Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION III - The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy
Return to Title Page for The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
SECTION III - George Turnbull, The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy 
The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy, ed. and with an Introduction by Alexander Broadie (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The scripture doctrine concerning virtue and vice, and its agreeableness to reason and experience.
A preliminary observation upon the essential difference between virtue and vice.
Having thus got clear of the more thorny part of our subject, it being that which is most perplexed with abstruse, subtle, knotty questions, commonly called metaphysical ones; the remaining part will be found more easy and plain.<216>
It was indeed impossible to treat of the divine moral perfection, or answer the objections made against providence, the ways of God to man in particular, without entering a good deal into the explication of virtue and vice; or of the perfection and imperfection belonging to all moral beings: but it is highly proper to take this important subject a little deeper, or at least to consider of it more fully. And here it will of course fall in our way to vindicate more at large than hath been yet done, the frame, constitution and situation of mankind. All the parts of this subject we proposed to handle are so intimately related and connected together, that wherever we set out, in order to explain that particular part as it ought, we are of necessity led to treat of all the rest. We shall, however, endeavour to avoid repetitions as much as is possible, without being delicate to a point of nicety and affectation, unbecoming the gravity and importance of the question under consideration, and of philosophy in general; because it ever indicates a mind more taken up about the form and dress, than the substance; or more desirous to flatter the ear by smooth periods, than to enforce truth on the mind by strong close argument. I shall only, before I go further, premise one observation, which amounts to a demonstration of the essential difference between virtue and vice, and a full refutation of those who make the morality and immorality of actions dependent on the arbitrary will, whether of God or of society: for some, on the one hand, have asserted that it is the will of God which constitutes right and wrong; and some others have taught, that it is human laws which make all the difference between just and unjust, or moral good and evil. Now independently of all consideration of the will or nature of God, or of human society and its civil laws; from the mere consideration of the nature or constitution of any thing that exists, whether natural or artificial, it is necessarily and evidently true,<217>
“That there is a perfect and imperfect state belonging to every thing, to a ship, a watch, or any other machine of human invention; to a plant, a tree, or any other inanimate thing; to a lion, an elephant, a horse, or any other brute animal.” This cannot be denied, without saying every ship is as well contrived and built for the end of a ship as any other; every watch is as well formed for its end as any other; every plant or tree is in as natural and perfect a state as any other; every horse is as sound and good as any other, &c. which is absurd. Now if that be really absurd, it must be equally so to assert, “that there is no such thing as perfection or imperfection, a better or a worse state with respect to moral beings; that is, beings endued with the faculty of reason and reflexion, and invested with a certain sphere of activity and power; but that it is all one whether such a being exercises its moral powers, or not exercises them; exercises them right or wrong; employs them well, or abuses them; is fit to pursue no end at all by them; or fit to pursue this or any other end, all ends being alike, and all means alike.” But if that be absurd, “Then while by virtue is meant, operation with choice and self-approbation, by the best, that is, the properest means, toward the soundest and most perfect state of moral powers, and by vice the contrary, there must be as natural, essential, and immutable a difference between those two, as between being distorted or maimed, and entire or sound; between sickness and health, pleasure and pain; a fresh, vigorous, beautiful tree, and a decayed withered one; a vitious and deformed, or an infirm and ugly horse, and a good, tractable, sprightly and handsom one.” For can it with any shew of reason be said, that there are no such powers in nature as reason, and reflexion, and will; or that these powers alone, of all powers or qualities, have this particularity in them, that every state, and condition of them, is equally good, equally sound, equally beautiful and perfect? Yet if that cannot be said, it must necessarily<218> follow, that no will or law of any being whatsoever, attended with whatever degree of power to make one suffer pain or enjoy happiness, can make that to be the perfect state of moral powers, which is really, in the nature of things, its imperfect state; or those exercises of moral powers tend to produce the former, which are really, in the nature of things, steps towards the production of the latter. Power may as well attempt to make darkness light, bitter sweet, a triangle a circle, a ship a watch, a tree a man, as to make reason and understanding not reason and understanding; or strong, vigorous, clear, well improved reason the same with weak, feeble, dark, unexercised, unimproved reason; or benevolent, generous self-command the same with an ungoverned, mean, mercenary, low, groveling spirit; that is, make it the same excellence, the same perfection in respect of reason, understanding and temper. Suppose any of these two opposite states of moral beings, no matter which, to be attended with ever so great sensitive pleasures constantly, and the other as constantly to raise the greatest, the acutest, the most exquisite sensitive pain; yet such a connexion, whatever disposition it might shew in the Author of such a constitution of things, would not, could not alter the nature of these two opposites; make them not opposites; or render the perfect, the imperfect state, or, vice versa, the imperfect the perfect one; no more than supposing, the perceiving any truth to be such, as, for instance, perceiving all the angles of a triangle to be equal to two rights, to be attended with the violentest pains of body; and ignorance of it, or a mistake about it, to be accompanied with the most delightful bodily sensations; that odd constitution of things could alter the nature of a triangle, or the nature of truth and falshood in general. If the operations of a moral being tending, in the nature of things, to produce the most perfect state of its powers, were attended with bodily sensations of the most painful sort; and the opposite<219> operations had always accompanying them a train or succession of the most pleasant bodily sensations; such a wretched state of things, would indeed shew the contriver and former of it to be an enemy to moral improvements, and a friend to the neglect or abuse of moral powers; and moral beings so situated, would be under the miserable necessity of laying themselves out to act as contrary to their improvement toward their perfection as possibly they can: but still, even in that situation, certain qualities would as necessarily, in their several degrees, be with respect to moral powers, degrees of perfection and imperfection; as various degrees or forces of giving light, for instance, are various degrees of perfection with respect to a candle, or any other body, the end of which is to give light. In such an odd situation of moral beings, interest and virtue, as it hath been defined, would be diametrically opposite to one another. But their being so would not alter the nature of virtue, no more than it would alter the nature of interest: so far from it, that in such a case, it would be as immutably true, that the interest of moral beings is, by being so placed or constituted, basely, vilely placed or constituted; as it is, that he would be a base, a vile, a cruel father, who should choose to make the happiness of his children, or their exemption from constant, violent tortures, depend upon their care to distort their bodies into monstrous forms; for if distortion cannot be the perfect state of the human body, though a tyrant should positively order all his subjects, who were sound or not distorted, to be cruelly tormented all the days of their life; by parity of reason distortion of the mind cannot be its perfect state, though it should be commanded under the severest penalties. Now, having premised this observation, it is manifest, that in treating of virtue, there are two questions to be discussed; the first of which must be, what is the perfect and most excellent state of our<220> powers which constitute us men, and what are the exercises by which that perfect state is acquired or attained to: which enquiry being dispatched, the other that naturally offers itself is, how our interest stands, according to the constitution and connexions of things, with respect to our moral perfection or virtue. And to both these, I hope, a satisfying answer shall be given conjointly in the following explication of the agreeableness of the scripture doctrine concerning virtue and vice with reason, which will be found clearly to shew virtue to be the private good, and vice the private ill or misery of every man, all things fairly considered, even in this present life; which being proved, it must of necessity follow, that the Author of mankind, upon whose will, or whose disposition of things here and hereafter, all our interests depend, is himself supreme virtue, supreme moral perfection, or infinitely good and perfect: And hence it will also follow, that we are not only obliged to pursue virtue, or the perfection to which our moral powers are naturally fitted to attain, by certain means and exercises, as it is our perfection or the dignity and excellence of our nature; but likewise, in the sense of Civilians, when they speak of obligation, i.e. that we are obliged to it in point of interest, in consequence of the connexions of things, constituting our interest by the will of our Creator and ruler; virtue being in this respect properly speaking his law; as it is in the other sense, or considered by itself, our excellence; and, as such, the law of our nature. So St. Paul calls it;a 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 to themselves, i.e. they themselves are a law to themselves: their constitution is to them a law, or rule of conduct, clearly pointing out to them the part they ought to act with regard to their reason, or guiding and ruling principle.<221>
The moral perfection we are called by revelation to pursue and seek after may be reduced to those two general heads. 1. The perfection of our understanding. 2. But more especially of our will or temper.
We are commanded by revelation to do no injury to our bodies in any of its members; but to take care of our health, and to preserve ourselves in a sound state of body. And indeed all our duties, and all our perfections may be reduced to those two, a sound body, and a sound mind. Now, as for the first, I need not stay to shew it is duty and interest, or that here there is no competition between duty and interest; and how far the care of our bodies belongs to us, and what are the excesses or the negligences to be avoided in this respect by us, will appear as we go on in the explication of those duties which belong to the other head, a sound mind.
These duties shall be considered in various lights. But because it is evident, that our principal powers, as men, naturally divide themselves into these two, understanding and will, it is not improper to make some general observations, first of all, upon these two powers, and the perfections belonging to them, which we are exhorted or commanded by revelation to seek after with all diligence.
That we have understanding, and are frequently commanded to cultivate and improve it with all diligence by revelation, are two things too evident to be insisted upon. For what else do all the precepts in the holy scripture already mentioned to get wisdom, discretion and understanding; to love knowledge, to prefer it to all worldly treasures; to search for it with all assiduity and earnestness; to dig for it as the most valuable of riches; to search and prove all things impartially,<222> fairly and diligently, that we may fly from evil, abstain from every appearance of it, and hold fast to that which is good, to that which is excellent or praiseworthy in itself, and therefore good or acceptable to God; to be able to give a reason for our conduct, for our hopes, our fears, and all our pursuits, for the truths we profess to believe, and to govern ourselves by: what is the meaning of all these precepts if we have not an understanding faculty which we can prove; and if we are not by those precepts exhorted diligently to improve it by suitable exercises, in order to its being cultivated to due vigor and perfection?
But, in order to illustrate the perfection of our understanding; shew the proper means for attaining to that end; and that it is our duty and interest to give all diligence to improve our understanding, (or, in the scripture language, to grow in wisdom) according to revelation and reason, it is necessary to make the following observations.
I. If we would have a clear notion of what makes the perfection of the understanding faculty, or of reason and judgment, let us but reflect what makes the perfection of the body or of any of its members; of the eye, for instance, from the perfections and imperfections of which, on account of its analogy to the understanding, are almost all the words taken, which are used to signify to us the infirmities, diseases, or imperfections of the latter, and their opposite perfections: such as strength, clearness, liveliness, quickness, penetrating, discerning, distinguishing force; justness, accuracy, acuteness, truth, &c. Our Saviour admirably illustrates the use, extent, and perfection of the understanding, and consequently our duty and interest with regard to it, by an alegorical reasoning taken from the use and perfection of the organ of sight.a “The<223> light of the body is the eye: therefore, when thine eye is single, thy whole body is full of light: but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. Take heed therefore, that the light which is in thee be not darkness. If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light; as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light.” His meaning is: what the eye is to the body: that very same thing in proportion, the moral judgment and understanding, the directing principle, is to a man’s mind. And by considering the eye of the body, and its use, and wherein its perfection or imperfection lies, we cannot but be led to conceive, wherein consists the analogous use and perfection or imperfection of the understanding, the eye of the mind, which guides our conduct, as the eye does the motions of our hands and feet, according as it is less or more fit for doing its natural office and function. If the moral judgment of the understanding be clear, pure, unbiassed, and untainted, or incorrupt, as a sound vigorus eye, and be exerted with simplicity and sincerity, as a man uses his eye, and trusts to it when he knows it not to be tainted with any unnatural colour, that can deceive him by representing objects in a false hue, it will direct and preserve men in the paths of truth and right, wherein they ought to walk; or be perpetually calling upon them to return into them, if they depart from them, as the eye, when it awakening from sleep or inattentiveness, calls upon a man, at the brink of a precipice, to stop and turn aside into the safe and right road. But as when a man’s eyes are blinded, put out, or hood-winked, his whole body must of necessity move in darkness: so if the moral judgment of the mind, the principle which ought to guide and direct mens actions, and which alone can shew us either our interest or our duty (in whatever sense that last word be taken) be itself perverted by false prejudices, and corrupted by unruly appetites and passions, which render it as uncapable<224> of judging well, as certain diseases do the eye of seeing things in their true light and genuine colours; there is no hope but such persons must mistake their way, stray from their best interest, and act contrary to the nature and reason of things: that is, contrary to the plain dictates about our behaviour, which are the natural language of the properties and relations of things duly considered, in the same sense, that one way duly attended to by the eye in a sound state, appears to it the worst or improperest road to a certain place or end, or contrariwise the best, easiest, and safest. For all properties and relations of things, by whatever names they are distinguished, natural or moral, must have their natural influences, with regard to our conduct, so far as they are concerned in it. We cannot deny that in one case, and own it in any other, without falling into a gross contradiction and inconsistency. “Take heed therefore, adds our Lord, that the light which is in thee be not darkness.” Let every man think himself at least obliged to take as much care of his moral understanding, as of his eye, to preserve it sound and entire, able to do its functions well, and consequently, to be a true guide, that will not deceive or mislead, but represent things fairly to us; take care that it do not fall into a lethargy or drowsiness, and so leave us often without a guide, and yet more that it be not vitiated or corrupted in any manner to such a degree, as to lead us wrong, by setting things before us in false colours, and not as they really are in themselves: take care that it do not obscure, magnify, diminish, or double objects, nor give them the appearances of properties they have not; but may shew every thing to us which it concerns us to know, in order to right action, or action no wise contrary to the real nature, tendency, and consequences of things, as it really is, in its true shape, magnitude, hue, and proportions. All the diseases of the understanding, and all the preservatives against them; all the good qualities, and all the<225> means of attaining to them, and preserving them, might very aptly be illustrated by pursuing this similitude. But what hath been said is sufficient to our purpose at present, which was merely to shew, that there must be a perfection belonging to the understanding as well as to the eye; and that this perfection must consist in its being able to direct our conduct, for that must be true, if there be any such thing as fitness or unfitness of conduct, any such thing as acting agreeably or disagreeably to the nature, that is, to the properties, relations, and connexions of things; or finally, if there be any such thing as interest and happiness, or pleasure and unhappiness, resulting from action and conduct. Leaving it therefore to those who write professedly on the conduct of the understanding, to explain the rules of it more minutely, I proceed to a second observation upon the duties of man, with respect to perfectionating the understanding, which is evidently our guiding principle, or the light by which alone we can be directed in our conduct,
II. That it is in every man’s power to improve his understanding faculty to a very great degree of soundness and perfection, in order to its being a sufficient and a right guide in conduct; or to improve in knowledge of every sort, to a very considerable pitch; but more especially in that knowledge which is requisite to direct his moral behaviour, and that it is our interest and excellence so to do. Sure, I need not stay to prove, that knowledge, or a state of mental light, is more agreeable than a state of inward darkness; or, which is the truth of the matter, that knowledge is exceedingly agreeable to the human mind by its constitution, and ignorance very painful and uneasy toit. This none will refuse: it is therefore our interest, even in respect of immediate delight, abstracting from all other considerations to get knowledge, and to deliver<226> ourselves from a state of darkness, or even of doubting, which is really a sort of twilight, or rather mist in the mind, and proportionably disagreeable to the understanding, as it is to the natural eye. Hardly will any one who is in the least acquainted with searches after truth and knowledge say, that however pleasant knowledge may be when attained to, in any considerable degree, yet the labour with which it is acquired makes it too dear a purchase; for every step towards knowledge abundantly rewards itself. So agreeable hath the author of nature, who hath made us for exercise, made the exercise of our guiding principle to us, that every glimpse of truth as it begins to dawn upon the mind, wonderfully chears and awakes it: The employment of our faculty of judging, comparing, enquiring and finding out truth is a most pleasant one in itself, even abstracting from the agreeable hopes of success, and the unspeakable delight accruing from hence, with which our natural love of truth and light, our strong desire after it, and our consciousness of our power to attain to it by proper application, are ever animating and enchearing us in the pursuit; all which affections likewise grow stronger and more lively, in proportion to our conquests and advances in these arch of truth. Now as it affords pleasure to us, and is therefore, even in that respect, abstracting from the necessity of it to guide us, our interest, or a large part of our natural happiness; so that it is an attainment, the earnest pursuit of which highly becomes human nature, as being capable of it, is no less evident than that it is better to see than to be blind; better to have a sound, entire, unvitiated eye, than a weak, infirm, and diseased one. If there be any such thing as perfection, this must be one. If the words becoming, suitable to nature, excellent and desirable for its own sake, have any meaning at all, this must be such. And to decide this question, which must ultimately terminate in asking, “What are<227> we necessarily disposed to approve, prefer, esteem, or value, abstracting from all considerations of conveniency and advantage, the understanding that is able by due culture to judge quickly and soundly, or that which is not.” Let us examine what necessarily passes in our mind, when we make this comparison. For surely, no one can put this question to himself who will not immediately say, “The excellence of understanding is to understand.”
But the important question now to be considered is, How or in what measure it is in every man’s power, by his frame, to improve his understanding, and acquire knowledge; in answer to which let it be observed, in the first place.
I. Let us observe with an excellent philosopher, in whose words I am to go on very nearly, or with a few variations, for a considerable time.26 “We are born with faculties and powers capable almost of any thing; such at least as would carry us farther than is imagined; but it is only the exercise of those powers which gives us ability and skill in any thing, and leads us toward perfection. A middle-aged plough-man will scarce ever be brought to the carriage and language of a gentleman, though his body be as well proportioned, and his joints as supple, and his natural parts not any way inferior. The legs of a dancing-master, and the fingers of a musician fall, as it were, naturally and without thought or pains into regular and admirable motions. Bid them change their parts, and they will in vain endeavour to produce like motions in the members not used to them, and it will require length of time and long practice to attain but some degrees of a like ability. What incredible and astonishing actions do we find rope-dancers and tumblers bring their bodies to! Not but that sundry in almost all manual arts are as wonderful; but I<228> name those which the world takes notice for such, because, on that very account, they give their money to see them. All these admired motions beyond the reach and almost the conception of unpractised spectators, are nothing but the mere effects of use and industry in men, whose bodies have nothing peculiar in them from those of the amazed lookers-on. As it is in the body, so it is in the mind; practice makes it what it is, and most even of those excellencies which are looked on as natural endowments, will be found, when examined into more narrowly, to be the product of exercise, and to be raised to that pitch only by repeated actions. Some men are remarkable for pleasantness in raillery; others for apologues and diverting stories. This is apt to be taken for the effect of pure nature, and that the rather because it is not got by rules; and those who excell in either of them, never purposely set themselves to the study of it, as an art to be learnt. But yet it is true, that at first some lucky hit, which took with some body, and gained him commendation, encouraged him to try again, inclined his thoughts and endeavours that way, till at last he insensibly got a faculty in it without perceiving how; and that is attributed wholly to nature, which was much more the effect of use and practice. I do not deny, that natural disposition may often give the first rise to it; but that never carries a man far without use and exercise; and it is practice alone that brings the powers of the mind, as well as those of the body, to their perfection. Many a good poetick vein is buried under a trade, and never produces any thing for want of improvement. We see the ways of reasoning and discourse are very different, even concerning the same matter, at court and at the university. And he that will go but from Westminster-hall to the Exchange, will find a different genius and turn in their ways of talking, and yet one cannot think, that all whose lot fell in the city were born with different parts<229> from those who were bred at the university or inns of court. To what purpose all this, but to shew, that the difference, so observable in mens understandings and parts, does not arise so much from their natural faculties, as acquired habits. He would be laught at that should go about to make a fine dancer out of a country hedger at past fifty. And he will not have much better success, who shall endeavour at that age to make a man reason well, or speak handsomly, who has never been used to it, though you should lay before him a collection of all the best precepts of logick or oratory. No body is made any thing by hearing of rules, or laying them up in the memory; practice must settle the habit of doing, without reflecting on the rule; and you may as well hope to make a good painter or musician, ex tempore, by a lecture, and instruction in the arts of musick and painting, as a coherent thinker, or strict reasoner, by a set of rules, shewing him wherein right reasoning consists.
This being so, that defects and weaknesses in mens understandings, as well as other faculties, come from want of a right use of their own minds; I am apt to think the fault is generally mislaid upon nature, and there is often a complaint of want of parts, when the fault lies in want of due improvement of them. We see men frequently dexterous and sharp enough in making a bargain, who, if you reason with them about matters of religion, appear very stupid.”
“The reason why men do not choose surer principles to argue from, or argue more accurately and justly, is, because they cannot: but this inability proceeds not from want of natural parts, but generally from want of use and exercise. Few men are from their youth accustomed to strict reasoning, and to trace the dependence of any truth in a long train of consequences, to its remote principles, and to observe its connexion; and he that by frequent practice has not been used to this employment of his understanding,<230> ’tis no more wonder, that he should not, when he is grown into years, be able to bring his mind to it, than that he should be on a sudden able to grave or design, dance on the ropes, or write a good hand, who has never practised either of them. What then should be done in the case? I answer, we should always remember what I said above, that the faculties of our soul are improved and made useful to us, just after the same manner as our bodies are. Would you have a man write or paint, dance or fence well, or perform any other manual operation dexterously and with ease, let him have never so much vigour and activity, suppleness and address, naturally; yet no body expects this from him, unless he has been used to it, and has employed time and pains in fashioning and forming his hand or outward parts to those motions. Just so it is in the mind; would you have a man reason well, you must use him to it betimes, exercise his mind in observing the connexion of ideas, and following them in train. What then, can grown men never be improved or enlarged in their understandings? I say not so; but this I think I may say, that it will not be done without industry and application, which will require more time and pains, than grown men settled in their course of life will allow to it, and therefore is seldom done. And this very capacity of attaining it by use and exercise only brings us back to that which I laid down before, that it is only practice that improves our minds as well as bodies, and we must expect nothing from our understandings any farther than they are perfected by habits.”
“The Americans are not all born with worse understandings than the Europeans, though we see none of them have such reaches in the arts and sciences. And among the children of a poor countryman, the lucky chance of education, and getting into the world, gives one infinitely the superiority of parts over the rest, who continuing at home, had continued also just of the same<231> size with his brethren. He that has to do with young scholars, especially in the mathematicks, may perceive how their minds open by degrees, and how it is exercise alone that opens them. Sometimes they will stick a long time at a part of a demonstration, not for want of will or application, but really for want of perceiving the connexion of two ideas; that to one, whose understanding is more exercised, is as visible as any thing can be. The same would be with a grown man, beginning to study mathematicks, the understanding, for want of use, often sticks in a very plain way, and he himself, that is so puzzled, when he comes to see the connexion, wonders what it was he stuck at in a case so plain.”
I have quoted this excellent piece of experimental reasoning from an admirable, justly esteemed philosopher. 1. To give strength to what I had before said, that though society requires diversity of gifts, talents, tempers, or, in one word, genius’s; and though such diversity may be in some measure natural, yet for the greater part it is owing to different kinds and degrees of exercise or want of exercise, in consequence of the law of habits; a most useful and essential part in our constitution. 2. But chiefly to shew, on this occasion, in what sense it may be justly said to be in every man’s power to improve his understanding to a very great pitch of perfection. And in this sense it plainly is so, that generally defect in knowledge is not from want of natural parts; but from want of proper exercise to cultivate natural parts. 3. And in the next place, to give me an opportunity of remarking, how much the improvement of our understanding depends upon education, and consequently upon the care, not only of our parents, but upon the care of society about education. The many beneficial advantages of that close social dependence among mankind, of which this is an essential, or necessary part, are very evident, and have been already treated upon. All therefore I<232> would now observe on this head is, that a state which does not take proper care to put and keep the education of the youth of the higher ranks in life upon a good foot, neglects the most essential thing to the well-being of every private person, and of society in general; the most essential thing to the end of government, if that be publick happiness; and when that is not the end, and the proper means to it are not carefully pursued, a state of government is indeed much worse than a state of nature. This needs no proof; for it is indeed with the consent of all thinking men, in education, that the foundation stones of private and publick happiness, private and publick virtue, things in their nature absolutely inseparable, must be laid; according to it will the superstructure be. As for those that have time and the means to attain to knowledge in a well-governed state, it is indeed a shame for them to want any helps or assistances for the improvement of their understanding, that are to be got. Those who by the industry and parts of their ancestors have been set free from the constant drudgery to their backs and bellies others lie under, should bestow some of that time, which commonly is either very foolishly, if not wickedly spent, or lies very heavy on their hands, on the improvement of their heads, and to enlarge their minds with pleasant and useful knowledge. ’Tis certain that the power of being really and extensively useful in society depends upon a well-improved understanding; upon ability to judge of the interests of mankind; the fitness of laws and the propriety of expedients in different emergencies; which knowledge cannot be acquired without study and deep thinking, as well as reading, and will never be sought after but by a good heart, and always will be sought after by such. And let but any one consider, whether riches give merit, without a disposition to employ them well, and skill how to do it? They do really otherwise render one but more contemptible; because having them points one out<233> to publick view, and makes his virtues or vices more conspicuous; and if one be not able to use them to their best purposes, every one who wishes well to society, or to himself, will naturally say of such, How ill is such wealth placed! How unworthy is the possessor of it! How shamefully incapable is he of doing the good such affluence puts in his power!
But the publick care of education ought to extend yet further, and comprehend in it the whole body of the people, in such a manner, as that not only all useful arts and crafts may be understood and brought to perfection; but that all, even the meanest may have opportunities of being instructed in the principles of virtue and true religion. Now, here I cannot but observe, that the one day of seven, besides other days of rest, allows in the christian world time enough for this (had they no other idle hours) if they would but make due use of these vacances from their daily labour, and apply themselves with as much diligence to the study of religion, as they often do to a great many things that are useless, and yet more difficult. This is certainly true, provided any care were taken of the common people in their infancy; or those whose sacred business it is to instruct them, would take due pains to enter them according to their several capacities into a right way to this knowledge, and to assist and encourage them in their endeavours to improve in it. And this shews us what an excellent institution it is, by which a convenient portion of time is thus set apart from labour, to be dedicated to the improvement of the mind; and teachers are appointed for that beneficial end. None can choose but approve such an institution, if they have a just sense of the dignity of human nature, and of the common unalienable rights and privileges of mankind, and of the chief end of society and government; or unless they inhumanly and barbarously, as well as impiously think, that the bulk of mankind are made to be mere beasts of burden, whose understandings ought<234> to be put out, as certain Scythians are said to have done the eyes of their slaves, or kept in darkness that they may be more tame drudges; less apt to rebel, because less sensible of bad usage; and that if they are allowed so much as any diversion, or respite from labour, it should be for the same reason as bells are hung about the necks of pack-horses or mules. Experience shews us, that the original make of their minds is like that of other men; and they would be found not to want understanding fit to receive very useful instruction, if they were but a little encouraged and helped in it, as they should be by those who in christian countries are employed and maintained for that most beneficial, noble end. There are many instances of very mean people, who have raised their minds to a great sense and understanding of religion, and likewise of other parts of science. And tho’ these have not been so frequent as could be wished by all the lovers of mankind; yet they are enough to take off the imputation of incapacity of knowledge charged upon the bulk of mankind, by some who delight to paint human nature in the worst colours they can devise; and to prove, that it is the fault of those whose business and profession it is to instruct the people, if more are not brought to be very knowing, especially in matters of religion. They might very easily by proper methods be put into such a right way of considering the works of creation, that even while they are employed about their manual occupations, their minds might be very busy in admiring the wisdom and goodness of the Creator, in some object or other within their observation. This knowledge is capable of being conveyed in a very pleasing, agreeable manner to every capacity. And the original end of the sabbath is forgot, when due pains are not taken at that time to lay open, in a way suited to the meanest capacity, the invisible perfections of God, which are clearly manifested by every part of nature we see. But<235> this leads to observe, with relation to the improvement of our understanding,
II. That such is the make and frame of the human mind, that it is in every one’s power, with a very small degree of assistance from their teachers, easily to attain to a very clear and distinct notion of all the duties of life, of all moral obligations. Let it not be said here, that this is to take for granted what we have not yet proved, the reality of moral obligations. For not only did we set out in this section with an observation that sets the reality of morality beyond all doubt; but in proving what is now asserted, it will at once appear, that there are really moral obligations; and that these lie open and plain to every one’s understanding, who will but think at all. In reality, man is so made, that he must perceive, or rather feel, certain moral obligations, or shun himself, and all reflexion. Moral obligations may be proved and illustrated in various ways, some, if not all, which are very intelligible to the meanest understanding. But this is not all the care that the Author of nature hath taken of us: this is not all the Author of nature hath done to shew us our duty, our happiness, our excellence, and what ought to be to us the rule of all our conduct. For there is a natural principle of benevolence in man, which is in some degree to society, what self-love is to the individual, that is, the same security for our right behaviour towards it, that self-love is for our right behaviour to ourselves. This we all feel we cannot divest ourselves of; and it as naturally points us to proper behaviour in any case whatsoever toward our fellow-creatures, as any instinct in an animal directs it to its end. We cannot deny, that there is such a principle in our minds, without asserting that there is no disposition to friendship; no such thing as compassion, no paternal or filial affections in our nature; or, in one word, no affection in us which hath the<236> good of another for its object and end. Which is, if any thing be, to deny evident matter of fact. For what property of a body manifests itself more plainly than these qualities of our minds. We shall afterwards have occasion to explain at greater length the real consistency between self-love and benevolence, which some affect to represent as two principles that cannot subsist in the same breast, or if they do, must be at perpetual war the one against the other. Mean time, let any one attend to his own mind, and the motions or affections, which bestir it most agreeably, and say, whether the greatest satisfaction to ourselves does not depend upon our having a benevolent disposition in a due degree: ’tis this which makes the cheerful, the happy temper, without which the most prosperous circumstances of outward enjoyment cannot afford any considerable satisfaction; for without it the mind is found peevish, and discontented with itself, and every thing about us: and all its exercises touch the mind with more exquisite and more durable joy, than any sensual gratification or selfish indulgence can give us, as we may feel even when the mind is tenderly and benevolently moved by probable fiction, as in a tragedy. So that a due consideration of our best pleasures, or most valuable enjoyments, i.e. of those which are the remotest from all grossness and remorse, would be an effectual security for that right behaviour towards society, to which benevolence prompts us. Further, the several particular affections in our minds contribute and lead us to publick good, as really as some others do to private. That there is not one principle only in our nature, but that we have many different passions or affections in us, each of which hath its own particular object and end, will be evident to any one who will but take the slightest review of his make and frame. There is in our minds a herding principle, or love of society, distinct from affection to the good of it, in common to us with all animals who flock and herd together, desire of esteem from others, immediate impulse to<237> compassionate and relieve the distressed, indignation against injuries done to others: and these may justly be called publick affections, because they have an immediate respect to others, and as naturally lead us to behave in such a manner as will be of advantage to our fellow-creatures, as hunger prompts and directs us to seek for proper food and nourishment to our bodies. For as persons, who never made any reflexions upon the desirableness of life, or if they ever did, do yet of course preserve it, merely from the appetite of hunger, without making any such reflexion at the time they are instigated by that appetite; so by being influenced merely from regard to reputation, or by some other publick affection, without any consideration of the good of others, men often work to publick good by mere impulse of nature. Now, if it is said, that when all this is owned, what is it to moral obligation, for so far ’tis only instinct that acts? The answer is obvious, here first is a plain evidence of the care of nature about us to make us social. For as the instincts or appetites by which we are led or compelled to self-preservation, are instances of the care of providence about the preservation of the individual; so the instincts and affections by which we are impelled to mind the interests of our fellow-creatures, and to act agreeably to them, are instances of the care of our Maker about the preservation and commonweal of society. In both cases, they are plainly instruments or means by which kind providence carries on its good ends, which they themselves have not in their view. But this is not all; for this being our constitution, if we take a view of it, and reflect upon it, as we are able to do, and cannot avoid doing, (for who can avoid reflecting upon himself, and what passes within him) we must needs see that we are as immediately and naturally intended for society and benevolent exercises, as a watch is made for measuring time; and that we act at once contrary to the end of our make, our greatest<238> happiness, and the will and intention of our Maker, if we endeavour to root out of our minds all the publick affections; and to shut as it were our ears against their dictates, or harden our hearts against their calls and impulses. This is a reflexion we cannot evite making, if we look into ourselves, and consider our frame ever so slightly. For in this manner do we reason about the end of every machine we use or see; and being inur’d to make such reflexions on many occasions every day, how can we escape making it, when we think of or review ourselves, and attend to the impulses of our nature, and the different ways in which these affect us? But in whatever sense moral obligation be taken, that sense of it is necessarily comprehended in this natural reflexion just mentioned, to which the slightest consideration of our frame must lead us. For what can it mean, if it neither means obligation to act agreeably to the end of our frame, and to the intention of our Maker, nor to our interest?
