Six Sermons on Intemperance
Lyman Beecher
Boston: T. R. Marvin, 1828

The Nature and Occasions of Intemperance

PROVERBS, xxiii. 29-35.
Who hath wo? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes?
They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine.
Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder. Thine eye shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things. Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast. They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick; the have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again.

  THIS is a glowing description of the sin of intemperance. None but the pencil of inspiration, could have thrown upon the canvass so many and such vivid traits of this complicated evil, in so short a compass. It exhibits its woes and sorrows, contentions and babblings, and wounds and redness of eyes; its smiling deceptions in the beginning, and serpent-bite in the end; the helplessness of its victims, like one cast out upon the deep; the danger of destruction, like that of one who sleeps upon the top of a mast;


the unavailing lamentations of the captive, and the giving up of hope and effort. "They have stricken me, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again;" again be stricken and beaten; again float upon the deep, and sleep upon the mast.

  No sin has fewer apologies than intemperance. The suffrage of the world is against it; and yet there is no sin so naked in its character, and whose commencement and progress is indicated by so many signs, concerning which there is among mankind such profound ignorance. All reprobate drunkenness; and yet, not one of the thousands who fall into it, dreams of danger when he enters the way that leads to it.

  The soldier, approaching the deadly breach, and seeing rank after rank of those who preceded him swept away, hesitates sometimes, and recoils from death. But men behold the effects upon others, of going in given courses, they see them begin, advance, and end, in confirmed intemperance, and unappalled rush heedlessly upon the same ruin.

  A part of this heedlessness arises from the undefined nature of the crime in its early stages, and the ignorance of men, concerning what may be termed the experimental indications of its approach. Theft and falsehood are definite actions. But intemperance is a state of internal sensation, and the indications may exist long, and multiply, and the subject of them not be


aware that they are the signs of intemperance. It is not unfrequent, that men become irreclaimable in their habits, without suspicion of danger. Nothing, therefore, seems to be more important, than a description of this broad way, thronged by so many travelers, that the temperate, when they come in sight of it, may know their danger and pass by it and turn away.

  What I shall deliver on this subject, has been projected for several years, has been delayed by indisposition, and the pressure of other labors, and is advanced now without personal or local reference

  Intemperance is the sin of our land, and, with our boundless prosperity, is coming in upon us like a flood; and if anything shall defeat the hopes of the world, which hang upon our experiment of civil liberty, it is that river of fire, which is rolling through the land, destroying the vital air, and extending around an atmosphere of death.

  It is proposed in this and the subsequent discourses, to consider the nature, the occasions, the signs, the evils, and the remedy of intemperance. In this discourse we shall consider


  The more common apprehension is, that nothing is intemperance, which does not supercede the regular operations of the mental faculties and the bodily organs. However much a man may consume of ardent spirits, if he can com-


mand his mind, his utterance, and his bodily members, he is not reputed intemperate. And yet, drinking within these limits, he may be intemperate in respect to inordinate desire, the quantity consumed, the expense incurred, the present effect on his health and temper, and moral sensibilities, and what is more, in respect to the ultimate and inevitable results of bodily and mental imbecility, or sottish drunkenness.

  God has made the human body to be sustained by food and sleep, and the mind to be invigorated by effort and the regular healthfulness of the moral system, and the cheering influence of his moral government. And whoever, to sustain the body, or invigorate the mind, or cheer the heart, applies habitually the stimulus of ardent spirits, does violence to the laws of his nature, puts the whole system into disorder, and is intemperate long before the intellect falters, or a muscle is unstrung.

  The effect of ardent spirits on the brain, and the members of the body, is among the last effects of intemperance, and the least destructive part of the sin. It is the moral ruin which it works in the soul, that gives it the denomination of giant-wickedness. If all who are intemperate, drank to insensibility, and on awaking, could arise from the debauch with intellect and heart uninjured, it would strip the crime of its most appalling evils. But among the woes which the scriptures denounce against crime, one is, "wo unto them that are mighty to drink


wine, and men of strength to consume strong drink." These are captains in the bands of intemperance, and will drink two generations of youths into the grave, before they go to lie down by their side. The Lord deliver us from strong-headed men, who can move the tongue when all are mute around them, and keep the eye open when all around them sleep, and can walk from the scene of riot, while their companions must be aided or wait until the morning.

