Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

Robert Hall

English Baptist Minister, Bishop

"In matters of prudence last thoughts are best; in matters of morality, first thoughts."

"In one country, and that the centre of Christendom, revelation underwent a total eclipse, while atheism, performing on a darkened theatre its strange and fearful tragedy, confounded the first elements of society, blended every age, rank, and sex in indiscriminate proscription and massacre, and convulsed all Europe to its centre; that the imperishable memorial of these events might teach the last generations of mankind to consider religion as the pillar of society, the safeguard of nations, the parent of social order, which alone has power to curb the fury of the passions, and secure to every one his rights: to the laborious the reward of their industry, to the rich the enjoyment of their wealth, to nobles the preservation of their honors, and to princes the stability of their thrones."

"In order to render men benevolent they must first be made tender: for benevolent affections are not the offspring of reasoning: they result from that culture of the heart, from those early impressions of tenderness, gratitude, and sympathy, which the endearments of domestic life are sure to supply, and for the formation of which it is the best possible school."

"In reasoning we recede as far as possible from sensible impressions; and the more general and comprehensive our conclusions and the larger our abstractions, provided they are sustained by sufficient evidence, the more knowledge is extended and the intellect improved. Sensibility is excited, the affections are awakened, on the contrary, on those occasions in which we tread back our steps, and, descending from generalities, direct the attention to individual objects and particular events. We all acknowledge, for example, our constant exposure to death; but it is seldom we experience the practical impression of that weighty truth, except when we witness the stroke of mortality actually inflicted. We universally acknowledge the uncertainty of human prospects, and the instability of earthly distinctions; but it is when we behold them signally destroyed and confounded that we feel our presumption checked and our hearts appalled."

"In the original elementary parts of a language there are, in truth, few or no synonymes; for what should prompt men, in the earlier period of literature, to invent a word that neither conveyed any new idea nor enabled them to present an old one with more force and precision? In the progress of refinement, indeed, regard to copiousness and harmony has enriched language with many exotics, which are merely those words in a foreign language that perfectly correspond to terms in our own; as felicity for happiness, celestial for heavenly, and a multitude of others."

"In the power of fixing the attention, the most precious of the intellectual habits, mankind differ greatly; but every man possesses some, and it will increase the more it is exerted. He who exercises no discipline over himself in this respect acquires such a volatility of mind, such a vagrancy of imagination, as dooms him to be the sport of every mental vanity: it is impossible such a man should attain to true wisdom. If we cultivate, on the contrary, a habit of attention, it will become natural; thought will strike its roots deep, and we shall, by degrees, experience no difficulty in following the track of the longest connected discourse."

"In the pursuit of wealth men are led by an attention to their own interest to promote the welfare of each other; their advantages are reciprocal; the benefits which each is anxious to acquire for himself he reaps in the greatest abundance from the union and conjunction of society. The pursuits of vanity are quite contrary. The portion of time and attention mankind are willing to spare from their avocations and pleasures to devote to the admiration of each other is so small that every successful adventurer is felt to have impaired the common stock. The success of one is the disappointment of multitudes. For though there he many rich, many virtuous, many wise men, fame must necessarily be the portion of but few. Hence every vain man in whom is the ruling passion, regarding his rival as his enemy, is strongly tempted to rejoice in his miscarriage, and repine at his success."

"In the revolutions of the human mind exploded opinions are often revived; but an exploded superstition never recovers its credit. The pretension to divine revelation is so august and commanding, that when its falsehood is once discerned, it is covered with all the ignominy of detected imposture; il falls from such a height (to change the figure) that it is inevitably crumbled into atoms."

"In the struggles of ambition, in violent competitions for power or for glory, how slender the partition between the widest extremes of fortune, and how few the steps and apparently slight the circumstances which sever the throne from the prison, the palace from the tomb! So Tibni died, says the sacred historian, with inimitable simplicity, and Omri reigned."

"It is an inherent and inseparable inconvenience in persecution that it knows not where to stop. It only aims at first to crush the obnoxious sect; it then punishes the supposed crime of obstinacy, till at length the original magnitude of the error is little thought of in the solicitude to maintain the rights of authority."