This however will be clearer, when we have considered, that according to our make we cannot take a view of our affections, or actions, and remain indifferent, or neutral to them all; but, on the contrary, tho’ there be some to which we are almost quite indifferent, being very little moved or affected by them; yet there are others which we cannot choose but approve, or disapprove. There is in our mind a principle of reflexion, which passes judgment upon our heart and temper, and all our affections and consequent actions, pronouncing some to be in themselves just, right, and good, and others to be in themselves evil, wrong, and unjust; an approving and condemning faculty, which without being called upon or consulted, exerts itself with authority; and which, if not forcibly resisted and opposed, never gives us quiet while we act disagreeably to it; but gives us the supremest peace, satisfaction, and joy, when we behave conformably to it, and set ourselves to maintain its authority in our mind,<239> as our ruler and law-giver. Now by this faculty natural to man, he is a moral agent; he is a law to himself; he is conscious of moral obligation, and is never at a loss to find out how he should conduct himself. This principle carries along with it a consciousness of its supremacy in our constitution, or of its right to give law to us, and pass sentence upon us. If any one would be satisfied at once, that he hath such a principle in him, and how it directs him how to behave towards his fellow-creatures; let him but ask himself sincerely, and attend to the answer of his mind or conscience, or of this approving and condemning faculty, “Have I indeed no guide, no rule of action, and may I give full swing to every appetite, every fancy, that sollicites or importunes me, without running the risk of any condemnation, but from self-love, if I bring more pain upon myself by the pursuit than all the pleasure was worth—May I do any injury in my power to my neighbour, that I can do with impunity, or which instead of my suffering by it will procure me some sensual gratification”—and so on—For we may fairly put the whole of moral obligation upon this one point, viz. The reply that the mind, thus seriously searched and examined, will give to itself: and to what can we appeal in any question about inward experience but to experience? To refuse to put the issue of the question on this footing is absurd, and at the same time it is a secret confession of the inward forefeeling how it must be determined, if this trial is yielded to. To say, what we call conscience, moral sense, or the approving and condemning faculty, is owing to prejudices of education and custom, is indeed to ascribe a power of creating to art: for were we not endowed by nature with such a faculty, it is as evident, that affections, actions, and characters could never be made to appear to us under any other image, but<240> that of advantageous or disadvantageous, and not under the semblance or shew of worthy or base, fair or foul, comely or abominable; as that musick can never be made to appear to one who wants an ear, to be any other than an art from which some pretend to receive a pleasure he has no idea of; or as what some make a very profitable trade of. ’Tis in vain to say, May not the idea of shame be connected with what you will by education. For first of all, education can never make a man really and truly ashamed of himself for consulting his reason before he acts, or for doing a generous action at the expence of several sensitive pleasures, even in themselves innocent, the money so generously bestowed would have procured him. And, in the second place, if a sense of shame and honour, however misguided it may be by education, does not originally suppose in our nature an approving and disapproving faculty, which naturally of itself, previous to all instruction, approves certain actions and disapproves others, so soon as they are presented to its sight or consideration, then may all our natural appetites be resolved into education and custom: nay, consistently with that assertion, there can be no reason to call any sentiment or feeling of the mind natural. But if what hath been said be matter of fact, then is man, every man so formed, that in order to know moral duties or obligations, right or wrong, he needs only exercise his inward conscience, or his faculty of reflexion, his approving or condemning sense.
Now that this part of our constitution is acknowledged in scripture, as what constitutes us moral agents, and as a sufficient guide to all men, with respect to their behaviour to themselves, their fellow-creatures, and to their Creator and Governor; and that as such it is frequently recommended to our sedulous culture and improvement, is plain. St. Paul speaks of it in the<241> strongest terms.a “For not the lovers of the law are just before God: but the doers of the law shall be justified. 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. Which shew the works of this law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing, or else excusing one another.” So St. John,a “And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure ourselves before God. For if our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our hearts condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God.”
And what is said in the book of Wisdom,b of wisdom, moral knowledge, and a sense of duty, is very remarkable. “Wisdom is glorious and never fadeth away; yea, she is easily seen of them that love, and found of them that seek her. She preventeth them that desireth her, in making herself first known unto them. Whoso seeketh her early shall have no great travel; for he shall find her sitting at his doors. To think therefore upon her is perfection of wisdom; and whoso travelleth for her shall quickly be without care. For she goeth about seeking such as are worthy of her, sheweth herself favourably unto them in the ways, and ruleth them in every thought. For the very true beginning of her is the desire of discipline, and the care of discipline is love. And love is the keeping of her laws, and the giving heed to her laws is the assurance of incorruption. And incorruption maketh us near unto God.”
This is the real state of man with regard to the knowledge of moral obligations, or to our capacity of finding true wisdom. So that with respect to this most important of all knowledge, all men, with very little<242> assistance from proper instructors, may make very great advances in it, or be perfect masters of it as far, at least, as the ordinary duties of life require.
III. Tho’ I have resolved to leave it to those who professedly write on the conduct of the understanding, to point out fully the rules to be observed in the search of truth, and to avoid error; yet men, in the search of knowledge, are so often misled by some very good and useful principles in our frame, that I cannot choose but offer a few reflexions upon some of the sources of error, or impediments to the acquisition of true knowledge. First, the very eagerness and strong bent of the mind after knowledge, if not warily regulated, is often an hinderance to it. It still presses after new discoveries and new objects, and catches at variety of knowledge, and therefore is too desultory, and stays not long enough on what is before it, to look into it with the acurate attention it should, and must in order to understand it fully, thro’ haste to pursue what is yet out of sight. Hence it is, that so many are too superficial in their examination of objects, ever to get to the bottom of any one thing, or be thoroughly masters of it. For tho’ truths are not the better or the worse for their obviousness or difficulty, but their value is to be measured by their usefulness and tendency; yet the discovery of most truths requires close attention and acurate search; and one can no more make great proficiency in knowledge by proceeding in a hasty desultory manner, and leaping from object to object, without fastening long enough upon any one to draw any solid fruit from it to the understanding, than one can learn much of a country from the transient view he has of it by riding post thro’ it.a But there is another haste, that does often, and will never fail to mislead the mind, if one is not warned,<243> and upon his guard against it. The understanding is naturally forward, not only to encrease its knowledge by variety, (which makes it leap from one to get speedily to another part of knowledge) but is also impatient to enlarge its views, by running too fast into general observations and conclusions, without a due examination of particulars enough to found them upon. This seems to augment their stock, but ’tis of visions, not real truths: for theories built upon so narrow a bottom, are not knowledge, but rash precipitant presumptions. General observations drawn from particulars, are indeed as agreeable to the mind on account of their universality, as they are extensively useful; but great care must be taken not to be deceived in admitting general observations; for if the foundation be not solid, what must the whole superstructure built upon them with great care and labour be?
That many are misled in both these ways is too evident from experience to be proved. But few have sufficiently adverted to the sources whence all this proceeds. It will however soon appear, if we consider a little the structure of the human mind, how both these kinds of haste and rashness come about. They do really take their rise from very useful passions or principles in our nature. For, in fact, they proceed partly from our natural love of exercise and progress, and our love of variety or novelty, affections, which if they be really distinct, must however of necessity go together; and are all of them absolutely requisite to beings intended for exercise, exercise of body and mind, and for progress, insomuch that they can attain to no perfection, but gradually, and in proportion to diligence and activity to make progress or improvement: and partly from a principle of no less usefulness in our frame, or with respect to our situation, which is our natural delightin analogy, harmony and order. For hence a tendency to draw general conclusions from particular observations necessarily results. And yet without<244> such a disposition we could never make any considerable advances in knowledge, but our heads or memories would ever remain a magazine of separate materials which could not be called knowledge, but continue to be a collection of lumber not reduced to use or order. ’Tis the business of education to guide these principles right; or to exercise and practise them in a useful way, that would prevent their becoming hurtful in either of those respects that have been mentioned. In the moral enquiry, I have said a great deal of the utility of the associating principle, or aptitude in our nature, and likewise of the errors of which it must necessarily be the occasion, if education is not calculated, as it ought, to warn us of, and put us upon the watch against such misguidance. But I can’t choose but add here, that ’tis this useful disposition in our minds, which in a great measure gives rise to our precipitancy in drawing general conclusions, and in admitting principles. In an orderly uniform world, ideas must often be presented to our minds conjointly, which however have noot her connexion or correspondence, but merely that of their having been often presented together to the mind. And minds made so as to be able to associate, will, during their whole life, find it very difficult not to judge, that things really and naturally are what they have often appeared to them to be, provided education doth not early interpose to teach and accustom them to separate and dissociate, both with respect to natural and moral appearances. And indeed it is the chief business of education, if its end be to fit us for life, and to teach us to think justly of things, and act well, to inculcate upon youth from their tenderest years, in a way suited to their capacity, the necessity of never suffering any ideas that have no natural cohesion to be joined by appearances in their understandings: or, in general, of never allowing any ideas to be associated in their minds, in any other or stronger combination, than what their own nature and corespondence give them; and for that reason,<245> education ought not only to recommend it to youth, but actually to inure them to examine the ideas that they find linked together in their minds, whether their association be from the visible agreement that is in the ideas themselves, or merely from the habitual and prevailing custom of the mind, in joining them thus together in thinking; or from their having often occurred to the mind closely connected, either in consequence of the course of nature, if they be natural appearances, or in consequence of the practice of the world, if they be moral ones. But how contrary to this, and all the other ends of education, is, as an excellent writer on the subject has long ago observed, that prevailing custom among all sorts of people of principling their children and scholars; which in reality amounts to no more, but making them imbibe their teacher’s notions and tenets, by an implicite faith, and firmly adhere to them, true or false.a
But all this may perhaps be thought too long a digression from my present subject, which hath been, I think, sufficiently illustrated; and will be yet more so, in considering the other general class of our duties, or perfections, to which we are exhorted by revelation, agreeably to reason; to which I now therefore proceed.
IV. How easily moral knowledge, which is the most important of all knowledge, may be acquired by all men, will yet more clearly appear, if we consider what is that right moral temper of mind, and correspondent conduct, which we are commanded by revelation to labour to attain to as our happiness, our interest, our most reasonable and becoming disposition of mind, and so much the end of all knowledge, that without it all science is vain and unprofitable. Now what is this temper? It consists in the presidence of reason over<246> our mind, and all its appetites and passions, to such a degree of stable authority, that no fancy, no appetite, no passion, is able to hurry us away with it into any pursuit it may paint to us in the most tempting colours, till reason and moral conscience have examined the matter, and pronounced sentence? It consists in self-government or mastership of the mind; and in being so strong, as never to act contrary to reason, or even without a very good reason. It consists in being able to subdue and conquer our strongest appetites, when to yield to them would be to act a base, or ungenerous, or even an unmanly, effeminate part. It consists in having benevolence so predominant in our mind, as to be disposed on every occasion to consult the good of our fellow-creatures; and to prefer it to our own selfish sensual indulgences. It consists in sweetness, goodness, and what is properly called humanity, or benignity of temper. It consists in an habitual love of the supreme being, and cheerful resignation to his will; and finally, in that fortitude and magnanimity of mind, which enables one to suffer with due resolution and bravery any evil, rather than forego his integrity, and act contrary to his inward sense of right and wrong; and generously to forgive injuries. This is the substance of what the holy scripture recommends to us as our chief study. It often reduces all our duties to love; the love of God, and the love of our neighbour. It often exhorts, not only to compassion and mercy, but to a meek and forgiving temper. It commands us to overcome evil by good. It frequently exhorts to patience under affliction, and resignation to the divine will, which orders and disposes all things to the best. It abounds in precepts, to subdue our unruly passions, to strive for the mastership and command of them: and what it represents as the principal thing, is to maintain the authority of reason, as our guiding principle in our mind, that we may live and act like reasonable beings; may be habitually able on<247> every occasion to prove what is agreeable to reason, and therefore acceptable to God; that we may always enjoy the testimony of a good conscience, telling us, that in all simplicity and godly sincerity, we have had our conversation in the world; and that when our hearts, being void of all consciousness of offence, do not condemn us, but approve us, we may have confidence toward God, whose voice conscience is. I shall have occasion afterwards to explain more particularly all those duties, and then the particular places of scripture where they are recommended to us shall be pointed out. Let me only at present mention two: one from St. Paul writing to the Romans.a “ For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ, is acceptable to God, and approved of men. Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.” The other is from the epistle of the same apostle to the Ephesians, much to the same purpose.b “Be ye followers of God as dear children. And walk in love as Christ also hath loved us—Let no man deceive you with vain words; for because of the unclean works of darkness cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of the light. For the fruit of the spirit, is in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth, proving what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.—But all things that are reproved, are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest, is light.”
The meaning of which two excellent exhortations amounts plainly to this: “Tho’ christians are exempted<248> from the bondage of the Jewish law with respect to meats and drinks; yet the more valuable privileges and advantages of that kingdom, which Christ came into the world to establish, do not consist in the enjoyment of a greater variety of meats and drinks, but in uprightness of life, and in peace, and joy of mind, resulting from a good conscience, and the use of the most advantageous gifts and benefits of the Holy Ghost under the gospel, for our advancement in true virtue and piety. For he that by the study of purity, holiness and peace, obeys the commands of Christ, is acceptable to God, and must be approved by all men, who have their natural sense of right uncorrupted. The things therefore that we set our hearts upon to pursue and promote, let them be such as tend to peace and good-will, and to instruct, and build up one another in the holiness and goodness of temper, to which we are called by Jesus Christ.”
“Let all bitterness,27 and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from among you, with all malice. And be ye kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God forgiveth you. Be ye thus followers, or imitators of God, as those who are under special obligations to his mercy, and who would approve themselves to him, as dear obedient children to an affectionate parent. Propose no less an example to yourselves to be imitated by you, than God your Father, who is in heaven. And let love conduct and influence your whole conversation, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us, an acceptable offering of a sweet-smelling favour unto God. Let not the works of darkness, those works, which, conscious of their baseness and impurity, hate and avoid the light, be named among you without abhorrence. For let no man deceive you with vain words; all works which dare not stand the test of light are highly abominable in the sight of God, and those<249> who obey these wicked lusts, and practise these self-condemned wicked deeds, will God bring to judgment. Be ye not therefore partakers with such. For if God will punish the heathen nations for such works, because tho’ they are not favoured with revelation, yet they have a law in their hearts, which condemneth these abominable practices, to which they do not hearken; but which, on the contrary, they have, as it were, quite defaced and obliterated; how much more aggravated must your guilt be, if ye are guilty of the same abominations, who are no more in the state of darkness the Gentiles had brought on themselves;a but have, by the gospel of Christ, clear light and knowledge given to you. Walk therefore as in a state of light. For the fruit of the spirit of Christ, and of his gospel, is in all its sincere followers, goodness, righteousness, and truth; and these good fruits, due examination, or bringing things to the light, and a fair trial, will shew and prove to be acceptable to God. Do not partake in the fruitless works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For that is light, which sheweth what things are reproveable, and what things are good and honourable: whatsoever doth make things manifest is light. And this light ye now have, that you cannot consider wicked works, without seeing how condemnable they are.”
Now let us consider this temper of mind a little, and see whether any man can think of it, without approving it as the perfection of his will and affections; of his reason and heart, which he ought to labour to attain to; and which tho’ it can only be acquired by repeated acts, or by diligent exercise of the temper itself, yet may thus be attained to by every one. Can any one think, that man does not sink below the dignity of his nature as a reasonable being, in proportion as he degrades his reason, and suffers himself to be governed by blind appetites, which he never calls to account?<250> Can any man doubt, that a benevolent, humane, generous disposition, is in itself, amiable, lovely, praiseworthy? Or, finally, Can one ever persuade himself, that love of God, and resignation to his all-perfect will, is not the disposition which the belief of God dictates to us, as suitable to such a perswasion, and highly reasonable and becoming us? Who is not capable of understanding what is meant by governing himself by reason, instead of suffering himself to be hurried and transported by appetite or passion into any pursuit, without knowing its consequences; Or what benevolence to man, and love to God mean? And can any man, who understands what is signified by these qualities of the mind, wrought into habit by due practice, in the same manner as all propensions are rendered habitual; or as all our faculties are perfected, and yet not approve it as the greatest perfection of a rational being? Let him but paint to himself this character, and oppose it to its reverse, and then say which he thinks the most laudable and becoming. And if he cannot choose, but highly esteem and approve it in others, even in distant countries or ages, from whom no advantage could possibly accrue to him; how can he choose but approve it in himself, and condemn its opposite, and every step towards the settling it in the mind? In order to judge of what is becoming, there is no need of computation, as in questions about interest or disadvantage depending upon the remote consequences of actions. It is a matter of immediate sensation or feeling. As the eye discerns beauty in outward objects immediately, tho’ one be not acquainted with the rules to be observed in imitating or copying it; or the ear distinguishes concord and discord in sounds immediately, tho’ one be unacquainted with the theory of musick, and the principles of composition: so, in this case, does the approving and disapproving faculty of the mind, by whatever name it be called, immediately and distinctly discern the fair and<251> foul, the odious and amiable, the right and wrong in affections, actions and characters, so soon as they are presented to the mind. And we cannot avoid seeing them, because the actions of others are ever presenting themselves to us; and we must be conscious of our own actions, and of the affections by which they are produced. Indeed so powerful, so absolutely ineffaceable, is this sense in all men, that however corrupt any age hath been, however ignorant, however perverted and misled by superstition, yet every man in it, as far as we can judge from history, even the most abandoned hath felt at times, the severest checks and remorses of conscience arising from this sense in him; which, if any man will but consult his own heart, he will feel to speak to him with an authority, that he can’t help thinking to be, what it really is, divine. We are told by historians, that Felix governed the Jews in a very arbitrary manner, and committed the grossest acts of oppression and cruelty: and Drusilla his wife, without any good reason to justify a divorce, had left her former husband, and given herself to him; and consequently was an adultress.a Now when St. Paul was sent for to explain to them the nature of the christian religion, then newly published, and therefore a matter of curiosity; he first discoursed to them on the eternal, immutable laws and obligations of justice, temperance and charity, without a right and deep sense of which, it is impossible to be a sincere convert to christianity; because these must be an essential part of every revelation that is of divine original. Upon this the natural conscience of this wicked man was alarmed. It was sadly darkened and perverted, as appears from his character; but it was not quite lost or defaced. And therefore on this occasion, it was quickly rouzed and moved to speak that natural awful language, which on many occasions, makes the boldest<252> to Christ, with regard to mankind; or what that part is which he is employed in carrying on in God’s universal government; it is very manifest, 1. That his commission was given to him on account of his worthiness, his consummate virtue. The plain language of the scripture, of all that is said in the holy writings, about Jesus Christ, his commission, the power, the authority given to him of the Father, is, that true virtue is the only valuable consideration that prevails with God, the only power or quality, in heaven or in earth, that can be honoured and rewarded by him. 2. That as in this world, or God’s visible government, all is carried on chiefly by the instrumentality of men; so the invisible government of God is carried on by the instrumentality of agents superior to man. And, indeed, we must suppose the happiness of other rational agents to arise in a manner analogous to the happiness of good men, though in a superior degree, from their instrumentality in doing good; from their virtuous employments in promoting universal happiness. 3. It is no less evident from what is said of Jesus Christ, and his glorious commission and charge from the Father, and of the angels being ministring spirits to the heirs of salvation, and to execute other great purposes of God’s universal benevolence, that beings of the noblest and most perfect orders may have occasion for fortitude, for magnanimity and resignation to the divine will, in order to their noble employments, in the execution of which they are happy beyond all expression. The patience, the magnanimity, the resignation to God, and the benevolence to mankind, with which Jesus Christ bore the contradiction, the raillery, the persecution of sinners, is set before us in scripture, at once as an example of, and a strong motive to our sedulous study of those virtues. And they shew, that there may be occasion for these virtues in the most perfect state. But my design being merely to shew the consistency of the principles of religion discoverable by reason, with the fundamental<253> doctrines benevolence and self-government? Is not the mean, mercenary, selfish man, universally contemned, nay, hated? And what can we do in the world, what scheme can we carry on, or what enjoyment can we really have without the assistance of others, and when we are really the object of their hatred and detestation? Next to inward self-approbation, and the sense of the divine favour and love, the supremest of all joys is certainly consciousness of merited esteem and affection from all good men, which can only proceed from the same source with these other joys. And sure it is a much easier, as well as securer way to get and maintain goodwill, esteem, and love from our fellow-creatures, by real uncounterfeit goodness, than to be continually upon the guard and watch, lest our mask should drop or fall aside, and the fatal discovery be made of our real vileness and baseness.
And with respect to bodily sensations, did ever benevolence, temperance, the presidence of reason in the mind, and self-government, produce an uneasy one, that was not doubly compensated by the consciousness of the goodness of the action, in the eyes of God, and all wise beings. But how innumerable are the pains brought upon us by intemperance and all ill-governed passions? It is needless to insist upon this article, since temperance, nay, abstinence, are universally acknowledged to be necessary means of health and bodily pleasure. And the cheerful, benign, humane temper, is unanimously pronounced by all the happy one. With respect therefore to fortitude, patience, magnanimity, and resignation to the will of God, who is it that hath evidently the advantage in the calamities which happen alike to all men, (for I do not now speak of those of our own making, all which belong to vice) the man who is able to support his mind by agreeable reflexions, or he who hath nocomfort; nothing to keep up his spirits, nothing to relieve or strengthen his mind?<254>
To be able to judge of the obligation to virtue, even in point of interest, meaning by that the securest way to outward ease, to health, and sensitive pleasure, not succeeded by far greater sensitive pain, is not a matter that requires deep computation: it is a plain truth, universally acknowledged by most expressive proverbs in all nations from the beginning of the world, which demonstrate at once the indisputableness of that point, and the universality of good sense. The men of pleasure, commonly so called, are not the men of pleasure. Epicurus, whom they pretend to follow, however false his method of proceeding was in deducing moral obligations, hath clearly proved, that a virtuous life is the life of pleasure; and that without it there is no solid lasting happiness, even in this life, abstracting from all consideration of God or futurity.
In fine, the matter now under consideration, is so evident, so incontestable, that all sorts of philosophers have agreed in it, “That temperance, self-government, or regular passions, and a benevolent humane temper, together with fortitude, able to bear up under the inevitable distresses human life is subject to, are necessary to self-enjoyment; necessary means of happiness.” Even those who have laughed at the notion of moral obligation, properly so called, have acknowledged a natural obligation, in respect of self-interest, or private good, to those virtues; or that, abstracting from the inward peace they give by a sense of their agreeableness to the dignity of human nature, and the intention of its maker; or, supposing these to be groundless fancies and prejudices; they are however such qualities as every wise man will endeavour to attain for his own sake, in order to evite the greatest of pains, and to have the best of pleasures. That emphatical saying of old Homer,28
Never, never, wicked man was wise.<255>
seems to have been a proverb in that ancient time, and there are many such like ones almost in all countries. The Proverbs, Wisdom of Solomon, and the Sayings of the Son of Sirach, abound with such strong, nervous sentences in favour of virtuous conduct.29 “He that walketh uprightly, walketh surely; but he that perverteth his ways shall be known.” “The integrity of the upright shall guide them, but the perverseness of transgressors shall destroy them.” “The righteousness of the upright shall direct his way, but the wicked shall fall by his own wickedness.” “The righteousness of the upright shall deliver them, but transgressors shall be taken in their naughtiness.” “He that diligently seeketh God shall procure favour; but he that seeketh mischief, it shall come unto him.” “He that trusteth in his riches shall fall, but the righteous shall flourish as a branch.” “The light of the eyes rejoiceth the heart, and a good report makes the bones fat.” “He that followeth after righteousness and mercy, findeth health and honour.” “Better is the poor man that walketh in his uprightness, than he that is perverse in his ways though he be rich.”
The useful maxims expressed in these emphatical proverbs, every one must consent to who attends to their meaning, which is so well explained by an excellent author,a that I cannot forbear laying it before my readers. The paths of virtue are plain and streight, so that the blind, i.e. persons of the meanest capacity with an upright intention shall not err therein. The ways of iniquity and injustice, of fraud and deceit, are infinitely various and uncertain, full of intricate mazes, perplexity, and obscurity: It requires great skill and industry to find out such methods of overreaching our neighbours, as will have any probability of success; it requires much study and intentness to manage the design to the best advantage; and it cannot but cause much sollicitude of mind, to<256> be always in fear of being disappointed by a discovery. How many do we meet with in the world, who (out of a greedy desire of a little greater gain) endeavouring to over-reach and deceive their neighbours, have, for want of laying their contrivances cunningly enough, and managing them with secrecy and advantage, fallen short of that gain which they might, without farther trouble, have gotten in the plain way of honesty and uprightness. But now uprightness and sincerity is a plain and a smooth road; and though perhaps not always the shortest way to riches and honour; yet he that keeps constantly on in this path, is surer not to mistake his way and lose himself, than he that climbs over rocks and precipices, in hopes of coming sooner to his journey’s end. The upright man lays no projects, which it is the interest of his neighbour to hinder from succeeding; and therefore he needs no fraudulent and deceitful practises, to secure his own interest by undermining his neighbour’s. He frames no designs (if he be in a private station) which depend much on secrecy for success, and therefore he is not in a continual anxiety and sollicitude of mind, lest a discovery should make them abortive. In a word, as the ways of iniquity are rough and slippery, dark and crooked, intricate and perplexing; so the paths of uprightness are clear and even, plain and direct, that the way-faring men, though fools, shall not err therein. The waya of the wicked is as darkness, they know not at what they stumble; but the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. “And he that walketh in right paths—when he goeth, his steps shall not be straitned; and when he runs he shall not stumble.”30 That the way of uprightness is the freest from danger in itself, and according to the constitution of things, least liable to misfortune and disappointments, must needs be confessed<257> by every one that considers the nature of things, the general causes of men’s miseries and calamities, and the true and natural tendency of uprightness and sincerity. If the constitution of things be evidently such, that the society of mankind, and the peace of the world cannot possibly be maintained without some degree of faith and sincerity amongst men; and that the less of this uprightness there be found in the world, so much the nearer things draw to confusion and dissolution: if the general causes of mens misfortunes and disappointments lie manifestly in their own irregularities and disorders; and the ruin of most men be evidently owing to their own deceitful and indirect practices; as (I think) it cannot be denied to be: then is uprightness undeniably the securest and least dangerous course. If the securing our good name and reputation in the world; if the gaining the generality of mankind, the best and wisest of them at least, to be our friends; if the making our private interest the same with the publick, and founding the hopes of our own advantages not on the ruin but prosperity of our neighbours, be the likeliest way to prosper in the world; then has uprightness clearly the advantage. For what certainer method can a man take to secure his credit and reputation, than to do nothing, but what the more nicely and exactly it be scanned, the greater approbation it will be sure to receive? And what better and more effectual means can a man use to secure to himself lasting and beneficial friendships, than to lead “An uncorrupted life, and to do the thing which is right, and speak the truth from his heart: to use no deceit in his tongue, nor do evil to his neighbour, but to swear to his neighbour, and disappoint him not, though it be to his own hurt.”a
Thus then it is evident, that the principal duties revelation calls us to practise, are in themselves easily discoverable to be our best, our wisest, our safest,<258> and our most becoming course; as well as declared to be so in it, in the strongest terms. But it is proper to consider some other views which revelation gives us of our duty, dignity, and interest.
According to revelation, we are made and placed here in our present state, chiefly to endeavour to attain to the love of the pleasures arising from rational, virtuous exercises; and to the contempt of mere sensual pleasure, in comparison of them; and this reason itself plainly proves to be the chief end of our being from the very nature of our frame, and from our present situation, which are admirably well adapted one to another.