  It is a matter of undoubted certainty, that habitual tippling is worse than periodical drunkenness. The poor Indian, who, once a month, drinks himself dead all but simple breathing, will out-live for years the man who drinks little and often, and is not, perhaps, suspected of intemperance. The use of ardent spirits daily, as ministering to cheerfulness, or bodily vigor, ought to be regarded as intemperance. No person, probably, ever did, or ever will, receive ardent spirits into his system once a day, and fortify his constitution against its deleterious effects, or exercise such discretion and self government, as that the quantity will not be increased, and bodily infirmities and mental imbecility be the result, and, in more than half the instances, inebriation. Nature may hold out long against this sapping and mining of the constitution, which daily tippling is carrying on; but, first or last, this foe of life will bring to the assault enemies of its own formation, before


whose power the feeble and the mighty will be alike unable to stand.

  All such occasional exhilaration of the spirits by intoxicating liquors, as produces levity and foolish jesting, and the loud laugh, is intemperance, whether we regard those precepts which require us to be sober-minded, or the effect which such exhilaration and lightness has upon the cause of Christ, when witnessed in professors of religion. The cheerfulness of health, and excitement of industry, and social intercourse, is all which nature demands, or health or purity permits.

  A resort to ardent spirits as a means of invigorating the intellect, or of pleasurable sensation, is also intemperance. It is a distraint upon nature, to extort, in a short time, those results of mind and feeling, which in her own unimpelled course would flow with less impetuosity, but in a more equable and healthful current. The mind has its limits of intellectual application, and the heart its limits of feeling, and the nervous system of healthful exhilaration; and whatever you gain through stimulus, by way of anticipation, is only so much intellectual and vital power cut off at the latter end of life. It is this occult intemperance, of daily drinking, which generates a host of bodily infirmities and diseases: loss of appetite—nausea at the stomach—disordered bile—obstructions of the liver—jaundice- -hoarseness of voice—


coughs—consumptions—rheumatic pains—epilepsy—gout—colic—palsy—apoplexy—insanity- -are the body-guards which attend intemperance, in the form of tippling, and where the odious name of drunkenness may perhaps be never applied.

  A multitude of persons, who are not accounted drunkards, create disease, and shorten their days, by what they denominate a "prudent use of ardent spirits." Let it therefore be engraven upon the heart of every man, THAT THE DAILY USE OF ARDENT SPIRITS, IN ANY FORM, OR IN ANY DEGREE, IS INTEMPERANCE. Its effects are certain, and deeply injurious, though its results may be slow, and never be ascribed to the real cause. It is a war upon the human constitution, carried on ostensibly by an auxiliary, but which never fails to subtract more vital power than it imparts. Like the letting out of waters by little and little, the breach widens, till life itself is poured out. If all diseases which terminate in death, could speak out at the grave, or tell their origin upon the coffin-lid, we should witness the most appalling an unexpected disclosures. Happy the man, who so avoids the appearance of evil, as not to shorten his days by what he may call the prudent use of ardent spirits.

  But we approach now a state of experience, in which it is supposed generally that there is some criminal intemperance. I mean when the empire of reason is invaded, and weakness and folly bear rule; prompting to garrulity, or sul-


len silence; inspiring petulance, or anger, or insipid good humor, and silly conversation; pouring out oaths, and curses, or opening the storehouse of secrets, their own and others. And yet, by some, all these have been though insufficient evidence to support the charge of drinking, and to justify a process of discipline before the church. The tongue must falter, and the feet must trip, before, in the estimation of some, professors of religion can be convicted of the crime of intemperance.

  To a just and comprehensive knowledge, however, of the crime of intemperance, not only a definition is required, but a philosophical analysis of its mechanical effects upon the animal system.

  To those who look only on the outward appearance, the triumphs of intemperance over conscience, and talents, and learning, and character, and interest, and family endearments, have appeared wonderful. But the wonder will cease, when we consider the raging desire which it enkindles, and the hand of torment which it lays, on every fibre of the body and faculty of the soul.

