« PreviousContinue »
virtue, are the divine appointment (since they take place in consequence of his constitution of the course of nature) they may be considered as the natural punishments of vice, and the natural rewards of virtue, distributed according to the rules of justice and equity, and intended to inculcate the most useful moral lessons on all his intelligent offspring, the subjects of his moral government.
We, also, see something like the exercise of mercy in the conduct of the divine providence ; since the natural punishments of vice seldom take place immediately, but leave a man room to recollect, and recover himself; and, if, after a man has been addicted to vice, he become truly reformed, the inconveniences he has brought upon himself are, in general, either removed, or mitigated ; so that he finds his condition the better for it.
It may, also, according to the reasoning applied in a former case, be considered as an argument for all the perfections of God,
that we are so formed, that we cannot but approve of, and esteem every branch of virtue. For it cannot be supposed that our maker would have formed us in such a manner, as that he himself should be the object of our dislike and abhorrence. Our natural love of goodness and virtue, therefore, is a proof that every branch of it enters into the character of the divine being, and consequently that those qualities are the objects of his favour and approbation.
Since, however, all the moral perfections of God are derived from his benevolence; so that holiness, justice, mercy, and truth, are in him only modifications, as it were, of simple goodness; we should endeavour to conceive of him, as much as possible, according to his real nature ; considering benevolence as his sole ruling principle, and the proper spring of all his actions. This is, also, the most honourable and the most amiable light in which we can view him, remembering that goodness necessarily implies what we call justice, though its more natural form be that of mercy,
Upon Upon the whole, it must be acknowledged, that it is but a very imperfect idea that we can form of the moral perfections of God from the light of nature.
It hardly amounts to what inay be called an idea of his character. We know nothing of God by the light of nature but through the medium of his works; and these are such as we cannot fully comprehend; both the efficient and the final causes being, in many cases, unknown to us: whereas the clearer ideas we have of the characters of men, are acquired from a reflection upon such parts
of their conduct as we can both fully comprehend, and are capable of ourselves ; so that we can tell precisely how we should feel and be disposed, if we acted in the same manner. The knowledge, also, of the manner in which men express theniselves, upon known occasions, is a great help to us in judging of what they feel, and consequently in investigating their proper character; and this is an advantage of which we are entirely destitute with respect to God, on the principles of the light of nature.
It is from revelation chiefly, if not only, that we get a just idea of what we may call the proper character of the divine being. There we may both hear his declarations, and see various specimens of his conduct, with respect to a variety of persons and occasions; by which means we have the best opportunity of entering, as it were, into his sentiments, perceiving his disposition, learning what are the objects of his approbation or dislike, in short, of gaining a proper and distinct idea of his moral charačier.
OF THE DUTY, AND FUTURE EXPECTATIONS
Of the rule of right and wrong.
AVING seen what it is that nature
teaches us concerning GOD, our next inquiry respects the proper rule of human conduct, and our expectations, grounded upon that conduct. No man comes into the world to be idle. Every man is furnished with a variety of passions, which will continually engage
him in some pursuit or other; and the great question we have to decide is what passions we ought to indulge, and what pursuits we ought to engage in. Now there are several very proper rules by which to form our judgment in this case ; because there are several just objects that