Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

THE

MONTHLY REVIEW :

For MARCH 1752.

The Second EDITION.

ART. XXI. Discourses on all the principal branches of na

tural religion and social virtue. By James Foster, D. D. vol. 2d. wsth suitable offices of devotion. 4to.

A

T length we have received that entertainment from

the publication of the second volume of the ingenious Dr. Foster's discourses, which his bad ftate of health has so long deprived us of; and it must afford no small pleasure to every one who is acquainted with the author's true character, to see with what a large and handsome subscription it is introduced.

In the firft volume of these excellent discourses (see the first volume of our Review) the great and fundamental principles of natural religion were demonstrated with great perSpicuity and strength of reasoning; and in the volume now under our confideration, social and relative duties are diftinctly stated, clearly and fully explained, and strongly enforced. In treating his subject, our worthy author does not perplex his readers with any abstract reasonings, or metaphysical refinements and fubtleties, which feldom reach the heart, or influence the practice ; but adapts his reasonings to the capacity of every reader who is endued with a modcrate share of reflection; and endeavours, throughout the whole of his work, to strike those inward feelings of huma. nity and benevolence, which the all-wise and gracious author of our frame has implanted in every brcat, as the seeds of virtue and the most durable happiness. Vol. VII.

In

M

In the first chapter he attempts a particular explanation of the true ground of all social morality, which he thinks may be deduced from the social nature and character of man. · The entire community of mankind is, says he, in an allufive sense, justly represented as one grand and vast body ; in the plan of the creator, of admirable constitution, and most excelling order, and formed for the noblest purposes of reasonable life, intermingling benevolence, moral rectitude, and happiness. And from hence it follows, that the relations of men to men, and of each to the whole, must, while the present state of things continues, be indissoluble ; their dependance mutual, universal, eternal; their right to all humane and social offices unalienable; their interests strictly united and inseparable. Thus has the almighty source of being, and parent of good, founded, and established, the widely extended community of mankind, to be enlivened, and cherished, by a spirit of benevolence, diffused through all its parts; and given it a rank, suited to its powers, amongit intelligent and moral orders, the most sublime and glorious of all his works.

• What the members of the natural body are to each other, and with respect to the whole body, that the rational human members are among themselves, and as parts of the complete conftitution and society of men. few exceptions, that can, I think, be made to the general comparison ; and scarce one perhaps, in those essential instances, on which alone the allusion is grounded. In the outward corporeal structure, there are no jarrings and contrarieties; there is no such thing as a detached member, all whose functions terminate in itself. This would introduce the utmost disorder and confusion; render the body of man, as a compound frame, quite unserviceable and useless; and blot out all the characters of adoreable divine wisdom, that are now so strongly engraven upon it: nay, the consequence, in many cases, must be, the immediate and utter extinction of animal life.

• On the contrary, on what does its health, its ease, its very subsistence, as a sensitive machine, its miniftration to the soul, and to the high purposes of reason, fo evidently depend, as on the nice proportion and adjustment, and the harmonious concurring operation, of its various parts? might not a man altogether as well want a head, a heart, eyse, hands, and the like, as not have them united, and conspiring in their influence, for common preservation and defence

There are very

+ In like manner, when man indulges to narrow and contracted views, and consults, and acts, for himself alone, as if he was an unallied, self-sufficient, and independent frame; are not all his benevolent affections, all his natural powers of doing good, in effect represented as absurd and vain; as fit only to be discouraged, and rooted out of the soul ! Is not the life of reason loft! The social, the divine life ! employed in the most exalted pursuits, and abounding in the purest and sweetest pleasures, that human nature is capable of ! And if the glowings of humanity were universally checked, and repressed, and the mutual communication of kind and friends ly offices universally suspended, what could this open to our view, but one wide and general scene of distress and misery! What could it portend less, than inevitable ruin to the whole species !

• To openness of heart, and mutual confidence, would then succeed everlasting distrusts, and uneasy suspicions; to delight in the prosperity of others, a malignant spirit of envy ; to concord and harmony, disunion, and alienation of affection; to compassion, hardness of heart. These are the neceffary attendants of a felfith unsocial disposition. And they, in their turn, must propagate and spread the mischief much farther ; begetting mutual reproaches and animofities; rage, revilings, cool deliberate malice, and other inflamed and unnatural paffions; which deface the light and lustre, and the strong tendencies to good, which, in the language of the son of Syrac, God originally poured out over all his rational works; and anticipate the blackest horrors of hell itself.

