« AnteriorContinuar »
TTAving thus shortly delineated the moral laws of our nature, we proceed to an article of great importance, which is, to enquire into the means provided by our Maker for compelling obedience to these laws. The moral fense is an unerring guide; but the most expert guide will not profit those who are not disposed to be led. This consideration makes it evident, that to complete the moral system, man ought to be endued with some principle or propensity, some impulsive power, to enforce obedience to the laws dictated by the moral fense.
The author of our nature leaves none of his works imperfect. In. order to render us obsequious to the moral fense as our guide, he hath implanted in our nature the principles of duty, of benevolence, of rewards and punifhmerits, and of repara
tion. It may possibly be thought, that rewards and punishments, of which afterward, are sufficient of themselves to enforce the laws of nature, without necessity of any other principle. Human laws, it is true, are enforc'd by these means; because no higher sanction is under command of a terrestrial legislator. But the celestial legislator, with power that knows no control, and benevolence that knows no bounds, hath enforc'd his laws by means no less remarkable for mildness than for efficacy: he employs no external compulsion; but, in order to engage our will on the right side, hath in the breast of individuals established the principles of duty and of benevolence, which efficaciously excite them to obey the dictates of the moral fense.
The restraining and active duties being both of them essential to society, our Maker has wisely ordered, that the principle which enforces these duties, should be the most cogent of all that belong to our nature. Other principles may solicit, allure, or terrify; but the principle of duty asfumes authority, commands, and insists i ta to be obey'd, without giving ear to any. opposing motive.
As one great purpose of society, is to furnish opportunities of mutual aid and support; nature seconding that purpose, hath provided the principle of benevolence, which excites us to be kindly, beneficent, and generous. Nor ought it to escape observation, that the author of nature, attentive to our wants and to our well-being, hath endued us with a liberal portion of that principle. It excites us to be kind, not only to those we are connected with, but to our neighbours, and even to those we are barely acquainted with. Providence is peculiarly attentive to objects in distress, who require immediate aid and relief. To the principle of benevolence, it hath superadded the passion of pity, which in every feeling heart is irresistible. To make benevolence more extensive, would be fruitless; because here are objects in plenty to fill the most capacious mind. It would not be fruitless onlyy but hurtful to society: I say hurtful; because frequent disappointments in attempting to gratify our benevolence, would render it a troublesome guest, and
Vol. IV,. G makemake us cling rather to selfishness, which we can always gratify. At the fame time, tho' there is not room for a more extensive' list of particular objects, yet the faculty we have of uniting numberless individuals into one complex object, enlarges greatly the sphere of benevolence. By that faculty our country, our government, our religion, become objects of public spirit, and of a lively affection. The individuals that compose the group, considered apart, may be too minute, or too distant, for our benevolence: but when united into one whole, accumulation makes them great, greatness makes them conspicuous; and affection, preserved entire and undivided, is bestow'd upon an abstract object, as upon one that is single and visible; but with energy proportioned to its greater dignity and importance. Thus the principle of benevolence is not too sparingly scattered among men. It is indeed made subordinate to self-interest, which is wisely ordered, as will afterward be made evident (a): but its power and extent are nicely proportioned to the limited capacity of man, and to his situation in this world;
so as better to fulfil its destination * than if it were an overmatch for self-interest, and for every other principle.
Laws respecting Rewards and PunijhmeniSi
TO Effecting on the moral branch of our nature qualifying us for society in a manner suited to our capacity, we cannot overlook the hand of our Maker; for means so finely adjusted to an important end, never happen by chance. It must however be acknowledged, that in many individuals, the principle of duty has not vigour nor authority sufficient to stem every tide of unruly passion: by the vigilance of some passions, we are taken unguarded; deluded by the fly insinuations of others; or overwhelmed with the stormy impetuosity of a third fort. Moral evil is thus introduced, and much wrong is done. This new scene suggests to usy that there must be some article still wantG a ing