« Prev Sermon XI. Of the Odious Sin of Ingratitude. Next »




OCTOBER 17, 1675.

Judges viii. 34, 35.

And the children of Israel remembered not the Lord their God, who had delivered them out of the hands of all their enemies on every side: neither shewed they kindness to the house of Jerubbaal, namely, Gideon, according to all the goodness which he had shewed unto Israel.

THESE words, being a result or judgment given upon matter of fact, naturally direct us to the fore going story, to inform us of their occasion. The subject of which story was that heroic and victorious judge of Israel, Gideon; who, by the greatness of his achievments, had merited the offer of a crown and kingdom, and, by the greatness of his mind, refused it. The whole narrative is contained and set before us in the 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th chapters of this book. Where we read, that when the children of Israel, according to their usual method of sinning after mercies and deliverances, and there upon returning to a fresh enslavement to their enemies, had now passed seven years in cruel subjection to the Midianites, a potent and insulting enemy; and who oppressed them to that degree, that they had scarce bread to fill their mouths, or houses to 289cover their heads: for in the 2d verse of the 6th chapter we find them housing themselves under ground,, in dens and caves; and in ver. 3, 4. no sooner had they sown their corn, but we have the enemy coming up in armies, and destroying it. In this sad and calamitous condition, I say, in which one would have thought that a deliverance from such an oppressor would have even revived them, and the deliverer eternally obliged them, God raised up the spirit of this great person, and ennobled his courage and conduct with the entire overthrow of this mighty and numerous, or rather innumerable host of the Midianites; and that in such a manner, and with such strange and unparalleled circumstances, that, in the whole action, the mercy and the miracle seemed to strive for the preeminence. And so quick a sense did the Israelites, immediately after it, seem to entertain of the merits of Gideon, and the obligation he had laid upon them, that they all, as one man, tender him the regal and hereditary government of that people, in the 22d verse of this 8th chapter: Then said the men of Israel to Gideon, Rule thou over us, both thou, and thy son and thy son’s son also: for thou hast delivered us from the hand of Midian. To which he answered as magnanimously, and by that answer redoubled the obligation, in the next verse, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the Lord shall rule over you.

Thus far then we see the workings of a just gratitude in the Israelites; and goodness on the one side nobly answered with greatness on the other. And now, after so vast an obligation, owned by so free an acknowledgment, could any thing be expected, 290but a continual interchange of kindnesses, at least on their part, who had been so infinitely obliged, and so gloriously delivered? Yet in the 9th chapter we find these very men turning the sword of Gideon into his own bowels; cutting off the very race and posterity of their deliverer, by the slaughter of three score and ten of his sons, and setting up the son of his concubine, the blot of his family, and the monument of his shame, to reign over them; and all this without the least provocation or offence given them, either by Gideon himself, or by any of his house. After which horrid fact, I suppose we can no longer wonder at this unlooked-for account given of the Israelites in the text: That they remembered not the Lord their God, who had delivered them out of the hands of all their enemies on every side: neither shewed they kindness to the house of Gideon, according to all the goodness which he had shelved unto Israel.

The truth is, they were all along a cross, odd, untoward sort of people, and such as God seems to have chosen, and (as the prophets sometimes phrase it) to have espoused to himself, upon the very same account that Socrates espoused Xantippe, only for her extreme ill conditions, above all that he could possibly find or pick out of that sex; and so the fittest argument both to exercise and declare his admirable patience to the world.

The words of the text are a charge given in against the Israelites; a charge of that foul and odious sin of ingratitude; and that both towards God and towards man: towards God in the 34th verse, and towards man in the 35th. Such being ever the growing contagion of this ill quality, that if 291it begins at God, it naturally descends to men; and if it first exerts itself upon men, it infallibly ascends to God. If we consider it as directed against God, it is a breach of religion; if as to men, it is an offence against morality. The passage from one to the other is very easy; breach of duty towards our neighbour still involving in it a breach of duty towards God too; and no man’s religion ever survives his morals.

