Page images


It is worthy of remark, when this term is used an agent must necessarily be presupposed; for a law is strictly a rule, according to which some intelligent being acts, or by which he prescribes actions to others. Or, a law may be considered either as a rale of action, or as an established and constant mode of process. This word is used in a great variety of senses, natural, civil, and moral. Some authors suppose they may all be included under two general heads, natural and moral; those which refer to body or matter, and those that refer to mind or intelligent beings. But they are generally divided into three classes : divine laws, human laws, and the laws of nature.

The divine laws are those that result from moral fitness, and which are essentially the same in all their requisitions in every part of the universe; or those that are contained in positive precepts, and made known by revelation. By moral fitness we are to understand the propriety of those obligations that result from the moral perfections of God, and from the relation of created intelligences to him as the Author of their existence and of all their comforts ; and from their varied relations and situations in regard to each other. In what part soever of the universe, created intelligent beings exist, these moral ties are necessarily and unchangeably binding; and demand supreme love to the Supreme Being, and perfect obedience to every duty which reason and the moral faculty point out. Finite intelligences, even without a written law or any particular immediate revelation, are bound by these obligations. Hence, such a state is generally called a state of nature; and the law that is particu arly suited to such a state, is denominated the law of nature. Revelation has its commencement where reason and conscience are insufficient to make known to created inte ligent beings, those duties which the Lord seeth proper to enjoin upon them. Therefore, the laws of divine revelation comprise the mandates necessarily included in the moral law; and they also contain positive precepts, suited to the particu. lar situation of those to whom they are promulged.

By the civil law, or law of the land, we are to understand those rules and regulations that relate to civil society, and exist between man and man. This is the using of the phrase in its most extensive import; for it includes both the laws resulting from civil communities, and those that spring from a state of nature. They point out the rights of mankind in their various situations and relations as individuals, or nations; and also in various degrees and forms, make known the means of attaining and defending their rights.

The law of honour is styled a system of rules constructed by people of fashion, calculated to facilitate their intercourse with one another, and for no other purpose. This law can scarcely be ranked among the civil laws. It may be said to belong to human laws, as it is a regulation of human beings. What I would remark concerning the system of this law, is, that it is a compound of manly virtues and degrading vices ; demanding certain courses of conduct truly noble, and admitting actions scandalous.

A law of nature may be defined to be a uniform and established course of operation and events of some particular kind. Or, by the laws of nature are to be understood the stated courses by which the great First Cause directs the works of providence. It is said to be by a law of nature, that the primary planets revolve on their own axis and round the sun, respecting him as the centre of their system ; and that the secondary planets move round their respective primaries as their centre. By this expression we are to understand that the principles or laws of attraction and gravitation produce such uniform and constant effects, that a deviation would be considered a strange phenomenon, a miracle. The regular and constant movements of the heavenly bodies justly excite the admiration of man. But on the account of their having pursued their stated courses since time began, if one of them should stop in its course, or move in a different direction, it would astonish the world; for a law of nature would be counteracted.

The natural and constant tendency of the bodies in our atmosphere to fall to the earth, is ascribed to a law of nature. The reason is obvious; for the effect uniformly takes place, unless there be a preventing, external power, or a repeling force introduced. With the same propriety the principles or properties of magnetism, electricity, and motion, may be attributed to the laws of nature.

It is said, that by a law of nature the existence of a God is made known to all mankind. This expression imports that the existence of the Supreme Being is so clearly exhibited and demonstrated in the works of creation and providence, as to obtain the belief and acknowledgement of a God among all nations in every age of the world, or to attain the universal consent of mankind.

The essential difference between right and wrong is said to be pointed out by a law of our nature. This declaration conveys the idea, that all men have reason and conscience, which teach them that virtue is amiable and ought to be cultivated ; and that vice is odious, and ought to be shunned : That is, virtue and vice are diametrically opposite in their natures ; and mankind have powers of mind which enable them to discern their essential difference; and while they feel under obligations to practice the one, they feel bound to refrain from the other.

Parental, filial, and conjugal affections belong to the laws of human nature. These principles appear to exist among all nations, whether in a civilized or savage state, and seem to be innate. Hence, the attribute of natural affection is implanted in the breasts of men, and interwoven into the very principles of our nature by the hand of Deity, to answer important ends in the present state of existence. And as this principle evidently exists in the breasts of all human beings, it may with propriety be denominated a law of human nature.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »