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Divine providence is still inviolate, and placed far beyond the reach of human injuries. 'Tis impious, says the old Roman superstition*, to divert rivers from their course , or invade the prerogatives of nature: 'Tis impious, says the French superstition, to inoculate for the small-pox, or usurp the business of providence by voluntary producing distempers and maladies: 'Tis impious, says the modern European superstition, to put a period to our own life, and thereby rebel against our Creator; and why not impious, say I, to build houses, cultivate the ground, or sail upon the ocean? In all these actions we employ our powers of mind and body, to produce some innovation in the course of nature; and in none of them do we any more. They are all of them therefore equally innocent, or equally criminal. But you are placed by Providence, like a sentinel, in a particular station , and when you desert it without being recalled, you are equally guilty os rebellion against your Almighty Sovereign , and have incurred his displeasure, I ask, why do you conclude that providence has placed me in this station? For my part I find that I owe my birth to a long chain of causes , of which many depended upon voluntary actions of men. But providence guided all these causes, and nothing happens in the universe without its consent and co-operation. If so, then neither does my death, however voluntary, happen without its consent; and whenever pain or
» Tacit. Am lib. j.
sorrow so far overcomes my patience as to make me tired of life, I may conclude that lam recalled from my station in the clearest and most expressed terms. 'Tis providence surely that has placed me at this present in this chamber: But may I not leave it when I think proper, without being liable to the imputation of having deserted my post or station? When I shall be dead, the principles of which I am composed will still perform their part in the universe, and will be equally useful in the grand fabric, as when they composed this individual creature. The difference to the whole will be no greater than betwixt my being in a chamber and in the open air. The one change is of more importance to me than the other; but not more so to the universe.
— 'Tis a kind of blasphemy to imagine that any created being can disturb the order of the world, or invade the business of Providence! it supposes, that that being possesses powers and faculties , which it received not from its Creator, and which are not subordinate to his government and authority. A man may disturb society no doubt, and thereby incur the displeasure of the Almighty: But the government of the world is placed far beyond his reach and violence. And how does it appear that the Almighty is displeased with those actions that disturb society? By the principles which he has implanted in human nature, and which inspire us with a sentiment of remorse if we ourselves have been guilty of such actions, and "with that of blame and disapprobation j if we ever observe them in others:—>Let as now examine, according to the method proposed, whether Suicide be of this kind of actions, and be a breaches our duty to our neighbour and to society. A ,man who retires from life does no harm to society: He only ceases to do good; which, if it is an injury, is of the lowest kind. — All our obligations to do good to society seem to imply something reciprocal. I receive the benefits of society, and therefore ought to promote its interests; but when I withdraw myself altogether from society, can I be bound any longer? But allowing that our obligations to do good were perpetual, they have certainly some bounds; I am not obliged to do a small good to society at the expense of a great harm to myself; why then should I prolong a miserable existence, because of some frivolous advantage which the public may perhaps receive from me? If upon account of age and infirmities, I may lawfully resign any office, and employ my time altogether in fencing against these calamities, and alleviating, as much as possible, the miseries of my future life: Why may I not cut short these miseries at once by an action which is no more prejudicial to society? —But suppose that it is no longer in my power to promote the interest of society; suppose that I am a burden to it; suppose that my life hinders some person from being much more useful to society* In such cafes, my resignation of life must not only be innocent, but laudable. And most people who lie under any temptation to abandon existence, are in some such situation: those who have health,or power, or authority, have commonly better reason to be in humor with the world. ( 4 )
A man is engaged in a conspiracy for the public interest, is seized upon suspicion; is threatened with the rack; and knows from his own weakness that the secret will be extorted from him: Could such a one consult the public interest better than by putting a quick period to a miserable life? This was the cafe of the famous and brave
Strozi of Florence. Again , suppose a malefactor
is justly condemned to a shameful death, can any reason be imagined, why he may not anticipate his punishment, and save himself all the anguilh of thinking on its dreadful approaches? He invades the business of providence, no more than the magistrate did, who ordered his execution; and his voluntary death is equally advantageous to society, by ridding it of a pernicious member.
That Suicide may often be consistent with interest and with our duty to ourselves, no one can question, who allows that age, sickness, or misfortune, may render life a burden, and make it worse even than annihilation. I believe that no man ever threw away life, while it was worth keeping.' For such is our natural horror of death, that small motives will never be able to reconcile us to it; and though perhaps the situation of a man's health or fortune did not seem to require this remedy, we may at least be assured that anyone who , without apparent reason, has had recourse. to it, was curst with such an incurable depravity or gloominess of temper as must poison all enjoyment, and render him equally miserable as if he had been loaded with the most grievous misfortunes.—If Suicide be supposed a crime, 'ti» only cowardice can impel us to it. If it be no crime, both prudence and courage should engage us to rid ourselves at once of existence, when it becomes a burden. Tis the only way that we can then be useful to society, by setting an example, which if imitated, would preserve to every one his chance for happiness in life, and would effectually free him from all danger of misery *.
* It would be easy ,to prove that Suicide is as lawful under the Christian dispensation as it was to the Heathens. There is not 2single text ot scripture which prohibits it. That great and infallible rule of faith and practice which must control all philosophy and human reasoning, has left us in this particular to our natural liberty. Resignation to Providence is indeed recommended in scripture; but that implies only submission to ill* that are unavoidable, not to such as may be remedied by prudence or courage. Thou shalt not kill, is evidently meant to exclude only the killing of others, over whose life we have no authority. That this precept, like most of the scripture precepts, must be modified by reason and common sense is plain from the practice of magistrates, who punish criminals capitally, notwithstanding the letter of the law. But were this commandment ever so express against Suicide, it would now have no authority, for all the law of Moses is abolished, except so far as it is established by the law of nature. And we have already endeavoured to prove that Suicide is not prohibited by that law. In all cafes, Christians and Heathens are precisely upon the same footing; Cato and Brutus, Arrea and Portia acted heroically; those who now imitate their example ought to receive the 1:.mo praises from posterity. The power of committing suicide is regarded by Pliny as an advantage which men possess even above the Deity himself. "Deus non sibi potest mortem consciscere, si velit, quodhominidedit optimum in tantis vitæpoenis." Lib. II. cap. 7. (5)