My purpose is, from this remarkable subject and occasion, to treat of ingratitude, and that chiefly in this latter sense; and from the case of the Israelites towards Gideon, to traverse the nature, principles, and properties of this detestable vice; and so drawing before your eyes the several lineaments and parts of it, from the ugly aspect of the picture, to leave it to your own hearts to judge of the original. For the effecting of which, I shall do these following things:

I. I shall shew what gratitude is, and upon what the obligation to it is grounded.

II. I shall give some account of the nature and baseness of ingratitude.

III. I shall shew the principle from which ingratitude proceeds.

IV. I shall shew those ill qualities that inseparably attend it, and are never disjoined from it. And,

V. and lastly, I shall draw some useful inferences, by way of application, from the premises.

And first for the first of these: What gratitude is, and upon what the obligation to it is grounded.

“Gratitude is properly a virtue, disposing the mind to an inward sense and an outward acknowledgment 292of a benefit received, together with a readiness to return the same, or the like, as the occasions of the doer of it shall require, and the abilities of the receiver extend to.”

This, to me, seems to contain a full description, or rather definition, of this virtue; from which it appears, that gratitude includes in it these three parts.

1. A particular observation, or taking notice of a kindness received, and consequently of the good will and affection of the person who did that kindness. For still, in this case, the mind of the giver is more to be attended to, than the matter of the gift; it being this that stamps it properly a favour, and gives it the noble and endearing denomination of a kindness.

2. The second part of gratitude is that which brings it from the heart into the mouth, and makes a man express the sense he has of the benefit done him, by thanks, acknowledgments, and gratulations; and where the heart is full of the one, it will certainly overflow, and run over in the other.

3. The third and last is, an endeavour to recompense our benefactor, and to do something that may redound to his advantage, in consideration of what he has done towards ours. I state it upon endeavour, and not upon effect; for this latter may be often impossible. But it is in the power of every one to do as much as he can; to make some essay at least, some offer and attempt this way; so as to shew, that there is a spring of motion within, and that the heart is not idle or insensible, but that it is full and big, and knows itself to be so, though it wants strength to bring forth. Having thus shewn 293at gratitude is, the next thing is to shew the obligation that it brings upon a man, and the ground and reason of that obligation.

As for the obligation, I know no moralists or casuists, that treat scholastically of justice, but treat of gratitude under that general head, as a part or species of it. And the nature and office of justice being to dispose the mind to a constant and perpetual readiness to render to every man his due, suum cuique tribuere, it is evident, that if gratitude be a part of justice, it must be conversant about some thing that is due to another. And whatsoever is so, must be so by the force of some law. Now, all law that a man is capable of being obliged by, is reducible to one of these three:

1. The law of nature. 2. The positive law of God revealed in his word. 3. The law of man, enacted by the civil power, for the preservation and good of society.

1 . And first for the law of nature, which I take to be nothing else but the mind of God signified to a rational agent, by the bare discourse of his reason, and dictating to him, that he ought to act suitably to the principles of his nature; and to those relations that he stands under. For every thing sustains both an absolute and a relative capacity. An absolute, as it is such a thing endued with such a nature; and a relative, as it is a part of the universe, and so stands in such an order and relation both to the whole and to the rest of the parts.

After which, the next consideration immediately subsequent to the being of a thing, is what agrees or disagrees with that thing; what is suitable or unsuitable to it; and from this springs the notion of 294decency or indecency; that which becomes or misbecomes, and is the same with honestum et turpe. Which decency, or τὸ πρέπον, (as the Greeks term it,) imports a certain measure or proportion of one thing to another; which to transgress, is to do contrary to the natural order of things; the preservation of which is properly that rule or law by which every thing ought to act; and consequently, the violation of it implies a turpitude or indecency. Now those actions that are suitable to a rational nature, and to that πρέπον, that decency or honestum, belonging to it, are contained and expressed in certain maxims or propositions, which, upon the repeated exercise of a man’s reason about such objects as come before him, do naturally result, and are collected from thence; and so remaining upon his mind, become both a rule to direct and a law to oblige him in the whole course of his actions. Such as are these maxims: That the supreme being, cause, and governor of all things, ought to be worshipped and depended upon. That parents are to be honoured. That a man should do as he would be done by. From which last alone may sufficiently be deduced all those rules of charity and justice that are to govern the offices of common life; and which alone is enough to found an obligation to gratitude: forasmuch as no man, having done a kindness to another, would acquiesce or think himself justly dealt with, in a total neglect and unconcernedness of the person who had received that kindness from him; and consequently, neither ought he to be unconcerned in the same case himself.

