Again he said to her, Stand in the door of the tent, and it shall be, when any man does come and inquire of you, and say…
Here is one of the shortest words in our language; yet there is none which persons of an easy and yielding disposition find it so difficult to pronounce. To say it, however, is one of the first lessons which we have occasion to learn, and one of the most frequent we are called upon to practise. You can hardly mention a cause which has done more to lead men into embarrassment, distress, and crime, than disregard of this caution. A young man just entering into life is solicited by his gay companions to take part in their dissipations. He feels that it would be wrong; that it can lead to nothing but evil. And yet he cannot muster resolution enough to say, "No." He consents, goes on from step to step, and in the end is ruined. An affectionate mother is besought by her children to grant them some improper indulgence. She feels that it would be an improper indulgence; that it can only do them harm. And yet she cannot find it in her heart to say, "No."
I. In the first place, then, LET US LEARN TO RESPECT OUR OWN JUDGMENT IN WHAT WE DO. If, on a view of all the circumstances, we think we ought to say, "No," let us have the courage and firmness and independence to say it. A man who dares not act according to his own convictions of what is right, for fear that after all he may be mistaken — I will not say that he has no regard for conscience, but this I will say: he has no confidence in conscience, which in practice amounts to nearly the same thing. Besides, with respect to the construction which other people may put on our motives, if we only take care that our motives are what they should be, and that our whole conduct is in keeping, we need not entertain any apprehensions but that in the long run ample justice will be done them by all whose approbation is worth having. I have shown that it is but the part of a manly independence to have the courage and firmness to say, "No," when we are convinced that this is the proper word.
II. I proceed to show THAT IT IS NO LESS A DICTATE OF PRUDENCE, AND PRACTICAL WISDOM. You can hardly step your foot on the threshold of life without encountering seduction in every possible shape; and unless you are prepared to resist it firmly, you are a doomed man. What makes it still more dangerous is, that the first solicitations of vice often come under such disguised forms, and relate to things seemingly so trivial, as to give hardly any warning of the fatal consequences, to which by slow and insensible gradations they are almost sure to lead. As you value, then, your health and reputation, your peace of mind and personal independence, learn to say, "No." Inquire into the sources of human misery, study the first beginnings of crime, and, meet with it where you may, by tracing it back to its first cause you will find it to have been, in almost every instance, merely because they could not say, "No," to the tempter. Put the question to one who has wasted his substance in riotous living. The burden of their confession will be, that they owe every calamity which has befallen them to their not having had firmness enough, at some turning-point of their destiny, to say, "No." As you would avoid their fate, let me then conjure you to avoid its cause.
III. The same conduct which I have shown to be necessary to a manly independence and to a prudent regard to our own interest I shall next prove TO BE IN NO SENSE INCONSISTENT WITH A BENEVOLENT AND TRULY GENEROUS DISPOSITION. One of the most common mistakes on this subject is to confound an easy disposition with a benevolent disposition: two things which in fact are as wide asunder as the east from the west. A man of an easy disposition is so commonly merely because he will not make the effort a more firm and steady conduct requires. And why will he not make this effort? Because he will not take the trouble of making it. But is this benevolence? Is it so much as an abuse of benevolence? Is it not sheer selfishness?
IV. Having shown that independence, prudence, and benevolence alike require the conduct I have been recommending, it only remains for me TO URGE IT UPON YOU AS A MATTER OF MORAL AND RELIGIOUS DUTY. It is a great error, though a common one, not to suppose that the principle of duty extends to almost all our actions; requiring them or forbidding them, as being either right or wrong. We talk of actions as being honourable or dishonourable, as being prudent or imprudent, as being benevolent or otherwise, but what is honourable or prudent or benevolent is also right. Everything, therefore, which has already been said to prove the conduct in question a dictate of benevolence, prudence, and manly independence, goes also to the same extent to prove it to be our duty, our imperative duty. Besides, take the words as they stand. If, considering all the circumstances, we ought to say, "No," then it is our duty to say it, let the consequences be what they may. Some men can never say, "No," unless they are in a passion, and are therefore driven to the mortifying necessity of working themselves up into a passion before they can find the courage to do it. Again, there are others, who will trust themselves to say, "No," only as a matter of policy; and with whom, therefore, the question is not, "What ought I to say?" but, "What will it be for my interest to say?" There is also a third class that will say, "No" — and say it often enough too, if that were all — from mere churlishness and ill-humour; but I need not observe that this is very far from being the conduct I am here recommending. Putting aside all such considerations, let us learn to resist improper solicitations from a sense of duty. It should be enough to know that it is our duty. Let us act on this principle, and we shall never refuse except when duty requires it; but at such times our refusal will be much more decided and effectual, while it will be made under circumstances of much greater dignity on our part, and of much less irritation on the part of those whom it may disappoint. Moreover, while we act from a sense of duty, we should connect with this feeling a conviction that it is one of religious obligation. God has required us to pursue a course of undeviating rectitude. Whoever, therefore, would seduce us from this sets himself against God, and we must deny one or the other. Whether in such a case we should deny God rather than man let conscience judge.
Parallel VersesKJV: Again he said unto her, Stand in the door of the tent, and it shall be, when any man doth come and inquire of thee, and say, Is there any man here? that thou shalt say, No.