Taking it for granted that I do not write to the disciples of the Parisian philosophy, I may assume that the awful Author of our being is the Author of our place in the order of existence,and that having disposed and marshalled us by a divine tactic, not according to our will, but according to His, He has in and by that disposition virtually subjected us to act the part which belongs to the place assigned us. We have obligations to mankind at large, which are not in consequence of any special voluntary pact. They arise from the relation of man to man, and the relation of man to God, which relations are not matters of choice. On the contrary, the force of all the pacts which we enter into with any particular person or number of persons amongst mankind depends upon those prior obligations. In some cases the subordinate relations are voluntary, in others they are necessary,but the duties are all compulsive.
When you choose an arduous and slippery path, God forbid that any weak feelings of my declining age, which calls for soothings and supports, and which can have none but from you, should make me wish that you should abandon what you are about, or should trifle with it! In this house we submit, though with troubled minds, to that order which has connected all great duties with toils and with perils, which has conducted the road to glory through the regions of obloquy and reproach, and which will never suffer the disparaging alliance of spurious, false, and fugitive praise with genuine and permanent reputation. We know that the Power which has settled that order, and subjected you to it by placing you in the situation you are in, is able to bring you out of it with credit and with safety. His will be done! All must come right. You may open the way with pain and under reproach: others will pursue it with ease and with applause.
Edmund Burke: Letter to Rich. Burke, on Protestant Ascendency in Ireland, 1793.
Conviction, were it never so excellent, is worthless till it convert itself into conduct. Nay, properly, conviction is not possible till then; inasmuch as all speculation is by nature endless, formless, a vortex amid vortices: only by a felt indubitable certainty of experience does it find any centre to revolve round, and so fashion itself into a system. Most true is it, as a wise man teaches us, that doubt of any sort cannot he removed except by action. On which ground, too, let him who gropes painfully in darkness or uncertain light, and prays vehemently that the dawn may ripen into day, lay this other precept well to heart, which to me was of invaluable service: Do the duty which lies nearest thee, which thou knowest to be a duty! Thy second duty will already have become clearer.
The law of our constitution, whereby the regulated activity of both intellect and feeling is made essential to sound bodily health, seems to me one of the most beautiful arrangements of an all-wise and beneficent Creator. If we shun the society of our fellow-creatures, and shrink from taking a share in the active duties of life, mental indolence and physical debility beset our path. Whereas, if by engaging in the business of life, and taking an active interest in the advancement of society, we duly exercise our various powers of perception, thought, and feeling, we promote the health of the whole corporeal system, invigorate the mind itself, and at the same time experience the highest mental gratification of which a human being is susceptible; namely, that of having fulfilled the end and object of our being, in the active discharge of our duties to God, to our fellow-men, and to ourselves. If we neglect our faculties, or deprive them of their objects, we weaken the organization, give rise to distressing diseases, and at the same time experience the bitterest feelings that can afflict humanity,ennui and melancholy. The harmony thus shown to exist between the moral and physical world is but another example of the numerous inducements to that right conduct and activity in pursuing which the Creator has evidently destined us to find terrestrial happiness.
It is an impressive truth that sometimes in the very lowest forms of duty, less than which would rank a man as a villain, there is, nevertheless, the sublimest ascent of self-sacrifice. To do less would class you as an object of eternal scorn; to do so much presumes the grandeur of heroism.
What I must do is all that concerns me, and not what the people think. This rule, equally as arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the worlds opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after your own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.
We should accustom ourselves to make attention entirely the instrument of volition. Let the will be determined by the conclusions of reason, by deliberate conclusions, and then let attention be wielded by both. Think what is self-government; what is fittest to be done ought to be now done, and let will be subordinate to reason, and attention to will. In this way you will always be disengaged for present duty. Pleasures, amusements, inferior objects, will be easily sacrificed to the most important. You may have likings to inferior or trifling occupations; but if, to use the strong language of Scripture, you crucify these, oppose them, carry your intention beyond them, their power to molest and mislead you will decline.
Of an accountable creature, duty is the concern of every moment, since he is every moment pleasing or displeasing God. It is a universal element, mingling with every action and qualifying every disposition and pursuit. The moral of conduct, as it serves both to ascertain and to form the character, has consequences in a future world so certain and infallible that it is represented in Scripture as a seed no part of which is lost, for whatsoever a man soweth, that also shall he reap.
Robert Hall: Advantages of Knowledge to the Lower Classes.
A good man is accustomed to acquiesce in the idea of his duties as an ultimate object, without inquiring at every step why he should perform them, or amusing himself with imagining cases and situations in which they would be liable to limitations and exceptions.
Robert Hall: Sentiments Proper to the Present Crisis.
Duty is far more than love. It is the upholding law through which the weakest become strong, without which all strength is unstable as water. No character, however harmoniously framed and gloriously gifted, can be complete without this abiding principle: it is the cement which binds the whole moral edifice together, without which all power, goodness, intellect, truth, happiness, love itself, can have no permanence; but all the fabric of existence crumbles away from under us, and leaves us at last sitting in the midst of a ruin,astonished at our own desolation.
If it is our glory and happiness to have a rational nature, that is endued with wisdom and reason, that is capable of imitating the divine nature, then it must be our glory and happiness to improve our reason and wisdom, to act up to the excellency of our rational nature, and to imitate God in all our actions, to the utmost of our power.
The consciousness of doing that which we are reasonably persuaded we ought to do, is always a gratifying sensation to the considerate mind: it is a sensation by Gods will inherent in our nature; and is, as it were, the voice of God Himself, intimating His approval of our conduct, and by His commendation encouraging us to proceed.
If we know ourselves, we shall remember the condescension, benignity, and love that is due to inferiors; the affability, friendship, and kindness we ought to show to equals: the regard, deference, and honour we owe to superiors; and the candour, integrity, and benevolence we owe to all.
We ought to profess our dependence upon him, and our obligations to him for the good things we enjoy. We ought to publish to the world our sense of his goodness with the voice of praise, and tell of all his wondrous works. We ought to comfort his servants and children in their afflictions, and relieve his poor distressed members in their manifold necessities; for he that giveth alms sacrificeth praise.
No mans spirits were ever hurt by doing his duty: on the contrary, one good action, one temptation resisted and overcome, one sacrifice of desire or interest purely for consciences sake, will prove a cordial for weak and low spirits far beyond what either indulgence, or diversion, or company can do for them.
I will suppose that you have no friends to share or rejoice in your success in life,that you cannot look back to those to whom you owe gratitude, or forward to those to whom you ought to afford protection; but it is no less incumbent on you to move steadily in the path of duty; for your active exertions are due not only to society, but in humble gratitude to the Being who made you a member of it, with powers to serve yourself and others.
Many secret indispositions and aversions to duty will steal upon the soul, and it will require both time and close application of mind to recover it to such a frame as shall dispose it for the spiritualities of religion.
Questionless, duty moves not so much upon command as promise: now, that which proposes the greatest and most suitable rewards to obedience, and the greatest punishments to disobedience, doubtless is the most likely to enforce the one and prevent the other.
All our duty is set down in our prayers, because in all our duty we beg the divine assistance, and remember that you are bound to do all those duties for the doing of which you have prayed for the divine assistance.
That we ought to do an action, is of itself a sufficient and ultimate answer to the questions, Why we should do it?how we are obliged to do it? The conviction of duty implies the soundest reason, the strongest obligation, of which our nature is susceptible.