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True morality, in the largest sense of the word, consists in acting agreeably to those relations, which we bear to our Creator, and fellow-creatures. It takes in even our duty to our blessed Saviour and Redeemer; unless either gratitude be no part of morality, or that he, who was the author of our eternal salvation, be entitled to no gratitude from us. Yet nothing is more common, than to substitute some part of our duty for the whole. Of this we have an evident instance in those, whom the world miscalls mere moral men. A mere moral man, in the language of the world, is one, who lives in a state of open disregard, or at least of fashionable indifference to religion in general; yet shall do some generous and goodnatured actions, and never be guilty of any flagrant breach of honesty. He shall condemn the man who is wanting in proper returns of gratitude and affection to his fellow-creatures; but he never condemns himself, who continually receives, and never acknowledges the favours he receives from the author of every good gift. It is absurd to pretend a love for benevolence; and yet to be regardless of the most benevolent being that is. And it is likewise absurd to pretend to love him, without a serious examination into his will; never dismissing what bears that venerable stamp, without a fair and impartial hearing of the evidences for the truth of it. For, on whomsoever the world may bestow the title of moral men, yet an indifferent carelessness, and a wilful neglect to examine into his will and pleasure, is no part of morality. Nay, his will, whose pleasure we must either do, or whose displeasure we must unavoidably suffer, ought to be the uppermost consideration of every man. Yet some may urge, that there are several of strict probity, generosity, and worth, without the least tincture of piety. To which I answer, several have from their infancy associated the ideas of happiness and esteem; of misery and disgrace. This makes them decline those actions, which may entail infamy and disgrace upon them; and pursue those, which may beget an esteem for them; esteem being to them an essential ingredient of happiness. For which reason they are impatient to have the favorable verdict, which they pass upon themselves, so
conded and confirmed by the approbation of others, and are unwilling to do any thing that may lessen them in the opinion of their fellow-creatures. It is then the desire of fanie, not the love of virtue, which is their incentive to good actions. And if we look abroad into the world, we find it thus in fact. Persons of this stamp will scorn to do a little thing, through the abhorrence of any thing that may make them cheap and contemptible in the eye of the world: but they will not scruple to commit a sin, upon which the fashionable world has stamped a credit, and given a sanction to. A person who is ungrateful, much more ungrateful to his sovereign benefactor, must be void of every thing which is great, glorious, and beautiful in the soul. He may indeed be actuated by the love of applause, by caprice, by the prevailing mode and fashion of the age, in which he lives; but his mind is too narrow, contracted, and ungenerous, to be swayed by any fixed and determined principle of goodness. You may wonder at this motley mixture in his character: but why should you expect a consistency of life and manners from a man who has no religious principle, and therefore no consistent one to act upon? He who observes the rules of morality for the sake of temporal pleasures, will never perform any act of duty that is highly distasteful to him, or forego any vice that is pleasant and palatable. This is the moral man, in the language of the world; but, in the language of reason, as immoral a man as can be conceived. For lives daily in the uninterrupted practice of immorality of the deepest die, namely, ingratitude to his sovereign be. nefactor; from whom he has received every thing, and to whom he can return nothing, but obedience and thanksgiving, the tribute of a grateful heart.
What shall we think of this set of men? It would be uncharitable to suppose them determined atheists: what is most likely is, that they imagine God will accept the social duties, in lieu of piety. And yet true substantial morality is inseparably connected with the highest regard to the Deity; and it is an unnatural divorce to part them asunder. For the only sure groundwork of morality is the prospect of heavenly bliss. But, to return:
It is certain, that the light of nature discovers to us the being of a God, and so much of his infinite perfection, as to teach us that he is all good, and hates every thing that is evil; that he loves those who avoid the evil and choose the good; and will with severe justice punish the evildoers. So that the light of nature searches out the goodness and justice of God; man's duty and subjection to his Creator; and disposes us to receive the perfect will of the Almighty. This is called natural religion; which all men might know, and should be obliged unto, by the mere principles of reason, improved by consideration and experience, without the help of revelation. And they who live by it shall also be judged by it, their consciences accusing or else excusing one another. Yet natural religion, or that religion which the light of nature dictates, is not sufficiently calculated fo the generality of mankind, as may be inferred hence; that to trace a considerable number of doctrines up to the fountain head from which they flow, by the strength of unassisted reason, and to pursue them to their remotest consequences, is a task at least extremely difficult to men of letters, but I may venture to say impracticable to the ignorant. Besides, pure natural religion may perhaps have existed in the minds of some few recluse contemplative men, but was never in fact established in any one nation from the foundation of the world to the present times. But
The dimness of this is cleared up by revealed religion,* or that method by which God makes himself, or his will, known to mankind, over and above what he hath made known to us by the light of nature. Not that hereby God did mean to put out any part of that natural light, which he had set up in our souls; but to give greater light unto And therefore the possibility of revealed religion is evident from the nature of God, and the capacities of men; as well as from that proof, which is produced to satisfy us concerning a mission from God. An infinite Being, who created our souls capable of knowing him and loving him, can never want power to communicate further light to our minds, and make brighter discoveries of his will and plea
* See Sunday iii, Sec. i.
