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oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then, at my coming, I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents; for unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath: and cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”.”
III. In every question of conduct, where one side is doubtful, and the other side safe, we are bound to take the safe side.
This is best explained by an instance; and I know of none more to our purpose than that of suicide. Suppose, for example's sake, that it appear doubtful to a reasoner upon the subject, whether he may lawfully destroy himself: He can have no doubt, that it is lawful for him to let it alone. Here therefore is a case, in which one side is doubtful, and the other side safe. By virtue, therefore, of our rule, he is bound to pursue the safe side, that is, to forbear from offering violence to himself, whilst a doubt remains upon his mind concerning the lawfulness of suicide.
It is prudent, you allow, to take the safe side. But our observation means something more. - We assert that the action concerning which we doubt, whatever it may be in itself, or to another, would, in us, whilst this doubt remains upon our minds, be certainly sinful. The case is expressly so adjudged by St. Paul, with whose authority we will for the present rest contented. —“I know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth; and he that doubteth is damned (condemned) if he eat, for whatsoever is not of faith (i. e. not done with a full persuasion of the lawfulness of it) is sinf.”
* Matt. xxv.24, &c. t Rom. xiv. 14. 22, 23.
THE QUESTION, “WHY AM 1 OBLIGED TO KEEP My - worD’’’ considered.
WHY am I obliged to keep my word? Because it is right, says one.—Because it is agreeable to the fitness of things, says another.—Because it is conformable to reason and nature, says a third.— Because it is conformable to truth, says a fourth.Because it promotes the public good, says a fifth.Because it is required by the will of God, concludes a sixth. Upon which different accounts two things are observable;— FIRST, that they all ultimately coincide. The fitness of things means their fitness to produce happiness: the nature of things means that actual constitution of the world, by which some things, as such and such actions, for example, produce happiness, and others misery: Reason is the principle by which we discover or judge of this constitution: truth is this judgment expressed or drawn out into propositions. So that it necessarily comes to pass, that what promotes the public happiness, or happiness on the whole, is agreeable to the fitness of things, to nature, to reason, and to truth: and such (as will appear by and by) is the divine character, that what promotes the general happiness is required by the will of God; and what has all the above properties must needs be right; for right means no more than conformity to the rule we go by, whatever that rule be. And this is the reason that moralists, from whatever D
different principles they set out, commonly meet in their conclusions; that is, they enjoin the same conduct, prescribe the same rules of duty, and, with a few exceptions, deliver upon dubious cases the same determinations. SEconDLY, It is to be observed, that these answers all leave the matter short; for the inquirer may turn round upon his teacher with a second question, in which he will expect to be satisfied, namely, Why am I obliged to do what is right; to act agreeably to the fitness of things; to conform to reason, nature, or truth; to promote the public good, or to obey the will of God? The proper method of conducting the inquiry is, FIRST, to examine what we mean when we say a man is obliged to do any thing; and THEN to show why he is obliged to do the thing which we have proposed as an example, namely, “to keep his word.”
whAT we MEAN WHEN WE SAY A MAN Is “oBLIGED” TO DO A. THING.
A MAN is said to be obliged, “when he is urged by a violent motive, resulting from the command of another.” FIRST, “The motive must be violent.” If a person, who has done me some little service, or has a small place in his disposal, ask me upon some occasion for my vote, I may possibly give it him from a motive of gratitude or expectation: but I should hardly say that I was obliged to give it him; because the inducement does not rise high enough. Whereas if a father or a master, any great benefactor, or one on whom my fortune depends, require my vote, I give it him of course: and my answer to all who ask me why I voted so and so is, that my father or my master obliged me; that I had received so many favours from, or had so great a dependence upon such a one, that I was obliged to vote as he directed me.
SEcoMDLY, “It must result from the command of another.” Offer a man a gratuity for doing any thing, for seizing, for example, an offender; he is not obliged by your offer to do it, nor would he say he is; though he may be induced, persuaded, prevailed upon, tempted. If a magistrate or the man's immediate superior command it, he considers himself as obliged to comply, though possibly he would lose less by a refusal in this case than in the former.
I will not undertake to say that the words obligation and obliged are used uniformly in this sense, or always with this distinction; nor is it possible to tie down popular phrases to any constant signification: but wherever the motive is violent enough, and coupled with the idea of command, authority, law, or the will of a superior, there, I take it, we always reckon ourselves to be obliged.
And from this account of obligation it follows, that we can be obliged to nothing but what we ourselves are to gain or lose something by; for nothing else can be a “violent motive” to us. As we should not be obliged to obey the laws or the magistrate, unless rewards or punishments, pleasure or pain, somehow or other, depended upon our obedience; so neither should we, without the same reason, be obliged to do what is right, to practise virtue, or to obey the commands of God.
THE QUESTION, “why AM 1 obligED To KEEP My worD !” RESUMED.
LET it be remembered, that to be obliged is “to be urged by a violent motive, resulting from the command of another.” And then let it be asked, Why am I obliged to keep
my word? and the answer will be, Because I am “urged to do so by a violent motive” (namely, the expectation of being after this life rewarded, if I do, or punished for it, if I do not), “resulting from the command of another” (namely, of God). This solution goes to the bottom of the subject, as no further question can reasonably be asked. Therefore, private happiness is our motive, and the will of God our rule. When I first turned my thoughts to moral speculaI too. an air of mystery seemed to hang over the whole subject; which arose, I believe, from hence,— that I supposed, with many authors whom I had read, that to be obliged to do a thing was very different from being induced only to do it; and that the obligation to practise virtue, to do what is right, just, &c. was quite another thing, and of another kind, than the obligation which a soldier is under to obey his officer, a servant his master, or any of the civil and ordinary obligations of human life. Whereas, from what has been said, it appears that moral obligation is like all other obligations; and that obligation is nothing more than an inducement of sufficient strength, and resulting, in some way, from the command of another. There is always understood to be a difference between an act of prudence and an act of duty. Thus, if I distrusted a man who owed me a sum of money, I should reckon it an act of prudence to get another person bound with him; but I should hardly call it an act of duty. On the other hand, it would be thought a very unusual and loose kind of language, to say, that, as I had made such a promise, it was prudent to perform it; or that, as my friend, when he went abroad, placed a box of jewels in my hands, it would be prudent in me to preserve it for him till he returned. . Now, in what, you will ask, does the difference consist! inasmuch as, according to our account of the