Front Page Titles (by Subject) section iv: Duty to God - The Elements of Moral Philosophy
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
section iv: Duty to God - David Fordyce, The Elements of Moral Philosophy 
The Elements of Moral Philosophy, in Three Books with a Brief Account of the Nature, Progress, and Origin of Philosophy, ed. Thomas Kennedy (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003).
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.
Duty to God
Divine ConnectionsOf all the Relations which the human Mind sustains, that which subsists between the Creator and his Creatures, the supreme Lawgiver and his Subjects, is the highest and the best. This Relation arises from the Nature of a Creature in general, and the Constitution of the human Mind in particular; the noblest Powers and Affections of which point to an universal Mind, and would be imperfect and abortive without such a Direction. How lame then must that System of Morals be, which leaves a Deity out of the Question! How disconsolate, and how destitute of its firmest Support!
Existence of GodIt does not appear, from any true History or Experience of the Mind’s Progress, that any Man by any formal Deduction of his discursive Powers, ever reasoned himself into the Belief of a God. Whether such a Belief is only some natural Anticipation of Soul, or is derived from Father to Son, and from one Man to another, in the Way of Tradition, or is suggested to us in consequence of an immutable Law of our Nature, on beholding the august Aspect and beautiful Order of the Universe, we will not pretend to determine. What seems most agreeable to Experience is, that a Sense of its Beauty and Grandeur, and the admirable Fitness of one thing to another in its vast Apparatus, leads the Mind necessarily and unavoidably to a Perception of Design, or of a designing Cause, the Origin of all, by a Progress as simple and natural, as that by which a beautiful Picture, or a fine Building, suggests to us the Idea of an excellent Artist. For it seems to hold universally true, that wherever we discern a Tendency, or Co-operation of Things, towards a certain End, or producing a common Effect, there, by a necessary Law of Association, we apprehend Design, a designing Energy, or Cause. No matter whether the Objects are natural or artificial, still that Suggestion is unavoidable, and the Connection between the Effect and its adequate Cause, obtrudes itself on the Mind, and it requires no nice Search or elaborate Deduction of Reason, to trace or prove that Connection. We are particularly satisfied of its Truth in the Subject before us, by a kind of direct Intuition, and we do not seem to attend to the Maxim we learn in Schools, “That there cannot be an infinite Series of Causes and Effects producing and produced by one another.” Nor do we feel a great Accession of Light and Conviction after we have learned it. We are conscious of our Existence, of Thought, Sentiment, and Passion, and sensible withal that these came not of ourselves, therefore we immediately recognize a Parent-Mind, an Original Intelligence, from whom we borrowed those little Portions of Thought and Activity. And while we not only feel kind Affections in ourselves, and discover them in others, but likewise behold all round us such a Number and Variety of Creatures, endued with Natures nicely adjusted to their several Stations and Oeconomies, supporting and supported by each other, and all sustained by a common Order of Things, and sharing different Degrees of Happiness, according to their respective Capacities, we are naturally and necessarily led up to the Father of such a numerous Offspring, the Fountain of such widespread Happiness. As we conceive this Being before all, above all, and greater than all, we naturally, and without Reasoning, ascribe to him every kind of Perfection, Wisdom, Power, and Goodness without Bounds, existing through all Time, and pervading all Space.His Relation to the human Mind We apply to him those glorious Epithets of our Creator, Preserver, Benefactor, the supreme Lord and Law-giver of the whole Society of rational intelligent Creatures.—Not only the Imperfections and Wants of our Being and Condition, but some of the noblest Instincts and Affections of our Minds, connect us with this great and universal Nature. The Mind, in its Progress from Object to Object, from one Character and Prospect of Beauty to another, finds some Blemish or Deficiency in each, and soon exhausts or grows weary and dissatisfied with its Subject; it sees no Character of Excellency among Men, equal to that Pitch of Esteem which it is capable of exerting; no Object within the Compass of human Things adequate to the Strength of its Affection. Nor can it stop any where in this self-expansive Progress, or find Repose after its highest Flights, till it arrives at a Being of unbounded Greatness and Worth, on whom it may employ its sublimest Powers without exhausting the Subject, and give Scope to the utmost Force and Fulness of its Love, without Satiety or Disgust. So that the Nature of this Being corresponds to the Nature of Man; nor can his intelligent and moral Powers obtain their entire End, but on the Supposition of such a Being, and without a real Sympathy and Communication with him. The native Propensity of the Mind to reverence whatever is great and wonderful in Nature, finds a proper Object of Homage in him who spread out the Heavens and the Earth, and who sustains and governs the Whole of Things. The Admiration of Beauty, the Love of Order, and the Complacency we feel in Goodness, must rise to the highest Pitch, and attain the full Vigour and Joy of their Operations, when they unite in him who is the Sum and Source of all Perfection.