That mankind therefore are a society, or System, linked together by inviolable bonds of reason, instinct, interest, no one who has examined his own inward frame, or made observations on the general propensities, and workings, of human nature in others; no one, who has reflected juftly on the fatal consequences of the contrary scheme, can be tempted to doubt. That this is a sentiment, which most powerfully inforces universal benevolence, and sympathy, that enlarges and raises the heart, above the influence of every bafe-earthborn passion, that inspires it with great designs of public usefulness, and gives it god like feelings; the generous and good experience, and have ever allowed. There can be no true religion, no right knowledge of God, or of his immutable laws of nature and providence, where this is not admitted, as a fundamental principle; and all the duties of social morality may be deduced, and in a great measure, derive their obligation, from it. And accordingly we find, that St. Paul

M 2

has

has wisely assigned it, as a reason, the first and chief reason (within the liope of which all others are comprehended) why we should put away lying, and speak every man truth with his neighbour.'

After this our author proceeds to observe, that the social character of man is not accidental, and acquired, but natural -that man is formed by nature a moral social being, with a view to his own happiness---and that the idea of men, as a community, necessarily implies in it, that there is a governor of this community, to whom the whole, and every individual member of it, is accountable. And from hence, says he, it appears, that the authority of God is most properly introduced, to support the obligation of all relative duties. The social nature, from whence they spring, the motives by which they are enforced, the pleasures which they yield at present, the happiness, to which they ultimately tend, are all his wise contrivance and constitution. Without him, nature, and all its laws, are no more than empty sounds, without a meaning. By his influence and power, they are invigorated; separated from him they die, or are reduced to a Itate of non-existence.

· Can we then, without renouncing our reason, consider any thing as a natural, and not regard it likewise, as a divine, law ? Can any office in society, be a dictate of nature, which is not, at the fame time, a duty of piety? Can we esteem ourselves to be truly moral men, for treating, with a becoming tenderness and respect, the inferior members of the great community, to which we belong; when God, the founder, the head, the life of it, is not in all our thoughts? It is, most surely, an inexcuseable omillion, to drop the confideration of God, in any branch of human duty; on whose being, preservation, and government, the universe, and all its parts, do continually depend.

* So that, upon the whole, we are hereby plainly taught, the gross absurdity of endeavouring, in any instance whatever, to separate morality from religion ; fince even in relative duties, to which the notion of morality is chiefly confined, it is impossible to exclude a reverence of God, and a serious regard to his will and constitution: or, if we act reasonably and wisely, to avoid considering them in a religious, as well as in an abstracted moral, light.'

The doctor having, in the first chapter, discoursed of the social nature of man, and the universal obligations arifing from it, proceeds, in the second, to fhew the great importance of a conscientious and strict discharge of relative du

ties, ard to enumerate the principles, that are necessary to be habitually impressed on our minds, together with the rules to be observed, in the government of our temper and conduct; that we may be the better prepared to behave with honour and usefulness to others, in every relation. The best general preparation, for an exact and chearful discharge of all relative duties he tells us, is a benevolent honest heart. Where benevolence is wanting, says he, there is wanting likewise, - the very temper of society; its animating spirit, and the {pring of its most enobling pleasures ; and where honesty, it is abfurd to expect, that any regard will be paid to the most important social offices, when they interfere with corrupt and finifter views of private advantage. In a word selfishness cannot, and art and diflimulation will not, act steadily for the common good, or in support of the mutual equitable rights of mankind.'

In order to our discharging our duty properly in every relation of life, he lays down the following directions---• That, before we enter into any relation, we set ourselves to examine with care, what are the duties, which it especially requires; what kind of behaviour will render us moft

agreeable, and useful, to those with whom we are concerned, and best subserve the general good--- That we expect not perfection in any, nor lay too much stress on nice punctilio's of honour, and respect--- That we make favourable interpretations, and the most indulgent candid allowances, in all cases, that the nature of the cases themselves will bear---That we animadvert not, too strictly, on little failings and indiscretions ; nor be over-rigid, in censuring greater mifcarriages; which appear to have proceeded from precipitation, oversight, want of due reflection, and the like, and not from a vicious malevolent heart, or a real iriţention to offend-.-- That we avoid moroseness, which quickly spreads and propagates itself, and makes others fullen and disobliging; unjust suspicions, which are the bane of friendship, and destroy mutual confidence ; excesses of pafion, which blind the understanding, that it cannot form a right jndgment; and pride, one of the most turbulent, and unfociable, of the bad principles, by which human nature is actuated; the parent of discord, and averse to every office of humanity.-And finally, that we preserve a calm temper, or if it happens to be at any time inflamed and irritated, allay the ferment, and reduce it to a state of composure and tranquility, as soon as possible; that, being free from inward perturbation, we may the more regularly attend, to our own incum

bent

M 3

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »