Sidor som bilder

. But it may be said, that after all, these supposed impossibilities and relations are what we are unacquainted with, and we must judge of religion, as of other things, by what we do know, and look upon the rest as nothing; or however, that the answers here given to what is objected against religion, may equally be made use of to invalidate the proof of it, since their stress lies so very much upon our ignorance." But,

First, though total ignorance in any matter does indeed equally destroy, or rather preclude all proof concerning it, and objectious against it, yet partial ignorance does not. For we may in any degree be convinced, that a person is of such a character, and consequently will pursue such ends, though we are greatly ignorant what is the proper way of acting, in order the most effectually to obtain those ends; and in this case, objections against his manner of acting, as seemingly not conducive to obtain them, might be answered by our ignorance, though the proof that such ends were intended might not at all be invalidated by it. Thus the proof of religion is a proof of the moral character of God, and consequently that his government is moral, and that every one upon the whole shall receive according to his deserts, a proof that this is the designed end of his government. But we are not competent judges what is the proper way of acting, in order the most effectually to accomplish this end.* Therefore our ignorance is an answer to objections against the conduct of Providence in permitting irregularities, as seeming contradictory to this end. Now, since it is so obvious that our ignorance may be a satisfactory answer to objections against a thing, and yet not affect the proof of it, till it can be shewn, it is frivolous to assert that our ignorance invalidates the proof of religion, as it does the objections against it.

Secondly, suppose unknown impossibilities and unknown relations might justly be urged to invalidate the proof of religion, as well as to answer objections against it, and that in consequence of this the proof of it were doubtful-yet still, let the assertion be despised, or let it be ridiculed, it is undeniably true that moral obligations would remain certain, though it were not certain what would, upon the whole, be the consequences of observing or violating them. For, these obligations arise immediately and necessarily from the judgment of our own mind, unless perverted, which we cannot violate without being self condemned. And they would be certain too, from considerations of interest. For though it were doubtful what will be the future consequences of virtue and vice, yet it is, however, credible, that they may have those consequences which religion teaches us

they will; and this credibility is a certaint obligation in point of pruidence, to abstain from all wickedness, and to live in the conscientious practice of all that is good. But,

Thirdly, the answers above given to the objections against religion, cannot equally be made use of to invalidate the proof of it. For, upon supposition that God exercises a moral government over the world, analogy does most strongly lead us to conclude, that this moral government must be a scheme or constitution beyond our com

[blocks in formation]

prehension. And a thousand particular analogies shew us, that parts of such a scheme, from their relation to other parts, may conduce to accomplish ends, which we should have thought they had no tendency at all to accomplish; nay ends, which before experience we should have thought such parts were contradictory to, and had a tendency to prevent. And therefore all these analogies shew, that the way of arguing made use of in objecting against religion, is delusive; because they shew it is not at all incredible that could we comprehend the whole, we should find the permission of the disorders objected against to be consistent with justice and goodness, and even to be instances of them. Now this is not applicable to the proof of religion, as it is to the objections against it;* and therefore cannot invalidate that proof, as it does these objections.

Lastly, from the observation now made, it is easy to see, that the answers above given to the objections against Providence, though ia a general way of speaking, they may be said to be taken from our ignorance, yet are by no means taken merely from that, but from somewhat which analogy shews us concerning it. For analogy shews us positively, that our ignorance in the possibilities of things, and the various relations in nature, renders us incompetent judges, and leads us to false conclusions, in cases similar to this, in which we pretend to judge and to object. So that the things above insisted upon, are not mere suppositions of unknown impossibilities and relations, but they are suggested to our thoughts and even forced upon the observation of serious men, and rendered credible too, by the analogy of nature. And therefore, to take these things into the account, is to judge by experience and wiat we do know; and it is not judging so, to take no notice of them.

* Sernton at the Rolls, page 312, 2d Em.

