Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Human Nature and Other Sermons by Joseph Butler

Part 1 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

This etext was prepared from the 1887 Cassell & Co. edition by
David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk.


by Joseph Butler


Joseph Butler was born in 1692, youngest of eight children of a
linendraper at Wantage, in Berkshire. His father was a
Presbyterian, and after education at the Wantage Free Grammar School
Joseph Butler was sent to be educated for the Presbyterian ministry
in a training academy at Gloucester, which was afterwards removed to
Tewkesbury. There he had a friend and comrade, Secker, who
afterwards became Archbishop of Canterbury. Butler and Secker
inquired actively, and there was foreshadowing of his future in the
fact that in 1713, at the age of twenty-one, Butler was engaged in
anonymous discussion with Samuel Clarke upon his book on the a
priori demonstration of the Divine Existence and Attributes.

When the time drew near for call to the ministry, Butler, like his
friend Secker, had reasoned himself into accordance with the
teaching of the Church of England. Butler's father did not oppose
his strong desire to enter the Church, and he was entered in 1714 at
Oriel College, Oxford. At college a strong friendship was
established between Butler and a fellow-student, Edward Talbot,
whose father was a Bishop, formerly of Oxford and Salisbury, then of
Durham. Through Talbot's influence Butler obtained in 1718 the
office of Preacher in the Rolls Chapel, which he held for the next
eight years. In 1722 Talbot died, and on his death-bed urged his
father on behalf of his friend Butler. The Bishop accordingly
presented Joseph Butler to the living of Houghton-le-Spring. But it
was found that costs of dilapidations were beyond his means at
Houghton, and Butler had a dangerous regard for building works. He
was preferred two years afterwards to the living of Stanhope, which
then became vacant, and which yielded a substantial income. Butler
sought nothing for himself, his simplicity of character, real worth,
and rare intellectual power, secured him friends, and the love of
two of them--Talbot first, and afterwards Secker, who made his own
way in the Church, and became strong enough to put his friend as
well as himself in the way of worldly advancement, secured for
Butler all the patronage he had, until the Queen also became his
active friend.

Joseph Butler was seven years at Stanhope, quietly devoted to his
parish duties, preaching, studying, and writing his "Analogy of
Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of
Nature." In 1727, while still at Stanhope, he was appointed to a
stall in Durham Cathedral. Secker, having become chaplain to the
Queen, encouraged her in admiration of Butler's sermons. He told
her that the author was not dead, but buried, and secured her active
interest in his behalf. From Talbot, who had become Lord
Chancellor, Secker had no difficulty in obtaining for Butler a
chaplaincy which exempted him from the necessity of residence at
Stanhope. Butler, in accepting it, stipulated for permission to
live and work in his parish for six months in every year. Next he
was made chaplain to the King, and Rector of St. James's, upon which
he gave up Stanhope. In 1736 Queen Caroline appointed him her Clerk
of the Closet, an office which gave Butler the duty of attendance
upon her for two hours every evening. In that year he published his
"Analogy," of which the purpose was to meet, on its own ground, the
scepticism of his day. The Queen died in 1737, and, in accordance
with the strong desire expressed in her last days, in 1738 Butler
was made a Bishop. But his Bishopric was Bristol, worth only 300 or
400 pounds a year. The King added the Deanery of St. Paul's, when
that became vacant in 1740, and in 1750, towards the close of his
life, Joseph Butler was translated to the Bishopric of Durham. He
died in 1752.

No man could be less self-seeking. He owed his rise in the Church
wholly to the intellectual power and substantial worth of character
that inspired strong friendship. Seeing how little he sought
worldly advancement for himself, while others were pressing and
scrambling, Butler's friends used their opportunities of winning for
him the advancement he deserved. He was happiest in doing his work,
of which a chief part was in his study, where he employed his
philosophic mind in strengthening the foundations of religious
faith. Faith in God was attacked by men who claimed especially to
be philosophers, and they were best met by the man who had, beyond
all other divines of his day--some might not be afraid to add, of
any day--the philosophic mind.



ROMANS xii. 4, 5.

For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not
the same office: so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and
every one members one of another.

The Epistles in the New Testament have all of them a particular
reference to the condition and usages of the Christian world at the
time they were written. Therefore as they cannot be thoroughly
understood unless that condition and those usages are known and
attended to, so, further, though they be known, yet if they be
discontinued or changed, exhortations, precepts, and illustrations
of things, which refer to such circumstances now ceased or altered,
cannot at this time be urged in that manner and with that force
which they were to the primitive Christians. Thus the text now
before us, in its first intent and design, relates to the decent
management of those extraordinary gifts which were then in the
Church, {1} but which are now totally ceased. And even as to the
allusion that "we are one body in Christ," though what the apostle
here intends is equally true of Christians in all circumstances, and
the consideration of it is plainly still an additional motive, over
and above moral considerations, to the discharge of the several
duties and offices of a Christian, yet it is manifest this allusion
must have appeared with much greater force to those who, by the many
difficulties they went through for the sake of their religion, were
led to keep always in view the relation they stood in to their
Saviour, who had undergone the same: to those, who, from the
idolatries of all around them, and their ill-treatment, were taught
to consider themselves as not of the world in which they lived, but
as a distinct society of themselves; with laws and ends, and
principles of life and action, quite contrary to those which the
world professed themselves at that time influenced by. Hence the
relation of a Christian was by them considered as nearer than that
of affinity and blood; and they almost literally esteemed themselves
as members one of another.

It cannot, indeed, possibly be denied, that our being God's
creatures, and virtue being the natural law we are born under, and
the whole constitution of man being plainly adapted to it, are prior
obligations to piety and virtue than the consideration that God sent
his Son into the world to save it, and the motives which arise from
the peculiar relation of Christians as members one of another under
Christ our head. However, though all this be allowed, as it
expressly is by the inspired writers, yet it is manifest that
Christians at the time of the Revelation, and immediately after,
could not but insist mostly upon considerations of this latter kind.

These observations show the original particular reference to the
text, and the peculiar force with which the thing intended by the
allusion in it must have been felt by the primitive Christian world.
They likewise afford a reason for treating it at this time in a more
general way.

The relation which the several parts or members of the natural body
have to each other and to the whole body is here compared to the
relation which each particular person in society has to other
particular persons and to the whole society; and the latter is
intended to be illustrated by the former. And if there be a
likeness between these two relations, the consequence is obvious:
that the latter shows us we were intended to do good to others, as
the former shows us that the several members of the natural body
were intended to be instruments of good to each other and to the
whole body. But as there is scarce any ground for a comparison
between society and the mere material body, this without the mind
being a dead unactive thing, much less can the comparison be carried
to any length. And since the apostle speaks of the several members
as having distinct offices, which implies the mind, it cannot be
thought an allowable liberty, instead of the BODY and ITS MEMBERS,
to substitute the WHOLE NATURE of MAN, and ALL THE VARIETY OF
will be between the nature of man as respecting self, and tending to
private good, his own preservation and happiness; and the nature of
man as having respect to society, and tending to promote public
good, the happiness of that society. These ends do indeed perfectly
coincide; and to aim at public and private good are so far from
being inconsistent that they mutually promote each other: yet in
the following discourse they must be considered as entirely
distinct; otherwise the nature of man as tending to one, or as
tending to the other, cannot be compared. There can no comparison
be made, without considering the things compared as distinct and

From this review and comparison of the nature of man as respecting
self and as respecting society, it will plainly appear that there
are as real and the same kind of indications in human nature, that
we were made for society and to do good to our fellow-creatures, as
that we were intended to take care of our own life and health and
private good: and that the same objections lie against one of these
assertions as against the other. For,

First, there is a natural principle of BENEVOLENCE {2} in man, which
is in some degree to SOCIETY what SELF-LOVE is to the INDIVIDUAL.
And if there be in mankind any disposition to friendship; if there
be any such thing as compassion--for compassion is momentary love--
if there be any such thing as the paternal or filial affections; if
there be any affection in human nature, the object and end of which
is the good of another, this is itself benevolence, or the love of
another. Be it ever so short, be it in ever so low a degree, or
ever so unhappily confined, it proves the assertion, and points out
what we were designed for, as really as though it were in a higher
degree and more extensive. I must, however, remind you that though
benevolence and self-love are different, though the former tends
most directly to public good, and the latter to private, yet they
are so perfectly coincident that the greatest satisfactions to
ourselves depend upon our having benevolence in a due degree; and
that self-love is one chief security of our right behaviour towards
society. It may be added that their mutual coinciding, so that we
can scarce promote one without the other, is equally a proof that we
were made for both.

Secondly, this will further appear, from observing that the SEVERAL
PASSIONS and AFFECTIONS, which are distinct {3} both from
benevolence and self-love, do in general contribute and lead us to
PUBLIC GOOD as really as to PRIVATE. It might be thought too minute
and particular, and would carry us too great a length, to
distinguish between and compare together the several passions or
appetites distinct from benevolence, whose primary use and intention
is the security and good of society, and the passions distinct from
self-love, whose primary intention and design is the security and
good of the individual. {4} It is enough to the present argument
that desire of esteem from others, contempt and esteem of them, love
of society as distinct from affection to the good of it, indignation
against successful vice--that these are public affections or
passions, have an immediate respect to others, naturally lead us to
regulate our behaviour in such a manner as will be of service to our
fellow-creatures. If any or all of these may be considered likewise
as private affections, as tending to private good, this does not
hinder them from being public affections too, or destroy the good
influence of them upon society, and their tendency to public good.
It may be added that as persons without any conviction from reason
of the desirableness of life would yet of course preserve it merely
from the appetite of hunger, so, by acting merely from regard
(suppose) to reputation, without any consideration of the good of
others, men often contribute to public good. In both these
instances they are plainly instruments in the hands of another, in
the hands of Providence, to carry on ends--the preservation of the
individual and good of society--which they themselves have not in
their view or intention. The sum is, men have various appetites,
passions, and particular affections, quite distinct both from self-
love and from benevolence: all of these have a tendency to promote
both public and private good, and may be considered as respecting
others and ourselves equally and in common; but some of them seem
most immediately to respect others, or tend to public good; others
of them most immediately to respect self, or tend to private good:
as the former are not benevolence, so the latter are not self-love:
neither sort are instances of our love either to ourselves or
others, but only instances of our Maker's care and love both of the
individual and the species, and proofs that He intended we should be
instruments of good to each other, as well as that we should be so
to ourselves.