"It is certain two nations cannot engage in hostilities but one party must be guilty of injustice; and if the magnitude of crimes is to be estimated by a regard to their consequences, it is difficult to conceive an action of equal guilt with the wanton violation of peace. Though something must generally be allowed for the complexness and intricacy of national claims, and the consequent liability to deception, yet where the guilt of an unjust war is clear and manifest, it sinks every other crime into insignificance. If the existence of war always implies injustice in one at least of the parties concerned, it is also the fruitful parent of crimes. It reverses, with respect to its objects, all the rules of morality. It is nothing less than a temporary repeal of the principles of virtue. It is a system out of which almost all the virtues are excluded, and in which nearly all the vices are incorporated. Whatever renders human nature amiable or respectable, whatever engages love or confidence, is sacrificed at its shrine."

"It is difficult to account for a practice which gratifies no passion and promotes no interest."

"It is easy to see how this moral discipline must fare under the doctrine of expediency,?a doctrine which teaches man to be looking continually abroad,?a doctrine which not only justifies but enjoins a distrust of the suggestions of the inward monitor; which will not permit the best feelings of the heart, its clearest dictates, its finest emotions, to have the smallest influence over the conduct; and, instead of yielding anything to their direction, cites them at its bar."

"It is impossible to enact ignorance by law, or to repeal by legislative authority the dictates of reason and the light of science."

"It is incumbent on Mr. Burke and his followers to ascertain the time when natural rights are relinquished. Mr. Hey is content with tracing their existence to society, while Mr. Burke, the more moderate of the two, admitting their foundation in nature, only contends that regular government absorbs and swallows them up, bestowing artificial advantages in exchange. But at what period, it may be inquired, shall we date this wonderful revolution in the social condition of man? If we say it was as early as the first dawn of society, natural liberty had never any existence at all, since there are no traces even in tradition of a period when men were utterly unconnected with each other."

"It is not merely as a source of pleasure, or as a relief from pain, that virtuous friendship is to be coveted; it is at least as much to be recommended by its utility."

"It is not the province of reason to awaken new passions, or open new sources of sensibility; but to direct us in the attainment of those objects which nature has already rendered pleasing, or to determine among the interfering inclinations and passions which sway the mind, which are the fittest to be preferred."

"It is somewhat singular that many of the fashionable infidels have hit upon a definition of virtue which perfectly coincides with that of certain metaphysical divines in America, first invented and defended by that most acute reasoner, Jonathan Edwards. They both place virtue exclusively in a passion for the general good; or, as Mr. Edwards expresses it, love to being in general; so that our love is always to be proportioned to the magnitude of its object in the scale of being, which is liable to the objections I have already stated, as well as to many others which the limits of this note will not permit me to enumerate. Let it suffice to remark, (1.) That virtue, on these principles, is an utter impossibility: for the system of being, comprehending the great Supreme, is infinite; and, therefore, to maintain the proper proportion, the force of particular attachment must be infinitely less than the passion for the general good: but the limits of the human mind are not capable of any emotion so infinitely different in degree. (2.) Since our views of the extent of the universe are capable of perpetual enlargement, admitting the sum of existence is ever the same, we must return back at each step to diminish the strength of particular affections, or they will become disproportionate; and consequently, on these principles, vicious; so that the balance must be continually fluctuating, by the weights being taken out of one scale and put into the other. (3.) If virtue consist exclusively in love to being in general, or attachment to the general good, the particular affections are, to every purpose of virtue, useless, and even pernicious; for their immediate, nay, their necessary tendency is to attract to their objects a proportion of attention which far exceeds their comparative value in the general scale. To allege that the general good is promoted by them will be of no advantage to the defense of this system, but the contrary, by confessing that a greater sum of happiness is attained by a deviation from, than an adherence to, its principles; unless its advocates mean by the love of being in general the same thing as the private affections, which is to confound all the distinctions of language, as well as all the operations of mind. Let it be remembered, we have no dispute respecting what is the ultimate end of virtue, which is allowed on all sides to be the greatest sum of happiness in the universe. The question is merely, What is virtue itself? or, in other words, What are the means appointed for the attainment of that end?"