  The stomach is the great organ of accelerated circulation to the blood, of elasticity to the animal spirits, of pleasurable or painful vibration to the nerves, of vigor to the mind, and of fullness to the cheerful affections of the soul. Here is the silver cord of life, and the golden bowl at the fountain, and the wheel at the cistern; and


as these fulfill their duty, the muscular and mental and moral powers act in unison, and fill the system with vigor and delight. But as these central energies are enfeebled, the strength of mind and body declines, and lassitude, and depression, and melancholy, and sighing, succeed to the high beatings of health, and the light of life becomes as darkness.

  Experience has decided, that any stimulus applied statedly to the stomach, which raises its muscular tone above the point at which it can be sustained by food and sleep, produces, when it has passed away, debility—a relaxation of the over-worked organ, proportioned to its preternatural excitement. The life-giving power of the stomach falls of course as much below the tone of cheerfulness and health, as it was injudiciously raised above it. If the experiment be repeated often, it produces an artificial tone of stomach, essential to cheerfulness and muscular vigor, entirely above the power of the regular sustenance of nature to sustain, and creates a vacuum, which nothing can fill, but the destructive power which made it—and when protracted use has made the difference great, between the natural and this artificial tone, and habit has made it a second nature, the man is a drunkard, and, in ninety-nine instances in a hundred, is irretrievably undone. Whether his tongue falter, or his feet fail him or not, he will die of intemperance. By whatever name his disease may be called, it will be one of the legion which


lie in wait about the path of intemperance, and which abused Heaven employs to execute wrath upon the guilty.

  But of all the ways to hell, which the feet of deluded mortals tread, that of the intemperate is the most dreary and terrific. The demand for artificial stimulus to supply the deficiencies of healthful aliment, is like the rage of thirst, and the ravenous demand of famine. It is famine: for the artificial excitement has become as essential now to strength and cheerfulness, as simple nutrition once was. But nature, taught by habit to require what once she did not need, demands gratification now with a decision inexorable as death, and to most men as irresistible. The denial is a living death. The stomach, the head, the heart, and arteries, and veins, and every muscle, and every nerve, feel the exhaustion, and the restless, unutterable wretchedness which puts out the light of life, and curtains the heavens, and carpets the earth with sackcloth. All these varieties of sinking nature, call upon the wretched man with trumpet tongue, to dispel the darkness, and raise the ebbing tide of life, by the application of the cause which produced these woes, and after a momentary alleviation will produce them again with deeper terrors, and more urgent importunity; for the repetition, at each time renders the darkness deeper, and the torments of self-denial more irresistible and intolerable.

  At length, the excitability of nature flags, and


stimulants of higher power, and in greater quantities, are required to rouse the impaired energies of life, until at length the whole process of dilatory murder, and worse than purgatorial suffering, having been passed over, the silver cord is loosed, the golden bowl is broken, the wheel at the cistern stops, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit to God who gave it.

  These sufferings, however, of animal nature, are not to be compared with the moral agonies which convulse the soul. It is an immortal being who sins, and suffers; and as his earthly house dissolves, he is approaching the judgment seat, in anticipation of a miserable eternity. He feels his captivity, and in anguish of spirit clanks his chains and cries for help. Conscience thunders, remorse goads, and as the gulf opens before him, he recoils, and trembles, and weeps, and prays, and resolves, and promises, and reforms, and "seeks it yet again,"—again resolves, and weeps, and prays, and "seeks it yet again!" Wretched man, he has placed himself in the hands of a giant, who never pities, and never relaxes his iron gripe. He may struggle, but he is in chains. He may cry for release, but it comes not; and lost! lost! may be inscribed upon the door posts of his dwelling.

  In the mean time these paroxysms of his dying moral nature decline, and a fearful apathy, the harbinger of spiritual death, comes on. His resolution fails, and his mental energy, and his


vigorous enterprise; and nervous irritation and depression ensue. The social affections lose their fullness and tenderness, and conscience loses its power, and the heart its sensibility, until all that was once lovely and of good report, retires and leaves the wretch abandoned to the appetites of a ruined animal. In this deplorable condition, reputation expires, business falters and becomes perplexed, and temptations to drink multiply as inclination to do so increases, and the power of resistance declines. And now the vortex roars, and the struggling victim buffets the fiery wave with feebler stroke, and warning supplication, until despair flashes upon his soul, and with an outcry that pierces the heavens, he ceases to strive, and disappears.

