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nature, or natural obligations, considering nature both as sensible and rational.
There seems also an eternal fitness or unfitness of things in the social life. It is fit that rational, social beings should make one another easy and happy, and preserve each other's life and peace; and it seems unfit that any of them should make their neighbours uneasy or unhappy, or that they should destroy them. It is fit therefore that social beings should keep their contracts, should do justice to all around them, should not rob or steal one another's property; and that they should love each other, and do good, and be grateful to their benefactors. This is properly called "social virtue." All these seem to be rules derived from the very nature of things; that is, supposing such rational, and sensible, and social beings to exist, they are directed by the eternal reason of things to behave with justice and goodness towards each other. These rules seem to carry an obligation with them by the light of reason. Note, by the word "obligation" in this place, we cannot mean any authoritative or suasive influence from the will, or law, or authority of a superior; since we are speaking of the eternal fitness of these things, without any consideration of the being of a God. Obligation, in this place therefore, can mean nothing but the mere reasonable fitness of our doing or not doing such or such a thing in social life; or that this is the dictate of our reasoning powers.
If there be a God, an universal Maker and supreme Lord of all, there are eternal truths and fitnesses which relate to himself, viz. that he must always act according to the perfections of his nature, as a single, self-existent and supreme being. That he is not always bound by the same rules which bind social beings or fellow-creatures; for he is not bound to do all the good he can, or to hinder all the evil he can. Again; that God cannot alienate his own right to any thing, to give it irrevocably to a creature, but by his own express promise; and therefore his gifts, without an absolute promise, are but loans, resumable at pleasure. That he cannot originally make a creature sinful or miserable. That he has a right to the obedience of his creatures. That he cannot command his creatures to do any thing unfit to be done. That he will be just and true to all his creatures; and that he will not finally deal alike with the righteous and the wicked. There is therefore a reward for the righteous, &c. I mention all these here, though they are not all necessary to my present subject; yet it is good to keep them much in our view, in order to justify God in many parts of his divine conduct.
* These expressions are general indeed, and must include some limitation; but the reason and nature of things gives this plain limitation to them, viz. When men have not forfeited their life, or their ease, by criminal actions, they are to be treated well by their fellow-beings,
Now if there actually be a God, these eternal truths or fitnesses may be said, in some sense, to lay an obligation on God to act according to them, that is, his perfections are such that he will govern and regulate his own actions constantly and unchangeably by these eternal fitnesses or unfitnesses of things: For since he is self-sufficient for his own preservation and happiness; and since none of these eternal fitnesses or unfitnesses can possibly stand in opposition to his own eternal being or blessedness, nor can they bring any inconvenience on him, he can have no possible motive, or reason, or obligation to act contrary to this fitness or unfitness of things; and the rectitude of his own nature seems unchangeably to require such a conduct.
And if this be granted, then there is a sufficient foundation laid for the proof of all God's moral attributes by our ideas of his natural perfections, and our ideas of the eternal rules of justice, veracity and goodness; and there is sufficient assurance that he will act according to them.
SECT. III.-In Human Actions these Fitnesses may contradict each other.
But in beings of an inferior nature, before we consider whether there be a God or no, the case is not the same; for it is possible that some of these rules of reason, or, at least, the obligations to practise them, may, seemingly, or really clash with each other. As for instance, in what we have called single or personal duties: Do we not all agree, that a man is obliged to preserve his own life, and also to make himself happy by such a steady dietate of his own nature, as seems essential or eternal? Is not this piece of self-love inwrought into his very constitution and frame of nature? And do not his reasoning powers confirm it? But Miserino lies in extreme anguish of gout or stone, or broken limbs; and he seems to be encouraged, and even required, by his reasoning powers, to try to divest himself of all life, and of all possible happiness together; for he judges it better not to be, than to be miserable. In this case self-murder, or the destruction of his being, would be a dictate of reason; for it would be a sort of self-felicitation, though it stands directly contrary to self-preservation.
Again, in another case of single or personal duties. Philedon is a gentleman of good reason and learning, but of such strong and importunate passions and appetites, that every degree of restraint is a sensible pain to him. He sat down in a very calm and composed hour to judge whether he should pursue pleasure or virtue. His reason told him much of the eternal fitness of things, and what a noble victory it would be to deny his appetites and govern his passions; and that he was obliged,
by the fitness of things, to follow the rules of strict virtue constantly. But, on the other hand, self-love and nature, with their strong sensibilities represented to him the constant and intense toil, the uneasy fatigue and pain of contradicting the dictates of his nature and his appetite of pleasure; and that he never would have one easy day in the course of strict virtue. His reason balanced these things together, and finally resolved, that both his own rational powers, and the fitness of things, required that Philedon should pursue his highest happiness, and that was to indulge his sensual inclinations in the highest degree; for this was the ultimate happiness he could expect: And as soon as he found diseases, or pains, or poverty come upon him, he might finish them all at once by a dagger, or by opium, and thus enter into eternal ease and indolence. Now in this case all his obligations to personal virtue, as well as to self-preservation, seem to be out-reasoned and overcome by the dictates of selffelicitation.
And there are yet plainer instances of such contradictions between single and social duties, viz. Famelico, a strong man, lies starving; and he sees his weaker and hungry neighbour with only one piece of bread in his hand; reason dictates that the strong man should not rob his neighbour of his property, especially where this property is his very life: And yet reason, self-love and nature, join to dictate that Famelico should save his own life, and procure his own ease from the pain of hunger; which he can do no otherwise but by taking away the bread, and perhaps life from his neighbour. Again, Naufragus is just drowning; but he sees his neighbour supported by a little plank, which is just big enough to save one man's life; reason and virtue dictate that, though he be stronger, he should not drown his neighbour, by taking away the plank: Yet his reason and nature seem to dictate also, that Naufragus should save himself, though it be by taking the plank away from his weaker neighbour, and leave him to be drowned. Yet again, reason dictates that Irus should pay what he has borrowed, and that at the promised time; and yet, perhaps, this payment takes away all his subsistence, and exposes him to extreme hunger and death; and then both reason and nature at the same time dictate, that Irus should save himself from death, or secure himself from pinching hunger, whatever his neighbour loses or suffers.