Immorality of ImpietyIt is evident from the slightest Survey of Morals, that how punctual soever one may be in performing the Duties which result from our Relations to Mankind; yet to be quite deficient in performing those which arise from our Relation to the Almighty, must argue a strange Perversion of Reason or Depravity of Heart. If imperfect Degrees of Worth attract our Veneration, and if the Want of it would imply an Insensibility, or, which is worse, an Aversion to Merit, what Lameness of Affection and Immorality of Character must it be to be unaffected with, and much more to be ill-affected to a Being of superlative Worth! To love Society, or particular Members of it, and yet to have no Sense of our Connection with its Head, no Affection to our common Parent and Benefactor; to be concerned about the Approbation or Censure of our Fellow-Creatures, and yet to feel nothing of this kind towards Him who sees and weighs our Actions with unerring Wisdom and Justice, and can fully reward or punish them, betrays equal Madness and Partiality of Mind. It is plain therefore beyond all doubt, that some Regards are due to the great Father of all, in whom every lovely and adorable Quality combines to inspire Veneration and Homage.
Right Opinions of GodAs it has been observed already, that our Affections depend on our Opinions of their Objects, and generally keep pace with them, it must be of the highest Importance, and seems to be among the first Duties we owe to the Author of our Being, “to form the least imperfect, since we cannot form perfect, Conceptions of his Character and Administration.” For such Conceptions thoroughly imbibed, will render our Religion rational, and our Dispositions refined. If our Opinions are diminutive and distorted, our Religion will be superstitious, and our Temper abject. Thus, if we ascribe to the Deity that false Majesty, which consists in the unbenevolent and sullen Exercise of mere Will or Power, or suppose him to delight in the Prostrations of servile Fear, or as servile Praise, he will be worshiped with mean Adulation, and a Profusion of Compliments. Farther, if he be looked upon as a stern and implacable Being, delighting in Vengeance, he will be adored with pompous Offerings, Sacrifices, or whatever else might be thought proper to sooth and mollify him. But if we believe perfect Goodness to be the Character of the Supreme Being, and that he loves those most who resemble him most, the Worship paid him will be rational and sublime, and his Worshipers will seek to please him, by imitating that Goodness which they adore.
Rational FaithThe Foundation then of all true Religion is rational Faith. And of a rational Faith these seem to be the chief Articles, to believe, “that an infinite all-perfect Mind exists, who has no opposite nor any separate Interest from that of his Creatures,—that he super-intends and governs all Creatures and Things,—that his Goodness extends to all his Creatures, in different Degrees indeed, according to their respective Natures, but without any Partiality or Envy,—that he does every thing for the best, or in a Subserviency to the Perfection and Happiness of the Whole,—particularly, that he directs and governs the Affairs of Men,—inspects their Actions,—distinguishes the Good from the Bad,—loves and befriends the former,—is displeased with and pities the latter in this World,—and will, according to their respective Deserts, reward one and punish the other in the next;—that, in fine, he is always carrying on a Scheme of Virtue and Happiness through an unlimited Duration,—and is ever guiding the Universe through its successive Stages and Periods, to higher Degrees of Perfection and Felicity.” This is true Theism, the glorious Scheme of divine Faith; a Scheme exhibited in all the Works of God, and executed through his whole Administration.
