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Exodus XX. 14. - Thou shalt not commit adultery.

HAVING in the preceding discourse considered the Origin, Nature, and Benefits of Marriage; the Institution, which is the basis of the prohibition in the Text; I shall now proceed to examine the Prohibition itself.

The thing, which is here universally prohibited, is Lewdness : Lewdness in every form; in thought, word, and action. This is unanswerably evident from our Saviour's comment on this precept. He, that looketh on a woman, to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

Before I begin the immediate discussion of this subject, I shall premise a few General Observations.

It is universally known, that there is, and for a great length of time has been, a riveted prejudice against the introduction of this subject into the Desk. When the peculiar delicacy, attending it, is considered; it cannot be thought strange, that such a preju. dice should in some degree exist. Even the most chaste and correct observations concerning it are apt to give pain; or at least to excite an alarm in a refined and apprehensive mind. What Nature itself, perhaps, dictates, Custom and Manners have not a little enhanced. The opinions, and feelings, to which I have referred, have been carried to a length unwarranted either by the Scriptures, or Common Sense. The subject seems, in fact, to have been banished from the Desk: and Ministers, by their general and profound silence concerning it, appear to have sanctioned the conclusion, that there is one, and that not a small, part of Scripture, which, so far as Preaching is concerned, is not profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, nor for instruction in righteousness.

But let me solemnly ask every religious man, whether this conduct can be justified. The rejoicing of St. Paul, at the close of his life, was the testimony of a good conscience, that not by fleshly wisdom, but by the Grace of God, he had his conversation in the world; the testimony of a good conscience, that he was pure from the · blood of all men, because he had not shunned to declare the whole Counsel of God. Is it not a plain, and prominent, part of the Counsel of God, to forbid, to discourage, to prevent, this profligate conduct of mankind? Why else was this precept inserted in the

Decalogue ; and promulged amid the lightnings of Sinai? Why else is it throughout the Scriptures made the subject of such forcible prohibitions, and the object of such awful threatenings?

What reason can be given, why it should not be introduced into the Desk? Can common sense either prove, or discern, the usefulness of excluding it? Is it fit, is it safe, is it not preposterous, is it not ruinous, to the best interests of mankind, to leave the whole management of it to loose and abandoned men; and to suffer them from year to year, and from century to century, to go on in a course of corruption; seducing, and destroying, thousands and millions, especially of the young, the gay, and the giddy : while we, Ministers of Christ, divinely appointed to watch for the souls of men, quietly sit by, and see them hurried on to perdition? Shall we be awed by the cry of indelicacy, originally raised by the most indelicate of mankind, only to keep the field open for its own malignant occupancy? Shall we not infinitely rather lay hold on every opportunity, and all the means furnished here, as well as elsewhere, to rescue our fellow-creatures from destruction?

And shall not the House of God, and this Sacred Day; both divinely consecrated, not only to His worship at large, but to this very end, that the wicked may be warned of the error of his way, that he turn from it, and save his soul alive ; shelter this subject, a solemn prominent subject of his own express commands, awful exhortations, and terrible threatenings, from misconception, sport, and sneer? Shall not the known presence of this Tremendous Being in His House silence every unscriptural complaint; check every wayward thought; forbid every roving of an unhallowed imagination; and appal every light-minded sinner; however prone he may be to forget the presence of his Maker; or unwilling to remember, that this Great Being is, at the very time, searching his heart, and trying his reins, to reward him according to his works?

But why, it may be asked, may not the evil be left to other correctives? Why is it necessary, that Ministers of the Gospel should make it the theme of their public discourses? Why may not the business of reformation be entrusted to the Satirist, the Poet, and the Moralist; to private conversation, and to the Religious Instruction of Parents?.. The answer to these questions is at hand. God has required Ministers to cry aloud and spare not, to lift up their voices as a trumpet, and to shew his people their transgressions. He has declared to Ministers, that if they warn not the wicked of his way, the wicked shall die in his sins ; but his blood He will require at their hands. The point in debate must, I think, be allowed to be here finally settled ; unless some argument can be devised to show, that a Minister is bound to make himself answerable for the blood of those sinners, to whom he preaches. Besides, the Satirist, the Poet, and the Moralist, in a

multitude of instances, have been enlisted on the side of Vice; and have endeavoured to stimulate, rather than repress, the evil under examination. Where they are not; how few persons read their books, compared with the number of those who are present at the preaching of the Gospel! Probably two-thirds of a million of persons hear the Gospel preached, weekly, in New-England. Not one in a thousand of these, perhaps, has ever read a book, seriously exposing this unhappy part of the human character. Even where their books are read, and read with attention, they are little regarded, and produce little effect. The Desk possesses means of appalling, and overthrowing, vice, and upholding morality, which nothing else can boast. The Day, the place, the Cir. cumstances, of the Assembly; the Purposes, for which they are gathered; and the solemn Commission of Jehovah; furnish Ministers with advantages for this great end, unrivalled, and unexampled. Accordingly, their Office has been more efficacious in producing real reformation, than all the other means, employed by man. “ The Pulpit,” says a Poet of distinguished excellence and wisdom,

“ The Pulpit, when the sat'rist has at last,
Strutting and vap'ring in an empty school,
Spent all his force and made no proselyte,
I say the Pulpit, in the sober use
Of its legitimate, peculiar powers,
Must stand acknowledg’d, while the world shall stand,
The most important and effectual guard,
Support, and ornament, of Virtue's cause."

