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of this or that philosopher was of no authority: and if it were, you must take all he said under the same character. All his dictates
for law, certain and true, or none of them. And then, if you will take any of the moral sayings of Epicurus (many whereof Seneca quotes with esteem and approbation) for precepts of the law of nature, you must take all the rest of his doctrine for such too, or else his authority ceases : and so no more is to be received from him, or any of the sages of old, for parts of the law of nature, as carrying with it an obligation to be obeyed, but what they prove to be so. But such a body of ethics, proved to be the law of nature, from principles of reason, and reaching all the duties of life, I think nobody will say the world had before our Saviour's time. It is not enough that there were up and down scattered sayings of wise men conformable to right
The law of nature was the law of convenience too; and it is no wonder that those men of parts, and studious of virtue, (who had occasion to think on any particular part of it,) should by meditation light on the right, even from the observable convenience and beauty of it, without making out its obligation from the true principles of the law of nature, and foundations of morality. But these incoherent apophthegms of philosophers and wise men, however excellent in themselves, and well intended by them, could never make a, morality whereof the world could be convinced ; could never rise to the force of a law that mankind could with certainty depend on. Whatsoever should thus be universally useful, as a standard to which men should conform their manners, must have its authority either from reason or revelation. It is not every writer of morals, or compiler of it from others, that can thereby be erected into a lawgiver to mankind; and a dictator of rules, which are therefore valid because they are to be found in his books, under the authority of this or that philosopher. He that any one will pretend to set up in this kind, and have his rules pass for authentie directions, must show that either he builds his doctrines upon principles of reason, self-evident in themselves, and that he deduces all the parts of it from thence, by clear and evident demonstration; or must show his commission from heaven, that he comes with authority from God to deliver his will and commands to the world. In the former way nobody that I know before our Saviour's time, ever did or went about to give us a morality. It is true, there is a law of nature : but who is there that ever did or undertook to give it us all entire, as a law; no more nor no less than what was contained in, and had the obligation of, that law? Who ever made out all the parts of it, put them together, and showed the world their obligation ? Where was there any such code, that mankind might have recourse to as their unerring rule, before our Saviour's time? If there was not, it is plain there was need of one to give us such a morality; such a law, which might be the sure guide of those who had a desire to go right; and, if they had a mind, need not mistake their duty; but might be certain when they had performed, when failed in it. Such a law of morality Jesus Christ hath given in the New Testament; but by the latter of these ways, by revelation, we have from him a full and sufficient rule for our direction, and conformable to that of reason. But the truth and obligation of its precepts have their force, and are put past doubt to us, by the evidence of his mission. He was sent by God: his miracles show it; and the authority of God in his precepts cannot be questioned. Here morality has a sure standard, that revelation vouches, and reason cannot gainsay nor question; but both together witness to come from God, the great Lawmaker. And such an one as this, out of the New Testament, I think the world never had, nor can any one say is anywhere else to be found. Let me ask any one who is forward to think that the doctrine of morality was full and clear in the world at our Saviour's birth Whither would we have directed Brutus and Cassius (both men of parts and virtue, the one whereof believed, and the other disbelieved, a future being), to be satisfied in the rules and obligations of all the parts of their duties, if they should have asked him where they might find the law they were to live by, and by which they should be charged or acquitted, as guilty or innocent? If to the sayings of the wise, and the declarations of philosophers, he sends them into a wild wood of uncertainty, to an endless maze, from which they should never get out; if to the religions of the world, yet worse : and if to their own reason, he refers them to that which had some rule and certainty, but yet had hitherto failed all mankind in a perfect rule; and, we see, resolved not the doubts that had arisen amongst the studious and thinking philosophers; nor had yet been able to convince the civilized parts of the world that they had not given, nor could without a crime take away, the lives of their children by exposing them.
