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sold it; and therefore for the buyer either knowingly to pay him uncurrent coin, or forcibly to detain from him any part of the price agreed on, is a manifest violation of the eternal rules of righteousness.
5. Go not to the utmost verge of what you conceive to be lawful; for he who goes to the utmost of what is lawful ventures to the brink of a precipice, where he stands in imminent danger of falling into it. For it is a short and easy passage from the utmost limit of what is lawful to the nearmost of what is sinful. So that he that will go as far as he may, will never be able to avoid going sometimes farther than he should; especially when he is led on by interest, and hath a tempting prospect of advantage before him, which is wont to blind the eyes of men, to warp their judgment, to tincture their minds with false colours and undue apprehensions of things. Wherefore in that latitude of lawful gain which is allowed you, use favour towards the poor and necessitous, ingenuity towards the ignorant and unskilful, and moderation towards all.
6. Sixthly and lastly, In doubtful cases choose the safest part: for not only a good, but a quiet conscience is to be valued above the greatest gain; and that man hath but little regard of his conscience, that will venture to expose it to a wound to get a shilling more in a bargain. Wherefore if we would be safe, we must make this a constant rule of action, in matters of duty to do the most, in matters of privilege and divisions of right, or proportions of gain, in all doubtful cases, to choose the least; which to be sure is always the safest. For if in buying and selling I make any advantage which I doubt is unlawful, I stake my conscience at a lottery, and throw cross and pile whether I shall be guilty or innocent: and thus to play and dally with my innocence is but one degree of presumption from being wilfully guilty.
These are the general rules by which we ought to conduct ourselves in our compacts and bargains, if we mean to avoid that crying sin of defrauding and overreaching one another; which how crafty and politic soever it may seem to men that do not regard the issue and event of things, it will in the end be found to be one of the greatest and most unprofitable follies. For alas ! while I am overreaching my brother in his estate, there is an invisible cheat at my elbow that is chousing me out of my heaven and my soul! So that in fine, the whole scene of knavery resolves into this; the Devil is angling with a less fish to catch a greater, baiting his hook with my brother's property, that so, when I have taken and devoured that, he may take and devour me. And so I have done with the first thing proposed in handling this great and comprehensive duty of justice, or honesty between man and man; which was, to shew what it is, and how far it is extended.
Of the eternal reasons of justice. I PROCEED, in the next place, to shew what those eternal and immutable reasons are which render justice morally good. I have elsewhere shewed at large, that that which makes a thing morally good is this, that its obligation is founded in some eternal and immutable reasons : so that we are obliged to
practise it by such reasons as can never cease or change, or alter with times or circumstances. And that this is the difference between positive and moral duties, that the one are founded upon temporary and changeable reasons, and so may and will one time or other cease to oblige us; as the sacrifices of the Jews have done, and the sacraments of Christians will do; whereas the other, being backed with everlasting reasons, can never cease to oblige us.
, Wherefore, to demonstrate justice to be a moral duty, or one of those moral goods which God hath made known to us, it will be necessary to produce some eternal and unchangeable reasons whereby it binds and obliges us; and of such I shall produce these four :
First, The eternal proportion and congruity of justice to the nature of things.
Secondly, The eternal conformity of it to the nature of God.
Thirdly, The eternal correspondency of it with the divine Providence and disposals.
Fourthly, The eternal necessity of it to the happiness of men.
I. One eternal reason, by which we stand obliged to do justly, is the eternal proportion and congruity of justice to the nature of things. For there are in nature eternal respects of things to things, which are as fixed and unalterable as the nature of the things themselves: as for instance, some things are naturally more perfect than others, such as the superior kinds and orders of beings; others are naturally equal in perfection, such as the individuals of the same kind of beings; others are naturally less perfect, such as the inferior ranks and species of
beings: and since nature hath thus ranked and placed things either above, or below, or equal to one another, every being in the world must naturally respect every one either as it is superior or inferior or equal: and these respects are as inseparable to their nature, as those degrees of perfection are which constitute their kinds and orders. So that were all the beings in the world rational, and understood but their mutual respects and relations to one another, they would thereby be obliged to demean themselves towards each other suitably to that rank and form of being wherein nature hath placed them; and by their actions to acknowledge themselves superior, or inferior, or equal to one another, according as they excel, or equal, or come short of one another in degrees of natural perfection. And herein consists the strict and proper notion of doing justly, viz. in treating my superiors, inferiors, and equals as such, in respecting my equals equally, and my superiors and inferiors according to the degree of superiority and inferiority wherein they are placed. So that justice consists in acting congruously to those eternal respects which things bear to one another; or in a practical acknowledgment that the beings above me, below me, and equal to me, do bear such a respect to me as they really do; that they are just so much my superiors, so much my inferiors, or so much my equals, as God and nature hath made them. For among beings that are capable of understanding those respects and relations they bear to one another, it is a natural due that they should own one another to be what they are, and mutually signify by their actions and behaviour what respects and relations they bear to one another; that by re
verence and submission they should own those above them to be their superiors; that by grace and condescension they should own those beneath them to be their inferiors; and that by equity or equality of usage and behaviour, they should own those who are level with them to be their peers and equals. These
. are the natural expressions of our acknowledgment of those mutual respects and relations we bear to one another, which not to acknowledge, is in effect to deny one another to be what we are, to thrust one another out of our places, and invade each other's rights and peculiars. So that, in short, justice is nothing else but the great balance of the rational world, which weighs out to every part of it what is due from every one in those respective ranks and relations wherein God and nature hath placed them; and so long as there remains any proportion of nearness or distance, of superiority, or inferiority, or equality, among rational beings, that will be a firm and unanswerable reason why they should deal justly and righteously towards one another; because dealing justly is nothing else but a practical owning and acknowledgment of these respects and relations; which so long as they continue, every being must be obliged to acknowledge, that hath any capacity to know and understand them. For since God hath given me reason to understand that all those beings which are of my own kind and order are my equals by nature, I cannot but conclude that they ought to be equally dealt with ; since equal things must necessarily belong to equal beings in the same circumstances. And from this principle whereon that golden rule is founded, to do as we would be done by, all the particular instances of justice between