Thirdly, there is a principle of reflection in men, by which they
distinguish between, approve and disapprove their own actions. We
are plainly constituted such sort of creatures as to reflect upon
our own nature. The mind can take a view of what passes within
itself, its propensions, aversions, passions, affections as
respecting such objects, and in such degrees; and of the several
actions consequent thereupon. In this survey it approves of one,
disapproves of another, and towards a third is affected in neither
of these ways, but is quite indifferent. This principle in man, by
which he approves or disapproves his heart, temper, and actions, is
conscience; for this is the strict sense of the word, though
sometimes it is used so as to take in more. And that this faculty
tends to restrain men from doing mischief to each other, and leads
them to do good, is too manifest to need being insisted upon. Thus
a parent has the affection of love to his children: this leads him
to take care of, to educate, to make due provision for them--the
natural affection leads to this: but the reflection that it is his
proper business, what belongs to him, that it is right and
commendable so to do--this, added to the affection, becomes a much
more settled principle, and carries him on through more labour and
difficulties for the sake of his children than he would undergo from
that affection alone, if he thought it, and the cause of action it
led to, either indifferent or criminal. This indeed is impossible,
to do that which is good and not to approve of it; for which reason
they are frequently not considered as distinct, though they really
are: for men often approve of the action of others which they will
not imitate, and likewise do that which they approve not. It cannot
possibly be denied that there is this principle of reflection or
conscience in human nature. Suppose a man to relieve an innocent
person in great distress; suppose the same man afterwards, in the
fury of anger, to do the greatest mischief to a person who had given
no just cause of offence. To aggravate the injury, add the
circumstances of former friendship and obligation from the injured
person; let the man who is supposed to have done these two different
actions coolly reflect upon them afterwards, without regard to their
consequences to himself: to assert that any common man would be
affected in the same way towards these different actions, that he
would make no distinction between them, but approve or disapprove
them equally, is too glaring a falsity to need being confuted.
There is therefore this principle of reflection or conscience in
mankind. It is needless to compare the respect it has to private
good with the respect it has to public; since it plainly tends as
much to the latter as to the former, and is commonly thought to tend
chiefly to the latter. This faculty is now mentioned merely as
another part in the inward frame of man, pointing out to us in some
degree what we are intended for, and as what will naturally and of
course have some influence. The particular place assigned to it by
nature, what authority it has, and how great influence it ought to
have, shall be hereafter considered.

From this comparison of benevolence and self-love, of our public and
private affections, of the courses of life they lead to, and of the
principle of reflection or conscience as respecting each of them, it

And from this whole review must be given a different draught of
human nature from what we are often presented with. Mankind are by
nature so closely united, there is such a correspondence between the
inward sensations of one man and those of another, that disgrace is
as much avoided as bodily pain, and to be the object of esteem and
love as much desired as any external goods; and in many particular
cases persons are carried on to do good to others, as the end their
affection tends to and rests in; and manifest that they find real
satisfaction and enjoyment in this course of behaviour. There is
such a natural principle of attraction in man towards man that
having trod the same tract of land, having breathed in the same
climate, barely having been born in the same artificial district or
division, becomes the occasion of contracting acquaintances and
familiarities many years after; for anything may serve the purpose.
Thus relations merely nominal are sought and invented, not by
governors, but by the lowest of the people, which are found
sufficient to hold mankind together in little fraternities and
copartnerships: weak ties indeed, and what may afford fund enough
for ridicule, if they are absurdly considered as the real principles
of that union: but they are in truth merely the occasions, as
anything may be of anything, upon which our nature carries us on
according to its own previous bent and bias; which occasions
therefore would be nothing at all were there not this prior
disposition and bias of nature. Men are so much one body that in a
peculiar manner they feel for each other shame, sudden danger,
resentment, honour, prosperity, distress; one or another, or all of
these, from the social nature in general, from benevolence, upon the
occasion of natural relation, acquaintance, protection, dependence;
each of these being distinct cements of society. And therefore to
have no restraint from, no regard to, others in our behaviour, is
the speculative absurdity of considering ourselves as single and
independent, as having nothing in our nature which has respect to
our fellow-creatures, reduced to action and practice. And this is
the same absurdity as to suppose a hand, or any part, to have no
natural respect to any other, or to the whole body.

But, allowing all this, it may be asked, "Has not man dispositions
and principles within which lead him to do evil to others, as well
as to do good? Whence come the many miseries else which men are the
authors and instruments of to each other?" These questions, so far
as they relate to the foregoing discourse, may be answered by
asking, Has not man also dispositions and principles within which
lead him to do evil to himself, as well as good? Whence come the
many miseries else--sickness, pain, and death--which men are
instruments and authors of to themselves?

It may be thought more easy to answer one of these questions than
the other, but the answer to both is really the same: that mankind
have ungoverned passions which they will gratify at any rate, as
well to the injury of others as in contradiction to known private
interest: but that as there is no such thing as self-hatred, so
neither is there any such thing as ill-will in one man towards
another, emulation and resentment being away; whereas there is
plainly benevolence or good-will: there is no such thing as love of
injustice, oppression, treachery, ingratitude, but only eager
desires after such and such external goods; which, according to a
very ancient observation, the most abandoned would choose to obtain
by innocent means, if they were as easy and as effectual to their
end: that even emulation and resentment, by any one who will
consider what these passions really are in nature, {5} will be found
nothing to the purpose of this objection; and that the principles
and passions in the mind of man, which are distinct both from self-
love and benevolence, primarily and most directly lead to right
behaviour with regard to others as well as himself, and only
secondarily and accidentally to what is evil. Thus, though men, to
avoid the shame of one villainy, are sometimes guilty of a greater,
yet it is easy to see that the original tendency of shame is to
prevent the doing of shameful actions; and its leading men to
conceal such actions when done is only in consequence of their being
done; i.e., of the passion's not having answered its first end.

If it be said that there are persons in the world who are in great
measure without the natural affections towards their fellow-
creatures, there are likewise instances of persons without the
common natural affections to themselves. But the nature of man is
not to be judged of by either of these, but by what appears in the
common world, in the bulk of mankind.

I am afraid it would be thought very strange, if to confirm the
truth of this account of human nature, and make out the justness of
the foregoing comparison, it should be added that from what appears,
men in fact as much and as often contradict that PART of their
nature which respects SELF, and which leads them to their OWN
PRIVATE good and happiness, as they contradict that PART of it which
respects SOCIETY, and tends to PUBLIC good: that there are as few
persons who attain the greatest satisfaction and enjoyment which
they might attain in the present world, as who do the greatest good
to others which they might do; nay, that there are as few who can be
said really and in earnest to aim at one as at the other. Take a
survey of mankind: the world in general, the good and bad, almost
without exception, equally are agreed that were religion out of the
case, the happiness of the present life would consist in a manner
wholly in riches, honours, sensual gratifications; insomuch that one
scarce hears a reflection made upon prudence, life, conduct, but
upon this supposition. Yet, on the contrary, that persons in the
greatest affluence of fortune are no happier than such as have only
a competency; that the cares and disappointments of ambition for the
most part far exceed the satisfactions of it; as also the miserable
intervals of intemperance and excess, and the many untimely deaths
occasioned by a dissolute course of life: these things are all
seen, acknowledged, by every one acknowledged; but are thought no
objections against, though they expressly contradict, this universal
principle--that the happiness of the present life consists in one or
other of them. Whence is all this absurdity and contradiction? Is
not the middle way obvious? Can anything be more manifest than that
the happiness of life consists in these possessed and enjoyed only
to a certain degree; that to pursue them beyond this degree is
always attended with more inconvenience than advantage to a man's
self, and often with extreme misery and unhappiness? Whence, then,
I say, is all this absurdity and contradiction? Is it really the
result of consideration in mankind, how they may become most easy to
themselves, most free from care, and enjoy the chief happiness
attainable in this world? Or is it not manifestly owing either to
this, that they have not cool and reasonable concern enough for
themselves to consider wherein their chief happiness in the present
life consists; or else, if they do consider it, that they will not
act conformably to what is the result of that consideration--i.e.,
reasonable concern for themselves, or cool self-love, is prevailed
over by passions and appetite? So that from what appears there is
no ground to assert that those principles in the nature of man,
which most directly lead to promote the good of our fellow-
creatures, are more generally or in a greater degree violated than
those which most directly lead us to promote our own private good
and happiness.

The sum of the whole is plainly this: The nature of man considered
in his single capacity, and with respect only to the present world,
is adapted and leads him to attain the greatest happiness he can for
himself in the present world. The nature of man considered in his
public or social capacity leads him to right behaviour in society,
to that course of life which we call virtue. Men follow or obey
their nature in both these capacities and respects to a certain
degree, but not entirely: their actions do not come up to the whole
of what their nature leads them to in either of these capacities or
respects: and they often violate their nature in both; i.e., as
they neglect the duties they owe to their fellow-creatures, to which
their nature leads them, and are injurious, to which their nature is
abhorrent, so there is a manifest negligence in men of their real
happiness or interest in the present world, when that interest is
inconsistent with a present gratification; for the sake of which
they negligently, nay, even knowingly, are the authors and
instruments of their own misery and ruin. Thus they are as often
unjust to themselves as to others, and for the most part are equally
so to both by the same actions.

ROMANS ii. 14.

For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the
things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law
unto themselves.

As speculative truth admits of different kinds of proof, so likewise
moral obligations may be shown by different methods. If the real
nature of any creature leads him and is adapted to such and such
purposes only, or more than to any other, this is a reason to
believe the Author of that nature intended it for those purposes.
Thus there is no doubt the eye was intended for us to see with. And
the more complex any constitution is, and the greater variety of
parts there are which thus tend to some one end, the stronger is the
proof that such end was designed. However, when the inward frame of
man is considered as any guide in morals, the utmost caution must be
used that none make peculiarities in their own temper, or anything
which is the effect of particular customs, though observable in
several, the standard of what is common to the species; and above
all, that the highest principle be not forgot or excluded, that to
which belongs the adjustment and correction of all other inward
movements and affections; which principle will of course have some
influence, but which being in nature supreme, as shall now be shown,
ought to preside over and govern all the rest. The difficulty of
rightly observing the two former cautions; the appearance there is
of some small diversity amongst mankind with respect to this
faculty, with respect to their natural sense of moral good and evil;
and the attention necessary to survey with any exactness what passes
within, have occasioned that it is not so much agreed what is the
standard of the internal nature of man as of his external form.
Neither is this last exactly settled. Yet we understand one another
when we speak of the shape of a human body: so likewise we do when
we speak of the heart and inward principles, how far soever the
standard is from being exact or precisely fixed. There is therefore
ground for an attempt of showing men to themselves, of showing them
what course of life and behaviour their real nature points out and
would lead them to. Now obligations of virtue shown, and motives to
the practice of it enforced, from a review of the nature of man, are
to be considered as an appeal to each particular person's heart and
natural conscience: as the external senses are appealed to for the
proof of things cognisable by them. Since, then, our inward
feelings, and the perceptions we receive from our external senses,
are equally real, to argue from the former to life and conduct is as
little liable to exception as to argue from the latter to absolute
speculative truth. A man can as little doubt whether his eyes were
given him to see with as he can doubt of the truth of the science of
optics, deduced from ocular experiments. And allowing the inward
feeling, shame, a man can as little doubt whether it was given him
to prevent his doing shameful actions as he can doubt whether his
eyes were given him to guide his steps. And as to these inward
feelings themselves, that they are real, that man has in his nature
passions and affections, can no more be questioned than that he has
external senses. Neither can the former be wholly mistaken, though
to a certain degree liable to greater mistakes than the latter.