But I shall, from other and nearer principles, and those the unquestionable documents and dictates of 295the law of nature, evince the obligation and debt lying upon every man to shew gratitude where he has received a benefit. Such as are these propositions:

(1.) That according to the rule of natural justice, one man may merit and deserve of another. (2.) That whosoever deserves of another, makes some thing due to him from the person of whom he deserves. (3.) That one man’s deserving of another is founded upon his conferring on him some good, to which that other had no right or claim. (4.) That no man has any antecedent right or claim to that which comes to him by free-gift. (5.) And lastly, that all desert imports an equality between the good conferred, and the good deserved, or made due. From whence it follows, that he who confers a good upon another, deserves, and consequently has a claim to an equal good from the person upon whom it was conferred. So that from hence, by the law of nature, springs a debt; the acknowledging and repaying of which debt (as a man shall be able) is the proper office and work of gratitude.

As certain therefore as by the law of nature there may be, and often is, such a thing as merit and desert from one man to another; and as desert gives the person deserving a right or claim to some good from the person of whom he deserves; and as a right in one to claim this good, infers a debt and obligation in the other to pay it; so certain it is, by a direct gradation of consequences from this principle of merit, that the obligation to gratitude flows from, and is enjoined by, the first dictates of nature. And the truth is, the greatest and most sacred ties of duty, that man is capable of, 296are founded upon gratitude. Such as are the duties of a child to his parent, and of a subject to his sovereign. From the former of which, there is required love and honour, in recompence of being; and from the latter, obedience and subjection, in recompence of protection and well-being. And in general, if the conferring of a kindness did not bind the person upon whom it was conferred, to the returns of gratitude; why, in the universal dialect of the world, are kindnesses still called obligations?

And thus much for the first ground, enforcing the obligations of gratitude; namely, the law of nature. In the next place,

2. As for the positive law of God revealed in his word, it is evident, that gratitude must needs be enjoined, and made necessary by all those scriptures that upbraid or forbid ingratitude; as in 2 Tim. iii. 2. the unthankful stand reckoned among the highest and most enormous sinners; which sufficiently evinces the virtue opposite to unthankfulness to bear the same place in the rank of duties, that its contrary does in the catalogue of sins. And the like, by consequence, is inferred from all those places, in which we are commanded to love our enemies, and to do good to those that hate us: and therefore certainly much more are we by the same commanded to do good to those that have prevented us with good, and actually obliged us. So that it is manifest, that by the positive written law of God, no less than by the law of nature, gratitude is a debt.

3. In the third and last place; as for the laws of men, enacted by the civil power, it must be confessed, that gratitude is not enforced by them; I say, 297not enforced; that is, not enjoined by the sanction of penalties, to be inflicted upon the person that shall not be found grateful. I grant indeed, that many actions are punished by law that are acts of ingratitude; but this is merely accidental to them, as they are such acts; for if they were punished properly under that notion, and upon that account, the punishment would equally reach all actions of the same kind; but they are punished and provided against by law, as they are gross and dangerous violations of societies, and that common good, that it is the business of the civil laws of all nations to protect and to take care of: which good not being violated or endangered by every omission of gratitude between man and man, the laws make no peculiar provision to secure the exercise of this virtue, but leave it as they found it, sufficiently enjoined, and made a duty by the law of God and nature.

Though in the Roman law indeed there is this particular provision against the breach of this duty in case of slaves; that if a lord manumits, and makes free his slave, gross ingratitude in the person so made free, forfeits his freedom, and re-asserts him to his former condition of slavery; though perhaps even this also, upon an accurate consideration, will be found not a provision against ingratitude, properly and formally as such, but as it is the ingratitude of slaves, which, if left unpunished in a commonwealth, where it was the custom for men to be served by slaves, as in Rome it was, would quickly have been a public nuisance and disturbance; for such is the peculiar insolence of this sort of men, such the incorrigible vileness of all slavish spirits, that though freedom may rid them of the baseness 298of their condition, yet it never takes off the baseness of their minds.

And now, having shewn both what gratitude is, and the ground and reason of men’s obligation to it, we have a full account of the proper and particular nature of this virtue, as consisting adequately in these two things: first, that it is a debt; and secondly, that it is such a debt as is left to every man’s ingenuity, (in respect of any legal coaction,) whether he will pay or no; for there lies no action of debt against him, if he will not. He is in danger of no arrest, bound over to no assize, nor forced to hold up his unworthy hand (the instrument of his ingratitude) at any bar.