  A sin so terrific should be detected in its origin and strangled in the cradle; but ordinarily, instead of this, the habit is fixed, and the hope of reformation is gone, before the subject has the least suspicion of danger. It is of vast importance therefore, that the various occasions of intemperance should be clearly described, that those whose condition is not irretrievable, may perceive their danger, and escape, and that all who are free, may be warned off from these places of temptation and ruin. For the benefit of the young, especially, I propose to lay down a map of the way to destruction, and to rear a monument of warning upon every spot where a wayfaring man has been ensnared and destroyed.


  The first occasion of intemperance which I shall mention, is found in the free and frequent use of ardent spirits in the family, as an incentive to appetite, and alleviation of lassitude, or an excitement to cheerfulness. In these reiterated indulgences, children are allowed to partake, and the tender organs of their stomachs are early perverted, and predisposed to habits of intemperance. No family, it is believed, accustomed to the daily use of ardent spirits, ever failed to plant the seeds of that dreadful disease, which sooner or later produced a harvest of wo. The material of so much temptation and mischief, ought not to be allowed a place in the family, except only as a medicine, and even then it would be safer in the hands of the apothecary, to be sent for like other medicine, when prescribed.

  Ardent spirits, given as a matter of hospitality, is not unfrequently the occasion of intemperance. In this case the temptation is a stated inmate of the family. The utensils are present, and the occasions for their use are not unfrequent. And when there is no guest, the sight of the liquor, the state of the health, or even lassitude of spirits, may indicate the propriety of the "prudent use," until the prudent use becomes, by repetition, habitual use— and habitual use becomes irreclaimable intemperance. In this manner, doubtless, has many a father, and mother, and son, and daughter, been ruined forever.

  Of the guests, also, who partake in this family hospitality, the number is not small, who become ensnared; especially among those whose profession calls them to visit families often, and many on the same day. Instead of being regarded, therefore, as an act of hospitality, and a token of friendship, to invite our friends to drink, it ought to be regarded as an act of incivility, to place ourselves and them in circumstances of such high temptation.

  Days of public convocation are extensively the occasions of excess which eventuate in intemperance. The means and temptations are ostentatiously multiplied, and multitudes go forth prepared and resolved to yield to temptation, while example and exhilarated feeling secure the ample fulfilment of their purpose.—But when the habit is once acquired of drinking even "prudently," as it will be called, on all the days of public convocation which occur in a year, a desire will be soon formed of drinking at other times, until the healthful appetite of nature is superceded by the artificial thirst produced by ardent spirits.

  Evening resorts for conversation, enlivened by the cheering bowl, have proved fatal to thousands. Though nothing should be boisterous, and all should seem only the "feast of reason, and the flow of the soul," yet at the latter end it biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder: many a wretched man has shaken his chains and cried out in the anguish of his spirit, oh!


that accursed resort of social drinking; the remy hands were bound and my feet put in fetters; there I went a freeman and became a slave, a temperate man and became a drunkard.

  In the same class of high temptation are to be ranked all convivial associations for the purpose of drinking, with or without gambling, and late hours. There is nothing which young men of spirit fear less, than the exhilaration of drinking on such occasions; nor any thing which they are less able to resist, than the charge of cowardice when challenged to drink. But there is no one form of temptation before which more young men of promise have fallen into irretrievable ruin. The connexion of between such beginnings and a fatal end is so manifest, and the presumptuous daring of Heaven is so great, that God in his righteous displeasure is accustomed to withdraw his protection and abandon the sinner to his own way.

  Feeble health and mental depression are to be numbered among the occasions of intemperance. The vital sinking, and muscular debility, and mental darkness, are for a short time alleviated by the application of stimulants. But the cause of this momentary alleviation is applied and repeated, until the habit of excessive drinking is formed and has become irresistible.

  Medical prescriptions have no doubt contributed to increase the number of the intemperate. Ardent spirits, administered in the form of bitters, or as the medium of other medicine,


have let in the destroyer; and while the patient was seeking health at the hand of the physician, HE was dealing out debility and death.