There can be no doubt but that several propensions or instincts,
several principles in the heart of man, carry him to society, and to
contribute to the happiness of it, in a sense and a manner in which
no inward principle leads him to evil. These principles,
propensions, or instincts which lead him to do good are approved of
by a certain faculty within, quite distinct from these propensions
themselves. All this hath been fully made out in the foregoing

But it may be said, "What is all this, though true, to the purpose
of virtue and religion? these require, not only that we do good to
others when we are led this way, by benevolence or reflection
happening to be stronger than other principles, passions, or
appetites, but likewise that the WHOLE character be formed upon
thought and reflection; that EVERY action be directed by some
determinate rule, some other rule than the strength and prevalency
of any principle or passion. What sign is there in our nature (for
the inquiry is only about what is to be collected from thence) that
this was intended by its Author? Or how does so various and fickle
a temper as that of man appear adapted thereto? It may indeed be
absurd and unnatural for men to act without any reflection; nay,
without regard to that particular kind of reflection which you call
conscience, because this does belong to our nature. For as there
never was a man but who approved one place, prospect, building,
before another, so it does not appear that there ever was a man who
would not have approved an action of humanity rather than of
cruelty; interest and passion being quite out of the case. But
interest and passion do come in, and are often too strong for and
prevail over reflection and conscience. Now as brutes have various
instincts, by which they are carried on to the end the Author of
their nature intended them for, is not man in the same condition--
with this difference only, that to his instincts (i.e., appetites
and passion) is added the principle of reflection or conscience?
And as brutes act agreeably to their nature, in following that
principle or particular instinct which for the present is strongest
in them, does not man likewise act agreeably to his nature, or obey
the law of his creation, by following that principle, be it passion
or conscience, which for the present happens to be strongest in him?
Thus different men are by their particular nature hurried on to
pursue honour or riches or pleasure; there are also persons whose
temper leads them in an uncommon degree to kindness, compassion,
doing good to their fellow-creatures, as there are others who are
given to suspend their judgment, to weigh and consider things, and
to act upon thought and reflection. Let every one, then, quietly
follow his nature, as passion, reflection, appetite, the several
parts of it, happen to be strongest; but let not the man of virtue
take upon him to blame the ambitious, the covetous, the dissolute,
since these equally with him obey and follow their nature. Thus, as
in some cases we follow our nature in doing the works CONTAINED IN
THE LAW, so in other cases we follow nature in doing contrary."

Now all this licentious talk entirely goes upon a supposition that
men follow their nature in the same sense, in violating the known
rules of justice and honesty for the sake of a present
gratification, as they do in following those rules when they have no
temptation to the contrary. And if this were true, that could not
be so which St. Paul asserts, that men are BY NATURE A LAW TO
THEMSELVES. If by following nature were meant only acting as we
please, it would indeed be ridiculous to speak of nature as any
guide in morals; nay, the very mention of deviating from nature
would be absurd; and the mention of following it, when spoken by way
of distinction, would absolutely have no meaning. For did ever any
one act otherwise than as he pleased? And yet the ancients speak of
deviating from nature as vice, and of following nature so much as a
distinction, that according to them the perfection of virtue
consists therein. So that language itself should teach people
another sense to the words FOLLOWING NATURE than barely acting as we
please. Let it, however, be observed that though the words HUMAN
NATURE are to be explained, yet the real question of this discourse
is not concerning the meaning of words, any other than as the
explanation of them may be needful to make out and explain the
FOLLOW IT. This St. Paul affirms in the words of the text, and this
the foregoing objection really denies by seeming to allow it. And
the objection will be fully answered, and the text before us
explained, by observing that NATURE is considered in different
views, and the word used in different senses; and by showing in what
view it is considered, and in what sense the word is used, when
intended to express and signify that which is the guide of life,
that by which men are a law to themselves. I say, the explanation
of the term will be sufficient, because from thence it will appear
that in some senses of the word NATURE cannot be, but that in
another sense it manifestly is, a law to us.

I. By nature is often meant no more than some principle in man,
without regard either to the kind or degree of it. Thus the passion
of anger, and the affection of parents to their children, would be
called equally NATURAL. And as the same person hath often contrary
principles, which at the same time draw contrary ways, he may by the
same action both follow and contradict his nature in this sense of
the word; he may follow one passion and contradict another.

II. NATURE is frequently spoken of as consisting in those passions
which are strongest, and most influence the actions; which being
vicious ones, mankind is in this sense naturally vicious, or vicious
by nature. Thus St. Paul says of the Gentiles, WHO WERE DEAD IN
They could be no otherwise CHILDREN OF WRATH by nature than they
were vicious by nature.

Here, then, are two different senses of the word NATURE, in neither
of which men can at all be said to be a law to themselves. They are
mentioned only to be excluded, to prevent their being confounded, as
the latter is in the objection, with another sense of it, which is
now to be inquired after and explained.

III. The apostle asserts that the Gentiles DO BY NATURE THE THINGS
CONTAINED IN THE LAW. Nature is indeed here put by way of
distinction from revelation, but yet it is not a mere negative. He
intends to express more than that by which they DID NOT, that by
which they DID, the works of the law; namely, by NATURE. It is
plain the meaning of the word is not the same in this passage as in
the former, where it is spoken of as evil; for in this latter it is
spoken of as good--as that by which they acted, or might have acted,
virtuously. What that is in man by which he is NATURALLY A LAW TO
HIMSELF is explained in the following words: Which show the work of
the law written in their hearts, their consciences also bearing
witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing
one another. If there be a distinction to be made between the WORKS
former must be meant the natural disposition to kindness and
compassion to do what is of good report, to which this apostle often
refers: that part of the nature of man, treated of in the foregoing
discourse, which with very little reflection and of course leads him
to society, and by means of which he naturally acts a just and good
part in it, unless other passions or interest lead him astray. Yet
since other passions, and regards to private interest, which lead us
(though indirectly, yet they lead us) astray, are themselves in a
degree equally natural, and often most prevalent, and since we have
no method of seeing the particular degrees in which one or the other
is placed in us by nature, it is plain the former, considered merely
as natural, good and right as they are, can no more be a law to us
than the latter. But there is a superior principle of reflection or
conscience in every man, which distinguishes between the internal
principles of his heart, as well as his external actions; which
passes judgement upon himself and them, pronounces determinately
some actions to be in themselves just, right, good, others to be in
themselves evil, wrong, unjust: which, without being consulted,
without being advised with, magisterially exerts itself, and
approves or condemns him the doer of them accordingly: and which,
if not forcibly stopped, naturally and always of course goes on to
anticipate a higher and more effectual sentence, which shall
hereafter second and affirm its own. But this part of the office of
conscience is beyond my present design explicitly to consider. It
is by this faculty, natural to man, that he is a moral agent, that
he is a law to himself, but this faculty, I say, not to be
considered merely as a principle in his heart, which is to have some
influence as well as others, but considered as a faculty in kind and
in nature supreme over all others, and which bears its own authority
of being so.

This PREROGATIVE, this NATURAL SUPREMACY, of the faculty which
surveys, approves, or disapproves the several affections of our mind
and actions of our lives, being that by which men ARE A LAW TO
THEMSELVES, their conformity or disobedience to which law of our
nature renders their actions, in the highest and most proper sense,
natural or unnatural, it is fit it be further explained to you; and
I hope it will be so, if you will attend to the following

Man may act according to that principle or inclination which for the
present happens to be strongest, and yet act in a way
disproportionate to, and violate his real proper nature. Suppose a
brute creature by any bait to be allured into a snare, by which he
is destroyed. He plainly followed the bent of his nature, leading
him to gratify his appetite: there is an entire correspondence
between his whole nature and such an action: such action therefore
is natural. But suppose a man, foreseeing the same danger of
certain ruin, should rush into it for the sake of a present
gratification; he in this instance would follow his strongest
desire, as did the brute creature; but there would be as manifest a
disproportion between the nature of a man and such an action as
between the meanest work of art and the skill of the greatest master
in that art; which disproportion arises, not from considering the
action singly in ITSELF, or in its CONSEQUENCES, but from COMPARISON
of it with the nature of the agent. And since such an action is
utterly disproportionate to the nature of man, it is in the
strictest and most proper sense unnatural; this word expressing that
disproportion. Therefore, instead of the words DISPROPORTIONATE TO
HIS NATURE, the word UNNATURAL may now be put; this being more
familiar to us: but let it be observed that it stands for the same
thing precisely.

Now what is it which renders such a rash action unnatural? Is it
that he went against the principle of reasonable and cool self-love,
considered MERELY as a part of his nature? No; for if he had acted
the contrary way, he would equally have gone against a principle, or
part of his nature--namely, passion or appetite. But to deny a
present appetite, from foresight that the gratification of it would
end in immediate ruin or extreme misery, is by no means an unnatural
action: whereas to contradict or go against cool self-love for the
sake of such gratification is so in the instance before us. Such an
action then being unnatural, and its being so not arising from a
man's going against a principle or desire barely, nor in going
against that principle or desire which happens for the present to be
strongest, it necessarily follows that there must be some other
difference or distinction to be made between these two principles,
passion and cool self-love, than what I have yet taken notice of.
And this difference, not being a difference in strength or degree, I
call a difference in NATURE and in KIND. And since, in the instance
still before us, if passion prevails over self-love the consequent
action is unnatural, but if self-love prevails over passion the
action is natural, it is manifest that self-love is in human nature
a superior principle to passion. This may be contradicted without
violating that nature; but the former cannot. So that, if we will
act conformably to the economy of man's nature, reasonable self-love
must govern. Thus, without particular consideration of conscience,
we may have a clear conception of the SUPERIOR NATURE of one inward
principle to another, and see that there really is this natural
superiority, quite distinct from degrees of strength and prevalency.

Let us now take a view of the nature of man, as consisting partly of
various appetites, passions, affections, and partly of the principle
of reflection or conscience, leaving quite out all consideration of
the different degrees of strength in which either of them prevails,
and it will further appear that there is this natural superiority of
one inward principle to another, and that it is even part of the
idea of reflection or conscience.

Passion or appetite implies a direct simple tendency towards such
and such objects, without distinction of the means by which they are
to be obtained. Consequently it will often happen there will be a
desire of particular objects, in cases where they cannot be obtained
without manifest injury to others. Reflection or conscience comes
in, need disapproves the pursuit of them in these circumstances; but
the desire remains. Which is to be obeyed, appetite or reflection?
Cannot this question be answered, from the economy and constitution
of human nature merely, without saying which is strongest? Or need
this at all come into consideration? Would not the question be
INTELLIGIBLY and fully answered by saying that the principle of
reflection or conscience being compared with the various appetites,
passions, and affections in men, the former is manifestly superior
and chief, without regard to strength? And how often soever the
latter happens to prevail, it is mere USURPATION: the former
remains in nature and in kind its superior; and every instance of
such prevalence of the latter is an instance of breaking in upon and
violation of the constitution of man.