What revelation teaches us to be our end and duty, will clearly appear, if we attend to the character given of the vitious in scripture, or the temper and character that is there condemned, and the description that is there given of the good, or of those who act suitably to the dignity of their nature, and the end of their creation in their present state. The wicked are said to be lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.b And in the text, and several parallel places of holy writ, mankind are divided into two classes,c one that soweth to the spirit, and reaps the fruit of an everlasting, rational or spiritual life; and another that soweth to the flesh, and reaps the corrupt fruit of a depraved mind, sold under sin, and a slave to the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. As the whole of what the sensitive world perceives may be ranked under the two general heads of pleasure and pain, of happiness and misery; so the whole rational and moral world may very properly be distinguished under those two opposite and most important<259> characters of good and evil. Now in the scripture language, the one of these is the kingdom of God, the kingdom of light, the kingdom of truth and righteousness; the other is the kingdom of Satan, the power of darkness, the dominion of slavery and sin. The one of these is the way that leadeth unto life, rational life, the true life of a man, and his proper happiness that shall endure for ever. The other is the way that leadeth to destruction;a to the death and destruction of the rational powers, a vitiated depraved temper, and proportionable misery and corruption. The former live after the spirit, the other live after the flesh;b and what is the life of the flesh, but a carnal, sensual life; for what are the lusts of the flesh, but violent desires after mere bodily gratifications, which by St. Johnc are reduced to the lusts of the eye, the lusts of the flesh, and the pride of life? St. James tells us,31 that the pretended wisdom of wicked men descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish, full of envy, strife, confusion, and every evil work. But, on the contrary, he who lives to the spirit, hath his affections, saith St. Paul,d on the things that are above, the things which make the happiness of the higher orders of celestial beings, the proper happiness of our powers, and the happiness of a future spiritual state. And the wisdom which directs and influences to this wise choice, is from above, says St. James;32 and it is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
Now this being plainly the doctrine of the christian revelation concerning virtue and vice, and the duty and dignity, or the degradation and corruption of the human mind, let us consider what may be inferred<260> from our constitution and rank; or whether it is agreeable to it. For it is hence alone that human duty, interest, or perfection, can be known; and whatever doctrine is repugnant to that, cannot be true.
Let us therefore look a little into our frame and constitution.
I. Now nothing can be more evident than that we are capable of various pleasures, various gratifications and pursuits, being endowed with many various capacities of enjoyment; many various affections and appetites, each of which hath its proper object toward which it naturally tends. And indeed without appetites and affections suited to objects we could have no incentive to action; we would be utterly incapable of pleasure; no object could be more satisfactory to us than another: nothing, in fine, could give us any enjoyment. It is no less obvious to experience, that our affections and appetites grow keener and stronger by habit. So true is this, that many of our appetites are ascribed entirely to habit, and called appetites, desires, or cravings of our own making. Not that any thing can be produced in us of which the seeds are not originally implanted in our minds by nature. But because in the same manner as habit, accustoming the nose to irritation, renders snuff necessary to the quiet and happiness of some; may any thing else be made requisite to our ease and pleasure, a title, a ribban, any the merest gew-gaw; what we have inured ourselves to, by way of amusement, becomes, in proportion to our idea of it, and our accustomance to it, an essential to our satisfaction and contentment. So are we made, because the power of association of ideas and habit is requisite to our well-being and perfection.
But then, on the other hand, have we not reason, a reflecting, judging, and governing principle in our composition, to manage our affections and appetites,<261> to regulate all our exercises, by the repetition of which our affections are strengthened, and habits formed? Are we not capable of estimating and appraising things; of discovering the fitness and unfitness of actions, and of weighing the different consequences of our pursuits? The same consciousness which assures us that we have certain appetites and affections which grow stronger by indulgence, likewise assures us, that we have in us a ruling principle to govern our exercises and pursuits by. And what can it be intended for; or what is its end and use, but to govern and rule our actions; or to shew us what we ought to pursue, and what to avoid, and with what degrees of activity and carefulness, according to the different moments of things? Surely we cannot say, that the spring of a watch is intended to give motion to its wheels; a ship to sail it; or that the eye is made for seeing, and the ear for hearing; and deny, that understanding is made to discern, judgment to judge, and reason to regulate. If we would know the natural end of any frame or constitution, we must consider its parts as making, by their mutual respects one to another, a whole. And if we consider the parts which make up our frame, it is plain, that we consist of capacities of pleasure, appetites after certain enjoyments, and affections towards certain objects, together with a principle capable of judging of the natures, consequences, and values of things, and therefore of giving law to us with regard to our choices and pursuits. But if so, then are we made to govern our appetites, affections, choices, and exercises by reason; then are our appetites, affections, and choices made to be guided and ruled; and our reason is intended to guide and rule. Our business therefore is to endeavour to establish and confirm reason in our mind, as the governing principle, to which we ought not only to attend, but to conform ourselves in our conduct and behaviour. And<262> he alone, for that reason, acts agreeably to his make, and is in a natural or sound state, who endeavours to maintain his governing principle in its natural and legitimate authority and power. He who does not, is a rational agent disordered, or out of its right and natural state, in the same sense that we say a watch, a ship, or any machine is not in due order, when it does not answer its end. Either perfection and imperfection have no meaning in any case; or man is perfect or imperfect in proportion as his reason maintains or not maintains its influence and dominion in governing him, i.e. in regulating all his appetites, affections, and passions; all his desires, choices, actions and pursuits. If we take a just view of things, and own any thing like a scale, or rising in perfection and excellence of beings one above another, we must acknowledge that to have reason is a more noble and excellent endowment, than not to have it. But this cannot be acknowledged, without owning at the same time that there must be such a thing as exercising reason in more and less perfect degrees. And of consequence, wherever reason takes place, the highest perfection and excellence belonging to that frame must lie in giving all diligence to improve reason to its highest degree of power and vigour by due culture. Seeing therefore we have reason implanted in us, capable of being improved to great perfection, our excellence must consist in diligently improving it; and we can only be said to grow in the perfection belonging to our frame, in proportion as our reason advances in perfection; in proportion as it becomes fit to govern; and in proportion as being fit to govern, it does actually exert itself in governing. This is too manifest to be longer insisted upon, since it cannot be denied, without asserting there is no such thing as perfection and imperfection belonging to any thing. We may therefore now advance a step further; and therefore,<263>
II. Let it be observed, that the natural happiness of a being must be similar to, of a kind with, and the result of the qualifications and exercises for which it is fitted by its frame and composition. The happiness of one constitution cannot be the happiness of another constitution, for this very reason, that the constitutions are different. The happiness of an insect can only make the happiness of an insect. A being with other powers and capacities must have other objects, other exercises and enjoyments, to make it happy, i.e. objects, exercises, and enjoyments, suited to its particular powers, capacities, and affections. This general truth is likewise too clear, to stand in need of any further illustration. Yet if it be true, it must of necessity follow, that the happiness of a being, constituted as man is, must consist in the exercises of his reason, in governing all his appetites, affections, and pursuits. Such is his make, and such must be his happiness, unless the happiness of a being can be of a kind quite opposite to its frame and constitution. Man indeed is not merely a rational creature, but he has sensitive appetites and affections to be governed by his reason; sensitive appetites and affections implanted in him, together with several other affections and appetites, not surely to prevail and triumph over reason, but to be directed and ruled by it. If therefore it be true in general, that the proper happiness of a being can be nothing else but the result of the just and proportionate exercises of its powers and affections about their proper objects; it must be true with respect to man, that his proper happiness can consist in nothing else but the exercises of his reason in regulating the pursuits of his affections and appetites. It must consist in the exercises of his reason, in regulating his affections and appetites, and their pursuits, because reason is in its nature the guiding and ruling principle; and with respect to us, our appetites and affections are the subjects<264> to be governed and regulated by our reason. And it cannot consist in gratifying our appetites without any rule, or, contrary to all rule, without exercising our reason about them, as their director and governor, unless reason be in us to no purpose; be in us not to be exercised; or, contrary to what we experience in the make and frame of every thing, we be supposed to be made with reason to govern our affections and appetites, on purpose that we may have happiness, by neglecting and despising our reason; in proportion as it is useless and insignificant in us; or trampled upon by our appetites and passions, which is to suppose a very contradictory and inconsistent constitution. If we attend to our frame, we shall immediately find, that our sensitive appetites and affections are but a part of our constitution; there is not only distinct from them the governing principle in us, reason; but they are not the only affections or appetites in our minds. There are others very different from them which do likewise make a part of the affections and appetites to be governed by our reason. Now as the proper and natural happiness of a being cannot result from the gratification of a part of its nature only; so much less can it result from the gratification of that part only, which in itself hath the most distant relation to the principal or ruling part; as of all the affections and appetites in our constitution, our sensitive ones most evidently have. For our moral appetites or affections, though made to be governed by our reason, as well as our sensitive ones, have however, in the nature of things, as being moral appetites or affections, a nearer relation to the governing principle in us, than sensitive appetites or affections. The appetite, for instance, after knowledge, implanted by nature in our minds, though it be one of the appetites or affections in our frame which reason ought to govern, yet it hath in its nature or kind a more immediate or nearer relation to our governing intelligent principle, than hunger, thirst, or any such like<265> sensitive appetite: it is in respect of all such appetites a moral principle in us. The love of beauty, order, and harmony, and affection towards the objects which present these ideas to our mind, is also, in respect of any merely sensitive appetite whatsoever, nearer a-kin, so to speak, to our reason, whose business it is to maintain good order, beauty, and regularity in our mind and conduct. And, to name no more, the desire of society so strongly inlaid into our constitution, though but an appetite or affection, is however, in respect of any sensitive appetite, lust, for instance, much more nearly allied to reason, whose chief use and business it is to govern all our appetites and actions in such a manner, as is most contributive to the upholding and well-being of society among mankind. Such appetites, and many others that might be mentioned, are in their nature compared with sensitive appetites on the one hand, and with reason on the other, really moral appetites, more nearly allied to reason, and consequently of a higher kind. And therefore of all the parts of our constitution considered singly, our sensitive appetites have the least pretension to be looked upon as the chief means of our happiness: i.e. of the happiness resulting from our complete frame; far less have they any right to be considered as the sole means or instruments of it. The preference, on the contrary, in this respect, if there can be any with regard to part of a frame considered singly, must of right belong to the affections, which in their nature have the nearest or most intimate relation to the governing principle in us; otherwise we must say, that the greater and better share of a being’s happiness may arise from its least valuable parts, the parts which have the remotest relation to its principal end or to that part which being placed to preside over and govern all the others, constitutes its chief excellence as a whole. To assert so with regard to man’s frame, is to affirm of it what will be owned not to hold with respect to any other constitution within our<266> cognizance: and it is to deny an abstract truth, which, if there be any that are indisputable, is certainly of that class, viz. That the principal or main happiness of a being must be of a kind with its frame and make. But if that abstract truth cannot be denied, and if experience, as far as we can carry observation, confirms it with respect to all sorts of constitutions of beings capable of enjoyment, “Then have we reason to conclude, previously to the particular examination of our pleasures, that our chief happiness must be the result of moral perfection, i.e. of the perfection of our reason, as a governing principle over all our affections, appetites and passions.”
III. But, in the third place, as from what hath been said, it plainly follows, that because to endeavour to attain to the government of our minds by reason, is endeavouring to attain to order and perfection in our constitution, in the same sense, that order or perfection is ascribed to any other frame, natural or artificial, in its kind; and it is acting agreeably to our natural make and constitution, and its end, in the same sense that any other constitution is said to be in its natural state, or to answer its end, therefore man is in this sense a law to himself; that is, he hath naturally a principle belonging to him, whose right and proper office it is to give law to all his appetites and affections. As this plainly follows from what hath been laid down; so that being granted, it necessarily ensues, that the Author of our frame (for it must of necessity have an author, the same who is the Author of all things, constituting the same system with it) must have intended, that we should act in this manner, which hath been found to be agreeable to our constitution. This we must infer, or not pretend to speak of any final causes, and absurdly say, a constitution may be fitted for an end, and yet not be designed for that end; or that the intention of its Author may be, that it should<267> act quite contrary to that end. But if it be yielded, that to govern our appetites by reason, is the end for which we are fitted, and consequently designed and intended by our Maker; then have we reason to consider our constitution, which hath been found to be, in a very proper sense, a law to itself, with regard to our manner of acting, as carrying along with it the force of a law in the strictest sense, i.e. of a law enacted by our law-giver, our maker, and upholder, the sovereign disposer of all our concerns and interests. In other words, we have good reason to argue thus with ourselves: “Our make and frame declares the will, the intention of our Maker, with respect to our rule of conduct; and therefore if there be any reason, either from reverence or interest, to conform ourselves to the will and intention of our Maker, our rule of conduct in that respect is plain: it is that which the end of our make, or our whole constitution declares to be such; that is, to maintain the presidence of reason in our minds over all our appetites, affections and passions. It is then our duty, and our interest, in every sense of these words, to set ourselves with all application to act conformably to this end.”
And indeed, since there is no reason to suspect, that the Author of such a make, could have any evil intention in so forming us; but there are, on the contrary, many excellent reasons to conclude from the consideration of all his works, to the order prevailing in all which such a constitution is very consonant, that he is perfectly good, or absolutely removed from all malevolent design:—we must infer, that our acting so, as hath been described, must, according to the constitution and connexion of things, upon the whole, be our greater good and happiness. But this conclusion being once fixed, it must necessarily be allowed, that to endeavour after moral perfection is our duty: or that we are obliged to it in every sense that can be put upon obligation. For to suppose such a Maker as hath<268> been described, and as ours must needs be concluded to be, from the consideration of our make, together with all his other works, not to have made our happiness in the final issue or result of things, to depend upon our acting conformably to our end, is a contradiction. We cannot know the intention of our Maker with respect to our conduct, but by knowing the natural end of our frame: but that being discovered, we may infer, that the way to our greatest good in the whole is, by acting agreeably to our natural end, with the same certainty, that we can infer our Maker, not to be malicious, but good. And this principle being established, it will of necessity follow, that tho’ our acting so, should at present be some time attended with an over-ballance of pain, yet it must still be our interest to act so, because that cannot possibly be the case for ever, or upon the whole under good administration. But how mightily is this argument strengthened, when we come to consider that it is singly in the extraordinary case of persecution for the sake of adhering to reason and conscience, that there is the least shadow of ground for saying, that acting agreeably to reason, or maintaining it in our mind as the ruler of all our appetites, affections, and pursuits, and yielding obedience to it as such, is contrary to present interest. For in all other circumstances of life, as hath been proved, to be governed by reason is really private interest, or what self-love, rightly informed, will persuade and induce us to choose. And in that single, very uncommon case, there is a satisfaction attending the firmness and constancy of the mind, in cleaving to what reason dictates and approves, in opposition to the violentest temptation to forsake reason, and act contrary to it, which to such sufficiently presages the kind regard of heaven to virtue, even while it suffers it to be so severely tried; and thereby gives a peculiar force in their minds to all the arguments above-mentioned, from which it may be inferred, that upon the whole, or in<269> the final issue of things, acting agreeably to our nature and end, must be our greater good; and therefore, that virtue, which eminently suffers in this life, shall, by such sufferings, be fitted for a peculiarly glorious share of after-happiness, by which those its present distresses shall be most abundantly compensated. This is the language of reason, as well as of scripture, That to him who overcometh, God will give a distinguishing crown of glory: a proportioned reward: they shall shine as stars in the kingdom of recompences. Blessed is the man, says St. James,a that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him, To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.b
IV. But, in the fourth place, as it cannot be asserted, that the exercises of understanding, reflexion and reason, are not the higher and more noble exercises of beings endued with those powers, without absurdly denying, that the faculty of perception is a greater perfection than imperceptivity; so, that these exercises are according to our make, attended with the purest, most durable, and most exalted enjoyments we are susceptible of; and consequently, that we are in every sense, or with respect to interest and happiness, as well as perfection and dignity, made for those exercises, and the satisfactions accruing from them, and not merely for the pursuit of sensible gratification, will appear from the few following considerations.
I. If we attend to our constitution and experience, we shall find, that the pleasure any sensible gratification affords us, is naturally in proportion to the violence of<270> the craving nature excites in us, when it is really necessary to the upholding of our bodily frame. So it is with eating, drinking, and every other bodily satisfaction: insomuch, that the vulgar saying, that no sauce can give such an excellent relish to food, as hunger does, holds with regard to them all. Luxury may rack its invention as much as it pleases to irritate appetite, or to give things a tempting taste and flavour; but if we abstract from the pleasures of the table, of love, or of dress and equipage, all regards to society, all that having its foundation in a nature made for community and social participation, and consequently belongs not to sense, but to affections of another class, very little will indeed be found to remain of real satisfaction, which is not truly no more than deliverance from a keen appetite or desire after what is wanting to bodily support. If we therefore judge fairly of matters, the intention of nature in so constituting us, cannot be understood to be that we should wholly abandon ourselves to sensuality; but, on the contrary, that we should only mind bodily gratification, so far as the present order of things requires for the preservation of our bodies; or, at least, not in any considerably higher degree. And this is yet more evident, when we consider,
II. That, in fact, we are so far from being framed for giving ourselves up entirely to sensual delights, that when these are pursued or pushed to any considerable degree beyond the use, or rather necessity, just mentioned, they not merely clog us, and produce violent loathing and nauseating at the very sight or mention of them; but very commonly occasion severe pains and uneasiness; very grievous and distressful diseases. And can such constitutions be said to be adapted for debauchery, for luxury, and wallowing in carnal voluptuousness, even supposing there were nothing in them otherwise contrary to our dignity, or misbecoming us? But,<271>
III. On the other hand, how pure and uncloying, how equally remote from all disgust and remorse, are the exercises of understanding? And what are the pleasures of this kind, but the contemplation of order and harmony? The foundation for which is laid in our minds, by our natural capacity of delighting in harmony, proportion and concord; that we might, by means of it, derive from our senses an enjoyment far superior to what the acutest, robustest organs of sense, can afford in the mere vulgar way of outward enjoyment, by the contemplation of those numbers, that harmony, proportion, and concord, which supports the universal nature, that whole immense material fabrick, the object of our sight, and touch, and all our other senses, and is essential in the constitution, and form of every particular species or order of beings; and that we might be led by this speculation to turn our eyes inward, and see whether a correspondent harmony, proportion and concord, prevails as it ought, in the discipline and government of our affections. How ready are even the voluptuous, if they have any notion of poetry, of painting, architecture, or of any other of those called the fine arts, to own, that the enjoyments of this kind are far preferable to the highest of mere sense? And,
IV. Need I stay to prove to those who have ever known the condition of the mind under a lively affection of love, gratitude, bounty, generosity, pity, succour, or whatever else is of a social or friendly sort, that speculative pleasure, however considerable and valuable it may be, or however superior to any motion of mere sense, must yet be far surpassed by virtuous motion, and the exercise of benignity and goodness; where, together with the most delightful affection of the soul, there is joined a pleasing assent and approbation of the judgment, to what is acted in this good and honest disposition, and bent of the mind. “We may observe<272> withal, says an excellent moralist, in favour of the natural affections, that it is not only when joy and sprightliness are mixed with them, that they carry a real enjoyment above that of the sensual kind. The very disturbances which belong to natural affection, tho’ they may be thought wholly contrary to pleasure, yield still a contentment and satisfaction greater than the pleasures of indulged sense: and where a series or continued succession of the tender and kind affections can be carried on, even thro’ fears, horrors, sorrows, griefs, the emotion of the soul is still agreeable. We continue pleased with the melancholy aspect or sense of virtue. Her beauty supports itself under a cloud, and in the midst of surrounding calamities. For thus when by mere illusion, as in a tragedy, the passions of this kind are skilfully excited in us, we prefer the entertainment to any other of equal duration. We find, by ourselves, that the moving our passions in the mournful way, the engaging them in behalf of merit and worth, the exerting whatever we have of social affection, and human sympathy, is of the highest delight; and affords a greater enjoyment in the way of thought and sentiment, than any thing besides can do in a way of sense and appetite.”a
V. Another proof that we are not made for self-indulgences, but, on the contrary, for submitting our sensitive appetites to reason, and for enjoyments accruing from the exercises of higher powers about their proper objects, and chiefly from the exercises of social affections, is at hand: for daily experience shews us, that as it happens among mankind, that whilst some are by necessity confined to labour, others are provided with abundance of all things by the industry and labour of inferiors; so, if among the superior and easy sort, there be not something of fit and proper employment raised in the room of what is wanting in common labour; if, instead of an application to any<273> sort of work, such as has an useful and honest end in society, (as letters, sciences, arts, husbandry, publick affairs, or the like) there be a thorough neglect of all duty or employment; a settled idleness, supineness and inactivity; this must of necessity occasion, and never fails to do it, a most disorderly and unhappy state of temper and mind; a total dissolution of the mind, which breaks out in the strangest irregularities, and ends in proportional fretfulness, discontent and misery.
VI. Let me just add, in the last place, that a being endued with understanding and reflexion cannot avoid looking inward on itself, and surveying its own temper and conduct. And there scarcely is, or can be any creature, whose consciousness of injustice, insociability or villainy, as such merely, does not at all offend. If there be such a one, it is manifest, he must be in his constitution totally indifferent towards moral good or ill. And that being the case, he can no way be capable of the pleasures redounding from social affection: he must be utterly insusceptible of all the delights arising from benign and kindly exercises: and consequently must be a stranger to all the best satisfactions of human life; if not absolutely miserable. But where conscience, or sense of good or ill desert is, there consequently, whatever is committed against candor, truth and honesty, must of necessity, by means of reflexion, be continually shameful, hateful, and grievously offensive. As for conscience of what is at any time done unreasonably in prejudice of one’s real interest, this disquieting reflexion must still attend, and have effect, wherever there is a sense of moral deformity contracted by injustice. For even where there is no sense of moral opprobriousness, as such merely; there must be still a sense of the ill merit of it, with respect to God and man. But where there is a conscience of worth, and its contrary; a sense of base and good conduct;<274> of a well disciplined, and an irregular, tumultuous, riotous mind, then it is impossible there can be any lasting self-enjoyment, any solid contentment, even amidst the greatest affluence, without the consciousness of serious endeavours to preserve good order, in our affections, and harmony and consistency in our life and manners. A man who lives dissolutely, and abandons himself to outward voluptuousness, without any regard to society, and without taking the least care of his moral part, hath no chance for ease or quiet, but by stupifying his reason, shunning himself, and living in a perpetual hurry and fluster. And is not this really the case with those who are vulgarly called men of pleasure? Nothing can bear the review of thought and reflexion, but the earnest endeavours of a good man to maintain the power and authority of his reason over his appetites, and to improve in his contempt of mere sensitive enjoyment, and in his relish for rational exercises; the exercises of understanding, and of social, generous affection. I have said nothing but earnest endeavours, because virtue is a progress, it is the effect of long management and sedulous art; much discipline and severe self-controul. No man is here arrived to perfect virtue, he is but in the progress towards it. And he is the best man, who hath made the greatest proficiency in the conquest of his appetites after carnal objects, and in delight in rational satisfactions. Why is virtue a struggle in moral fictions; or why is there no perfect character in poetry; or why would such a portraiture be thought unpoetical and false, but because in reality there is no such thing in life? Virtue is a warfare, because our appetites grow up, and become very strong, before our reason is able to exert its power, before indeed it knows, or can know its duty, and rule, and its proper functions. But the man, who is diligent in making progress to virtue, is not only in the road to future happiness, if the administration we are under be good; since, in that case, when moral perfection is arrived<275> by due culture and severe struggling to a perfection, fitted for being placed in circumstances that can afford it complete happiness, by administring to it objects suited to its perfection, then will it certainly be so placed: he is likewise at present in the only way that can give any true or solid pleasure to such a constitution, as is framed for advancing to moral perfection by due trials and diligent culture. And such is our constitution. Wherefore the holy scripture considers human nature in a right view; and addresses itself to man as he is really formed and constituted, when it calls us to set our affections not on things below; not on things on earth, but on things that are above: not to live and sow to the flesh, but to live and sow to the spirit.
It were easy to shew, that the best heathen moralists likewise considered human nature in the same view, and exhorted to the study and practice of virtue in the same strain. But it is sufficient to have shewn, that if the end of any creature can be inferred with any certainty from its make and constitution, this is the scope for which we are fitted; even to make progress toward moral perfection; that is, the perfection of those powers which entitle us to the character of rational or moral agents. It is for this end, that we have reason to govern, and appetites and affections to be governed: it is for this reason, we have a capacity for sensitive pleasures and sensitive appetites united with reason and a sense of order, beauty and proportion in an external world, and in the management of our own affections and actions; or the conduct of our life. This frame cannot be intended for any other purpose; and accordingly when that end is seriously pursued, the mind is easy and contented with itself, or is in its truly natural state; it thus brings no evils on itself, which can create the greatest of all uneasinesses, remorse and bad consciousness; but, on the contrary, it reviews itself with pleasure, and reviewing its merit, is inspired with double zeal to advance in its proper perfection, <276>cost what it will; whereas the neglect or abuse of our rational powers and sensuality fill with uneasiness, proportional to corruption and filthiness; often create the violentest bodily disorders, and never fail to render a being utterly averse to all inward thought and correspondence, or to the sight of itself. We are therefore made for the end we are exhorted by the sacred writings to pursue; and in pursuing it does the only true happiness this life can afford us consist. And indeed as the notion of man’s being made for a happiness in a future life to arise from his progress in virtue here, and proportioned to it, is a most comfortable idea; so if we do not suppose this to be the end of our frame, what consistent account can we give of our make? What account of it that is consonant to what it really is, or to the character of its author stamped upon all his other works? For if man be not made for that end, which the scripture expresly declares to be the end of his creation, and for which his present frame and situation are very well adapted, then he is the most inconsistent, absurd, nay, the most maliciously contrived piece of workmanship that can be imagined. For he is made for an end, on purpose that he may never attain to it, but may be cruelly disappointed if he aims at it, and pursues it. His whole frame points and prompts him to set a mark before him, which he shall never attain to, but be then most maliciously frustrated, when he thinks he is at the very point of obtaining it. All, according to the scripture account of man, is coherent, hangs well together, and gives a consistent as well as a joyful idea of the moral creation. But if it be not true, that man is made for progress in virtue and for a happiness, which is to be the result of improved virtue suitably placed; all nature, as many evident marks as it bears upon it every where of wisdom and benevolence, is truly but a deceitful appearance of goodness, under which lurks the most cruel malignant intention with regard to all moral beings. To conclude,<277> the perfection of a being endued with reason must be of the rational kind; and rational perfection is in the nature of things, a gradual acquisition, in proportion to culture, or diligence to improve in it. But man is a rational creature, capable of attaining to a very great degree of rational perfection by due pains to improve himself in it; and therefore diligence to improve in moral perfection is man’s present duty, whatever difficulties and strugglings it may cost; and such virtuous labour must terminate in happiness proportioned to the perfection so acquired, otherwise the rational world, that is, moral beings are under the worst of governments. But since even here, notwithstanding all the hardships virtue during its culture may meet with in order to its improvement, it carries along with it the only happiness suited to our frame in a very high degree, even tho’ there were no other signs of goodness in the administration of present things; why should virtue be imagined to be the object of our Creator’s hatred, detestation and revenge? As it must be supposed to be, if moral beings are not really made and intended for immortal progress in virtue, proportioned to their care and diligence to improve their moral powers; and virtue, which must in the nature of things be gradually perfectionated by culture and means of probation, after it is arrived to a great degree of perfection in its state of trial and discipline, perishes for ever, is rendered miserable, or is not placed in circumstances suited to its improvements, and from which it can derive to itself, by its exercises about proper objects, very full and complete happiness. For every one of these suppositions can have no other foundation, but in the imagination of a malignant maker and governor of all things, who is an implacable enemy to moral or virtuous improvements.<278>
From the preceeding account of human nature, and the perfection which man is made, formed and intended to pursue, we may plainly see, why man is so often exhorted in scripture, to mortify and subdue his bodily appetites. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth, says St. Paul,a fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry. For which things sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience. And, in another place, the same apostle exhorts us to the same purpose in these words.b Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day, not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. And he tells us, that if we live after the flesh we shall die; but if we thro’ the spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, we shall live. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.a
And indeed they must not have attended, neither to the nature of virtue, nor to the close dependence of our body and mind, who think such precepts unnecessarily harsh, and that progress can be made in virtue, which is properly called in scripture, sanctifying our body and mind, without strict bodily discipline, without thwarting, opposing, denying, and subduing our carnal appetites. They must not have attended to the nature of virtue, or of progress towards moral perfection. For virtue, as it properly signifies strength and magnanimity of mind, so it properly consists in power and dominion over our appetites; in self-command and mastership<279> of the mind: so it was defined by the best ancient moralists. And this is the virtue or perfection we are made to attain to. Our senses grow up first, because reason is a principle, which in the nature of things must be advanced to strength and vigour by gradual cultivation; and their objects are continually assailing and solliciting us; so that unless a very happy education prevents it, our sensitive appetites must have become very strong, before reason can have force enough to call them to account, and assume authority over them. But being endued with reason, in its nature a governing principle, we are made to cultivate it into a capacity of governing, and to set it up, and maintain and support it as a ruler in our mind. In this does our perfection lie. And therefore it must be our duty to exert ourselves to acquire sufficient strength of mind; not only not to allow ourselves to be transported into any pursuit by any of our appetites till we have examined it soundly and carefully; but to be able on every proper occasion to contradict and oppose them. Self-command and strength of reason cannot be otherwise attained to. For he who doth not accustom himself to submit his appetites, and to deny them their requests, cannot but be a prey or dupe to them; he cannot be master or have dominion over them. But that habitual firmness and magnanimity of mind is attained, as all other habits, by repeated exercises, and must therefore be attained by frequent self-denials. And accordingly it hath been recommended by the wisest philosophers, contrary to the ordinary way, to inure children to submit their desires, and go without their longings; because the principle of all virtue and excellence lies in a power of denying ourselves the satisfaction of our own desires, where reason does not authorize them. And this power is to be got by custom, and made easy and familiar by an early practice. The very first thing therefore, say these writers, that children should learn to know, should be, that they were not to have any thing,<280> because it pleased them, but because it was thought fit for them. This is certainly the proper method of forming early in young minds the truly virtuous temper, real magnanimity, and strength of mind, or the habit of self-command. But this disposition is not surely to be formed in young minds by proper discipline and exercise, in order to be destroyed and effaced as soon as we grow up by opposite practice. We cannot take a right view of our make and present state, without seeing the necessity of continuing this discipline over ourselves throughout our whole life; without considering ourselves always as children, with respect to the perfection we may attain to, and ought to be continually aspiring and contending after. For what is the highest attainment in virtue or moral perfection, which is in other words the contempt of sensual delight in comparison of rational satisfaction; what is it in proportion to the perfection that may yet be arrived at by the continuation of proper care and culture?