  The distillation of ardent spirits fails not to raise up around the establishment of a generation of drunkards. The cheapness of the article, and the ease with which families can provide themselves with large quantities, the product of their own labor, eventuate in frequent drinking, and wide spread intemperance.

  The vending of ardent spirits, in places licensed or unlicensed, is a tremendous evil. Here, those who have no stated employment loiter away the day for a few potations of rum, and here, those who have finished the toils of the day meet to spend a vacant hour; none content to be lookers on: all drink, and none for any length of time temperately. Here too the children of a neighborhood, drawn in by enticements, associate for social drinking, and the exhibition of courage and premature manhood. And here the iron hand of the monster is fastened upon them, at a period when they ought not to have been beyond the reach of maternal observation.

  The continued habit of dealing out ardent spirits, in various forms and mixtures, leads also to frequent tasting, and tasting to drinking, and drinking to tippling, and tippling to drunkenness.

  A resort to ardent spirits as an alleviation of trouble, results often in habits of confirmed in-


temperance. The loss of friends, perplexities of business, or the wreck of property, bring upon the spirits the distractions of care and the pressure of sorrow; and, instead of casting their cares upon the Lord, they resort to the exhilarating draught, but, before the occasion for it has ceased, the remedy itself has become a calamity more intolerable than the disease. Before, the woes were temporary; now, they have multiplied and have become eternal.

  Ardent spirits employed to invigorate the intellect, or restore exhausted nature under severe study, is often a fatal experiment. Mighty men have been cast down in this manner never to rise. The quickened circulation does for a time invigorate intellect and restore exhausted nature. But, for the adventitious energy imparted, it exhausts the native energy of the soul, and induces that faintness of heart, and flagging of the spirits, which cry incessantly, "give, give," and never, but with expiring breath, say it is enough.

  The use of ardent spirits, employed as an auxiliary to labor, is among the most fatal, because the most common and least suspected, causes of intemperance. It is justified as innocent, it is insisted on as necessary: but no fact is more completely established by experience than that it is utterly useless, and ultimately injurious, beside all the fearful evils of habitual intemperance, to which it so often leads. THERE IS NO NUTRITION IN ARDENT SPIRIT .ALL THAT


IT DOES IS, TO CONCENTRATE THE STRENGTH OF THE SYSTEM FOR THE TIME, BEYOND ITS CAPACITY FOR REGULAR EXERTION. It is borrowing strength for an occasion, which will be needed for futurity, without any provision for payment, and with the certainty of ultimate bankruptcy.

  The early settlers of New-England endured more hardship, and performed more labor, and carried through life more health and vigor, than appertains to the existing generation of laboring men. And they did it without the use of ardent spirits.

  Let two men, of equal age and firmness of constitution, labor together through the summer, the one with and the other without the excitement of ardent spirits, and the latter will come out at the end with unimpaired vigor, while the other will be comparatively exhausted. Ships navigated as some now are without the habitual use of ardent spirits—and manufacturing establishments carried on without—and extended agricultural operations—all move on with better industry, more peace, more health, and a better income to the employers and the employed. The workmen are cheerful and vigorous, friendly and industrious, and their families are thrifty, well fed, well clothed and instructed; and instead of distress and poverty, and disappointment and contention—they are cheered with the full flow of social affection, and often by the sustaining power of religion. But where ardent spirit is received as a daily auxiliary to la-


bor, it is commonly taken at stated times—the habit soon creates a vacancy in the stomach, which indicates at length the hour of the day with as much accuracy as a clock. It will be taken besides, frequently, at other times, which will accelerate the destruction of nature's healthful tone, create artificial debility, and the necessity of artificial excitement to remove it; and when so much has been consumed as the economy of the employer can allow, the growing demand will be supplied by the evening and morning dram, from the wages of labor—until the appetite has become insatiable, and the habit of intemperance nearly universal—until the nervous excitability has obliterated the social sensibilities, and turned the family into a scene of babbling and wo—until voracious appetite has eaten up the children's bread, and abandoned them to ignorance and crime—until conscience has become callous, and fidelity and industry have disappeared, except as the result of eye service; and wanton wastefulness and contention, and reckless wretchedness characterize the establishment.