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least do not own, the aid of Revelation, we are apt to think them, in good earnest, the discoveries of natural reason; and so to regard the extent of its powers as an objection to the necessity of further light. The objection,” he adds, “is plausible; but sure there must be some mistake at bottom; and the great difference in point of excellence, between these supposed productions of mere reason, and those real ones of the most learned ancients, will increase our suspicion. The truth is (he continues), these modern system-makers had aids, which, as they do not acknowledge, so, I will believe they did not perceive ; and these aids were, the true principles of religion, delivered by revelation: principles so early imbibed, and so clearly and evidently deduced, that they are now mistaken to be amongst our first and most natural ideas: but those who have studied antiquity, know the matter to be far otherwise.” He adds an illustration, drawn from the history of science, which appears to be of a perfectly justifiable, and very instructive nature, making some allowances. “I cannot,” he says, “better illustrate the state and condition of the human view before revelation than by the following instance. A summary of the Atomic Philosophy is delivered in the Theaetetus of Plato: yet being given without its principles, when Plato's writings at the revival of learning came to be studied and commented upon, this summary remained absolutely unintelligible; for there had been an interruption in the succession of that school for many ages; and neither Marsilius Ficinus nor Serranus could give any reasonable account of the matter. But as soon,” he says, “as Descartes had revived that philosophy by excogitating its principles anew, the mist removed, and every one saw clearly (though Cudworth, I think, was the first who took notice of it) that Plato had given us a curious and exact account of that excellent physiology. And Descartes was thought by some to have borrowed his original ideas from thence; though but for the revival of the atomic philosophy, that passage had still remained in obscurity. Just so,” he continues, “it was with respect to the powers of the human mind. Had not revelation discovered the true principles of religion, they had without doubt continued altogether unknown. Yet on their discovery, they appeared so consonant to human reason, that men were apt to mistake them for the production of it.” In our assent to this comparison, we must, as I have said, make some allowances:—we must recollect the disposition which prevails, to believe that great physical truths, even of the most recent discovery, may be found anticipated in ancient authors of renown;—we must recollect also the triumphant position then occupied by the atomic theory, which at that period had met with no check from men of science; and we must bear in mind the current admiration for Descartes, which even then had not faded away. It is true in morals, not only as much, but very far more than in physics, that the greatest truths, when once promulgated, are profoundly persuasive and convincing by their own evidence. It is true in morals, as well as in physics, that truths which multitudes of the most sagacious of men had laboured for ages without discovering, when discovered, are held to be obvious and self-evident. It is true, even in physics, that we cannot analyze or explain the process by which great discoveries suddenly dart their light over the earth, truth taking the place of error, and knowledge, once shed abroad, operating upon and modifying men's thoughts without their being aware whence their new and clear insight proceeds. So far we may perhaps, with no irreverent feeling, assent to Warburton's comparison. But the burning up of the torch of science from time to time is a most imperfect image of the sunrise of the Gospel. The revolution of thought produced by the greatest discoveries is a very inadequate representation, even so far as the rules and grounds of morals only are considered, (which are all that we here consider.) of the immeasurable improvement in man's views of truth which the Christian revelation produced. Religion says, with regard to moral philosophy, as well as with regard to man's relation to his Master and Judge, “that which ye ignorantly believe or blindly seek, that declare I unto you.” But still Religion recognizes the moral law, as a schoolmaster whose previous training is a most valuable preparation and assistance to her own lessons. It is with this training that my business lies; and it is of vast importance that the principles taught in this stage of man's progress should be pure and true. I have attempted to show how far this was the case at that point of the history of the subject at which we have now arrived. And I have endeavoured to make it appear that, by separating the idea of Obligation from Natural Morality, and by transferring it entirely to the Divine commands and promises, natural morality was deprived of its peculiar instruction, and incapacitated from bearing the testimony which it so readily and emphatically renders, when it is allowed to speak freely to the perfections of God's character and the holiness of his law. I now purposely turn away, as the course of my subject requires me to do, from the consideration of revealed morality, to resume the history of the discussions concerning the natural foundations of our duties. Warburton's system naturally exercised a great influence upon the theologians and moralists of this country. His peremptory analysis of the idea of obligation into the commands of a superior, appeared to simplify the subject, and was very generally accepted. For it resolved that element of a moral law which, though essential to it, requires a K
peculiar effort of abstract thought, into an external condition, easily understood, and, as at first appeared, easily applied. This therefore soon became the common foundation of morality among a large class of English moralists, and particularly divines. It appears especially to have found favour in this University. Among the persons who inclined to such views was Edmund Law, afterwards bishop of Carlisle, who held the Professorship in virtue of which I am now addressing you, from 1760 to 1769. He was previously a Fellow of Christ's College, in this University; a college, as we have already seen, most fertile in moralists. His Notes on Archbishop King's Origin of Evil were published (with his translation of the work) in 1732, and therefore before the Divine Legation. And accordingly he does not in these Notes go to the lengths of Warburton. He says that he does not place the obligation of virtue in the mere will of God”, “as if his will were separated from his other attributes,” which of itself, he owns, “would be no ground of obligation at all; since upon such a blind principle we could never be secure of happiness from any being how faithfully soever we resemble him in perfection:” that is, I presume, except we should believe what is demanded of us to be good, as well as commanded, we could not pursue it with any confidence or satisfaction. But still he approached sufficiently near the notion of a morality founded upon mere extraneous will, to incur remonstrance on that ground. At the time of which I speak, Clarke's work On the Being and Attributes of God had excited considerable controversy, as among men of a metaphysical turn of mind it was natural it should do: and Law had declared himself against the validity of the argument there urged. Those who defended the cogency of Clarke's reasoning, were very naturally also disposed to adhere to his views of morality as founded upon the essential relations of things; and these they maintained, at least so far as this, that they conceived that these relations, perceived by the Divine Mind, determined the commands which he had given to man. Among the persons who on this ground opposed Law, was John Jackson, Rector of Ropington in Yorkshire, and Master of Wigston's Hospital in Leicester. He published, in 1734, A Vindication of Dr Clarke's Demonstration; and in 1735, A farther Vindication, in answer to a Book by Law entitled, An Enquiry into the Ideas of Space, Time, Immensity and Eternity, as also the Self-evistence, Necessary Earistence, and Unity of the Divine Wature. I do not here meddle with this celebrated argument, except so far as it bears on the ground and obligation of Morality, which is the subject of a Postscript to Jackson's First Vindication. He there says, “The author of the Notes desires to know the precise meaning of the words Rectitude and Perfection of the Divine Nature, which I make to be the ground of the Divine Acts. In answer, the author of the thoughts may please to take my thoughts as follows: The rectitude and perfection of the Divine Nature which I make to be the ground of the Divine Acts, is the natural, essential, and perfect Intelligence or Reason of the Divine Mind, that on which is founded the unalterable disposition of God always to act according to what he cannot but know is fit and right in itself, or will naturally tend to the communication of happiness to rational and moral agents.” We here see that the irremediable vagueness and emptiness of the Clarkian notion of Fit and Right, as apprehended by reason alone, was driving his followers to lean upon an object to which this fitness was subservient, namely, the happiness of rational agents. This notion was no doubt far more easily intelligible than a mere absolute Rightness; but if followed out,
* Vol. II. p. 313.