But they must also be indeed great strangers to our make and constitution, insomuch as to have quite forgot the close and intimate reciprocal communion between our minds and our bodies, who imagine, that the temper which hath been described can be attained or upheld, if we pamper our bodies, and give full swing to all our corporeal appetites; or if contrariwise we do not live in the strictest habitual sobriety, and frequently deny ourselves even innocent gratifications, in order to make self-denial easy, when noble ends call for it at our hands; friendship, the love of our country, or any other such virtuous and generous affection. It does not follow from hence, that severe fastings, penances, and bodily chastisements at stated times are necessary, or even that they make any part of religion and virtue. They are commonly enjoined and undergone by way of attonement for habitual irregularity, and to make amends for the want of a true principle of virtue, which<281> always works regularly and uniformly, than which opinion nothing can be more absurd. Nor does it follow from what hath been said, that men are to live a rigidly abstemious life, and to deny themselves the necessaries to sustenance; habitually to starve and emaciate themselves, and live in downright contradiction to all that sense and sensitive appetite demands. Every thing hath its extremes; and therefore virtue and truth may be justly said in general to consist in the middle. We are commanded to raise our minds above all sensual gratifications, and to set our affections chiefly upon moral exercises, and the pleasures accruing from them; and we are as certainly made for that end as we have reason to govern our appetites. And therefore, far from making sensual enjoyment our main end, we are to submit all our sensitive appetites to reason, and to inure them to yield easily and readily to what duty requires, to what the improvement of our rational faculties, and the interests of mankind and society require. But this cannot be done, not only without habituating ourselves to sobriety; but without frequent acts of self-denial, even where the indulgence would not be in any degree criminal, nor even so much as indecent. And in this case, because different constitutions require different management, every man must be left to his own prudence: general rules cannot be laid down. It is every man’s business to study his temper and complexion, that he may know what is necessary for him to do, in order to maintain and improve in that spiritual turn of mind, which is the perfection of a rational being. I call it spiritual turn of mind, because it is called in scripture, the life of the soul, or living to the spirit, being properly the life of our rational powers, the life of all those powers and dispositions in our constitution, which exalt us to the rank of moral agents; our understanding, our judgment, our reason, and our sense of good and evil, orderly and disorderly, becoming and unfit. The pleasures that<282> result from the exercises, which improve these faculties and dispositions, are the noblest we are capable of; they are of a kind, not only with the enjoyments which make other moral creatures superior to us happy, but with the felicity of God our Creator himself, whose happiness results from the exercises of his infinitely perfect moral powers.
But the reasonableness of those christian precepts, by which we are commanded to subdue and mortify our bodies, and to quicken our spiritual part, and to make provision for it, will yet more plainly appear, if we attend to some other ways of speaking in holy writ on the same subject. “Now the study of virtue is there called, putting off the old man, and putting on a new nature, or becoming a new creature.” And the meaning of these phrases, with the reasonableness of the view that is given by them of the virtue belonging to men, as the excellence they ought to pursue and aspire after with all diligence, will be evident,
I. If we reflect, in the first place, that, though some few may, through the good influence of virtuous example, and of a wise and happy education, be said to be sanctified from the womb, so liberal, so generous, so virtuous, so truly noble is their cast of mind; yet generally speaking, men are so corrupt, the whole world always hath, and still lieth in such wickedness, that with respect to the far greater part of mankind the study of virtue is beginning to reform, and is a severe struggle against bad habits early contracted, and deeply rooted. It is therefore putting off an old inveterate corrupt nature, and putting on a new form and temper: it is moulding ourselves anew: it is being born again, and becoming as children, to be formed into a right shape; becoming docile, tractable, and pliable, as little children, in order to be instructed in, and formed to the temper which becomes rational creatures, and in order to have another set of affections<283> and appetites established in us than those which lead the wicked captive to their gross and impure pursuits. This is the case when the habitually corrupt are called to turn from their wickedness, and to change their ways. They are really called upon to change their hearts, and to form a new spirit within them. And how few are there in the world, who escape its pollutions, so as not to be early in that class; or to be among those righteous who have not need of repentance; nothing to reform in their temper or conduct; or nothing to do but to advance in the perfection they are already in the train of pursuing. Those to whom the apostles addressed these exhortations were plunged in vice and sensuality, as appears from the character given of them. And an exhortation to every man who is a slave to his appetites, and hath not yet attained to the power of right self-government by his reason must run in that strain. “Wash you, make you clean; sanctify yourself; purify your heart; mortify the body, and make provision for your spirit, that you may enter into the holy, virtuous, and spiritual life, which will end in a life everlasting of virtue and rational virtuous happiness.”
II. But farther, let it be considered on this head, that not only are we so made, that unless a very virtuous institution prevent it, our sensitive appetites must become very strong or rather very impetuous, before our reason can have attained to the authority it must have to govern them as they ought, which can only be acquired by gradual culture and exercise: but as all rational creatures can only attain to moral improvements in the same way of gradual culture; so it is probable, that all reasonable creatures have, tho’ not affections and appetites of the same species with ours; yet such as are in this respect analogous to ours, that they are implanted in them to be the subjects of their rational government, as ours are<284> to be the subjects of our reason and moral discipline; and thus to be to them, as ours are to us, means or materials of exercise and trial. We cannot conceive moral beings to be formed to virtue, but by the discipline of reason; nor can we conceive a state of discipline and probation, when there is nothing to temptortry; nothing to seduce, nothing to be conquered. And yet, whatever may be as to that, it is certain, that our sensitive powers and appetites, and the sensible objects suited to them, at the same time that they afford us means and materials of rational employments, on account of the order, harmony, and concord that prevails in the disposition and government of the sensible world, and in other respects, are really to us means of probation, because they give occasion to a competition between sensual and rational pursuit; they lay a foundation, as it were, for a warfare, and give opportunity for strength and conquest. Our senses do in fact strongly importune us, and yet because we have reason, and are capable of ruling, subduing, and conquering sense, and of pursuing rational delights, preferably to those of sense, we must certainly be made for that end; it must certainly be our perfection, and it must likewise be the sure way to our greatest happiness, unless our reason be made to be frustrated in pursuing the only end it can be thought to be made for, consistently with our way of judging about the end for which any frame whatsoever is intended. This being our make, we must necessarily conclude, that we are made to conquer sense, and to improve our reason; or to establish in our minds an habitual preference to rational delights, as those from which our happiness is to redound, when we have arrived by due culture in our state of discipline and probation to consider able perfection of the moral kind. For not to infer this from our make, is really to assert no less an absurdity, than that we are endued with<285> reason capable of being improved, and yet are not intended for rational improvement and perfection.
Now if all this be true, then we may see that our present state is justly represented in scripture, as our state of education and trial; our probationary state, in which we are to be schooled and disciplined; or rather are to school and discipline ourselves into a capacity for being perfectly happy in a future state, in the rational or moral way, that is, in consequence of the natural exercises of well-improved moral powers about their proper objects. I need not stay to prove that to be the scripture representation of our present and future state. I am afterwards to inquire particularly into the account given of our future life by the sacred writings. And the whole tenor of the exhortations to mankind in the scriptures runs in this strain, to sow to the spirit now, that we may in a succeeding state reap the happy fruits of that moral or virtuous seed we now sow; to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven; and to purify ourselves as God is pure, that we may dwell with him, and see him as he is. Consistently with this account of our present state, we are commanded to put on the whole armour of light, and to fight so that we may overcome. And virtue is every where represented as struggling for victory; as contending for a prize: as wrestling and battling against strong and powerful enemies. Nor is it so represented to us by the scriptures only, but likewise by the best antient moralists. And what else can it be with respect to those who have any evil habits to undo; any corrupt passions to submit to reason, and conquer? And who are not less or more in that case? What else can it be with respect to beings whose senses are continually importuning them to throw off the bondage of reason,<286> and give full swing to them? And who is there among mankind, who doth not often feel a law in his members, that is, some unruly head-strong appetite, warring against the law of his mind, the law of his reason and moral conscience?
But though this be true, yet the holy scripture is neither inconsistent with itself, nor repugnant to the nature of things, when it at the same time represents virtue as pleasant and agreeable; as man’s supreme happiness even here, and as what can only be rewarded by itself. In order to illustrate this, it seems proper to make the two following observations.
I. As in learning any art or science we distinguish two periods, the first of which is harsh, and attended with a great mixture of uneasiness, but the other exceeding pleasurable: so is it with regard to virtue, the first steps to it, like the first steps towards science or art, are painful, laborious, and in a great measure irksome; especially when the appetites to be subdued are very imperious, and the evil habits to be destroyed are very firmly rooted; but as science or art becomes easier and pleasanter in proportion to the advances made in it, so likewise does virtue: and, at last, when any considerable degree of perfection is attained to in it, then all goes very smoothly and very easily on; then its commands are not grievous, but light and sweet; nay, all its paths are pleasantness, and all its ways are peace. Virtue must become natural in the same way that any habit becomes natural, that is, by practice, before it can have that pleasant effect in its exercises, which that alone can have, that is, become habitual or natural, in proportion as it is such.<287>
II. But let not this be so understood as if it were quite so difficult a matter to conquer the most inveterate habits, as it may at first be imagined. The greatest difficulty in conquering bad habits arises from this natural language of that habitual unwillingness to exert ourselves in self-government, which must grow upon us with every habit that is otherwise established in our mind, then by force or dint of reason, or with its actual consent and approbation, with which language our natural inclination to extenuate and excuse our faults to ourselves very readily falls in; viz. That it is in vain to struggle against an old habit, or, at least, that it will cost a great deal of trouble and pain to gain the ascendant over it. If we can but once attain to force enough of mind to resist this natural suggestion of every bad habit in favour of itself, and to resolve upon asserting the dominion of our reason, the whole work almost is done. Vice is driven out of its strongest hold, and the victory is at hand. And for this reason all good moralists, as well as the scriptures, represent the whole, or, at least, the chief point in reformation, and the study of virtue to be daring to be wise (sapere aude) or taking the resolution not to be a dupe to every foolish appetite or fancy that may attack us, either with fair promises of pleasure, or specious representations of great trouble and uneasiness; but to act with reason, or upon rational deliberation, and always for very well and maturely weighed considerations. And what man, who is convinced that it is more becoming a reasonable being to act rationally than irrationally, may not easily upbraid himself into this resolution, by but considering frequently with himself, that not to have it is not to be a man; and that there is hardly any thing that human resolution may not master, as we may see from very various effects of it.<288>
III. Notwithstanding what hath been said of virtue, that it is not only a progress, but a progress that requires violent struggling, great magnanimity and resolution; yet it is certainly true, that this laborious progress is man’s great happiness here, and that virtue alone can be the reward of virtue.
I. The progress towards virtue or moral perfection, as troublesome as it can possibly be in any case, is however our chief happiness here. It carries along with it a delightful consciousness of be coming strength and greatness of mind in pursuing our chief excellence. It not only can comfort itself with the hopes of attaining to happiness of the highest kind, when the mind is by due culture prepared for it; but it knows itself to be acting the right part, the part suitable to our nature, and which God and all wise beings must approve. And in what other consciousness can a man rejoice: for what other exercise can he approve himself: upon what else indeed can he reflect, without condemning, hating, and abhorring himself, and all his ways? The virtuous man, that is, the man who assiduously sets himself to improve his mind, and to act a becoming part on every occasion; a part suitable to, and worthy of his rational nature, is conscious to himself of having inward strength and courage, true greatness of mind, and of being master of himself, and not a mere slave to every shameful lust, or cowardly fear: and what power, what dominion, what conquest can give joy equal to this? In this alone doth true independency and genuine heroism consist. So true is it, that the exercises of understanding, reason and generous affection, yield a satisfaction which none of the pleasures of mere sense bear any proportion to; that if we ask the truly virtuous man, what reward he would desire for any of these, and he will naturally tell you, other higher exercises of the same kind? Will he say sensual pleasure of whatever<289> kind? No surely; for he places his chiefest joy in sacrificing these pleasures to benevolence, or some other such virtuous principle.
II. And therefore it is, that virtue is justly said to be its own reward, or in other words, that the glory prepared for the virtuous, in a future state, is called grace, or virtue made perfect, and placed in circumstances for exercises adequate to its perfection. We shall have occasion afterwards to shew that this is the account given of the glory promised to the virtuous in a future state; and therefore we shall only take notice here, That those who say, virtue can have any reward but from virtuous exercises, must mean, if they speak consistently, that something like what is commonly called, the Mahometan Paradise, is to be the reward in a future state, for our care in this to improve our rational powers, and to attain to a contempt of sensual pleasures, in comparison of those accruing from moral or rational exercises; which is to say, that virtue is to be rewarded by sensuality; or that we are made and obliged to live godly, righteously, and soberly here, and to make provision for the spirit, and not for the body, to fulfil the lusts thereof, that we may be qualified to wallow in sensual pleasures in another life. The whole question about virtue is, whether rational exercises are not of a nobler kind than mere sensual indulgences. And the moment they are acknowledged to be such, it is granted that virtuous exercises can only be rewarded by virtuous exercises of a higher kind; or, in other words, by more improved virtue exercised about objects proportioned to its excellence and perfection. The moment the reality of virtue is owned, sensual gratification is given up as a low, mean, and sordid part of happiness, in respect of rational exercises and the enjoyments resulting from them. But if the mere delights of sense cannot be the reward of virtue, nothing can be its reward but<290> itself. The moment the happiness of the Deity is acknowledged to result from his moral perfection, moral perfection is owned to be, in the nature of things, the only source of happiness to moral beings: and that being owned, various degrees of moral powers and their exercises must make the only difference amongst moral beings in different states, or of different classes in respect of happiness. Virtue therefore is its own reward. And those who assert, that there is no obligation to virtue independently of the consideration of future rewards and punishments, do absurdly assert (in whatever sense they take obligation) that there is a happiness hereafter for the virtuous, not of the virtuous or rational kind, which makes the only good reason for the study of virtue here: or, in other words, that it is wise and prudent to be virtuous here, merely because in another life the virtuous may be as unvirtuous as they please; because they shall then be released from their obligations to troublesome, virtuous exercises, and shall have theira belly full of other delights far superior to all that virtue can by its noblest exercises afford to a rational mind. Their assertion must ultimately determine in this gross absurdity. And from what considerations they can ever infer such obligation to virtue, or such a succeeding reward for it, I cannot imagine. Sure they cannot reason from the excellence of virtue to prove such a state of rewards and punishments to come. And sure they cannot reason to prove it from any of the perfections of the Deity. From what other principle therefore can they conclude the probability of their future state, which according to them constitutes the sole obligation to virtue? There is indeed none, nor can there, in the nature of things, be any argument to prove a future<291> state, which does not suppose rational exercises to be the best, the noblest, and pleasantest exercises of reasonable beings, and which for that reason does not suppose, that, if there be a state of rewards for virtue, it must be a state in which virtue shall reap happiness, proportioned to its perfection from exercises about objects suited to it; and consequently, tho’ higher than any happiness virtue can afford in its first state of education and trial, yet of a kind with what it now gives, and alone can give: virtue therefore is its own reward, and only can be such.
All this will be yet more evident, when we come, in the succeeding proposition, to take a more particular view of the rational exercises recommended to us, by the christian religion, as our duties and excellencies, and to shew, in treating of them, how well man is furnished for the practice of them, or improvement by them. But before I leave what I have been now considering, it is fit to obviate an objection that may be made against what hath been said concerning our natural end, duty, and excellence: which is, That if the case be as hath been represented, then by the necessary state of human affairs, are men upon a very unequal footing, with respect to their ultimate end; since few have time and opportunity, if they have capacity, for moral improvements.
Now in answer to this, I shall not stay to prove, how much of this unequality among mankind with regard to present rational happiness is owing to ill-constituted society, or bad government. Though that be true, yet it is incontestible that the exigencies of human life do require, that more should be employed in manual labours, than in study. And therefore allowing as full force to the objection as can be required, I would only have it observed,
I. In the first place, That in all countries, where true science has made any progress, were men of<292> knowledge as generously and benevolently active in instructing others, as several of the ancient sages, Socrates in particular, are represented to have been; the commons, who are under the necessity of drudgery for the backs and bellies of others, as well as their own, and more for the gratification of the luxury of others, than for their own necessities, would be much more knowing than they are in the nature of God, and of moral obligations, in the wisdom of providence, and in the duties and rights of reasonable beings. And in countries where christianity being established there is an order of teachers set apart, chiefly for that noble, generous use, it is not the fault of the commons, if they are not very well instructed in the more important parts of science, those which have been just mentioned.
But, II. Every man may, by himself, if he would duly employ his mind in the contemplation of the works of God about him, or in the examination of his own frame, even while he is working at his lawful and useful business, make very great progress in the knowledge of human nature, and of the wisdom and goodness of God. This all men, generally speaking, might do with very little assistance, for they have all sufficient abilities for thus employing their minds, and have all sufficient time for it, tho’ their work did not admit of such reflexions, while they are engaged in it, as many of the more ordinary lower occupations in life plainly do. And indeed in all countries, some of the lower ranks are known to have made by themselves very great proficiency in such knowledge: and many more are known to have made wonderful progress in sciences, much more difficultly acquired.
III. The man who exercises his understanding with benevolent intention, in order to improve any useful<293> art; in order to encrease the lordship of man in nature, or his power and property; to abridge human toil, or add to the happiness of society in any respect, every person who thus employs himself, prefers the exercises of his understanding and the good of society to merely selfish and sensual enjoyments; he is therefore virtuous. Now that more men have not this excellent turn of mind, and greater abilities to gratify it, is the fault of society, in neglecting so much the education of the commons. For were it on a right footing, that industrious, benevolent turn would be early produced in them all; and every various genius being invited and assisted to disclose and improve itself, every one would be at once extremely happy and extremely virtuous, in laying himself out, each according to his genius, to invent or improve in some way that would be greatly advantageous to mankind. In one word, man’s lordship over nature, and happiness in consequence of such dominion, can only be enlarged by the knowledge and imitation of nature; and he who benevolently delights in the study and imitation of any part of nature, in order to extend human knowledge and human dominion, is rationally and virtuously employed. Now the same establishments with regard to the education of the commons, that are necessary to the advancement of our dominion and our happiness by the improvement of knowledge and arts, would make true virtue among mankind almost universal. But I propose to treat this subject fully in an Essay on Education.33 Mean time it is evident that christianity calls upon every man to choose to himself some particular calling, profession, or business, in which he may be most useful to mankind; and represents diligence, benevolent diligence and assiduity in it, as serving the Lord; as approving ones self to him; as acting a virtuous, a laudable, a praise-worthy part; and a part that qualifies for, and will be rewarded with a very happy situation in an after-life for the exercise of high<294> virtues. This is manifest from many exhortations to that effect, which have been already cited.
IV. But which is still of greater moment, even those, who, as things go at present in society, have almost no opportunity or advantage for improvement in knowledge, have, however, capacity and opportunity of attaining to command over their passions, and of exercising generous, or honest and benevolent affections. None want opportunities of improving their moral temper; and that being well formed, there is no difficulty in conceiving how such as have made progress in that chief part of moral perfection, may, in another world, be placed in such circumstances as they may soon and easily acquire very great knowledge of God, divine providence and moral obligations; especially with assistance from others, who being far advanced in such useful science, can hardly have an employment more suited to a generous mind, than instructing others, who are well-disposed and fond to learn.
And, in the last place, let what we shall have occasion to shew more fully afterwards not be forgotten here, that there is no reason to suppose the rewards of a future state to consist merely in the happiness resulting from contemplation. And as for active employments of various sorts, from which unspeakable enjoyments may accrue, they are sufficiently well fitted for them, who have self-command, and a generous disposition thoroughly established in their minds, together with that attentiveness to circumstances which is necessary to discover the best and wisest conduct, that a little practice in good offices soon produces in one of a beneficent turn. God, who knows all men fully, knows how to reward proportionately and adequately every degree of sincere virtue; and therefore the particular kinds of happiness in a future state proportioned to various abilities, not being specified to us by revelation, it can be no objection either against<295> the truth of it or the probability of a future state, if we are not able to form any idea of the matter. Yet if we give but a little room to our fancy, we may, consistently with analogy to the present life, while at the same time we make full allowances for diversity between this and a future state, easily imagine to ourselves as many very happy exercises and employments in it, as we can conceive differences among the virtuous in respect of scientifical improvements, or even with regard to several practical virtues, which require very particular circumstances for their formation or improvement here. But of this afterwards.
Man is well furnished for attaining to the moral perfection he is commanded by revelation to labour to attain to: and revelation considers man in a true light; or gives a just idea of human nature in the representation it gives of human duty and happiness.
After having enlarged at such length on the principles whence all moral obligations must take their rise, a very few observations on the scripture doctrine of virtue will suffice to illustrate and confirm this proposition. Let me therefore only insist a very little on each of these three observations.
I. The scripture no where sets a mark before man too high above him; or no where represents human nature in a too favourable and flattering light.
II. The scripture doctrine of virtue no where sinks too low; or no where gives too low and mean a view of human nature.
III. In the christian morality no moral duty or virtue is overlooked or excluded.<296>
If all this can be proved, it must follow, that the christian doctrine concerning virtue is perfect; and that frequent reading the scriptures must be of great use to fix a sense of our duty on our minds, and to furnish us for every good work.
I. The sacred writings do not set a mark before us, too high for man to aim at; or represent human nature more perfect than it is. To prove this, we need only shew, that when the scripture exhorts and commands us to set the perfection of God before us, and to imitate it, it does not set a mark before us, too high for man to aim at; or represent human nature capable of attaining to a degree of moral perfection above its reach: for it will be owned, that a higher, a sublimer, a more perfect pattern cannot be proposed to our imitation. Let us therefore attend a little to the scripture doctrine about imitating God. The whole of virtue and religion is placed by the scriptures in imitating God. At the delivery of the law to Moses, the particulars of duty by which the worshippers of the true God were to be distinguished from all other nations, are introduced with this general preface to the whole. a “The Lord spake unto Moses, saying, speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, ye shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” And the apostle St. Peterb exhorts christians to holiness, confirming his own argument by the citation of these words, spoken thus from the mouth of God himself to Moses, “As he which hath called you is holy; so be ye holy in all manner of conversation: because it is written, be ye holy, for I am holy.” I need not tell any who are acquainted with the scriptures, that holiness signifies originally in the Jewish language, separationfrom common use: in that sense all the<297> utensils of the temple are in the old testament stiled holy. And in the same sense ’tis used of persons also employed in the service of God. But the word is often transferred from this literal to a moral signification, expressing purity and sanctity of manners, distance and separation from all corrupt and vitious practices. When applied to God, it signifies his infinite distance from every kind and degree of moral evil: his infinite moral perfection: the spotless rectitude of his nature. And when we are exhorted to imitate God, it is to imitate him in his love of virtue, his love of truth and righteousness; his benevolence and goodness; his hatred of sin, and his making to himself the eternal immutable rules of justice, goodness, and truth, the measure of all his actions. Accordingly the apostle St. Paul commands us,a Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh, and of the spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. And our Saviour calls upon us thus, “Be ye perfect even as your father which is in heaven is perfect.”b And in the same discourse he tells us, that the pure in heart only shall see God. In other passages of scripture particular moral attributes of God are set before us, as a pattern to follow after and copy. St. Peter in the passage above cited sets forth the justice of God as such,c “Be ye holy in all manner of conversation, calling on the father, who, without respect of persons, judgeth according to every man’s work.” And in the sermon on the mount, our Saviour directs us to imitate the goodness of God as the most essential means to obtain a share in his favour, and a part in his most perfect happiness. Love your enemies, saith he, that is, desire and promote their amendment, and then be ready to forgive them; do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you:<298> that ye may be the children of your father which is in heaven: that is, that ye may be like him who maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. In the epistle to the Ephesians,d those who are immersed in sensuality and impurity, whose understandings are darkened, and who live in sin and corruption, are said to be alienated from the life of God, thro’ the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart. And the design of christianity is, saith the sacred penman, to restore them who are thus ignorant and past feeling, or who have quite, as it were, lost all sense of the difference between moral good and evil to a right understanding and judgment of moral things, and to perswade them to put off, concerning the former conversation, the old man, which is corrupt, according to the deceitful lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of their mind, putting on the new man, which, after the image of God, is created in righteousness and true holiness: and in the succeeding verses this righteousness and holiness is shewn to comprehend all moral excellencies.a St. Peter represents those who by true repentance and real amendment of life return to their duty, as being restored, and made partakers of the divine nature. The manner of speaking is figurative, and very elegantly expressive of that moral likeness to God, which is elsewhere stiled literally, being partakers of his holiness.b And to add no more on this head, the perfection of that glory and happiness in an after-state, which is set before us in the christian religion, principally consists in our being like to God in purity and holiness.c “We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”<299>
But now, as high as this mark may appear to be, yet it is not too sublime an end to be proposed to beings indued with moral powers, and in this sense created after the image of God, as man is said to be in scripture, and really is. ’Tis needless to observe, that our imitation of God, of the moral perfections of God, is always to be understood as signifying an imitation of likeness, and not of equality. A perfect and most complete example is set before us to imitate, that aiming always at that which is most excellent, we may grow continually, and make a perpetual progress in virtue. Our business here is to give all diligence to advance and improve in moral perfection. Virtue is, in the nature of things, a progress, and it is represented to be so in scripture. But towards what is it a progress, but towards the highest perfection our reason and the temper of our mind are capable of? And what else can that be, but progress or advancement in greater and greater resemblance to him, who is absolute moral perfection? Progress therefore in virtue is, in the nature of things, progress in likeness to God, or imitation of God. And under this notion accordingly is it represented by the best and wisest heathen philosophers, as well as in the sacred writings. Nor can there be a more proper way of conceiving to ourselves our duty, our dignity, our happiness, the end of our creation, and the perfection we ought to be continually labouring to attain to, in any respect, than under the notion of imitating God, or improving in likeness to him. It is the properest way of conceiving to ourselves, and of keeping before our eyes the high dignity and excellency of the perfection of moral powers, the beauty and amiableness of virtue; and it is at the same time the properest way of conceiving to ourselves the true happiness belonging to moral beings as such. For thus we have before our eyes the perfection of virtue, and the happinessre sulting from that perfection.<300> Thus we at once perceive the intrinsick excellency of moral rectitude, and the natural immutable connexion between advancement to perfection, and advancement or growth in happiness. While this idea therefore is before us, every thing is present to our minds that can excite us to the most earnest pursuit of virtue. The amiableness of virtue, its agreeableness to the character and will of our creator; its connexion with our happiness, the necessity of it to render us acceptable to God, and his love of it, and care and concern about it, all these considerations are implied in it, and must be present to us while we consider our end under the idea of becoming like God, of imitating him, and by becoming partakers of his nature, becoming partakers of his excellency and of his happiness.
All this is too evident to be insisted upon after what hath been already said of the very nature of moral powers. And indeed it cannot be denied, that imitation of God, as it hath been defined, is the properend of moral beings, without denying that the perfection of moral powers is their proper end; or what they are intended to pursue and seek after. Man cannot be said not to be capable of imitating the divine moral excellencies, or not to be made for that noble end, unless it is affirmed that he can have no notion of moral perfection; or that it is above his reach to make any advances towards it. But will any affirm that we cannot form an idea of progress in moral improvement; we, who have naturally so quick and lively a taste of perverse and upright things, as Job expressesit?34 We, who cannot look upon any sin without abhorrence. We, whose consciences so strongly upbraid us for every debasement of our nature, for every vice. We, who cannot paint to ourselves, or behold any virtue without admiring, approving, and loving it. For all this is true, even of the worst of men. No man can absolutely lose all sense and discernment of moral good and evil while he<301> retains his understanding. No person can exercise his judgment about moral things, about affections, actions and characters, without perceiving moral differences. And however little some men exercise their thinking powers; however little they care to reflect upon themselves and their conduct; or how ever much they lay themselves out to avoid serious thoughts; yet, in fact, so is man constituted, and such is the order of things, that moral ideas are ever coming across even those who fly from them; and are at the greatest trouble to keep them out, in such a manner, that they are often made to see their deformity, whether they will or not, and are stung with the sharpest remorse. The heart of man cannot be corrupted to such a degree, but it will continue to tell him as often as he looks into it, that sin debases the human nature; and that man was created a reasonable being, that he might, by assiduous care to improve his mind, become pure as God is pure; benevolent as God is benevolent; like God, and fit for a share of that same kind of happiness, which, in its perfect degree, is the felicity of the supreme being, in consequence of his absolute moral perfection.
It cannot be said to be above our power to make gradual progress towards that high degree of moral perfection we are made capable of conceiving and approving. For in the corruptest ages of the world, there have been eminent examples of virtue, which upbraid the wicked with their offending the law; and object to their infamy the transgressions of their lives, which reprove their thoughts, and abstaining from their ways as filthiness are grievous unto them even to behold.a Such examples shew us at once what is the true glory of human nature; and that it is in our power to attain to it; and that to say otherwise is the language of a mean heart immersed in the love of gross pleasures, which sadly degrade, and sink all that is noble and manly in our minds: for, in order to be virtuous, no more is<302> necessary than to rouze our souls to the pursuit of virtue, as the only worthy scope we can set before us. By this noble ambition, by this courage, this magnanimity did all they, whose glorious example casts us at such a distance, become such bright patterns of every virtue that truly exalts human nature: and by the same brave and vigorous resolution of mind to perfect themselves, may all men become images of God on earth, and worthy of dwelling with him for ever: for so is that state of high dignity and glory in an after life, to which the arduous and perseverant pursuit of virtue leads emphatically expressed in scripture.
