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ring a thing, which was in itself indifferent, to the happiness of our own life, and the peace of the publick, which are certainly more valuable.
If it should be urged, that God expects our compliance with such his commands, tho they are attended with those or the like circumstances and consequences, as aforesaid. I answer, this is not only begging the question, but it is likewise a breaking in upon the spotless character of our heavenly Father, by representing him not as a wise and good, but as a peevish and ill-natur'd Being, as one, who takes up an unreasonable resentment at the prudent conduct of his children. And, for the better illustration of this point, I beg leave to relate che following story.
A man, who liv'd at Salisbury, had two sons living in London. And he, being desirous of seeing them, wrote a letter, and order'd them to come to him at such a time. And that they might afford assistance, protection, and comfort to each other in their journey, he order'd them to come home together. Now there being two roads from London to Salisbury, the one by the way of Andover, and the other by the way of Winchester, and these roads being indifferent in themselves with regard to the ease and safety of travellers, when the father wrote his letter : he therefore, to prevent any contention and discord that mighi arise betwixt his sons about which road they should take, gave it in charge, that they should come by the way of Winchester. But before the time was expir'd for the fons to take their journey, according to the appointment of their father, there happenned to fall abundance of rain, which filled the ways with water, and swelled the rivers to such a degree, as render'd their travelling the road, by the way of Winchester, exceeding hazardous to their lives. Now, this being the case, the question will be, how che sons ought in reason to act, and what a wife and a kind father could reasonably expect from them. The elder son tenaciously adhered to the command of his father, and thought it was right that he should run all hazards, rather than act contrary to what he judged to be his duty; obedience to his father's command, in the present case, he esteeming to be such. But the younger thought otherwise. And accordingly, he took the liberty to reason the case with his brother after chis mannner. Our father, said he, gave this commandment to us, not out of a capricious humour, and to answer no good end, much less hereby, to lay a trap for our lives; but, on the contrary, he intended it for our good, by cutting off all occasion for contention betwixt us, that otherwise might have arisen about which way we should take. And, seeing his end, in giving this command, is as well answered by our going to Salisbury by the way of Andover, as by the way of Winchester, and seeing we cannot take the latter road, without the ut
: bazard of our lives; it must, therefore, be highly reasonable in itself, and m ost acceptable to our father, that we act contrary to his command, in this
articular, as the circumstances of things now stand. Besides, said he, if we Sllow the command, in the present case, it must highly reflect upon the wif Pm and goodness of our father ; because this fupposes, that he prefers a trifle - the safety and lives of his children; which surely we can have no reason to P ink. But tho the younger thus reason'd the case, yet it did not work con
viction in the elder brother; he still concluding, that such reasoning and such a conduct did favour more of policy and worldly wisdom than of duty and obedience; the latter, in his opinion, being vastly preferable to the former. The elder brother, being thus resolv'd to adhere strictly to the letter of his father's command, took his journey towards Salisbury by the way of Winchester; which proved very fatal to him, for it unhappily issued in his death. And this gave occasion for different reflections; some men judging that he had given an in- 3 stance of great weakness, and that he had trifled away his life; but others thought the contrary, concluding that hereby he had given an instance of great ! virtue, by his thus gloriously suffering inartyrdom for the sake of his duty, and to keep a good conscience. The younger brother set out for Salisbury by the way of Andover. And, as he came home in safety, so he had no sooner come to his father, and given him an account of his and his brother's separation from each other, but the dead corps of his elder brother was likewise brought home; the sight of which threw their facher into the utmost confusion. But, when he had recover'd himself, and had reduc'd his passion to reason, he beheld his dead son, and wept over him. He much commended his honesty and integrity, in that he would hazard his life, rather than do a thing which ap- id peared to him to be wrong. He pitied his weakness, and lamented his misfortune. And, turning himself to his younger son, he rejoiced and was comforted; admiring and approving of the justness of his reasoning, and the prudence of his con- 3 duet; looking upon both, as the happy means of preserving his own life. For, as he gave the commandment, purely out of kindness, and for his childrens The good; so he judged, that, if it had proved the unhappy occasion of both their deaths, it would have brought down his gray hairs with forrow to the grave. Thus ends my story: and, I think, the cases are parallel (so far as one is ne cessary to illustrate the other) and the application is easy.
