Page images
PDF
EPUB

part of mankind should be employed in the minute business of common life ; minute indeed, not if we consider its influence upon our happiness, but if we respect the abilities

necessary to conduct it. These must necessarily be more dependent on accident for the means of spending agreeably those hours which their occupations leave unengaged, or nature obliges them to allow to relaxation. Yet even on these 1 would willingly impress such a sense of the value of time, as may incline them to find out for their careless hours amusements of more use and dignity than the common games, which not only weary the mind without improving it, but strengthen the passions of envy and avarice and often lead to fraud and to profusion, to corruption and to ruin. It is unworthy of a reasoneble being to spend any of the little time allotted us, without some tendency, either direct or oblique to the end of our existence. And though every moment cannot be laid out in the formal and regular improvement of our knowledge, or in the stated practice of a moral or religious duty, yet none should be so spent as to exclude wisdom or virtue, or pass without possibility of qualifying us more or less for the better employment of those which are to come.

It is scarcely possible to pass an hour in honest conversation, without being able when we rise from it, to please ourselves with having given or received some advantages ; but a man may shuffle cards, orrattle dice, from noon to midnight, with out tracing any new idea in his mind, or being able to recollect the day by any other token than VOL. II.

P

his gain or loss, and a confused remembrance of agitated passions and clamorous altercations.

However, as experience is of more weight than precept, any of my readers, who are contriving how to spend the dreary months before them, may consider which of their past amusements fills them now with the greatest satisfaction, and resolve to repeat those gratifications of which the pleasure is most durable.

N° 81. TUESDAY, DECEMBER 25, 1750.

Discite Justitiam moniti

VIRG.

Hear, and be just.

AMONG questions which have been discussed without any approach to decision, may be numbered the precedency or superior excellence of one virtue to another, which has long furnished a subject of dispute to men whose leisure sent them out into the intellectual world in search of employment, and who have, perhaps, been sometimes withheld from the practice of their favourite duty, by zeal for its advancement and diligence in its celebration.

The intricacy of this dispute may be alleged as a proof of that tenderness for mankind which Providence has, I think, universally displayed, by making attainments easy in proportion as they are

necessary. That all the duties of morality ought to be practised, is without difficulty discoverable, because ignorance or uncertanty would immediately involve the world in confusion and distress ; but which duty ought to be most esteemed we may continue to debate, without inconvenience, so all be diligently performed as there is oppor. tunity or need : for upon practice, not upon opinion, depends the happiness of mankind; and controversies merely speculative are of small importance in themselves, however they may have sometimes heated a disputant, or provoked a faction.

Of the divine author of our religion it is im. possible to peruse the evangelical histories, without observing how little he favoured the vanity of inquisitiveness ; how much more rarely he con. descended to satisfy curiosity, than to relieve distress; and how much he desired that his followers should rather excel in goodness than in knowledge. His precepts tend immediately to the rectification of the moral principles, and the direction of daily conduct, without ostentation, without art, at once irrefragable and plain, such as wellmeaning simplicity may readily conceive, and of which we cannot mistake the meaning, but when we are afraid to find it.

The measure of justice precribed to us, in our transactions with others, is remarkably clear and comprehensive : “ Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do unto them;" a law by which every claim of right may be immediately adjusted, as far as the conscience requires to be informed; a law, of which every man may find the

exposition in his own breast, and which may always be observed without any other qualifications than honesty of intention and purity of will.

Over this law, indeed, some sons of sophistry have been subtle enough to throw mists, which have darkened their own eyes. To perplex this universal principle, they have inquired whether a man, conscious to himself of unreasonable wishes, be bound to gratify them in another. But surely there needed no long deliberation to conclude, that the desires which are to be considered by us as the measure of right, must be such as we approve, and that we ought to pay no regard to those expectations in others which we condemn in ourselves, and which, however they may intrude upon our imagination, we know it our duty to resist and suppress.

One of the most celebrated cases which have been produced as requiring some skill in the direction of conscience to adapt them to this great

rule is that of a criminal asking mercy of his judge, who cannot but know, that if he was in the state of the supplicant, he should desire that pardon which he now denies. The difficulty of this sophism will vanish, if we remember that the parties are in reality, on one side the criminal, and on the other the community, of which the magistrate is only the minister, and by which he is intrusted with the publick safety. The magistrate, therefore, in pardoning a man unworthy of pardon, betrays the trust with which he is invested, gives away what is not his own, and, apparently does to others what he would not that others should do to him. Even the community, whose right is

still greater to abitrary grants of mercy, is bound by those laws which regard the great republick of mankind, and cannot justify such forbearance as may promote wickedness, and lessen the general confidence and security, in which all have an equal interest, and which all are therefore bound to maintain. For this reason the state has not a right to erect a general sanctuary for fugitives, or give protection to such as have forfeited their lives by crime, against the laws of common morality equally acknowledged by all nations; because no people can, without infraction of the universal league of social beings, incite, by prospects of impunity and safety, those practices in another dominion, which they would themselves punish in their own.

One occasion of uncertainty and hesitation, in those by whom this great rule has been commented and dilated, is the confusion of what the exacter casuists are careful to distinguish, debts of justice and debts of charity. The immediate and primary intention of this precept, is to establish a rule of justice; and i know not whether invention or sophistry can start a single difficulty to retard its application, when it is thus expressed and explained,

Let every man allow the claim of right in another, ( which he should think himself entitled to make in the like circumstances.'

The discharge of the debts of charity, or duties which we owe to others, not merely as required by justice, but as dictated by benevolence, admits in its own nature greater complication of circumstances and greater latitude of choice. Justice is indispensably and universally necessary, and what is necessary must always be limited, uniform, and

« PreviousContinue »