sure it carries no opposition to natural light, that God should reveal his mind by some particular persons to the world: forasmuch as the great ignorance and corruption of human nature, and that misery and guilt which mankind had contracted, made it both necessary and expedient for man. For, though natural light ascertains the being of Deity, and shows us how reasonable it is to pay our adorations to that power, that created and preserves us; yet it does not sufficiently direct us in the way and manner of performing it; and though it gives us some hopes of pardon upon our repentance, from the general notions of God's goodness; yet it prescribes us no certain method for the obtaining of our reconciliation. So that revealed religion was necessary both to relieve the wants of men in a natural state, and to recover the lustre and brightness of those principles, which God originally implanted in them, though now sullied and impaired by the corruptions of mankind; and to add such improvements as might draw human nature to a true sense of its own bad state and weakness; and to instruct men in the method of obtaining pardon of their offended Creator. On the contrary,
The design of those, who would undermine christianity, is plainly this: they are for carving out a religion for themselves, instead of leaving that work to a Being of unerring wisdom. The consequence of which is, that they always take up with a maimed and defective morality, instead of a fixed and determined scheme of duties, complete in all its parts, and consistent upon the whole. They are for contriving a religion, that may sit easy upon them, suited rather to their own vitious relish of things, than to the genuine standard of uncorrupted reason. They are for doing what seems good in their own shortsighted eyes, dimmed by passion; instead of acquiescing in the will of that Being, who seeth not as man seeth, and hath at sundry times, and in divers manners spoken, in times past, unto the fathers by the prophets; but in these last days speaketh unto us by his son Jesus Christ. In which revelation are contained articles of faith to be believed; precepts of life to be practised; and motives and arguments to enforce obedience. From
which it is natural to collect, that the knowledge of the holy scriptures is necessary to our eternal salvation; because these are the great and standing revelation of God to mankind; wherein the nature of God, and his will concerning our duty, and the terms and conditions of our eternal happiness in another world, are fully and plainly declared to us.
Therefore, though there be some things in the scriptures, which our reason and understanding cannot fathom; yet, because we are satisfied they are revealed by God, who cannot lie, whose knowledge is infallible, and whose word is true, we ought, upon his higher and superior reason, to yield a firm assent to the truth of them. And I add, that though some complain the Bible is not clear and determinate enough as to certain points; yet, if I mistake not, the main quarrel against it will prove to be, that it is too clear and determinate in enjoining certain duties, and forbidding certain vices. And though we meet therein with many precepts of life, which corrupt nature may be unwilling to put in practice; yet we must remember it is the Lord who commands them, and we must obey with the resignation becoming a child of God; Lord, not my will but thine be done; who by the mouth of his apostle has expressly commanded us to live SOBERLY, RIGHTEOUSLY, and GODLY in this present world: where, by the word soberly, we are to understand our duty to OURSELVES; by the word righteously, our duty to our NEIGHBOUR; and by the word godly, our duty to GOD. And as religion itself is that purity, or that virtuous temper and disposition of mind, which exerts itself in a constant endeavour of being like unto God, and of obeying his commands; which is the principal distinction of men from the inferior orders of creatures, and upon which alone are grounded all hopes of life and happiness hereafter; so the great end and design of religion is, by the trial of men's virtue and integrity in the present world, to qualify them for the happiness of that which is to come; that they, who have been faithful in a small and temporary trust committed to them here, may hereafter be put in possession of a never fading inheritance, which shall be their own for ever.