All this is no more than the distinction, which everybody is
acquainted with, between MERE POWER and AUTHORITY: only instead of
being intended to express the difference between what is possible
and what is lawful in civil government, here it has been shown
applicable to the several principles in the mind of man. Thus that
principle by which we survey, and either approve or disapprove our
own heart, temper, and actions, is not only to be considered as what
is in its turn to have some influence--which may be said of every
passion, of the lowest appetites--but likewise as being superior, as
from its very nature manifestly claiming superiority over all
others, insomuch that you cannot form a notion of this faculty,
conscience, without taking in judgment, direction, superintendency.
This is a constituent part of the idea--that is, of the faculty
itself; and to preside and govern, from the very economy and
constitution of man, belongs to it. Had it strength, as it had
right; had it power, as it had manifest authority, it would
absolutely govern the world.

This gives us a further view of the nature of man; shows us what
course of life we were made for: not only that our real nature
leads us to be influenced in some degree by reflection and
conscience, but likewise in what degree we are to be influenced by
it, if we will fall in with, and act agreeably to, the constitution
of our nature: that this faculty was placed within to be our proper
governor, to direct and regulate all under principles, passions, and
motives of action. This is its right and office: thus sacred is
its authority. And how often soever men violate and rebelliously
refuse to submit to it, for supposed interest which they cannot
otherwise obtain, or for the sake of passion which they cannot
otherwise gratify--this makes no alteration as to the NATURAL RIGHT
and OFFICE of conscience.

Let us now turn this whole matter another way, and suppose there was
no such thing at all as this natural supremacy of conscience--that
there was no distinction to be made between one inward principle and
another, but only that of strength--and see what would be the

Consider, then, what is the latitude and compass of the actions of
man with regard to himself, his fellow-creatures, and the Supreme
Being? What are their bounds, besides that of our natural power?
With respect to the two first, they are plainly no other than these:
no man seeks misery, as such, for himself; and no one unprovoked
does mischief to another for its own sake. For in every degree
within these bounds, mankind knowingly, from passion or wantonness,
bring ruin and misery upon themselves and others. And impiety and
profaneness--I mean what every one would call so who believes the
being of God--have absolutely no bounds at all. Men blaspheme the
Author of nature, formally and in words renounce their allegiance to
their Creator. Put an instance, then, with respect to any one of
these three. Though we should suppose profane swearing, and in
general that kind of impiety now mentioned, to mean nothing, yet it
implies wanton disregard and irreverence towards an infinite Being
our Creator; and is this as suitable to the nature of man as
reverence and dutiful submission of heart towards that Almighty
Being? Or suppose a man guilty of parricide, with all the
circumstances of cruelty which such an action can admit of. This
action is done in consequence of its principle being for the present
strongest; and if there be no difference between inward principles,
but only that of strength, the strength being given you have the
whole nature of the man given, so far as it relates to this matter.
The action plainly corresponds to the principle, the principle being
in that degree of strength it was: it therefore corresponds to the
whole nature of the man. Upon comparing the action and the whole
nature, there arises no disproportion, there appears no
unsuitableness, between them. Thus the MURDER OF A FATHER and the
NATURE OF MAN correspond to each other, as the same nature and an
act of filial duty. If there be no difference between inward
principles, but only that of strength, we can make no distinction
between these two actions, considered as the actions of such a
creature; but in our coolest hours must approve or disapprove them
equally: than which nothing can be reduced to a greater absurdity.


The natural supremacy of reflection or conscience being thus
established, we may from it form a distinct notion of what is meant
by HUMAN NATURE when virtue is said to consist in following it, and
vice in deviating from it.

As the idea of a civil constitution implies in it united strength,
various subordinations under one direction--that of the supreme
authority--the different strength of each particular member of the
society not coming into the idea--whereas, if you leave out the
subordination, the union, and the one direction, you destroy and
lose it--so reason, several appetites, passions, and affections,
prevailing in different degrees of strength, is not THAT idea or
notion of HUMAN NATURE; but THAT NATURE consists in these several
principles considered as having a natural respect to each other, in
the several passions being naturally subordinate to the one superior
principle of reflection or conscience. Every bias, instinct,
propension within, is a natural part of our nature, but not the
whole: add to these the superior faculty whose office it is to
adjust, manage, and preside over them, and take in this its natural
superiority, and you complete the idea of human nature. And as in
civil government the constitution is broken in upon and violated by
power and strength prevailing over authority; so the constitution of
man is broken in upon and violated by the lower faculties or
principles within prevailing over that which is in its nature
supreme over them all. Thus, when it is said by ancient writers
that tortures and death are not so contrary to human nature as
injustice, by this, to be sure, is not meant that the aversion to
the former in mankind is less strong and prevalent than their
aversion to the latter, but that the former is only contrary to our
nature considered in a partial view, and which takes in only the
lowest part of it, that which we have in common with the brutes;
whereas the latter is contrary to our nature, considered in a higher
sense, as a system and constitution contrary to the whole economy of
man. {7}

And from all these things put together, nothing can be more evident
than that, exclusive of revelation, man cannot be considered as a
creature left by his Maker to act at random, and live at large up to
the extent of his natural power, as passion, humour, wilfulness,
happen to carry him, which is the condition brute creatures are in;
of right within: what is wanting is only that he honestly attend to

The inquiries which have been made by men of leisure after some
general rule, the conformity to or disagreement from which should
denominate our actions good or evil, are in many respects of great
service. Yet let any plain, honest man, before he engages in any
course of action, ask himself, Is this I am going about right, or is
it wrong? Is it good, or is it evil? I do not in the least doubt
but that this question would be answered agreeably to truth and
virtue, by almost any fair man in almost any circumstance. Neither
do there appear any cases which look like exceptions to this, but
those of superstition, and of partiality to ourselves. Superstition
may perhaps be somewhat of an exception; but partiality to ourselves
is not, this being itself dishonesty. For a man to judge that to be
the equitable, the moderate, the right part for him to act, which he
would see to be hard, unjust, oppressive in another, this is plain
vice, and can proceed only from great unfairness of mind.

But allowing that mankind hath the rule of right within himself, yet
it may be asked, "What obligations are we under to attend to and
follow it?" I answer: It has been proved that man by his nature is
a law to himself, without the particular distinct consideration of
the positive sanctions of that law: the rewards and punishments
which we feel, and those which from the light of reason we have
ground to believe, are annexed to it. The question, then, carries
its own answer along within it. Your obligation to obey this law is
its being the law of your nature. That your conscience approves of
and attests to such a course of action is itself alone an
obligation. Conscience does not only offer itself to show us the
way we should walk in, but it likewise carries its own authority
with it, that it is our natural guide; the guide assigned us by the
Author of our nature: it therefore belongs to our condition of
being; it is our duty to walk in that path, and follow this guide,
without looking about to see whether we may not possibly forsake
them with impunity.

However, let us hear what is to be said against obeying this law of
our nature. And the sum is no more than this: "Why should we be
concerned about anything out of and beyond ourselves? If we do find
within ourselves regards to others, and restraints of we know not
how many different kinds, yet these being embarrassments, and
hindering us from going the nearest way to our own good, why should
we not endeavour to suppress and get over them?"

Thus people go on with words, which when applied to human nature,
and the condition in which it is placed in this world, have really
no meaning. For does not all this kind of talk go upon supposition,
that our happiness in this world consists in somewhat quite distinct
from regard to others, and that it is the privilege of vice to be
without restraint or confinement? Whereas, on the contrary, the
enjoyments--in a manner all the common enjoyments of life, even the
pleasures of vice--depend upon these regards of one kind or another
to our fellow-creatures. Throw off all regards to others, and we
should be quite indifferent to infamy and to honour; there could be
no such thing at all as ambition; and scarce any such thing as
covetousness; for we should likewise be equally indifferent to the
disgrace of poverty, the several neglects and kinds of contempt
which accompany this state, and to the reputation of riches, the
regard and respect they usually procure. Neither is restraint by
any means peculiar to one course of life; but our very nature,
exclusive of conscience and our condition, lays us under an absolute
necessity of it. We cannot gain any end whatever without being
confined to the proper means, which is often the most painful and
uneasy confinement. And in numberless instances a present appetite
cannot be gratified without such apparent and immediate ruin and
misery that the most dissolute man in the world chooses to forego
the pleasure rather than endure the pain.

Is the meaning, then, to indulge those regards to our fellow-
creatures, and submit to those restraints which upon the whole are
attended with more satisfaction than uneasiness, and get over only
those which bring more uneasiness and inconvenience than
satisfaction? "Doubtless this was our meaning." You have changed
sides then. Keep to this; be consistent with yourselves, and you
and the men of virtue are IN GENERAL perfectly agreed. But let us
take care and avoid mistakes. Let it not be taken for granted that
the temper of envy, rage, resentment, yields greater delight than
meekness, forgiveness, compassion, and good-will; especially when it
is acknowledged that rage, envy, resentment, are in themselves mere
misery; and that satisfaction arising from the indulgence of them is
little more than relief from that misery; whereas the temper of
compassion and benevolence is itself delightful; and the indulgence
of it, by doing good, affords new positive delight and enjoyment.
Let it not be taken for granted that the satisfaction arising from
the reputation of riches and power, however obtained, and from the
respect paid to them, is greater than the satisfaction arising from
the reputation of justice, honesty, charity, and the esteem which is
universally acknowledged to be their due. And if it be doubtful
which of these satisfactions is the greatest, as there are persons
who think neither of them very considerable, yet there can be no
doubt concerning ambition and covetousness, virtue and a good mind,
considered in themselves, and as leading to different courses of
life; there can, I say, be no doubt, which temper and which course
is attended with most peace and tranquillity of mind, which with
most perplexity, vexation, and inconvenience. And both the virtues
and vices which have been now mentioned, do in a manner equally
imply in them regards of one kind or another to our fellow-
creatures. And with respect to restraint and confinement, whoever
will consider the restraints from fear and shame, the dissimulation,
mean arts of concealment, servile compliances, one or other of which
belong to almost every course of vice, will soon be convinced that
the man of virtue is by no means upon a disadvantage in this
respect. How many instances are there in which men feel and own and
cry aloud under the chains of vice with which they are enthralled,
and which yet they will not shake off! How many instances, in which
persons manifestly go through more pains and self-denial to gratify
a vicious passion, than would have been necessary to the conquest of
it! To this is to be added, that when virtue is become habitual,
when the temper of it is acquired, what was before confinement
ceases to be so by becoming choice and delight. Whatever restraint
and guard upon ourselves may be needful to unlearn any unnatural
distortion or odd gesture, yet in all propriety of speech, natural
behaviour must be the most easy and unrestrained. It is manifest
that, in the common course of life, there is seldom any
inconsistency between our duty and what is CALLED interest: it is
much seldomer that there is an inconsistency between duty and what
is really our present interest; meaning by interest, happiness and
satisfaction. Self-love, then, though confined to the interest of
the present world, does in general perfectly coincide with virtue,
and leads us to one and the same course of life. But, whatever
exceptions there are to this, which are much fewer than they are
commonly thought, all shall be set right at the final distribution
of things. It is a manifest absurdity to suppose evil prevailing
finally over good, under the conduct and administration of a perfect

The whole argument, which I have been now insisting upon, may be
thus summed up, and given you in one view. The nature of man is
adapted to some course of action or other. Upon comparing some
actions with this nature, they appear suitable and correspondent to
it: from comparison of other actions with the same nature, there
arises to our view some unsuitableness or disproportion. The
correspondence of actions to the nature of the agent renders them
natural; their disproportion to it, unnatural. That an action is
correspondent to the nature of the agent does not arise from its
being agreeable to the principle which happens to be the strongest:
for it may be so and yet be quite disproportionate to the nature of
the agent. The correspondence therefore, or disproportion, arises
from somewhat else. This can be nothing but a difference in nature
and kind, altogether distinct from strength, between the inward
principles. Some then are in nature and kind superior to others.
And the correspondence arises from the action being conformable to
the higher principle; and the unsuitableness from its being contrary
to it. Reasonable self-love and conscience are the chief or
superior principles in the nature of man; because an action may be
suitable to this nature, though all other principles be violated,
but becomes unsuitable if either of those are. Conscience and self-
love, if we understand our true happiness, always lead us the same
way. Duty and interest are perfectly coincident; for the most part
in this world, but entirely and in every instance if we take in the
future and the whole; this being implied in the notion of a good and
perfect administration of things. Thus they who have been so wise
in their generation as to regard only their own supposed interest,
at the expense and to the injury of others, shall at last find, that
he who has given up all the advantages of the present world, rather
than violate his conscience and the relations of life, has
infinitely better provided for himself, and secured his owns
interest and happiness.

