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reason directs to apply a part of our thoughts to our spiritual concerns : some few
may be led by inclination or habit to employ the due proportion this way occasionally, but it is easy to guess this dictate of reason would be generally neglected without certain stated times appropriated to the performance of it. Perhaps the philosopher might think one day in ten enough, or one in five but just enough, or he would certainly see that Wednesday might do as well as Sunday, but if it would not do better, why should he wish to put men out of their way? or who would mind the philosopher so far, as to throw aside his common business every
Wednesday to please him ? Nor need he disturb himself at the reasons given for observance of one day in seven, because God rested from his works, or the Resurrection happened on such a particular day : for these are good reasons if they be such as will weigh. And if there be some so gross and narrow-minded as to imagine an intrinsic sacredness in the day, yet if they are likewise of such an indolent dilatory disposition as never to do what may be done as well another time as now, it would do hurt to undeceive them.
The like may be said of other customs esteemed sacred; if not valuable in themselves, they may lead into practices and sentiments which it might be impossible to make manifest to every eye; so that men, while following a shadow cast by skilful honest hands, may be enabled to catch a solid substance they know nothing of, nor would be persuaded to lay hold on. There is this advantage in all discipline, even though practised in trifles, that it inures men to order and rule, and to resist a present fancy, and renders them more susceptible of benefit from the knowledge of what is right, whenever they can attain it. Therefore, if we consider Religion only as the scaffolding of reason, it is well worth our attention; for whether human nature in its present condition be an unfinished building, or the ruins of an ancient structure, it requires the same treatment in either case; let us then examine carefully whatever remains of the foundation, and use what helps we can to erect anything solid thereupon; when the edifice shall be completed, it may serve for all our uses, but templates the present state of it, may see that it is much too early to strike the scaffolding yet.
7. But it is suggested, that many doctrines are propagated among the vulgar contrary to reason and subversive of morality, contrived by designing persons solely for their own profit and aggrandizement. What then? may not we pick out the corn from the chaff? and is it not worth while to sift them carefully that we may know how to distinguish them; rather than cast away
both out of wantonness or laziness? If we find anything mani- . festly superstitious, we shall do well to oppose or qualify it by a rational construction, always taking with us the caution given in the last section, to remember that superstition is relative, for else we may chance to do mischief by our indiscretion. And if some crafty persons have imposed upon mankind, why should we not endeavor to turn their cannon against them by drawing a better conclusion from the premises whereon they build those doctrines ? for they will not avow their selfishness; whatever their real intention be, they profess to labor in the redemption from sin and wickedness : let us then take them at their word, and study to do sincerely what they profess; whatever we can clearly show to have a contrary tendency we may safely reject, they dare not contradict us if they would.
The fund from whence they pretend to draw all their supplies, runs in such figurative expressions as are susceptible of different colors; experience shows how many pernicious and contrary interpretations have been given to the same texts, and the like experience shows what rational doctrines and rules of conduct have been supported upon them: therefore, without troubling our heads
: about the design wherewith anything was written or taught, let us strive to turn everything in a manner that may prove advantageous to the interests of sound reason and morality. Though Religion were no more than an artifice' to enslave reason and serve private ends, under pretence of public benefit, yet had we the like zeal to set our wits and industry at work in a good cause as we suppose others to have in a bad one, it might not be impossible to find honest artifices for restoring reason to her liberty and doing a real benefit to mankind, under an appearance of supporting the doctrines esteemed sacred.
But why need we judge so unfavorably of men, as to pronounce them actuated solely by selfish views in everything they do redounding to some private advantage of their own? Is honesty of so repellant a nature as to render it incapable of ever joining with policy? Can we never serve our neighbor without sacrificing our own interests? We find most characters contain a mixture of good and bad: cunning seldom so engrosses the whole man as to leave no room for the moral senses, nor does his partiality for himself exclude all love of truth or regard for others. What if Moses set out upon his enterprize with a prospect of raising himself to royal power, are all politicians such vile creatures as to care nothing for anybody else? if the public good comes in competition with their private interests we may guess which they will pursue: but where not inconsistent therewith, what should hinder but they may bestow a thought upon it? It is most natural to imagine they will take it up for a secondary aim, because serving to raise them in esteem and reputation with the people. Why then might not he proceed partly upon a real solicitude for the welfare of his nation, giving them such regulations as might produce order, polity, and good manners among them; and even framing his inventions upon observation of their character, in such manner as to lead them imperceptibly into sentiments and practices conducive to their happiness?
And for the spiritual directors of our own times, though we may allow them subject to human infirmity, which will unavoidably give a bias to.self-interest, yet we can hardly believe them all joining in support of a mere politic imposture, discerned in their consciences to be such. We may know some among them of serious and even scrupulous characters, having an abhorrence of injury to truth or their fellow-creatures; and if we must lay it down as incontestible, that they weigh their external evidences in the scale of prejudice which gives a weight to what had none before: this prejudice must arise in the best of them from their opinion of the internal, which it may be presumed they judge of in the same manner as other people judge of other things, by observation on the natural tendency of rules, and experience of their effects; wherein they certainly are liable to error, yet surely not incapable of ever discerning the truth.
