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prehended by us. The Scripture expressly asserts it to be so. Ånd indeed one cannot read a passage relating to this “great mystery of godliness,
»* but what immediately. runs up into something which shews us our ignorance in it; as every thing in nature shews us our ignorance in the constitution of nature. And whoever will seriously consider that part of the Christian scheme which is revealed in Scripture, will find so much more unrevealed, as will convince him, that, to all the purposes of judging and objecting, we know as little of it, as of the constitution of nature. Our ignorance, therefore, is as much an answer to our objections against the perfection of one, as against the perfection of the other. +
H. It is obvious, too, that in the Christian dis. pensation, as much as in the natural scheme of things, means are made use of to accomplish ends. And the observation of this furnishes us with the same swer, to objections against the perfection of Christianity, as to objections of the like kind, against the constitution of nature. It shews the credibility, that the things objected against, how foolish I soever they appear to men, may be the very best means of accomplishing the very best ends. And their appearing foolishness is no presumption against this, in a scheme so greatly beyond our comprehension. $
III. The credibility, that the Christian dispensation may have been, all along, carried on by general laws, ll no less than the course of nature, may require to be more distinctly made out. Consider, then, upon what ground it is we say, that the whole common course of nature is carried on according to geperal fore-ordained laws. We know, indeed, several of the general laws of matter; and a great part of the natural behaviour of living agents is reducible
I Tim. üi. 16.
Cor. i. | Pages 121, 122..
| Page 116, &c. J. Page 120
to general laws. But we know, in a manner, nothing, by what laws, storms and tempests, earthquakes, famine, pestilence, become the instruments of destruction to mankind. And the laws, by which persons born into the world at such a time and place, are of such capacities, geniuses, tempers ; the laws, by which thoughts come into our mind, in a multitude of cases; and by which innumerable things happen, of the greatest influence upon the affairs and state of the world; these laws are so wholly unknown to us, that we call the events, which come to pass by them, accidental : though all reasonable men kpow certainly, that there cannot, in reality, be any such thing as chance ; and conclude, that the things which have this appearance are the result of general laws, and may
be reduced into them. It is then but an exceeding little
way, and in but a very few respects, that we can trace up the natural course of things before us, to general laws. And it is only from analogy that ve conclude the whole of it to be capable of being reduced into them ; only from our seeing, that part is sø. It is from our finding, that the course of nature, in some respects and so far, goes on by general laws, that we conclude this of the rest. And if that be a just ground for such a conclusion, it is a just ground also, if not to conclude, yet to apprehend, to render it supposable and credible, which is sufficient for answering objections, that God's miraculous interpositions may have been, all along, in like manner, by general laws of wisdom. Thus, that miraculous powers should be exerted at such times, upon such occasions, in such degrees and manners, and with regard to such persons, rather than others; that the affairs of the world, being permitted to go on in their natural course so far, should, just at such a point, have a new direction given them by miraculous interpositions ; that these interpositions should be exactly in such degrees and respects only; all this may have been by general laws. These laws are unknown, indeed, to us; but no more unknown,
than the laws from whence it is, that some die as soon as they are born, and others live to extreme old age; that one man is so superior to another in understanding ; with innumerable more things, which, as was before observed, we cannot reduce to any laws, or rules, at all, though it is taken for granted, they are as much reducible to general ones as gravitation. Now, if the revealed dispensations of Providence, and miraculous interpositions, be by general laws, as well as God's ordinary government in the course of nature, made known by reason and experience; there is no more reason to expect, that every exigence, as it arises, should be provided for by these general laws of miraculous interposition, than that every exigence in nature should, by the general laws of nature : yet there might be wise and good reasons, that miracu. lous interpositions should be by general laws; and that these laws should not be broken in upon, or deviated, from, by other miracles.
Upon the whole, then, the appearance of deficiencies and irregularities in nature, is owing to its being a scheme but in part made known, and of such a certain particular kind in other respects. Now we
more reason, why the frame and course of nature should be such a scheme, than why Christianity should. And that the former is such a scheme, renders it credible, that the latter, upon supposition of its truth, may be so too. And as it is manifest, that Christianity is a scheme revealed but in part, and a scheme in which means are made use of to accomplish ends, like to that of nature ; so the credibility, that it may have been all along carried on by general laws, no less than the course of nature, lias been distinctly proved. And from all this it is beforehand credible, that there might, I think probable that there would, be the like appearance of deficiencies and irregularities in Christianity as in nature ; i. e. that Christianity would be liable to the like objections, as the frame of nature. And these objections are answered by these observations, concérning Christianity; as the like objections against the frame of nature, are answered by the like observations concerning the frame of nature.
The objections against Christianity, considered as a. matter of fact, * having, in general, been obviated in. the preceding chapter; and the same, considered as made against the wisdom and goodness of it, having been obviated in this ; the next thing, according to the method proposed, is to shew, that the principal objections, in particular, against Christianity, may be answered by particular and full analogies in nature. And as one of them is made against the whole scheme. of it together, as just now described, I chuse to consider it here, rather than in a distinct Chapter by itself. The thing objected against this scheme of the gospel, is, “ That it seems to suppose, God was reduced to the necessity of a long series of intricate means, in order to accomplish bis ends, the recovery and salvation of the world; in like sort as men, for want of understanding, or power, not being able to come at their ends directly, are forced to go roundabout ways, and make use of many perplexed contrivances to arrive at them.” Now, every thing which we see shews the folly of this, considered as an objection against the truth of Christianity. For, according to our manner of conception, God makes use of variety of means, what we often think tedious ones, in the natural course of providence, for the accomplishment of all his ends. Indeed, it is certain, there is somewhat in this matter quite beyond our comprehension; but the mystery is as great in nature as in Christinity. We know what we ourselves aim at, as final ends; and what courses we take, merely as means conducing to those ends. But we are greatly ignorant,
* Page 120
how far things are considered by the Author of nature, under the single notion of means and ends ; so as that. it may be said, this is merely an end, and that meroly means, in his regard, And whether there be not. some peculiar absurdity in our very manner of conception, concerning this matter, somewhat contradictory arising from our extremely imperfect views of things, it is impossible to say. However, thus much is manifest, that the whole natural world and government of it, is a scheme, or system ; not a fixed, but. a progressive one: a scheme, in which the operation of various means takes up a great length of time, before the ends they tend to can be attained. The change of seasons, the ripening of the fruits of the earth, the very history of a flower, is an instance of this ; and so is human life. Thus, vegetable bodies, and those of animals, though possibly formed at once, yet grow up by degrees to a mature state. And thus rational agents, who animate these latter bodies, are naturally directed to form, each bis own manners and character, by the gradual gaining of knowledge and experience, and by a long course of action. Our existence is not only successive, as it must be of necessity, but one state of our life and being is appointed by God to be a preparation for another ; : and that, to be the means of attaining to another. succeeding one : Infancy te childhood ; childhood to: youth ; youth to mature age. Men are impatient, and for precipitating things; but the Author of nature appears deliberate throughout his operations; accomplishing his natural ends by slow successive steps. And there is a plan of things beforehand laid out, which, from the nature of it, requires various systems of means, as well as length of time, in order to the carrying on its several parts into execution. Thus, in the daily course of natural providence, God operates in the very same manner, as in the dispensation of Christianity ; making one thing subservient to another; this to somewhat farther; and so on,