And this it is, that shews the rare and distinguishing excellency of gratitude, and sets it as a crown upon the head of all other virtues, that it should plant such an overruling generosity in the heart of man, as shall more effectually incline him to what is brave and becoming, than the terror of any penal law whatsoever. So that he shall feel a greater force upon himself from within, and from the control of his own principles, to engage him to do worthily, than all threatenings and punishments, racks and tortures can have upon a low and servile mind, that never acts virtuously, but as it is acted; that knows no principle of doing well, but fear; no conscience, but constraint. On the contrary, the grateful person fears no court or judge, no sentence or executioner, but what he carries about him in his own breast: and being still the most severe exactor of himself, not only confesses, but proclaims his debts; his ingenuity is his bond, and his conscience a thousand witnesses: so that the debt must needs be sure, yet he scorns to be 299led for it; nay, rather, he is always suing, importuning, and even reproaching himself, till he can clear accounts with his benefactor. His heart is, as it were, in continual labour: it even travails with the obligation, and is in pangs till it be delivered: and (as David) in the overflowing sense of God’s goodness to him, cries out in the 116th Psalm, ver. 12. What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards me? so the grateful person, pressed down under the apprehension of any great kindness done him, eases his burdened mind a little by such expostulations with himself as these: “What shall I do for such a friend, for such a patron, who has so frankly, so generously, so unconstrainedly relieved me in such a distress; supported me against such an enemy; supplied, cherished, and upheld me, when relations would not know me, or at least could not help me; and, in a word, has prevented my desires, and outdone my necessities? I can never do enough for him; my own conscience would spit in my face, should I ever slight or forget such favours.” These are the expostulating dialogues and contests that every grateful, every truly noble and magnanimous person has with himself. It was, in part, a brave speech of Luc. Cornelius Sylla, the Roman dictator, who said, that he found no sweetness in being great or powerful, but only that it enabled him to crush his enemies, and to gratify his friends.”

I cannot warrant or defend the first part of this saying; but surely he that employs his greatness in the latter, be he never so great, it must and will make him still greater.

And thus much for the first general thing proposed, 300which was to shew, what gratitude is, and upon what the obligation to it is grounded. I proceed now to the second,

Which is to give some account of the nature and baseness of ingratitude.

There is not any one vice or ill quality incident to the mind of man, against which the world has raised such a loud and universal outcry, as against ingratitude: a vice never mentioned by any heathen writer, but with a particular height of detestation; and of such a malignity, that human nature must be stripped of humanity itself, before it can be guilty of it. It is instead of all other vices; and, in the balance of morality, a counterpoise to them all. In the charge of ingratitude, omnia dixeris: it is one great blot upon all morality: it is all in a word: it says Amen to the black roll of sins: it gives completion and confirmation to them all.

If we would state the nature of it, recourse must be had to what has been already said of its contrary; and so it is properly an insensibility of kindnesses received, without any endeavour either to acknowledge or repay them.

To repay them, indeed, by a return equivalent, is not in every one’s power, and consequently cannot be his duty; but thanks are a tribute payable by the poorest; the most forlorn widow has her two mites; and there is none so indigent, but has an heart to be sensible of, and a tongue to express its sense of a benefit received.

For surely, nature gives no man a mouth to be always eating, and never saying grace; nor an hand only to grasp and to receive: but as it is furnished with teeth for the one, so it should have a 301tongue also for the other; and the hands that are so often reached out to take and to accept, should be sometimes lifted up also to bless. The world is maintained by intercourse; and the whole course of nature is a great exchange, in which one good turn is and ought to be the stated price of another.

If you consider the universe as one body, you shall find society and conversation to supply the office of the blood and spirits; and it is gratitude that makes them circulate: look over the whole creation, and you shall see, that the band or cement that holds together all the parts of this great and glorious fabric is gratitude, or something like it: you may observe it in all the elements; for does not the air feed the flame? and does not the flame at the same time warm and enlighten the air? Is not the sea always sending forth as well as taking in? And does not the earth quit scores with all the elements, in the noble fruits and productions that issue from it? And in all the light and influence that the heavens bestow upon this lower world, though the lower world cannot equal their benefaction, yet, with a kind of grateful return, it reflects those rays, that it cannot recompense: so that there is some return however, though there can be no requital. He who has a soul wholly void of gratitude, should do well to set his soul to learn of his body; for all the parts of that minister to one another. The hands, and all the other limbs, labour to bring in food and provision to the stomach, and the stomach returns what it has received from them in strength and nutriment, diffused into all the parts and members of the body. It would be endless to pursue the like allusions: in short, gratitude is the great spring that sets all the 302wheels of nature a-going; and the whole universe is supported by giving and returning, by commerce and commutation.