If it should be urged, that this reflects fadly upon the conduet of the Apostles of Christ, who ran all bazards, and laid down their lives for the sake of the gospel. I answer, the case of the Apostles was in no wise parallel to the case before us. They were commanded to publish to the world the doctrine of ripentance, and remiffion of fins, that is, they were sent forth to convince mankind, that as their fin and wickedness exposed them to divine displeasure; so their repentance and reformation would recommend them to mercy. And as these are truths, in which the honour of God, and the bappiness of mankind, as to this world and that to come, are nearly concern'd; so they were, in the nature of the thing, worthy of the Apostles labours to propagate them, and of their lives to maintain them. But, cho the Apostles were ready to spend and be spent in order to propagate and defend the truths, beforemention'd, and a the heavenly character of him from whom they received them ; yet their judgment and conduct, with regard to ceremonies, was quite otherwise. With them circumcision (that is, the use of ceremonies) was nothing: and uncircumcision (that is, the neglect of ceremonies) was nothing; but as the circumstances of things rendered the use, or the neglect of these, for the good and benefit of mankind. And thus St. Paul took and circumcised Timothy, to pre
vent the unreasonable resentment of the Jews. And thus, he neglected to baptize the Corinthians (tho baptism was inserted in the apostolical commission) that hereby he might prevent his being esteemed the head of a party, and the evil consequences which might follow upon it. Again, I observe, fifthly, that tho the circumstances and consequences, which attend our compliance with those forms of worship which are of divine institution, do render that compliance fit and proper, in the nature of things; yet, I think, compliance cannot be so far the ground of divine acceptance, as that our non-compliance, in such a case, would be a bar to that acceptance. For as on the one side, all men, who are disposed to worship God, will be led, from the nature of the thing, to do it in that way, in which they think it will be best accepted; so on the
ther side, if a person should think it right, and accordingly drops a ceremony of divine institution, when the circumstances of things render it proper to be preserved and used; or if he should use or plead for the use of such a ceremony, when the circumstances of things render it fit to be neglected, and to be filent about it: as such a conduct is the effect of a mistaken judgment only, and not of a vicious mind; so it cannot be a proper foundation for resentment, and corsequently can be no bar to divine acceptance. The sum of the matter is this, if God is, in reality, a wise and good Being, which surely none will be so hardy as to deny ; then it will follow, that, in all his dealings with his creatures, he will act a part suitable to, and becoming such a character.
Thus, Sir, I have laid before you the above observations, in order to remove every difficulty which might arise from the second proposition. And here I should have ended my letter, were it not for some other complaints which my previous question has occasioned, and which, it may be expected, I should take notice of. And these are two, namely, first, that the terms moral fitness and unfitness do not clearly express the ideas which I annex to them; and, secondly, that I am pleading the cause of infidelity.
As to the first ì observe, that the distinctions of good and evil arise from, and are founded in the nature and the relations of things: and those are usually distinguished into two forts, viz, natural and moral. By natural good, I mean that which gives pleasure and delight; so as that the being, which enjoys it, may be truly said to be happy in and by that enjoyment. And by natural evil, I mean that which gives uneasiness and grief; so as that the being, which suffers it, may be truly said to be unhappy or miserable. And, as these are plainly distinct and different in nature; so one of them, necessarily and unavoidably, becomes the object of our approbation and pursuit, and the other of our averfion and shunning. For, tho natural good may be shunned, and natural evil may be chofen, in some instances; yet, in these cases, they are not shunned or chosen for their own fakes, but upon the account of some other good or evil, they stand related to. Thus we fhun the enjoyment of good, when that enjoyment is either a bar to some greater good to ourselves, or others, or when it is introductive of some greater evil to ourselves, or others; or at least, when we judge that to be the case. And thus we chuse natural evil, when under the Like circumstances, but never for its own fake. And, as these are differently нь
the objects of our approbation and aversion; so they are capable of being communicated, that is, one being is capable of giving or contributing to the happiness or misery of another, and that too (as they are the subjects of a free choice) when it is in his power, and he is at liberty, either to suspend the exercise of that ability, or to exert it, by giving or contributing to the happiness of another, or by giving or contributing to the contrary. And, as happiness and misery are capable of being communicated; so it is in the use and exercise of that capacity, that moral good and evil consist. When it is rightly used to the production of happiness, that constitutes moral good; and when it is abused to the production of misery, that constitutes moral evil: supposing the subject, in which that capacity resides, is qualify'd to discern that one of these is a right, and the other a wrong application of such power. I say, that one of these is a right, and the other a wrong application of that power. For, as we cannot but be convinced, from the nature of the thing, that happiness is preferable to misery, and that this must be the case, with regard to all who are capable of either; so the communicating of one of these must be freferable to the other also. That is, we cannot but be convinced, from the nature of the thing, that the communicating that to another, which is equally the object of all our approbation and liking, is right and good: and that the communicating that to another, which is equally the object of all our aversion and dislike, is wrong and evil.
