Though These Eternal Moral Obligations are Indeed of Themselves Incumbent on all Rational Beings,
even antecedent to the
consideration of their being the positive will and command of God, yet that which most strongly confirms, and in practice most effectually and indispensably enforces them upon us, is this; that both from the perfections of God, and the nature of things, and from several other collateral considerations, it appears, that as God is himself necessarily just and good in the exercise of his infinite power in the government of the whole world, so he cannot but likewise positively require that all his rational creatures should in their proportion be so too, in the exercise of each of their powers in their several and respective spheres: That is; as these eternal moral obligations are really in perpetual force, merely from their own nature, and the abstract reason of things; so also they are moreover the express and unalterable will, command, and law of God to his creatures, which he cannot but expect should, in obedience to his supreme authority, as well as in compliance with the natural reason of things, be regularly and constantly observed through the whole creation.

This proposition is very evident, and has little need of being particularly proved.

For 1st. That moral duties are the positive will and command of God, proved from the consideration of the divine attributes. The same reasons which prove to us that God must of necessity be himself infinitely holy, and just, and good, manifestly prove, that it must also be his will, that all his creatures should be so likewise, according to the proportions and capacities of their several natures. That there are eternal and necessary differences of things, agreements and disagreements, proportions and disproportions, fitnesses and unfitnesses of things, absolutely in their own nature, has been before largely demonstrated. That, with regard to these fixed and certain proportions and fitnesses of things, the will of God, which can neither be influenced by any external power, nor imposed upon by any error or deceit, constantly and necessarily determines itself to choose always what in the whole is best and fittest to be done, according to the unalterable rules of justice, equity, goodness, and truth; has likewise been already proved. That the same considerations ought also regularly to determine the wills of all subordinate rational beings, to act in constant conformity to the same eternal rules, has in like manner been shown before. It remains therefore only to prove, that these very same moral rules, which are thus of themselves really obligatory, as being the necessary result of the unalterable reason and nature of things, are moreover the positive will and command of God to all rational creatures; and, consequently, that the wilful transgression or neglect of them, is as truly an insolent contempt of the authority of God, as it is an absurd confounding of the natural reasons and proportions of things. Now this also plainly follows from what has been already laid down: For, the same absolute perfection of the divine nature, which (as has been before shown) makes us certain that God must himself be of necessity infinitely holy, just, and good; makes it equally certain, that he cannot possibly approve iniquity in others. And the same beauty, the same excellency, the same weight and importance of the rules of everlasting righteousness, with regard to which God is always pleased to make those rules the measure of all his own actions, prove it impossible but he must likewise will and desire that all rational creatures should proportionably make them the measure of theirs. Even among men, there is no earthly father, but in those things which he esteems his own excellencies, desires and expects to be imitated by his children. How much more is it necessary that God, who is infinitely far from being subject to such passions and variableness as frail men are; and who has an infinitely tenderer and heartier concern for the happiness of his creatures, than mortal men can have for the welfare of their posterity; must desire to be imitated by his creatures in those perfections which are the foundation of his own unchangeable happiness? In the exercise of his supreme power, we cannot imitate him; in the extent of his unerring knowledge, we cannot attain to any similitude with himJob xl.9. . We cannot at all thunder with a voice like him; nor are we able to search out and comprehend the least part of the depth of his unfathomable wisdom. But his holiness and goodness, his justice, righteousness, and truth; these things we can understand; in these things we can imitate him; nay, we cannot approve ourselves to him as obedient children, if we do not imitate him therein. If God be himself essentially of infinite holiness and purity; (as, from the light of nature, it is of all things most manifest that he is,) Hab. i.13. it follows, that it is impossible but he must likewise be of purer eyes than to behold with approbation any manner of impurity in his creatures; and consequently it must needs be his will, that they should all (according to the measure of their frail and finite nature) be holy as he is holy. If God is himself a being of infinite justice, righteousness, and truth, it must needs be his will, that all rational creatures, whom he has created after his own image, to whom he has communicated some resemblance of his divine perfections, and whom he has indued with excellent powers and faculties to enable them to distinguish between good and evil, should imitate him in the exercise of those glorious attributes, by conforming all their actions to the eternal and unalterable law of righteousness. If God is himself a being of infinite Mat. v.45. goodness, making the sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sending rain on the just and on the unjust; Acts xiv.17. having never left himself wholly without witness, but always doing good, given men rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling their hearts with food and gladness; it cannot but be his will that all reasonable creatures should, by mutual love and benevolence, permit and assist each other to enjoy in particular the several effects and blessings of the divine universal goodness. Lastly, if God is himself a being of infinite mercy and compassion, as it is plain he bears long with men before he punishes them for their wickedness, and often freely forgives them his ten thousand talents; it must needs be hisMat. xviii.24.28. will, that they should forgive one another their hundred pence; being merciful one to another, as he isLu. vi.36. merciful to them all; and having compassion eachMat. xi.23. on his fellow-servants, as God has pity on them. Thus from the attributes of God, natural reason leads men to the knowledge of his will: All the same reasons and arguments, which discover to men the natural fitnesses or unfitnesses of things, and the necessary perfections or attributes of God, proving equally at the same time, that [225] that which is truly the law of nature, or the reason of things, is in like manner the will of God. And from hence the soberest and most intelligent persons among the heathens in all ages, very rightly and wisely concluded that the best and certainest part of natural religion, which was of the greatest importance, and wherein was the least danger of their being mistaken, was [226] to imitate the moral attributes of God, by a life of holiness, righteousness, and charity: Whereas in the external part of their worship, there was nothing but uncertainty and doubtfulness; it being absolutely impossible, without express revelation, to discover what in that particular they might be secure would be truly acceptable to God.