None can reflect upon the high epithets and compellations bestowed on the virtuous in sacred writ, such as children of God, sons of God, heirs of his kingdom: none, I say, can reflect upon these high compellations, without being excited to endeavour to merit them, if he hath any seeds of generous ambition in his soul: for what is worthy of our emulation; or what can stir up our ambition, if to be in favour with the highest of beings, and to be crowned with glory and honour, and to be invested with a noble rule, or placed in some high sphere of action by him, make no impression on us? Now to deserve these compellations, and all the honour and felicity enveloped in their comprehensive meaning, men must exert themselves to improve their minds into a likeness to God, the Father of minds. And all reasonable beings, as such, are capable of so improving themselves. It is the capacity of such improvement that denominates one a reasonable being. In order to palliate and excuse to ourselves, our meanness, our pusillanimity, in not daring to aim at very high moral perfection, at likeness to God, we may represent to ourselves, our faculties, our sphere of action, our circumstances in this life as very disproportioned to so high an ambition. But to what virtue have not some men attained? And to what virtue may not all men attain in this life, if the love of virtue be not dead and languid; or if strength<303> of mind be not wanting. The universal language of nature to us, as well as of revelation, is a call to glory and virtue; for whether can reasonable beings turn their eyes, and not see that their dignity consists in despising the corruptions that are in the world thro’ base and ignoble lusts; and in sanctifying themselves, that they may be like to that infinitely perfect being, the Father of spirits, whose works proclaim him to be holy, just and pure; perfect reason, perfect goodness. And while this idea is present to the mind, what is it not able to do; what difficulty is it not able to surmount; and how mean and base do all impure pursuits appear to it? It is indeed want of ambition, and a cowardly, dastardly disposition, that alone hinders men from making progress in virtue. None ever fell short of perfection who persevered in the pursuit of it. And since nothing can be gained but by labour and assiduity; we must either say to ourselves, that likeness to God in virtue is not worthy our pursuit; or we ought to awaken ourselves out of the ignominious sloth into which sensual indulgence plunges; and say, as for me, I will set the Lord before me, and will content myself with no lower aim, than to become, by adding virtue to virtue, every day more and more like to him. And while the Lord is before me I cannot be moved: no wicked, corruptive lust can have dominion over me.
As much as some seem to delight in vilifying human nature, by representing it as originally under bondage to sin, and unable to rise to the pursuit of virtue; Nay, averse to all that is truly good and great; yet if God hath indeed called us to holiness, we must certainly be capable of attaining to it; and be ye holy as God is holy, is the universal voice of revelation. It is a language which cannot proceed from an impostor: and if it be indeed the language of heaven, then must man be created after the image of a holy God, and be furnished with all that is necessary to perfect himself as God is perfect. Accordingly, if we look into our<304> frame, we shall find, that as high as the virtue is which is set before us in scripture as our duty, we have all the affections, dispositions, powers and faculties, which progress towards it pre-supposes or requires. We have not only a benevolent disposition; but a sense of beauty and order; a strong sense of the beauty of holiness, and of the deformity and vileness of vice; and together with this we have strength of mind, if we will but exert it, which is able to cleave to virtue in spight of all temptation or opposition. What therefore is wanting to us, in order to our making immortal advances in virtue, if we are not wanting to ourselves? What human resolution is able to do, we may often see, not only in history, but in our own experience. And this is the reflexion we ought to make upon all instances of it, even that the human mind is furnished with all that vigour and strength, in order chiefly to its progress in virtue, in likeness to God; in order to a perseverant, undaunted, unconquerable pursuit of moral perfection. Shall we shew our resolution and firmness of mind, and what that is able to do in other instances, and yet allow the pleasures of sin, which are all softness and dissolution, to deceive us into an opinion of the impracticability of temperance and self-command, of generous self-denial for the sake of the publick good, of patience and resignation to the divine will? Do not other exercises and acquirements of our assiduous, unwearied application and resolution, tell us, that this is the language of that sloth, which, if indulged, will soon efface all that is noble in man, all that exalts him above the brute creation, and leave nothing in him who is created after the image of God, but impotence, slavery and corruption, darkness of mind and monstrous passions, ignorance and deformity? To be satisfied of this important truth, that we are fitted for the immortal progress in virtue, to which God calls us by revelation, if we but set ourselves to advance and improve in it; let us but reflect, whether what must be owned to be<305> the difficultest of all the precepts of revelation, doth appear so to us, while we set the Lord before us; even cheerful approbation of the divine will under the severest afflictions for the sake of virtue and a good conscience. If we are able to attain even to this pitch of divine fortitude, surely no other virtue is above our reach. But who can reflect upon the excellence of virtue, the necessity of its being severely tried, in order to its shining forth with all its glory, and the unerring wisdom and goodness with which the world is governed, without feeling himself enabled, not only to sacrifice every thing in life to virtue, but even desirous to be brought upon that theatre, on which alone the greater virtues can have opportunity to shew forth all their power and excellence? Now the same thought continually present to the mind, would render such resolution, such magnanimity, habitual to it. It is the presence of such reflexions to the mind that constitutes patience, resignation, fortitude, truly virtuous heroism. This is the faith, the perswasion that overcometh the world. It cannot but produce true fortitude and steady perseverance in virtue: it hath as natural a tendency to produce it, as any other cause hath to produce its effect; any other idea or opinion hath to produce its correspondent affection. And therefore, in order to attain to this sublime pitch of virtue, this exalted magnanimity of mind, our whole business consists in keeping this perswasion ever before our minds. If we would imitate God, and adhere immoveably to truth and virtue, let us set the Lord always before us, as the pattern we ought to endeavour after greater and greater likeness to; and as the protector, defender, and lover of those who sincerely cultivate virtue; as the model or pattern, the author, the judge, and the rewarder of holiness; for then shall we be strong in the Lord, strong in his cause, in consequence of our love of him, and our faith, trust, and reliance upon him. This idea, this faith, or perswasion, deeply rooted and established in the mind, is<306> its strength; it gives life and vigor to it, and all its noble efforts to improve in grace, in goodness, in virtue: and to overcome all temptations to immoral indulgencies. This is the meaning of this, and other such like ways of speaking in the old testament, “they that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength: they shall mount up with wings as eagles: they shall walk and not faint: they shall run and not weary.”35 This is likewise the meaning, when in the new testament our faith is said to be, “the victory whereby we overcome the world, and are enabled to escape its pollutions, and to raise our affections towards heavenly objects.” It is the belief of the doctrine of revelation concerning God and providence, and the happy ultimate tendency of virtue, that gives us strength to adhere firmly to duty. And indeed to deny that piety is at once the perfection, and the chief support of virtue; or that to consider virtue, as conforming ourselves to the image of God, who being perfect wisdom and goodness, must have so constituted things, that the study of virtue here shall have glorious effects or fruits in another life; is not to take the view of it, that is, in the nature of things the most animating, encheering, and invigorating to virtue, is to deny the most evident truth in the world. There may be virtue without piety, and where there are great doubts about the government of the world; and there is an obligation to virtue independent of all consideration of the supreme being: but he who loves virtue, must delight in the idea of an all-perfect providence; it must be exceeding agreeable to him. And the motives to virtue, arising from the perswasion of an all-perfect providence, that must delight in virtue, and take care of it for ever, are truly insurmountable, by whatever difficulties or temptations, while the eye of the mind is stedfastly fixed upon them.
The scripture therefore does not talk to men in too high astrain, when it represents the imitation of God, in order to become partakers of the divine nature,<307> and of the divine felicity; that is, of perfection and happiness of the same kind with it, as the mark we ought to set before us; but it thus gives us an idea or representation of the dignity our nature is capable of, and of the noble pitch of perfection we ought vigorously to aspire after, which is the properest to excite and animate us to, and to invigorate, comfort, strengthen, and uphold us in that glorious pursuit.
II. To shew that the scripture doctrine of virtue no where sinks too low, or no where gives too mean a view of human nature, which is the second observation I proposed to enlarge a little upon, in confirmation of the proposition now under our consideration; to evince this, it will be sufficient to observe, 1. That no injustice or indignity is done to human nature, by representing it as capable of becoming corrupt to the greatest degree of depravity. 2. That the humility and poverty of spirit recommended by christianity, are truly noble and sublime virtues. 3. That the exhortations in scripture to be upon our guard against the subtle wiles, the deceitfulness of sin; and to watchfulness, and jealousy over our own hearts, are founded upon principles very consistent with our natural ability to improve in virtue, that hath been asserted, and is indeed supposed in all precepts to the study of it.
I. In the scriptures we have very moving descriptions of the depravity into which men may degenerate. There is no error so absurd, no vice so monstrous, into which men may not be corrupted and seduced by evil concupiscences. “Even thosea who have made great advances in virtue may go astray, and forsake the right way, and so sadly degenerate as to prefer the wages of unrighteousness to the pleasures of virtue, which they have tasted, and to allure into vitious practices, through the lusts of<308> the flesh, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error; and boast of their liberty, tho’ they be the slaves of corruption. Even those who have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the truth, may be entangled again therein and overcome.” “Even those,b who, as another apostle expresses it, were once enlightened, and had tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and had tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, may fall away, and become monsters of impurity and iniquity.” In these, and such other descriptions, the sacred writers are not merely speaking of what may happen, but they are setting forth what had really happened; actual degeneracy and wickedness. And there is no need of staying to prove, that, in reality, there is no imaginable degree of corruption to which men may not, nay, do not actually proceed. But let it be remembered, that the scripture speaks to us likewise of the apostacy of moral beings of a higher order than man. And there is indeed no inconsistency between the original integrity of a reasonable nature and peccability. The original integrity of a moral being does not consist in having no temptations to vice, but in being able to subdue and conquer them; which every reasonable being, as such, is. For a reasonable being, signifies a being, which hath reason and moral conscience, or a sense of moral good and evil, to direct it to what is right and fit to be done, and which hath the power of acting according to its right judgment of things. A being thus constituted is made upright whatever inventions it may seek out; into whatever error or depravity it may go astray. In this sense we are told God made man upright.c And in this sense every reasonable being is formed upright. We have no reason to imagine, that any beings are formed by the father of spirits, with a depraved sense of moral good and evil, or<309> with such a natural bias and propension to vice, as to love evil, and to hate good: but, on the contrary, we have good ground to believe, that all beings capable of reflexion are so constituted by their Creator, that their moral sense can never be totally effaced or perverted, tho’ it may be sadly over-powered by vitious appetites; and thro’ wicked practices, joined with false philosophy, may be at last extreamly vitiated and corrupted: for such a formation is directly repugnant to the very notion of a good Creator. But that reasonable beings may become exceeding wicked and depraved, only proves, that reason and moral conscience may be contradicted; that the love of unlawful pleasures may prevail and get the ascendant in the mind; or, in one word, that moral powers may be not only not cultivated and improved as they ought, but abused and perverted; and that according to the constitution of things depravity, thro’ continuance in it, will grow to a most monstrous pitch of vileness and deformity.—All which is involved in the very notion of a reasonable creature, that is, of a moral agent, whose improvement or degeneracy depends upon himself. To suppose a creature who cannot exercise his moral powers amiss, or who cannot act contrary to reason, and a right judgment of things, if he would, is certainly to suppose a creature, at the same time endued with the power of choosing, and yet not endued with it; or invested with a certain sphere of activity, and thereby capable of virtue and merit, and, at the same time, not invested with any such power or dominion, in consequence of which any thing can be called his own acquisition, and so be either, with regard to himself, or others, subject of praise or blame; which is a contradiction. But not only is it impossible, in the nature of things, but beings endued with reason, and with the power of judging, choosing and acting, may not only err in their judgments, but also act contrary to their sense of right and wrong: not only is this an impossibility: not only is this impossible, but it is likewise absurd to suppose<310> it necessary to the perfection of the universe and providential government, that every state in which moral agents are placed should be quite free from all temptations to vice; or so constituted, that pleasures of all sorts and degrees should be solely the consequence of virtuous choice; and nothing but pain should accompany any the least vitious indulgence; such pain, as would effectually deter, and restrain from every vice, and necessitate or force to virtue. For, in such a state, what would temperance, or self-denial, patience, meekness, magnanimity mean? How could these virtues have their theatre, their trial, their conflicts, their victory? Whence have the virtues their names, their being? What merit except from combate? What virtue without the encounter of such enemies, such temptations, as arise both from within and from abroad? To be virtuous, is to prefer the pleasures of virtue to those which come into competition with it, and vice holds forth to tempt us; and to dare to adhere to truth and goodness, whatever pains and hardships it may cost. There must therefore, in order to the formation and trial, in order to the very being of virtue, be pleasures of a certain kind to make temptations to vice. And then is a first state of moral beings well constituted, when it affords such occasions for the trials and triumphs of virtue, as shew it to be a school of discipline, a theatre for exercise, and conflict to various virtues, that moral beings may thereby be made meet for a higher and nobler sphere of action in a succeeding life; meet for rewards and honours in it, which God, the righteous judge, the chief object of whose care must be virtue, or well-improved moral powers, will then certainly render unto all, who have rendered themselves worthy of them by their diligent culture of all the virtues in their minds, their contempt of sensual pleasures, and their firm adherence to the dictates of reason and moral conscience, in spight of all allurements to sin, or the most violent opposition to and persecution of virtue<311> they may be tried by in their first state. In this our first state many temptations to vice of various sorts are continually assailing us; but there is no pain we can suffer, nor pleasure we can forego for the sake of virtue and a good conscience, which is not abundantly compensated by the present consciousness of our having acted the best and worthiest part; the part suitable to the dignity of our nature, and that is highly pleasing to our Lord and Creator, the governor of the universe, who will never leave nor forsake the virtuous, but will make all things work together for their good; it being evident from the very idea of a good creator and administrator of the world, that he must love virtue, and have had the suitable treatment of it principally in his view, in the constitution and frame of things. Now our state at present, considered in this light, is an excellent state. And every state of moral beings must be a good state, with regard to the general interests of moral beings, if the administration be in favour of virtue or moral improvements, as the administration of the world must be, if it be perfect.
Whether there may not be temptations to vice, and trials of virtue, in a state succeeding to a first state of probation, which, with respect to it, is properly a state of rewards, is another question that shall be considered afterwards, when we come to inquire into the scripture doctrine concerning our future state: but temptations are certainly necessary to a state of trial, to a state of education and discipline; for virtue must be exercised and proved in various manners before it can be brought to perfection. The first state of moral powers must be a school, a theatre, for forming and exercising them, because virtue is and must be a progress.
Human nature has indeed been represented by some in so base, disagreeable, and monstrous a form, that the contemplation of it must needs be frightful and shocking to a generous mind; as having lost its noble powers of reason and liberty, and being the seat of nothing<312> but irregular and mischievous passions, as a complication of mean-spiritedness, sensuality, ill nature and corruption; in one word, as incapable of any thing that is good and virtuous, and prone to all manner of vice and wickedness. And upon this foundation, injustice, cruelty, ingratitude, pride, revenge, and the worst of villanies have been represented as natural to mankind; and not imputable to them, but chargeable upon the necessary corruption and depravity of their nature; or, which is yet more absurd, imputable to them, and to be severely punished, tho’ they be inevitably necessary effects of our depraved make and formation.
The grand foundation of this error has been either that they have taken their estimate of human nature from the force of perverted passions among mankind, and represented to their minds as the original state of it such evil dispositions and wicked habits as are of their own creating, and cannot take place originally in a reasonable nature, all the habits belonging to which are formed, and can only be formed by repeated exercises; or else that they have understood particular passages of scripture, which give the character of the most profligate and abandoned sinners, as describing the natural temper of all mankind. But were this a true picture of human nature, religion falls to the ground. For upon that supposition, what must we think of our Creator? Would it not be a contradiction to speak of his goodness, or his regard to virtue, and concern about it, the belief of which alone can render the Deity that amiable, that all-perfect character, which piety or religion must have for its object; and which revelation must, in the nature of things, presuppose as acknowledged to belong essentially to the Deity? There is indeed no foundation for this doctrine in the sacred writings. And if we search into our constitution, it will immediately appear, that virtue is natural to us. For does not nature teach us to be just and charitable, to<313> compassionate, and relieve the distressed? Does it direct us to prey upon our own kind, to delight in oppression, and in injustice, and in the misery of our fellow-creatures? Are not, on the contrary, cruelty, injustice, and oppression, naturally so hateful to us, that we cannot look upon them without detestation and abhorrence? Does our nature impel us to hate the Author of our being, to conceive an evil notion of him, and to spurn and rebel against him as an enemy to our happiness? Is it not, on the contrary, agreeable to our nature to think well of nature and of its author; to represent him to ourselves in the most amiable characters; and can we so paint him out to ourselves, without admiring and loving him, and feeling the strongest disposition to imitate his perfections, and to gain thereby his favour and approbation? In fine, let us review all the affections implanted in us by nature; and tho’ we will find that there is none of them that may not be sadly misguided and abused, yet they are all of them of excellent use, and the foundations upon which most noble virtues may be raised: none of them directly leadeth to evil, or seems implanted in us to make opposition to our progress in virtue, but rather to be rendered itself a virtue, and an assistant, or incentive to all other virtues. Anger and resentment may at first sight be thought contrary to benevolence. But when duly considered, they will be found to be very useful instincts, and to have an inseparable connexion with the sense of virtue. For what is sudden anger, as it is distinguished from resentment, but an instinct, that works as naturally and necessarily, as the disposition to close our eyes upon the apprehension of somewhat falling unto them; and no more implies any degree of reason than the latter. And the reason and end for which man was made thus liable to this passion, is, that he might be better qualified to resist and defeat sudden force, violence and opposition, considered merely as such. It is in reality the necessary operation<314> of self-defence. And it is very fit, that self-defence should thus operate, since there are many cases, especially where regular governments are not formed, in which there is no time for deliberation, and sudden resistance is the only security. This is the case with respect to momentary anger, which is raised without any appearance of injury, as distinct from hurt and pain. It is not the effect of reason, but is occasioned by meer sensation and feeling. But the only way in which our reason and understanding can raise anger or resentment, is by representing to our mind, injustice, or injury of some kind or other. Its object is not natural but moral evil: it is not suffering, but injury; it is not one who appears to the suffering person to have been only the innocent occasion of his pain or loss; but one who has been in a moral sense injurious either to ourselves or others. Resentment therefore in us is plainly connected with a sense of virtue and vice, of moral good and evil. The indignation raised by cruelty and injustice, and the desire of having it punished, which persons unconcerned feel, is by no means malice. No, it is resentment against vice and wickedness: it is one of the common bonds by which society is held together: a fellow-feeling which each individual has in behalf of the whole species, as well as of himself. It does not appear, that this, generally speaking, is at all too high amongst mankind. And this seems to be the whole of this passion, which is, properly speaking, natural to mankind: namely, a resentment against injury and wickedness in general; and in a higher degree when towards ourselves than for others; as must needs happen; for from the very constitution of our make we cannot but have a greater sensibility to what immediately touches or regards ourselves.
But the natural object or occasion of deliberate resentment being injury, as distinct from pain or loss, it is easy to see, that to prevent and to remedy such injury, and the miseries arising from it, is the reason<315> and end for which this passion was implanted in man. It is to be considered as a weapon put into our hands by nature against injury, injustice and cruelty, which may be not only innocently, but very usefully employed.a
Love of power, because, when it is misguided or wrong directed, it produces very great evils in society, may at first sight likewise be considered as repugnant to virtue. But we have shewn in the principles of moral philosophy, that it is necessary to all virtuous improvements; or that without it the greater virtues could not take place among mankind. Without it we would be utterly incapable of them, it being indeed as far as, properly speaking, it is natural to us, no more than a desire to improve or enlarge our powers, and extend our sphere of activity, our liberty, our dominion, our independence. Noble ambition and emulation could not take place without such a natural disposition toward power or love of it. And envy is but the misguidance of it; or more properly the product of sloth and indolence, inconsequence of our want of the power we naturally desire, and yet are too much plunged in indolence to pursue with the vigour and perseverance necessary to obtain it. For this is the case with respect to envy, whether the objects of it be natural or moral qualities. The mind is fretted and galled to perceive itself surpassed. The soul, which steadily pursues its own improvement and true dominion or power, is quite a stranger to this idle, slothful, peevish passion, the bitterness of which consists in that mixture of self-dissatisfaction, which necessarily goes along with it, or makes the chief ingredient in it, and consequently renders it its own punishment.
To conclude, however much some philosophers have laboured to prove, that there is nothing social or generous in the human frame; yet the contrary is really the truth: there is nothing in it naturally, i.e.<316> uncontracted by vitious indulgence, which is not social and generous. If one can doubt of it, he needs only impartially consider, what strange explications certain philosophers are forced to give of compassion, natural affection between parents and their offspring, and the other affections which carry us beyond ourselves, and directly to the good of others, in order to make out their system. Let me only observe, that to say, all must be resolved into self-love, because none can be pleased with what does not give him pleasure, is to say no more, than that whatever pleases us, ought to be called our pleasure. And so certainly it may. But when it is granted, that acts of benevolence could not please us without giving us pleasure; and therefore that the pursuit of the pleasures acts of benevolence afford us, is a pursuit of pleasures to ourselves, or a pursuit to which our love of our own happiness impells us; when this is granted, will it follow that such pursuits are not benevolent? When our nature is said to be social and benevolent, it is said to be so constituted, that its greatest pleasures consist in affections and actions which produce publick good, and have it as immediately for their object, as hunger, for instance, hath food for its object. And therefore, in order to prove, that there is nothing social in our nature, it must be proved, that the pursuit of publick good, in consequence of our constitution, affords us no pleasure. All our pleasures, whencesoever they come, are our own pleasures. And in that sense, if philosophers will, all our pursuits or gratifications are selfish, and none of them are disinterested. But what is such language but play with words? All the arguments brought to recommend benevolence from the pleasures, it, and it alone can give, acknowledge, that self-love, or the desire of happiness, is natural to all beings capable of reflexion; for they are addressed to this desire, in order to shew it how its end may<317> be best obtained: the result of them all is briefly this, that if one is rightly or wisely selfish; that is, if he duly consults his own interest, he will not oppose, but encourage and improve the affections in his nature, which lead him to the pursuit of the good of others; the affections which intend it, aim at it, and are gratified by it. And one may as philosophically, as consistently say, that none of our affections can tend towards an external object, if we have self-love; as say, we cannot have self-love, and at the same time have affections towards the good of our fellow-creatures. Yet that several of our affections tend towards, and rest in objects, without or beyond ourselves, will hardly be denied.
But that I may go on to another remark on christian morality, I shall just give one specimen of the manner in which some passages of scripture are wrested into the defence of a doctrine, that indeed subverts all religion and morality. “In the prophesy of Jeremiah,a it is thus writ, ‘The heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?’ This passage, divided from the context, and considered as a general proposition, has been used to prove, that men are not acquainted with themselves, and cannot know their own views and intentions, and that all men are originally full of corruption and wickedness, desperately, incurably depraved. But if we consider the connexion and the general reasoning the prophet is pursuing, this will appear to be a very gross misinterpretation of what he asserts. In the fifth verse, God is introduced as denouncing a woe against all those who fix their ultimate dependence on human power and policy. And in the seventh and eighth verses, the wisdom and happiness of trusting in the Lord, and making him our strength, is described. Then follows the text we<318> are considering, which by all rules of good interpretation must be referred to the same argument, and contain another reason against making man our confidence. ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?’ i.e. There may be infinite devices and subtleties in the hearts of men, which cannot be penetrated. While they promise fair, and make the warmest protestations of affection and zeal for your interest, their intentions may be directly contrary, and their views very selfish. Their resolutions are fickle, and many little circumstances may prevail with them to change their purposes, and so render their promises vain and delusory. Nay, ’tis possible they may arrive at such a pitch of premeditated and desperate wickedness, as to endeavour, even under friendly pretences, to undermine your interest. Place not therefore your supreme confidence in man, but repose in the unchangeable God, who, as by reason of the perfect and necessary rectitude of his nature he can’t deceive thee, so, as he is absolute Lord of the universe, and the incontroulable disposer of all events, he must be able with ease to effect every thing that is necessary for thy security and happiness.”
II. In order to shew, that christian morality no where sinks too low, let me but just suggest the true notion of that humility and poverty of mind recommended so earnestly to us by Christ and his apostles, which some are pleased to turn into ridicule, confounding it with pusilanimity, and total want of courage and ambition.a “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” says our Lord.
Now we can be at no loss to find out the true meaning of the virtue here recommended, as odd as the words may sound to some, if we but reflect,<319> that in the Jewish language, what we now call literal and figurative, were commonly denoted by the words flesh and spirit.
“The flesh, says our Saviour,b profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”
His meaning is, he intended not to be understood literally, but figuratively. To be therefore, or do any thing in spirit, signifies, being or doing that thing figuratively, in the spiritual or moral sense, in opposition to the gross and more literal meaning, in which the same words may at other times be understood. Thus, that moral holiness and purity of mind which is opposed to the ritual and ceremonious performance of the Jewish law, our Saviour calls worshipping the Father in spirit and in truth.c
And that absolute departing from all unrighteousness so effectually required in the gospel, of which the Jewish circumcision was but an emblem, is by the apostle most elegantly stiled,dcircumcision in the spirit.
Answerable therefore to this figurative manner of expression in so many other places, the phrase, poor in spirit, in contradistinction to literal poverty of estate, signifies a temper of mind, disingaged from the covetous and ambitious desires of the present world; that moderate and good temper or disposition of mind, which enables those who have riches not to set their hearts upon them, not to trust in them, not to place any merit in having them, but to employ them virtuously to the good of mankind, and to be at all times willing rather to part with them, than betray the interests of truth and virtue: and which, for the same reason, enables those who have no riches to be contented, and not murmuring nor unthankful towards God, but willing rather to continue<320> always in a mean and low estate, than to gain riches by wicked and unlawful methods. This is being poor in spirit. This is the temper of those, whom St. James calls the poor of this world, but rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom: the temper of which St. Paul declares, that godliness with contentment is great gain; and which our Saviour describes in his character of the church of Smyrna.a
“I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty; but thou art rich; rich in virtue, rich in good works, rich towards God, rich with respect to a future life; richly prepared for great happiness in it.” According to this account of the virtue of being poor in spirit; an eminent instance thereof was the practice of Moses, when he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, chusing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. And the contrary spirit is that which our Saviour speaks of,b “So is he that layeth up treasures for himself, and is not rich towards God.” This excellent temper of mind is what the poor are naturally led to by their very circumstances; being under the advantage of escaping many temptations, which others are continually subject to; and being perpetually called upon by the afflictions of this life, to turn their thoughts to the expectation of a better. And therefore the christian doctrine calls upon us to consider it as matter of just comfort; and support; nay, even of thankfulness under many kinds of temporal wants and afflictions, that such circumstances give men great advantages for obtaining this virtue of being poor in spirit. It is because our Saviour looked upon this virtue as so natural and easy to be practised by persons in that state, and so properly their vocation or the duty they are called to by their circumstances, that he sometimes<321> uses that general and seemingly unlimited expression, “Blessed be ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” And, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” For the same reason, on the other side, to those who abound in riches and power, and the good things of this life, our Saviour suggests particular matter of caution, by annexing the heavenly reward to that temper and disposition of mind, which they in particular are surrounded with so many temptations to depart from; so that when he sometimes pronounces in words seemingly absolute, “Wo unto you that are rich, for ye have received your consolation,” his design was to admonish and put us in mind, how dangerous a state great prosperity generally is; how full of temptation; how ready to puff men up with pride and arrogance; how apt to make them covetous, insolent, and vain-glorious; and to destroy in them that meek, that humble, that equitable, that moderate disposition of mind, which is the foundation of virtue, or rather the chief of the virtues.