Morality of TheismThis Faith well founded, and deeply felt, is nearly connected with a true moral Taste, and hath a powerful Efficacy on the Temper and Manners of the Theist. He who admires Goodness in others, and delights in the Practice of it, must be conscious of a reigning Order within, a Rectitude and Candor of Heart, which disposes him to entertain favourable Apprehensions of Men, and from an impartial Survey of things, to presume that good Order and good Meaning prevail in the Universe; and if good Meaning and good Order, then an ordering, an intending Mind, who is no Enemy, no Tyrant to his Creatures, but a Friend, a Benefactor, an indulgent Sovereign.
Immorality of AtheismOn the other hand, a bad Man, having nothing goodly or generous to contemplate within, no right Intentions, nor Honesty of Heart, suspects every Person and every Thing, and beholding Nature thro’ the Gloom of a selfish and guilty Mind, is either averse to the Belief of a reigning Order, or, if he cannot suppress the unconquerable Anticipations of a governing Mind, he is prone to tarnish the Beauty of Nature, and to impute Malevolence, or Blindness and Impotence at least to the Sovereign Ruler. He turns the Universe into a forlorn and horrid Waste, and transfers his own Character to the Deity, by ascribing to him that uncommunicative Grandeur, that arbitrary or revengeful Spirit which he affects or admires in himself. As such a Temper of Mind naturally leads to Atheism, or to a Superstition full as bad; therefore as far as that Temper depends on the unhappy Creature in whom it prevails, the Propensity to Atheism or Superstition consequent thereto, must be immoral. Farther, if it be true that the Belief or Sense of a Deity is natural to the Mind, and the Evidence of his Existence reflected from his Works so full, as to strike even the most superficial Observer with Conviction, then the supplanting or corrupting that Sense, or the Want of due Attention to that Evidence, and in consequence of both, a supine Ignorance, or affected Unbelief of a Deity, must argue a bad Temper, or an immoral Turn of Mind. In the case of invincible Ignorance, or a very bad Education, though nothing can be concluded directly against the Character, yet whenever ill Passions and Habits pervert the Judgment, and by perverting the Judgment terminate in Atheism, then the Case becomes plainly criminal.
The Connection of Theism and VirtueBut let Casuists determine this as they will, a true Faith in the divine Character and Administration, is generally the Consequence of a virtuous State of Mind. The Man who is truly and habitually good, feels the Love of Order, of Beauty, and Goodness, in the strongest Degree, and therefore cannot be insensible to those Emanations of them which appear in all the Works of God, nor help loving their supreme Sourceand Model. He cannot but think, that he who has poured such Beauty and Goodness over all his Works, must himself delight in Beauty and Goodness, and what he delights in must be both amiable and happy. Some indeed there are, and it is Pity there should be any such, who, through the unhappy Influence of a wrong Education, have entertained dark and unfriendly Thoughts of a Deity, and his Administration, though otherwise of a virtuous Temper themselves. However it must be acknowledged, that such Sentiments have, for the most part, a bad Effect on the Temper; and when they have not, it is because the undepraved Affections of an honest Heart are more powerful in their Operation, than the speculative Opinions of an ill-formed Head.
Duties of Gratitude, Love, &c.But wherever right Conceptions of the Deity and his Providence prevail, when he is considered as the inexhausted Source of Light, and Love, and Joy, as acting in the joint Character of a Father and Governor, imparting an endless Variety of Capacities to his Creatures, and supplying them with every thing necessary to their full Completion and Happiness, what Veneration and Gratitude must such Conceptions thoroughly believed, excite in the Mind! How natural and delightful must it be to one whose Heart is open to the Perception of Truth, and of every thing fair, great, and wonderful in Nature, to contemplate and adore him, who is the first fair, the first great, and first wonderful; in whom Wisdom, Power, and Goodness, dwell vitally, essentially, originally, and act in perfect Concert! What Grandeur is here to fill the most enlarged Capacity, what Beauty to engage the most ardent Love, what a Mass of Wonders in such Exuberance of Perfection to astonish and delight the human Mind through an unfailing Duration!
