And good men that make a good use of them, will be happy; and the wicked and impenitent will be miserable, as God has in fact assured us, according to the sentence which he will pass upon them as the righteous judge of their conduct and behaviour: and therefore he decreed that this should be the result of things; that the righteous should be happy, and the wicked miserable: And this is all the notion I can have of the decrees of God. And as God has plainly discovered his decrees to be such as the facts in conjunction with revealed religion declare them to be, so I conceive, that his great end in giving being to his creatures and in all his various dispensations towards them, must have been not any advantage to himself, but that they might be happy in proportion to their several talents and improvements, in consequence of their cheerful submission to his sovereign allotments, and sincere obedience to his holy laws: only with this reserve, that in * The remainder is wanting.



BOOKS are addressed to the judgment or imagination, intended to touch the passions, or please the fancy. The Holy Bible addresses the soul, directs to the paths of peace and happiness here, and brings to view a beautiful prospect of an hereafter; in its pages may be viewed with awful surprize, the great and glorious creationand with pleasing admiration may be seen the rise and fall of empires; the revolutions of kingdoms and states; the various vicissitudes of life in all stations; the depravity of human nature, when man is forsaken by his God; the easy transition from innocence to guilt, from virtue to vice; the policy of courts and simplicity of cottages; the rage of lust, folly of pride, fate of tyranny, and madness of ambition.

Here may be found patterns for all who wish to practice the Christian and moral duties. St. Gregory says, "from the patriarchs we may take the model of all virtues; Abel teaches us innocence; Enoch, purity of heart; Noah, a firm perseverance in righteousness; Abraham, the perfection of piety and faithfulness; Joseph, chastity; Jacob, constancy in labour; Moses, meekness, and Job, invincible patience. Salvation the most glorious prize that man can obtain, may be pursued with pleasure, and it may with care be acquired, if piety is the guide, and faith the intercessor; the mercy of God is greater than our delinquency, and happiness eternal within our reach, if we suppress the gratification of our passions to seek it.-Read, therefore, and be informed; look for, and find."


THERE is but one way of founding our ease and security upon a solid and lasting bottom; and that is, to get off with the soonest, from the waves of this troublesome world, to retire thence, and to fix in the only sure haven of rest and peace; to raise our thoughts and apprehensions from earth to heaven; to interest our

selves in the covenant of grace; to ascend up to God in heart and affection, and to furnish our consciences with those materials of happiness and satisfaction, which the men of this world seek after in a world unable to furnish them. A man who thus hath raised himself above the world, will eagerly expect, will importunately seek for nothing from it. O, what a blessed state is this of repose and safety! How firm is the security which is derived from heaven! What a felicity is it to be disengaged from the entanglements of this perplexing scene, to be purified from the dross of this sinful world, and to be fitted for immortality, notwithstanding all the former attempts of our grand adversary to seduce and to corrupt us! The reflections we make upon what we have been, will oblige us to so much the greater degrees of love to God, for what we are like to be. Nor is there need of cost, or courting, or of any laborious endeavour, to attain the highest dignity and happiness of human nature. It is the free gift of God, and may easily be had. His heavenly grace flows into the soul, as the sun of its own accord enlightens the dark corners of the earth; as an everflowing fountain offers its waters to any who will use them, or as the refreshing dews descend unasked upon the thirsty meadows. When once the soul of man is brought to acknowledge and consider its heavenly extract, and hath learnt to raise itself above the world, it begins from that moment to enter upon the state for which it believes itself created. You, for your part, my Donatus, are already listed a soldier of Christ. Your care therefore, must only be to keep within the rules of that profession which you are engaged in, and to practise the virtues which it requires from you. Be diligent in prayer, and in reading the word of God. At some times you must speak with God; at other times he must speak with you. Let him instruct you with his precepts, and form your mind by the guidance of his counsel. The man who is thence enriched, no one can impoverish; he who is filled with the fulness of God, cannot be empty. All the gaudiness and pomp of life will become insipid and jejune to you, when once you are convinced, that your care should rather be employed upon yourself, and your soul be adorned with the graces of the gospel; that the house which God hath vouchsafed to make his temple, and in which his Holy Spirit is pleased to set up his abode, should be fitted up to receive him, with a concern proportioned to the dignity of the guest expected. Let innocence and righteousness adorn this habitation for him. These are ornaments which no length of time will decay, nor accidents of weather tarnish. The embellishments of human art will be soiled and withered with age: Nor can any man depend upon the continuance of things which are in their own nature so obnoxious to change; but the beauty, the ornaments, the splendour of the house, whereof I have been speaking, are permanent, and will abide by you; time and accident can make no disadvantageous impression on it; only the time will come when it shall be renewed with great advantage, and be clothed with a more durable and better covering.

