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N treating of the Ten Commandments, the Author explained, in the former Part of his Work, the feveral Duties relating to God and our Neighbour, as far as the Purport of the negative Precepts would permit; and, in confidering the various Attributes of God, took Notice of the feveral Duties that do properly refult from thence, as far as was confiftent with the Nature of the Subject, and the Brevity ufually prefcribed to Inferences.
The Business of this Treatife is to collect, what was before curforily mentioned, into fome tolerable Compafs, to explain the great Precepts of Moral and Evangelical Righteoufnefs, and to enforce the whole Duty of Man, as it refpects God, his Neighbour, and himself.
But before he enters upon the Subject (as there are fome People, who, for the Quiet of their own Minds, would cancel all Obligation to Duty, by decrying the Differences of Good and Evil, as tho' 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 Fashion of appearing fuitably to the 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 fuch Pofitions as thefe) the Author judges it right to premise fomething 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 pofitive Cominand, either of God or Man.
That Reafon, whether we confider 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 Actions, is readily granted; but then the Question is, wherein Reafon confifts, and whether, in particular Cafes, all Actions, fetting afide pofitive Inftitution, be not equally reasonable; whether, under certain Circumftances, for Inftance, it be not equally agreeable to Reason, and confequently equally fitting and lawful, for a Man to commit any Act of Violence and Cruelty, or even to blafpheme, as it is to do Juftice, or love Mercy, or walk humbly with God. Now, to fet this Matter in a true Light, we will fuppofe Mankind in a pure State of Nature, a State where all Persons are absolutely independent; where neither the Authority of Parents, nor any fuperior 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 confequently, in a political Senfe, there can be no Transgression, but every Man is equally permitted to do what is right in his own Eyes. Let us fuppofe farther, that, in this State of Equality, it is perfectly indifferent, as to a Man's Intereft and Convenience, whether he lye, or fpeak Truth; whether he be kind and obliging, or churlifh and oppreffive to his Neighbour; whether, without any Provocation, he mur
ther an innocent Men, or relieve him when in Danger of perishing: Yet I would afk, whether there is not fomething (in itself, and without Regard to any human Compacts) more agreeable in a Man's acting upon a Principle of Generofity and Good-nature, than in exerting an arbitrary Act of Violence and Cruelty? 'Tis a fingular Inftance of the Goodnefs, as well as Wisdom of God then, that he hath implanted in us a natural Tenderness towards one another under Circumstances of Diftrefs, whereby we find ourselves invincibly moved, if not to relieve, at least to compaffionate thofe, that are unfortunate; and this Duty we properly enough ftile Humanity, as if it were fo effential to human Nature, that Men could not diveft themselves of it, without degenerating into Brutes and Savages.
Some People indeed have fo far divefted themfelves of it, as to entertain different Perfuafions 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 fome other Acts of Uncleannefs among the Thebans: But these Inftances do not overthrow the moral Diftinction 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, fo neither can we fuppofe, that their Opinions would have been fo much taken Notice of, had they not herein contradicted the Senfe of the rest of Mankind. For, ever fince 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
worthy of Blame, and whereon Dishonour and Difgrace has been caft. This Diftinction is fo ancient, fo uniform, fo univerfal, that it cannot proceed from bare Education, but must have been the Gift of Nature; because Nature, which is the fame in all, gives to all the fame Inftitution, and the fame Light, and Men have nothing to do but to follow it. Her Voice is never fallacious; and therefore, the Distinction, which fhe, in general, has fet between Good and Evil, is not arbitrary, but founded in the Things themselves; and fo far from depending on any pofitive Laws, whether human or divine, that pofitive Laws themselves do principally, if not folely oblige, by Virtue of our pre-fuppofing this Diftinction.
God, we conceive, is a Being infinitely Good, Wife, and Powerful; but it is abfurd to fuppofe, that he should have infinite Power, and we not be bound to fear him; that he fhould 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 him, to trust in him, to depend upon him, and to fubmit to his holy Will and Pleasure. 'Tis impoffible 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 ferve him; and, if it be abfurd not to ferve God, it must, in Confequence, 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 themfelves, and independent on any pofitive Law or Injunction, to make them fo: And with thefe Obfervations we proceed now to the Confideration of fome of the principal Duties we owe to our great Creator, beginning with thofe that are internal.
Of the internal Duties we owe to GOD, and
I. OF LOVE.
EAR, O Ifrael, fays Mofes 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 fhall fhew, I. Wherein our Love of God confists, and upon what Reasons and Confiderations it becomes our Duty: And then, II. What its Properties and Qualifications are, and by what Means we may be enabled to attain it.