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is unanswerably real, even upon the wild supposition which we are arguing upon.
It must likewise be observed farther, that natural religion hath, besides this, an external evidence, which the doctrine of necessity, if it could be true, would not affect. For, suppose a person, by the observations and reasoning above, or by any other, convinced of the truth of religion ; that there is a God, who made the world, who is the moral Governor and Judge of mankind, and will, upon the whole, deal with every one according to his works ; I say, suppose a person convinced of this by reason, but to know nothing at all of antiquity, or the present state of mankind, it would be natural for such an one to be inquisitive, what was the history of this system of doctrine ; at what time, and in what manner, it came first into the world ; and whether it were believed by any considerable part of it. And were he upon inquiry to find, that a particular person, in a late age, first of all proposed it as a deduction of reason, and that mankind were before wholly ignorant of it; then, though its evidence from reason would remain, there would be no additional probability of its truth, from the account of its discovery. But instead of this being the fact of the case, on the contrary, he would find what could not but afford him a very strong confirmation of its truth : First, That somewhat of this system, with more or fewer additions and alterations, bath been professed in all ages and countries of which we have any certain information relating to this matter. Secondly, That it is certain historical fact, so far as we can trace things up, that this whole system of belief, that there is one God, the Creator and moral Governor of the world, and that mankind is in a state of religion, was received in the first ages. And, thirdly, That as there is no hint or intimation in history, that this system was first reasoned out; so there is express historical or traditional evidence, as ancient as history, that it was taught first by revelation. Now, these things must be allowed to be of great
weight. The first of them, general consent, shews this system to be conformable to the common sense of mankind. The second, namely, that religion was believed in the first ages of the world, especially as it does not appear that there were then any superstitious or false additions to it, cannot but be a farther confirmation of its truth. For it is a proof of this alternative; either that it came into the world by revelation, or that it is natural, obvious, and forces itself upon the mind. The former of these is the conclusion of learned men. And whoever will consider, how unapt for speculation rade and uncul. tivated minds are, will, perhaps from hence alone, be strongly inclined to believe it the truth. And as it is shewn in the second part * of this Treatise, that there is nothing of such peculiar presumption against a revelation in the beginning of the world, as there is supposed to be against subsequent ones; a sceptie could not, I think, give any account, which would appear more probable even to himself, of the early pretences to revelation, than by supposing some real original one, from whence they were copied. And the third thing above-mentioned, that there is express historical or traditional evidence, as ancient as history, of the system of religion being taught mankind by revelation ; this must be admitted as some degree of real proof, that it was so taught. For why should not the most ancient tradition he admitted as some additional proof of a fact, against which there is no presumption ? And this proof is mentioned here, because it has its weight to shew, that religion came into the world by revelation, prior to all consideration, of the proper authority of any book supposed to contain it; and even prior to all consideration, whether the revelation itself be uncorruptly handed down and. related, or mixed and darkened with fables. Thus the historical account which we have, of the origin
* Chap. 2.
of religion, taking in all circumstances, is a real confirmation of its truth, no way affected by the opinion of necessity. And the external evidence, even of natural religion, is by no means inconsiderable.
But it is carefully to be observed, and ought to be recollected after all proofs of virtue and religion, which are only general, that as speculative reason may be neglected, prejudiced, and deceived, so also may our moral understanding be impaired and perverted, and the dictates of it not impartially attended to. This, indeed, proves nothing against the reality of our speculative or practical faculties of perception ; against their being intended by nature to inform us in the theory of things, and instruct us how we are to behave, and what we are to expect, in consequence of our behaviour. Yet our liableness, in the degree we are liable, to prejudice and perversion, is a most serious admonition to us to be upon our guard, with respect to what is of such consequence, as our determinations concerning virtue and religion; and particularly, not to take custom, and fashion, and slight notions of honour, or imaginations of present ease, use, and convenience to mankind, for the only moral
The foregoing observations, drawn from the nature of the thing, and the history of religion, amount, when taken together, to a real practical proof of it, not to be confuted ; sueh a proof as, considering the infinite importance of the thing, I apprehend, would be admitted fully sufficient, in reason, to influence the actions of men, wbo act upon thought and reflection ; if it were admitted that there is no proof of the contrary. But it may be said; “ There are many probabilities, which cannot indeed be confuted, i. e. shewn to be no probabilities, and yet may be overbalanced by greater probabilities on the other side ; much more by demonstration. And there is no occasion to object against particular arguments alleged for an opinion, when the opinion itself may be clearly shewn to be false, without meddling with such arguments at all, but leaving them just as they
* Dissertation 2.
* Now, the method of government by rewards and punishments, and especially rewarding and punishing good and ill desert, as such, respectively, must go upon supposition, that we are free, and not necessary agents. And it is incredible, that the Author of nature should govern us upon a supposition as true, which he knows to be false ; and therefore absurd to think, he will reward or punish us for our actions hereafter ; especially that he will do it under the notion, that they are of good or ill desert.” Here, then, the matter is brought to a point. And the answer to all this is full, and not to be evaded : that the whole constitution and course of things, the whole analogy of providence shews, beyond possibility of doubt, that the conclusion from this reasoning is false, wherever the fallacy lies. The doctrine of freedom, indeed, clearly shews where: in supposing ourselves necessary, when in truth we are free agents. But, upon the supposition of necessity, the fallacy lies in taking for granted, that it is incredible necessary agents should be rewarded and punished. But, that, somehow or other, the conclusion now mentioned is false, is most certain. For it is fact, that God does govern even brute creatures by the method of rewards and punishments, in the natural course of things. And men are rewarded and punished for their actions, punished for actions mischievous to society as being so, punished for vicious actions as such, by the natural instrumentality of each other, under the present conduct of Providence. Nay, even the affection of gratitude, and the passion of resentment, and the rewards and punishments following from them, which in general are to be considered as natural, i. e. from
* Pages 1, 9.
the Author of nature ; these rewards and punishments, being naturally * annexed to actions considered as implying good intention and good desert, ill intention and ill desert; these natural rewards and punishments, I say, are as much a contradiction to the conclusion above, and shew its falsehood, as a more exact and complete rewarding and punishing of good and ill desert, as such. So that, if it be incredible that necessary agents should be thus rewarded and punished, then men are not necessary, but free; since it is matter of fact that they are thus rewarded and punished. But if, on the contrary, which is the supposition we have been arguing upon, it be insisted, that men are necessary agents, then there is nothing incredible in the farther supposition of necessary agents being thus rewarded and punished; since we ourselves are thus dealt with.
From the whole, therefore, it must follow, that ai necessity supposed possible, and reconcileable with the constitution of things, does in no sort prove, that the Author of nature will not, nor destroy the proof that he will, finally, and upon the whole, in his eternal government, render his creatures happy or miserable, by some means or other, as they behave well or ill. Or, to express this conclusion in words conformable to the title of the chapter, the analogy of nature shews us, that the opinion of necessity, considered as practical, is false. And if necessity, upon the supposition above-mentioned, doth not destroy the proof of natural religion, it evidently makes no alteration in the proof of revealed.
From these things, likewise, we may learn in what sense to understand that general assertion, that the opinion of necessity is essentially destructive of all religion. First, In a practical sense; that by this notion atheistical men pretend to satisfy and encourage themselves in vice, and justify to others thcir
* Sermon Sth, at the Rolls.