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Dr. Johnson

Updated on March 14, 2019
James A Watkins profile image

James A. Watkins is an entrepreneur, musician, and a writer with four non-fiction books and hundreds of magazine articles read by millions.

Dictionary of the English Language 1755
Dictionary of the English Language 1755

Dr. Samuel Johnson Sermon 20

Dr. Samuel Johnson was the greatest intellectual, as well as the eminent literary critic, in the history of England. His preternaturally sublime achievement—indeed unsurpassed in the history of world scholarship—was the Dictionary of the English Language, which he published in 1755.

Dr. Johnson created many aphorisms that are widely quoted today, e.g., " 'Tis better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than open one's mouth and remove all doubt."

He also wrote dozens of sermons. He was not a preacher. It was not uncommon in those days for high-profile ministers to have a professional write his sermons. I am going to present portions I have selected of Dr. Johnson's own words from his 'Sermon 20.'

Samuel Johnson—born 1709 died 1784
Samuel Johnson—born 1709 died 1784

Human Justification of Wickedness

A very little acquaintance with human nature will inform us, that there are few men who can patiently bear the imputation of being in the wrong; and that there is no action, how unreasonable or wicked soever it may be, which those, who are guilty of it, will not attempt to vindicate, though perhaps by such defence as aggravates the crime.

It is indeed common for men to conceal their faults, and gratify their passions in secret, and especially, when they are first initiated in vice, to make use rather of artifice and dissimulation, than audaciousness and effrontery. But the arts of hypocrisy are, in time, exhausted, and some unhappy circumstance defeats those measures which they had laid to prevent a discovery.

They are at length suspected, and by that curiosity which suspicion always invites, closely pursued, and openly detected. It is then too late to think of deceiving mankind by false appearances, nor does any thing remain, but to avow boldly what can no longer be denied. Impudence is called in to the assistance of immorality; and the censures, which cannot be escaped, must be openly defied.

Wickedness is in itself timorous, and naturally skulks in coverts and in darkness, but grows furious by despair, and, when it can fly no farther, turns upon the pursuer.

Such is the state of a man abandoned to the indulgence of vicious inclinations. He justifies one crime by another; invents wicked principles to support wicked practices; endeavors rather to corrupt others, than own himself corrupted, and to avoid that shame which a profession of his crimes would bring upon him, calls evil good, and good evil, puts darkness for light, and light for darkness.

He endeavors to trample upon those laws which he is known not to observe, to scoff at those truths, which, if admitted, have an evident tendency to convict his whole behavior of folly and absurdity, and from having long neglected to obey God, rises at length into rebellion against Him.

Every Man is Valuable in Proportion to His Love of Truth

But these, however given up to their desires and passions, however ignorant of their own weaknesses, and presumptuously confident of their natural powers, have not yet arrived at the summit of impiety, 'till they have learned, not only to neglect, but to insult, religion, not only to be vicious, but to scoff at virtue.

We not only do what we approve, but there is danger lest in time we come to approve what we do, though for no other reason but that we do it.

A man is always desirous of being at peace with himself; and when he cannot reconcile his passions to his conscience, he will attempt to reconcile his conscience to his passions; he will find reason for doing what he is resolved to do, and will scoff at religion.

Every man is valuable in proportion to his love of truth. Those in rebellion seldom fail to take the opportunity of throwing out keen invectives against bigotry. Such is the discourse of these men. They have found that an adversary is more easily silenced than confuted. They insult, instead of vanquishing, their antagonists; they make no scruple of violating every rule of decency, and treating with the utmost contempt whatever is accounted venerable or sacred.

BOSCH: The Last Judgment
BOSCH: The Last Judgment
An artistic representation of Heaven
An artistic representation of Heaven

Indifference to Truth

For this conduct they admire themselves; loudly boasting their superiority to the advocates of religion. As humility is a very necessary qualification for an examiner into religion, it may not be improper to depress the arrogance of these haughty champions.

