Item of the Day: Cobden’s Sermon on Chastity (1749)

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Sylvanus Urban, Gent., Editor. The Gentleman’s Magazine for March 1749. Printed by Edward Cave. Volume 19, 1750.

EXTRACT from a famed Sermon, preached before the King at St James‘s, on Dec. 11 1748, by Edw. Cobden, D.D. Archdeacon of London, and Chaplain in ordinary to his Majesty.

The Dr entitles his Sermon, A PERSUASIVE TO CHASTITY, and advertises the reader, that, it having given occasion to some unjust censures, he thought proper to publish it, hoping that nothing in the sentiment or expression, will be found unworthy of the sacred function of a preacher of the gospel, or of the serious attention of a christian assembly.

GEN. xxxix. 9. How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against GOD?

THESE words express the utmost abhorrence of the sin to which Joseph was tempted by his perfidious mistress; and what I intend from them, and from the example of his faithful conduct, is, a dissuasive from the sins of immodesty; which are risen, perhaps, to a greater height, and spread to a wider extent than was ever known in former ages.

It would not become me to mention some of those monstrous and unnatural obscenities with which our land hath been stained: they would be offensive, indeed, to the ears of a modest heathen. I shall therefore only insist on two, which are plainly and frequently condemned in scripture; nor any where more expressly than in these words: Whoremongers and adulterers GOD will judge. Heb. xiii. 4.

The heinous guilt and destructive consequences of adultery, appear so shocking at first sight, even to reason, unassisted by revelation, that, however frequent the commission of it may be, yet few, I am persuaded, are so hardened and irrational as to become advocates for it. But single persons are too apt to imagine that all obligations of chastity are confined to the marriage vow. —-Thus Abimelech thought it no crime to take Sarah for his concubine, when he imagined she was espoused to no other person: but no sooner was he informed of her being Abraham‘s wife, than he rejected his first design with abhorrence and disdain. But whatever notions the heathen world might have of these matters, we, who have received the more pure and perfect law of the gospel, are sufficiently and clearly instructed to avoid impurity of every kind.

If we consider fornication with the unprejudiced eye of reason, before the passions have corrupted the judgment, I am persuaded there are few sins which people condemn more in their own breasts; which they commit at first with more reluctance and recoilings of conscience; and which, upon cool reflection, fills them with more horror and keener censures of their own conduct. And, would a man give himself leave to reflect upon the irreparable injury done to the unhappy female partner in the iniquity, it would open such a scene of misery to his view, as would be sufficient to check the most inflamed appetite of the most abandoned libertine.—Alas! that virgin innocence, which was once her comfort and her glory, which was her brightest ornament, and most valuable dowry, is lost, irrecoverably lost; and *shame, guilt and sorrow are to be her continual attendants. The person who has been the occasion of her ruin, will hardly (tho’ obliged to it in duty) deal with her upon terms of honour. And who else will venture to take her for a companion for life, and believe she can be faithful to him, after having been thus flase to herself? ‘Tis well is she does not endeavour to screen herself from censure, by the commission of a more dreaful sin in the murder of a spurious infant; and discard the bowels of a mother, to avoid the scandal of being known to be one. The best and wisest course indeed she can take, is, to endeavour to wash away the stain she has contracted, with the tears of unfeigned repentance, and to take off her reproach in the eyes of the world, by giving the regularity of her future conduct, as an evidence fo the sincerity of her contrition. Would to God this method were, after so unhappy a step, more frequently taken! but alas! it is too often far otherwise. It is to be feared the first breach of chastity will be followed with a train of others, and that she will proceed on in iniquity, till she becomes totally abandoned: a situation almost as miserable in this present life, as that which these unhappy criminals must expect in the next. There is no reflecting on so wretched an object, without the deepest compassion for her miser, as well as the utmost detestation of her guilt. For however light these afflictions may be made of in the seat of the scorner, and however the lascivious debauchee may flatter himself that there was no injury done, because there was no violence used, as she was consenting, perhaps, to her own ruin: Alas! that very consent is the sting of her afflictions: and if his brutal appetites had not effaced every sentiment of humanity in his breast, he could not think of these things without a bleeding heart. Exceeding barbarous therefore and wicked must they be, who, for the sake of gratifying a low and vile inclination, shall tempt and persuade a thoughtless young creature, in an unguarded hour, to an act which is attended with such a train of miseries, and which so evidently leads to her absolute destruction. It is to be considered likewise, that young persons are the property of their parents; and let any man who has the least remains of reason and humanity, tho’ he should be void of all principles of religion, lay his hand upon his heart, and make the case of such a parent his own. Let him consider what indignation, what anguish he himself should feel under the weight of so afflicting, so irreparable an injury. Few parents, I am persuaded, but would rather, much rather, follow their children to the grave, than see them thus forfeit their own peace an happiness, and bring such an indelible stain of infamy upon their family.

