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In the following Treatise I have confined myself to the ethical department of Moral Philosophy. But as ethics cannot be explained without some knowledge of Natural Religion, that is, without some acquaintance with the character, perfections, and providence of God, the first book is wholly occupied with the con: sideration of these momentous subjects.
The usual method is, to treat first of the active powers of man, and afterwards to discourse concerning the being and attributes of God. I have reversed this order; because I conceive that we can study the principles of moral obligation, and the various classes of our duties, with greater advantage when we have previously attended to the character and government of Him who has constituted us what we are, and of whom, and to whom, and through whom, are all things.
I have styled this work Elements of Christian Ethics and of Moral Philosophy, because I have throughout assumed the Divine authority of Revelation, and have uniformly availed myself of its light.
“ Such as reject the Christian Religion, are to make the best shift they can to build up a system and lay the foundation of morality without it. But it appears to me a great inconsistency in those who receive Christianity and expect something to come of it, to endeavour to keep all such expectations out of sight in their reasonings concerning human duty.”
To this course it will, perhaps, be objected, that it is encroaching on the province of the Divine. The objection, however, is quite unfounded. While the moral philosopher does not professedly treat of divinity, or give a system of christian theology, he is bound always so to conduct his course of morals, that it may be, as it is designed, an useful preparation for the study of Revealed Truth. He is to treat of moral science, but not to the neglect of the sanctions of Christianity; not to speak and write on themes of the deepest moment, as if “ the day-spring from on high” had not visited us. “ The morality of the gospel,” says Locke,“ doth so exceed them all, that, to give a man a full knowledge of true morality, I shall send him to no other book but the New Testament *.”
* Locke's Thoughts on Reading and Study.
Without the light of Divine Revelation, we know very little of the moral government of God, and of the duties and the final destiny of
Let us, by all means, ascertain to what length reason alone will lead us in our inquiries into such subjects : but why should we refuse to receive instruction from Christianity, when the light of nature fails us? “ Some authors,” says Paley, “ industriously decline the mention of Scripture authorities, as belonging to a different province; and others reserving them for a separate volume; which appears to me much the same defect, as if a commentator on the laws of England should content himself with stating upon each head the common law of the land, without taking any notice of acts of Parliament; or should choose to give his readers the common law in one book, and the statute law in another."
There are two classes to whom, I trust, this work may be useful:-First, to students of Moral Philosophy, and more especially as preparatory to their entering on the study of Sacred Theology. I flatter myself that they will here obtain hints which may be of advantage in enlarging their views of the moral government and law of God: which are essentially necessary to their entertaining just conceptions of the several parts of Divine Revelation. Without a
thorough understanding of the principles and grounds of moral obligation, we shall be ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Secondly, to Christians generally, I hope, this work may be useful; by enforcing the obligation of practising the things that are true, and just and honourable, and lovely, and of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise.
I have, in the first book, enlarged at greater length than some may deem necessary, on the being and perfections of God. I have done so, however, under the impression, (and this must be my apology,) that it is of infinite importance to the virtue and happiness of mankind that just and comprehensive views should be entertained on these fundamental subjects. All religion,” says Archbishop Tillotson-whose name must always be venerated by all who value the high interest of morals “ is founded on right notions of God and his perfections, insomuch that Divine Revelation itself does suppose these for its foundations *." A similar remark has been made by Dr. Butler, one of the most distinguished metaphysicians and moralists that England has produced. we are constituted such sort of creatures, as,
* Serm. 41.