Page images
PDF
EPUB

fon. The law of nature was the law of convenience too; and it is no wonder that those men of parts, and studious of virtue, (who had occasion to think on any particular part of it), thould by me ditation light on the right, even from the observable convenience and beauty of it, without making out its obligation from the true principles of the law of nature, and foundations of « morality.” But these incoherent apophthegms of philosophers and wise men, however excellent in themselves, and well intended by them; could never make a morality whereof the world could be convinced, could never rise to the force of a law that mankind could with certainty depend on. Whatsoever thould thus be universally useful as a standard to which men should conform their manners, must have its authority either from reason or revelation. It is not every writer of morals, or compiler of it from others, that can thereby be erected into a lawgiver to mankind; and a dictator of rules, which are therefore valid, because they are to be found in his books, under the authority of this or that philofopher. He that any one will pretend to set up in this kind, and have his rules pass for authentic directions, muft shew, that either he builds his doctrine upon principles of reason, self-evident in themselves, and that he deduces all the parts of it from thence, by clear and evident demonstration; or must Thew his commission from heaven, that he comes with authority from God, to deliver his will and commands to the world. In the former way, nobody that I know, before our Saviour's time, ever did, or went about to give us a “morality.” It is true, there is “a law of nature:” but who is there that ever did, or undertook to give it us all entire as a law, no more nor no less than what was contained in, and had the obligation of that law? who ever made out all the parts of it, put them together, and shewed the world their obligation? where was there any such code, that mankind might have recourse to, as their unerring rule, before our Saviour's time? If there was not, it is plain, there was need of one to give us such a “ morality,” such a law, which might be the sure guide of those who had a desire to go right; and, if they had a mind, need not mistake their duty, but might be certain when they had performed, when failed in it. Such a “ law of morality” Jesus Christ hath given us in the New Testament; but by the latter of these ways, by revelation. We have from him a full and sufficient rule for our direction, and comformable to that of reason. But the truth and obligation of its precepts have their force, and are put past doubt to us, by the evidence of his mission. He was sent by God: his miracles Thew it; and the authority of God in his precepts cannot be questioned. Here “ morality" has a sure standard, that revelation vouches, and reason cannot gainsay, nor question, but both together witness to come from God the great lawmaker. And such an one as this out of the New Testament, I think, the world never had, nor can any one say is any where else to be found. Let me ask any one, who is forward to think that the doctrine of "morality” was full and clear in the world at our Saviour's birth, whether would Vol. IV.

he

uch a lawain, there Wule, before that mank

[ocr errors]

piat: if to theo an endlets mars, he fends thlayings of

he have directed Brutus and Cassius (both men of parts and virtue, the one whereof believed, and the other disbelieved, a future being), to be satisfied in the rules and obligations of all the parts of their duties; if they should have asked him where they might find the law they were to live by, and by which they should be charged or acquitted, as guilty or innocent? If to the sayings of the wise, and the declarations of philosophers, he sends them into a wild weod of uncertainty, to an endlefs maze, from which they should never get out: if to the religions of the world, yet worfe: and if their own reason, he refers them to that which had some light and certainty; but yet had hitherto failed all mankind in a perfect rule; and, we fee, resolved not the doubts that had risen amongst the studious and thinking philosophers; nor had yet been able to convince the civilized parts of the world, that they had not given, nor could without a crime take away the lives of their children, by exposing them. · If any one should think to excuse human nature, by laying blame on mens “negligence,” that they did not carry morality to an higher pitch, and make it out entire in every part, with that elearners of demonstration which some think it capable of, he helps not the matter. Be the cause what it will, our Saviour found mankind under a corruption of manners and principles, which ages after ages had prevailed, and must be confeffed was not in a way or tendency to be mended. The rules of morality were, in different countries and fects, different.' And natural reason no where had, nor was like to cure the defects and errors in them. Those just measures of right and wrong, which necessity had any wirere introduced, the civil laws prescribed or philofophy recommended, stood not on their trie foundations. They were looked on as bonds of society, and conveniences of common life, and laudable practices. But where was it that their obligation was thoroughly known and allowed, and they received as precepts of a law, of the highest law, the law of nature? That could not be, without a clear knowledge and acknowledgement of the lawmaker, and the great rewards and punishments for those that would or would not obey him. But the religion of the Heathens, as was before obferved, little concerned itself in their morals. The priests that delivered the oracles of heaven, and pretended to speak from the God, spoke little of virtue and a good life. And, on the other side, the philosophers who spoke froin reason, made not much mention of the Deity in their Ethicks. They depended on reason and her oracles, which contain nothing but truth: but yet fome parts of that truth lie too deep for our natural powers easily to reach, and make plain and vifible to mankind, without some light from above to direct them. When truths are once known to us, though by tradition, we are apt to be favourable to our own parts, and ascribe to our own understandings the discovery of what, in reality, we borrowed from others; or, at lcast, finding we can prove what at first we learnt from others, we are forward to conclude it an obvious truth, which, if we had sought, we could not have missed. Nothing seems hard