Why then should we so wrap ourselves up in the conceit of our own consummate accomplishment, as to think there is nothing can be learned from another, or to despise in the lump a whole set of regulations, established by the wisdom of politicians, and approved by well-intentioned persons of good natural and improved understandings? and not rather give them a thorough examination, for the chance of finding an expedience in some of them we were not aware of? For expedience is the thing to be principally regarded; · the want of looking for this in measures leads both sides into mistakes; the weakly righteous finding certain forms recommended by the judicious, and perceiving their good effects where practised, conclude them to have an intrinsic value, and if men of profound learning, they hunt for scholastic subtilties to support their notion : the weakly rational, discerning the fallacy of this intrinsic value, conclude as hastily there is no value in them at all. Whereas both may be in the wrong, for things insignificant in themselves may be productive of a solid and substantial benefit : even error is sometimes expedient for people who will take a bad reason for doing a good thing, when they cannot see the force of a good
reason, provided the error do not draw on mischiefs greater than the service it does.
8. Nobody can deny that schemes of avarice, ambition, and tyranny over the very thoughts, as well as persons, and properties of men have been erected upon the basis of Religion, which is apt to give men a prejudice against the root that can bear such pernicious fruits. But we should consider that our antagonists may retort the argument upon us, for reason too has been found to make wild work in some hands, and if it has never done such extensive mischief, it was for want of strength to take hold of the populace : therefore, if religion, which has by far the greater innate vigor, can be brought to assist in the purposes of reason, much more may be done with than without such help.
But it is unfair to take the character of either from their appearance under the disguises wherewith they have been covered : when made subservient to the purpose of private passions, which it is their proper office to regulate and control, they become corrupted : in this state they lose their essence, being no longer their real selves. The Cynics, the Epicureans and Pyrrhonians were much such philosophers, as the Gnostics, the Muggletonians and the Moravians were Christians; and he that should think to form his judgment of Reason or Religion from these patterns, would do as wisely as if he expected to discover the alimentary qualities of fruits by analyzing such as were rotten. To have a true idea of things, one ought to know the best they are capable of, which can never be learned from them in their depravities, nor without examining them in the fairest lights, and observing to what uses they are applicable.
Philosophy may be styled the art of marshalling the ideas in the understanding, and Religion that of disciplining the imagination. Now it is the perfection, not perversion, of a method that constitutes the art, which title no more belongs to delusion in the one, than to sophistry in the other; or if these must be called arts, they are distinct arts from that which they profess: so that we shall pass our judgment never the surer upon That, for being acquainted with ihe mischiefs of Them. It has been made appear upon several occasions in the course of this work, that imagination bears as great a sway in our motions as understandings; That must execute what This projects, or nothing will be done further than in speculation.
It is well known there are persons who can give excellent counsel but can never follow it themselves : these people do not want understanding, but they want an incitement to practise what they know; which is to be gotten by habit and discipline, rather than calm argumentation : so their knowledge is of less benefit to themselves than to others, the bent of whose imagination and desire is strongly turned upon doing what is right. On the other hand, many who cannot discover the rectitude of measures, may yet be brought to pursue such of whose rectitude they are persuaded : but then this persuasion must be worked by authority, example, or custom, upon those who are not capable of rational conviction; and the wisest of us scarce being able to investigate everything to the fountain head, it will be safest to follow custom and authority, in matters wherein we have not a full and clear discernment, and consequently to be wished for our own sakes that authority and custom may direct the right way.
Wherefore it well deserves our pains to study attentively that art whereby desire, opinion, apprehension, and all the family of imagination may be managed, in order to learn from thence how that vigorous faculty may be turned to execute the purposes of reason, for by bringing them to join forces in the same work, we may
do good service as well to ourselves as to our fellow-creatures. And if we do not like the method of practising this art now taken among us, yet considering how hard it is to break through established customs and rivetted opinions, we may find it more feasible to work good purposes out of them, than to do good by overthrowing them. What though they had been first introduced and since maintained by designing persons for sinister ends, this would not hinder our trying to make them answer better ends than were designed.
Yet I do not know why we should confine our thoughts to the machinations of men who are but instruments in the hand of Heaven in all they do, turned this way or that by the provision of causes pre-ordained from above. But the system they have propagated spreads too extensive an influence, as we observed before, to doubt of its being among the appointments of Providence, which we know frequently employs the follies, the passions, the errors, the wickedness of men to accomplish purposes they know not of. The ways of Providence are often unaccountable, conducting surely to an aim by means seeming the most unlikely to attain it, and though such means having been used, will not justify us in joining against our judgment with whatever we have in our power to alter, yet where we cannot put things out of their course, it would be in vain to kick against the pricks; our business here is to submit, not to resist; to learn, not to judge. For we may presume that Providence knows the propriety of measures somewhat better than ourselves: therefore, if we set ourselves to study diligently the measures it takes, their effects and tendencies, it is not