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Need it surprise us that an ordinance of such importance to the comfort, the moral improvement, and even the existence of mankind, should have been made the subject of one of the precepts in the deca. logue, and that its violators should be classed with the most atrocious criminals, and threatened with the severest punishment?
This crime is forbidden in the decalogue, and peremptorily condemned in several parts of Scripture. Its commission tends to discourage and prevent márriage, and, consequently, to prevent the existence of those blessings of which marriage, by the divine wisdom, is productive. This is its direct tendency; and it is therefore to be viewed as an attack on the progressive virtue and happiness of the species. “The libertine may not be conscious that his irregularities hinder his own marriage, from which he is deterred, he may allege, by different considerations ; much less does he perceive how his indulgences can hinder other men from marrying; but what will he say would be the consequence, if the same licentiousness were universal; or what should hinder its becoming universal, if it be innocent or allowable in him ?”
It necessarily involves others in vice, and often in inconceivable misery. The sense of infamy occasioned in the devoted victim is sometimes felt to be insupportable. This is exemplified by her overcoming one of the strongest feelings in the bosom of woman,-affection to her sucking child, compassion to the son of her womb, -and deserting, nay, even destroying her own offspring. How bitter the agony of wretchedness and despair that could suggest such a thought to the heart of a mother, that could lead her to entertain it, and to carry it into execution !
But the career of crime and misery, in many cases, only begins here. The polluted, degraded, outcast female, who perhaps has been betrayed into sin, and whose relations frown upon her, has recourse to prostitution as her only means of subsistence, and enters one of those receptacles of infamy from which mercy, virtue, and happiness are for ever shut out. Here, in the absence of all the means of reformation, and associated with the worst of the species, she bids a final adieu to the house, the word, the ordinances, and the salvation of God. What must be his guilt by whom she was seduced from the path of virtue, and who is the author of her pollution, degradation, misery, and perdition! Such, however, is the guilt, and, in many instances, the misery to which every act of fornication contributes.
This crime, besides, leads to a repetition, and a repetition is subversive of all moral principle. This is a fact which has been observed by every one who has made his fellow-creatures the subject of his observation and reflection. “ However it be accounted for,” says Paley, “ the criminal commerce of the sexes corrupts and depraves the mind and moral character more than any single species of vice whatsoever. That ready perception of guilt, that prompt and decisive resolution against it, which constitutes a virtuous character, is seldom found in persons addicted to these indulgences. They prepare an easy admission for every sin that seeks it; are, in low life, usually the first stage in men's progress to the most desperate villanies; and, in high life, to that lamented dissoluteness of principle, which manifests itself in a profligacy of public conduct, and a contempt of the obligations of religion and of moral probity. Add to this, that habits of libertinism incapacitate and indispose
the mind for all intellectual, moral, and religious pleasures*.”
The fact is incontrovertible; and when we consider the polluting influence of the crime itself, and the debasing tendency of the means usually employed in its accomplishment, we can, without much difficulty, account for it. Not only is secrecy, in the greater number of cases, deemed necessary, but the perpetrators are brought into the society of vicious persons, and are led to employ deceit and fraud in the gratification of their licentious appetites. Hence, the persons over whom this wickedness acquires ascendency become thoroughly unprincipled, impious, blasphemers, treacherous, drunken, and ready for every crime. .
To those who are yet on the threshold of this course, we would say, Return. Advance but a little further, and your recovery is hopeless. None (comparatively none) who fully set out on this way of destruction turn again, neither take they hold of the paths of life. “ Behold now is your accepted time, and now is the day of your salvation."
* Mor. Phil. vol. i. p. 292
The species of cohabitation referred to by Paley, though distinguishable from a vagrant concubinage, is not sanctioned by marriage, and therefore, the persons who practise it live in continual fornication. If, as has been alleged, in its defence, the situation of the parties be the same thing as marriage, why do they not marry? If the man chooses this situation because he has it in his power to dismiss the woman at his pleasure, or to retain her in a state of humiliation and dependence inconsistent with the rights which marriage would confer upon her, it is not the same thing. It is not at any rate the same thing to the children. The cohabitation of men and women, without having previously undertaken the obligations, and conferred the mutual rights of marriage, is immoral, because it is opposed to the injunctions of Scripture, and because it not only discourages and tends to prevent marriage, and the blessings of which marriage is productive, but is the source of the most pernicious consequences.
In proportion to the criminality of fornication should be our vigilance in guarding against those temptations which lead to it. For this purpose let us live under the habitual conviction that the Scriptures prohibit, I. All impurity of thought.
He that looketh on a woman, to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”—“Out of the heart,"
says our Saviour, “ proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornication, thefts, false witness, blasphemies; these are the things which defile a man.” When the heart is preserved with all diligence, the conversation
and the life will be pure; but when the imagination is licentious, the whole man is contaminated. It is melancholy to think of the numberless methods by which, in these degenerate times, impure thoughts are suggested to the mind; and by which unthinking youth are peculiarly exposed to dangers.
II. Impurity of words is also forbidden. They are at once the expression of an improper state of heart, and the means of awakening impure thoughts and desires. Their use is degrading to us as rational beings, and altogether unsuited to our character as christians. “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient.”-On earth, wliat object is there more degraded, more to be abhorred, than the man who from inbred pollution of heart, diffuses, through the medium of obscene language, a corrupting influence around him?
III. It is scarcely necessary to add, that every approach to licentiousness of conduct is to be guarded against as criminal. “Irregularity, as has been truly remarked, has no limits; one excess draws on another ;--the most easy, therefore, as well as the most excellent way of being virtuous, is to be so entirely." We ought, therefore, in this, as in everything else, to “ abstain from all appearance
appearance of evil.”