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Therefore the ground and never-sailing source of peace is, Hope, which arises from an impartial contemplation of nature : for if we survey it through false glasses, so as to persuade ourselves that men are born enemies to one another, and that the condition of creatures, a very few excepted, is wretched and despicable ; this will be more likely to fill us with melancholy and horror than with comfort: but a candid and benevolent temper will discover so many advantages and enjoy ments everywhere as to give us a cheerful idea of the world we live in.
Yet this idea cannot have its full effect without religion, which alone can ensure us a share in the stream of bounty that flows copiously on all sides, and opens a much larger and richer prospect into the invisible world than this narrow earth can afford. Nevertheless, care must be taken not to embrace everything hastily that carries the appearance of Religion : for many by an injudicious earnestness to become religious, have filled themselves with doubts and despondencies, destroyed their own peace, entertained an unfavorable opinion as well of their fellow-creatures as of the creation, and thought narrowly and unworthily of their Creator. Wherefore it is of the utmost importance, and deserves our principal attention, to cultivate just sentiments, of him, and as he wants not our adoration nor our services, but has vouchsafed so much knowledge of bimself as he judges needful, and given us religion for our benefit; we may be sure that is the truest which tends most to preserve our minds in a steady tenor, to draw us out of hurtful courses, and make us profitable to one another.
ESOTERICS AND EXOTERICS.
Religion, although justly styled the service of God, because then only having the true and real value when performed in obedience to his Will, yet was not given to serve himself, but bis creatures: therefore must be adapted to their needs and their natures, in order to become serviceable to them. But human nature being very various among people and individuals according to their capacities, endowments or casts of imagination; their diversity of characters requires a different management to serve them effectually. And you may as well think of setting out a measure of clothes that shall fit everybody, as of drawing up a complete system of Religion accommodated to the uses of all mankind.
Much discourse has passed in the world upon uniformity, and indeed an uniformity of profession were a desirable thing, as preventing discordance among mankind, and a contempt of Religion in general. For religious feuds being the most mischievous and rancorous of any, no care can be too great to avoid them. Nor is anything more contrary to the grand purpose of Religion, the general good, than for men to persuade themselves they do God service in vexing and ill-treating one another: or more injurious to his glory, than to imagine him entertaining a hatred and enmity against his creatures. And the bulk of mankind, unable to strike out anything of themselves, would have no restraint upon their passions, no awe or dependence, or perhaps no thought of an invisible Power governing both worlds, if they were not let into it by custom and authority : but authority and custom have the stronger influence the more generally they are complied with.
Therefore it is expedient and necessary to have some form of doctrine generally agreed to, for preserving peace and a regard to futurity among the people. And the more concise and simple this form can be contrived, the better: because more comprehensive, as being easier accommodated to the diversity of characters. But no established forın can contain the whole of every man's opinions, for unless he strikes out something of his own from what has been taught him, he will make very little proficiency in Religion : and the same expressions convey very different ideas to a number of hearers; so that it is not to be concluded that we have all exactly the same sentiments, because we all join in the same form of words.
How short is the first article of our creed? I believe in God the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. Yet how various are our conceptions of the supreme Being ? some conceive him governed by human aflections, such as anger, hatred, desire of honor, favor, complacence to those who resemble him; absolutely uncertain of the turns of freewill, unable to make his work perfect, but perpetually interposing to mend what falls out amiss, hurt by offences, which he cannot remnit without an amends made him in value. Others believe bim exempt from passion of all kinds, acting invariably by reason, just such as ours only not liable to error, and somewhat better informed as having a larger scene to contemplate, proceeding upon the rectitude resulting from a nature of things which was not of his own production. Others again hold him the author of reason itself, of qualities, forms, and essences as well as of substances, leaving nothing to chance or contingency, able to provide adequate causes for bringing all his purposes to bear, never interposing on sudden emergencies from an unforeseen necessity, but in consequence of his own predetermination to interpose.