to our underftancings, that is once known; and because what we lee, we ice with our own eyes, we are apt to over-text or forget the help we had from others, who ihewed it us, and first made us fee it, as if we were not at ail behoiden to them for those truths they opened the way to, and led us into; for knowledge being only of truths that are perceived to be fo, we are favourable enough to our own faculties to conclude, that they, of their own strength, would have attained those discoveries, without any foreign affittance; and that we know thole truths by the strength and native light of our own minds, as they did from whom we received them by theirs, only they had the luck to be before us. Thus the whole stock of human knowledge is claimed by every one, as his private pofleffion, as soon as he (profiting by others discoveries) has got it into his own mind: and so it is; but not properly by his own tingle industry, nor of his own acquisition. He studies, it is true, and takes pains to make a progrets in what others have delivered; but their pains were of another fort, who firft brought those truths to light, which he afterwards derives from them. He that travels the roads now, applauds his own strength and legs, that have carried him fo far in such a scantling of time, and afcribes all to his own vigour, little confidering how much he owes to their pains, who cleared the woods, drained the bogs, built the bridges, and made the ways paffable; without which he might have toiled much with little progress. A great many things which we have been bred up in the belief of, from our cradles, and are notions grown familiar (and, as it were, natural to us, under the gospel), we take for unquestionable obvious truths, and easily demonstrable; without considering how long we might have been in doubt or ignorance of them, had revelation been dilent. And many are beholden to revelation, who do not acknowledge it. It is no diminishing to revelation, that reason gives its suffrage too, to the truths revelation has discovered. But it is our mistake to think, that, because reason confirms them to us, we had the first certain knowledge of them from thence, and in that clear evidence we now pofless them. The contrary is manifeft, in the “ defective inorality of the Gentiles” before our Saviour's time, and the want of reformation in the principles and measures of it, as well as practice. Philosophy seemed to have spent its strength, and done its utmost; or if it should have gone farther, as we see it did not, and from undeniable principles given us Ethicks in a science like mathematics, in every part demonftrable, this yet would not have been so effectual to man in this imperfect state, nor proper for the cure. The greatest part of mankind want leisure or capacity for demonstration, nor can carry a train of proofs, which in that way they must always depend upon for conviction, and cannot be required to assent to till they see the demonstration. Wherever they stick, the teachers are always put upon proof, and muft clear the doubt, by a thread of coherent deductions from the first principle, how long, or how intricate soever that be. And you may as soon hope to have all the day-labourers and tradelinen, H 2

