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OF THE LAW OF NATURE.
In every period of our existence, in every situation, in which we can be placed, much is to be known, much is to> be done, much is to be enjoyed. But all that is to be known, all that is to be done, all that is to be enjoyed, depends upon the proper exertion and direction of our numerous powers. In this immense oceanof in telligence and action, are we left without a compass and without a chart? Is there no pole-star, by which we may regulate our course? Has the all-gracious and all-wise Author of our existence formed us for such great and such good ends; and has he left us without a conductor to lead u» in the way, by which those ends may be attained? Has he made us capable of observing a rule, and has he furnished us with no rule, which we aught to observe? Let us examine these questions—for they are important ones —with patience and with attention. Our labors will, in all probability, be amply repaid. We shall probably find that, to direct the more important parts of our conduct, the bountiful Governor of the universe has been graciously pleased to provide us with a law; and that, to direct the less important parts of it, he has made us capable of providing a law for ourselves.
That our Creator has a supreme right to prescribe a law for our conduct, and that we are under the most perfect obligation to obey that law, are truths established on the clearest and most solid principles.
In the course of our remarks on that part of Sir William Blackstone's definition_of law, which includes_th£ idea of a superior as essential to it, we remarked, with particular care, that it was only with regard to human laws that we controverted the justness or propriety of that idea. It was incumbent on us to mark this distinction particularly; for with regard to laws which are divine^Jthey truly come from a superior—from Him who is supreme.;
Between beings, who, in their nature, powers, and situation, are so perfectly equal, that nothing can beascribed to one, which is not applicable to the other, there can be neither superiority nor dependence. With regard to such beings, no reason can be assigned, why any one should assume authority over others, which may not, with equal propriety, be assigned, why each of those others should assume authority over that one. To constitute superiority and dependence, there must be an essential difference of qualities, on which those relations may be founded. 1
Some allege, that the sole superiority of strength, or, as they express it, an irresistible power, is the true foundation of the right of prescribing laws. "This superiority of power gives," say they, "a right of reigning, by the impossibility, in which it places others, of resigning him, who has so great an advantage over them."2
Others derive the right of prescribing laws and imposing obligations from superior excellence of nature. "This," say they, "not only renders a being independent of those, who are of a nature inferior to it; but leads us to believe, that the latter were made for the sake of the former." For a proof of this, they appeal to the constitution of man. "Here," they tell us, "the soul governs, as being the noblest part." "On the same foundation," they
»1. Burl. 82. * 1. Burl. 83.
add, "the empire of man over the brute creation is built." 1
Others, again, say, that "properly speaking, there is only one general source of superiority and obligation. God is our creator: in him we live, and move, and have our being: from him we have received our intellectual and our moral powers: he, as master of his own work, —"* can prescribe to it whatever rules to him shall seem meet. Hence our dependence on our Creator: hence his absolute power over us. This is the true source of all authority." 2
With regard to the first hypothesis, it is totally insufficient; nay, it is absolutely false. Because I cannot_ resist, am I obliged to_obey? Because another is possessed of superior force, am I bound to acknowledge his will as the rule of my conduct? Every obligation supposes motives that influence the conscience and determine the will, so that we should think it wrong not to obey, even if resistance was in our power. But a person, who alleges ^only the law of the strongest, proposes no motive to influence the conscience, or to determine the will. Superior force may reside with predominant malevolence. Has force, exerted for the purposes of malevolence, a right to command? Can it impose an obligation to obey? No. Resistance to such force is a right; and, if resistance can prove effectual, it is a duty also. On some occasions, all our efforts may, indeed, be useless; and an attempt to resist would frustrate its own aim: but on such occasions, the exercise of resistance only is suspended; the right of resistance is not extinguished: we may continue, for a time, under a constraint, but we come not under an obligation: we may suffer all the external effects of superior force; but we feel not the internal influence of superior authority ? 3
»1. Burl. 83. 2 Id. 83,87. »Id. 85,86.
The second hypothesis has in it something plausible; but, on examination, it will not be found to be accurate. Wherever a being of superior excellence is found, his excellence, as well as every other truth, ought, on proper occasions, to be acknowledged; we will go farther; it ought, as everything excellent ought, to be esteemed. But must we go farther still? Is obedience the necessary_ consequence of honestj^knmvledjjmentand just esteem? Here we must make a pause: we must make some inquiries before we go forward. In what manner is this being of superior excellence connected with us? What are his dispositions with regard to us? By what effects, if by any, will his superior excellence be displayed? Will it be exerted for our happiness; or, as to us, will it not be exerted at all? We acknowledge—we esteem excellence: but till these questions are answered, we feel .JiQt_oui^_ selves under an obligation to obey it.1 If the opinion of Epicurus concerning his divinities—that they were absolutely indifferent to the happiness and interests of men —was admitted for a moment;2 the inference would unquestionably be—that they were not entitled to human obedience.
The third hypothesis contains a solemn truth, which ought to be examined with reverence and awe. It resolves the supreme right of prescribing laws for our conduct, and our indispensable duty of obeying those laws, into the omnipotence of the Divinity. This omnipotence let us humbly adore. Were we to suppose—but the supposition cannot be made—that infinite goodness could be disjoined from almighty power—but we cannot—must not proceed to the inference. No, it never can be drawn;
11. Burl. 86, 87.
1 Epicurus re tollit, oratione relinquit deos. Deinde, si maxime talis est deus, ut nulla gratia, nulla hominum caritate teneatur : valeat. Quid enim dicam, propitius sit? Cic . de Nat. Deo. 1. 1. c. 44.
for from almighty power infinite goodness can never be disjoined.
Let us join, in our weak conceptions, what are inseparable in their incomprehensible Archetype—infinite power —infinite wisdom—infinite goodness; and then we shall see, in its resplendent glory, the supreme right to rule: we shall feel the conscious sense of the perfect obligation to obey.
His infinite power enforces his laws, and carries them into full and effectual execution. His infinite wisdom knows and chooses the fittest means for accomplishing the ends which he proposes. His infinite goodness proposes such ends only as promote our felicity. By his power, he is able to remove whatever may possibly injure us, and to provide whatever is conducive to our happiness. By his wisdom, he knows our nature, our faculties, and our interests: he cannot be mistaken in the designs, which he proposes, nor in the means, which he employs to accomplish them. By his goodness, he proposes our happiness: and to that end directs the operations of his power and wisdom. Indeed, to his goodness alone we may trace the principle of his laws. Being infinitely and eternally happy in himself, his goodness alone could move him to create us, and give us the means of happiness. The same principle, that moved his creating, moves his governing power. The rule of his government we shall find to be reduced to this one paternal command—Let man pursue his own perfection and happiness.
What an enrapturing view of the moral government of the universe! Over all, goodness infinite reigns, guided by unerring wisdom, and supported by almighty power. What an instructive lesson to those who think, and are encouraged by their flatterers to think, that a portion of divine right is communicated to their rule. ^ this really was the case; their power ought to be subservient to their