"It is surely just that everyone should have a right to examine those measures by which the happiness of all may be affected. The control of the public mind over the conduct of ministers, exerted through the medium of the press, has been regarded by the best writers both in our country and on the continent as the main support of our liberties. While this remains we cannot be enslaved; when it is impaired or diminished we shall soon cease to be free."

"It is the moral relation which man is supposed to bear to a superior power, the awful idea of accountability, the influence which his present dispositions and actions are conceived to have upon his eternal destiny, more than any superiority of intellectual powers abstracted from these considerations, which invest him with such mysterious grandeur, and constitute the firmest guard on the sanctuary of human life."

"It may not be improper to remind such as indulge this practice that they need not insult their Maker to show that they do not fear Him: that they may relinquish this vice without danger of being supposed to be devout, and that they may safely leave it to other parts of their conduct to efface the smallest suspicion of their piety."

"Laws will not be obeyed, harmony in society cannot be maintained, without virtue; virtue cannot subsist without religion."

"Let me remind you that repentance is a duty of greater extent than many are apt to suppose, who, confining their view on such occasions as these to a few of the grosser disorders of their lives, pay little attention to the heart: they are satisfied with feeling a momentary compunction and attempting a partial reformation, instead of crying with the royal penitent, ?Create in me a clean heart!? They determine to break off particular vices,?an excellent resolution as far as it goes,?without proposing to themselves a life of habitual devotion, without imploring, under a sense of weakness, that grace which can alone renew the heart, making, in the words of our Lord, the tree good, that the fruit may be good also."

"Let these sacred fences be removed; exempt the ambitious from disappointment and the guilty from remorse; let luxury go unattended with disease, and indiscretion lead into no embarrassments or distresses; our vices would range without control, and the impetuosity of our passions have no bounds; every family would be filled with strife, every nation with carnage, and a deluge of calamities would break in upon us which would produce more misery in a year than is inflicted by the hand of Providence in a lapse of ages."

"Let us beseech you then to make them [religion and eternity] familiar with your minds, and mingle them with the ordinary stream of your thoughts: retiring often from the world, and conversing with God and your own souls. In these solemn moments, nature, and the shifting scenes of it, will retire from your view, and you will feel yourselves left alone with God; you will walk as in his sight; you will stand, as it were, at his tribunal. Illusions will then vanish apace, and everything will appear in its true proportion and proper color. You will estimate human life, and the work of it, not by fleeting and momentary sensations, but by the light of reflection and steady faith. You will see little in the past to please, or in the future to flatter: its feverish dreams will subside and its enchantment be dissolved."

"Man is naturally a prospective creature, endowed not only with a capacity of comparing the present with the past, but also of anticipating the future, and dwelling with anxious rumination on scenes which are yet remote. He is capable of carrying his views, of attaching his anxieties, to a period much more distant than that which measures the limits of his present existence; capable, we distinctly perceive, of plunging into the depths of future duration, of identifying himself with the sentiments and opinions of a distant age, and of enjoying, by anticipation, the fame of which he is aware he shall never be conscious, and the praises he shall never hear. So strongly is he disposed to link his feelings with futurity, that shadows become realities when contemplated as subsisting there; and the phantom of posthumous celebrity, the faint image of his being impressed on future generations, is often preferred to the whole of his present existence, with all its warm and vivid realities."

"Mankind are apt to be strongly prejudiced in favour of whatever is countenanced by antiquity, enforced by authority, and recommended by custom. The pleasure of acquiescing in the decision of others is by most men so much preferred to the toil and hazard of inquiry, and so few are either able or disposed to examine for themselves, that the voice of law will generally be taken for the dictates of justice."