With these things in view, I consider it as my own duty to bring this Subject into the Desk without hesitation; and to treat it in the same definite and earnest manner, which is demanded by the precepts of the Gospel. I shall make it my business, however, to treat it in such a manner, that, if any


my Audience shall entertain thoughts concerning it, forbidden by their Creator, it shall be their own fault, and not mine.

With these preliminary remarks, I proceed to observe, 1. That this Command forbids all impure Thoughts.

The proof of this I have already given, in our Saviour's comment on this precept.

Impure thoughts are the immediate, and only, sources of impure conversation, and an impure life. If the thoughts be cleansed; the man will be clean, of course.

There is scarcely a more dangerous employment, than the in. dulgence of a licentious Imagination. This is an evil, to which youths are peculiarly exposed. The peculiar strength of every passion, and the peculiar want of watchfulness, and self-restraint, vender them an easy prey to every vice, which solicits admission. Still greater is the danger, when vice approaches under a form, especially alluring; and, at the same time, steals gradually, and

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therefore insensibly, upon the mind. By all these evils, is the sin under consideration accompanied. It rises in the minds of the young, instinctively surrounded with many allurements, and unaccompanied by that loathing and horror, with which the mind naturally regards vice of many other kinds. At the same time, the mind is prone to be utterly unconscious of any transgression, and of any danger. The imagination, thoughtless and unrestrained, wanders over the forbidden ground, often without thinking that it is forbidden ; and has already been guilty of many and perilous transgressions, when it is scarcely aware of having transgressed at all. In this manner its attachment to these excursions continually gains strength. Continually are they repeated with more eagerness, and with more frequency. At length they become habitual: and scarcely any habit is stronger, or with less difficulty over

In every leisure season, the mind, if it will watch its own movements, will find itself roving without restraint, and often without being aware that it has begun to rove, on this interdicted ground, and will be astonished to perceive, after a sober computation, how great a part of all its thinking is made up of these licentious thoughts.

Most unhappily, aids, and allurements, to this licentious indulgence are never wanting. Genius, in every age, and in every country, has, to a great extent, prostituted its elevated powers for the deplorable purpose of seducing thoughtless minds to this sin. The unsuspecting imagination, ignorant of the dangers, which spread before it, has by this gay and fiery serpent, glittering with spots of gold, and painted with colours of enchantment, been allured to pluck the fruit of this forbidden tree, and hazard the death, denounced against the transgression. The numbers of the Poet, the delightful melody of Song, the fascination of the Chisel, and the spell of the Pencil

, have been all volunteered in the service of Satan, for the moral destruction of unhappy man. To finish this work of malignity, the Stage has lent all its splendid apparatus of mischief; the Shop been converted into a show-box of temptations; and its owner into a pander of iniquity. Feeble, erratic, and giddy, as the mind of man is in its nature ; prepared to welcome temptation, and to hail every passing sin; can we wonder, that it should yield to this formidable train of seducers ?

To a virtuous mind scarcely any possession is of more value, or more productive of enjoyment or safety, than a chastened Imagination, regularly subjected to the control of the Conscience. Wherever this faculty is under this control, the mind has achieved a power of keeping temptation at a distance, of resisting it when approaching, and of overcoming it when invading, attainable in no other manner. Its path towards heaven becomes, therefore, comparatively unobstructed, easy, and secure. Sin does not easily beset it : and its moral improvement, while it is on the one hand undisturbed, is on the other rapid and delightful.


II. This Command forbids all licentious Words, of the same nature.

Impure thoughts beget impure words; and impure words, in their turn, generate, enhance, and multiply, impure thoughts. This retro-active influence of the tongue upon the heart, by means of which, sinful conversation becomes the means of producing sinful thoughts, I have had occasion to explain at large in a former dis

It will, therefore, be unnecessary to dwell upon it here. No serious observer of human life can doubt, that by our own language, as well as that of others, whenever it is impure, impure thoughts are awakened; a licentious imagination set on fire; and licentious designs, which otherwise would never have entered the mind, called up into existence, and execution.

In this employment, also, our fellow-men unite with us in the strange, and melancholy, purpose of mutual corruption. All the dangers and mischiefs, all the temptations and sins, presented to each other by evil companions, are to be found here. Here, wicked men and seducers wat worse and worse; deceiving, and being deceived ; mutually seducing, and being seduced.

The only safety, with respect to this part of the subject in hand, is found in an exact conformity to the very forcible precept of St. Paul: But filthiness, foolish talking and jesting, let it not be so much as named among you. The original words are ad xporns, obscenity; uwgonoyia, impure scurrility; and eurpanelia, when used in a bad sense, as here, answering to double entendres, or seemingly decent speeches with double meanings. Of all these the Apostle says not, Let them not be used, but, let them not be so much as named among you, as becometh saints. Let no foundation be furnished by your conversation even for mentioning it as a fact, that such language has ever been uttered by you. For, no conversation, beside that, which is thus pure, can become your character as Christians. See Eph. v. 3, 4. Strict and virtuous delicacy in our language is not only indispensable to decency, and dignity, of character, but to all purity of heart, and all excellency of life.

III. This Command forbids all licentious Conduct of this nature.

As this position will not be questioned; and as this conduct, in every form, is prohibited, elsewhere, in a multitude of Scriptural passages; I shall spare myself the labour of proof; and shall proceed to suggest several Reasons for our obedience to this precept; or, what is the same thing, to mention, several Evils arising from disobedience.

1. The Licentious Conduct, forbidden by this precept, discourages, and prevents Marriage.

This discouragement, and prevention, regularly take place in exact proportion to the prevalence of the conduct; and are therefore chargeable upon it, whenever, and wherever, and however, it exists.

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