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Of the Opinion of Necessity, considered as influencing Practice.
THROUGHOUT the foregoing treatise it appears, that the condi. tion of mankind, considered as inhabitants of this world only, and under the government of God which we experience, is greatly analogous to our condition as designed for another world, or under that farther government which religion teaches us. If therefore
any sert, as a fatalist must, that the opinion of universal necessity is reconcileable with the former, there immediately arises a question in the
way of analogy, whether he must not also own it to be reconcileable with the latter, i. e. with the system of religion itself, and the proof of it. The reader then will observe, that the question now before us is not absolute, whether the opinion of fate be reconcileable with religion; but hypothetical, whether, upon supposition of its being reconcileable with the constitution of nature, it be not reconcileable with religion also; or, what pretence a fatalist, not other persons, but a fatalist, has to conclude from his opinion that there can be no such thing as religion. And as the puzzle and obscurity which must unavoidably arise from arguing upon so absurd a supposition as that of universal necessity will, 1 fear, easily be seen, it will, I hope, as easily be excused.
But since it has been all along taken for granted, as a thing proved, that there is an intelligent author of nature, or natural governor of the world; and since an objection may be made against the proof of this from the opinion of universal necessity, as it may be supposed that such necessity will itself account for the origin and preservation of all things, it is requisite that this objection be distinctly answered, or that it be shewn that a fatality, supposed consistent with what we certainly experience, does not destroy the proof of an intelligent author and governor of nature, before we proceed to consider whether it destroys the proof of a moral governor of it, or of our being in a state of religion.
Now, when it is said by a fatalist, that the whole constitution of nature, and the actions of men, that every thing, and every mode and circumstance of every thing, is necessary, and could not possibly have been otherwise, it is to be observed, that this necessity does not exclude deliberation, choice, preference, and acting from certain principles, and to certain ends; because all this is matter of undoubted experience, acknowledged by all, and what every man may, every moment, be conscious of. And from hence it follows, that necessity, alone and of itself, is in no sort an account of the constitution of nature, and how things came to be and to continue as they are; but only an account of this circumstance relating to their origin and con
tinuance, that they could not have been otherwise than they are and have been. The assertion that every thing is by necessity of nature, is not an answer to the question, whether the world came into being as it is, by an intelligent agent forming it thus, or not; but to quite another question, whether it came into being as it is, in that way and manner which we call necessarily, or in that way and mauner which we call freely. For suppose farther, that one who was a fatalist, and one who kept to his natural sense of things, and believed himself a free agent, were disputing together, and vindicating their respective opinions, and they should happen to instance in a house they would
agree that it was built by an architect. Their difference concerning necessity and freedom would occasion no difference of judgment concerning this, but only concerning another matter, whether the architect built it necessarily or freely. Suppose then they should proceed to inquire concerning the constitution of nature; in a lax way of speaking, one of them might say it was by necessity, and the other by freedom; but if they had any meaning to their words, as the latter must mean a free agent, so the former must at length be reduced to mean an agent, whether he would say one or more, acting by 'necessity; for abstract notions can do nothing. Indeed we ascribe to God a necessary existence, uncaused by any agent. For we find within ourselves the idea of infinity, i. e. immensity and eternity, impossible, even in imagination, to be removed out of being. We seem to discern intuitively that there must and cannot but be somewhat, external to ourselves, answering this idea, or the archetype of it. And from hence (for this abstract, as much as any other, implies a concrete) we conclude that there is, and cannot but be, an infinite and immense eternal Being, existing prior to all design contributing to his existence and exclusive of it. And from the scantiness of language, a manner of speaking has been introduced, that necessity is the foundation, the reason, the account of the existence of God. But it is not alleged, nor can it be at all intended, that every thing exists as it does, by this kind of necessity, a necessity antecedent in nature to design: it cannot, I say, be meant that every thing exists as it does, by this kind of necessity, upon several accounts; and particularly because it is admitted, that design, in the actions of men, contributes to many alterations in nature. For if any deny this, I shall not pretend to reason with them.