[ocr errors]

I have thus, as briefly as I could, my dear Donatus, opened my mind at present to you upon this important subject. For though I am


sensible that your good dispositions, the serious ply of your thoughts, and the firmness of your faith, make you a patient and willing hearer of the things which pertain unto life and godliness, and that no subject is so pleasing to you as that which is most pleasing to God also; yet I have judged it fit to contract what I had to say, in regard that we are near neighbours, and therefore shall have frequent opportunities of conversing together upon these matters. Since this is then a time of leisure and recreation, let us spend the remainder of the day in gladness and singleness of heart; nor let the hour of our repast go over us without some portion of that grace which hath hitherto employed our minds and tongues. The mirth of a sober meal should be expressed in psalmody; and as you are blessed with a happy memory and a tunable voice, do you undertake this office, and enter upon it, according to received custom.' Your friends will have the better entertainment by their intermixing it with spiritual discourse, and with religious harmony.



I HAVE reserved positive institutions for a distinct consideration. They agree with other duties of religion in this, that the action imposed, bears a conformity to the will of God; for it is enjoined by him: they differ in this, that, independently on the injunction, it has no inherent, discernible, rectitude or beneficial tendency. Whence flow these consequences, 1. Positive institutions oblige by virtue of revealed precept only, and those persons alone on whom they are so imposed. 2. The action imposed, antecedently to the injunction, is a thing indifferent, and not a moral virtue. 3. The performance of the action imposed, subsequently to the injunction, is a moral virtue; because it is an act of obedience to the will of God; and therefore has in it that unalterable rectitude and beneficial consequence which I before observed to be the formal ratio, or essence of moral virtue. Therefore, 4. the performance of this action is a duty of standing and indispensable obligation, so long, and so far, and under such circumstances, as it is understood to be imposed. 5. Whenever it happens to be incompatible with the performance of an action, which, independently of any positive injunction, is a moral virtue, we may collect from the reason of the thing and the declarations of scripture, that it is not imposed. 6. Positive institutions are partly means and partly ends. They are means, as they minister to moral holiness, by accustoming the agent to implicit obedience, by the natural impression of a religious solemnity on the mind, and by the blessing of God upon his ordinances. They are ends, as the performance of them is itself a part of moral holiness, being (as above stated) an act of obedience to the will of God.

*It appears to have been customary, among the Primitive Christians, to sing psalms and sacred hyms at meal times, in token of gratitude for the bounties of Providence."


But, 7. so far as they are means only, they are of divine appointment, and not of human choice; they are therefore not methods of prudence only, but of duty.