Other AffectionsIf the Deity is considered as our supreme Guardian and Benefactor, as the Father of Mercies, who loves his Creatures with infinite Tenderness, and, in a particular manner, all good Men, nay, who delights in Goodness, even in its most imperfect Degrees; what Resignation, what Dependence, what generous Confidence, what Hope in God, and his all-wise Providence, must arise in the Soul that is possessed of such amiable Views of him? All those Exercises of Piety, and above all a superlative Esteem and Love, are directed to God as to their natural, their ultimate, and indeed their only adequate Object; and though the immense Obligations we have received from him, may excite in us more lively Feelings of divine Goodness than a general and abstracted Contemplation of it, yet the Affections of Gratitude and Love are themselves of the generous disinterested kind, not the Result of Self-interest, or Views of Reward.* A perfect Character, in which we always suppose infinite Goodness, guided by unerring Wisdom, and supported by Almighty Power, is the proper Object of perfect Love; and tho’ that Character sustains to us the Relation of a Benefactor, yet the Mind, deeply struck with that Perfection, is quite lost amidst such a Blaze of Beauty, and grows as it were insensible to those minuter Irradiations of it upon itself. To talk therefore of a mercenary Love of God, or which has Fear for its principal Ingredient, is equally impious and absurd. If we do not love the loveliest Object in the Universe for his own Sake, no Prospect of Good or Fear of Ill can ever bribe our Esteem, or captivate our Love. These Affections are too noble to be bought or sold, or bartered in the way of Gain; Worth, or Merit, is their Object, and their Reward is something similar in kind. Whoever indulges such Sentiments and Affections towards the Deity, must be confirmed in the Love of Virtue, in a Desire to imitate its all-perfect Pattern, and in a chearful Security that all his great Concerns, those of his Friends, and of the Universe, shall be absolutely safe under the Conduct of unerring Wisdom, and unbounded Goodness. It is in his Care and Providence alone that the good Man, who is anxious for the Happiness of all, finds perfect Serenity, a Serenity neither ruffled by partial Ill, nor soured by private Disappointment.
Repentance, &c.When we consider the unstained Purity and absolute Perfection of the Divine Nature, and reflect withal on the Imperfection and various Blemishes of our own, we must sink, or be convinced we ought to sink, into the deepest Humility and Prostration of Soul before him, who is so wonderfully great and holy. When farther, we call to mind what low and languid Feelings we have of the Divine Presence and Majesty, what Insensibility of his fatherly and universal Goodness, nay what ungrateful Returns we have made to it, how far we come short of the Perfection of his Law, and the Dignity of our own Nature, how much we have indulged to the selfish Passions, and how little to the benevolent ones, we must be conscious that it is our Duty to repent of a Temper and Conduct so unworthy our Nature, and unbecoming our Obligations to its Author, and to resolve and endeavour to act a wiser and better Part for the future. The Connection of our Depravity and Folly with inward Remorse, and many outward Calamities, being established by the Deity himself, is a natural Intimation of his Present Displeasure with us; and a Propensity to continue in the same Course, contracted in consequence of the Laws of Habit, gives us just Ground of Fear, that we are obnoxious to his farther Displeasure, as that Propensity gives a Stability to our Vice and Folly, and forebodes our Perseverance in them.
Hopes of PardonNevertheless, from the Character which his Works exhibit of him, from those Delays or Alleviations of Punishment which Offenders often experience, and from the merciful Tenour of his Administration in many other Instances, the sincere Penitent may entertain good Hopes that his Parent and Judge will not be strict to mark Iniquity, but will be propitious and favourable to him, if he honestly endeavours to avoid his former Practices, and subdue his former Habits, and to live in a greater Conformity to the Divine Will for the future. If any Doubts or Fears should still remain, how far it may be consistent with the Rectitude and Equity of the Divine Government to let his Iniquities pass unpunished, yet he cannot think it unsuitable to his paternal Clemency and Wisdom to contrive a Method of retrieving the penitent Offender, that shall unite and reconcile the Majesty and Mercy of his Government. If Reason cannot of itself suggest such a Scheme, it gives at least some Ground to expect it. But though natural Religion cannot let in more Light and Assurance on so interesting a Subject, yet it will teach the humble Theist to wait with great Submission for any farther Intimations it may please the supreme Governor to give of his Will; to examine with Candour and Impartiality, whatever Evidence shall be proposed to him of a Divine Revelation, whether that Evidence is natural or supernatural; to embrace it with Veneration and Chearfulness, if the Evidence is clear and convincing; and finally, if it bring to light any new Relations or Connections, natural Religion will persuade its sincere Votary faithfully to comply with the Obligations, and perform the Duties which result from those Relations and Connections.—This is Theism, Piety, the Completion of Morality!