From these things it follows, first, that when a fatalist asserts that every thing is by necessity, he must mean by an agent acting necessari. ly; he must, I say, mean this, for I am very sensible he would not choose to mean it: and, secondly, that the necessity by which such an agent is supposed to act does not exclude intelligence and design. So that were the system of fatality admitted, it would just as much account for the formation of the world as for the structure of an house, and no more. Necessity as much requires and supposes a necessary agent, as freedom requires and supposes a free agent, to be the former of the world. And the appearances of design and of final causes in the constitution of nature as really prove this acting agent to be an intelligent designer, or to act from choice, upon the scheme of necessity, supposed possible, as upon that of freedom.
It appearing thus, that the notion of necessity does not destroy
the proof that there is an intelligent author of nature and natural governor of the world, the present question, which the analogy before mentioned * suggests, and which, I think, it will answer, is this whether the opinion of necessity, supposed consistent with possibility, with the constitution of the world, and the natural government which we experience exercised over it, destroys all reasonable ground of belief that we are in a state of religion; or whether that opinion be reconcileable with religion, with the system and the proof of it.
Suppose then a fatalist to educate any one, from his youth up, in his own principles; that the child should reason upon them, and conclude that since he cannot possibly behave otherwise than he does, he is not a subject of blaine or commendation, nor can deserve to be rewarded or punished: imagine him to eradicate the very perceptions of blame and commendation out of his mind, by means of this system; to form his temper, and character, and behaviour to it, and from it to judge of the treatment he was to expect, say from reasonable men, upon his coming abroad into the world; as the fatalist judges from this system what he is to expect from the author of nature and with regard to a future state. I cannot forbear stopping here to ask, whether any one of common sense would think fit that a .child should be put upon these speculations, and be left to apply them to practice. And a man has little pretence to reason, who is not sensible that we are all children in speculations of this kind. However, the child would doubtless be highly delighted to find himself freed from the restraints of fear and shame, with which his playfellows were fettered and embarrassed, and highly conceited in his superior knowledge so far beyond his years. But conceit and vanity would be the least bad part of the influence which these principles must have, when thus reasoned and acted upon, during the course of his education. He must either be allowed to go on and be the plague of all about him, and himself too, even to his own destruction, or else correction must be continually made use of, to supply the want of those natural perceptions of blame and commendation which we have supposed to be removed, and to give him a practical impression of what he had reasoned himself out of the belief of, that he was in fact an accountable child, and to be punished for doing what he was forbid. It is therefore in reality impossible, but that the correction which he must meet with, in the course of his ed-. ucation, must convince him that if the scheme he was instructed in were not false, yet that he reasoned inconclusively upon it, and some how or other misapplied it to practice and common life; as what the fatalist experiences of the conduct of Providence at present, ought in all reason to convince him that this scheme is misapplied when applied to the subject of religion. But supposing the child's temper could remain still formed to the system, and his expectation of the treatment he was to have in the world be regulated by it, so as to expect that no reasonable man would blame or punish him for any thing which he should do, because he could not help doing it upon this supposition it is manifest he would, upon his coming abroad into the world, be insupportable to society, and the treatment which he
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would receive from it would render it so to him, and he could not fail of doing somewhat very soon for which he would be delivered over into the hands of civil justice. And thus, in the end, he would be convinced of the obligations he was under to his wise instructor. Or suppose this scheme of fatality in any other way applied to practice, such practical application of it will be found equally absurd, equally fallacious in a practical sense. For instance, that if a man be destined to live such a time, he shall live to it, though he take no care of his own preservation; or if he be destinel to die before that time, no care can prevent it; therefore all care about preserving one's life is to be neglected, which is the fallacy instanced in by the ancients. But now on the contrary, none of these practical absurdi. ties can be drawn from reasoning upon the supposition that we are free; but all such reasoning with regard to the common affairs of life is justified by experience. And therefore, though it were admitted that this opinion of necessity were speculatively true, yet with regard to practice it is as if it were false, so far as our experience reaches; that is, to the whole of oor present life. For, the constitution of the present world, and the condition in which we are actually placed, is as if we were free. And it may perhaps justly be concluded, that since the whole process of action, through every step of it, suspense, deliberation, inclining one way, determining, and at last doing as we determine, is as if we were free, therefore we are so. But the thing here insisted upon is, that under the present natural government of the world, we find we are treated and dealt with as if we were free, prior to all consideration whether we are or not. Were this opinion therefore of necessity admitted to be ever so true, yet such is in fact our condition and the natural course of things, that whenever we apply it to life and practice, this application of it always misleads us, and cannot but mislead us, in a most dreadful manner, with regard to our present interest. And how can people think themselves so very, secure then, that the same application of the same opinion may not mislead them also, in some análo gous manner, with respect to a future or more general and more important interest? For, religion being a practical subject, and the analogy of nature shewing us that we have not faculties to apply this opinion, were it a true one, to practical subjects, whenever we do arply it to the subject of religion, and thence conclude that we are free from its obligations, it is plain this conclusion cannot be de. pended upon. There will still remain just reason to think, whatever appearances are, that we deceive ourselves; in somewhat of a like manner, as when people fancy they can draw contradictory conclusions from the idea of infinity.
