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THIS volume is a sketch of christian morality, such as the sermons of Mr. Saurin afford. Had the author drawn them up with a particular design of exhibiting a full view of the subject, he would have assorted and arranged ideas, which now lie dispersed and intermixed. However, we trust the arrangement will appear neither improper nor unedifying
There are two general opinions among divines concerning the origin of morality and religion. Some suppose, that all the knowledge, which the world ever had of these subjects, was at first revealed, and hath been continued to this day by tradition. Others, on the contrary, think, that without revelation men may, and actually do, by the mere exercise of their natural powers discover the being of a God, and the consequent obligations of inen. Both classes, however, affirm, that revelation gives force to moral duties, and so is essential to the practice of real virtue.
This is not the place to enter into disputes : we will content ourselves with a few plain remarks on the nature and obligations of men, and on the moral influence of the gospel; and for this purpose we will divide the subject into three parts, and consider, first nature; secondly obligation; and lastly motive.
1. NATURE. There is hardly a word in the English language of more vague and indeterminate meaning than the word nature. In this place I mean by it the native state, properties, and peculiarities of men. If man be a creature consisting of soul and body; if each hath properties, powers or faculties peculiar to itself, obligation to employ these to the ends for which they were intended by the Creator, must necessarily follow. Ancient philosophy, therefore, connected together the natural with the moral state of man; and reasoned from the one to the other. Without superior information by revelation from God, there is no other way of determining what men are, or are not expected to perform.
It would be easy to lose ourselves in metaphy• sical speculations concerning the nature, the operations, and the duration of the soul; and it would be as easy to lose ourselves in attempting precisely to determine, among an infinite number of feelings, ideas, perceptions, aversions, sensations and passions, where the last power of body ends, and where the first operation of spirit begins. Perhaps we are to expect only a general knowledge of such subjects. That the happiness of both depends on a certain harmony between thought and action is beyond a doubt; and that in a life made up of a course of thinking and acting, thinking ought to precede action, is equally clear. To act is to do something, and every intelligent creature ought to do whatever he does for a reason. In the nature of man, then, avoiding all perplexing refinements, and confining our views to plain and useful observation, there are three things considerable ;-happiness the end of men's actions; actions the means of obtaining the end ; and reason which discovers, selects, and enforces rules of uniting the means with the end.
2. OBLIGATION. We divide this article into two parts; obligation and sense of obligation. We begin with the first. By exercising our reason to find out proper means of obtaining happiness, we collect a set of ideas concerning the duties of life, and putting these together we call the collection, morality. As this collection consists of a great variety of duties, or actions proper to obtain happiness, we find it convenient to divide them into several classes, and as each class contributes its share toward the production of the general end, happiness, we consider the whole in the light of obligation; for every creature is obliged to seek its own happiness, and it is natural to man to do so.
The condition of man in regard to the Supreme Being, his Creator, is that of absolute dependence; and hence comes the first distribution of the duties of life into a class called natural theology; theology because God is the object of our contemplation, and natural theology because the duties to be done in regard to God are such,
and such only as are discoverable by our observing and exercising our reason on the works of nature. By considering ourselves we find a second class of ideas, which make up what is called moral philosophy, or more properly moral theology; and in this we place the rules by which man conducts himself to become virtuous in order to become happy. Extending our views a little further, and taking in proper notions of the various situations in life, to which men are subject, and the various connections, which we necessarily have in the world, we perceive a set of general principles just and useful, and all necessary to the happiness of these situations and relations; and hence comes a third branch of morality, called general policy, or common prudence. The next exertion of thinking and reasoning regards nations, and to this belongs a large class of ideas, all tending to public prosperity and felicity; national policy is therefore a fourth branch of morality, and it includes all the actions necessary to govern a state, so as to produce civil order and social happiness. To these, by extending our thoughts yet further, we proceed to add the law of nature, and the law of nations, both which go to make up the general doctrine of manners which we call morality.
If man aim at happiness, if he consult reason by what means to acquire it, if he be naturally impelled to perform such actions as are most likely to obtain that end, he will perceive that the reason of each duty is the obligation of it. As far then as man is governed by reason, so far doth he approve of the bond or obligation of performing the duties of life.
Let us attend to sense of obligation. Should it appear on examination, and that it will appear on the slightest examination is too evident, that the senses of the body irritate the passions of the heart, and that both, conspiring together against the dominion of reason, become so powerful as to take the lead, reason, will be perverted, the nature and fitness of things disordered, improprieties and calamities introduced, and consequently the great, end, happiness, annihilated. In this case the nature of things would remain what it was, obligation to duties would continue just the same, and there would be no change except in the order of actions, and in the loss of that end, happiness, which order would have produced.
This speculation, if we advert to the real state of things, will become a fact fully established in our judgments : true, the first branch of morality is natural theology; but have mankind in general, in all ages and countries, sought rational happiness in worshipping the One great supreme? Whence then is idolatry, and whence that neglect of the father of universal nature, or what is worse, that direct opposition to him ? Morality we grant, hath always been, as it yet continues to be, beautifully depicted in academical theses; professors of each branch of literature have successively contributed to colour and adorn the subject ; and yet in real life neither the law of nature, nor that of nations, nor that of private virtue, or public policy