And now, thou ungrateful brute, thou blemish to mankind, and reproach to thy creation; what shall we say of thee, or to what shall we compare thee? For thou art an exception from all the visible world; neither the heavens above, nor the earth beneath, afford any thing like thee: and therefore, if thou wouldest find thy parallel, go to hell, which is both the region and the emblem of ingratitude; for, besides thyself, there is nothing but hell that is always receiving and never restoring.

And thus much for the nature and baseness of in gratitude, as it has been represented in the description given of it. Come we now to the

Third thing proposed, which is to shew the principle from which it proceeds. And to give you this in one word, it proceeds from that which we call ill-nature. Which being a word that occurs frequently in discourse, and in the characters given of persons, it will not be amiss to inquire into the proper sense and signification of this expression. In order to which we must observe, that according to the doctrine of the philosopher, man being a creature designed and framed by nature for society and conversation; such a temper or disposition of mind, as inclines him to those actions that promote society and mutual fellowship, is properly called good-nature: which actions, though almost innumerable in their particulars, yet seem reducible in general to these two principles of action.

1. A proneness to do good to others.

2. A ready sense of any good done by others.


And where these two meet together, as they are scarce ever found asunder, it is impossible for that person not to be kind, beneficial, and obliging to all whom he converses with. On the contrary, ill-nature is such a disposition, as inclines a man to those actions that thwart, and sour, and disturb conversation between man and man; and accordingly consists of two qualities directly contrary to the former.

1. A proneness to do ill turns, attended with a complacency, or secret joy of mind, upon the sight of any mischief that befalls another. And,

2. An utter insensibility of any good or kindness done him by others. I mean not that he is insensible of the good itself; but that, although he finds, feels, and enjoys the good that is done him, yet he is wholly insensible, and unconcerned to value, or take notice of the benignity of him that does it.

Now either of these ill qualities, and much more both of them together, denominate a person ill-natured; they being such as make him grievous and uneasy to all whom he deals and associates himself with. For from the former of these proceed envy, an aptness to slander and revile, to cross and hinder a man in his lawful advantages. For these and such like actions feed and gratify that base humour of mind, which gives a man a delight in making, at least in seeing, his neighbour miserable: and from the latter issues that vile thing which we have been hitherto speaking of, to wit, ingratitude: into which all kindnesses and good turns fall, as into a kind of dead sea. It being a quality that confines and, as it were, shuts up a man wholly within himself, leaving him void of that principle, which alone should dispose him to communicate and impart those redundancies 304of good that he is possessed of. No man ever goes sharer with the ungrateful person; be he never so full, he never runs over. But (like Gideon’s fleece) though filled and replenished with the dew of heaven himself, yet he leaves all dry and empty about him.

Now this surely, if any thing, is an effect of ill-nature. And what is ill-nature, but a pitch beyond original corruption? It is corruptio pessimi. A further depravation of that, which was stark naught before. But, so certainly does it shoot forth and shew itself in this vice, that wheresoever you see in gratitude, you may as infallibly conclude, that there is a growing stock of ill-nature in that breast, as you may know that man to have the plague, upon whom you see the tokens.

Having thus shewn you from whence this ill quality proceeds, pass we now to the

Fourth thing proposed, which is to shew, those other ill qualities that inseparably attend ingratitude, and are never disjoined from it.

It is a saying common in use, and true in observation, that the disposition and temper of a man may be gathered as well from his companion or associate as from himself. And it holds in qualities as it does in persons: it being seldom or never known, that any great virtue or vice went alone; for greatness in every thing will still be attended on.

How black and base a vice ingratitude is, we have seen by considering it both in its own nature, and in the principle from which it springs; and we may see the same yet more fully in those vices which it is always in combination with. Two of which I shall mention, as being of near cognation to it, and 305constant coherence with it. The first of which is pride. And the second, hard-heartedness, or want of compassion.

