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attends it. Laughter is, generally speaking, a sign of ignorance: it is the lowest faculty of a rational being, and the great instrument which weak people employ upon all occasions. They laugh at godliness, because they see no reason for it; they laugh at seriousness, because their own thoughts are vain and shallow; they laugh at misery, because they are without the tender feelings of humanity; they laugh at sin, because they do not consider the dreadful effects of it; they laugh at what is great and sacred, because they are attached to little and profane objects. Much laughter is, therefore, the symptom of a bad heart, or a mean understanding; and hath always been so reputed. The righteous man, who knows God, and the world, and himself, and considers things as they are, finds no pleasure in mockery; especially, when sin is the object of it. The ruin of an immortal soul; the displeasure of Almighty God; the terrors of everlasting judgment; all of which are inseparable from the consideration of sin, are so serious, that they check the mirth of a righteous man, and dispose him to sentiments of soberness and compassion. Instead of mocking at the sin, he is afflicted for the sinner; he makes every charitable allowance for him, and is ready to do
every thing in his power to deliver him from the effects of his own folly.
On this occasion, we have the fool appearing to us under his worst character, and the righteous under his best. The fool is never so much a fool, as when he becomes censorious, and mocks at sin: the righteous is never so respectable in his righteousness, as when he is favourable and compassionate to sinners. You will readily guess at the reason, why I have chosen to set these things before you at this time. My desire is to lead you to the proper use which ought to be made of the example we have before us this day in the church; and to stop the mouths of those (if there be any such) who may forget their Christian profession so far, as to mock at the offence, when they ought to be grieved for the offender. I hope very few of those who are here present will be tempted to trespass in this way. They who are sensible of their own sins, and intend to repent of them, will be too wise to mock, either at the sin, or the repentance, of others: and they who, perhaps, at present do not resolve to amend, may yet have sense enough to condemn themselves;
* March 17, 1777, when this sermon was preached, two young women, by their own choice, did public penance in the church, at Pluckley in Kent.
themselves; and that self-condemnation will be sufficient to make them serious. The time may come when it shall be improved, by the grace of God, into true conversion.
On these considerations, I persuade myself, you will attend to me, while I proceed to shew you,
First, what sort of person we are to understand by the fool, who is here said to mock at sin.
Secondly, on what principles favour is shewn to sinners by the righteous.
After which I shall make some remarks, and add such advice as shall arise from the subject.
First then, the fool here meant does not signify a person so weak in reason, as to be void of common sense and understanding: but one, who being without a sense of religion, has no consistent rule of action, no proper considerations to him; and is therefore given up to the follies of pride, vanity, selfishness, and all those other evil passions, by which the men of this world are commonly agitated: and a dreadful character it is: the harmless driveller, who can scarcely distinguish between fire and water, is a prince, when compared with a person whose delight is in mischief, and whose wickedness has made a fool of him. The one knows little about
about men ; the other knows nothing about God; and the latter sort of ignorance is by far the most deplorable.
Amongst all his ill qualities, his disposition to mockery is what we are at present chiefly concerned with. Being evil himself he is disposed to make the worst of all mankind, that he may reduce them to his own level. Let a man be never so bad, yet he will invent some way or other to keep up, in his own mind, a tolerable opinion of himself; and as he cannot make himself good, he must make others evil. Thus, though he is still no better than before, yet he seems not quite so bad, if others are no better than he. When he finds any sin in others, he triumphs in the discovery; as if his favourite maxim were exemplified, that all men are as wicked as himself: and where he cannot find sin, he supposes it. Virtue (with him) is not what it seems to be; and all apparent goodness has so much art and hypocrisy underneath it, that he pronounces all men alike at the bottom. But this of supposing evil does not quite satisfy him; he is never happy till he finds some appearance of it; and when he has found it, he makes the most of it, exposing every fault to the utmost of his ability. As to wit, such a person generally employs what he hath
in rendering other people odious and contemptible. His business is to condemn, even though his ill-natured reflections return with double force against himself: for it is no uncommon thing with bad men, to censure unmercifully that very offence, which is much more notorious in themselves: if they can hurt others, they care not how they disgrace themselves at the same time.
This of mocking at sin is the property of the worst of men; who think they have no other way of covering themselves, and escaping the censures they justly merit: and thus far mockery is a work of convenience. But in some tempers, where envy and hatred prevail, it is also a work of inclination. There are some natures which take pleasure in railing and defamation; as there are animals in the creation which feed themselves upon the sores of others; if there were no carcases they would be starved to death; and if there were no ill reports to be propagated, some people would have little or nothing to say: for what is all that scandal with which vain talkers amuse one another but mockery at sin? This is the life of their conversation and if we could suppose the world at once to become prudent and virtuous, such persons would be struck dumb.