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


THE observations of the last chapter lead us to consider this little scene of human life, in which we are so busily engaged, as having a reference of some sort or other, to a much larger plan of things. Whether we are any way related to the more distant parts of the boundless universe, into which we are brought is altogether uncertain. But it is evident that the course of things which comes within our view is connected with somewhat past, present, and future, beyond it.* So that we are placed, as one may speak, in the middle of a scheme, not as a fixed but a progressive one, every way incomprehensible; incomprehensible in a manner equally with respect to what has been, what now is, and what shall be hereafter. And this scheme cannot but contain in it somewhat as wonderful and as much beyond our thought and conceptiont as any thing in that of religion. For, will any man in his senses say, that it is less difficult to conceive how the world came to be and to continue as it is, without, than with, an intelligent author and governor of it? or, admitting an intelligent governor of it, that there is some other rule of government more natural and of easier conception than that which we call moral? Indeed, without an intelligent author and governor of nature, no account at all can be given how this universe, or the part of it particularly in which we are concerned, came to be, and the course of it to be carried on, as it is; nor any of its general end and design, without a moral governor of it. That there is an intelligent author of nature and natural governor of the world, is a principle gone upon in the foregoing treatise, as proved, and generally known and confessed to be proved. And the very notion of an intelligent Author of nature, proved by particular final causes, implies a will and a character. I Now as our whole nature, the nature which he has given us, leads us to conclude his will and character to be moral, just and good-so we can scarce in imagination conceive what it can be otherwise. However, in consequence of this his will and character, whatever it be, he formed the universe as it is, and carries on the course of it as he does, rather than in any other manner; and has assigned to us, and to all living creatures, a part and a lot in it. Irrational creatures act this their part, and enjoy and undergo the pleasures and the pains allotted them, without any reflection. But one would think it impossible, that creatures endued with reason could avoid reflecting sometimes upon all this; reflecting, if not from whence we came, yet, at Jeast, whither we are going; and what the mysterious scheme, in

[blocks in formation]

the midst of which we find ourselves, will, at length, come out and produce; a scheme in which it is certain we are highly interested, and in which we may be interested even beyond conception. For many things prove it palpably absurd to conclude, that we shall cease to be at death. Particular analogies do most sensibly shew us, that there is nothing to be thought strange, in our being to exist in another state of life. And that we are not living beings affords a strong prob. ability that we shall continue so, unless there be some positive ground, and there is none from reason or analogy, to think death will destroy us. Were a persuasion of this kind ever so well grounded, there would surely be little reason to take pleasure in it. But indeed it can have no other ground, than some such imagination as that of our gross bodies being ourselves; which is contrary to experience. Ex: perience too most clearly shews us the folly of concluding, from the body and the living agent affecting each other mutually, that the dissolution of the former is the destruction of the latter. And there are remarkable instances of their not affecting each other, which lead us to a contrary conclusion. The supposition then, which in all reason we are to go upon, is, that our living nature will continue after death. And it is infinitely unreasonable to form an institution of life, or to act, upon any other supposition. Now all espectation of immortality, whether more or less certain, opens an unbounded prospect to our hopes and our fears; since we see the constitution of nature is such as to admit of misery, as well as to be productive of happiness, and esperience ourselves to partake of both in some degree; and since we cannot but know what higher degrees of both we are capable of. And there is no presumption against believing farther, that our future interest depends upon our present behaviour; for we see our present interest, doth, and that the happiness and misery which are naturally annexed to our actions, very frequently do not follow till long after the actions are done to which they are respectively annexed. So that were speculation to leave us uncertain whether it were likely that the author of nature, in giving happiness and misery to his creatures, hath regard to their actions or not, yet since we find by experience that he hath such regard, the whole sense of things which he has given us plainly leads us, at once and without any elaborate inquiries, to think that it may, indeed must, be to good actions chiefly that he hath annexed happiness, and to bad actions misery; or that he will, 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 oby served, 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

« FöregåendeFortsätt »