the

the spinsters and dairy-maids, perfect mathematicians, as to have them perfect in Ethicks this way: hearing plain commands is the sure and only course to bring them to obedience and practice : the greatest part cannot know, and therefore they must believc. And I alk, whether one coming from heaven in the power of God, in full and clear evidence and demonstration of miracles, giving plain and direct rules of morality and obedience, be not likelier to enlighten the bulk of mankind, and set them right in their duties, and bring them to do them, than by reasoning with them from general notions and principles of human reason? And were all the duties of human life clearly demonftrated, yet I conclude, when well considered, that method of teaching men their duties would be thought proper only for a few, who had much leisure, improved understandings, and were used to abstract reasonings : but the instruction of the people were best still to be left to the precepts and principles of the gospel. The healing of the sick, the restoring fight to the blind by a word, the raising, and being raised from the dead, are matters of fact, which they can without difficulty conceive; and that he who does fuch things muft do them by the asistance of a divine power. These things lie level to the ordinarieft apprehenfion; he that can distinguish between fick and well, lame and found, dead and alive, is capable of this doctrine. To one who is once persuaded that Jesus Christ was sent by God to be a king, and a Saviour of those who do believe in him, all his commands become principles; there needs no other proof for the truth of what he says, but that he said it: and then there needs no more but tò read the inspired books to be instructed; all the duties of morality lie there clear and plain, and easy to be understood. And here I appeal, whether this be not the surest, the safett, and most effectual way of teaching; especially if we add this farther consideration, that as it suits the lowest capacities of reasonable creatures, so it reaches and fatisfies, nay, enlightens the higheft. The most elevated understandings cannot but submit to the authority of this doctrine as divinc; which coming from the mouths of a company of illiterate men, hath not only the attestation of miracles, but reason to confirm it, fince they delivered no precepts, but such as though reason of itself had not clearly made out, yet it could not but allent to when thus discovered, and think itfell indebted for the discovery. The credit and authority our Saviour and his apoftles had over the minds of men, by the miracles they did, tempted thein not to mix (as we find in that of all the sects of philosophers, and other religions) any conceits, any wrong rules, any thing tending to their own by-interest, or that of a party, in their morality; no tang of prepossession or fancy; no footsteps of pride or vanity; no touch of oftentation or ambition appears to have a hand in it: it is all pure, all sincere; nothing too much, nothing wanting ; but such a complete rule of rule, as the wiseft men must acknowledge tends entirely to the good of mankind; and that all would be happy, if all would practise it.

uith: Worshippers het, at Jerusalem', when ye halus says to the

. 3. The outward forms of « worshipping the Deity” wanted a reforination : stately buildings, costly ornaments, peculiar and uncouth habits, and a numerous huddle of pompous, phantaftical, cumbersome ceremonies, every where attended divine worship. This, as it had the peculiar name, fo it was thought the principal part, if not the whole of religion; nor could this pollibly be amended whilst the Jewish ritual stood, and there was so much of it mixed with the worship of the true God. To this also our Saviour, with the knowledge of the infinite, invisible, supreme spirit, brought a remedy, in a plain, spiritual, and suitable worship. Jesus says to the woman of Samaria, “ The hour cometh, when ye shall neither in « this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father : but " the true worshippers shall worship the Father both in spirit and in « truth; for the Father seeketh such to worship.” To be worshipped in spirit and in truth, with application of mind and sincerity of heart, was what God henceforth only required. Magnificent temples, and confinement to certain places, were now no longer necessary for his worship, which by a pure heart might be performed any were. The splendor and distinction of habit, and pomp of ceremonies, and all outside performances, might now be spared. God, who was a spirit, and made known to be ío, required none of those, but the spirit only; and that in public assemblies (where some actions muit lie open to the view of the world), all that could appear and be seen should be done decently, and in order, and to edification. Decency, order, and edification, were to regulate all their public acts of worship; and beyond what these required, the outward appearance (which was of little value in the eyes of God) was not to go. Having fhut indecency and confusion out of their assemblies, they need not be solicitous about useless ceremonies: praises and prayer, humbly offered up to the Deity, was the worship he now demanded; and in these every one was to look after his own heart, and know that it was that alone which God had regard to, and accepted.

4. Another great advantage received by our Saviour, is the great encouragement he brought to a virtuous and pious life; great enough to surmount the difficulties and obstacles that lie in the way to it, and reward the pains and hardships of those who stuck firm to their duties, and suffered for the testimony of a good conscience. The portion of the righteous has been in all ages taken notice of to be pretty scanty in this world: virtue and prosperity do not often accompany one another, and therefore virtue feldom had many followers : and it is no wonder the prevailed not much in a state, where the inconveniences that attended her were visible, and at hand, and the rewards doubtful, and at a distance. Mankind; who are and must be allowed to pursue their happiness, nay, cannot be hindered, could not but think themselves excused from a strict obfervation of rules, which appeared so little to consist with their chief end, happiness, whilst they kept them from the enjoyments of this life; and they had little evidence and security of another. It is

H 3

true,

« PreviousContinue »