JAMES i. 26.

If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his
tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain.

The translation of this text would be more determinate by being more
literal, thus: If any man among you seemeth to be religious, not
bridling his tongue, but deceiving his own heart, this man's
religion is vain. This determines that the words, BUT DECEIVETH HIS
OWN HEART, are not put in opposition to SEEMETH TO BE RELIGIOUS, but
to BRIDLETH NOT HIS TONGUE. The certain determinate meaning of the
text then being, that he who seemeth to be religious, and bridleth
not his tongue, but in that particular deceiveth his own heart, this
man's religion is vain, we may observe somewhat very forcible and
expressive in these words of St. James. As if the apostle had said,
No man surely can make any pretences to religion, who does not at
least believe that he bridleth his tongue: if he puts on any
appearance or face of religion, and yet does not govern his tongue,
he must surely deceive himself in that particular, and think he
does; and whoever is so unhappy as to deceive himself in this, to
imagine he keeps that unruly faculty in due subjection when indeed
he does not, whatever the other part of his life be, his religion is
vain; the government of the tongue being a most material restraint
which virtue lays us under: without it no man can be truly

In treating upon this subject, I will consider,

First, what is the general vice or fault here referred to; or what
disposition in men is supposed in moral reflections and precepts

Secondly, when it may be said of any one, that he has a due
government over himself in this respect.

I. Now, the fault referred to, and the disposition supposed, in
precepts and reflections concerning the government of the tongue, is
not evil-speaking from malice, nor lying or bearing false witness
from indirect selfish designs. The disposition to these, and the
actual vices themselves, all come under other subjects. The tongue
may be employed about, and made to serve all the purposes of vice,
in tempting and deceiving, in perjury and injustice. But the thing
here supposed and referred to, is talkativeness: a disposition to
be talking, abstracted from the consideration of what is to be said;
with very little or no regard to, or thought of doing, either good
or harm. And let not any imagine this to be a slight matter, and
that it deserves not to have so great weight laid upon it, till he
has considered what evil is implied in it, and the bad effects which
follow from it. It is perhaps true, that they who are addicted to
this folly would choose to confine themselves to trifles and
indifferent subjects, and so intend only to be guilty of being
impertinent: but as they cannot go on for ever talking of nothing,
as common matters will not afford a sufficient fund for perpetual
continued discourse, where subjects of this kind are exhausted they
will go on to defamation, scandal, divulging of secrets, their own
secrets as well as those of others--anything rather than be silent.
They are plainly hurried on in the heat of their talk to say quite
different things from what they first intended, and which they
afterwards wish unsaid: or improper things, which they had no other
end in saying, but only to afford employment to their tongue. And
if these people expect to be heard and regarded--for there are some
content merely with talking--they will invent to engage your
attention: and, when they have heard the least imperfect hint of an
affair, they will out of their own head add the circumstances of
time and place and other matters to make out their story and give
the appearance of probability to it: not that they have any concern
about being believed, otherwise than as a means of being heard. The
thing is, to engage your attention; to take you up wholly for the
present time: what reflections will be made afterwards, is in truth
the least of their thoughts. And further, when persons who indulge
themselves in these liberties of the tongue are in any degree
offended with another--as little disgusts and misunderstandings will
be--they allow themselves to defame and revile such a one without
any moderation or bounds; though the offence is so very slight, that
they themselves would not do, nor perhaps wish him, an injury in any
other way. And in this case the scandal and revilings are chiefly
owing to talkativeness, and not bridling their tongue, and so come
under our present subject. The least occasion in the world will
make the humour break out in this particular way or in another. It
as like a torrent, which must and will flow; but the least thing
imaginable will first of all give it either this or another
direction, turn it into this or that channel: or like a fire--the
nature of which, when in a heap of combustible matter, is to spread
and lay waste all around; but any one of a thousand little accidents
will occasion it to break out first either in this or another
particular part.

The subject then before us, though it does run up into, and can
scarce be treated as entirely distinct from all others, yet it needs
not be so much mixed or blended with them as it often is. Every
faculty and power may be used as the instrument of premeditated vice
and wickedness, merely as the most proper and effectual means of
executing such designs. But if a man, from deep malice and desire
of revenge, should meditate a falsehood with a settled design to
ruin his neighbour's reputation, and should with great coolness and
deliberation spread it, nobody would choose to say of such a one
that he had no government of his tongue. A man may use the faculty
of speech as an instrument of false witness, who yet has so entire a
command over that faculty as never to speak but from forethought and
cool design. Here the crime is injustice and perjury, and, strictly
speaking, no more belongs to the present subject than perjury and
injustice in any other way. But there is such a thing as a
disposition to be talking for its own sake; from which persons often
say anything, good or bad, of others, merely as a subject of
discourse, according to the particular temper they themselves happen
to be in, and to pass away the present time. There is likewise to
be observed in persons such a strong and eager desire of engaging
attention to what they say, that they will speak good or evil, truth
or otherwise, merely as one or the other seems to be most hearkened
to: and this though it is sometimes joined, is not the same with
the desire of being thought important and men of consequence. There
is in some such a disposition to be talking, that an offence of the
slightest kind, and such as would not raise any other resentment,
yet raises, if I may so speak, the resentment of the tongue--puts it
into a flame, into the most ungovernable motions. This outrage,
when the person it respects is present, we distinguish in the lower
rank of people by a peculiar term: and let it be observed, that
though the decencies of behaviour are a little kept, the same
outrage and virulence, indulged when he is absent, is an offence of
the same kind. But, not to distinguish any further in this manner,
men race into faults and follies which cannot so properly be
referred to any one general head as this--that they have not a due
government over their tongue.

And this unrestrained volubility and wantonness of speech is the
occasion of numberless evils and vexations in life. It begets
resentment in him who is the subject of it, sows the seed of strife
and dissension amongst others, and inflames little disgusts and
offences which if let alone would wear away of themselves: it is
often of as bad effect upon the good name of others, as deep envy or
malice: and to say the least of it in this respect, it destroys and
perverts a certain equity of the utmost importance to society to be
observed--namely, that praise and dispraise, a good or bad
character, should always be bestowed according to desert. The
tongue used in such a licentious manner is like a sword in the hand
of a madman; it is employed at random, it can scarce possibly do any
good, and for the most part does a world of mischief; and implies
not only great folly and a trifling spirit, but great viciousness of
mind, great indifference to truth and falsity, and to the
reputation, welfare, and good of others. So much reason is there
for what St. James says of the tongue, IT IS A FIRE, A WORLD OF
NATURE, AND IS ITSELF SET ON FIRE OF HELL. {8} This is the faculty
or disposition which we are required to keep a guard upon: these
are the vices and follies it runs into when not kept under due

II. Wherein the due government of the tongue consists, or when it
may be said of any one in a moral and religious sense that he
BRIDLETH HIS TONGUE, I come now to consider.

The due and proper use of any natural faculty or power is to be
judged of by the end and design for which it was given us. The
chief purpose for which the faculty of speech was given to man is
plainly that we might communicate our thoughts to each other, in
order to carry on the affairs of the world; for business, and for
our improvement in knowledge and learning. But the good Author of
our nature designed us not only necessaries, but likewise enjoyment
and satisfaction, in that being He hath graciously given, and in
that condition of life He hath placed us in. There are secondary
uses of our faculties: they administer to delight, as well as to
necessity; and as they are equally-adapted to both, there is no
doubt but He intended them for our gratification as well as for the
support and continuance of our being. The secondary use of speech
is to please and be entertaining to each other in conversation.
This is in every respect allowable and right; it unites men closer
in alliances and friendships; gives us a fellow-feeling of the
prosperity and unhappiness of each other; and is in several respects
servicable to virtue, and to promote good behaviour in the world.
And provided there be not too much time spent in it, if it were
considered only in the way of gratification and delight, men must
have strange notion of God and of religion to think that He can be
offended with it, or that it is any way inconsistent with the
strictest virtue. But the truth is, such sort of conversation,
though it has no particular good tendency, yet it has a general good
one; it is social and friendly, and tends to promote humanity, good-
nature, and civility.

As the end and use, so likewise the abuse of speech, relates to the
one or other of these: either to business or to conversation. As
to the former: deceit in the management of business and affairs
does not properly belong to the subject now before us: though one
may just mention that multitude, that heedless number of words with
which business is perplexed, where a much fewer would, as it should
seem, better serve the purpose; but this must be left to those who
understand the matter. The government of the tongue, considered as
a subject of itself, relates chiefly to conversation; to that kind
of discourse which usually fills up the time spent in friendly
meetings and visits of civility. And the danger is, lest persons
entertain themselves and others at the expense of their wisdom and
their virtue, and to the injury or offence of their neighbour. If
they will observe and keep clear of these, they may be as free and
easy and unreserved as they can desire.

The cautions to be given for avoiding these dangers, and to render
conversation innocent and agreeable, fall under the following
particulars: silence; talking of indifferent things; and, which
makes up too great a part of conversation, giving of characters,
speaking well or evil of others.

