Sidor som bilder

upon the whole, reward those who do well, and punish those who do evil. To confirm this from the constitution of the world, it has been observed, that some sort of moral government is necessarily implied in that natural government of God which we experience ourselves under ; that good and bad actions, at present, are naturally rewarded and punished, not only as beneficial and mischievous to society, but also as virtuous and vicious ; and that there is, in the very nature of the thing, a tendency to their being rewarded and punished in a much higher degree than they are at present. And though this higher degree of distributive justice, which nature thus points out and leads towards, is prevented for a time from taking place, it is by obstacles which the state of this world unhappily throws in its way, and which, therefore, are in their nature temporary Now, as these things, in the natural conduct of Providence, are observable on the side of virtue, so there is nothing to be set against them on the side of vice. : A moral scheme of government, then, is visibly established, and, in some degree, carried into execution ; and this, together with the essential tendêncies of virtue and vice duly considered, naturally raise in us an apprehension, that it will be carried on farther towards perfection in a future state, and that every one shall there receive according to his deserts. And if this be so, then our future and general interest, under the moral government of God, is appointed to depend upon our behaviour, notwithstanding the difficulty which this may occasion of securing it, and the danger of losing it; just in the same manner as our temporal interest, under his natural government, is appointed to depend upon our behaviour, notwithstanding the like difficulty and danger. For, from our original constitution, and that of the world which we inhabit, we are naturally trusted with ourselves, with our own conduct and our own interest. And from the same constitution of nature, especially joined with that eourse of things which is owing to men, we have temptations to be unfaithful in this trust, to forfeit this interest, to negleet it, and run ourselves into misery and ruin. From these temptations arise, the difficulties of behaving so as to secure our temporal interest, and the bazard of behaving so as to miscarry in it. There is, therefore, nothing incredible in supposing, there may be the like difficulty and hazard with regard to that chief and final good which religion lays before us, Indeed, the whole account, how it came to pass that we were placed in such a condition as this, must be beyond our comprehension. But it is in part accounted for by what religion teaches us, that the character of virtue and piety must be a necessary qualification for a future state of security and happiness, under the moral government of God; in like manner, as some certain qualifications or other are necessary for every particular condition of life, under his natural government; and that the present state was intended to be a school of discipline, for improving in ourselves that character. Now, this intention of nature is rendered bighly credible by observing, that we are plainly made for improvement of all kinds ; that it is a gee neral appointment of Providence, that we cultivate practical principles, and form within ourselves habits. of action, in order to become fit for what we were wholly unfit for before; that, in particular, childhood and youth is naturally appointed to be a state of disa cipline for mature age ; and that the present world is peculiarly fitted for a state of moral disçipline. And, whereas objections are urged against the whole notion of moral government and a probation state, from the opinion of necessity, it has been shewn, that God has given us the evidence, as it were, of experience, that all objections against religion on this head are vain and delusive. He has also, in his natural government, suggested an answer to all our short-sighted objections against the equity and goodness of his moral government; and, in general, he has exemplified to us the latter by the former.

These things, which, it is to be remembered, are matters of fact, ought, in all common sense, to awaken mankind, to induce them to consider, in earnest, their condition, and what they have to do. It is absurd,-absurd to the degree of being ridiculous, if the subject were not of so serious a kind, for men to think themselves secure in a vicious life, or even in that inmoral thoughtlessness which far the greatest part of them are fallen into. And the credibility of religion, arising from experience and facts here considered, is fully sufficient, in reason, to engage them to live in the general practice of all virtue and piety; under the serious apprehension, though it should be mixed with some doubt, * of a righteous administration established in nature, and a future judgment in consequence of it; especially when we consider, how very questionable it is whether any thing at all can be gained by vice; t how unquestionably little, as well as precarious, the pleasures and profits of it are at the best ; and how soon they must be parted with at the longest. For, in the deliberations of reason, concerning what we are to pursue and what to avoid, as temptations to any thing from mere passion are supposed out of the case ; so inducements to vice, from cool expectations of pleasure and interest, so small, and uncertain, and short, are really so insignificant, as, in the view of reason, to be almost nothing in themselves, and, in comparison with the importance of religion, they quite disappear and are lost. Mere passion, indeed, may be alleged, though not as a reason, yet as an excuse for a vicious course of life. And how sorry an excuse it is will be manifest by observing, that we are placed in a dition in which we are unavoidably inured to govern. our passions, by being necessitated to govern them; and to lay ourselves under the same kind of restraints, and as great ones too, from temporal regards, as virtue and piety, in the ordinary course of things, require. The plea of ungovernable passion, then, on


* Part ii. chap. 6.

| Page 47

But the pro

the side of vice, is the poorest of all things; for it is no reason, and but a poor excuse. per motives to religion, are the proper proofs of it, from our moral nature, from the presages of conscience, and our natural apprehension of God, under the character of a righteous Governor and Judge ; a nature, and conscience, and apprehension given us by him: and from the confirmation of the dictates of reason, by life and immortality brought to light by the gospel; and the wrath of God revealed from heaven, against all ungodliness and unrighteousness: of men.


[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

Of the Importance of Christianity. SOME persons, upon pretence of the sufficiency of the light of nature, avowedly reject all revelation, as, in its very notion, ineredible, and what must be fictitious, And, indeed, it is certain no revelation would have been given, had the light of nature been sufficient in such a sense, as to render one not wanting and useless. But no man, in seriousness and simplicity of mind, can possibly think it so, who considers the state of religion in the heathen world before revelation, and its present state in those places which have borrowed no light from it ; particularly, the doubtfulness of some of the greatest men concerning things

« FöregåendeFortsätt »