In fine, if we keep in mind, that the scripture represents this life as a state of preparation and probation for another; and consequently all the various circumstances of the present state of mankind, prosperous or adverse, as means of trial; as calls to the study and exercise of certain particular virtues, each condition of life having virtues more properly belonging to it, it will be very easy to conceive what it is to be poor in spirit, and rich towards God; to lay up treasures to ourselves, not in earth, but in heaven. They only in the scripture language are rich, who are rich in virtue and good works; they who are not, however prosperous their state may be, are poor, blind, wretched, miserable; and why, but because this is our seed-time, the state which succeeds to it is our harvest. We are here to make provision for our after-state; to make ourselves meet for great<322> happiness in it; to enrich ourselves with those virtues, the fruits of which are immortal glory, honour, and felicity. We are here to make the best use of the circumstances in which we may be placed, whatever they are, in order to the building ourselves up in holiness; in order to qualify ourselves for high felicity of the spiritual or moral kind in another life. We are here, not to amass worldly riches, and to give ourselves up to sensual indulgences; but to mortify all the evil affections, which great possessions are apt to excite and foster in the mind; and thereby to prepare to ourselves a stock of good affections and virtuous habits, which being properly placed in another life, must yield an unspeakable harvest of truly rational happiness. This is evidently the temper of mind, which is recommended to us by the christian doctrine, under the notion of poverty of spirit, or spiritual poverty. Nor can disengagement from worldly views and carnal appetites be more properly expressed than by that appellation. But whatever may be thought of the phrase itself, the temper meant by it, as plainly appears from several other passages of scripture, and indeed from the general tenor of the christian doctrine, is a truly noble and sublime virtue: it is that contempt of carnal gross pleasure, without which it is impossible to be stedfast to virtue: It is true greatness of mind; for it consists in despising those things which it is greater to despise than to possess, as several heathen moralists have said of the pomp and pageantry of this world, and of all merely sensual gratifications. It is greatness of mind, because it is to cleave firmly to that which is truly great and noble in spight of all temptations from the side of pleasure or pain to forsake it. And to do this requires not only an enlarged understanding, and just judgments of things deeply fixed and rooted in the mind; but vigour and strength of soul sufficient to oppose the most impetuous appetites, and<323> to persevere in adherence to that which is good and right, whatever forfeiture of pleasures or painful sufferances it may cost. It is not a narrow, mean, timorous disposition to which we are called in scripture; but, on the contrary, a bold, undaunted, and truly noble courage; the most lofty and generous ambition; courage that fears nothing but vice, or the degradation of our nature into a state of slavery to impure, disorderly and ungenerous passions; courage that dreads sin, as the greatest calamity that can befal a reasonable being: ambition to shine in virtue; ambition to distinguish one’s self by good works; ambition to deserve the approbation of God, and all good and wise beings; ambition to acquit ourselves in such a manner here, as to be fit for and worthy of being highly exalted in the life to come. In fine, poverty of spirit is the opposite to having our minds wholly set on the riches and honours which so dazzle and bewitch sensual and corrupt men. And without this poverty of spirit, that is, without sincere indifference to, or rather contempt of all enjoyments that may come into competition with a good conscience, and the pleasure arising from the merit of acting the best and worthiest part, neither fortitude, magnanimity, patience, nor benevolence, can have their perfect work in us. It is the very soul of all these virtues. And in this does the excellency of the christian morality consist, as the great Verulama observes, “That there never was any philosophy, religion, law, or discipline found out in the world, which so far exalts regard to the publick good, and debases private interest, as the christian institution hath done.” Without ambition; that is, without great and noble views, or without affections set upon truly noble and worthy objects, a man cannot do great and generous actions; he can neither bear nor forbear with firmness<324> and constancy of mind. But what are the views which ennoble the mind; or what are the affections which prompt to glorious deeds, and enable one to adhere to duty unmoveably, in despight of sensual gratification, or of violent suffering? Is it not the love of virtue, desire to approve ourselves to God, regard to the publick interest of society, and the contempt of all vice can give or procure? And where are these considerations more strongly recommended or enforced upon us, than by the christian religion? In what else does it place virtue and merit? Or to what else are the glorious rewards of another life it sets before us annexed? The constant language of christianity is, “Set your affections on the things that are above, and not on things that are below,” that is, on God, or virtue, on rational exercises and employments, and not upon the gross pleasures of unbridled, ungoverned sense, and the vain honours and possessions which tempt men, unmindful of their true dignity and happiness, to forsake virtue, and to do base and unworthy, mercenary actions. For what, saith our Saviour, is a man profited, if he gain the whole world, and lose his soul? Or, what can a man have in exchange for his soul? What can compensate the loss of virtue; the loss of a good conscience; the loss of inward probity and worth; the loss of that virtuous taste and disposition of mind, which alone can recommend to the divine favour here or hereafter; which alone can qualify one for the best and noblest enjoyments here; and alone can constitute capacity, or fitness for moral happiness in the life that is to come, in which the natural harvest of virtue and vice must take place, and every one shall fully reap as he has sown. A regard to futurity is greatly insisted upon in the christian doctrine; but such a regard to futurity as is indeed the very perfection of virtue, and produces regard to publick good above all temporal interests. A regard to futurity that is utterly inconsistent with selfish and mercenary views<325> in this world, and begets and upholds publick spirit. We shall see afterwards, that it is impossible for any but a virtuous person, to set his affections upon the future rewards promised by christianity, because these rewards are nothing else but virtuous exercises. But he who sincerely believes the scripture doctrine concerning future rewards hath an idea of virtue, and of the constitution and government of the world, that must render the sincere and perseverant pursuit of publick good here, the sole end of all his thoughts and actions; an idea that must render a vitious life the greatest folly in his sight, in respect of interest, as well as exceeding base and shameful in its nature; and that must hold forth virtuous progress to his view, in a light that makes its cause truly triumphant. Virtue is in itself exceeding amiable. And so it is every where in scripture represented to be. But then alone is virtue beheld or contemplated in a view that gives it compleat force in the mind, when it is considered to be the chief or rather the sole object of the divine love and concern for ever and ever; when it is considered to be an immortal principle or source of happiness, in consequence of the frame and constitution of things; a progress towards perfection, that after its state of schooling and discipline is at an end, shall then fully appear to have been indeed contending for glory, honour, and immortality. This therefore being the representation christianity every where gives of virtue, providence, and the life to come, no system of morals can possibly excell it, or have greater force; because virtue cannot possibly be set forth in a more engaging, a more inviting and perswasive light. And, on the other hand, every scheme of morals which falls short of this view of virtue, must be, in respect of it, exceedingly deficient. Now if we keep this representation which christianity<326> gives us of our duty and end before us, we can never be at a loss to find out the true meaning of any of the expressions, by which it recommends any particular virtue to us, or virtue in general. For in the case now under our consideration, is it to be wondered at, that an institution designed to refine and purifymens minds from all carnal desires and appetites, into the pure love of virtue, should recommend to us that love under the notion of moral or spiritual poverty; since, if we duly attend to the nature of things, we must perceive, that prosperous circumstances are in themselves of a contagious and corrupting nature; and that, as the poor are less liable to pride, vanity, sensuality, and many other vices than those who abound in wealth; so the sincere love of virtue will render a rich man as great a stranger to those vices, as moderate and temperate, as uncarnal and self-denied, as if he were quite destitute of the means of sensual indulgences, with which he is surrounded. The exhortation to poverty of spirit really means, being more effectually weaned from those sensual lusts, which riches tend to engender and nourish in the mind by right inward government, than the poor man is or can be by his real poverty; or attaining amidst affluence to the virtues which mean circumstances render easy to be acquired, and prosperous ones, on the contrary, make very difficult. Our Saviour’s words may be thus paraphrased, “Blessed are those who are in the most pinching straits in this life, if they do really set their affections on spiritual objects, or God and virtue, and their minds are filled with those graces, to the study and practice of which their circumstances call them. For they are not bettered by distresses, or outward poverty, whose imaginations and affections are set on worldly riches; but they, who likewise are morally poor; or, whose minds are as far removed from the love of luxury and sensuality<327> as their outward circumstances are from the means of such indulgences, they only are really gainers by their poverty; and being fit for, they shall have a glorious share of true happiness in the kingdom of God; that kingdom in which nothing avails but true inward merit. And blessed are those, who in the midst of prosperity and temptation to worldly-mindedness and carnal living, are pure in their desires, humane, meek, and beneficent; and not placing any merit in their riches, but having their affections set upon qualities and enjoyments of a higher nature, are as great strangers to voluptuousness as the poorest can be. Such, though they be rich, are poor in a spiritual sense; they, in spight of all temptations, are as clean from the pollution, and contagion of wealth, as if they were outwardly poor. And they, by their virtuous use of their earthly treasures; by their temperance, their humility, and their charity, shall lay up for themselves much greater treasures in the kingdom of heaven.” This, if we compare several ways of speaking about the same thing in scripture together, is the true meaning of that poverty of spirit, which some carp at as a very uncouth precept. And were it necessary, it might be shewn, that the best antient moralists have not only represented virtue as consisting in the contempt of wealth, in escaping its pollutions, and in placing our happiness in things so remote from and independent of outward circumstances, as to be able to be happy even in poverty; and in the midst of plenty, to live as abstemiously, in order to make a generous use of riches, as if one was really poor: the best ancient moralists, I say, have not only so defined virtue, but have likewise expressed the fruits of this temper in almost the same manner; that is, in such a way as that, at first sight, they seem to be really recommending poverty, or a voluntary renunciation of riches.a But it is sufficient for us<328> to observe, that according to the law of nature, as well as the gospel, it is our duty to employ riches to virtuous purposes; neither to seek after them, nor to use them as means of sensuality, but always to maintain in our minds that superiority and command over all our fleshly lusts, which, because it maketh the poor man happy, and the rich moderate, humble and spiritual, even amidst his plenty, may be justly called poverty of spirit. For this must be the duty of reasonable beings made for society, and the pursuit of publick good here, and for an immortal happiness hereafter, which is to result from a well-governed mind, highly improved rational powers, and their exercises about objects adequate to their vigour and perfection. It is the same excellent temper of mind which is thus represented to us in the epistle of St. Paul to Timothy.b
“Withdraw thyself from those who count gain godliness.” This is the doctrine of corrupt minds, destitute of the truth. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment, let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich, fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which, while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things, and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life. Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy. That they do good, that they be rich in good<329> works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate, laying up to themselves a good foundation against the time to come, and that they may lay hold on eternal life.a
III. Let us now enquire a little into the meaning of the exhortations in scripture, to guard against the deceitfulness of sin, and to watch over our own heart. 1. Sin is represented to be exceeding deceitful; the world is said to be full of snares and allurements to vice; and a life of virtue is held forth to us under the notion of guarding, watching, fighting, and wrestling against the wiles, the delusions, the artifices of evil passions. After what hath been said in another place of the scripture language, I need not stay here to prove, that by the snares, temptations, and wiles of the devil or evil one, is to be understood corrupt lusts and passions, and the various arts by which they seduce into sin; their tendency to blind, darken, and pervert the judgment; to obscure our sense of duty, and to hurry and transport us into unreasonable and wicked pursuits. “Whosoever is tempted, saith the apostle St. James,36 is drawn away of his own lust and entic’d.” Now, no person who is acquainted with human nature, will wonder, that the scripture should insist so much upon the seducive artifices of evil passions. For their cunning and sophistry is indeed extreamly dangerous, extreamly difficult to see through and guard against. And vice, in a constitution like ours, must have a very strong party on its side, till virtue by long practice is arrived to great strength and firmness. If we look into ancient moralists, we shall find them discoursing in the same strain of the enchanting fancies or passions by which men are deceived into perverse paths, contrary to the dictates of their reason, and their natural abhorrence of vice. By these moralists the temptations to sin are very properly set forth to us as the delusive devices of false pleasure. And in holy writ, because<330> when corruption prevails universally, we are then not only continually sollicited to irregular indulgences by our sensitive appetites, and the objects which are ever assailing them; but evil example hath itself a very contageous, depraving influence, and is a very strong temptation; for these reasons the world is represented to us as the great seducer. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world, says St. John:a if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. Now what the apostle means by the world, and the things that are in it, he expresly declares in the following words. For all that is in the world, saith he, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but of the world. The lusts of the flesh; i.e. the desire of unlawful pleasures, all intemperance, lasciviousness, and impurity. These are called the lusts of the flesh, because men are hurried or seduced into them by passions and appetites, which the scripture stiles, flesh, in opposition to the dictates of reason or moral conscience, which is called in scripture, being led by the spirit. Now, though all the good things of life, which God hath created to be enjoyed with temperance, according to the ends and measures of nature, within the limits of reason and good order, and consistent with the more noble views and improvements of our rational and social part; though they be all the gifts of God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; yet when men, instead of bridling and governing their appetites by reason, do on the contrary suffer their reason to be overruled by passions and appetites, subverting the natural order of God’s creation, and denying due authority to those superior faculties designed to distinguish men from mere sensitive creatures; their enjoyments in this case are not of God, but are condemned by him; they are of what the apostle here stiles, by<331> way of opposition, to the design and will of God, the world.
The lusts of the eye, the desire of riches by unlawful means, and to no valuable purposes. And these are here stiled, the lusts of the eyes; because the love of riches, as such, and as it stands here distinguished from other vitious affections, the covetous desire of riches for riches sake, without any regard to the true, and beneficial uses of them, is but feeding the eyes with a mere fruitless view of unprofitable treasure, with the empty shows of vanity and deceit. It is the vice described thus by the wiseman, “There is one alone, and there is not a second, yea, he hath neither child nor brother, yet is there no end of all his labour, neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither saith he, for whom do I labour, and bereave my soul of good?” This also is vanity. And from hence have been derived those particular manners of speaking in scripture, where liberality is styled, a bountiful eye, and a single or open eye; and covetousness, an evil or niggardly eye. Whenever riches are desired and employed as instruments of liberality, or of doing good service to society, they are then indeed real blessings of providence. Blessings to the possessors of them whom they enable to have great influence in promoting virtue, and every thing that is valuable in society, or adds to the happiness of mankind. And blessings to others who are partakers of those good influences. But when they are only, what the apostle here stiles, the lust of the eyes; the food either of covetousness merely without use, or of vanity and folly in an ill use of them, the desire of them in that case is not an appetite of God’s creating. ’Tis not of the Father, but of the world. ’Tis the creature merely of a perverted imagination, and of a corrupt will: ’tis a desire that will perpetually put men upon obtaining wealth by ill methods, and upon employing it contrary to the design of God, in creating mankind, and the means of outward enjoyment.<332>
The pride of life, i.e. ambition, or the unlawful desire of dominion and power. And this is here stiled the pride of life; because, both the desire of obtaining power by unrighteous methods, and the pleasure of increasing it in ways of insolence and oppression, have their whole foundation in pride; in a presumptuous imagination, that right reason and equity are things of no reality, and which may, at any time, give place to our will and pleasure. Desire of power, in order to increase it to the benefit of our fellow-creatures, is indeed a noble passion. But the desire of power for the purposes of ambition only, and for the pleasure of tyranizing over others, is with great propriety called here the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but of the world. ’Tis that pride, or that setting up of self-will, in opposition to reason and equity, which is the ground and foundation of almost every immorality. The intemperances and debaucheries men are guilty of for want of improvement of themselves, are most properly included under the first head, which is the lust of the flesh. The second head, which is the lust of the eye, or the covetous desire of riches, for riches sake, is also frequently the occasion of much corruption, of many and great particular acts of injustice and oppression towards others. But the most general and extensive cause of an habitually injurious and inhuman temper is this pride of life; this love of power, domination and self-will. From hence arise wars, desolations, tyrannies, and all the great, extensive and merciless oppressions which totally extinguish that universal benevolence towards mankind, which is the charity represented in scripture as the fulfilling of the whole law; because benevolence ought to preside in the mind, and while our appetites are ruled by it, they are regular and orderly, and answer the good ends for which they were implanted in us.a
Those evil appetites are the tempters by which we are misled into the ways of unrighteousness and filthiness,<333> contrary to our reason, and inward sense of virtue and duty. And they are not of God: they are not of the Father; because, tho’ all our appetites after outward objects, all our sensitive affections and desires, as well as our rational powers be of God’s creation; yet he hath given us a governing principle to direct them; he hath created them on purpose to be restrained and regulated by the rules of virtue and sober reason; to be the subjects of our moral government, and thus to be to us the means, the occasions, the materials of various virtues. Separate them from us, and we have nothing to rule, nothing to curb or regulate. Take them away, there would be indeed no temptations to excesses and irregularities. But at the same time, what would become of self-government, of temperance, of fortitude, of benevolence, and in one word, of all that gives a man a title to the character of virtuous and good. Wherein the virtues of other created agents may consist, or what the objects of them may be, we cannot tell; but with respect to us, ’tis our sensitive part chiefly that is the object of our good or bad administration; of our reasonable or unreasonable deportment. And with regard to all beings capable of virtues analogous to ours, there must be similar means and objects of moral government. The moral perfection of the Deity consists in not exerting his power omnipotent, for the sake of triumphing in his power, but in exercising it for the greater good of his creation, according to the rules of justice, equity and truth.
Now, how our natural appetites sollicit us to place our happiness in giving full swing to them, and oppose themselves to the government of our reason, we may all feel, if we but attend to our minds: for do we not, on many occasions, experience a law in our members warring against the law of our minds. The real state of mankind, as corrupt as the world is, is this: men have naturally a strong sense of virtue and good order<334> in the government of their sensitive affections; so that it is not easy for them to despise the dictates of reason and conscience. And therefore, few men become highly corrupt all at once: few begin, in their first instances of unrighteousness, with acts of violent oppression; few run immediately into all excess and extravagancy of debauchery and riot; seemingly small immoral indulgences present themselves first, and gain admittance into their hearts, under the deceitful colours of very venial ones. But when a man has yielded to one sin because it is but small, he cannot resist the next, because it is not much greater; and so, by the same delusive argument, and by the same foolish repeated temptation, he is by degrees betrayed into the commission of the most enormous crimes; which, if any man at his first being tempted to transgress, had foretold that he should in process of time be induced to commit, he would have answered, as Hazael did to the prophet that foretold his cruelty, “Am I a dog that I should do this thing?” But at last, the severy greatest of crimes make no more dreadful an appearance to his corrupted conscience, than at first the least sins did to his innocent and undebauched judgment. When men have once been guilty of some great enormity, having lost the guard of their innocence, the banks of modesty and good resolution being broken down, the customs of a wicked world, and the habits of debauchery prevail over them, and bear them down irresistibly like a torrent: men thus become gradually reconciled to vice; the second crime is committed with less reluctance than the first; and the habit of wickedness growing upon them by repeated acts, in process of time, besides the proper and immediate temptation to every act of sin, the very custom of having done it makes it difficult for them not to return to it. They at last become ashamed to retreat, and indeed have no other arguments to oppose to the enticements of sin, and to the importunities of vitious<335> company, than such as having been often baffled and overcome have little or no force. And thus their return to virtue becomes, in a manner, as difficult as that the Ethiopian should change his colour, or the leopard his spots. The temptations which one could not resist in the days of his greater strength and best advantages, are become much more powerful by being often complied with; and if ever he recovers from the slavery of sin, it must be by overcoming an enemy much stronger, when he at the same time is much weaker himself. The effect of this is, that the conscience at length becomes fear’d and insensible, and the heart entirely hardened; and the sinner has no desire left of recovering his liberty, any more than he has power to do it. The last and highest degree of this evil is, when a man having wholly laid aside the thoughts of reforming himself, makes it his business, on the contrary, to corrupt others, and to tempt them likewise into debauchery, in temperance, corruption and venality; when he makes a mock of virtue, of sobriety, and honesty, of publick spirit, religion and conscience, when he scoffs at piety and goodness, and sets himself down (as the Psalmist expresses it) in the seat of the scornful.37 St. Paul, after a long catalogue of sins which the light of nature clearly discovers to every person to be highly abominable, gives this character of those who are arrived to the utmost heighth of depravity; “Who knowing the judgment of God (that they which commit such things are worthy of death; worthy of the punishments threatened by God against sin, worthy of the direful effects a corrupted immoral temper and life must produce in a good administration of moral beings;) not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.”38 No man thinks it possible for him, at his first setting out in the world, ever to arrive to such a monstrous degree of wickedness; but this is the natural progress of vice, which nothing can prevent but firm resistance to every temptation, to every immoral<336> indulgence, however trifling it may appear; or a strict guard against being betrayed into any sin, by the fairest, the most specious solicitations of any of our appetites after outward pleasure. It is for this reason that the scripture commands us to watch over our hearts, to take heed to our ways, to commune often very seriously with our moral conscience, to examine ourselves, and to call ourselves frequently to a very strict account for all our actions. “Take heed, brethren, says the author of the epistle to the Hebrews, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called to day, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”a To be hardened, or to harden a man’s own heart, signifies to have laid aside that natural abhorrence of sin which usually, at first, restrains men from venturing upon great wickedness. It signifies to have lost or laid asleep that quick sense, that uneasy judgment of the mind and conscience, which by continually representing to us the baseness and vileness, the danger and evil consequences of sin, will not permit men (so long as they give attention to it) to become abandoned sinners. It signifies, men’s being at length reconciled to sin; their chusing it with deliberate choice; their becoming shameless and incorrigible, open and daring, not only in committing wickedness, but in defending it; and denying all moral differences of actions. Men do not fall into this wretched state on a sudden and at once; but they arrive at it by degrees, being seduced into it insensibly by the enticements, and drawn on gradually by the deceitfulness of sin. This is the natural tendency of our yielding to temptation, of our complying with the customs of a depraved world, and suffering ourselves to be overcome by any passion or appetite till we have first examined it at<337> the bar of reason and conscience. There is, nor can be no other way of preserving ourselves secure against this most fatal of all evils to which reasonable beings can be exposed, and which, for that reason, was the only thing that certain ancient moralists would call evil; (total depravation of the mind) but not to enter into the road which directly leads to it; or if we are betrayed into it, to recover ourselves by reflexion and resolution immediately, and to redouble our watchfulness over the language of our passions to us. This direful growth or progress of the vitious temper in consequence of our listening to false pleasure, or unexamin’d appetites and fancies, is frequently represented to us by ancient moralists in the most rousing and awakening manner. And indeed they must be utter strangers to the ballance of the affections, which constitutes soundness and integrity of mind, to the power of habits; and, in one word, to all the laws relative to our progress in virtue, and to all the effects of not maintaining our reason and moral conscience in full and uncontroulable power and authority, who do not see the necessity of our keeping a strict watch over our minds, and of giving heedful attention to the enticing shapes and forms in which our appetites after outward objects are apt to represent them to us, especially when we have in any degree accustomed them to rule and guide us. ’Tis by such moral discipline alone that men can retain their integrity, improve in virtue, nay, not degenerate gradually into absolute depravity. Several moralists have unfolded and laid open to our view the seductive promises with which different passions often tempt us. And there is not indeed any thing more necessary to mankind, than that they should be early apprised of the deceitful representations of things our appetites are apt to exhibit to us, and of the false assertions and judgments we cannot but be betrayed into by them, if we are not exceedingly upon our guard against being deluded; if<338> we are not severe self-examiners, severe chastisers of all our ideas or fancies; for according to them will our affections and pursuits be. It is impossible that one can preserve his dominion over his appetites any longer than he looks upon a right mind as the greatest of all treasures, and a corrupt one as the most horrible of all evils; any longer than he looks upon generous affection, and the calm and steady presidence of reason, as having more beauty and charm than all other things in the world besides, and a grain of honesty and native worth is of more value, in his apprehension, than all the adventitious ornaments, estates or preferments, for the sake of which so many turn knaves; forsaking their natural principles and sentiments, quit their true honour and freedom for a mean, timorous, shifting state of gaudy servitude; and for insipid wretched honours of a deceitful kind, exchange inward merit, honour, and a character of a sincere and lasting relish. But how can this just notion of worth be kept up in the mind, otherwise than by the habitual self-examination and watchfulness so earnestly recommended by the excellent moralista whose words I have been now quoting, which is indeed the very same with that keeping of the heart with all diligence, that frequent meditation upon the excellence of virtue, the dignity to which human powers may be improved, the end of our being, and the will of our creator; and that continued, unintermitted attention that we be not deceived by the delusive appearances of sin, so often inculcated upon us in the sacred writings. 2. Let me only add to what hath been said, that the commands in scripture not to trust to our own hearts, and to take heed that we do not deceive ourselves, do not imply any other difficulty in knowing ourselves, or in judging truly of our advancements in virtue, besides what arises from self-love or self-flattery; of which he, who<339> is not aware, must be very unacquainted with human nature. It is certainly of moment to us, in order to our progress in virtue, not to be deceived with regard to our moral character, or not to imagine ourselves more perfect, or more proof against sollicitations to vice of any kind than we really are. With regard to other qualities, as beauty, strength, agility, learning, wit, &c. it cannot but be owned that very few are able to prevent very great partiality in their judgments about their share of them. For how apt are we to magnify all our accomplishments, and to extenuate all our imperfections to ourselves? How doth flattery work upon persons so as not only to perswade them that they may perhaps have good qualities in a higher degree than they imagined, but even so as to induce them to venture on undertakings far above their abilities.—How doth this happen but through our disposition to judge too favourably of ourselves? Were it not for this tendency to flatter ourselves, the flattery of others could never seduce us. The latter indeed can only hurt us in proportion to the power the other hath over our minds. Now surely, none will say that there is danger from our aptitude to partiality with regard to ourselves in every other respect, and no danger of our mistaking with regard to our moral character, or our improvements and advances in virtue. But if it be possible to deceive or flatter ourselves in that respect, it is certainly a self-deceit, a self-flattery which ought to be strictly guarded against; for no other branch of self-partiality can be of so dangerous consequence to us. Surely in this article, if a man thinketh himself something when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.a But the only way to be certain we do not deceive or flatter ourselves in this important article, is not to suffer ourselves to relish praise from others which we are not very sure of our deserving, upon a close and<340> severe review of our heart, temper and life; not to take our idea of ourselves from others, but from our own inward conscience alone. “That no man may deceive himself, saith the Apostle St. Paul, let him prove his own work; and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another”:39 Then the flattery of others will not mislead him into a false opinion of himself; and then shall he, if he be injuriously calumniated, have rejoicing in himself from the testimony of a good conscience. The great danger with respect to mistaking our moral character lies in our not attending to the real difference between our being deeply affected with a sense of the excellence of virtue, as often as it is presented to us, and our being actually virtuous. Some men fancy themselves highly improved in virtue, and absolutely secure, at least against every gross vice, whatever temptations to commit it they may happen to fall into; because at times they have very high notions of the beauty and amiableness of virtue, and of the deformity of every sinful passion and action. But they do not consider, that the worst of men must, on some occasions, feel the same sentiments excited in their minds; and that the sincerity and reality of virtue is to be measured by the good deeds it produces, by the general tenor of the life; for if sentiments of virtue and duty do not govern the life, they do not make one really good, because they do not render one really useful and beneficial to mankind. If a man have not good sentiments, he cannot be virtuous, but in order to deserve the character of a virtuous man, his good sentiments must be a principle of action in him; a living, a moving, an active principle. The soundest faith, the best notions about God and virtue are dead, saith St. James, unless they shew themselves to be active by the good fruits they bring forth. Faith without works is dead. As others can have no evidence of our good principles but by the advantages they reap from the good fruits of them in<341> our lives, so we are to prove our faith, our good principles and sentiments, our right notions of things to ourselves by our conduct and behaviour: Not to flatter ourselves on account of the truth and reasonableness of our opinions, or of the warmth with which we at times contemplate virtue, but to call ourselves to an account for the good we actually do in consequence of these good principles; and then only to pronounce ourselves good, when we are really useful to society. It signifies but little how virtuous the head be, if the heart be not equally so. Virtue means a virtuous temper, working habitually all the good it hath opportunity of doing; a generous benevolent disposition, that controuleth every sensual appetite, and delights to exert itself in promoting, with unwearied assiduity, the best interests of mankind. Now every man hath it in his power, almost every day of his life, to do some good to society. And he therefore hath just ground to suspect his virtue, who not being able to point out to himself what he does that is truly good, easily prevails upon himself to believe it was because he had no opportunity, or it was not in his power. For that is not the language of virtue, but of indolence or self-love. And this leads me to observe in the first place, that many placing virtue or religion in acts of pious meditation and worship, not only dispense with their not laying themselves out to be useful to society, but think themselves much better employed than if they minded temporal affairs, or concerned themselves about what they diminutively call worldly business. But christianity calls upon us to be diligent in some useful business, and to be rich in good works. And because our righteousness, as the scripture speaks, cannot profit God, then only is it profitable, or of real worth, when it is profitable to our fellow creatures. We are placed in this world not to retire from it; but to be active in it, and to exert our selves to promote publick happiness. And indeed to suppose, that the virtue required<342> of us is any thing besides such a temper of mind as prompts and excites to doing good in the world, is to suppose our excellence to consist in separating ourselves from our kind, and living independently of them. It is to place it in something that cannot make us like God, whose moral perfection consists in the continual exertion of his goodness; in something which absolutely centers in ourselves, and is therefore wholly selfish. If we have just apprehensions of God, religious meditation must be of excellent use to excite and strengthen the generous affections, and to subdue the narrow or impure appetites, which are the great obstacles to virtuous activity. But if what is called devotion, pious contemplation, or acts of religious worship, have not this effect, we may be as sure that we are deceived by some false opinion about God, and what is acceptable to him, as it is plain and evident “That he made us so to govern our appetites, and so to exert ourselves every one in his sphere as may best serve to advance publick happiness.” Now, tho’ christianity had not told us so, what can be more evident, than that nothing can be acceptable to God, or recommend to the divine favour, but our acting the best part as rational and social creatures, as creatures not made for ourselves, but for the general good? Some, in the second place, are easily perswaded that acts of religious worship are not sufficient to compleate the character of a good man, but that if to frequent exercises of devotion, almsgiving be joined, then is a man perfect. But St. Paula distinguishes between charity, and giving to the poor. “Tho’ I bestow all my goods on the poor, saith he, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” The charity which in scripture is called fulfilling of the law, and the bond of perfectness, is now too generally understood to mean no more than almsgiving, which is but a small part<343> of it. It means that universal love to mankind which not only disposes us to pity and compassionate our fellow creatures in distress, but excites us to employ our whole life busily in some way advantageous to society. Very great things are indeed spoken in scripture concerning this particular virtue of liberality to the poor. But it deserves to be particularly taken notice, that not only in the text just cited, but in all other places also, without exception, through the whole new testament, the word charity never once signifies the giving of alms, but always that sincere benevolence and good will towards all men, of which almsgiving to the poor is but one single branch, or one particular effect. It is very plain that almsgiving, if it springs not from a right principle, if it be accompanied with, and made subservient to designs of pride and ambition, of imperiousness and dominion, of party, faction and worldly power in matters of religion, it is of no esteem in the sight of God: it is not a virtue but when it proceeds from real love to mankind; and in order to its answering the end of the principle from which it ought to flow, in order to be called a virtue, it ought to be directed by wisdom in its choice of objects and means.
Pretences of love towards God, which do not produce benevolence towards our fellow-creatures, the apostle St. John tells us,a they are nothing more than mere enthusiasm, and a gross deceit. “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar.” The reasons he gives for it are, He that loveth not mankind, knoweth not God, for he is love.—And, he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen. The meaning of which reasoning is plainly to this effect. He who is not be nevolently affected toward mankind cannot have a just notion of God, for God is love; he cannot love God, without considering him as infinitely benevolent<344> and good: But how can one love infinite benevolence, without having a benevolent disposition. Besides, it is only a benevolent disposition towards mankind that can lead one to that delight in an universal father of mankind, and of the whole world of perceptive and rational beings, in which the love of God consists. We cannot rise to that sublime act of love, but gradually from acts of love and kindness towards beings which fall more immediately under our observation: if our love doth not operate towards our kind, there can be no such principle of benevolence in us, as is necessary to our being able to form to our selves an idea of God, and to delight in him.