Or suppose, in a common shipwreck, a drowning man sees another near him, who has three or four such planks as would each of them save a life: Reason dictates he should preserve his Jife, though it be by plundering his neighbour of one of them, if that neighbour refuse to lend or give it him: And yet reason seems to dictate too, that he should not take away his neighbour's property by force. The same may be said concerning
loaves of bread, and a man who is starving. Many such crossing incidents as these may be supposed to happen; and, in some of them it is not only very hard to determine which of these dictates should be obeyed, but it seems to me that these rules of reason may sometimes clash so much with each other, that they cannot be reconciled.
Here, indeed, an objector may start up and say, What! is this a possible thing that reason should contradict reason? Are we of such an absurd composition, and are we placed in such a self-repugnant state by nature, that our supreme powers of direction and action will contradict themselves, or that the fitness of things should stand on both sides? I answer; Yes, if we come into being by chance or by fate, without a God, then we may be such an absurd mixture, and situated in such a self-repugnant state; and who can disprove it; or who can help it? Surely it can be no wonder if so so absurd a principle as fate or chance should produce absurd things.
SECT. IV. The Existence of a God Reconciles these Contradictions.
But let us wait and enquire a little, how these difficulties may be compromised by the supposition of the being of a God, and whether they can be compromised without the supposition of it. If there be a God, an almighty Maker and Ruler of man, that God by his will and authority, requires and obliges* man, in his general government of the world, to the same rules of single duty, and of social virtue, which are dictated by the fitness or unfitness of things. This will of God, made known to men, is his law, whether it be natural and written in the heart, or revealed and written in a book. Thus man is obliged by his duty to God his Maker, as well as to himself, to secure his own being and happiness; and he is obliged by duty to God as well as to his neighbour, to practice every social virtuet.
* Here it is granted, the word "obligation" signifies an authoritative or suasive influence from the will, command or authority of a superior, But if you enquire, why are we obliged by the will or command of a superior? The fundamental and ultimate reason is still, because the fitness of things dictates it, that we should obey a rightful superior. So that the ultimate ground' of all obligation is still the dictate of reason concerning the fitness of things. But if you will proceed further in your enquiries, wherein it appears that the fitness of things requires such obedience? I answer, because such a superior can reward it, and punish the neglect of it, and therefore it is the interest as well as the duty of the inferior to obey; and this increases or doubles the fitness of such obedience, as shall be shewn immediately.
It must be confessed, there have been some cases in scripture wherein God seems to have commanded men to act, in appearance, contrary to these eternal fitnesses, &c. in point of social virtue: As in the case of Abraham's offering up his son, and the Israelites destroying the Canaanites. But we must distin guish between these two things, viz. there is God's common providence, or his general and ordinary rules of government, which he has made known to the reason of man, whereby man, considered as a sociable creature, is obliged to
Now if personal duties, even thus confirmed, should chance to clash with one another, or with any of the social virtues, how shall they be reconciled? I answer; By religion, by which name I mean a due regard to God as a commander of virtue, and a rewarder of it. I shall make this appear first in the case of our single or personal duties. If there be a God, he has made us to live for his use and service; and we ought not to oppose his will, and destroy ourselves. He who hath made us, hath a right to appoint our situation in what state he pleases; and while he confines our beings to this world of flesh and blood, though it be with pain and anguish; yet it is not fit that Miserino should depart hence by destroying his animal life, or his being, against his Maker's will: But he should trust in that God, who can find ways of relief which we think impossible; or who can and will reward us in a future state and life, with supreme felicity for what we endure with patience in this life, by the mere motive of submission to his will; and this is religion*.
Thus our reason, upon the balance, in the most miserable circumstances, will supremely dictate to us, that it is our duty, and our highest interest, to preserve our lives, and to bear this present life and pain, till almighty God relieve us by healing, or release us to a state of ultimate felicity by death. And thus the obligations to self-preservation and self-felicitation are united or reconciled.
In like manner Philedon lies under plain obligations to God and to himself, to restrain his appetites and passions, be they never so strong, within the bounds and rules of virtue; for this is the will or law of God, who made him, and has a right to govern him: And, be his life prolonged never so far, yet constant selfdenial, and strict virtue, is his duty all the way; for he may expect divine rewards and supreme or ultimate felicity in some
practice all social virtues in his own transactions with bis fellow-creatures : And there is God's special providence, or his extraordinary orders or commands, which he may make known by some powerful revelation to men or angels, merely considered as his instruments to maintain his own divine rights, and to resume what he has given to any of his creatures, whether it be life or property, and which he might justly resume by lightning or pestilence. Now, according to the ordinary rules of God's government, made known to man by reason, every man is bound to practise strict social virtue to his neighbour: This is agreeable to the fitness of things. But according to the extraordinary orders made known by pure revelation, man may be required, as Abraham and the Israelites were in these instances, to become the instruments of God in maintaining his own divine rights, and resuming his gifts from meu. This will go a great way to justify those actions, as being still agreeable to the eternal fitness of things, especially if the rights of a God are considered as superior to the rights of a fellow-creature. But these difficulties have had other particular solutions given them: And since they are not necessary to the present point of debate, I would not bring them in here into this dispute, to embarrass the present argument with them, though I throw this hint into the margin.
See the connection between human virtue and divine reward, manifested sad confirmed. Section VI.