From these things together, the attentive reader will see it follows, that if upon supposition of freedom the evidence of religion be conclusive, it remains so upon supposition of necessity, because the notion of necessity is not applicable to practical subjects, i. e. with respect to them, is as if it were not true. Nor does this contain any reflection upon reason, but only upon what is unreasonable. For to pretend to act upon reason, in opposition to practical principles, which the author of our nature gave us to act upon, and to pretend o apply our reason to subjects, with regard to which our own short
views, and even our experience, will shew us it cannot be depended upon, and such at best the subject of necessity must be, this is vani, ty, conceit and unreasonableness.
But this is not all; for we find within ourselves a will, and are conscious of a character. Now if this in us be reconcileable with fate, it is reconcileable with it in the author of nature. And besides, . natural government and final causes imply a character and a will in the governor and designer;* a will concerning the creatures whom he governs. The author of nature then being certainly of some character or other, notwithstanding necessity, it is evident this ne. cessity is as reconcileable with the particular character of benevolence, veracity and justice in him, which attributes are the foundation of religion, as with any other character; since we find this necessity no more hinders men from being benevolent than cruel, true than faithless, just than unjust, or if the fatalist pleases, what we call unjust. For it is said indeed, that what, upon supposition of freedom, would be just punishment, upon supposition of necessity becomes manifestly unjust, because it is punishment inflicted for doing that which persons cannot avoid doing; as if the necessity which is supposed to destroy the injustice of murder, for instance, would not also destroy the injustice of punishing it. However, as little to the purpose as this objection is in itself, it is very much to the purpose to observe from it how the notions of justice and injustice remain, even whilst we endeavor to suppose them removed; how they force themselves upon the mind, even whilst we are making suppositions destructive of them; for there is not, perhaps, a man in the world, but would be ready to make this objection at first thought.
But though it is most evident, that universal necessity, if it be reconcileable with any thing, is reconcileable with that character in the Author of nature which is the foundation of religion, “yet, does it not plainly destroy the proof that he is of that character, and consequently the proof of religion:" By no means. For we find, that happiness and misery are not our fate, in any such sense as not to be the consequences of our behaviour; but that they are the consequences of it.t' We find God exercises the same kind of government over us with that which a father exercises over his children, and a civil magistrate over his subjects. Now, whatever becomes of abstract questions concerning liberty and necessity, it evidently appears to us, that veracity and justice must be the natural rule and measure of exercising this authority or government, to a Being who can have no competitions, or interfering of interests, with his creatures and his subjects.
But as the doctrine of liberty, though we experience its truth, may be perplexed with difficulties, which run up into the most abstruse of all speculations, and as the opinion of necessity seems to be the very basis upon which infidelity grounds itself, it may be of some use to
* By will and character is meant that which, in speaking of men, we should express, not only by these words, but also by the words, tenper, taste, dispositions, practical principles; that whole frame of mind, from whence we act in one manner rather than another,