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SET THINE HOUSE IN ORDER.”
scarce grow less by putting it off to the last. If
alteration of circumstances, or of our opinion, should happen after our disposition is made, it may be altered accordingly. And that strange imagination of being nearer death, for having completed this or any provision for it, is a poor absurd superstition, confuted by daily experience. On the contrary, you will be more at ease, and likely to live the longer, for having done your duty in this respect. And by making sure to do it in time, you may obviate great injustice, grievous contentions and enmities, long and vast expenses, where, if they be not obviated, the fault will lie at your door.
Every one therefore should take the earliest care of these matters. But if any one hath omitted it, the office beforementioned expressly requires, that he be admonished in his sickness to make his will, and to declare his debts, what he oweth, and what is owing unto him, for the better discharging of his conscience, and the quietness of his executors. We of the clergy have now but seldom the means allowed us of giv
this or any other admonition at such times. I hope it is not our fault. Consider if it be not yours. But however that be, we may and we ought to do it from the pulpit: where speaking openly to all in general, we cannot be suspected of any private unfair design, into whatever particulars the subject may lead us.
The principal point, at which men sould aim in settling their temporal affairs, is justice: and one of the most evident branches of justice is paying debts. Our first care, therefore, should be never to contract debts which we cannot reasonably hope to pay: and our next, to secure the payment of those which we have contracted as fully and speedily as we can. Else we shall be in continual danger of injuring, perhaps distressing and undoing, persons and families, only for thinking well enough of us to trust us. It is extremely dishonourable,
. (I might use a harsher word) at any season of life to indulge
our idleness, gratify our fancies and appetites, or support our rank, at their expense. But when sickness gives us a prospect of never being just to them, unless we are so immediately, we have then every possible motive for labouring most earnestly to indemnify them. And we ought to prefer the demands which they have upon us, before all mere properties, however reasonable; contrive good security for them out of whatever we fairly can; and if, after all, we cannot do it effectually, recommend them, as far as ever there is any plea for it, to the compassion of our surviving representatives and relations. But as we cannot be certain that they will (and in several cases there may be no reason why they should) do what we desire, the only sure way is to provide before it is too late for doing it ourselves. If our circumstances are upon the whole sufficient to answer all claims, barely making known the debts due from us, and owing to us, or at most stating them with the parties concerned, may be enough; and where it is wanted, employing some thought and pains on such matters, as we are able, will be doing very good service both to our creditors and to our heirs.
But besides those who are commonly called creditors, there is another and much more dreadful sort: I mean those to whom we have done injuries, and owe restitution. Injuries ought never to be done. When they are done, restitution, if it can, ought to be made immediately; and till it is offered, so far as our ability extends, we remain both debtors and sinners. If we defer it to the last, we may never make it at all; and though we do, whether God will then accept it must be doubtful; but if even then we refuse it, unless the cause be that we excusably mistake the nature of the case, we preserve no ground for hope. It is unspeakably better, therefore, to think seriously at any time than never, what wrongs or what hardships any of our fellow-creatures have suffered from us, and to what suitable compensation they are entitled, either in strict justice, or
RESTITUTION AND RECONCILIATION.
in equity and good conscience. The answer to this question may often be a very afflicting one; but if men will do amiss, they must take the consequences. It may also, in some cases, be difficult to fix upon the right answer, or to find proper methods of putting it in practice, if we know it; but we must not, on account of difficulties, lay aside the thought of doing our duty, but ask the best advice where we are at a loss, leave directions to be executed by others, where we have not time ourselves; and at least make due acknowledgments, unless particular circumstances forbid, where we cannot make amends. Perhaps nothing further than acknowledgments will be expected by those whom we have injured; and then we are bound to nothing further.
But as we have all more or less need to ask pardon, another of our duties evidently is, to grant it in our turn: when others have used us ill, not to recompense or wish them evil for evil ; not to deny them proper kindnesses; or even think of them worse than they deserve—to accept any submissions that do but approach towards being sufficient, and be reconciled to them, not in words alone, which is adding hypocrisy to resentment, but in reality, affording them as large proofs, both of our favour and confidence, as any good and wise man, uninterested in the matter, would think fitting—seriously wishing their good, in soul, body, and estate, and being ready to promote it as far as we properly can. This is the full meaning of being in charity, which we ought to be constantly in with all men; and, if the reason of our professing to be so is merely that we imagine our end to be near, it will be extremely questionable whether we are so indeed. Yet, a late, nay, an imperfect reconciliation is always preferable to none, provided there be any sincerity in it. For the expedient, to which, it is said, some have had recourse, of forgiving if they die, and being revenged if they live, is as wicked and as foolish a contrivance to deceive themselves, and to mock God, as the human heart can frame.
“The Sermons of Mr Yorick” are chiefly remarkable for their curious commencements. On the text, “But Abishai said, Shall not Shimei be put to death for this ?" he begins, " It has not a good aspect. This is the second time Abishai has proposed Shimei's destruction." Again, the text is, “And he said, What have they seen in thine house? And Hezekiah answered, All the things that are in my house they have seen; there is nothing amongst all my treasures that I have not shewn them ;” and the sermon commences, “And where was the harm, you 'll say, in all this?” Once more, from the text, “He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him,” he sets out, “ A noble object to take up the consideration of the Roman governor! And was this Felix—the great, the noble Felix ?” &c. After giving out the text, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting,” he exclaims, “That I deny !"*
Few things shew more strikingly the low tone of moral feeling in England about the middle of last century, than the enthusiasm with which books were received so profligate and unprincipled as “Tristram Shandy and the “Sentimental Journey ;” and it seems almost a satire on religion, that a pen so foul should have been employed in writing sermons. But so it was ; and these last were almost as popular as his other lucubrations. They abound in similar buffooneries and whimsicalities, and for their want of heart and genuine worth they try to compensate by a profusion of maudlin sentiment. It is not without some hesitation that we admit into our series names like Sterne and Dodd; but our sketch of pulpit oratory would be very incomplete if we made no mention of men so dazzling
* On the subject of exordiums to sermons, see“ Christian Classics," vol. iii., pp. 27-30.
in their day. The first two volumes of “ Mr Yorick's Sermons" were published in 1760. Our copy is dated 1767, and is of the eighth edition.
Laurence Sterne was born at Clonmel, in Ireland, November 24, 1713.
His father was a lieutenant in the army, and his uncle, Dr Jaques Sterne, was a prebendary of Durham. To this relation he was indebted for the living of Sutton, where he spent twenty years of his clerical career, “painting, fiddling, and shooting.” He died during a visit to London, March 18, 1768.
The following is a favourable specimen of discourses which were so admired in the days of our great-grandsires; but all their galvanic attempts at emotion will hardly reconcile the modern reader to the liberties taken with the matchless story of
The Prodigal Son.
He gathers all together.
I see the picture of his departure; the camels and asses loaden with his substance, detached on one side of the piece, and already on their way; the prodigal son standing on the foreground, with a forced sedateness, struggling against the fluttering movement of joy upon his deliverance from restraint; the elder brother holding his hand, as if unwilling to let it
go; the father-sad moment !--with a firm look, covering a prophetic sentiment, “ that all would not go well with his child," approaching to embrace him, and bid him adieu. considerate youth! From whose arms art thou flying? from what a shelter art thou going forth into the storm? Art thou weary of a father's affection, of a father's care? or hopest thou to find a warmer interest, a truer counsellor, or a kinder friend in a land of strangers, where youth is made a prey, and so many thousands are confederated to deceive them, and live by their spoils?