« PreviousContinue »
N treating of the Ten Command
ments, the Author explained, in the I former Part of his Work, the seve
ral Duties relating to God and our
Neighbour, as far as the Purport of the negative Precepts would permit ; and, in considering the various Attributes of God, took Notice of the several Duties that do properly result from thence, as far as was consistent with the Nature of the Subject, and the Brevity usually prescribed to Inferences.
The Business of this Treatise is to collect, what was before cursorily mentioned, into some tolerable Compass, to explain the great Precepts of Moral and Evangelical Righteousness, and to enforce the whole Duty of Man, as it respects God, his Neighbour, and himself.
But before he enters upon the Subject (as there are some People, who, for the Quiet of their own Minds, would cancel all Obligation to Duty, by decrying the Differences of Good and Evil, as thó' they were nothing but the arbitrary Fancies of Men, according to the different Influences of Cuftom or Education, as tho’ doing well were nothing but a moral Falhion of appearing suitably to the B
Country Country wherein we live, which varies as much as the different Habits and Languages of Men do as there is a Set of Men in the World who folemnly advance such Positions as these) the Author judges it right to premise something concerning the moral and immutable Distinction of Good and Evil, of Virtue and Vice, thereby to prove, that our Obligations to the Practice of the one, and Avoidance of the other, is antecedent to any positive Cominand, either of God or Man.
That Reafon, whether we consider it as a Rule, to direct, or as a Law, to oblige the Choice of intelligent Beings, ought to be the Measure of every Man's Adions, is readily granted ; but then the Question is, wherein Reason consists, and whether, in particular Cafes, all Actions, setting aside politive Institution, be not equally reasonable ; whether, under certain Circumstances, for Instance, it be not equally agreeable to Reason, and consequently equally fitting and lawful, for a Man to commit any Act of Violence and Cruelty, or even to blaspheme, as it is to do Justice, or love Mercy, or walk bumbly with God. Now, to set this Matter in a true Light, we will suppose Mankind in a pure State of Nature, a State where all Persons are absolutely independent ; where neither the Authority of Parents, nor any superior Force of Body, or Capacity of Mind can be pretended, to give one Man the leaft Power or Advantage over another ; in a Word, where there is no Law, and consequently, in a political Sense, there can be no Transgresion, but every Man is equally permitted to do what is right in his own Eyes. Let us suppose farther, that, in this State of Equality, it is perfectly indifferent, as to a Man's Interest and Convenience, whether he lye, or speak Truth ; whether he be kind and obliging, or churlish and oppressive to his Neighbour; whether, without any Provocation, he mur
ther an innocent Men, or relieve him when in Dan. ger of perishing: Yet I would ask, whether there is not something in itself, and without Regard to any human Compacts) more agreeable in a Man's acting upon a Principle of Generosity and Good-nature, than in exerting an arbitrary Act of Violence and Cruelty? 'Tis a singular Instance of the Goodness, as well as Wisdom of God then, that he hath implanted in us a natural Tenderness towards one another under Circumstances of Distress, whereby we find ourselves invincibly moved, if not to relieve, at least to compaffionate those, that are unfortunate ; and this Duty we properly enough stile Humanity, as if it were so essential to human Nature, that Men could not divest themselves of it, without degenerating into Brutes and Savages.
Some People indeed have so far divested themselves of it, as to entertain different Persuasions of Things. Among the Cilicians, Robbery was thought an indifferent Matter, as, among the Lacedemonians, Theft : Incestuous Marriages among the Perfians were held innocent, and some other Acts of Uncleanness among the Thebans : But these Instances do not overthrow the mor al Distinction of Good and Evil, because we do not deny that Men may degenerate in their Opinions as well as their Practices. There may be Monsters in Morality, as well as in Nature ; but, as these are to be no Rule for the whole Species, so neither can we fuppose, that their Opinions would have been so much taken Notice of, had they not herein contradicted the Sense of the rest of Mankind. For, ever since there have been Men in the World, an infinite Difference has been placed between Virtue and Vice. The Name of Virtue has been appropriated to certain approved Actions, that have been praised and recommended by all the World; and under the Name of Vice has been comprized every Thing that has been counted B 2
worthy of Blame, and whereon Dishonour and Dif grace
has been caft. This Distinction is so ancient, so uniform, so universal, that it cannot proceed from bare Education, but must have been the Gift of Nature ; because Nature, which is the same in all, gives to all the same Institution, and the same Light, and Men have nothing to do but to follow it. Her Voice is never fallacious; and therefore, the Distinction, which she, in general, has set between Good and Evil, is not arbitrary, but founded in the Things themselves; and so far from depending on any positive Laws, whether human or divine, that positive Laws themselves do principally, if not solely oblige, by Virtue of our pre-supposing this Diftinction.
God, we conceive, is a Being infinitely Good, Wise, and Powerful ; but it is absurd to suppose, that he should have infinite Power, and we not be bound to fear him ; that he should have infinite Goodness, and we not be bound to love him; that he should have infinite Wisdom, and we not be bound to believe in hin, to trust in hin, to depend upon him, and to submit to his holy Will and Pleasure. 'Tis impossible to conceive a Creator, giving Life, and all the Comforts of it, to a Creature, and he not obliged to be thankful to him, and to serve him; and, if it be absurd not to serve God, it must, in Consequence, be a good Thing to perform, and an evil Thing to neglect our Duty to him. The Distinction therefore between Good and Evil, between Virtue and Vice, so far, at least, as God is concerned in them, is inherent in the Things themselves, and independent on any pofitive Law or Injunction, to make them fo: And with these Observations we proceed now to the Consideration of some of the principal Duties we owe to our great Creator, beginning with those that are internal.
S Y S T E M
MORAL and EVANGELICAL.
CH A P. I.
Of the internal Duties we owe to God, and
I. OF LOVE.
EAR, O Israel, says Moses their Ruler, commenting upon the Precepts, which God had
been giving them, The Lord our God is one Lord, and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine Heart, and with all thy Soul, and with all thy Might ; This, as our Saviour tells us, is the first and great Commandment. And, in treating of it, we Thall shew, I. Wherein our Love of God consists, and upon what Reasons and Considerations it becomes our Duty: And then, II. What its Properties and Qualifications are, and by what Means we may be enabled to attain it.