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Let them try what temperance, soberness, and chastity will do,—the satisfaction of virtue, and the hopes of religion,—the exhilarating activity of some benevolent pursuit, or the triumph of successful struggles with our passions and ourselves. Lastly, let them resort to that gracious Being, who despises not the sighings of a contrite heart, nor the desire of such as be sorrowful,—who will relieve, and in his own good time reward, those sufferings with which, for some kind but mysterious purpose, it hath pleased him to visit us.
THE LAW OF HONOUR.
LUKE XVI. 15.
For that which is highly esteemed amongst men is
abomination in the sight of God.
A considERABLE part of mankind, and those too of the higher orders of society, govern their conduct, so far as they do govern it at all, by the rule of reputation, or, as it is better known, by the name of the law of honour.
In the first place, I acknowledge that it is a great thing to act according to any rule : for, generally speaking, men fail not so much in the choice of their rule, as in not being able to act up to it. every impulse of passion; to yield to any or every temptation ; to catch at all opportunities of all sorts of pleasure with plan, prospect, and condition, is the lowest state of moral character. To proceed by some rule, to aim at some standard, to possess an authority over our conduct, and exercise our judgment at all, is the next state, and compared with the last, a state of improvement. To take for our guidance the rule of reason and the rule of Scripture, to inquire after it, to inform ourselves of it, to endeavour to understand it, and when we do understand it to conform our behaviour to it, is the perfection of moral excellence; and like perfection in every thing, seldom perhaps absolutely
and completely attained, but what we should always aim at, and gradually advance towards.
Again; would by no means decry or disparage the law of honour universally. It holds many to order, whom nothing else would. Part of mankind seem, in a great measure, incapable of reasoning about their duty, or inquiring for themselves. These must of necessity proceed a great deal by the rule of honour and reputation; that is, in other words, by what they hear praised and esteemed by the persons they converse with. In a multitude of instances, the law of honour in all civilized countries (and we have no concern with any other on this subject) prescribes the same behaviour that reason and religion prescribe. Saint Paul himself, who had no extraordinary deference for human judgement in these matters, enjoins upon his followers whatever things are praise-worthy, whatever things are of good report; which is a good general rule, though it may contain exceptions and defects.
Having premised thus much in behalf of the law of honour, and of those who go by it, and who challenge to themselves the character and title of men of honour, and who are certainly much to be preferred to those who go by no rule but present inclination ; I shall now proceed to show that the rule is not, alone, either safe or complete. By safe, I mean sure to conduct to future and final happiness ; by complete, I mean containing all the duties which are required of us by the will of our Creator.
It is not safe or complete, because it omits some duties, and tolerates some vices ; so that a person may be deemed and may be a man of honour, notwithstanding he neglects some necessary duties, and allows himself in some vices.
It is my business to make this appear. Now, as the motive and law of honour is calculated principally, if not wholly, to secure and make easy the intercourse between people of equal, or nearly equal condition in life, by regulating the behaviour. of such as are governed by or resting upon fidelity, punctuality, civility; between such this may be the view and object of the rule. It prescribes duties only between equals, or those who account themselves such ; omitting, as well that whole class of duties which relate immediately to the Deity, as those which we owe to our inferiors : and the reason of the omission is substantially this, that a man is not the worse companion, nor the worse to deal with, in those concerns which are usually transacted between persons of honour. Hence it comes to pass, that the profanation of God's name and attributes, of his religion, religious ordinances, and all the effect of passions, levity or infidelity, are no breaches of honour, nor accounted such, even by those who think them wrong.
And if this be not a true account that I have given of the law of honour, that it is confined to the duties and offices between equals; we would desire to know how it happens that it is not the same as the law of God. At least, it is a demonstration that the law of Moses does not embrace the extent and
compass of our duty; since there are points, such as those I have mentioned, relating to the Deity, which we acknowledge to be duties, though yet the violation of them is accounted no breach of the law of honour. The consequence of this is, that those who set
persons of honour, and look no farther than to maintain the character of men of honour in the world, find no obligation or inducement to any of those duties which we owe immediately to God. They may allow the evil habits of
cursing and swearing to grow upon them and keep hold of them; they may indulge themselves in the utmost licentiousness in the treatment of many things that belong to religion ; they may be as remiss and negligent as they please in their attendance upon public worship, and behave as irreverently as they please when they do attend ; they may utterly lay aside any act of private devotion ; they may cease, in a word, from every expression of homage, piety, gratitude, and acknowledgment to the Supreme Preserver of us all, without suffering in their character as men of honour, or incurring a stain or imputation upon their honour on that account. Nevertheless, these are duties. God is entitled to our affection and devotion, our love and honour; and he has commanded that we pay it. This is not disputed; nor do I insinuate that it is. What I argue is, that the law of honour is not considered to concern itself with these duties, even by those who confess them to be duties.
This, then, will be admitted—that what respects the Divine Being lies out of the province of the law of hoBut in all that concerns man and man; in that
l great and important class of duties which are called relative duties, the law of honour may be depended upon as an adequate rule; and there, it is enough if we act but up to and support the character of men of honour. I wish it were so, for the sake of all who
profess this character : but I fear the observations we have laid down-that the law of honour takes notice only of what passes between equals
will be found here also ; and that those duties which we owe to our dependents and inferiors, which form together a very considerable part of a good man's virtues and a bad man's vices, are omitted in the law of honour; that is, may be either