The Wise Man observes that "there is a time to speak, and a time to
keep silence." One meets with people in the world who seem never to
have made the last of these observations. And yet these great
talkers do not at all speak from their having anything to say, as
every sentence shows, but only from their inclination to be talking.
Their conversation is merely an exercise of the tongue: no other
human faculty has any share in it. It is strange these persons can
help reflecting, that unless they have in truth a superior capacity,
and are in an extraordinary manner furnished for conversation if
they are entertaining, it is at their own expense. Is it possible
that it should never come into people's thoughts to suspect whether
or no it be to their advantage to show so very much of themselves?
"O that you would altogether hold your peace, and it should be your
wisdom." {9} Remember likewise there are persons who love fewer
words, an inoffensive sort of people, and who deserve some regard,
though of too still and composed tempers for you. Of this number
was the Son of Sirach: for he plainly speaks from experience when
he says, "As hills of sand are to the steps of the aged, so is one
of many words to a quiet man." But one would think it should be
obvious to every one, that when they are in company with their
superiors of any kind--in years, knowledge, and experience--when
proper and useful subjects are discoursed of, which they cannot bear
a part in, that these are times for silence, when they should learn
to hear, and be attentive, at least in their turn. It is indeed a
very unhappy way these people are in; they in a manner cut
themselves out from all advantage of conversation, except that of
being entertained with their own talk: their business in coming
into company not being at all to be informed, to hear, to learn, but
to display themselves, or rather to exert their faculty, and talk
without any design at all. And if we consider conversation as an
entertainment, as somewhat to unbend the mind, as a diversion from
the cares, the business, and the sorrows of life, it is of the very
nature of it that the discourse be mutual. This, I say, is implied
in the very notion of what we distinguish by conversation, or being
in company. Attention to the continued discourse of one alone grows
more painful, often, than the cares and business we come to be
diverted from. He, therefore, who imposes this upon us is guilty of
a double offence--arbitrarily enjoining silence upon all the rest,
and likewise obliging them to this painful attention.

I am sensible these things are apt to be passed over, as too little
to come into a serious discourse; but in reality men are obliged,
even in point of morality and virtue, to observe all the decencies
of behaviour. The greatest evils in life have had their rise from
somewhat which was thought of too little importance to be attended
to. And as to the matter we are now upon, it is absolutely
necessary to be considered. For if people will not maintain a due
government over themselves, in regarding proper times and seasons
for silence, but WILL be talking, they certainly, whether they
design it or not at first, will go on to scandal and evil-speaking,
and divulging secrets.

If it were needful to say anything further to persuade men to learn
this lesson of silence, one might put them in mind how insignificant
they render themselves by this excessive talkativeness: insomuch
that, if they do chance to say anything which deserves to be
attended to and regarded, it is lost in the variety and abundance
which they utter of another sort.

The occasions of silence then are obvious, and one would think
should be easily distinguished by everybody: namely, when a man has
nothing to say; or nothing but what is better unsaid: better,
either in regard to the particular persons he is present with; or
from its being an interruption to conversation itself; or to
conversation of a more agreeable kind; or better, lastly, with
regard to himself. I will end this particular with two reflections
of the Wise Man; one of which, in the strongest manner, exposes the
ridiculous part of this licentiousness of the tongue; and the other,
the great danger and viciousness of it. When he that is a fool
walketh by the way side, his wisdom faileth him, and he saith to
every one that he is a fool. {10} The other is, In the multitude of
words there wanteth not sin. {11}

As to the government of the tongue in respect to talking upon
indifferent subjects: after what has been said concerning the due
government of it in respect to the occasions and times for silence,
there is little more necessary than only to caution men to be fully
satisfied that the subjects are indeed of an indifferent nature; and
not to spend too much time in conversation of this kind. But
persons must be sure to take heed that the subject of their
discourse be at least of an indifferent nature: that it be no way
offensive to virtue, religion, or good manners: that it be not of a
licentious, dissolute sort, this leaving always ill impressions upon
the mind; that it be no way injurious or vexatious to others; and
that too much time be not spent this way, to the neglect of those
duties and offices of life which belong to their station and
condition in the world. However, though there is not any necessity
that men should aim at being important and weighty in every sentence
they speak: yet since useful subjects, at least of some kinds, are
as entertaining as others, a wise man, even when he desires to
unbend his mind from business, would choose that the conversation
might turn upon somewhat instructive.

The last thing is, the government of the tongue as relating to
discourse of the affairs of others, and giving of characters. These
are in a manner the same; and one can scarce call it an indifferent
subject, because discourse upon it almost perpetually runs into
somewhat criminal.

And, first of all, it were very much to be wished that this did not
take up so great a part of conversation; because it is indeed a
subject of a dangerous nature. Let any one consider the various
interests, competitions, and little misunderstandings which arise
amongst men; and he will soon see that he is not unprejudiced and
impartial; that he is not, as I may speak, neutral enough to trust
himself with talking of the character and concerns of his neighbour,
in a free, careless, and unreserved manner. There is perpetually,
and often it is not attended to, a rivalship amongst people of one
kind or another in respect to wit, beauty, learning, fortune, and
that one thing will insensibly influence them to speak to the
disadvantage of others, even where there is no formed malice or ill-
design. Since therefore it is so hard to enter into this subject
without offending, the first thing to be observed is that people
should learn to decline it; to get over that strong inclination most
have to be talking of the concerns and behaviour of their neighbour.

But since it is impossible that this subject should be wholly
excluded conversation; and since it is necessary that the characters
of men should be known: the next thing is that it is a matter of
importance what is said; and, therefore, that we should be
religiously scrupulous and exact to say nothing, either good or bad,
but what is true. I put it thus, because it is in reality of as
great importance to the good of society, that the characters of bad
men should be known, as that the characters of good men should.
People who are given to scandal and detraction may indeed make an
ill-use of this observation; but truths, which are of service
towards regulating our conduct, are not to be disowned, or even
concealed, because a bad use may be made of them. This however
would be effectually prevented if these two things were attended to.
First, That, though it is equally of bad consequence to society that
men should have either good or ill characters which they do not
deserve; yet, when you say somewhat good of a man which he does not
deserve, there is no wrong done him in particular; whereas, when you
say evil of a man which he does not deserve, here is a direct formal
injury, a real piece of injustice done him. This therefore makes a
wide difference; and gives us, in point of virtue, much greater
latitude in speaking well than ill of others. Secondly, A good man
is friendly to his fellow-creatures, and a lover of mankind; and so
will, upon every occasion, and often without any, say all the good
he can of everybody; but, so far as he is a good man, will never be
disposed to speak evil of any, unless there be some other reason for
it, besides, barely that it is true. If he be charged with having
given an ill character, he will scarce think it a sufficient
justification of himself to say it was a true one, unless he can
also give some further account how he came to do so: a just
indignation against particular instances of villainy, where they are
great and scandalous; or to prevent an innocent man from being
deceived and betrayed, when he has great trust and confidence in one
who does not deserve it. Justice must be done to every part of a
subject when we are considering it. If there be a man, who bears a
fair character in the world, whom yet we know to be without faith or
honesty, to be really an ill man; it must be allowed in general that
we shall do a piece of service to society by letting such a one's
true character be known. This is no more than what we have an
instance of in our Saviour himself; {12} though He was mild and
gentle beyond example. However, no words can express too strongly
the caution which should be used in such a case as this.

Upon the whole matter: If people would observe the obvious
occasions of silence, if they would subdue the inclination to tale-
bearing, and that eager desire to engage attention, which is an
original disease in some minds, they would be in little danger of
offending with their tongue; and would, in a moral and religious
sense, have due government over it.

I will conclude with some precepts and reflections of the Son of
Sirach upon this subject. Be swift to hear; and, if thou hast
understanding, answer thy neighbour; if not, lay thy hand upon thy
mouth. Honour and shame is in talk. A man of an ill tongue is
dangerous in his city, and he that is rash in his talk shall be
hated. A wise man wilt hold his tongue till he see opportunity; but
a babbler and a fool will regard no time. He that useth many words
shall be abhorred; and he that taketh to himself authority therein
shall be hated. A backbiting tongue hath disquieted many; strong
cities hath it pulled down, and overthrown the houses of great men.
The tongue of a man is his fall; but if thou love to hear, thou
shall receive understanding.

ROM. xii. 15.

Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.

Every man is to be considered in two capacities, the private and
public; as designed to pursue his own interest, and likewise to
contribute to the good of others. Whoever will consider may see
that, in general, there is no contrariety between these; but that
from the original constitution of man, and the circumstances he is
placed in, they perfectly coincide, and mutually carry on each
other. But, among the great variety of affections or principles of
actions in our nature, some in their primary intention and design
seem to belong to the single or private, others to the public or
social capacity. The affections required in the text are of the
latter sort. When we rejoice in the prosperity of others, and
compassionate their distresses, we as it were substitute them for
ourselves, their interest for our own; and have the same kind of
pleasure in their prosperity, and sorrow in their distress, as we
have from reflection upon our own. Now there is nothing strange or
unaccountable in our being thus carried out, and affected towards
the interests of others. For, if there be any appetite, or any
inward principle besides self-love; why may there not be an
affection to the good of our fellow-creatures, and delight from that
affection's being gratified, and uneasiness from things going
contrary to it? {13}

Of these two, delight in the prosperity of others, and compassion
for their distresses, the last is felt much more generally than the
former. Though men do not universally rejoice with all whom they
see rejoice, yet, accidental obstacles removed, they naturally
compassionate all, in some degree, whom they see in distress; so far
as they have any real perception or sense of that distress:
insomuch that words expressing this latter, pity, compassion,
frequently occur: whereas we have scarce any single one by which
the former is distinctly expressed. Congratulation indeed answers
condolence: but both these words are intended to signify certain
forms of civility rather than any inward sensation or feeling. This
difference or inequality is so remarkable that we plainly consider
compassion as itself an original, distinct, particular affection in
human nature; whereas to rejoice in the good of others is only a
consequence of the general affection of love and good-will to them.
The reason and account of which matter is this: when a man has
obtained any particular advantage or felicity, his end is gained;
and he does not in that particular want the assistance of another:
there was therefore no need of a distinct affection towards that
felicity of another already obtained; neither would such affection
directly carry him on to do good to that person: whereas men in
distress want assistance; and compassion leads us directly to assist
them. The object of the former is the present felicity of another;
the object of the latter is the present misery of another. It is
easy to see that the latter wants a particular affection for its
relief, and that the former does not want one because it does not
want assistance. And upon supposition of a distinct affection in
both cases, the one must rest in the exercise of itself, having
nothing further to gain; the other does not rest in itself, but
carries us on to assist the distressed.