"Many whose gayety has been eclipsed, and whose thoughtless career of irreligion and dissipation has experienced a momentary check, will doubtless soon return with eager impetuosity to the same course, as the horse rusheth into the battle. The same amusements will enchant, the same society corrupt, and the same temptations ensnare them; with this very important difference, that the effort necessary to surmount the present impression will superinduce a fresh degree of obduration, by which they will become more completely accoutred in the panoply of darkness. The next visitation, though it may be in some respects more affecting, because more near, will probably impress them less; and as death has penetrated the palace in vain, though it should even come up into their chamber and take away the delight of their eyes at a stroke, they will be less religiously moved."

"Method, we are aware, is an essential ingredient in every discourse designed for the instruction of mankind; but it ought never to force itself on the attention as an object?never appear to be an end instead of an instrument; or beget a suspicion of the sentiments being introduced for the sake of the method, not the method for the sentiments."

"Milton is the most sublime, and Homer the most picturesque."

"Ministers of the gospel in this quarter of the globe resemble the commanders of an army stationed in a conquered country, whose inhabitants, overawed and subdued, yield a partial obedience: they have sufficient employment in attempting to conciliate the affections of the natives, and in carrying into execution the orders and regulations of their Prince; since there is much latent disaffection, though no open rebellion, a strong partiality to their former rulers, with few attempts to erect the standard of revolt."

"No enormity can subsist long without meeting with advocates."

"Of all the species of literary composition, perhaps biography is the most delightful. The attention concentrated on one individual gives a unity to the materials of which it is composed, which is wanting in general history."

"Of an accountable creature, duty is the concern of every moment, since he is every moment pleasing or displeasing God. It is a universal element, mingling with every action and qualifying every disposition and pursuit. The moral of conduct, as it serves both to ascertain and to form the character, has consequences in a future world so certain and infallible that it is represented in Scripture as a seed no part of which is lost, for whatsoever a man soweth, that also shall he reap."

"Of Blackstone?s Commentaries it would be presumptuous in us to attempt an eulogium, after Sir William Jones has pronounced it to be the most beautiful outline that was ever given of any science. Nothing can exceed the luminous arrangement, the vast comprehension, and, we may venture to add from the best authorities, the legal accuracy of this wonderful performance, which in style and composition is distinguished by an unaffected grace, a majestic simplicity, which can only be eclipsed by the splendor of its higher qualities."

"Of the great prizes of human life it is not often the lot of the most enterprising to obtain many: they are placed on opposite sides of the path, so that it is impossible to approach one of them without proportionally receding from another; whence it results that the wisest plans are founded on a compromise between good and evil, where much that is the object of desire is finally relinquished and abandoned in order to secure superior advantages."

"On the one hand it deserves attention, that the most eminent and successful preachers of the gospel in the different communities, a Brainerd, a Baxter, and a Schwartz, have been the most conspicuous for a simple dependence upon spiritual aid; and on the other, that no success whatever has attended the ministrations of those by whom this doctrine has been either neglected or denied. They have met with such a rebuke of their presumption in the total failure of their efforts that none will contend for the reality of divine interposition as far as they are concerned: for when has ?the arm of the Lord been revealed? to those pretended teachers of Christianity who believe there is no such arm? We must leave them to labor in a field respecting which God has commanded the clouds not to rain upon it."

"Patriotism is a blind and irrational impulse unless it is founded on a knowledge of the blessings we are called to secure and the privileges we propose to defend."

"Perhaps few authors have been distinguished by more similar features of character than Homer and Milton. That vastness of thought which fills the imagination, and that sensibility of spirit which renders every circumstance interesting, are the qualities of both: but Milton is the most sublime, and Homer the most picturesque."

"Political power, the most seducing object of ambition, never before circulated through so many hands; the prospect of possessing it was never before presented to so many minds. Multitudes who, by their birth and education, and not unfrequently by their talents, seemed destined to perpetual obscurity, were by the alternate rise and fall of parties elevated into distinction, and shared in the functions of government. The short-lived forms of power and office glided with such rapidity through successive ranks of degradation, from the court to the very dregs of the populace, that they seemed rather to solicit acceptance than to be a prize contended for. Yet, as it was still impossible for all to possess authority, though none were willing to obey, a general impatience to break the ranks and rush into the foremost ground maddened and infuriated the nation, and overwhelmed law, order, and civilization, with the violence of a torrent."