If any one should think to excuse human nature, by laying blame on men's negligence, that they did not carry morality to a higher pitch, and make it out entire in every part, with that clearness of demonstration which some think it capable of, he helps not the matter. Be the cause what it will, our Saviour found mankind under a corruption of manners and principles, which ages after ages had prevailed, and, must be confessed, was not in a way or tendency to be mended. The rules of morality were, in different countries and sects, different. And natural reason nowhere had cured, nor was like to cure, the defects and errors in them. Those just measures of right and wrong,
which necessity had anywhere introduced, the civil law prescribed, or philosophy recommended, stood not on their true foundations. They were looked on as bonds of society, and conveniences of common life, and laudable practices. But where was it that their obligation was thoroughly known and allowed, and they received as precepts of a law, the highest law, the law of nature ? That could not be, without a clear knowledge and acknowledgment of the lawmaker, and the great rewards and punishments for those that would or would not obey him. But the religion of the heathens, as was before observed, little concerned itself in their morals. The priests that delivered the oracles of heaven, and pretended to speak from the god, spoke little of virtue and a good life. And, on the other side, the philosophers who spoke from reason, made not much mention of the Deity in their ethics. They depended on reason and her oracles, which contain nothing but truth; but yet some parts of that truth lie too deep for our natural powers easily to reach, and make plain and visible to mankind, without some light from above to direct them. When truths are once known to us, though, by tradition, we are apt to be favourable to our own parts, and ascribe to our own understandings the discovery of what, in reality, we borrowed from others; or, at least, finding we can prove what at first we learnt from others, we are forward to conclude it an obvious truth, which, if we had sought, we could not have missed. Nothing seems hard to our understandings that is once known; and because what we see, we see with our own eyes, we are apt to overlook or forget the help we had from others who showed it us, and first made us see it, as if we were not at all beholden to them for those truths they opened the way to, and led us into: for knowledge being only of truths that are perceived to be so, we are favourable enough to our own faculties to conclude that they, of their own strength, would have attained those discoveries without any foreign assistance; and that we know those truths by the strength and native light of our own minds, as they did from whom we received them by theirs-only they had the luck to be before us. Thus the whole stock of human knowledge is claimed by every one as his private possession, as soon as he (profiting by others' discoveries) has got it into his own mind : and so it is; but not properly by his own single industry, nor of his own acquisition. He studies, it is true, and takes pains to make a progress in what others have delivered ; but their pains were of another sort, who first brought those truths to light, which he afterwards derives from them. He that travels the roads now, applauds his own strength and legs, that have carried him so far in such a scantling of time, and ascribes all to his own vigour, little considering how much he owes to their pains who cleared the woods, drained the bogs, built the bridges, and made the ways passable, without which he might have toiled much with little progress. A great many things which we have been bred
in the belief of from our cradles, and are notions grown familiar, (and, as it were, natural to us under the gospel,) we take for unquestionable obvious truths, and easily demonstrable, without considering how long we might have been in doubt or ignorance of them had revelation been silent. And many are beholden to revelation who do not acknowledge it. It is no diminishing to revelation that reason gives its suffrage too to the truths revelation has discovered. But it is our mistake to think, that because reason confirms them to us, we had the first certain knowledge of them from thence, and in that clear evidence we now possess them. The contrary is manifest in the defective morality of the Gentiles before our Saviour's time, and the want of reformation in the principles and measures of it as well as practice. Philosophy seemed to have spent its strength, and done its utmost ; or if it should have gone further, as we see it did not, and from undeniable principles given us ethics in a science like mathematics, in every part demonstrable, this yet would not have been so effectual to man in this imperfect state, nor proper for the cure. The greatest part of mankind want leisure or capacity for demonstration, nor can carry a train of proofs, which in that way they must always depend upon for conviction, and cannot be required to assent to till they see the demonstration. Whenever they stick, the teachers are always put upon truth, and must clear the doubt by a thread of coherent deductions from the first principle, how long or how intricate soever that be. And you may as soon hope to have all the day-labourers and tradesmen, the spinsters and dairymaids, perfect mathematicians, and to have them perfect in ethics this way: hearing plain commands is the only course to bring them to obedience and practice: the greatest part cannot know, and therefore they must believe. And, I ask, whether one coming from heaven in the power of God, in full and clear evidence and demonstration of miracles, giving plain and direct rules of morality and obedience, be not likelier to enlighten the bulk of mankind, and set them right in their duties, and bring them to do them, than by reasoning with them from general notions and principles of human reason. And were all the duties of human life clearly demonstrated, yet I conclude, when well considered, that method of teaching men their duties would be thought proper only for a few who had much leisure, improved understandings, and were used to abstract reasonings : but the instruction of the people were best still to be left to the precepts and principles of the gospel. The healing of the sick, the restoring sight to the blind by a word, the raising and being raised from the dead, are matters of fact which they can without difficulty conceive; and that he who does such things must do them by the assistance of a divine power. These things lie level to the ordinariest apprehension ; he that can distinguish between sick and well, lame and sound, dead and alive, is capable of this doctrine. To one who is once persuaded that Jesus Christ was sent by God to be a king, and a saviour of those who do believe in him, all his commands become principles; there needs no other proof for the truth of what he says, but that he said it: and then there needs no more but to read the inspired books to be instructed; all the duties of morality lie there clear and plain, and easy to be understood. And here I appeal, whether this be not the surest, the safest, and most effectual way of teaching; especially if we add this further consideration, that, as it suits the lowest capacities of reasonable creatures, so it reaches and satisfies, nay, enlightens the highest. The most elevated understandings cannot but submit to the authority of this doctrine as divine; which coming from the mouths of a company of illiterate men, hath not only the attestation of miracles, but reason to confirm it, since they delivered no precepts but such, as though reason of itself had not clearly made out, yet it could not but assent to when thus discovered, and think itself indebted for the discovery. The credit and authority our Saviour and his apostles had over the minds of men, by the mira