduct. For he who can overrule the scruples of his conscience will soon learn to reject its decisions. I am the more con
I firmed in this position, as I take the case of a hesitating conscience to have been thus, and in an instance of much less importance, adjudged by St. Paul—“ He that doubteth,” saith the apostle, “is damned if he eat ; because he eateth not of faith : for whatsoever is not of faith,” that is, not done with a full persuasion of the lawfulness of it, “is sin.” This caution applies with especial force to the case of suicide; a sin, if it be one, which cuts off all place of reparation and repentance.
We now proceed to the inquiry itself, whether a
man possesses such a right over his own life and person, that he may lawfully destroy them at his pleasure.
To ask then, what is our duty in any instance, is to ask what the will of God is in that instance. Now the will of God, as of every other intelligent being, must be learnt upon any point, from his express
declarations where they can be had ; or, where these are silent, from his general character and disposition ; from the aim and analogy of his laws and conduct in other in
We will begin with this latter inquiry, and see how the question stands, upon the foot of reason and natural religion.
First then, the divine will is intimated by that eager and instinctive love of life, which prevails without exception through the whole animal creation. There are who think this love of life to be nothing more than what results from a sense and experience of the pleasures it affords; and to those who think so, this argument has no weight. Many, on the other hand, observe a violence and intensity in this passion, beyond what they deem either the value of life or the pains of death could on their own account create. To such there will appear a separate and original principle superadded for this special purpose, to retain men in existence, when disgust or despair would drive them out of it. And considered in this light, it becomes a proof of God's intention, that we should preserve our lives; and consequently, of his displeasure against those who wilfully and wantonly destroy them.
Secondly; he, who puts it out of his power do his duty, refuses to do it: and who is there so disengaged and unconnected, as to have no duty or demand upon him? Who is there that owes not to some relation or
other, industry or obedience, piety or gratitude, justice or restitution, instruction, counsel, protection, or support? All which obligations are at once violated and forsaken by this single act of suicide. Or, if a situation so singular can be supposed, that all private claims upon our service are satisfied or ceased, I would then ask, what condition can be so abject or so useless, but that “
by a patient continuance in well doing,” by the exercise of those virtues which fall within our reach, we may hope to improve our merit here, and, of consequence, our proportion of happiness hereafter ?
Thirdly; another way of determining whether an action be virtuous, innocent, or criminal, is to see whether the effects of it are beneficial, indifferent, or pernicious to the happiness of human society; which happiness, from the manifold provision he has made for it, appears to be the purpose of God Almighty's will : the end, therefore, and aim of all his laws, and, by consequence, the measure and standard of our duty, Now in this way of reasoning, it is material to remember, that it is not the particular consequence of any individual action which alone determines its moral quality ; but the tendency and operation of that general rule, by which actions of the same sort are permitted or forbidden. I will explain myself by an example. Murder in certain instances may produce no immediate or particular mischief to the community: it may deliver a nation from tyranny, or a neighbourhood from oppression;
power and property to better hands and better uses. But when we reflect that we cannot permit one action and forbid another, without assigning some distinction between them ; that the same rule, therefore, which permits this, must permit every assassin to fall upon each man he meets,
whom he thinks useless or noxious ; that the allowance of such a rule would overthrow the best end of society, the security of its citizens; commit each man to the spleen, fury, or fanaticism of his neighbour, and fill all things with terror and confusion ;-—when we reflect upon this, we see, that the present benefit of the action is outweighed by that more important ruin which the admission or impunity of so fatal an example would at length produce. Whatever, therefore, we may think of its particular consequences, we condemn it to sustain a general rule ; which will not endure an arbitrary exception, and which cannot be laid aside without a general injury.
Whatever is expedient is right-whatever is indifferent is innocent. But then it must be expedient or indifferent upon the whole, in all its collateral and remote effects. The same attention to equal and general rules; the same study of uniformity, which prevails in
$ every code of human jurisprudence, takes place for the same reason in the moral system also, and
government of the universe. To apply this reasoning upon the twofold consequences of our actions, to the question before us-Suicide has much to answer for of both. Nor can any case be put, which is not concluded under sin, either by the peculiar injury, or the general mischief: the tears and cries of our unpitied relatives the confusion and agony of those we leave behind-the loss which may never be forgotten or repaired—the ignominy of our fate, which stings to the heart, and which is derived to all our connexions,-are consequences of self-murder, which cannot be mentioned or thought upon with patience. What must be the stubborn cruelty of his mind who can despise, and in his last hour disregard, the affliction
sprace of all he loves, whom no compassion, friendship or affection, whom neither the tender ties of family and kindred, nor the dearer names of wife and child, can withhold from the fierce and sullen purpose of his soul ? The thief, the plunderer, and the rebel, inflict not any calamity on a stranger or an enemy, which can be compared with that which the self-murderer brings down on those of his own household, and his own blood. But though no duty were deserted, no claim defrauded, no friend or family afflicted by our death, no orphans abandoned, and no widows to make lamentation ; yet, if it be once admitted, that whoever is weary of life, and has rendered, or can suppose, himself useless to others, is for that reason at liberty to quit it,--what have we not to fear, where the accumulating of riches in the few produces the want of a sufficiency in many; where early habits of luxury and refinement have multiplied desires and disappointments; where voluptuousness and sensuality
; have drained the sources, and worn away all sense of natural pleasures; where the permanent satisfactions of the heart and understanding are unknown, or extinguished by more gross pursuits ; where the spirits, convulsed by passion, by turbulent and impetuous exertions, have lost their natural tension and composure; where religion, the appointed medicine of human woes, is converted by our vices and mistakes into an object of terror and aversion. In circumstances like these (connected perhaps with other more physical causes), if ever a time should come when public opinion and numerous examples shall authorize this crime, what havoc may we not expect; what desolation of the species, from spleen, impatience, melancholy, and despair ?
These are the arguments, which reason holds forth