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duties which are of the utmost importance and of the most sacred obligation, as the neglect of them would defeat all the blessings of society, and cut off even the hope of happiness; as it would poison the fountain whence it must be drawn; and make those institutions, which have been formed as necessary to peace and satisfaction, the means of disquiet and misery.
The lowest subdivision of society, is that by which it is broken into private families; nor do any duties demand more to be explained and enforced, than those which this relation produces ; because none is more universally obligatory, and, perhaps, very few are more frequently neglected.
The universality of these duties requires no other proof than may be received from the most cursory and superficial observation of human life. Very few men have it in their power to injure society in a large extent; the general happiness of the world can be very little interrupted by the wickedness of any single man, and the number is not large of those -by whom the peace of any particular nation can be disturbed; but every man may injure a family, and produce domestic disorders and distresses ; almost every one has opportunities, and perhaps, sometimes temptations, to rebel as a wife, or tyrannize as a husband ; and therefore, to almost every one are those admonitions necessary, that may assist in regulating the conduct, and impress just notions of the behaviour which these relations exact.
Nor are these obligations more evident than the neglect of them; a neglect of which daily examples may be found, and from which daily calamities arise. Almost all the iniseries of life, almost all the wickedness that infects, and all the distresses that afflict mankind, are the consequences of some defects in these duties. It is, therefore, no objection to the propriety of discoursing-upou them, that they are well known and generally acknowledged; for a very small part of the disorders of the world proceed from ignorance of the laws by which life ought to be regulated; nor do many, even of those whose hands are polluted by the foulest crimes, deny the reasonableness of virtue, or attempt to justify their own actions. Men are not be trayed into corruption, but abandon themselves to their passions with their eyes open; and lose the direction of Truth, because they do not attend to her voice, not because they do not hear or do not understand it. It is, therefore, no less useful to rouse the thoughtless, than instruct the ignorant; to awaken the attention, than enlighten the understanding.
There is another reason, for which it may be proper to dwell long upon these duties, and return frequently to them; that deep impressions of them may be formed and renewed, as often as time or temptation shall begin to erase them. Offences against society in its greater extent, are cognizable by human laws. No man can invade the property, or disturb the quiet of his neighbour, without subjecting him. self to penalties, and suffering in proportion to the injuries he has offered. But cruelty and pride, oppression and partiality, may tyrannize in private families without control : meekness may be trampled on, and piety insulted, without any appeal, but to conscience and to Heaven, A thousand methods of torture may be invented, a thousand acts of unkindness or disregard may be committed,
a thousand innocent gratifications may be denied, and a thousand hardships imposed, without any violation of national laws. Life may be imbittered with hourly vexation; and weeks, months, and years be lingered out in misery, without any legal cause of separation, or possibility of judicial re. dress. Perhaps, no sharper anguish is felt than that which cannot be complained of, nor any greater cruelties inflicted than some which no human authority can relieve.
That marriage itself, an institution designed only for the promotion of happiness, and for the relief of the disappointments, anxieties, and distresses, to which we are subject in our present state, does not always produce the effects for which it was appointed; that it sometimes condenses the gloom which it was intended to dispel, and increases the weight which was expected to be made lighter by it, must, however unwillingly, be yet acknowledged.
It is to be considered to what causes, effects so unexpected and unpleasing, so contrary to the end of the institution, and so unlikely to arise from it, are to be attributed: it is necessary to inquire, whether those that are thus unhappy, are to impute their misery to any other cause than their own folly, and to the neglect of those duties, which prudence and religion equally require.
This inquiry may not only be of use in stating and explaining the duties of the marriage state, but may contribute to free it from licentious misrepresentations and weak objections, which, indeed, can have little force upon minds not already adapted to receive impressions from them, by ha. bits of debauchery; but which, when they cooperate with lewdness, intemperance, and vanity; when they are proposed to an understanding naturally weak, and made yet weaker by luxury and sloth, by an implicit resignation to reigning follies, and an habitual compliance with every appetite; may, at least, add strength to prejudices, to support an opinion already favoured ; and, perhaps, hinder conviction, or, at least, retard it.
It may, indeed, be asserted, to the honour of marriage, that it has few adversaries among men, either distinguished for their abilities or eminent for their virtue. Those who have assumed the province of attacking it, of overturning the constitution of the world, of encountering the authority of the wisest legislators, from whom it has received the highest sanction of human wisdom; and subverting the maxims of the most flourishing states, in which it has been dignified with honours and promoted with immunities; those who have undertaken the task of contending with reason and experience, with earth and with heaven, are men who seem generally not selected by nature for great attempts or difficult undertakings : they are, for the most part, such as owe not their determinations to their arguments, but their arguments to their determinations; disputants, animated, not by a consciousness of truth, but by the number of their ado herents; and heated, not with zeal for the right, but with the rage of licentiousness and impatience of restraint. And, perhaps, to the sober, the understanding, and the pious, it may be sufficient to remark, that religion and marriage have the same enemies.
There are, indeed, some in other communions of the Christian church, who censure marriage upon different motives, and prefer celibacy to a state more immediately devoted to the honour of God, and the regular and assiduous practice of the duties of religion; and have recommended vows of abstinence, no where commanded in Scripture, and imposed restraints upon lawful desires ; of which, it is easy to judge how well they are adapted to the present state of human nature, by the frequent violation of them, even in those societies where they are voluntarily incurred, and where no vigilance is omitted to secure the observation of them.
But the authors of these rigorous and unnatural schemes of life, though certainly misled by false notions of holiness, and perverted conceptions of the duties of our religion, have, at least, the merit of mistaken endeavours to promote virtue, and must be allowed to have reasoned, at least, with some degree of probability, in vindication of their conduct. They were, generally, persons of piety, and sometimes of knowledge; and are, therefore, not to be confounded with the fool, the drunkard, and the libertine. They who decline marriage, for the sake of a more severe and mortified life, are surely to be distinguished from those who condemn it as too rigorous a confinement, and wish the abolition of it in favour of boundless voluptuousness and licensed debauchery.
Perhaps, even the errors of mistaken goodness may be rectified, and the prejudices surmounted, by deliberate attention to the nature of the institution; and certainly, the calumnies of wickedness may be, by the same means, confuted, though its clamours may not be silenced ; since commonly, in debates like this, confutation and conviction are