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with consistency enough practised upon themselves.
Their notions are equally lax upon other subjects of morals. Mr. Hume, the most enlightened man among this class of persons, places pride and a certain degree of self valuation
among the personal vir tues, and will not allow that character to humility and self denial, which, he says, answer no purpose. Lord Bolingbroke will not allow, that the sanctions of virtue extend to men as individuals, and only affect them as members of society; which at once destroys all obligation to personal virtue. If sincerity and integrity be allowed the rank of virtues, yet there are many occasions, it seems, that will justify the violation of them. Mr. Hobbes has advanced, that to practise idolatry through fear of death is no crime; and others, arguing upon the same principles, have ridiculed Christians for dying martyrs to the truth.
Lord Herbert, who has been held up to public view as a conscientious deist, says, that those are not to be lightly condemned who are carried to sin by their bodily constitution, and that they are no more to, be blamed than a dropsical person for his immoderate thirst.
I could mention several other instances of their maintaining principles equally loose and pernicious; but these are sufficient to convince us, that the most enlightened minds, unassisted by revelation, are very unsafe guides on the subject of personal virtue,
and that the will of God alone can afford an un. erring rule.
III. I am to inquire, how far the will of God will afford such a rule in respect to social virtues, or the duties which men owe to one another.
Now, as God is the father of all, it is evident, that he must wish the happiness of others as well as of us, and that he can prescribe no rule for the conduct of men toward one another, which is not calculated to promote the general welfare. If he
say, “ You shall not kill; you shall not steal ; you shall not commit adultery ; you shall not bear false witness;" he can have no motive for such prohibitions but a persuasion, that these practices would prove injurious to mankind. On the other hand, if he require truth, fidelity, charity, compassion, forgiveness of injuries, it must be from a like persuasion, that these virtues are necessary to the peace and well being of society. In following both his injunctions and prohibitions, therefore, we are with certainty led to the great object of social virtue—social happiness.
It may be imagined, indeed, that proposing to our own selves the good of others will furnish us with as safe a guide, and that, in following this maxim, wę cannot possibly injure mankind, but must necessarily promote their happiness. But it should be remembered, that we are in many instances very imperfect judges of the tendency of actions, and may casily fall into the mistake of supposing that a course of con.
duct, which is useful, will be prejudicial, and the contrary ; in which case we shall do harm, where we intended to do good, or neglect to do it, where we have an opportunity. But, in following the opinion of him, who is ever actuated by the love of all his offspring, and sees the most distanţ consequences of things, we cannot err.
There is another principle, which may be supposed to be a sufficient guide for our conduct on all occasions, independently of any regard to the will of God, and that is conscience, or, as some denominate it, the moral sense, by which we are led to approve some actions and characters, and to condemn others, from an inward sense of their excellence or deformity, and without regard to any good or evil consequences which may arise from them. This inward feeling of approbation or disapprobation some have supposed to arise from a natural instinct, implanted in our breasts by the author of our natures, in order to guide us at all times to the practice of our duty, and which is, therefore, supposed to be the same in
That conscience is in most cases an excellent guide cannot be denied, nor that it is better to follow a mistaken conscience than to act in opposition to it's dictates. But that it sometimes grossly mistakes is evident from this consideration, that it not unfrequently dictates opposite things to different persons, , which could not be the case if it were an invariable standard of truth and right; and sometimes impels men to violate the plainest principles of humanity,
leading them to think; that to destroy men is to do God service. In such cases, by what rule are the errours of conscience to be corrected? What superior authority is there, to which conscience itself will yield ? Is there any better guide to which we can trust than the will of God ?
That men may fall into great errours on the subject of social duties, although they are the plainest and best understood of any, is not a mere conjecture, but supported by numerous and striking facts, as we have already shown in regard to personal virtue. What can be more clear than the obligation compassion, to speak truth, and observe the laws of chastity ? Yet Epictetus, one of the most celebrated moralists of antiquity, allows a wise man to condole, indeed, in words, with his friends when in distress; but tells him to take care, that he feel no compassion. The Stoics allowed, that lying might be practised where it was profitable ; and even Plato said, that a man might tell a lie, provided he could do it at a proper time. Scarcely any vice can have a more pernicious influence upon society than unrestrained commerce of the sexes; yet there was nothing in which the heathens allowed men to indulge themselves with greater liberty : fornication was represented by their wisest philosophers as no vice at all. And although adultery was punished by the law in some states, it was frequently practised, and justified by the greatest pretenders to wisdom. Those vices also which are justly termed
unnatural, and which modern manners will hardly allow us so much as to mention, were practised by the most celebrated instructors of youth and teachers of wisdom among the Greeks, and gloried in. Nay the public laws of several states gave them their countenance. So much were the notions of moral rectitude corrupted and the human character debased, where revelation was not known: and were we to examine the opinions of modern unbelievers on these subjects, we should find the principles they maintained not less licentious.
It is true indeed, that among those who are denominated Christians, men are to be found, who practise these and every other species of vice; but they do not pretend to justify their vices by the principles of their religion, nor are those who practise them acknowledged as brethren by the general body of Christians.
We have now seen, that the will of God is an infallible rule of duty and the best foundation for good morals, and that men, in neglecting it to follow any other guide, whether reason, self interest, a desire to do good, or even conscience itself, are liable to be misled, and must necessarily fall into a variety of errours.
From this subject we may, therefore, learn the value of piety or of reverence, esteem, and love for the Supreme Being. It furnishes the only principle of duty, which will direct us aright upon all occasions. Whatever light we derive from other guides