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Proposition I - 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).
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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.
[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.