1. And first for pride. This is of such intimate, and even essential connection with ingratitude, that the actings of ingratitude seem directly resolvable into pride, as the principal reason and cause of them. The original ground of man’s obligation to gratitude was, as I have hinted, from this, that each man has but a limited right to the good things of the world; and, that the natural allowed way, by which he is to compass the possession of these things, is, by his own industrious acquisition of them; and consequently, when any good is dealt forth to him any other way than by his own labour, he is accountable to the person who dealt it to him, as for a thing to which he had no right or claim, by any action of his own entitling him to it.

But now, pride shuts a man’s eyes against all this, and so fills him with an opinion of his own transcendent worth, that he imagines himself to have a right to all things, as well those that are the effects and fruits of other men’s labours, as of his own. So that, if any advantage accrues to him, by the liberality and donation of his neighbour, he looks not upon it as matter of free undeserved gift, but rather as a just homage to that worth and merit which he conceives to be in himself, and to which all the world ought to become tributary. Upon which thought, no wonder, if he reckons himself wholly unconcerned to acknowledge or repay any good that he receives. For while the courteous person thinks that he is obliging and doing such an one a kindness, the proud person, on the other side, accounts him to be 306only paying a debt. His pride makes him even worship and idolize himself; and indeed, every proud, ungrateful man has this property of an idol, that though he is plied with never so many and so great offerings, yet he takes no notice of the offerer at all.

Now this is the true account of the most inward movings and reasonings of the very heart and soul of an ungrateful person. So that you may rest upon this as a proposition of an eternal, unfailing truth; that there neither is nor ever was any person remarkably ungrateful, who was not also insufferably proud; nor, convertibly, any one proud, who was not equally ungrateful. For, as snakes breed in dunghills not singly, but in knots, so in such base, noisome hearts, you shall ever see pride and in gratitude indivisibly wreathed and twisted together. Ingratitude overlooks all kindnesses, but it is be cause pride makes it carry its head so high.

See the greatest examples of ingratitude equally notorious for their pride and ambition. And to begin with the top and father of them all, the devil himself. That excellent and glorious nature which God had obliged him with, could not prevent his in gratitude and apostasy, when his pride bid him aspire to an equality with his maker, and say, I will ascend, and be like the Most High. And did not our first parents write exactly after his copy? in gratitude making them to trample upon the command, because pride made them desire to be as gods, and to brave omniscience itself in the knowledge of good and evil. What made that ungrateful wretch, Absalom, kick at all the kindnesses of his indulgent father, but because his ambition would needs be fingering 307the sceptre, and hoisting him into his father’s throne? And in the courts of princes is there any thing more usual, than to see those that have been raised by the favour and interest of some great minister, to trample upon the steps by which they rose, to rival him in his greatness, and at length (if possible) to step into his place?

In a word, ingratitude is too base to return a kindness, and too proud to regard it; much like the tops of mountains, barren indeed, but yet lofty; they produce nothing, they feed nobody, they clothe no body, yet are high and stately, and look down upon all the world about them.

2. The other concomitant of ingratitude is hardheartedness, or want of compassion. This, at first, may seem to have no great cognation with ingratitude; but upon a due inspection into the nature of that ill quality, it will be found directly to follow it, if not also to result from it.

For the nature of ingratitude being founded in such a disposition, as incloses all a man’s concerns within himself, and consequently gives him a perfect unconcernedness in all things not judged by him immediately to relate to his own interest; it is no wonder if the same temper of mind, which makes a man unapprehensive of any good done him by others, makes him equally unapprehensive and insensible of any evil or misery suffered by others. No such thought ever strikes his marble, obdurate heart, but it presently flies off and rebounds from it. And the truth is, it is impossible for a man to be perfect and thoroughpaced in ingratitude, till he has shook off all fetters of pity and compassion. For all relenting and tenderness of heart makes a man but a puny 308in this sin; it spoils the growth, and cramps the last and crowning exploits of this vice.

