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positive appointments, and a ritual, ceremonial righteousness or holiness; we must mean our duty to God, as well as to ourselves and other men: or all virtue, and every duty, which has a foundation in the reason of things.
These two considerations, I think, evidently show, that this is a common sense of the word. And as the love of God and our neighbour is comprehended in morality, or that which we call moral good, so the contrary is moral evil : living in the neglect of any duty toward God or man, or the transgression of any reasonable law or commandment, regulating and prescribing such duty.
The design of this observation is to show the sense of some terms and expressions made use of concerning this matter.
We are next to observe the nature of morality: or to show, wherein moral good, moral righteousness, or virtue consists, and how it may be known and discerned.
3. The things, said to be morally good, are such as are fit and reasonable in themselves, according to the case and circumstances which any being is in, and the relations he bears to others. To mention some instances. It is, and appears to be, fit and reasonable, that a rational and intelligent being should preserve the use and exercise of his rational powers, and not lose the government of himself by excess and intemperance, or by any passions and affections, excited by external things, whether good or evil.
It is also fit and becoming, that rational creatures should, according to their abilities, humbly praise and adore the Author of their being: acknowledging the power, wisdom, and goodness, of which they see manifold proofs and traces in themselves, and in all things around them : and that they should be thankful to him for all his benefits, and fear and reverence him, and acquiesce in his disposals.
It is likewise fit and reasonable in itself, that these rational, intelligent beings should bear good will and kind affection to one another : as they all share in the like powers and benefits, and are all exposed to the like casualties, weaknesses, and wants, and are dependent upon each other.
All these things appear on the first view to be fit and reasonable. Moreover moral good and evil are known by their tendencies. All the things just mentioned are beneficial, conducive to the perfection, and the happiness of individuals and societies. And the things contrary to them are, and appear to be evil, inasmuch as they weaken those who allow of them, and are detrimental to others around them.
We may here observe further, that it is in itself fit and reasonable, that God, the one eternal being, perfect and happy in himself, if he form a world, or worlds of beings, should concern himself for them, provide for them, and overrule and direct all things with wisdom, righteousness and goodness.
Thus then, virtue, or moral righteousness, is, and appears to be, in itself fit and reasonable, and has a tendency to promote the happiness of particular beings, and of societies.
1. This fitness and reasonableness of things is itself an obligation : or lays an obligation upon every rational being by whom it is perceived. For whatever is fit, reasonable, and equitable, must be right, and the contrary wrong. He therefore that does what is fit, reasonable, and equitable, and which he discerns to be right, approves himself, and his conduct, and has satisfaction therein. He that does otherwise, knows he has done wrong: and, if he reflect, will condemn himself.
5. Beside the forementioned obligation, (of intrinsic fitness and reasonableness, there is another, arising from the will of God, the creator and the governor of the universe, and particularly of his rational creatures. These fitnesses of things, before mentioned, are a rule of action to the Deity himself. And it must be his will, that the fitness, or reason of things should be observed by his rational creatures; or that they should do those things which are conducive to their own, and each other's welfare.
And when it is considered, that moral good is the will of God, and moral evil contrary to his will; even to the will of bim who is supreme, and Lord of all; it is reasonable to conclude, that he should bestow rewards or inflict punishments, either now immediately, or hereafter in some future time, upon those who observe or neglect the reason of things and the welfare of their fellow-creatures: that is, who obey, or transgress the law of nature: which is also the law of God, the author of nature.
6. Virtue, morality, or moral righteousness, is a thing of great extent, comprehending every thing that is in itself fit and reasonable: men's duty to God and to each other : the duties of every relation, and the due regulation of thoughts and affections, as well as outward actions.
For in the more ordinary and just sense of the expression, as before shown, it takes in every thing that is fit and reasonable: and therefore must include honourable sentiments, as well as outward worship, and reverential expressions concerning the Deity. It requires likewise kind affections, as well as good offices to men. It comprehends not only strict justice, but goodness, and mercy, and equity : yea, forgiveness of injuries and offences, when acknowledged. For this also is fit in a world of creatures, that are weak and fallible, and often offend against each other, through mistake or passion.
This law of nature, or reason, does moreover teach repentance to all those who offend. For, since virtue is right, as before shown, he who has transgressed, and done what is wrong, must turn from his course, and amend it. It is the only way of becoming good, and of being accepted in the sight of the holy, wise, and impartial Sovereign and Judge of all.
7. It is commonly said of the law of nature, that it is of eternal obligation : but yet I would add, that every branch of moral righteousness cannot be practised in every state.