This method of deducing the will of God from his attributes, is of all others the best and clearest, the certainest and most universal, that the light of nature affords: Yet there are also (as I said) some other collateral considerations, which help to prove and confirm the same thing; namely, that all moral obligations, arising from the nature and reason of things, are likewise the positive will and command of God: As

2. And from the consideration of the nature of God's creation. This appears in some measure from the consideration of God's creation. For God, by creating things, manifests it to be his will that things should be what they are. And as providence wonderfully preserves things in their present state; and all necessary agents, by constantly and regularly obeying the laws of their nature, necessarily employ all their natural powers in promoting the same end; so it is evident it cannot but be the will of God, [227] that all rational creatures, whom he has indued with those singular powers and faculties of understanding, liberty, and free-choice, whereby they are exalted in dignity above the rest of the world; should likewise employ those their extraordinary faculties in preserving the order and harmony of the creation, and not in introducing disorder and confusion therein. The nature indeed and relations, the proportions and disproportions, the fitnesses and unfitnesses of things, are eternal and in themselves absolutely unalterable; but this is only upon supposition that the things exist, and that they exist in such manner as they at present do. Now that things exist in such manner as they do, or that they exist at all, depends entirely on the arbitrary will and good pleasure of God. At the same time, therefore, and by the same means, that God manifests it to be his will that things should exist, and that they should exist in such manner as they do; (as by creating them he at first did, and by preserving them he still continually does, declare it to be his will they should;) he at the same time evidently declares, that all such moral obligations as are the result of the necessary proportions and relations of things, are likewise his positive will and command. And consequently, whoever acts contrary to the forementioned reasons and proportion of things, by dishonouring God, by introducing unjust and unequal dealings among equals, by destroying his own being, or by any way corrupting, abusing, and misapplying the faculties wherewith God has indued him, (as has been above more largely explained,) is unavoidably guilty of transgressing at the same time the positive will and command of God, which in this manner also is sufficiently discovered and made known to him.

3. And from the tendency of the practice of morality to the good and happiness of the whole world.The same thing may likewise further appear from the following consideration: -- Whatever tends directly and certainly to promote the good and happiness of the whole, and (as far as is consistent with that chief end,) to promote also the good and welfare of every particular part of the creation, must needs be agreeable to the will of God; [228] who, being infinitely self-sufficient to his own happiness, could have no other motive to create things at all, but only that he might communicate to them his goodness and happiness; and who consequently cannot but expect and require, that all his creatures should, according to their several powers and faculties, endeavour to promote the same end. Now that the exact observance of all those moral obligations, which have before been proved to arise necessarily from the nature and relations of things; (that is to say, living agreeably to the unalterable rules of justice, righteousness, equity, and truth,) is the certainest and directest means to promote the welfare and happiness, as well of every man in particular, both in body and mind, as of all men in general, considered with respect to society, is so very manifest, that even the greatest enemies of all religion, who suppose it to be nothing more than a worldly or state-policy, do yet by that very supposition confess thus much concerning it; and, indeed, this it is not possible for any one to deny: For the practice of moral virtues does [229] as plainly and undeniably tend to the natural good of the world, as any physical effect or mathematical truth is naturally consequent to the principles on which it depends, and from which it is regularly derived. And without such practice, in some degree, the world can never be happy in any tolerable measure; as is sufficiently evident from Mr Hobbes's own description of the extreme miserable condition that men would be in through the total defect of the practice of all moral virtue, if they were to live in that state which he styles (falsely and contrary to all reason, as has been before fully proved,) the state of nature; but which really is a state of the grossest abuse and most unnatural corruption and misapplication of men's natural faculties that can be imagined. For, since God has plainly so constituted the nature of men, that they stand continually in need of each other's help and assistance, and can never live comfortably without society and mutual friendship, and are indued with the faculties of reason and speech, and with other natural powers, evidently fitted to enable them to assist each other in all matters of life, and mutually to promote universal love and happiness; it is manifestly agreeable to nature, and to the will of God, who gave them these faculties, that they should employ them wholly to this regular and good end; and, consequently, it is on the contrary evident likewise, that all abuse and misapplication of these faculties, to hurt and destroy, to cheat and defraud, to oppress, insult, and domineer over each other, is directly contrary both to the dictates of nature and to the will of God, who, necessarily doing always what is best, and fittest, and most for the benefit of the whole creation, it is manifest cannot will the corruption and destruction of any of his creatures, any otherwise than as his preserving their natural faculties, (which in themselves are good and excellent, but cannot but be capable of being abused and misapplied,) necessarily implies a consequential permission of such corruption.