Ingratitude, indeed, put the poniard into Brutus’s hand; but it was want of compassion which thrust it into Caesar’s heart. When some fond, easy fathers think fit to strip themselves before they lie down to their long sleep, and to settle their whole estates upon their sons, has it not been too frequently seen, that the father has been requited with want and beggary, scorn and contempt? But now, could bare ingratitude, think we, ever have made any one so unnatural and diabolical, had not cruelty and want of pity come in as a second to its assistance, and cleared the villain’s breast of all remainders of humanity? Is it not this which has made so many miserable parents even curse their own bowels, for bringing forth children that seem to have none? Did not this make Agrippina, Nero’s mother, cry out to the assassinate sent by her son to murder her, to direct his sword to her belly, as being the only criminal for having brought forth such a monster of in gratitude into the world? And to give you yet an higher instance of the conjunction of these two vices; since nothing could transcend the ingratitude and cruelty of Nero, but the ingratitude and cruelty of an imperious woman; when Tullia, daughter of Servius Tullius, sixth king of Rome, having married Tarquinius Superbus, and put him first upon killing her father, and then invading his throne, came through the street where the body of her father lay newly murdered and wallowing in his blood, she commanded her trembling coachman to drive her cha riot and horses over the body of her king and father triumphantly, in the face of all Rome looking upon 309her with astonishment and detestation. Such was the tenderness, gratitude, filial affection, and good nature of this weaker vessel.

And then for instances out of sacred story; to go no further than this of Gideon; did not ingratitude first make the Israelites forget the kindness of the father, and then cruelty make them imbrue their hands in the blood of his sons? Could Pharaoh’s butler so quickly have forgot Joseph, had not want of gratitude to him as his friend, met with an equal want of compassion to him as his fellow-prisoner? A poor, innocent, forlorn stranger languishing in durance, upon the false accusations of a lying, insolent, whorish woman!

I might even weary you with examples of the like nature, both sacred and civil, all of them representing ingratitude, as it were, sitting in its throne, with pride at its right hand, and cruelty at its left; worthy supporters of such a stately quality, such a reigning impiety.

And it has been sometimes observed, that persons signally and eminently obliged, yet missing of the utmost of their greedy designs in swallowing both gifts and giver too, instead of thanks for received kindnesses, have betook themselves to barbarous threatenings for defeat of their insatiable expectations.

Upon the whole matter we may firmly conclude, that ingratitude and compassion never cohabit in the same breast. Which remark I do here so much insist upon, to shew the superlative malignity of this vice, and the baseness of the mind in which it dwells; for we may with great confidence and equal truth affirm, that since there was such a thing as mankind in the world, there never was any heart 310truly great and generous, that was not also tender and compassionate. It is this noble quality that makes all men to be of one kind; for every man would be, as it were, a distinct species to himself, were there no sympathy amongst individuals.

And thus I have done with the fourth thing proposed, and shewn the two vices that inseparably at tend ingratitude; and now, if falsehood also should chance to strike in as the third, and make up the triumvirate of its attendants, so that ingratitude, pride, cruelty, and falsehood should all meet together, and join forces in the same person; as not only very often, but for the most part they do; in this case, if the devils themselves should take bodies, and come and live amongst us, they could not be greater plagues and grievances to society, than such persons.

From what has been said, let no man ever think to meet ingratitude single and alone. It is one of those grapes of gall mentioned by Moses, Deut. xxxii. 32. and therefore expect always to find it one of a cluster. I proceed now to the

Fifth and last thing proposed, which is, to draw some useful consequences, by way of application, from the premises. As,

1. Never enter into a league of friendship with an ungrateful person. That is, plant not thy friend ship upon a dunghill. It is too noble a plant for so base a soil.

Friendship consists properly in mutual offices, and a generous strife in alternate acts of kindness. But lie, who does a kindness to an ungrateful person, sets his seal to a flint, and sows his seed upon the sand: upon the former he makes no impression, and from the latter he finds no production.


The only voice of ingratitude is, Give, give; but when the gift is once received, then, like the swine at his trough, it is silent and insatiable. In a word, the ungrateful person is a monster, which is all throat and belly; a kind of thoroughfare, or common-shore, for the good things of the world to pass into; and of whom, in respect of all kindnesses conferred on him, may be verified that observation of the lion’s den; before which appeared the footsteps of many that had gone in thither, but no prints of any that ever came out thence. The ungrateful person is the only thing in nature, for which nobody living is the better. He lives to himself, and subsists by the good-nature of others, of which he himself has not the least grain. He is a mere encroachment upon society, and, consequently, ought to be thrust out of the world as a pest, and a prodigy, and a creature of the devil’s making, and not of God’s.

2. As a man tolerably discreet ought by no means to attempt the making of such an one his friend; so neither is he, in the next place, to presume to think that he shall be able, so much as to alter or meliorate the humour of an ungrateful person, by any acts of kindness, though never so frequent, never so obliging.

Philosophy will teach the learned, and experience may teach all, that it is a thing hardly feasible. For love such an one, and he shall depise you: commend him, and, as occasion serves, he shall revile you: give to him, and he shall but laugh at your easiness: save his life; but when you have done, look to your own.