The law of reason, I say, is of eternal obligation: that is, supposing such cases and circumstances, or beings, to bear such and such relations to each other; such and such actions will be always obligatory. Supposing a world, in which there are parents and children, masters and servants, rich and poor, some in prosperous, others in afflictive, circum
, stances, some governors, others governed, and a great variety of other circumstances subsisting : such and such a behaviour toward each other is fit and reasonable. And though there be no such beings, with those several relations; yet it is true, that if there were such beings, such actions would be in themselves fit and reasonable. Nor can any authority dissolve and set aside their obligation.
Thus these things are of everlasting obligation. But when those relations and circumstances cease, divers branches of duty must cease also. So in a future state of recoma pense, for such as have been truly and sincerely good in this world, many branches of duty, necessary here, will cease. Where there is perfect holiness, and perfection of happiness, there cannot be the exercise of forgiveness to offenders, nor of mercy to the miserable. Nor will there be room for patience under afflictions, and such like virtues which are necessary in this state of frailty: though still the love of God, and the love of each other, the great and essential virtues with branches suitable to a state of glory and happiness, will be always fit, and reasonable, and incumbent upon every one.
8. The duties of moral obligation are discernible by rational beings with a due exercise of their powers and faculties. For those duties being founded in the powers and
circumstances of those very beings themselves, and their relations to each other, and being therefore fit and reasonable in themselves; they may be discerned by such as exercise their reason, and attend to the nature, and circumstances of things.
There may be perplexed cases, when what is duty, what is best and fittest, cannot be determined without some difficulty: and the evidence of what is right amounts to no more than probability, or is short of certainty. But the general obligations of virtue, the great branches of duty toward God and men, are discernible by such as think sedately and maturely, as the importance of the thing deserves. It is reasonable to think it should be so.
And the Scriptures teach the same. For St. Paul
“ Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them: for God has shewed it unto them.” He is speaking of the heathens, who had not the benefit of revelation. " For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and godhead. So that they are without excuse: because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God; neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened," Rom. i. 19–21. And afterwards : “ For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these having not the law are a law unto themselves: who shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing, or else excusing one another," ch. ii. 14, 15,
9. We now perceive the difference between moral precepts, and ritual, ceremonial ordinances and appointments. Moral precepts are fit and reasonable in themselves. They are always obligatory, and are discernible by reason. But none of those properties belong to ritual, or ceremonial ordinances, of which there were many in the law of Moses, concerning bodily purifications, certain attendances at Jerusalem, numerous sacrifices, and the like: and under the gospel-dispensation, baptism and the eucharist. To these, I
say, do not belong the forementioned properties. They are not fit and reasonable in themselves. They are not always obligatory. They may be set aside, and others appointed in their room. Nor can they be discerned by rea
For their obligation depends upon express or positive appointment. I shall illustrate this by two instances only.
It was fit that the people of Israel should remember, and
be thankful for, their deliverance from Egyptian bondage: but the duty to celebrate a memorial of it by eating the paschal lamb, owed all its obligation to divine appointment: and another method of commemorating that deliverance might have been ordained.
So likewise, supposing the coming of Christ, and his teaching in Judea, and dying, as he did, and rising again : this great transaction, and particularly the great event of his death, should be thankfully remembered by his disciples and followers: but the way of commemorating it, by eating bread and drinking wine, is of divine determination, and obligatory only by positive appointment.
10. The duties of morality, or moral righteousness, are taught and learned two ways, by reason and revelation. They are taught by reason, as before shown, being fit and equitable in themselves, and appearing so to such as exercise their rational faculties. They may be also taught and enforced by revelation : as we know they are in the Old and the New Testament, by Moses and the prophets, by Jesus Christ and his apostles.
11. Though several expressions and phrases, made use of by us in discoursing on these points are different from those which we find in scripture, yet there also the same things are said and taught.
We do not find in scripture the words morality and immorality, moral good and evil: very seldom that of virtue, never that of vice. These expressions are chiefly taken from Greek and Roman authors: and owe their original and use, in a good measure, to the different way of learning these principles, by reason, rather than revelation.
The word virtue is indeed sometimes found in the New Testament: but yet very rarely in the sense we now use it in, for holiness in general, or every branch of good conduct in itself reasonable and excellent. In one place it seems to be so used by St. Paul, in an exhortation to the Philippians: “ If there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things,” Philip. iv. 8. As if he had said : and whatever else is virtuous, really good and excellent, and praiseworthy, think of it, and attend to it.
And St. Peter in his first epistle : “ But ye are a chosen generation, a peculiar people,--that you should show forth the praises,” literally, virtues, “ of him, who has called you out of darkness into his marvellous light,” 1 Pet. ii. 9. But though the original word signifies, literally, virtues; it does not exactly answer to our use of it: and seems to be well enough rendered in our translation, praises.