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death, with the highest marks of ignominy. The argument from implanted principle, therefore, militates very powerfully against suicide.
But however, the truth is, that in this, as in many other cases, these implanted principles, by due labour and pains, may be overruled and suppressed. On which account, it becomes necessary for us to have some other criterion of moral rectitude, evident to all, and to be eluded by none; lest obduracy should be deemed a proof of innocence, and, because a man feels no remorse, he should apprehend no guilt.
For us Christians, this matter is settled by a law which we esteem to be wise, and just, and good, and most friendly to the interests of society. By the leave of the new philosophers, we will take it with us; and, I am apt to think, it will appear to great advantage on this part of our subject. Holding this light in our hands, then, let us enter the dark labyrinth of Mr. Hume's sophistry, and it will bring us safely out again.
Page 18. "A man who retires from life, does no "harm to society."
There are two ways of imposing upon mankind through the abuse of words; when a good thing is disgraced by a bad name, or a bad thing dignified with a good one. Mr. Hume in this Essay affords us a striking instance of the latter mode of deception. The self-murderer is sometimes said by him to "dispose of life," as a pedlar would sell two penny
Sec Bp. Taylor's Duct. Dubitant. Book III. Chap. ii. Rule 3.
worth of inkle; at others, to "retire from life," as a gentleman, when he has a mind to leave company, makes his bow, steps gracefully out of the room, and shuts the door. It may be urged, perhaps, that as we understand Mr. Hume's meaning, it is needless to dispute any farther about his language. Be it So. Proceed we then to consider the sentiment.
"A man who retires from life, does no harm to 'society."
Aristotle thought otherwise, and, as it should seem, better, upon this point. It was his opinion, that they who destroy themselves (without the command of God or the public) are injurious to the commonwealth; from whose service they withdraw themselves if they be innocent, and whose justice they evade if they be guilty.
But surely the suicide "does harm to society," by setting a detestable example, which, if generally followed in times of calamity and distress, would desolate a country, instead of defending it. Suicide originates in despair, of all evils political or moral the greatest, as cutting off every source of help and deliverance. Wisely, therefore, as well as bravely, did the Romans return public thanks to their general, who had been vanquished in a dreadful battle by the enemy, because he had nevertheless NOT DESPAIRED of the commonwealth. In the instance before us, example is particularly contagious. Once, as history relates, it became a fashion among the young women of a certain city in Greece to make
See Bp. Taylor, ubi supra.
away with themselves; nor could the magistrates put an end to the horrid practice, till having ordered the dead bodies of the culprits to be dragged naked through the streets, they overcame this most unnatural love of death by the dread of shame. In our own country, and, it is said, of late, upon the continent, parily by the examples of profligates and partly by the writings of philosophers, the same fashion is more and more diffusing itself among all ranks of people; and the state is continually losing numbers, who might otherwise have lived long to serve it, and then have died in the faith and fear of God. It is not true, therefore, that the suicide "does no harm to society." He does irremediable harm, and may continue to do so, to the years of many generations.
Page 18. "He only ceases to do good; which, if "it is an injury, is of the lowest kind.”
To cease to do good is not so criminal as to do harm; but it is criminal, notwithstanding. We were sent into the world to do good; and we should do it to the end. The portion of the "unprofitable ser"vant" is not to be envied.
Ibid. "But when I withdraw myself altogether "from society, can I be bound any longer?"
It is not possible to " withdraw yourself altoge"ther from society." There always will be some about you, whom you may improve by your conversation and example, and who may improve others by the relation of them.
Ibid. "I am not obliged to do a small good to
"society, at the expense of a great harm to my"self."
Be not afraid, where no fear is. The "harm" is not "great" of bearing your afflictions as God requires you to bear them, who sends the trial and will send the strength: and in a stage of our existence where so large a part of our duty lies in suffering, the "good" is not "small," of showing your companions in tribulation (and such more or less are all mankind) what it is to suffer and die like a Christian, in piety and patience, cheerfulness and resignation.
Page 19. "If upon account of age and infirmities "I may lawfully resign any office, and employ my "time altogether in fencing against these calamities, "and alleviating, as much as possible, the miseries "of my future life; why may I not cut short these "miseries at once, by an action which is no more 'prejudicial to society ?"
Suicide is in reality far "more prejudicial to society," as we have already shown; because it exhibits a bad example of impatience and despair, which may be copied by any man, who, in the hour of gloom and melancholy (he being always the judge of his own case), shall fancy himself in circumstances which will justify the action. How many have still contrived to the last, in various ways, to do service to their families and to the public, during the intervals of pain and sickness; and when they could no longer teach their friends how to live and act, have taught them (as before-mentioned, but it cannot be
mentioned too often), that other equally necessary and important lesson-to suffer, and to die?
Mr. Hume is resolved to die hard
Page 19. But suppose that it is no longer in
it will be in your power to do so.
"Suppose that I am a burden to it"If the society be Christian, it will readily, charitably, and kindly support the burden.
-"Suppose that my life hinders some person "from being much more useful to society."
As it is your duty to bear your afflictions, it is that of others to assist and minister to you in your necessities; and they cannot be more "useful to society," than while so employed.
"In such cases, my resignation of life must not "only be innocent, but laudable."
Neither "laudable," nor “innocent," believe me, if by "resignation of life," you mean suicide, for the reasons, many and good, above assigned.
Page 19. "Most people who lie under any temp. "tation to abandon existence, are in some such situ"ation: those who have health, or power, or authority, have commonly better reason to be in humour "with the world."
Yet this is by no means always so. There are seasons when the world, with all its pleasures and all its glories, will fail him who has nothing else to depend upon. Accordingly we have had instances, where, for want of the religious principle, "health,
power, and authority," havé proved insufficient to