But if the sensual libertine is regardless of the afflictions of others, yet, as honour is his boast, and pleasure his pursuit, he cannot, surely, be unaffected with what concerns the dignity of his nature, and the happiness of his life. Let him consider, then, that unrestrained and criminal indugencies of this kind peculiarly enervate the body, and debase the mind, and bring him upon a level brute beasts, that have no understanding: Reason, which was intended by the gracious creator to direct and govern in the human frame, is, by these practices, enslaved to the tyranny of the most contemptible of the passions. When men are given over to vile affections, their understandings become darkened; and it is seldom that they ever again recover the proper government of themselves. The insatiable appetite still rages through all the infirmities of a distemper’d body, and is not extinguished even by old age: If indeed (which is very uncommon) they should happen to arrive at that period.

The Preacher proceeds to display the sacred obligations of matrimony, and the cruel injustice of endeavouring to break them; and shows the turpitude of uncleanness and adultery, with such elegance, that we must copy the whole, or injure his arguments.

* Of this wretched state, a most lively and striking picture is exhibited in Roderick Random, which we have here copied as a warning to one sex, and a remonstrance against t’other.

Miss Williams, who had been betray’d into a course of vice, by the fraud and cruelty of a man of pleasure, is introduced relating the story of her own misfortunes:

“I have often seen (said she) while I strolled about the streets at midnight, a number of naked wretches reduced to rags and filth, huddled together like swine, in the corner of a dark alley; some of whom, but eighteen months before, I had known the favourites of the town, rolling in affluence, and glittering in all the pomp of equipage and dress.”

—And indeed the gradation is easily conceived; the most fashionable woman of the town is as liable to contagion, as one in a much humbler sphere; she infects her admirers, her situation is publick, she is avoided, neglected, unable to support her usual appearance, which however she strives to maintain as long as possible; her credit fails, she is obliged to retrench and become a night-walker, her malady gains ground, her complexion fades, she grows nauseous to every body, finds herself reduced to a starving condition, is tempted to pick pockets, is detected, committed to Newgate, where she remains in a miserable condition, ’till she is discharged because the plaintiff will not appear to prosecute her. No body will afford her lodging, the symptoms of her distempter are grown outrageous, she sues to be admitted into an hospital, where she is cured at the expence of her nose; she is turned out naked into the streets, depends on the addresses of the canaille, is fain to allay the rage of hunger and cold with gin, degenerates into a state of brutal insensibility, rots and dies upon a dunghill.—

“Miserable wretch that I am! perhaps the same horrors are decreed for me!—”

Some strokes of this kind appear also in Tom Jones, and in Mrs Philips‘s Apology.—Indeed as this subject is capable of very high colouring, almost every writer has exercised upon it his skill in painting. However, the loose images in these pieces perhaps incite to vice more strongly than the contrast figures alarm us into virtue.


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Filed under 1740's, Oratory, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt, Religion

One response to “Item of the Day: Cobden’s Sermon on Chastity (1749)

  1. Pingback: Veiled Glory » Blog Archive » Modesty and the 21st Century

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