Thus he soon grows indifferent to truth or falsehood, and almost incapable of discerning one from the other. He considers eternity itself a subject for mirth! What delusion is this? Men neglect to search after eternal happiness for fear of being interrupted in their mirth.

It is astonishing that any man can forbear enquiring seriously, whether there is a God; whether God is just; whether this life is the only state of existence; whether God has appointed rewards and punishments in a future state; whether He has given any laws for the regulation of our conduct here; whether He has given them by revelation; and whether the religion taught carries any mark of divine appointment.

We Cannot Create Our Own Truth

Let it be remembered, that the nature of things is not alterable by our conduct. We cannot make truth; it is our business only to find it. It is of no purpose to wish, or to suppose, that to be false, which is in itself true, and therefore to acquiesce in our own wishes and suppositions, when the matter is of eternal consequence.

But experience teaches us, that wickedness may swell beyond imagination, and that there are no limits to the madness of impiety. Yet there are men who, by walking after their own lusts, and indulging their passions, have reached this stupendous height of wickedness. Debauchery requires its confederacies.

Let those who practice this dreadful method of depraving the morals, and ensnaring the soul, consider what they are engaged in! Before they do an injury that can never be repaired, before they take away what cannot be restored; before they corrupt the heart of their companion by perverting his opinions, before they lead him into sin, and by destroying his reverence for religion, take way the motive to repentance, and all means of reformation!

No mischief bears any proportion to the crime of decoying our brother into the broad way of eternal misery, and stopping that Holy Voice that recalls him to salvation.

There are others who deride religion for the sake of following the fashions of a corrupt and licentious age or the applause of the gay.

Epilogue

I shall leave you with the Scripture on which Dr. Johnson based this sermon:

"Know this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, following after their own lusts." 2 Peter 3:3

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    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      11 years ago from Chicago

      Allan McGregor— Yes.

      Pilate did beat them to it with one of the greatest questions ever asked. And he gave the Jews the right answer, too. Heavy.

      Not to be skimmed over.

      I enjoy Chesterton—a very quotable guy. It was a surprise to me that Johnson wrote sermons and when I first heard about it I found a collection of them called "The Supplicating Spirit." I covered two of his other sermons (I truncated them for shorter attention spans) in "This Life is Short" and "Walk that Lonesome Valley" the former of which was widely read—must have been the title.

      I appreciate you for going to read that one and leaving your fine remarks here.

    • Allan McGregor profile image

      Allan McGregor 

      11 years ago from South Lanarkshire

      Glad I checked this hub out James. Excellent.

      Like you, I have long been an admirer of Johnson, but read a lot of material here new to me.

      Like the writings of G.K. Chesterton, the reason Johnson's work stands and is so often and so disconcertingly apposite to today's moral, political and religious spheres is because as you say, he wrote truth, and truth doesn't change with time because truth is eternal.

      I noticed one contributor questioned the very concept of truth, but that's hardly original when Pontius Pilate beat them to it by nearly 2000 years, in John 18:37-38.

      Then Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world - to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice."

      Pilate said to him, "What is truth?" After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, "I find no guilt in him.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      11 years ago from Chicago

      ftgfmom— Thank you and you are most welcome.

    • profile image

      ftgfmom 

      11 years ago

      This was absolutly wonderful. Thank you for sharing.

    • Abrushing1968 profile image

      Aaron Rushing 

      11 years ago from USA- Florida

      LOL! Absolutely

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      11 years ago from Chicago

      Abrushing1968— Thank you for taking the time to come and read it. It is not among my most popular Hubs but it is my favorite. :-)

      One could say that Dr. Johnson had a way with words. :0

    • Abrushing1968 profile image

      Aaron Rushing 

      11 years ago from USA- Florida

      James, as you promised is loved this hub. thanks for bring it to my attention. Incredible.

      In Christ

      ABR

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      12 years ago from Chicago

      kebennett1— Thanks. I love Dr. Johnson's sermons. His use of the language is incredible. This is my favorite Hub I have ever published. Thanks for checking it out.