Now, as for a principle of real benevolence, either toward God or mankind, tho’ it be very true that, as the same apostle says,a that whosoever hath this world’s goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, it cannot be in him; for how dwelleth the love of God in such a breast, saith the apostle: Yet that principle doth not satisfy it self with frequent giving for the relief of the poor; but the person who is really influenced by it, will be led and determined by it to devote his whole life to the service of mankind. He will be diligent to find out ways of being really and constantly useful to society, and will think every moment lost in which he is not employed in doing something really good. Persons in the lower stations of life are very apt to censure those who have large estates for their idleness, and particularly for their doing so few deeds of generosity in proportion to their fortunes. And they are indeed highly culpable. But let no man deceive himself, by saying to himself he would do great and beneficial things, if he had a plentiful income, unless he dare say to himself, that he does all the good in his present power; that he lays himself out to be useful to society to the utmost of his capacity;<345> and is in no respect less beneficial than he may be. Christianity exhorts in the strongest terms to charity, to benevolence, to active virtue. But tho’ we had no such extraordinary calls from divine revelation to be assiduous in advancing the general good and perfection of mankind, every one of us, in some particular way best suited to our abilities, genius and circumstances, how can we answer it to our natural conscience; to that inward sense of duty to God, and of right and wrong, which the author of our nature hath implanted in all men, to point them to their proper employment, as active and social creatures, if we are mere cumberers of the earth, like the barren unprofitable tree, which only serves to draw away nourishment from the good and fruitful ones? Yet such are all men who do not exert themselves to be useful to others. They are barren unprofitable trees; for what fruits doth society, for whose good all men are born, reap from them? The greatest vice in the world is idleness. It is justly said by moralists to be the mother of irregular passions. But, independently of that consideration, an idle life is contrary to the first and fundamental law of nature, with regard to our improvement, and to the improvement of mankind and human happiness in general, by which all is the fruit or purchase of industry. To improve ourselves, is to fit ourselves for doing great good, for being more extensively useful to society; and therefore time wholly laid out in improving ourselves in knowledge, without ever exerting our abilities for the advantages of others, is laying out our time wholly upon having the means by which an end may be gained, and no part of it upon the end itself. But if to enrich our minds with knowledge, without employing ourselves to be serviceable to mankind by it, be but at best the most innocent sort of idleness, what must be said of those who are indeed mere drones, who live luxuriously upon the industry of the active and laborious? ’Tis a fatal mistake, to affix an idea<346> of meanness to any business or employment which is really beneficial to society. And it is an equally pernicious one for any to think, that they have a right by their lucky birth, to be exeemed from all concern about the advancement of publick happiness; and to imagine they do enough, if now and then they are prevailed upon to part with a little of their superfluity for the relief of the indigent and distressed. No man is born for himself; and therefore no man discharges the duty of his life, or lives answerably to the end of his creation, who doth not consider himself as obliged to be a useful member of society, in proportion to his power of doing good; and to increase his abilities and power, in order to increase his power of doing good. This is not the language of christianity only, which is thought by some, upon that account, to impose a grievous yoke upon the rich and great by birth. It is the language of natural religion also; and is accordingly set forth to us as our duty in the most urgent and emphatical, moving manner, by several heathen moralists. Nor is there indeed any possibility of evading the necessity of acknowledging the obligation of all men equally to active virtue, till it can be proved, that all men are not made for society; but that some have by birth-right, or may acquire by getting wealth, a dispensation from all obligation to society, and a right to live as they list, without any concern about the interests of mankind in general, or of their country in particular. In truth, one cannot be idle without being really hurtful. But supposing there were any kinds of innocent idleness to which one’s life might be wholly devoted;—Is it the life of a man; the proper life of a creature endued with reason and active powers; the proper life of a social creature, blessed with so many faculties capable of such highly beneficial exercises? Is it a life that can be approved of by God; or merit happiness in another world? What merit hath such a life with regard to men; and how can it but be condemned by God and all good beings? To what rewards<347> or honours can it intitle hereafter? Their memory here must quickly be lost; and what can they flatter themselves to have deserved or prepared themselves for in another world? But the memory of the good man shall ever be precious here as ointment poured forth; and the good works hehath done in this world shall follow him into another, and obtain him a place suited to his worth, among those who have lived here, not to themselves, but to the glory of God, who created men to be co-workers with him for promoting universal good. I need not stay to prove that every man who from a sense of his duty to society, exerts himself with assiduous and cheerful application to some useful business, to do good to society, is an honourable member of society, and truly deserves the character of a virtuous man; nor that there is no man, especially in a well-governed society, who may not be useful. But I cannot choose but take notice of that affecting transition of the son of Syracha from magnifying God in all his works of creation and providence to the praise of good men. “Let us now praise famous men. The Lord hath wrought great glory by them, through his great power from the beginning. Such as did bear rule in their kingdoms, men renowned for their power, giving counsel by their understanding, and declaring prophesies. Leaders of the people by their counsels, and by their knowledge of learning meet for the people, wise and eloquent in their institutions. Such as found out musical tunes, and recited verses in writing. Rich men furnished with ability, living peaceably in their habitations. All those were honoured in their generations, and were the glory of their times. There be of them that have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported. And some there be which have no memorial, who are perished as though they had never been.”a <348> The ways of being really useful to society are innumerable, and will be easily found out by those who have a principle of active virtue in their minds; that virtue or wisdom, which, as St. James expresses it, is pure, peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits. And what a poor thing is it, said even a wise heathen sage, not to hurt him, whom you ought to benefit? It was a noble saying of Plato, which Tully hath beautifully enlarged upon in his offices. “We are not born for ourselves alone; our country, our parents, and our friends have all a share and an interest in our being.” ’Tis a maxim with the Stoicks, saith Tully, that as the earth, and all the productions of it, were created for the use of men, so men themselves were brought into the world, that they might assist and benefit each other. In this we ought to follow the guidance of nature, to bring common goods together, and freely lay them in common, and by an intercourse of giving and receiving kind offices, by art and industry, and all our faculties, to cement the society of mankind. It is more agreeable to nature, saith the same author, for a man to undertake all sorts of labour and trouble for the service and advantage of society, than to live in solitude, not only free from cares, but in the midst of the greatest pleasures. We are all members of one great body. Nature produced us under mutual relation, from the same principles, and for the same designs. It is she that has inspired us with love one for another: it is she who has taught us the lessons of equity and justice. It is upon account of her constitutions that we ought to esteem it a greater unhappiness to do hurt, than to receive it. It is by her orders that our hands move so readily to the assistance of an injured neighbour. Let that good saying therefore be ever in your mind, “I am a man, and I esteem nothing foreign to me which is of kin to humanity. Let us lay our natural powers in common. Human society is built like an arch of stones, which is<349> by this means only supported and upheld from ruin, that each part hinders the fall of the others.” This is the constant language of the ancient moralists concerning benevolence and virtue. And it is indeed the language of nature, as well as of revelation, that he who thinketh himself virtuous because he hath pious or virtuous sentiments, contenting himself that he does no hurt, without laying himself out, to the utmost of his power, to be useful to society, mistakes the shadow for the substance. “For, as the apostle St. James reasons,a if a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one say unto them, Depart in peace, be you warmed and filled, but does not give to them those things which are needful, what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead being alone. Yea a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” No opinions, no faith, no perswasion, no sentiments, can be of real use or value but in proportion to the good influence they have upon one’s actions. If they produce a good temper and disposition of mind, that good temper will produce a conformably good life. And till principles influence the temper, they are but ideas floating in the head. It is not the head but the heart, said a good ancient, that makes the man of probity and worth. And in vain doth one pretend to a good heart, if he is not fruitful in good works. For it is not more true, that a good tree bringeth forth good fruit, than that a good heart is not barren, but active and fruitful in counsels, in words, and in deeds, which are of real utility to all within it sreach or influence. I have insisted the longer upon these mistakes about virtue, because, as nothing more effectually supplants true science than false learning; so nothing more effectually prevents progress in real virtue, than the pursuit of something<350> that has a fair but false shew of it. And in christian countries, placing religion intirely in contemplation and acts of religious worship, and in almsgiving, instead of placing it in benevolent assiduous industry to promote the good of society, seems to be a very prevailing mistake, tho’ christianity expresly declares, that our duty consists in doing good, in being ready to distribute, willing to communicate, and in being rich in good works; and this is laying up to ourselves in store a good foundation against the time to come, in which every one shall reap as he has sown; and God the righteous judge and governor of the world will render to every one according to his works. And indeed, did it teach any other doctrine, or place religion in any thing else, it could not come from God. For reason plainly declares to us, that the good of society is the end of our creation; and that promoting it is our duty; and that nothing else can recommend us to the love and approbation of God, who is perfect goodness, but being steadily and uniformly actuated by a benign disposition: or, in other words, that in consequence of a constitution of things, framed and upheld by an infinitely perfect author, active benevolence must be the temper of soul from which alone eternal happiness can spring. To imagine the rewards in another life annexed to any other qualities but benignity and goodness of mind, is to imagine God to love, honour and reward something of inferior merit more than that which constitutes his own supreme excellence. It is to suppose him to delight in something inferior to virtue more than in virtue. And, on the other hand, to measure the goodness of mankind by any other rule or standard but the good fruits it produces, that is, the good it does in society, in proportion to our circumstances, or the extent of our power duly improved and exerted, is the same absurdity in morals, as it would be in physicks to say, that the cause is not proportional to the effect, and alternately the effect to the<351> cause. The rule must hold equally true in both, that as is the cause, such are its effects; as is the cause, such is the power or energy with which it operates. The only mark therefore by which thorough, unaffected, sincere benevolence may be known is this, that it will not be satisfied with itself, while it is conscious of its having neglected any opportunity of benefiting mankind it hath or could have had in his power, by duly exerting itself, while in the mean time it is very indulgent to others, and presumes very charitably of them, instead of rashly condemning or censuring them. Let us therefore judge favourably of others, and severely of ourselves; that is, call ourselves to a strict trial, and make our pretences to virtue and goodness give an account of their good effects, being perswaded that as nothing can assimulate us to God but goodness of heart; so goodness is and must be proportional to the energy with which it works, to its operativeness or fruitfulness. This may appear a severe test; and it is impossible to lay down rules about it, without entering into the examination of particular circumstances and cases. But if there be any such thing as religion or morality, it must consist in benevolence; that is, in the prevailing power of benevolence over all our other affections: benevolence must have the ascendant; or be the governing principle in our mind. And hence love is justly called in the scripture the fulfilment of the law. Whatever affection is not submitted to it, but baffles and overpowers it, whether it be revenge, pride, ambition, private interest, or sensual gratification, must be stronger than it. But when one regulates all his appetites and pursuits by a principle of benevolence, then are all his affections in due order; then is he with respect to himself, sober, temperate, chaste, nay, self-denied; and with respect to others, social, humane and generous; not merely just, but beneficent, merciful and affectionate. Nothing can be of consequence to mankind, or any creature but happiness.<352> And therefore, this is all which any person can, in strictness of speaking, be said to have a right to. We can owe no man any thing, but only to promote his happiness according to our abilities. “We therefore, as the apostle speaks,a can owe no man any thing but to love one another: for which reason, he that loveth mankind hath fulfilled the law. For this, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness, thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thy self.” The phrase, as thy self, cannot be understood to mean an equal, much less can it mean a greater sensibility with regard to others than ourselves, for that is impossible, it is a contradiction. But the meaning of it is well explained by that most equitable rule,a “Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them,” i.e. be willing to do, or do cheerfully and willingly that always to another which you can in reason expect another should do to you. Put your self in your neighbour’s circumstances, and whatever you would think reasonable to expect from another, were you in these circumstances, let that be the rule of your dealing with him who is actually in these circumstances.
This, says our saviour,bis the law and the prophets. This is that great rule wherein is contained our whole duty to our neighbour. This is the sum of true religion, of righteousness and equity: This is what the nature and the reason of things teaches: This is a rule of easy application: And this is what all God’s revelations to mankind tend ultimately to establish. He who loveth mankind will make the joys and sorrows, the interests of his fellow creatures his own. It is from self-love that we form the notion of private good; and love of our neighbour, where it prevails, will dispose<353> us to appropriate to ourselves his good and welfare; and thus it will not only prevent our being injurious to him, but will also put us upon promoting his good. As the private affection makes us in a peculiar manner sensible of justice or injustice, humanity, equity, tenderness and beneficence, when it is exercised towards our selves; love of our neighbour would give the same kind of sensibility in his be half; teach us what we ought to do toward our neighbours, by making us feel what we would highly approve of, if done by a neighbour to us in the like circumstances. And we may certainly fix upon this general rule with regard to benevolence, that the more of our care and thought and labour we employ in doing good to our fellow creatures, the nearer we come up to this law of perfection, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thy self.” The love of our neighbour, in proportion as it prevails, will be an advocate in our breasts to take care of the interests of our fellow creatures, in all the competitions and interferings, which cannot but be from the imperfection of our nature, and the state we are in; and which, as hath been often observed, are in a great measure designed for the trial and exercise of benevolence, in order to its being brought to perfection in our breasts. It will likewise, in a great degree, lessen that interfering, and hinder men from forming so strong a notion of private good, exclusive of the good of others, as we are apt to do. It will lead us naturally to examine the dictates of self-love, and to observe whether it gives us a just and fair representation of our true interest. For it is not commanded us, nor is the seed and principle of it implanted in us to exclude self-love, but to direct and guide it. And indeed, as a person who hath benevolence prevailing in him to any degree, if he takes a view of his frame and constitution, and of the natural connexions and tendencies of things in his state, must soon perceive, that the gratifications of benevolence, considered as a particular affection,<354> are far superior to the gratifications of any other particular affection; and that benevolence, considered as forming a general temper of mind, is itself the temper of satisfaction and enjoyment; so in reality, competition or interfering happens much oftner between pride, revenge, sensual gratifications and private interest, than between private interest and benevolence. For nothing is more common, as an excellent writer has observed on this head,a than to see men give themselves up to a passion or an affection, to their known prejudice and ruin, and in direct contradiction to manifest and real interest, and the loudest calls of self-love: whereas the seeming competitions and interfering between benevolence and private interest, relate much more to the materials and means of enjoyment, than to enjoyment itself. There is often an interfering in the former, when there is none in the latter.
As for the love of God, scripture as well as reason tells us, that it cannot take place but where benevolence is the reigning principle in the heart; and that as benevolence cannot rise to the love of God, unless it hath first operated towards our fellow creatures, so where it prevails towards our kind, the idea of an infinitely good being can no sooner be formed, than it must embrace such an object with the highest degree of complacency, delight and love. And thus benevolence is the root of piety: and all virtue and piety at last necessarily runs up into one and the same point; and love is in all senses the end of the commandment, the bond of perfectness. Benevolence does really, in the nature of things, include in it all that is good and worthy; all that is good which we have any distinct particular notion of. We have no clear conception of any moral attribute in the supreme Being, but what may be resolved up into goodness or benevolence. And therefore, if we consider a reasonable or moral agent, abstractly or without<355> regard to the particular relations and circumstances in which he is placed, we cannot conceive any thing else to come in towards determining his merit, but the degree in which benevolence prevails in him, its largeness or comprehensiveness, and its force and power in his mind.
What stress christianity lays upon the prevalency or ascendency of benevolence in the mind, and its fruits, is very evident; for it commands us in the strongest terms, not only to be just and equitable in our dealings, and as much as in us lies to follow peace with all men, but to overcome evil by good; to forgive our enemies.a Ye have heard, says our Saviour, this law Thou shalt love thy neighbour, misinterpreted, as if it meant, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, “love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven; for he maketh the sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust: for if ye love them which love you, what reward have you? what merit have you, or what extraordinary reward do you deserve? do not even the publicans the same? It is no more than what is generally done by persons of the lowest character, persons of very little virtue. And if ye salute your brethren only, if ye be kind and friendly only to those who are the same to you, what do you more than others? Do not even the publicans do so? This is no more than what the worst of men think themselves bound to do in common gratitude. Be ye therefore perfect, even as your father which is in heaven is perfect: be ye merciful even as your father which is in heaven is merciful: let your charity and well-doing extend itself universally, in imitation of the divine goodness, which is the greatest excellence and perfection of God.” Now, however much this precept, and others having the<356> same meaning, have been carped at, yet if the obligation to benevolence be owned, then must these precepts likewise be confessed to be obligatory. Benevolence comprehends them. For surely, if benevolence be obligatory, all malice and revenge which are directly opposite to it, must be forbidden. But what is it, not to indulge malice and revenge, but to moderate our resentment, and to extend our good-will even to the unthankful, even to our enemies? When we consider ourselves as creatures liable to many defects and faults, we must certainly think it reasonable that others should consider themselves as the same, and shew compassion, indulgence and tenderness to us. When we have failed in our duty to our neighbour, do we not think it fit and equitable, or due to human nature, that we should be forgiven when we return to a sense of our fault, and are willing to make all the reparation or satisfaction in our power; and that forgiving instead of avenging is a noble and highly approveable part? In fine, do we not in general, look upon man as the proper object of good-will, whatever his faults be, when they respect others? But, as an excellent writer observes,a if all this be true, what can a man say who will dispute the reasonableness or the possibility of obeying the divine precept we are now considering. Let him speak out, and it must be thus he will speak. “Mankind, i.e. a creature defective and faulty, is the proper object of good-will, whatever his faults are, when they respect others, but not when they respect me myself.” Now, that man should be affected in this manner, and act accordingly, is to be accounted for like othervices; but to assert that it ought, and must be thus, is self-partiality posses’d of the very understanding. Thus love to our enemies, and those who have been injurious to us, is so far from being rant, as it hath been profanely called, that it is in truth the law of our nature, and what every one must see and own, who is not quite blinded with<357> self-love. The same author observes, that as God Almighty foresaw the irregularities and disorders, both natural and moral, which would happen in this state of things, he hath generously made some provision against them, by giving us several passions and affections, which arise from, or whose objects are those disorders. Of this sort are fear, resentment, compassion, and others, of which there could be no occasion or use in a perfect state: But in the present we should be exposed to greater inconveniencies without them, tho’ there are very considerable ones which they themselves are the occasions of. They are necessary to us here, some of them as a guard against the violent assaults of others, and in our own defence; some in behalf of others; and all of them to put us upon, and to help to carry us through a course of behaviour suitable to our condition. Mankind naturally feel some emotion of the mind against injustice, whoever are the sufferers by it; and even tho’ the injurious design be prevented from taking effect. This indignation is natural, and is generally moderate enough in mankind, in each particular man, when the injury which excites it doth not affect himself, or one whom he considers as himself. Therefore the precepts to forgiveness, and to the love of our enemies, do not relate to that general indignation against injury, and the authors of it, but to this feeling or resentment, when raised by private or personal injury. But no man could be thought in earnest who should assert, that tho’ indignation against injury, when others are the sufferers, is innocent and just, yet the same indignation against it, when we ourselves are the sufferers, becomes blameable. These precepts therefore cannot be understood to forbid this feeling in the latter case, tho’ raised to a higher degree than in the former; because, from the very constitution of our nature, we cannot but have a greater sensibility to what concerns our selves. Therefore these precepts must be understood to forbid only the excesses<358> and abuses of this natural feeling in cases of personal injury. And all these, excepting that of retaliation, do so plainly, in the very terms, express somewhat unreasonable, disproportionate and absurd, as to admit of no shadow of justification. But suppose retaliation innocent, and what would be the consequence? Malice or resentment towards any man hath plainly a tendency to beget the same passion in him who is the object of it, and this again increases it in the other. It is of the very nature of this vice to propagate itself, not only by way of example, which it does in common with other vices, but in a peculiar way of its own; for resentment itself, as well as what is done in consequence of it, is the object of resentment: Hence it comes to pass, that the first offence, when even so slight as presently to be forgotten, becomes the occasion of entering into a long intercourse of ill-offices: neither is it uncommon to see persons in this progress of strife and honour, change parts, and him who was at first the injured person, become more injurious and blameable than the aggressor. Put the case then, that the law of retaliation was universally received as an innocent rule of life; and the observance of it thought by many (and then it would soon come to be thought by all) a point of honour. This supposes every man in private cases, to pass sentence in his own cause; and likewise, that anger or resentment is to be the judge. Thus, from the number less partialities which we all have for ourselves, every one would often think himself injured when he was not: and in most cases, would represent an injury as much greater than it really is: the imagined dignity of the person offended would scarce ever fail to magnify the offence. And if bare retaliation always begets resentment in the person whom we retaliate, what would that excess do? Add to this, that he likewise has his partiality.—There is no going on to represent this scene of madness: It is manifest there would be no bounds, nor any end. Further, that mankind is a community; that we are all one body; that there is a<359> publick interest of society, which each particular is obliged to promote, is the sum of morals. Consider then the passion of resentment as given to this one body, as given to society. Nothing can be more manifest, than that resentment is to be considered as a secondary passion, placed in us upon supposition, upon account of, and with regard to injury; not, to be sure, to promote and further, but to render it and the inconveniences and miseries arising from it, less and fewer than they would be without this passion. Thus then, the very notion or idea of this passion, as a remedy or prevention of evil, and as in itself a painful means, plainly shews that it ought never to be made use of, but only in order to produce some greater good. The gratification of resentment, if it be not conducive to publick good, must necessarily contradict not only the general obligation to benevolence, but likewise the particular end of that passion itself; because the end for which it was given is to prevent or remedy injury, i.e. the misery occasioned by injury, i.e. misery itself. And the gratification of it consists in producing misery, i.e. in contradicting the end for which it was implanted in our nature. This reasoning is built upon the difference there is between this principle, this passion, and all others. No other principle or passion hath for its end the misery of our fellow creatures. But malice and revenge meditates evil itself; and to do mischief, to be the author of misery, is the very thing which gratifies the passion: This is what it directly tends towards, as its proper design.
Thus therefore, it plainly appears that malice and revenge are contrary to the law of nature; and that it is naturally our duty to moderate our resentment, as benevolence, or regard to the publick good, directs and requires. And accordingly, loving our enemies, and overcoming evil by good, have always been acknowledged by the best ancient moralistsa to be duties of the law<360> of nature. They are the natural fruits of benevolence, and have ever been recommended as such. After what hath been said, I need not here stay to prove, that the meaning of the christian precepts is not that christian magistrates are to neglect the punishing of malefactors; not that private christians are to forbear bringing publick offenders to justice; not that it is not lawful for men to recover their private just dues, by such methods of law and equity as are in well-regulated countries appointed for the administration of justice; nor that in common life we are, in such a sense, to forgive those who continue to wrong us, as that we needlesly and causelesly trust them, and as it were tempt them to wrong us more: but we are to forgive those who do repent. And those who do not repent, but persist in injuring us, we are to pray for, and be willing to do acts of charity and humanity to them, when need requires; and not to be sollicitous for revenge, but much rather to desire their amendment, and by all reasonable means promote reconciliation: And if at any time we are forced, by the necessity of things, to have recourse to the magistrate to do us right, we are even then to desire only equity for ourselves, and not needless damage and vexation to our adversary. Now forgiveness of injuries, and love to our enemies in this sense, is of the law of nature; for it is equitable that men, conscious of their own weaknesses and passions, and of their aptness to be too soon and too often provoked, should be very ready to forgive, and be reconciled to others. It is dealing with others, as we would think reasonable they should deal with us. It is a desirable temper, for the inward peace and ease of mens own minds, that they should not be under the power of fretful passions, and the lasting resentments of a revengeful spirit; but that they be meek, gentle, peaceable, and easy to be reconciled. This meekness is in a peculiar manner a reward to itself. “The merciful man, saith Solomon,40 doth good to his own soul, but he that is<361> cruel troubleth his own flesh.” Nor is it less beneficial to the publick, being the greatest preservative against that beginning of strife which the same wise man elegantly compares to the letting out of water. It is also the most effectual way of doing ourselves right, as is implied in the expression, “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good”a for gentleness, meekness, and easiness to forgive, is the most probable way of working upon men, if they be at all capable of amendment. And how can we with any assurance ask or hope for pardon from God, if we are of an unforgiving temper? How can we presume to pray to God that he would graciously forgive our failures, but in the way our Saviour has taught us to pray. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.” The reasonableness of the condition is well expressed by the son of Syrach in a passage already quoted. “He that wrongeth shall find vengeance from the Lord, and he will surely keep his sins in remembrance. Forgive thy neighbour the hurt that he has done thee; so that thy sins also be forgiven when thou prayest. One man beareth hatred against another, and doth he seek pardon of the Lord? He sheweth no mercy to a man which is like himself, and doth he ask forgiveness of his own sins?”41 In fine, he who hath not a forgiving temper cannot have benevolence, for benevolence is tender and compassionate, slow to wrath, ready to forbear and forgive; far less is he like to God, whose principal attribute is his mercifulness. Creatures sensible of pain must be offended, provoked, and roused to self-defence by hurt or pain. And creatures who have a sense of virtue and vice, justice and injustice, must feel indignation arise within them against injury or injustice. But God, who hath implanted these useful affections in us, hath likewise implanted in our nature a strong principle of pity and compassion to bridle<362> and restrain them from the excesses into which they would otherwise run. If therefore our resentment is excessive, or goes beyond the bounds necessary to publick good, or to prevent the mischievous consequences of injustice, where is our compassion.—But if our compassion does not work, is not an affection wanting in us, which as naturally hath place in the human constitution as any other? Thus therefore, setting aside all other considerations but the natural texture of the human mind, it is evident from the ballance intended to be preserved amongst our natural affections or passions, that malice and revenge are contrary to nature; or that resentment ought to be mixed with and tempered by compassion. And if we consider ourselves as formed for the imitation of God, and high attainments in virtue, what must our scope be? Must it not be to attain to that which includes in it all the divine perfections, and without which no other of his moral attributes can be conceived, even perfect benevolence? But what is benevolence, when we remove from the idea of it readiness to forgive; nay, goodness even to the obstinately unthankful? This alone is truly divine, or god-like bounty and generosity, to have bowels of pity and compassion towards those who cruelly hate and persecute us. Of this Christ set us a noble example: And who can reflect upon Christ expiring with this divine prayer, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do”; or St. Stephen, in imitation of his example, with these generous words, “O God lay not this sin to their charge?” Who can reflect upon these noble acts of benevolence without admiring them; without feeling how much more glorious it is forgive than to revenge? In truth, no man is so lost to humanity, and to all sense of the beauty of virtue, but he must admire and approve the forgiving, generous temper; hate the revengeful, cruel, unrelenting, unforgiving one, and esteem the conquest of passion and resentment as greater, more heroick, more noble and praiseworthy,<363> than the conquest of a kingdom. “He that ruleth or conquereth his own passions, says the wise man, is greater than he who taketh a city.” Without love to mankind, and sincere ardent regard to publick good, there can be no such thing as true heroism: without benevolence and generosity, courage is cruelty. And therefore, in the opinion of all wise men even among the heathens, those who are vulgarly called heroes, were reputed ravagers and destroyers of mankind; savage, blood-thirsty monsters. The meekness, the gentleness, the forgiving spirit, the generous beneficence even to the ungrateful, recommended by christianity, is not a mean, submissive dastardly temper, but true goodness, nay, true greatness of mind, and it is so natural to mankind, that it is properly called humanity.
III. Let us proceed to consider whether the christian morality is deficient in any respect; leaves out, excludes or overlooks any virtue. Now, so particular are the precepts of the christian institution with regard to relative duties, that it seems needless to prove to any who are acquainted with it, that these cannot be more particularly or fully explained and enforced than they are by it: yet it hath been objected that those which are rank’d among the most heroic virtues among moralists, are no essential parts of christian charity; namely, private friendship, and the love of our country.
Now, in answer to this censure upon christianity, a most excellent writera hath observed, 1. “Universal benevolence is the supreme law to all rational beings, a law of eternal and immutable obligation, the authority of which ought not to be superseded, limited, or in the least weakened, by any selfish or partial affections. For if there be any beauty and amiableness at all in doing good, the more extended our views are, it must be so much the more meritorious and honourable; and<364> consequently, to aim at the universal good must be the highest degree of virtue.—Nothing forms so great and worthy a character.—’Tis indeed the chief part of God’s moral rectitude;—and must therefore be the supreme dignity and perfection of man. Again, the happiness of the whole species cannot be too intensely pursued, whereas all other affections are no longer innocent than as they are at least consistent with this; are only virtuous, so far as they directly promote it, but are base and detestable when they interfere with it. 2. To apply this to the case of private friendship. When my regard to my friend is inconsistent with the love I owe my country, and much more with the general good of mankind, to whom all my services are more immediately and strictly due, ’tis an unnatural passion, and ought to be rooted out of the mind; because, were it universally indulged, it would introduce the utmost confusion, and an intire subversion of all order and government. This being the great rule by which we are to determine in all cases concerning the expediency and fitness of private friendships, it follows, that they have nothing truly generous in them, but as they tend to cultivate and improve universal benevolence, and are a natural means to make the whole species happy. For if they are not chosen for this reason because they are best upon the whole, if they are only not contrary to the publick happiness, but have no direct influence to promote it, our views must be mean and selfish; and friendship will become a mere matter of private convenience, or else of humour and fancy; in either of which cases it must be uncertain and variable, as circumstances, opinions and interests alter: or finally, it will be the love of ourselves, i.e. of the resemblance of our own way of thinking, dispositions and manners in others; and consequently, nothing like the sublime and heroic virtue for which it has been recommended, and which indeed, it is in itself, so long as ’tis the medium of universal benevolence. Again, all<365> friendship, in order to its being truly rational and praise-worthy, must be founded in virtue. For this is the only ground of that esteem and steady confidence which are inseparable from a worthy and generous friendship. ’Tis in this way alone that it can be useful, or in any measure promote the end of every lesser alliance, viz. the welfare of the great community of mankind. ’Tis this distinguishes true friendship from the vile cabals of robbers and traitors, men of dark and mischievous designs, who may have all the other characters of it, such as ‘similitude of tempers, passions, interests, secrecy, confidence, constancy; nay, a reciprocal tenderness and affection for each other.’ And from hence it follows, that the love of a friend must be proportioned to his real merit, otherwise it is foolish and unreasonable partiality; and we ought to prefer every man before him that has really a more excellent and useful character. In our esteem we must necessarily do it, unless our private affection has blinded and perverted our judgments; and there are some cases supposable, in which, if we would not forfeit the glorious character of being the friends of mankind for a little fantastick name of friendship, we must do it in our services too. I may add, there is something in almost all accounts of private friendship, that is in a great measure mechanical. A high esteem of a wise, virtuous and useful character, an ardent zeal to serve our friends, and faithfulness to their interests, is what all may attain to; but the fervour and strength of passion that sometimes mixes with it, what we may call the enthusiasm of friendship, depends very much upon a particular constitution. ’Tis the more gross part.—And if we separate the mechanical part, and all extravagant transports from private friendship, and consider it as a thing that reason may approve and justify, we shall find it is nothing more than the reciprocal esteem and affection of virtuous minds, united by a harmony of inclinations, views and interests, all upright and generous.<366>—That it never exceeds in any instance the rules of justice, truth and honour,—is always subservient to the great law of universal benevolence;—and valuable, not as ’tis an attachment to private persons, but as a means of promoting the cause of virtue, and the happiness of the world. 3. The same may be said of the love of our country. That it is a rational and virtuous disposition, not merely as it is a regard for a particular part of the species, but as it has a tendency to advance the universal good. For their security against injury and violence, and to answer in the most effectual manner the great end of their benevolent and generous affections, mankind found it necessary to form particular societies. The reason of supporting these voluntary combinations is not only self-defence, but because such a method is for the general good. These two ideas ought never to be separated, because things can’t continue in a regular and natural state, but while the good of every part is considered as subordinate to the whole. Now the good of the whole is unquestionably best promoted by every person’s having a hearty affection for the society to which he belongs, and a strong zeal for its welfare. This is his immediate concern;—the station and sphere of usefulness that providence has assigned him. The undeniable consequence of which is, that love of one’s country is only a rational principle, when it is intirely consistent with, and subservient to the supreme law of universal benevolence. Universal benevolence is infinitely the most exalted and heroic spring of action, because the universal good can’t be pursued to an excess; but private friendship, and the love of our country, may be so perverted as to become mischievous and destructive principles. The former is intirely disinterested, and can proceed only from the love of goodness, and consequently is a most god-liked is position: the latter may both spring from little selfish motives, and terminate in a narrow private interest. The former contains every instance of restrain’d<367> and partial affection, and is therefore the whole sum of social virtue; whereas the latter, without more enlarged views than the mere pleasure of a friend, or the welfare of our country, forms a character so far from being eminently good, that it wants the very essentials of goodness.