But, supposing these affections natural to the mind, particularly
the last; "Has not each man troubles enough of his own? must he
indulge an affection which appropriates to himself those of others?
which leads him to contract the least desirable of all friendships,
friendships with the unfortunate? Must we invert the known rule of
prudence, and choose to associate ourselves with the distressed? or,
allowing that we ought, so far as it is in our power to relieve
them, yet is it not better to do this from reason and duty? Does
not passion and affection of every kind perpetually mislead us?
Nay, is not passion and affection itself a weakness, and what a
perfect being must be entirely free from?" Perhaps so, but it is
mankind I am speaking of; imperfect creatures, and who naturally
and, from the condition we are placed in, necessarily depend upon
each other. With respect to such creatures, it would be found of as
bad consequence to eradicate all natural affections as to be
entirely governed by them. This would almost sink us to the
condition of brutes; and that would leave us without a sufficient
principle of action. Reason alone, whatever any one may wish, is
not in reality a sufficient motive of virtue in such a creature as
man; but this reason joined with those affections which God has
impressed upon his heart, and when these are allowed scope to
exercise themselves, but under strict government and direction of
reason, then it is we act suitably to our nature, and to the
circumstances God has placed us in. Neither is affection itself at
all a weakness; nor does it argue defect, any otherwise than as our
senses and appetites do; they belong to our condition of nature, and
are what we cannot be without. God Almighty is, to be sure, unmoved
by passion or appetite, unchanged by affection; but then it is to be
added that He neither sees nor hears nor perceives things by any
senses like ours; but in a manner infinitely more perfect. Now, as
it is an absurdity almost too gross to be mentioned, for a man to
endeavour to get rid of his senses, because the Supreme Being
discerns things more perfectly without them; it is as real, though
not so obvious an absurdity, to endeavour to eradicate the passions
He has given us, because He is without them. For, since our
passions are as really a part of our constitution as our senses;
since the former as really belong to our condition of nature as the
latter; to get rid of either is equally a violation of and breaking
in upon that nature and constitution He has given us. Both our
senses and our passions are a supply to the imperfection of our
nature; thus they show that we are such sort of creatures as to
stand in need of those helps which higher orders of creatures do
not. But it is not the supply, but the deficiency; as it is not a
remedy, but a disease, which is the imperfection. However, our
appetites, passions, senses, no way imply disease: nor indeed do
they imply deficiency or imperfection of any sort; but only this,
that the constitution of nature, according to which God has made us,
is such as to require them. And it is so far from being true, that
a wise man must entirely suppress compassion, and all fellow-feeling
for others, as a weakness; and trust to reason alone to teach and
enforce upon him the practice of the several charities we owe to our
kind; that, on the contrary, even the bare exercise of such
affections would itself be for the good and happiness of the world;
and the imperfection of the higher principles of reason and religion
in man, the little influence they have upon our practice, and the
strength and prevalency of contrary ones, plainly require these
affections to be a restraint upon these latter, and a supply to the
deficiencies of the former.

First, The very exercise itself of these affections in a just and
reasonable manner and degree would upon the whole increase the
satisfactions and lessen the miseries of life.

It is the tendency and business of virtue and religion to procure,
as much as may be, universal good-will, trust, and friendship
amongst mankind. If this could be brought to obtain; and each man
enjoyed the happiness of others, as every one does that of a friend;
and looked upon the success and prosperity of his neighbour as every
one does upon that of his children and family; it is too manifest to
be insisted upon how much the enjoyments of life would be increased.
There would be so much happiness introduced into the world, without
any deduction or inconvenience from it, in proportion as the precept
of REJOICING WITH THOSE WHO REJOICE was universally obeyed. Our
Saviour has owned this good affection as belonging to our nature in
the parable of the LOST SHEEP, and does not think it to the
disadvantage of a perfect state to represent its happiness as
capable of increase from reflection upon that of others.

But since in such a creature as man, compassion or sorrow for the
distress of others seems so far necessarily connected with joy in
their prosperity, as that whoever rejoices in one must unavoidably
compassionate the other; there cannot be that delight or
satisfaction, which appears to be so considerable, without the
inconveniences, whatever they are, of compassion.

However, without considering this connection, there is no doubt but
that more good than evil, more delight than sorrow, arises from
compassion itself; there being so many things which balance the
sorrow of it. There is first the relief which the distressed feel
from this affection in others towards them. There is likewise the
additional misery which they would feel from the reflection that no
one commiserated their case. It is indeed true that any
disposition, prevailing beyond a certain degree, becomes somewhat
wrong; and we have ways of speaking, which, though they do not
directly express that excess, yet always lead our thoughts to it,
and give us the notion of it. Thus, when mention is made of delight
in being pitied, this always conveys to our mind the notion of
somewhat which is really a weakness. The manner of speaking, I say,
implies a certain weakness and feebleness of mind, which is and
ought to be disapproved. But men of the greatest fortitude would in
distress feel uneasiness from knowing that no person in the world
had any sort of compassion or real concern for them; and in some
cases, especially when the temper is enfeebled by sickness, or any
long and great distress, doubtless, would feel a kind of relief even
from the helpless goodwill and ineffectual assistances of those
about them. Over against the sorrow of compassion is likewise to be
set a peculiar calm kind of satisfaction, which accompanies it,
unless in cases where the distress of another is by some means so
brought home to ourselves as to become in a manner our own; or when
from weakness of mind the affection rises too high, which ought to
be corrected. This tranquillity, or calm satisfaction, proceeds
partly from consciousness of a right affection and temper of mind,
and partly from a sense of our own freedom from the misery we
compassionate. This last may possibly appear to some at first sight
faulty; but it really is not so. It is the same with that positive
enjoyment, which sudden ease from pain for the present affords,
arising from a real sense of misery, joined with a sense of our
freedom from it; which in all cases must afford some degree of

To these things must be added the observation which respects both
the affections we are considering; that they who have got over all
fellow-feeling for others have withal contracted a certain
callousness of heart, which renders them insensible to most other
satisfactions but those of the grossest kind.

Secondly, Without the exercise of these affections men would
certainly be much more wanting in the offices of charity they owe to
cache other, and likewise more cruel and injurious than they are at

The private interest of the individual would not be sufficiently
provided for by reasonable and cool self-love alone; therefore the
appetites and passions are placed within as a guard and further
security, without which it would not be taken due care of. It is
manifest our life would be neglected were it not for the calls of
hunger and thirst and weariness; notwithstanding that without them
reason would assure us that the recruits of food and sleep are the
necessary means of our preservation. It is therefore absurd to
imagine that, without affections, the same reason alone would be
more effectual to engage us to perform the duties we owe to our
fellow-creatures. One of this make would be as defective, as much
wanting, considered with respect to society, as one of the former
make would be defective, or wanting, considered as an individual, or
in his private capacity. Is it possible any can in earnest think
that a public spirit, i.e., a settled reasonable principle of
benevolence to mankind, is so prevalent and strong in the species as
that we may venture to throw off the under affections, which are its
assistants, carry it forward and mark out particular courses for it;
family, friends, neighbourhood, the distressed, our country? The
common joys and the common sorrows, which belong to these relations
and circumstances, are as plainly useful to society as the pain and
pleasure belonging to hunger, thirst, and weariness are of service
to the individual. In defect of that higher principle of reason,
compassion is often the only way by which the indigent can have
access to us: and therefore, to eradicate this, though it is not
indeed formally to deny them that assistance which is their due; yet
it is to cut them off from that which is too frequently their only
way of obtaining it. And as for those who have shut up this door
against the complaints of the miserable, and conquered this
affection in themselves; even these persons will be under great
restraints from the same affection in others. Thus a man who has
himself no sense of injustice, cruelty, oppression, will be kept
from running the utmost lengths of wickedness by fear of that
detestation, and even resentment of inhumanity, in many particular
instances of it, which compassion for the object towards whom such
inhumanity is exercised, excites in the bulk of mankind. And this
is frequently the chief danger and the chief restraint which tyrants
and the great oppressors of the world feel.

In general, experience will show that, as want of natural appetite
to food supposes and proceeds from some bodily disease; so the
apathy the Stoics talk of as much supposes, or is accompanied with,
somewhat amiss in the moral character, in that which is the health
of the mind. Those who formerly aimed at this upon the foot of
philosophy appear to have had better success in eradicating the
affections of tenderness and compassion than they had with the
passions of envy, pride, and resentment: these latter, at best,
were but concealed, and that imperfectly too. How far this
observation may be extended to such as endeavour to suppress the
natural impulses of their affections, in order to form themselves
for business and the world, I shall not determine. But there does
not appear any capacity or relation to be named, in which men ought
to be entirely deaf to the calls of affection, unless the judicial
one is to be excepted.

And as to those who are commonly called the men of pleasure, it is
manifest that the reason they set up for hardness of heart is to
avoid being interrupted in their course by the ruin and misery they
are the authors of; neither are persons of this character always the
most free from the impotencies of envy and resentment. What may men
at last bring themselves to, by suppressing their passions and
affections of one kind, and leaving those of the other in their full
strength? But surely it might be expected that persons who make
pleasure their study and their business, if they understood what
they profess, would reflect, how many of the entertainments of life,
how many of those kind of amusements which seem peculiarly to belong
to men of leisure and education they became insensible to by this
acquired hardness of heart.

I shall close these reflections with barely mentioning the behaviour
of that divine Person, who was the example of all perfection in
human nature, as represented in the Gospels mourning, and even, in a
literal sense, weeping over the distresses of His creatures.

The observation already made, that, of the two affections mentioned
in the text, the latter exerts itself much more than the former;
that, from the original constitution of human nature, we much more
generally and sensibly compassionate the distressed than rejoice
within the prosperous, requires to be particularly considered. This
observation, therefore, with the reflections which arise out of it,
and which it leads our thoughts to, shall be the subject of another

For the conclusion of this, let me just take notice of the danger of
over-great refinements; of going beside or beyond the plain,
obvious, first appearances of things, upon the subject of morals and
religion. The least observation will show how little the generality
of men are capable of speculations. Therefore morality and religion
must be somewhat plan and easy to be understood: it must appeal to
what we call plain common sense, as distinguished from superior
capacity and improvement; because it appeals to mankind. Persons of
superior capacity and improvement have often fallen into errors
which no one of mere common understanding could. Is it possible
that one of this latter character could even of himself have thought
that there was absolutely no such thing in mankind as affection to
the good of others? suppose of parents to their children; or that
what he felt upon seeing a friend in distress was only fear for
himself; or, upon supposition of the affections of kindness and
compassion, that it was the business of wisdom and virtue to set him
about extirpating them as fast as he could? And yet each of these
manifest contradictions to nature has been laid down by men of
speculation as a discovery in moral philosophy; which they, it
seems, have found out through all the specious appearances to the
contrary. This reflection may be extended further. The
extravagances of enthusiasm and superstition do not at all lie in
the road of common sense; and therefore, so far as they are ORIGINAL
MISTAKES, must be owing to going beside or beyond it. Now, since
inquiry and examination can relate only to things so obscure and
uncertain as to stand in need of it, and to persons who are capable
of it; the proper advice to be given to plain honest men, to secure
them from the extremes both of superstition and irreligion, is that
of the Son of Sirach: In every good work trust thy own soul; for
this is the keeping of the commandment. {14}

Rom. xii. 15.

Rejoice with then that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.

There is a much more exact correspondence between the natural and
moral world than we are apt to take notice of. The inward frame of
man does in a peculiar manner answer to the external condition and
circumstances of life in which he is placed. This is a particular
instance of that general observation of the Son of Sirach: All
things are double one against another, and God hath made nothing
imperfect. {15} The several passions and affections in the heart of
man, compared with the circumstances of life in which he is placed,
afford, to such as will attend to them, as certain instances of
final causes, as any whatever, which are more commonly alleged for
such: since those affections lead him to a certain determinate
course of action suitable to those circumstances; as (for instance)
compassion to relieve the distressed. And as all observations of
final causes, drawn from the principles of action in the heart of
man, compared with the condition he is placed in, serve all the good
uses which instances of final causes in the material world about us
do; and both these are equally proofs of wisdom and design in the
Author of nature: so the former serve to further good purposes;
they show us what course of life we are made for, what is our duty,
and in a peculiar manner enforce upon us the practice of it.