And this now is the great aggravation of the sin and folly of all immorality; that it is an obstinate setting up the self-will of frail, finite, and fallible creatures; as in opposition to the eternal reason of things, the unprejudiced judgment of their own minds, and the general good and welfare both of themselves and their fellow-creatures; so also in opposition to the will of the supreme author and creator of all things, who gave them their beings and all the powers and faculties they are indued with: In opposition to the will of the all-wise preserver and governor of the universe, on whose gracious protection they depend every moment for the preservation and continuance of their beings: And in opposition to the will of their greatest benefactor, to whose bounty they wholly owe whatever they enjoy at present, and all the hopes of what they expect hereafter, this is the highest of all aggravations. The utmost ureasonableness, joined with obstinate disobedience, and with the greatest ingratitude.


[225] Ita principem legem illam et ultimam, mentem esse omnia ratione aut cogentis aut vetantis Dei.--Cic. de Leg. lib. 2. Quæ vis non modo senior est quam ætas populorum et civitatum, sed æqualis illius coelum atque terras tuentis et regentis Dei. Neque enim esse mens divina sine ratione potest, nec ratio divina non hanc vim in rectis pravisque sanciendis habere.--Ibid.

[226] Vis Deos propitiare? Bonus esto. Satis illos coluit, qui imitatus est.--Senee. Epist. 96. Kai gar an ein, ei pros ta dora kai tas thusias apoblepousin hemon hoi theoi, alla me pros ten psuchen, an tis hosios kai dikaios on tunchane. Pollo ge mallon, oimai, e pros tas poluteleis tautas pompas te kai thusias.--Plato in Alcibiade, 2. Collitur autem, non taurornm opimis corporibus contrucidatis, nec auro argentove suspenso, nec in thesauros stipe infusa; sed pia et recta voluntate.--Senec. Epist. 116.

[227] Mens humana non potest non judicare, esse longè credibilius, quod eadem constantissima voluntas, à qua hominibus datum est esse, pariter mallet ipsos porro esse et valere, hoc est, conservari et felicitate frui, quam illo deturbari de statu, in quo ipsos collocavit----Sic scilicet e voluntate creandi, cognoscitur voluntas conservandi tuendique homines. Ex hac autem innotescit obligatio, qui tenemur ad inserviendum eidem voluntati notæ.--Cumberl. de Leg. Nat. page 227.

[228] Dubitari non potest, quin Deus, qui ita naturalem rerum omnium ordinem constituit, ut talia sint actionum humanarum consequentia erga ipsos auctores, fecitque ut ordinaria hæc consequentia ab ipsis præsciri possint, aut summa cum probabilitate expectari, voluerit hæc ab iis considerari, antequam ad agendum se accingerent; atque eos his provisis velut argumentis in legum sanctione contentis determinari.--Cumberl. de Leg. Nat. page 228. Rector seu causa prima rationalis, cujus voluntate res ita disponuntur, ut hommibus satis evidenter indicetur, actus quosdam illorum esse media necessaria ad finem ipsis necessarium; vult homines ad hos actus obligari, vel hos actus imperat.--Id. page 285.

[229] Pari sane ratione (ac in arithmeticis operationibus) doctrinæ moralis veritas fundatur in immutabili cohærentia inter felicitatem summam quam hominum vires assequi valent, et actus benevolentiæ universalis.--Id. page 23.

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