“This alone, saith our author, is sufficient to vindicate our saviour’s scheme of benevolence. But, 4. further, let it be considered, that the christian principle includes both these, so far as they are founded in reason, and have any thing virtuous and praise-worthy in them. Universal benevolence must, in the very nature of the thing, comprehend every species of real benevolence: and a command to promote the general good, necessarily implies all the proper means of doing it; and consequently, every instance of private friendship, and zeal for the interest of particular communities that appears to have this natural tendency. ’Tis no objection against moral discourses, that they lay down chiefly general rules for the right conduct of life; for these alone are eternal and unchangeable morality: and the true application of them to particular cases must be left to every man’s own reason, because it depends on a variety of circumstances that alter the expediency of things. General benevolence is a fixed and immutable duty, but friendship is not a strict duty upon all, but, for the most part, a purely voluntary engagement.
“An esteem of good and virtuous characters is always rational, because it is necessarily connected with the love of virtue itself. But this is not the notion of friendship, which is a peculiar relation, form’d by a consent and harmony of minds, as well as founded in virtue; from whence it is an undeniable consequence, that it can’t be every man’s duty, since it evidently depends on circumstances that are quite out of our power. There are innumerable instances in which persons may find several among their acquaintance, and in the same<368> sphere of life, whom they highly esteem, but not one proper to be chosen for a close and intimate friend: so that the recommending private friendship in the general must have been very absurd, since it is only a rare and accidental obligation, and never falls in the way of a great part of mankind. And besides, it might have been attended with mischievous effects. For the bulk of mankind thinking it a duty of religion, and a necessary branch of sublime heroic virtue, would enter into rash, unconcerted and disagreeable alliances, which must naturally produce a great deal of disorder, and disturb the peace of societies: whereas, while they act upon the principles of universal benevolence, no ill consequences can ensue; and therefore the inculcating this principle only as an essential part of morality, and leaving private friendship to fall in as a branch of it, just as prudence, on a view of all circumstances, directs, is the wisest and best way of instructing mankind. Further, there has been very little need in any age, to put men upon cultivating private friendships, and the love of their country; but rather to give a check to these narrow limited affections, and correct the exorbitancies of them. The experience of our own times, and the history of all ages, is an ample justification of the truth of this remark. Friendships have always been frequent enough;— but of what kind are they? Do they not spring from humour and caprice, from a harmony of odd, whimsical and unaccountable tempers, from singularity and selfishness?—Or are they built upon the solid foundations of honour and virtue? In like manner, zeal for the interest of a particular country is it not universal?—But then, is it truly benevolent and publick-spirited? It is more commonly an absurd and childish prejudice that makes men so extravagantly fond of themselves as to treat all other nations with insolence and contempt. It is a zeal that makes an idol of our country, and is ready to sacrifice even the good of the whole species to it.<369>
“There was no reason then, that our saviour should particularly inculcate these things, to which mankind have so natural a turn, and are so apt to indulge to excess. His great work was to rectify all disorders, and in an especial manner the abuse of good principles, and the extravagancies that arise from it. And this he has effectually done in the case before us, by enforcing the obligations of universal goodness, which will regulate all inferior affections, without destroying them. For the observing this rule, will lead to every instance both of friendship and love of our country that is really amiable and beneficial, and discourage such only of either kind as are unmanly and mischievous. But besides, there was a particular reason, from the circumstances of the world at that time, why the christian religion should not directly recommend the love of our country; for then an affection for particular countries was a general nusance, and triumphed over justice and humanity: for it is well known that the Jews were so partially fond of their own nation, that they looked upon themselves as the only favourites of heaven; which made them severe and rigid in their censures, and morose and unsocial to all who were not of their religion.—And as for the Romans, whose noble lectures of benevolence and generosity are so much boasted of, and their love of their country represented as the very perfection of heroic virtue, they were the plagues and scourges of mankind, and had actually carried their arms and conquests, and together with them terror, slavery and ruin, through the greatest part of the then known world.—Was this now a time to recommend narrow views, and an attachment to particular societies, when the general interest had suffered so much by it? It was rather the way to have destroyed publick benevolence altogether.
“In the last place, he adds, that tho’ the christian religion does not, for these weighty reasons, particularly enjoin private friendship, and the love of our country,<370> yet it is a false insinuation, that it has given no encouragement to them. For we have in the character of Christ himself an eminent example of each of these virtues, which is equally binding as an express law, upon all who acknowledge his authority. He chose but twelve persons to be his immediate and constant followers, and one of them he made his friend. Accordingly we read in the history of the New Testament, of the disciple whom Jesus loved; whom he always treated with confidence, and particular marks of tenderness and affection.
“And was not his weeping over Jerusalem from a sense of its impending ruin, a noble proof of his ardent concern for the publick welfare? Were not all his labours to make his people happy, by reforming their corruptions and vices? Was it not for this that he suffered so many abuses? Nay, did he not even die for the good of his country? I may add to this the example of St. Paul, who was so transported by his affection to his country, as to wish that the greatest of evils might befal himself, even to be accursed from Christ, if by that means he might be the instrument of preserving and establishing their prosperity.a These are instances, than which, if we take in all circumstances, none ever were, or can be more great and heroical: and had they been found among the old Greeks or Romans, they would have been celebrated with the most laboured and magnificent encomiums.”
Thus, we have sufficiently vindicated the christian scheme of morality, by shewing its congruity with the affections and powers naturally belonging to man, and its tendency to raise him to a truly noble degree of perfection. And the following truths are either plainly included in the preceeding reasonings, or do directly follow from them.<371>
We are not merely commanded by christianity to do good, but to love goodness: not merely to do justice, and to act humanely and generously, but to love justice, mercy and bounty. We have implanted in our nature not only all the affections necessary to the private system, or to self-preservation; but all the affections necessary to lead us to right conduct with regard to our kind, or to make us social in our behaviour: and besides, the particular affections of this sort, as compassion, natural affection, resentment against injury, love of reputation, and others, we have likewise, as hath been often observed, a disposition to love and approve goodness. And as the christian precepts to love and approve whatever is praise-worthy and truly commendable, suppose this natural determination in our minds; so they are chiefly to be understood as calls upon us to cultivate and improve this excellent disposition to its highest perfection: as calls to cultivate and improve to its highest perfection, that moral judgment, sense or conscience originally placed in us to be our guide, by which we are necessarily determined to approve virtue, and to disapprove and abominate vice. ’Tis this faculty that makes a being capable of virtue: other beings who want this sense may be good, because their affections may stand right; or they may operate naturally in their just tones and proportions towards the welfare of their species. But in order to have virtue or merit, a being must have a reflecting capacity, by which it can discern good and evil; and such a being is only virtuous in proportion as this discernment is quick, lively, uncorrupted, uniform, and steady in its influences over him. The foundation of virtue, therefore, lies in preserving this sense intire and unvitiated; that is, in daily quickening, invigorating and enlarging it by proper exercises; for if it does not improve, it must<372> degenerate. Such is its nature; nay, such indeed is the nature of all moral qualities, affections or powers. And so indeed is it universally throughout all nature; or with regard to natural, as well as moral qualities. But this hath been often taken notice of.
From the preceeding reasonings, it is obvious that by virtue in the holy scriptures is meant a continued progress toward moral perfection. That neither reason nor revelation can require of us absolute and compleat perfection, an absolute and complete freedom from all sin, is plain, since scripture, in conjunction with experience, and with the reason of things, clearly assures us, that in many things we offend all; and that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. Agreeably to which, and to the known infirmity of the nature of man, holy Job declares of himself, “If I justify my self, my own mouth shall condemn me: if I say I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse.”a But the plain meaning of that degree of improvement in goodness to which the scripture gives the title of perfection, is, 1. An intire uprightness of the intention and endeavour: an integrity of the heart and affections. Hence uprightness, or integrity and perfection, are promiscuously used in the same sense. “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright, for the end of that man is peace.”a The signification is not being free from all frailties and imperfections, which in the present state is impossible, and there can be no obligation to natural impossibilities; but according to the best of our abilities, dedicating ourselves steddily and uniformly to the search of truth, and to the practice of righteousness and benevolence: not serving two masters, not dividing our affections<373> between God and Mammon, as the scripture speaks, i.e. between the love of sin, and the desire of obeying God’s commands, which is the case of those who have but newly begun to lay the foundation of repentance from dead works; but sincerely setting ourselves to know and to do the will of God, and to add strength to our sense of duty, and our resolutions to adhere to it. 2. It signifies progress in virtue and goodness, till we have attained such a habit of doing righteousness, or of virtuous living, as that it is become easy and delightful, and in a manner natural to us, without any of that difficulty and reluctance which usually attend the first beginnings of reformation, especially when evil habits are deeply rooted and very inveterate. The progress of virtue is excellently described in the book of Ecclesiasticus.b “At the first, wisdom will walk with a man by crooked ways, and bring fear and dread upon him, and torment him with her discipline until she may trust his soul, and try him by her laws: then will she return the straight way to him, and comfort him, and he shall inherit her.” When a man loves virtue, so as to be able to say with the Psalmist, that his delight is in the law of the Lord; and with our Saviour, that his meat and his drink is to do the will of him that sent him; then he begins to approach towards the angelic state: nay, he becomes partaker, says St. Peter, of the divine nature. Now, if we attend to the nature of habits, we will easily perceive how virtuous ones must be formed; or that progress in virtue is gradual advancement, by repeated acts of virtue, to a temper thoroughly virtuous and good. As progress in knowledge of any sort means daily advances to greater perfection in it, in consequence of continued application, so progress in virtue means daily adding new force to our love of virtue; and virtue in all its exercises, becoming daily by continued application more and more habitual to us. The man<374> who would arrive at virtue to such a degree, as to look upon no evil, no calamity, no distress, not death itself, as any evil, in comparison of the smallest vice, the least immoral indulgence, hath a noble and very high mark to aim at: and till this perfection of virtue is attained to, man is short of the scope he ought to set before him. He is only virtuous in proportion to his endeavours to attain to it; in proportion to his uninterrupted sincere diligence to become so thoroughly good. But what man hath arrived to such a degree of rational vigour in this respect, that he may be called perfect? And how can man attain to it, if he is not steady and indefatigable in his pursuit of it, and in that moral discipline, by perseverance in which it can only be attained? If we read ancient moralistsa upon the perfection of virtue, and upon the necessity of constant attention to our actions, to our ideas and opinions, to the associations of ideas which naturally form themselves in our minds, and our judgments of things, to our affections and their government, we will not be surprized at what the sacred writings say of contending after virtue, of patient continuance in well-doing, of giving all diligence to add virtue to virtue, to mortify and subdue carnal affections, and to spiritualize our minds, to advance daily in purity, holiness and benevolence, in patience, fortitude, publick spirit, and the love of God. And indeed if we look into our own constitution, and the state of the world, we must perceive that the moral rectitude of which human nature is capable, is what cannot be attained to without close and unwearied application to strengthen every affection into the habitual turn and bent which is its perfection; and to work the mind into such a thorough love of goodness as is able to stand proof against all temptation to vice. It is therefore a sincere and vigilant, unintermitted pursuit of moral perfection, which in the scripture is called perfection. 3. Now, in the third place, he who is engaged in this pursuit, far from indulging himself in any known vice,<375> will never think himself sufficiently advanced, but gaining continually a more and more compleat victory over his frailties and infirmities, over the passions which are aptest to prevail over him, and betray him into sin; he will go from strength to strength, in the improvement of virtue here, till he appear before God in the perfection of holiness. “He will, with St. Paul, never think he has already attained, or is already perfect; but forgetting the things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, he will press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”42 And what is this mark and prize to which we are called by God in Christ Jesus? The call is, “Be ye perfect as God is perfect; for without holiness no man can see the Lord.” He will give all diligence to cleanse himself from all filthiness of the flesh, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. And therefore the path of the just is said to be as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. From hence we may learn in what sense it is that the Scripture says, a good man does not sin, nay, cannot commit sin. “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, says St. John; for his see dremaineth in him; and he cannot sin because he is born of God.”a The whole design of this epistle is to inculcate that great truth upon us, that as God himself is light and love, that is, perfect and unmixed holiness and goodness; so no man who liveth in impurity and wickedness can have fellowship with him. That pretending to know God or love him, without setting one’s self seriously to purify himself even as God is pure, is a mere deceit: that all other methods of recommending ourselves to God, besides that one of imitating his moral perfections, are gross impositions upon ourselves; in one word, that there is one only manifest and infallible mark to distinguish between the children of God<376> and the children of the Devil: “Whosoever doth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother: whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin.” Whosoever is born of God. This phrase, as we have elsewhere observed, by an easy figure signifies a heavenly disposition of mind, or a temper that assimulates us to God; it is the same as what is called in other places, being born after the spirit.a One born after the flesh, means a worldly and sensual person, who has wholly given himself up to gratify his bodily appetites, and pursue the sinful enjoyments of this life, instead of making due improvement of his mind by virtuous practice, in order to prepare himself for a better state hereafter. On the contrary, a good man who subdues the irregular appetites of sense, and keeps them in subjection and obedience to the laws of reason, and the spiritual doctrine of christianity, is said to be born after the spirit, born of God. The intention of both these phrases is to signify, that true religion, or a just and deep impression of the great truths of morality and religion, which are inculcated upon us by the christian doctrine, makes such an improvement of our nature, so great a change in the disposition and life of a man who has formerly been wicked, that it is not improperly expressed, comparatively speaking, by his being, as it were, born into a new state. Civility and government, learning and good manners, transform the nature of man from savage to humane; and true religion exalts it still higher from humane even to divine. Now, whosoever is born of God in this sense, it is said, doth not commit sin, i.e. a man who has a just sense of religion and virtue, a just sense and impression of the scripture doctrine concerning God, virtue, and a future state, never allows himself in the habit of any known sin; nor suffers himself to fall into any of those enormous crimes, which<377> being utterly repugnant to all sense of virtue, are expresly said to exclude men from the kingdom of heaven. Sin, in the new testament, most commonly signifies either the habit of vice, or at least (which are equivalent to it in guilt) the acts of some great and glaring crimes: as when our Saviour tells us, he will bid to depart from him all the workers of iniquity:b and that whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.c These phrases plainly denote the general custom or habit; and so likewise do those declarations of the apostles, that the wages of sin is death,a and he that committeth sin is of the devil.b But we use the word vulgarly in a different signification, and so also does the scripture itself, when it says that all men are sinners, and none righteous. The meaning of which, and the like expressions in some places, is to signify the great corruption of the generality of men at some particular time or place. Thus, when we read,c “God saw the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was evil continually,” ’tis plain this was not intended for a character of all mankind, at all times, and in all places, but of the generality of those who then lived. Thus, when St. Paul affirms, that the scripture has concluded all under sin,d and that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; his intention is not to give a character of every individual person in particular, but to declare in general the prevailing corruption of the Jews, as well as the Gentiles. In other places, the like manner of expression signifies, that no man is free from failings and imperfections, from infirmities, surprizes and inadvertencies. In this sense it is, that St. James confesses that in many things we offend all;e and St. John declares, if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves.f To commit sin, in the scripture sense, signifies to be knowingly<378> and deliberately a worker of unrighteousness; to continue in the habitual practice of any vice whatever; or to commit any of the greater and more enormous crimes; such crimes as are evidently contrary to reason, and to the plain design of the sacred scriptures, and absolutely inconsistent with any sense of, or regard to virtue. Whosoever is born of God, or hath just notions and impressions of religion, of the religion of Jesus Christ in particular, doth not at all commit sin in that sense.
The reason is given. For his seed remaineth in him. The word of God in scripture is called the seed, the good seed. So our Saviour calls it in the parable of the sower.a And those who are persuaded by the doctrine of the gospel to amend their lives, and to study holiness, are said to be born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, even by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.b The meaning is, whosoever is a true christian, the motives and arguments to the study of virtue are thoroughly embraced by him and fix’d in him; and, like good seed, is fruitful, bringing forth the fruits of the spirit, or all the moral virtues, righteousness, temperance, benevolence, fortitude, and perseverence in holiness.
It is said such cannot sin. Now cannot in scripture, as well as in common use, signifies most frequently not any absolute natural impossibility, but what morally speaking cannot happen, what cannot be done without great difficulty, what cannot be done without forfeiting a man’s character, and ceasing to be what he was. So that when the apostle affirms whosoever is born of God cannot commit sin, his meaning is not that there is any impossibility of his turning, but that he cannot sin without ceasing to be what he was, without forfeiting his character of being born of God, without becoming corrupt, and losing his sense of duty, and<379> that vital principle of virtue which once actuated him; even as we say a just man cannot deceive. Our Saviour says, a good tree cannot bring forth bad fruit; and no more can one who hath a true sense of God, and the obligations to virtue remaining firm in him, live in the habitual practice of any known sin. If he does, he forfeits his character, and has no longer any title to the character of a child of God, unless he recovers himself again by a repentance, as exemplary as his fall, from so excellent a state was scandalous. As man cannot arrive at great strength in virtue but by degrees; so a man cannot degenerate from it but gradually. And while a sense of virtue is alive, it must operate; it must be continually improving, like the good seed, which being sown in a proper and well manured soil, bringeth forth its fruits, and ripens into mature harvest. In proportion as one grows in grace, in wisdom, in virtue, the seeds of virtue, wisdom and grace are lively in him. And in proportion as he degenerates into vice, or becomes fruitless or barren in good works, the seeds of piety and virtue are become dead in him. The connexion in morals is the same as in nature. Nor can the progress of virtue be more significantly illustrated to us than by that resemblance the scripture so often makes use of, taken from good seed. Principles of virtue are the moral seed, good affections and actions are its fruits, and perfected habits of virtue are its maturity, its harvest; and the culture of the mind, in order to attain to good habits, must be as constant and uninterrupted as the care of the husbandman about his vineyard or garden.
From the preceding reasonings it plainly follows, that all positive and ritual observances must be subordinate to the practice of moral virtues. The latter is the end, and the former can be considered only as<380> the means to the latter, and therefore are only valuable in proportion to their conduciveness to that end. This is too evident to be insisted upon. And it is the express doctrine of christianity concerning the few positive duties commanded or recommended by it.a Certain duties of a moral nature, that is, resulting from certain relations of beings to one another, may be only discoverable by revelation. But such duties cannot be called positive in any other sense, but that the discovery of the relation upon which they are founded, or from which they naturally and necessarily arise, is owing intirely to revelation, and could not have been made without it. The relation being known, the duties resulting from it are deducible from it by reason, in the same way that other duties are inferred from relations known without revelation, or by experience and reasoning from experience. And therefore the relation being known, such duties are moral duties, which differ from other moral duties in no other respect, but that the relations whence they result are not known in the same way that the relations are known whence other moral duties are inferred, but are relations made known to us merely by revelation. But it is sufficient to my purpose to have just suggested this observation; my design not being to enquire further into christianity, than to discover what it represents to us as the chief end of man; or in what it places the perfection of virtue and goodness. Now, our Saviour and his apostles often declare to us in the strongest terms, that they who place religion in any thing else but virtue deceive themselves: that nothing else can recommend us to the divine favour, or prepare us for eternal happiness in another life. Many passages to this effect have been already quoted, I shall therefore only add two more. “Lay apart, says St. James,a all filthiness and superfluity<381> of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls; but be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your selves. For if any man be a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass. For he beholdeth himself and goeth away, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was; but whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, not being a forgetful hearer but a doer of the word, that man shall be blessed in his deed. If any man amongst you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” And our Saviour himself expresly declares,b “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.” The plain meaning of which assertion is, that all duties of a ritual nature and positive appointment are subordinate to moral duties, and only commanded for the present use of man, to be subservient and assisting to the more convenient practice of the duties of religion, of perpetual and indispensable obligation. That it must be so in the nature of things, is as evident as that the perfection of a reasonable creature must consist in the perfection of his moral powers; and that means to promote his perfection can only be of use or value in proportion as they contribute toward that end. And shall it be reckoned an absurdity in every case but that alone, which is of the greatest importance, to rest in the means?<382>
From the preceeding account of virtue, it is manifest, that it is represented in the sacred writings to be a progress towards a future state, in which virtue shall have its full reward. It is called, Laying up treasures to ourselves in heaven,—Laying a foundation for eternal happiness,—Being rich towards God,—Rich in the fruits of eternal, incorruptible life,—The fruits of immortality,—Pressing forward toward the perfection, to which suitable endeavours to improve in virtue shall attain in the life to come. And in the progress toward the perfection in holiness and virtue, which the scripture sets before us, as the scope man ought to set before him, and as the glorious end which all shall attain to, who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, honour, and immortality; we are commanded to keep our eye always on that noble issue of our labours, and to comfort and animate ourselves with that cheerful blissful hope. Now, sure, none will pretend, that such a hope must not be a very strong incentive to diligent, unwearied, undaunted perseverance in virtue. And that none can be encouraged, animated, or excited by the scripture account of a future state, but those who sincerely love virtue, will appear when we come to consider the scripture account of a future state. Mean time, let us but consider which of these two is the most consistent idea of the present state of things; to suppose man furnished as he is for progress in virtue, and to receive happiness from virtuous exercises, to perish at death with his body; or to consider him as furnished for virtue, or virtuous happiness, as he is, in order to improve in virtue for ever, in proportion to his care to advance in it; and to receive greater happiness in another life from virtuous exercises, than the present circumstances of mankind admit of; which are, however, very proper for the education, trial, and improvement of virtue? One surely needs not ask which of these two is<383> the most comfortable opinion. And that the one gives us a consistent view of the whole of nature, and the other gives such a view of the moral world as we can neither reconcile with the notion of an infinitely good creator and governor, nor with the mani-fold instances we every where see of wisdom and goodness in his administration, is no less evident. Let us now proceed to compare the scripture account of a future state with reason and experience.
[a. ]Rom. ii. 14.
[a. ]Luke xi. 34–36.
[26. ]Locke, Of the Conduct of the Understanding §4,6.
[a. ]Rom. ii. 13–15.
[a. ]1 John iii. 19–21.
[b. ]Wisdom vi. 12–20.
[a. ]See Lock on education. [Most of this page and half of the next is part quotation and part paraphrase of Locke, Of the Conduct of the Understanding §25.]
[a. ]Mr. Lock. [Locke, Of the Conduct of the Understanding §41.]
[a. ]Rom. xiv. ver. 17, &c.
[b. ]Eph. v.
[27. ]The paragraph begins with Eph. 4.31–32; the remainder is a paraphrase of Eph. 5.
[a. ]See Rom. ii.
[a. ]Acts xxiv.
[28. ]Homer, Odyssey, trans. Pope, II.320.
[29. ]The following quotations are taken from, respectively, Prov. 10.9; 11.13; 11.5; 11.6; 11.27; 11.28; 15.30; 21.21; 28.6.
[a. ]Dr. Sam. Clark. [Clarke, Sermon 134, in Works, 2:117–18.]
[a. ]Proverbs iv. 19, 18.
[30. ]Paraphrase of Prov. 4.11–12.
[a. ]Psalm xv.
[b. ]2 Tim. iii. 4.
[c. ]Gal. vi. 8.
[a. ]Rom. iii. 16. vi. 16, &c. James i. 15.
[b. ]Rom. viii. 13.
[c. ]1 John ii. 15, 16, 17.
[31. ]James 3.14–16.
[d. ]Coloss. iii. 2, &c.
[32. ]James 3.17–18.
[a. ]St. James i. 12.
[b. ]Rev. iii. 21.
[a. ]See this, and the following argument, charmingly illustrated in the essay on virtue, Charac. T. 2. [Shaftesbury, “Virtue” II.ii.1, in Characteristics, ed. Klein, 203–4.]
[a. ]Col. iii. 5, 6.
[b. ]Rom. xiii. 12, 13, 14.
[a. ]Rom. viii. 6, 13.
[a. ]It is impossible to speak of enjoyments which are not virtuous or rational in phrases that are not as low as the enjoyments spoken of: it is not to give a gross air to the opinion I am refuting. I use this phrase; some such thing as coarse must be its meaning.
[33. ]Turnbull’s “Essay on Education” eventually appeared in 1742 with the title Observations upon Liberal Education.
[a. ]Levit. xix. 1–2.
[b. ]1 Peter i. 15–16.
[a. ]2 Cor. vii. 1.
[b. ]Matt. v. 48.
[c. ]1 Peter i. 16–17.
[d. ]Chap. iv. 18, &c.
[a. ]2 Peter i. 4.
[b. ]Hebr. xii. 10.
[c. ]1 John iii. 2.
[34. ]Job 6.30.
[a. ]Ecclus. ii. 13, &c.
[35. ]Isaiah 40.31.
[a. ]2 Pet. ii. 15–20. &c.
[b. ]Heb. vi. 4. &c.
[c. ]Eccles. vii. 29.
[a. ]Dr. Butler’s Sermons. Sermon on resentment. [This long paraphrase, startingon p. 764, is from Joseph Butler (1692–1752), Fifteen Sermons, Sermon VIII: “Upon Resentment” §8, in The Works of Joseph Butler, ed. W. E. Gladstone, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1897), vol. 2.]
[a. ]Chap. xvii. 9. See Mr. Foster’s Sermons. [James Foster, Sermon 10, in Sermons ..., vol. 1, 4th ed. (London, 1745), 259–61.]
[a. ]Matthew v. 3.
[b. ]John vi. 63.
[c. ]John iv. 23.
[d. ]Rom. ii. 28.
[a. ]Revel. ii. 19.
[b. ]Luke xii. 21.
[a. ]Advancement of learning, Book vii. chap. 1. [Bacon, Advancement of Learning, VII.1, in Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning, ed. Michael Kiernan (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000), 136.]
[a. ]See the lives of Pelopidas and Epaminondas in antient authors. [For the story of Pelopidas and Epaminondas see Plutarch’s Lives, ed. and trans. Bernadotte Perrin, 11 vols., Loeb Classical Library (London: Heinemann; New York: Putnam, 1914–26), 5:347ff.]
[b. ]1 Tim. vi. 5, &c.
[a. ]Poverty of mind, is not to be disinterested; to despise riches; to be above the insolence of wealth.
[36. ]James 1.14.
[a. ]1 John ii. 15.
[a. ]This paraphrase is chiefly taken from Dr. Sam. Clarke. See his Sermons.[Clarke, Sermon 154, in Works, 2:251–56.]
[37. ]Ps. 1.1.
[38. ]Rom. 1.32.
[a. ]Heb. iii. 12–13.
[a. ]See Arrian, Marcus Antoninus, and the Character is ticks. [The sentiment is well represented in Shaftesbury’s “Miscellany” IV in Characteristics, ed. Klein; see especially 422–25. See also Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Meditations VI.13.]
[a. ]Gal. vi. 3, &c.
[39. ]Gal. 6.3–4.
[a. ]1 Cor. xiii. 3.
[a. ]1 John iv. 20, &c.
[a. ]1 John iii. 17.
[a. ]Ecclus. xliv.
[a. ]It appears from hence, that in ancient times making honourable mention of great and good men, to excite noble emulation in the living, was a part of religious service.
[a. ]James ii. 15–18.
[a. ]Rom. xiii. 8, &c.
[a. ]Matt. vii. 12.
[b. ]Gal. v. 14.
[a. ]Dr. Butler. Bishop of Bristol, in his sermon on Love to our neighbour, whence this whole reasoning is taken. [Joseph Butler, Sermon XI: “Upon the Love of Our Neighbour,” §18, in Works, vol. 2.]
[a. ]Matt. v. 43.
[a. ]Dr. Butler’s Sermons. [The question Turnbull ascribes to Butler is answered by Butler in extenso in Sermons XI and XII, “Upon the Love of Our Neighbour,” in Works, vol. 2.]
[a. ]See Plato’s Gorgias, Crito, Repub. 1. Xenophon Mem. Soc. l. 2. [Plato, Gorgias 478B-479E, Crito 49C-E, Republic bk. 1 passim; Xenophon, Memorabilia, “Socrates” I.2.]
[40. ]Prov. 11.17.
[a. ]Rom. xii. 21.
[41. ]Ecclus. 28.1–4.
[a. ]Mr. Foster in his admirable Sermons, whose reasoning I here abridge. [James Foster, Sermon 3, in Sermons, 1:51ff.]
[a. ]Rom. ix. 3.
[a. ]Job ix. 20.
[a. ]Psal. xxxvii. 37.
[b. ]Chap. iv. 18–20.
[a. ]Marcus Antoninus in particular. [Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Meditations, III.11 §2.]
[42. ]Phil. 3.12–14.
[a. ]1 John iii. 9.
[a. ]Gal. iv. 29.
[b. ]St. Luke xiii. 27.
[c. ]St. John viii. 34.
[a. ]Rom. vi. 23.
[b. ]1 John iii. 8.
[c. ]Gen. vi. 5.
[d. ]Gal. iii. 22.
[e. ]St. James iii. 2.
[f. ]1 John i. 8.
[a. ]St. Luke viii. 5, 11.
[b. ]1 Peter i. 23.
[a. ]See these few positive duties vindicated, in my Enquiry concerning the connexion between the doctrines and works of Jesus Christ.
[a. ]James i. 21, &c.
[b. ]Mark ii. 27.