Suppose we are capable of happiness and of misery in degrees equally
intense and extreme, yet, we are capable of the latter for a much
longer time, beyond all comparison. We see men in the tortures of
pain for hours, days, and, excepting the short suspensions of sleep,
for months together, without intermission, to which no enjoyments of
life do, in degree and continuance, bear any sort of proportion.
And such is our make and that of the world about us that any thing
may become the instrument of pain and sorrow to us. Thus almost any
one man is capable of doing mischief to any other, though he may not
be capable of doing him good; and if he be capable of doing him some
good, he is capable of doing him more evil. And it is, in
numberless cases, much more in our power to lessen the miseries of
others than to promote their positive happiness, any otherwise than
as the former often includes the latter; ease from misery
occasioning for some time the greatest positive enjoyment. This
constitution of nature, namely, that it is so munch more in our
power to occasion and likewise to lessen misery than to promote
positive happiness, plainly required a particular affection to
hinder us from abusing, and to incline us to make a right use of the
former powers, I.E., the powers both to occasion and to lessen
misery; over and above what was necessary to induce us to make a
right use of the latter power, that of promoting positive happiness.
The power we have over the misery of our fellow-creatures, to
occasion or lessen it, being a more important trust than the power
we have of promoting their positive happiness; the former requires
and has a further, an additional, security and guard against its
being violated, beyond and over and above what the latter has. The
social nature of man, and general goodwill to his species, equally
prevent him from doing evil, incline him to relieve the distressed,
and to promote the positive happiness of his fellow-creatures; but
compassion only restrains from the first, and carries him to the
second; it hath nothing to do with the third.

The final causes, then, of compassion are to prevent and to relieve

As to the former: this affection may plainly be a restraint upon
resentment, envy, unreasonable self-love; that is, upon all the
principles from which men do evil to one another. Let us instance
only in resentment. It seldom happens, in regulated societies, that
men have an enemy so entirely in their power as to be able to
satiate their resentment with safety. But if we were to put this
case, it is plainly supposable that a person might bring his enemy
into such a condition, as from being the object of anger and rage,
to become an object of compassion, even to himself, though the most
malicious man in the world; and in this case compassion would stop
him, if he could stop with safety, from pursuing his revenge any
further. But since nature has placed within us more powerful
restraints to prevent mischief, and since the final cause of
compassion is much more to relieve misery, let us go on to the
consideration of it in this view.

As this world was not intended to be a state of any great
satisfaction or high enjoyment, so neither was it intended to be a
mere scene of unhappiness and sorrow. Mitigations and reliefs are
provided by the merciful Author of nature for most of the
afflictions in human life. There is kind provision made even
against our frailties: as we are so constituted that time
abundantly abates our sorrows, and begets in us that resignment of
temper, which ought to have been produced by a better cause; a due
sense of the authority of God, and our state of dependence. This
holds in respect too far the greatest part of the evils of life; I
suppose, in some degree, as to pain and sickness. Now this part of
the constitution or make of man, considered as some relief to
misery, and not as provision for positive happiness, is, if I may so
speak, an instance of nature's compassion for us; and every natural
remedy or relief to misery may be considered in the same view.

But since in many cases it is very much in our power to alleviate
the miseries of each other; and benevolence, though natural in man
to man, yet is in a very low degree kept down by interest and
competitions; and men, for the most part, are so engaged in the
business and pleasures of the world, as to overlook and turn away
from objects of misery; which are plainly considered as
interruptions to them in their way, as intruders upon their
business, their gaiety, and mirth: compassion is an advocate within
us in their behalf, to gain the unhappy admittance and access, to
make their case attended to. If it sometimes serves a contrary
purpose, and makes men industriously turn away from the miserable,
these are only instances of abuse and perversion: for the end, for
which the affection was given us, most certainly is not to make us
avoid, but to make us attend to, the objects of it. And if men
would only resolve to allow thus much to it: let it bring before
their view, the view of their mind, the miseries of their fellow-
creatures; let it gain for them that their case be considered; I am
persuaded it would not fail of gaining more, and that very few real
objects of charity would pass unrelieved. Pain and sorrow and
misery have a right to our assistance: compassion puts us in mind
of the debt, and that we owe it to ourselves as well as to the
distressed. For, to endeavour to get rid of the sorrow of
compassion by turning from the wretched, when yet it is in our power
to relieve them, is as unnatural as to endeavour to get rid of the
pain of hunger by keeping from the sight of food. That we can do
one with greater success than we can the other is no proof that one
is less a violation of nature than the other. Compassion is a call,
a demand of nature, to relieve the unhappy as hunger is a natural
call for food. This affection plainly gives the objects of it an
additional claim to relief and mercy, over and above what our
fellow-creatures in common have to our goodwill. Liberality and
bounty are exceedingly commendable; and a particular distinction in
such a world as this, where men set themselves to contract their
heart, and close it to all interests but their own. It is by no
means to be opposed to mercy, but always accompanies it: the
distinction between them is only that the former leads our thoughts
to a more promiscuous and undistinguished distribution of favours;
to those who are not, as well as those who are, necessitous; whereas
the object of compassion is misery. But in the comparison, and
where there is not a possibility of both, mercy is to have the
preference: the affection of compassion manifestly leads us to this
preference. Thus, to relieve the indigent and distressed, to single
out the unhappy, from whom can be expected no returns either of
present entertainment or future service, for the objects of our
favours; to esteem a man's being friendless as a recommendation;
dejection, and incapacity of struggling through the world, as a
motive for assisting him; in a word, to consider these circumstances
of disadvantage, which are usually thought a sufficient reason for
neglect and overlooking a person, as a motive for helping him
forward: this is the course of benevolence which compassion marks
out and directs us to: this is that humanity which is so peculiarly
becoming our nature and circumstances in this world.

To these considerations, drawn from the nature of man, must be added
the reason of the thing itself we are recommending, which accords to
and shows the same. For since it is so much more in our power to
lessen the misery of our fellow-creatures than to promote their
positive happiness; in cases where there is an inconsistency, we
shall be likely to do much more good by setting ourselves to
mitigate the former than by endeavouring to promote the latter. Let
the competition be between the poor and the rich. It is easy, you
will say, to see which will have the preference. True; but the
question is, which ought to have the preference? What proportion is
there between the happiness produced by doing a favour to the
indigent, and that produced by doing the same favour to one in easy
circumstances? It is manifest that the addition of a very large
estate to one who before had an affluence, will in many instances
yield him less new enjoyment or satisfaction than an ordinary
charity would yield to a necessitous person. So that it is not only
true that our nature, i.e., the voice of God within us, carries us
to the exercise of charity and benevolence in the way of compassion
or mercy, preferably to any other way; but we also manifestly
discern much more good done by the former; or, if you will allow me
the expressions, more misery annihilated and happiness created. If
charity and benevolence, and endeavouring to do good to our fellow-
creatures, be anything, this observation deserves to be most
seriously considered by all who have to bestow. And it holds with
great exactness, when applied to the several degrees of greater and
less indigency throughout the various ranks in human life: the
happiness or good produced not being in proportion to what is
bestowed, but in proportion to this joined with the need there was
of it.

It may perhaps be expected that upon this subject notice should be
taken of occasions, circumstances, and characters which seem at once
to call forth affections of different sorts. Thus vice may be
thought the object both of pity and indignation: folly, of pity and
of laughter. How far this is strictly true, I shall not inquire;
but only observe upon the appearance, how much more humane it is to
yield and give scope to affections, which are most directly in
favour of, and friendly towards, our fellow-creatures; and that
there is plainly much less danger of being led wrong by these than
by the other.

But, notwithstanding all that has been said in recommendation of
compassion, that it is most amiable, most becoming human nature, and
most useful to the world; yet it must be owned that every affection,
as distinct from a principle of reason, may rise too high, and be
beyond its just proportion. And by means of this one carried too
far, a man throughout his life is subject to much more uneasiness
than belongs to his share; and in particular instances, it may be in
such a degree as to incapacitate him from assisting the very person
who is the object of it. But as there are some who upon principle
set up for suppressing this affection itself as weakness, there is
also I know not what of fashion on this side; and, by some means or
other, the whole world almost is run into the extremes of
insensibility towards the distresses of their fellow-creatures: so
that general rules and exhortations must always be on the other

And now to go on to the uses we should make of the foregoing
reflections, the further ones they lead to, and the general temper
they have a tendency to beget in us. There being that distinct
affection implanted in the nature of man, tending to lessen the
miseries of life, that particular provision made for abating its
sorrows, more than for increasing its positive happiness, as before
explained; this may suggest to us what should be our general aim
respecting ourselves, in our passage through this world: namely, to
endeavour chiefly to escape misery, keep free from uneasiness, pain,
and sorrow, or to get relief and mitigation of them; to propose to
ourselves peace and tranquillity of mind, rather than pursue after
high enjoyments. This is what the constitution of nature before
explained marks out as the course we should follow, and the end we
should aim at. To make pleasure and mirth and jollity our business,
and be constantly hurrying about after some gay amusement, some new
gratification of sense or appetite, to those who will consider the
nature of man and our condition in this world, will appear the most
romantic scheme of life that ever entered into thought. And yet how
many are there who go on in this course, without learning better
from the daily, the hourly disappointments, listlessness, and
satiety which accompany this fashionable method of wasting away
their days!

The subject we have been insisting upon would lead us into the same
kind of reflections by a different connection. The miseries of life
brought home to ourselves by compassion, viewed through this
affection considered as the sense by which they are perceived, would
beget in us that moderation, humility, and soberness of mind which
has been now recommended; and which peculiarly belongs to a season
of recollection, the only purpose of which is to bring us to a just
sense of things, to recover us out of that forgetfulness of
ourselves, and our true state, which it is manifest far the greatest
part of men pass their whole life in. Upon this account Solomon
THE HOUSE OF FEASTING; i.e., it is more to a man's advantage to turn
his eyes towards objects of distress, to recall sometimes to his
remembrance the occasions of sorrow, than to pass all his days in
thoughtless mirth and gaiety. And he represents the wise as
choosing to frequent the former of these places; to be sure not for
his own sake, but because BY THE SADNESS OF THE COUNTENANCE, THE
HEART IS MADE BETTER. Every one observes how temperate and
reasonable men are when humbled and brought low by afflictions in
comparison of what they are in high prosperity. By this voluntary
resort to the house of mourning, which is here recommended, we might
learn all those useful instructions which calamities teach without
undergoing them ourselves; and grow wiser and better at a more easy
rate than men commonly do. The objects themselves, which in that
place of sorrow lie before our view, naturally give us a seriousness
and attention, check that wantonness which is the growth of
prosperity and ease, and head us to reflect upon the deficiencies of
VANITY. This would correct the florid and gaudy prospects and
expectations which we are too apt to indulge, teach us to lower our
notions of happiness and enjoyment, bring them down to the reality

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest