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CHRISTIAN MORALITY, viz. JUSTICE, &c.
PHILIPPIANS iv. 8.
Whatsoever things are just-think on these
F a bare proposal of the rule of duty, and the
sufficient to persuade mankind to the practice; then I need not prolong my discourse on this subject of honesty and justice ; for I have already proposed the sacred rule which our Saviour has given us, Do to others as ye would that others should do to you ; and I have described the several instances wherein this rule must direct our conduct, that we may be just and righteous in all our dealings amongst men.
But alas ! our natures are so corrupt, our consciences are so unwilling to receive the laws of duty, and our perverse wills and passions have so much reluctance to the practice, that we have need of arguments to inforce it upon conscience, we have need of powerful motives to awaken our souls to righteousness; and it is necessary therefore that I
proceed to the third head of discourse which I proposed, and that is to shew how far the light of nature dictates to us the duty of common justice, and what arguments may be drawn from thence to influence men to be honest.
I. If we consider the natural right that every man hath to keep that which belongs to him, it will appear that this is the gift of God as the God of nature. God, the common author of all our beings, requires that this right be held sacred and iniviolable.
I shall not run back to antient ages, to trace the original grounds of property, or how men became intitled to any of their possessions; it is sufficient for me, that every man is born into this world with a right to his life, to bis limbs, to his liberty and sasety, and to the good things of this world which he possesses according to the laws of nature and of the nation where he is born. He has a right also that these should be secure from the hands of injustice and violence, unless he himself be some way concerned in the practice of injury to his fellowcreatures. That man therefore who offers injustice or violence to his neighbour in his body, or his soul, or estate, he robs him of his natural right which God hath given him, and which the law of nature secures to him ; he sins against the God of nature, the common father of mankind ; and his conscience hath reason to expect that the God of nature, who is just and righteous, will avenge the mischief done to his injured creatures.
Let it be always observed and excepted here, that the great God himself (considered merely as the God of nature, and where he has not bound himself by promise) reserves a right to resume what he has given, and especially when his creaturas have made a forfeiture of their blessings by sinning against their Naker ; but this does not authorize men to deprive one another of their possessions, unless he has appointed them from heaven the executioners of his vengeance by a most evident and infallible commission particularly given by God himself ; as in the case of the Israelites spoiling the Egyptians of their borrowed jewels, and depriving the Canaanites of their lands and their lives; but I know not any instance of that kind ever since.
II. If we consider the need that every man stands in of the help of his fellow-creatures, justice and honesty will appear to be a natural duty of the social life ; and God, as he is the governor of the world, will take vengeance of any neglect or violation of this duty, either in this world, or in the other.
Commutative justice, as it is described in the former discourse, is built upon this foundation, that one man has need of another's assistance; nor is there any the meanest figure amongst mankind so very: worthless, useless and contemptible, but he may be capable of doing us some service either now or hereafter. It is possible we may be in such circumstances, as to stand in need of the help of the meanest, as well as of the mighty ; and therefore the duty; of social life obliges us to practise the rules of justice toward all. The rich stand in need of the poor to perform the meaner offices for their convenience, as much as the poor stand in need of the rich to supply them with food or money. The master has need of the servant to assist and obey him, as well as the servant stands in need of maintenance or wages from the hands of his master. One man can never procure for himself all the necessaries, and all the conveniencies of life s it is indeed impossible. The same man cannot sow his own corn, reap his own harvest, keep his own sheep, make his own bread, form all bis own garments, build his own house, fashion his own furniture, and secure his own possessions ; no man can provide for himself in all respects, without the assistance of his fellow-creatures. Now those from whom he expects to receive help in any of these instances, it is necessary he should give them help in other instances, wherein they stand in need of his. This is one foundation of justice between man and man ; that so every man may
have the necessaries and conveniencies of life by his neighbour's assistance. Thus the king himself (as Solomon says) is served by the field ; Eccl. v. 9. The prince stands in need of the plowman ; the plowman gives food to the prince, and the prince gives to the plowman protection and safety.
I might run through the various instances wherein justice is to be practised, and shew how the higher and lower orders and characters of men have mutual need of each other ; the buyer and the seller, the artificer and the merchant, the teacher and the scholar; and thus I might make it appear, that unless a due exchange of benefits be maintained, and the practice of justice secured, none of us could enjoy the safety, the ease, or the conveniencies of life.
Where there is no practice of justice amongst men, no man can live safe by his neighbour ; every one that is mighty and inalicious, that is proud or covetous, that is envious or knavish, would roh another of his due, and either assume the possessions of his neighbour to himself, or make havoc of them, and destroy them. There would be everlasting confusion amongst men, slander and theft, cheating and knavery ; plunder, and slaughter, and bloody violence, would reign among all the tribes of mankind, if justice were banished from the earth ; for neither life, nor liberty, nor peace, nor any of our possessions, nor our good name, can be secured without it. Therefore the light and law of nature sets a sacred guard upon justice, and has written the necessity or it in the consciences of all men, who have not seared those consciences as with a red hot iron, and rased out so much of human nature from their souls.
The practice of justice has so extensive an influence into the whole conduct of our lives, and the welfare of mankind, that some of the heathen writers have made it to be comprehensive of all virtues.
But because sinful men are ready to break the bonds of commutative justice, and invade the properly, the peace, or the life of their neighbours, therefore government is appointed, and magistrates are ordained to maintain peace and equity amongst men, and to punish the breakers of it. This is the greatest reason why there must be such a thing as magistracy and distributive justice amongst mankind; that those who commit outrage upon their neighbours, and practise injustice toward them, may be punished by the laws ; for, as the apostle says to Timothy, “the law is not made for the righteous, but for the disobedient, for the ungodly, and for sinners, for murderers, stealers and liars," &c. That it may be a strong restraint upon the violent inclinations of men, and bring just vengeance upon them, when they bring injury upon their neighbours. Therefore it is for the welfare of the innocent and the righteous, that the laws have ordained vengeance for the guilty ; that those who would not injure their fellow-crealures, may be guarded in the enjoyment of their own property and their peace, and may have them secured from the sons of injustice.
And besides all the punishment that such sinners justly receive from men on earth : God, the great governor of the world, has often revealed his wrath from heaven against all the unrighteousness of men, as well as their ungodliness. He has hereby proclaimed his public approbation of justice, and his hatred of all iniquity. His terrors have sometimes appeared in signal and severe instances against those who have been notoriously unrighteous, and who