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And 'thus, when we go out of this world, we may pass into new scenes, and a new state of life and action, just as naturally as we came into the present. And this new state may naturally be a social one. And the advantages of it, advantages of every kind, may naturally be bestowed, according to some fixed general laws of wisdom, upon every one in pro-. portion to the degrees of his virtue. And though the advantages of that future 'natural state should not be bestowed, as these of the present in some measure. are, by the will of the society, but entirely by his more immediate action, upon whom the whole frameof nature depends, yet this distribution may be just as natural, as their being distributed here by the instru.. mentality of men. And, indeed, though one to allow any confused undetermined-sense, which people please to put upon the word' natural, it would be a shortness of thought searce credible to imagine, that no system or course of things can be so, but only what we see at present ;
especially whilst the probability of a future life, or the natural immortality of the soul, is admitted upon the evidence of reason ; because this is really both admitting and denying at once, a state of being different from the present to be natural But the only distinct meaning of that word is, stated, fixed, or settled; since what is natural as much requires and presupposes an intelligent agent to render it so, i. c. to effeot it continually, or at stated times, as what is supernatural or miraculous does to effect it for once. And from hence it must follow, that persons' notion of what is natural will be enlarged, in proportion to their greater knowledge of the works of God and the dispensations of his Providence. Nor is there any absurdity in supposing, that there may be beings in the universe, whose capacities, and knowledge, and views, may be so extensive, as that the whole. Christian
* See Part ü. ch. 2. and Part ii. ch. 3.
dispensation may to them appear natural, i. e, analogous or conformable to God's dealings with other parts of bis creation, as, natural as the visible known. course of things appears to us.
For there seems scarce any other possible sense to be put upon the word, but that only in which it is here used : similar, stated, or uniform..
This credibility of a future life, which has been here insisted upon, how little soever it may satisfy our curiosity, seems to answer all the purposes of religion, in like manner as a demonstrative proof would. Indeed, a proof, even a demonstrative one, of a future life, would not be a proof of religion. For, that we are to live hereafter, is just as reconcileable with the scheme of atheism, and as well to be accounted for by it; as that we are now alive is ; and therefore nothing can be more absurd than to argue from that scheme, that there can be no future state. But as. religion implies a future state, any. presumption against such a state is a presumption against religion. And the foregoing observations remove all presumptions of that sort, and prove, to a very considerable degree of probability, one fundamental doctrine of religion; which, if believed, would greatly open and dispose the mind seriously to attend to the general evidence of the wholca
Of the Government of God by Rewards and Pics
nishments, and particularly of the latter.
That which makes the question concerning a future life to be of so great importance to us, is our capacity of happiness and misery. And that which makes the consideration of it to be of so great importance to us, is the supposition of our happiness and misery hereafter, depending upon our actions here. Without this, indeed, curiosity could not but sometimes bring a subject; in which we may be so highly interested, to our thoughts; especially upon the mortality of others, or the near prospect of our own. But rea... sonable men would not take any farther thought about hereafter, than what should happen thus occasionally to rise in their minds, if it were certain, that our fueture interest no way depended upon our present behaviour: Whereas, on the contrary, if there be ground, either from analogy or any thing else, to. think it does ;: then there is reason also for the most active thought and solicitude, to secure that interest; to behave so as that we may escape that misery, and obtain that happiness in another life, which we noti only suppose ourselves capable of, but which we apprebend also is put in our own power. And whether there be ground for this last apprehension, certainly would deserve to be most seriously considered, were there no other proof of a future life and interest, than: that presumptive one, which the foregoing observa. tions amount to.
Now, in the present state, all which we enjoy, and a great part of what we suffer, is put in our own power. For pleasure and pain are the consequences of our actions; and we are endued by the Author of our nature with capacities of foreseeing these consequences. We find by experience He does not so much as preserve our lives, exclusively of our own care and attention, to provide ourselves with, and to make use of that sustenance, by which he has appointed our lives shall be preserved; and without which, he has appointed, they shall not be preserved at all. And in general we foresee, that the external things, which are the objects of our various passions, can neither be obtained nor enjoyed, without exerting ourselves in such and such manners : But by thus exerting ourselves, we obtain and enjoy these objects, in which our natural good consists ; or by this means God gives us the possession and enjoyment of them. I know not that we have any one kind or degree of enjoyment, but by the means of our own actions. And by prudence and care, we may, for the most part, pass our days in tolerable ease and quiet: Or, on the contrary, we may by rashness, ungoverned passion, wilfulness, or even by negligence, make ourselves as miserable as ever we please. And many do please to make themselves extremely miserable, i. c. to do what they know beforehand will reuder them so.. They follow those ways, the fruit of which they know, by instruction, example, experience, will be disgrace, and poverty, and sickness, and untimely death. This every one observes to be the general course of things ; though it is to be allowed, we cannot find by experience, that all our sufferings are owing to our own follies.
Why the Author of Nature does not give his creatures promiscuously such and such perceptions, without regard to their behaviour; why he does not make them happy without the instrumentality of their own actions, and prevent their bringing any sufferings upon themselves; is another matter. Perhaps there may
be some impossibilities in the nature of things which we are unacquainted with *. Or less happiness, it may be, would upon the whole be produced by such a method of conduct, than is by the present. Or perhaps Divine goodness, with which, if I mistake not, we make very free in our speculations, may not be a bare single disposition to produce happiness ; but a disposition to make the good, the faithful, the honest man bappy. Perhaps an infinitely perfect Mind may be pleased, with seeing his creatures behave suitably to the nature which he has given them; to the relations which he has placed them in to each other; and to that which they stand in to Himself: That relation. to himself, which, during their existence, is even necessary, and which is the inost important one of all ; perhaps, I say, an infinitely perfect Mind may be pleased with this moral piety of moral agents, in and for itself; as well as upon account of its being essentially conducive to the happiness of his creation. Der the whole end, for which God made, and thus governs the world, may be utterly beyond the reach of: our faculties: There
be somewhat in it as impossible for us to have any conception of, as for a blind man to have a conception of colours. But, however this be, it is certain matter of universal experience, that the general method of Divine administra.. tion, is, forewarning us, or giving us capacities to foresee, with more or less clearness, that if we act so and so, we shall have suchi enjoyments, if so and: so, such sufferings; and giving us those enjoyments, and making us feel those sufferings, in consequence of our actions,
" But all this is to be ascribed to the general: sic
of nature.” True. This is the very thing which I am observing. It is to be ascribed to the general course of nature : i. e, not surely to the words or ideas, course of nature; but to him who appoint-
* Part I. Chap. vii..