Front Page Titles (by Subject) Corolary II - The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy
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Corolary II - 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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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.
[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.