    • Kebennett1 profile image

      Kebennett1 

      12 years ago from San Bernardino County, California

      Awesome! Once again proving why you need to remain on Hubpages! Don't let flagging get you down! Fight it! Use your intelligence against theirs!

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      12 years ago from Chicago

      the spectator— It does doesn't it!? That's funny. I love Dr. Johnson's sermons. Besides this one about justifying our vices, he has some I may cover later about mortality, charity, and other topics that beautifully use the English language. I like his use of the word "vicious." I had completely disconnected that word in my mind from its root word "vice."

      Thanks for visiting this site. It is not my most popular but it is my favorite.

    • the spectator profile image

      Ken Seagle 

      12 years ago from North Carolina

      James-Thanks for recommending this Hub on Dr. Johnson. It seems that our 'enlightened and sophisticated' age doesn't differ one iota from that of his own time. Humans remain human with faults, vices and virtues. I enjoyed the phrase, "They insult instead of vanquishing their antagonists..." and, "For this conduct they admire themselves...loudly boasting their superiority to the advocates of religion."

      Reminds me of Perez Hilton and Miss California.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      12 years ago from Chicago

      Carrie Bradshaw— Thank you for visiting my Hub and leaving your thoughtful comments. Dr. Johnson certainly had a way with words; and a discerning eye into the human condition.

    • Carrie Bradshaw profile image

      Carrie Bradshaw 

      12 years ago from Manhattan

      Wow, you would think this man a prophet! This is incredible, confirming and reminds us of our purpose, as well as confronts those who practice such things ~ that they think about it!! AMEN!

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      12 years ago from Chicago

      Madame X— I am so glad. That book gave me a lot to think about; the state of humankind; the way the language could be used if one mastered it. Enjoy, and you're welcome.

    • profile image

      Madame X 

      12 years ago

      James - the book just arrived! It's wonderful! Thanks again for posting this.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      12 years ago from Chicago

      No truth?  Then I would not get on an airplane.  Because there may be no truth to the laws of aerodynamics. If I say it will fly and you say it won't one of us perceives the truth of aerodynamics and the other doesn't. But the truth is there whether we understand it or not.

      Everything human kind has learned about physics, astronomy, biology, chemistry, mathematics—has been the learning of objective truth.  Whether you believe in gravity or not it is objectively there.  Why would we then think that only on the question of God there is not truth?  And why have men since time immemorial sought the truth? It seems that in the hearts of men, they know it is there and can be found.  This is what launched the scientific age we are in now—the search for truth.

    • profile image

      Mosychuk 

      12 years ago from Dunedin, FL

      Perhaps, though, the real truth is that there is no truth. That because we believe, and strive for a truth, we somehow create a truth of our own. A flicker of hope remains as atleast one fool endeavors in his quest for truth, but where does truth stand with no one to feed the fire? A little something to think about.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      12 years ago from Chicago

      Milli Mill— I am glad you came by to read one of my Hubs. Thanks! I liked the Hub I read that you created, aso.

    • Milli Mill profile image

      Milli Mill 

      12 years ago from Canada

      This was the first hub I read from you. Great writing!

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      12 years ago from Chicago

      LondonGirl— Dr. Johnson is one of my favorite characters from history and quite the man of letters. I appreciate you reading my Hub and leaving a compliment.

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 

      12 years ago from London

      Dr. Johnson was a most remarkable man - great hub.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      12 years ago from Chicago

      jajeisan— Thank you!  The Truth is what my search is all about.  And it is given short shrift today. 

    • jajeisan5892 profile image

      jajeisan5892 

      12 years ago from Los Angeles

      so the truth be told...

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      12 years ago from Chicago

      lefseriver— That Dr. Johnson could lay it down. His use of the language is awesome. And the way he spins his web makes it hard for his prey to escape—if they open minded. Thanks for commenting tonight. And I am glad the wifey liked it too.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      12 years ago from Chicago

      TheThinkBucket— Not blinded by science. I agree. Thanks for reading and leaving your comment. Love the avatar.