The greatest favours to such an one are but like the motion of a ship upon the waves; they leave no trace, no sign behind them; they neither soften nor win upon him; they neither melt nor endear him, but leave him as hard, as rugged, and as unconcerned as ever. All kindnesses descend upon such a temper, as showers of rain or rivers of fresh water falling into the main sea: the sea swallows them all, but is not at all changed or sweetened by them. I may truly say of the mind of an ungrateful person, that it is kindness-proof. It is impenetrable, unconquerable; unconquerable by that which conquers all things else, even by love itself. Flints may be melted, (we see it daily,) but an ungrateful heart cannot; no, not by the strongest and the noblest flame. After all your attempts, all your experiments, for any thing that man can do, he that is ungrateful, will be ungrateful still. And the reason is manifest; for you may remember, that I told you, that ingratitude sprang from a principle of ill-nature; which being a thing founded in such a certain constitution of blood and spirit, as being born with a man into the world, and upon that account called nature, shall prevent all remedies that can be applied by education, and leaves such a bias upon the mind, as is beforehand with all instruction.

So that you shall seldom or never meet with an ungrateful person, but if you look backward, and trace him up to his original, you will find that he was born so; and if you could look forward enough, it is a thousand to one, but you will find, that he also dies so; for you shall never light upon an ill-natured man, who was not also an ill-natured child; 313and gave several testimonies of his being so, to discerning persons, long before the use of his reason.

The thread that nature spins, is seldom broken off by any thing but death. I do not by this limit the operation of God’s grace; for that may do wonders: but humanly speaking, and according to the method of the world, and the little correctives supplied by art and discipline, it seldom fails; but an ill principle has its course, and nature makes good its blow. And therefore, where ingratitude begins remarkably to shew itself, he surely judges most wisely, who takes the alarm betimes; and arguing the fountain from the stream, concludes that there is ill-nature at the bottom; and so reducing his judgment into practice, timely withdraws his frustraneous, baffled kindnesses, and sees the folly of endeavouring to stroke a tiger into a lamb, or to court an Ethiopian out of his colour.

3. In the third and last place. Wheresoever you see a man notoriously ungrateful, rest assured, that there is no true sense of religion in that person. You know the apostle’s argument, in 1 John iv. 20. He who loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? So, by an exact parity of reason, we may argue: If a man has no sense of those kindnesses that pass upon him, from one like himself, whom he sees, and knows, and converses with sensibly; how much less shall his heart be affected with the grateful sense of his favours, whom he converses with only by imperfect speculations, by the discourses of reason, or the discoveries of faith; neither of which equal the quick and lively impressions of sense? If the apostle’s 314reasoning was good and concluding, I am sure this must be unavoidable.

But the thing is too evident to need any proof. For shall that man pass for a proficient in Christ’s school, who would have been exploded in the school of Zeno or Epictetus? Or shall he pretend to religious attainments, who is defective and short in moral? which yet are but the rudiments, the beginnings, and first draught of religion, as religion is the perfection, the refinement, and the sublimation of morality; so that it still presupposes it, it builds upon it, and grace never adds the superstructure, where virtue has not laid the foundation. There may be virtue indeed, and yet no grace; but grace is never without virtue: and therefore, though gratitude does not infer grace, it is certain that ingratitude does exclude it.

Think not to put God off by frequenting prayers, and sermons, and sacraments, while thy brother has an action against thee in the court of heaven; an action of debt, of that clamorous and great debt of gratitude. Rather, as our Saviour commands, leave thy gift upon the altar, and first go and clear accounts with thy brother. God scorns a gift from him who has not paid his debts. Every ungrateful person, in the sight of God and man, is a thief, and let him not make the altar his receiver. Where there is no charity, it is certain there can be no religion; and can that man be charitable, who is not so much as just?

In every benefaction between man and man, man is only the dispenser, but God the benefactor; and therefore let all ungrateful ones know, that where 315gratitude is the debt, God himself is the chief creditor: who, though he causes his sun to shine, and his rain to fall upon the evil and unthankful in this world, has another kind of reward for their unthankfulness in the next.

To which God, the great searcher and judge of hearts, and rewarder of men according to their deeds, he rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.

« Prev Sermon XI. Of the Odious Sin of Ingratitude. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection