« PreviousContinue »
In imitation of this, but in striking contrast with it, is that common-place exposure to danger and death which comes from recklessness, and vanity, and a regard to the opinion of others. There can be no nobleness in blindfolding the eyes, or in suffocating the natural emotions. Rightly viewed, it is an awful thing to die. It becomes us to acknowledge this; but if required to testify to any great truth, or to sustain any great principle, it becomes us to have such a conscience, and such a trust in God, that we may die without fear, or even with welcome. This is true courage, and anything else in the guise of this is either stupidity, or cowardice and hypocrisy.
But the obligation to meet death with firmness, when called to it by truth or by duty, does not rest solely upon our individual interests and character; the interests of mankind are involved. Abstract truths and general principles often lie dormant till they are awakened into life by some powerful attestation. The attestation which the death of a wise and good man gives to the value of the principles for which he dies, has a voice that is startling to humanity, and will arouse it if anything can.
If the existing generation do not hear it, as through interest or prejudice they may not, it will not be lost; it will be heard in after times. It is for this reason that the blood of the martyrs has been the seed of the church, and that the names of Hampden and Sidney have been the watchwords of liberty wherever the English tongue has been known. When such men die, death, in whatever form, does not come to them as to common men, whispering of terror or of hope for them alone, but —
“ In its hollow tones are heard
The thanks of millions yet to be.” However strong, therefore, the desire of life may be, it
DESIRE OF CONTINUED EXISTENCE.
must yield when this is required by higher principles of action, by the affections, and the conscience. Mankind justify and applaud him who dies for his kindred, his country, his race, or to sustain his integrity. They disregard and despise him who dies, or exposes himself to death, from a desire of applause, or from the fear of a corrupt public opinion.
It only remains to notice the modes in which the intentions of God, as indicated by this part of our constitution, are plainly set at nought. These are chiefly four.
The first is, by any vicious indulgence which shortens life. The guilt and waste of life from this cause cannot be measured.
The second is from war. We need not inquire here whether men may expose their lives in war according to the principles already stated. That they may not on lower principles, is certain; and in the light of this truth, how dreadfully have the purposes of God in regard to human life been disregarded in war! So has it been in all wars of ambition, of passion, and of mere interest. The fact that mercenaries have been so readily found, who would espouse any cause, expose themselves to any danger, and do any amount of slaughter for the poor pittance of a soldier's pay, is among the saddest indications of the moral state of the race.
A third mode in which the purpose of God, as indicated by this desire, is set aside, is by suicide.
As this is a crime which cannot be punished, little can be done to prevent it except to point out and remove its
1st. Insanity. With this we have nothing to do. 2d. The commission of crime and apprehended exposure and disgrace. 3d. Disappointment in the attainment of any object which has been regarded as the
chief good. 4th. Infidelity when carried to the denial of a hereafter or of human accountability. Not that infidelity has a direct tendency to induce suicide, but that, when men are tempted to it, it removes all obstacles. A thoroughgoing and unflinching infidel would feel himself at perfect liberty to choose nonentity rather than life if he should prefer it. Hence the levity with which this crime is spoken of by infidels, as Hume, who said that it was but the turning a little blood out of one channel into another. It is only by the removal of the causes now mentioned that we may expect that the frequency of this crime will be diminished.
A fourth mode in which life is wantonly shortened is by duelling.
In this we have a striking instance of the power of custom after the opinion in which the particular custom originated is entirely changed. Originally regarded as a species of judicial trial in which there was an appeal to God, a refusal to fight came in time to be considered a confession not simply of cowardice, but of cowardice on account of guilt. Then it was that the tyranny of custom and of public opinion commenced; and now, though the idea of an appeal to God, or of any adjudication according to merit, is utterly exploded, though the laws are against it, and it is known to be morally wrong, though the force of public opinion is in some region's entirely removed, and everywhere very much lightened, yet the custom still retains its hold, and the law of God is made void by the “ traditions” of men in high places. This, too, is done when all the circumstances which once gave the combat eclat and dignity are entirely reversed. It was once sanctioned by law, and witnessed by multitudes who applauded the knightly bearing of the combatants. Now, those who
fight shrink away to some place where the law may be evaded, the combat is witnessed only by the seconds and the surgeon, and there is no display of manly vigor, or of any other skill than that of a highwayman. The parties simply take pistols and shoot at each other. It was once an evidence of courage, and compatible with a sense of duty; now, whatever may be said of mere animal courage, it shows a pitiable want of moral courage, and is opposed to all the dictates of morality, of humanity, and of religion. Though founded in mistaken notions, it yet had, at its commencement, something noble about it, but like the Scylla of Virgil, whose head was human, it tapers off, as it comes down to us, into hideous and unmitigated deformity. In its present position, it is difficult to say whether this custom is more wicked or ridiculous.
DESIRE OF PROPERTY.-AVARICE. - DESIRE OF KNOWLEDGE.
POWER.INFLUENCE. -EMULATION, DESIRE OF ESTEEM. DESIRE OF
AFTER the desire of life, which we have already considered, that of property was mentioned.
As life is the condition of all the desires, so also is the possession of that which is necessary to sustain life. In common with the others, this desire has its root in the tendency of all life to appropriate to itself whatever is necessary to its own perfection and manifestation. So it is with the appetites as they are related to the perfection and power of the body. There is a point where they are identical, and whence they branch off in search of different objects necessary for such perfection and power, and so become different specific appetites. So, also, it is with the desires. There is a point where they, too, seem identical in their relation to the perfection and manifestation of mind, and whence they branch off in the directions mentioned as constituting the several specific desires. If, therefore, the ownership of something, possession, property, be essential to such perfection and manifestation, then this general tendency will be in that direction, and will become a specific desire.
But ownership, or property, is thus necessary. It is through this that we have security for ourselves, and a chief means of manifesting our individuality to others.