Worship, Praise, ThanksgivingWe must farther observe, that all those Affections which we supposed to regard the Deity as their immediate and primary Object, are vital Energies of the Soul, and consequently exert themselves into Act, and like all its other Energies, gain Strength or greater Activity by that Exertion. It is therefore our Duty as well as highest Interest, often at stated Times, and by decent and solemn Acts, to contemplate and adore the great Original of our Existence, the Parent of all Beauty, and of all Good; to express our Veneration and Love, by an awful and devout Recognition of his Perfections, and to evidence our Gratitude, by celebrating his Goodness, and thankfully acknowledging all his Benefits. It is likewise our Duty, by proper Exercises of Sorrow and Humiliation, to confess our Ingratitude and Folly, to signify our Dependence on God, and our Confidence in his Goodness, by imploring his Blessing and gracious Concurrence in assisting the Weakness, and curing the Corruptions of our Nature; and finally, to testify our Sense of his Authority and our Faith in his Government, by devoting ourselves to do his Will, and resigning ourselves to his Disposal. These Duties are not therefore obligatory, because the Deity needs or can be profited by them; but as they are apparently decent and moral, suitable to the Relations he sustains of our Creator, Benefactor, Law-giver, and Judge, expressive of our State and Obligations, and improving to our Tempers, by making us more Rational, Social, God-like, and consequently more Happy.
External WorshipWe have now considered Internal Piety, or the Worship of the Mind, that which is in Spirit and in Truth; we shall conclude this Section with a short Account of that which is External. External Worship is founded on the same Principles as Internal, and of as strict moral Obligation. It is either private or public. Devotion, that is inward, or purely intellectual, is too spiritual and abstracted an Operation for the Bulk of Mankind. The Operations of their Minds, such especially as are employed on the most sublime, immaterial Objects, must be assisted by their outward Organs, or by some Help from the Imagination, otherwise they will be soon dissipated by sensible Impressions, or grow tiresome if too long continued. Ideas are such fleeting things, that they must be fixed, and so subtle, that they must be expressed and delineated as it were, by sensible Marks and Images, otherwise we cannot attend to them, nor be much affected by them. Thereforeverbal Adoration, Prayer, Praise, Thanksgiving, and Confession, are admirable Aids to inward Devotion, fix our Attention, compose and enliven our Thoughts, impress us more deeply with a Sense of the awful Presence in which we are, and, by a natural and mechanical sort of Influence, tend to heighten those devout Feelings and Affections which we ought to entertain, and after this manner reduce into formal and explicit Act.
Public WorshipThis holds true in an higher Degree in the case of public Worship, where the Presence of our Fellow-creatures, and the powerful Contagion of the social Affections conspire to kindle and spread the devout Flame with greater Warmth and Energy. To conclude: As God is the Parent and Head of the social System, as he has formed us for a social State, as by one we find the best Security against the Ills of Life, and in the other enjoy its greatest Comforts, and as by means of both, our Nature attains its highest Improvement and Perfection; and moreover, as there are public Blessings and Crimes in which we all share in some degree, and public Wants and Dangers to which all are exposed, it is therefore evident, that the various and solemn Offices of public Religion, are Duties of indispensible moral Obligation, among the best Cements of Society, the firmest Prop of Government, and the fairest Ornament of both.
[*] See Butler’s Sermon on the Love of God. [Sermons 13 and 14 of Butler’s Fifteen Sermons are titled “Upon the Love of God.”]