I have been something the more minute in this discussion, because I wish you to comprehend clearly the grounds and measures of moral and religious obligation; in order that you may be well prepared in all your discourses, to mark the limits of every duty by its immediate and ultimate rule, and to give due weight to every motive of obedience, principal and subordinate. And I believe all your future reading and meditation on this subject will terminate in the conclusion to which I have been endeavouring to lead you: which I cannot express better than in the words of Bishop Sanderson;"The will of God however revealed to men, (i. e. whether by natural reason inferring from the rectitude and beneficial tendency of an action the will of God concerning it, or by supernatural communication) is the proper and adequate rule of conscience." This is the law prescribed by the unchangeable nature of things to every rational creature. To this he must look up for his rule of action, for his obligation, and for his recompense. How far he might derive an impulsive sense of obligation, and prospect of recompense, from his apprehension of the essential difference of things, that is, of the rectitude and beneficial tendency of them or the contrary, if he were not under the direction and disposal of a superior will, is a question rather curious than useful; because it supposes a case absurd and impossible, a contingent or created being independent of a necessary being or creator; or at least a case which probably never existed; such a being having ideas of rectitude and beneficial tendency, and at the same time no notion whatever of any superior regulating and controuling power. With respect, however, to the only rational nature to which we can apply the enquiry, there is certainly inherent in it an indelible apprehension and approbation of rectitude, however in some tribes and individuals of the species, in various, and even extreme degrees obscured, perplexed, and perverted. We feel in every virtuous action a sense of its intrinsic propriety and loveliness; blended, first, with the satisfaction of expressing our reverence and obedience to our sovereign benefactor and governor; and secondly, with a hope of his acceptance and favour.These just sentiments, it is true, are awakened in us, and strengthened, by early culture and habit, by traditionary notions, by revelation and by grace: but still the faculty which suggests, or embraces them is the original gift of the creator; it is our reason; an essential part of our spiritual being, as vision or taste is of our animal or corporeal; which three faculties must be all equally corrupted, or mutilated before they can cease to distinguish each in its respective office, moral “good from evil, light from darkness, and sweet from bitter." The infant mind has been compared to a tabula rasa, or sheet of clean paper: but there is this essential difference, as hath been well observed, between the opposite objects of the comparison? they are not both equally indifferent to the inscription which they are to bear: "upon the tabula or paper you may write what you

* Isaiah v. 20.

"please; that wormwood is sweet, and sugar is bitter; that grati❝tude and compassion are base, treachery and envy noble; but no "art or industry are capable of making those impressions on the "mind: she hath predetermined tastes and sentiments, which arise "from a source that is beyond experience, custom, or choice."*— This source can be no other than the constitution which the creator hath given her: and these essential tastes and sentiments serve her as an immediate rule of action, and as one instrument of discerning their archetype in his all-perfect will.

Now as moral virtue or religious duty (for having shewn them to be inseparable, I may use the terms indiscriminately) comes recommended to our choice by the union of these three qualities, fitness or rectitude, beneficial consequence or tendency, and conformity to the divine will, it follows, that he who desires to excite the love of it in himself or others, will give a proportionate attention to them all and having in his hands a revelation of the divine will, he will state this conformity, not only as inferrable from the rectitude and beneficial tendency, but also as declared expressly by this revelation. To resume the examples above-mentioned, he will speak of parental affection, not only as a dictate of nature; as necessary to the continuation and well being of mankind; as the principle of many other social virtues, and hence proved to be conformable to the will of God; but also as prescribed by his revealed law. He will discourse of temperance, not only as a precept of the Gospel, and otherwise proved to be conformable to the will of God; but as a habit necessary to health, and conducive to long life; observing that its opposite is degrading to our nature, an abuse of the divine bounty which gives us the productions of the earth for our good, and a breach of justice or charity in absorbing a disproportioned share of them. If, in treating on either of these virtues, he omit the consideration of the divine will, he tacitly takes away the solid basis of obligation, and shuts out the prospect of future retribution: he becomes a mere jejune moralist; and so far beneath the heathen poets or some of the better sort of philosophers, as they, though they had no authentic revelation to define or to sanction their precept, yet have frequent reference, expressed or implied, to the authority of the Deity, and the awards of a future state. If on the other hand, he slight the moral argument, he loses a substantial ground of proof and persuasion concerning the particular virtues: and moreover he passes by so much illustration of the truth of the revelation in general, and so much fresh motive of reverence to the revealer, as must ever arise from the conviction that "the commandment is" intrinsically "holy, just, and good," suitable to our conception of the essential" holiness" of the lawgiver, because "right," and " beneficial to his creatures."

To each therefore, of these unquestionable arguments in favour of a virtuous and religious conduct, you will allow its due place and weight and, in this distribution, you will find it invariably right,

* Usher's Introduction to the Theory of the Human Mind, Sec. 3. + Rom. vii, 13.

« VorigeDoorgaan »