"Prayer serves as an edge and border to preserve the web of life from unraveling."

"Recollect for your encouragement the reward that awaits the faithful minister. Such is the mysterious condescension of divine grace, that though it reserves to itself the exclusive honor of being the fountain of all, yet, by the employment of human agency in the completion of its designs, it contrives to multiply its gifts, and to lay a foundation for eternal rewards. When the church, in the perfection of beauty, shall be presented to Christ as a bride adorned for her husband, the faithful pastor will appear as the friend of the bridegroom, who greatly rejoices because of the bridegroom?s voice. His joy will be the joy of his Lord,?inferior in degree, but of the same nature, and arising from the same sources: while he will have the peculiar happiness of reflecting that he has contributed to it; contributed, as an humble instrument, to that glory and felicity of which he will be conscious he is utterly unworthy to partake. To have been himself the object of mercy, to have been the means of imparting it to others, and of dispensing the unsearchable riches of Christ, will produce a pleasure which can never be adequately felt or understood until we see him as he is."

"Religion is the final centre of repose; the goal to which all things tend; apart from which man is a shadow, his very existence a riddle, and the stupendous scenes of nature which surround him as unmeaning as the leaves which the sibyl scattered in the wind."

"Religion, and that alone, teaches absolute humility; by which I mean a sense of our absolute nothingness in the view of infinite greatness and excellence. That sense of inferiority which results from the comparison of men with each other is often an unwelcome sentiment forced upon the mind, which may rather embitter the temper than soften it: that which devotion impresses is soothing and delightful. The devout man loves to lie low at the footstool of his Creator, because it is then he attains the most lively perceptions of the divine excellence, and the most tranquil confidence in the divine favour. In so august a presence he sees all distinctions lost, and all beings reduced to the same level. He looks at his superiors without envy, and his inferiors without contempt: and when from this elevation he descends to mix in society, the conviction of superiority which must in many instances be felt is a calm inference of the understanding, and no longer a busy, importunate passion of the heart."

"Religion, on account of its intimate relation to a future state, is every man?s proper business, and should be his chief care. Of knowledge in general there are branches which it would be preposterous to the bulk of mankind to attempt to acquire, because they have no immediate connection with their duties, and demand talents which nature has denied, or opportunities which Providence has withheld. But with respect to the primary truths of religion the case is different: they are of such daily use and necessity that they form, not the materials of mental luxury, so properly as the food of the mind. In improving the character, the influence of general knowledge is often feeble and always indirect; of religious knowledge the tendency to purify the heart is immediate, and forms its professed scope and design. This is life eternal, to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent."

"Religion, the final centre of repose; the goal to which all things tend, which gives to time all its importance, to eternity all its glory; apart from which man is a shadow, his very existence a riddle, and the stupendous scenes which surround him as incoherent and unmeaning as the leaves which the sibyl scattered in the wind."

"Religious toleration has never been complete even in England; but, having prevailed more here than perhaps in any other country, there is no place where the doctrines of religion have been set in so clear a light or its truth so ably defended. The writings of Deists have contributed much to this end."

"Rising health care spending occurs because it is beneficial, not a burden on the economy."

"Settle it therefore in your minds, as a maxim never to be effaced or forgotten, that atheism is an inhuman, bloody, ferocious system, equally hostile to every useful restraint and to every virtuous affection; that leaving nothing above us to excite awe, nor round us to awaken tenderness, it wages war with heaven and with earth: its first object is to dethrone God, its next to destroy man."

"Society is the atmosphere of souls; and we necessarily imbibe from it something which is either infectious or salubrious. The society of virtuous persons is enjoyed beyond their company, while vice carries a sting into solitude. The society or company you keep is both the indication of your character and the former of it. In vicious society you will feel your reverence for the dictates of conscience wear off, and that name at which angels bow and devils tremble, you will hear contemned and abused. The Bible will supply materials for unmeaning jest or impious buffooner; the consequence of this will be a practical deviation from virtue, the principles will become sapped, the fences of conscience broken down; and when debauchery has corrupted the character a total inversion will take place, and the sinner will glory in his shame."