I shall not here enter into the question, whether personal viciousness may not render a being the proper object of misery? I only consider happiness and misery abstra£tedly, from any merit or demerit, which they may be related to, and which may be the ground of them. And, when they are thus abstractedly consider’d, then, I say, the communicating of happiness is an action, which, in the nature of the thing, is worthy and agreeable; and which approves itself to our understandings ; and the communicating of misery is an action, which, in the nature of the thing, is base and disagreeable, and which our understandings cannot but disapprove. For, let but a person consider himself, as made miserable by another, and he will instantly see, that the other has acted a dihingenuous and disagreeable part by him. And let him turn the tables, and consider himfelf, as giving misery to another; and then he will likewise unavoidably see, that it must, in the nature of the thing, be equally as base and vile for him to make another miserable, as it is for that other to make him so. And, on the other side, let but a man consider himself, as made happy by another, and then he will see, that the other has acted a part, which, in the nature of the thing, is really honourable and praise-worthy. And, let him turn the tables, and contider himself, as giving happiness to another, and, then he cannot but see the action in the same light. It will unavoidably appear to him as reasonable and as agreeable, that he should communicate happiness to another, as that he should receive happiness from him. But farther, I observe, that natural good and natural evil come under a two-fold consideration, namely, publick and private. Publick good is the good of a whole, and private good is the good of a part of that whole, when the good of the part is distinct from, and stands opposed
to the good of the whole; publick and private evil is defined after the same manner. And, as good is, in the nature of the thing, preferable to evil, so publick good is likewise preferable to private good, when these come in competition. For, when the case so stands, as that the good of an individua and the good of the whole, must of necessity, one or other of them, give place to the other, that every man's understanding convinces him, that the less good ought in reason to give place to the greater; and that it is really better, in the nature of the thing, that one man should be denied, or that he should deny himfelf pleasure, for the sake of the whole, than that the whole should be denied for the sake of one. The case is the same, with regard to publick and private evil. And,
From hence arises the distinction, which I have made betwixt moral fitness and unfitness; the terms arising from the right and the wrong application of that power, which is lodg’d in every intelligent being, to communicate happiness or misery, as aforesaid. So that an action is morally good, or morally evil, and thereby becomes morally fit or unfit to be performed, as it is productive of, or some way or other stands related to, one or other of these. În all cases, when publick good and evil do not come into the question, there it is morally fit to communicate happiness, and morally unfit to communicate misery. If happiness and happiness come in competition, then it is morally fit to prefer the greater to the less. And if misery and misery come in competition, then it is morally fit to prefer the less to the greater. I shall not enter into every question, which the subject may be liable to; such as when a man's own happiness or misery come into competition with the happiness or misery of another; or when the happiness or misery of two others come in competition, and the like. Every man's understanding will inform him, wherein the moral fitness or unfitness of every such action does consist, when he has taken the relations and circumstances of the persons and a&tions into the case. But, if the question relates to publick good and evil, then, I fay, every action which upon the whole (taking in all circumstances and consequences) tends to and is productive of the common felicity, is right and fit, in the nature of things; this fitness I call moral; and every action, which upon the whole is hurtful to mankind, is morally evil. And forasmuch as man is capable of making a wrong judgment in the present case, he not being always apprized of the circumsiances which attend an action, or the consequences that follow it, therefore I say, that in every action which is dire&ted and intended to introduce happiness, or for the common good, the agent is virtuous in and by the performance of such actions, whether the action introduces what was intended by it, or not: and in every action which is directed and intended to introduce misery, or for the common hurt, or which is performed at the apparent hazard of the happiness of others, or the common felicity, the agent is vicious in and by the performance of such actions. So that
Virtue does not consist (as some have imagined) in running cross to nature, by preferring misery to happiness; but in a generous prosecution of the happiness of others, and in denying ourselves for the sake of others, and for the H Ꮒ 2