    • lefseriver profile image

      David Walli 

      12 years ago from Northern Minnesota

      Just a note to acknowledge that I am happily married to a Christian woman and read most of this out loud to her and she heartily agreed. Great sermon, very timely.

    • TheThinkBucket profile image

      TheThinkBucket 

      12 years ago from Colorado

      Poetry in motion.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      12 years ago from Chicago

      muley84— Thanks, man. I appreciate you saying so. He was ahead of his time—and he wrote words that are timeless, IMO. :D

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      12 years ago from Chicago

      TheMindlessBrute— Thank you for your insight. Dr. Johnson could certainly cut to the heart of a matter and help us formulate more clearly in our minds why people do what they do. And you are welcome!

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      12 years ago from Chicago

      Dr Nancy Kenyon— I agree with you. Dr. Johnson had an incredible way of articulating what many people may think, but just don't know how to express. Or at least, not like he does! You are welcome.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      12 years ago from Chicago

      Tom Rubenoff— Yes, I know what you mean. I have read that sermon at least six times (the entire text runs nine pages). You are welcome and thank you for commenting on it. Coming from a great writer such as yourself it is meaningful to me that you did.

    • muley84 profile image

      Michael A Muehleisen 

      12 years ago from Miami,FL

      Hi James, incredible post. This man was way before his time.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      12 years ago from Chicago

      Robert— I agree with your keen comments. There have been people in the past who were incredible wordsmiths. Thank you for reading!

    • TheMindlessBrute profile image

      TheMindlessBrute 

      12 years ago from Orlando,Florida

      James,

      A powerful mind with a great pen,able to articulate his thoughts with eloquence.I've never heard of him and I'll have to find out more.My favorite quote is on truth and that we cannot create it only find it,how true!This is an excellent hub thanks for sharing these insights.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      12 years ago from Chicago

      bgpappa— You are welcome.  I'm glad you came by for a look see today. 

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      12 years ago from Chicago

      Larry Lathrop— He will come at a time no man knows. Thanks for reading and your comments.

    • Dr Nancy Kenyon profile image

      Nancy Kenyon 

      12 years ago from Orlando, FL

      I had to close my eyes and think about this because it is complex and deep. I could read this over and over again. Thank you.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom rubenoff 

      12 years ago from United States

      Much to consider here. Thanks, James!

    • profile image

      Robert 

      12 years ago

      James,

      Did we not discuss progress a few Blogs ago? I think this says it all. We are still mired in the ignorance percieved as knowledge by many.

    • bgpappa profile image

      bgpappa 

      12 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Very interesting and infomative hub. Thanks for the read.

    • Larry Lathrop profile image

      Larry Lathrop 

      12 years ago from Maryland

      We see more people "Willingly Ignorant" [stupid on purpose] than ever before...Very well may be like it was during the days of Noah. MARANATHA!

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      12 years ago from Chicago

      whoops I made a typo there

    • profile image

      Madame X 

      12 years ago

      Thanks. I just ordered it.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      12 years ago from Chicago

      ps I loved this book so much when I first read it, I ordered a dozen copies and gave them to my friends who expressed interest.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      12 years ago from Chicago

      Madame X— Your appreciation warms my heart. Thank you. I only wish I could write—or even observe, for that matter—as the great Boswell. I could not recommend more highly the book "The Supplicating Voice" ("Spiritual Writings of Samual Johnson). http://www.amazon.com/Supplicating-Voice-Spiritual...

    • profile image

      Madame X 

      12 years ago

      Absolutely brilliant, wonderful hub! Balm to the soul, James. I give you the honorary title of "Modern-day Boswell". I know there are a lot of books on Johnson, as well as his own works, but what is your source for what you've posted here? Please let me know. Thanks.

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