Then for the epithet Almighty, if any one would see what multitude of reflections that alone gives scope to, let him read over doctor Barrow's long sermon upon the Greek word Pantocratoor. Seneca supposed the elements uncreated, and gave that for the reason why the world was not better made, because some of the elements being sluggish and untractable, could not be brought into a completer form: yet he allowed that God has made as good a world as his materials were capable of. So he would not have scrupled joining with us in repeating, Maker of heaven and earth. And though now we all believe the materials created by the same hand that worked them up into a regular system, yet we are not so unanimous with respect to the time. It is the common opinion, I suppose, that they were created just when wanted for the uses we see them put to : but many learned and pious men have holden them existent, and perhaps employed in other uses, before the Mosaic creation; much more that the glorious Sun and immeasurably distant stars were above a week older than Adam.
How shall we expound heaven so as to compass an uniformity of sentiments? The common people place it in the atmosphere : whence the expressions of birds of heaven, the dews of heaven, and the heavens opening when it lightens. Some may begin it just above the atmosphere : others perhaps remove it beyond the starry sphere and visible universe. But when we reflect on the earth's motion in her annual orbit, we shall find that was heaven yesterday which is earth to-day, and the space coutained in the room I now sit in will be part of heaven to-morrow. haps may imagine that heaven is not local, but it is our immersion into body that excludes us from thence; so that if all our material bars could be bursten asunder, we should instantly find ourselves in heaven without removing from our places.
Thus a perfect uniformity of sentiments is neither practicable nor needful : it is enough that we agree together so far as that we may act in concert upon the common occasions of life, and not disturb one another in our religious exercises. Therefore our laws have wisely provided for such an uniformity of profession as is requisite to maintain order and good harmony, and keep alive a sense of religion in all parts of the community: giving full liberty and indul
gence to any diversity of opinions that does not tend to invalidate those provisions, and unsettle the minds of the people.
2. Yet is this liberty to be used cautiously : for speculative opinions may have an influence upon practical, and one man's speculations, though innocent and salutary to himself, inay cause disquietude and do nischief in the mind of another, who perhaps will draw inferences from them the author never intended nor would think consequential, tending to overthrow some established tenet, or even subversive of religion and good manners. For in science, those who make it their business to dive into the depths of it, find a very different scene of things from those who take only so much as is requisite for common use : and such as have bestowed much thought upon the foundations of right and wrong, discover many contrarieties and absurdities in the popular notions; as on the other hand their refinements appear unintelligible and absurd to the generality. Therefore it behoves every man to regard not only what is rational, consistent, and wholesome to himself, but what will continue so when thrown into a diversely moulded imagination : reserving the former for his private use, or for those of a similar cast, but dealing out the latter only to all
Hence the so noted distinction among philosophers of their esoteric and exoteric doctrines, the one to be trusted only with adepts, the other communicated to the vulgar: or if they did sometimes venture the former in a mixed audience, they couched them under such enigmatical and mysterious terms that nobody could tell what to make of them without the secret enigmatical key. But this reserve of theirs has been commonly placed in a wrong light; as if proceeding from a vain and niggardly temper, fond of boarding up their treasures for themselves and thinking any worthless scraps good enough for the vulgar. . Nor has the word Vulgar contributed a little towards encouraging this notion, as signifying with us a person of mean understanding, little knowledge or accomplishment : so that Adept is regarded as a title of honor, and Vulgar as a word of reproach. Whereas in former times the terms were relative to some art, or science, or profession, respectively comprising all who were or were not masters therein : so that the philosopher himself was among the vulgar with regard to commerce, masonry, navigation, or other business he did not understand, and acknowledged such as were skilful in each profession for adepts.
3. Contempt and jealousy are the natural growth of little minds : and pretenders to a knowledge they have not, must affect profoundness and mystery in order to keep the secret of those arti
fices they employ for getting a false reputation, which would vanish as soon as seen through. But meekness, candor, openness of temper and unreserved benignity, are characteristics of the true philosopher. He aims at genuine happiness, not at any spacious glare of it as seen through the optics of passion or fancy. He pursues knowledge for the use, not the credit of it, and desires reputation no further than as it may gain him better attention, and thereby enable him to do better service. He chooses his science, not as the most noble and most elevated above all others, but as most suited to his particular genius and circumstances in life. For he knows the business of the world cannot be carried on without many heads variously qualified, and it behoves each laborer to take that part of the work for which nature and fortune have peculiarly adapted him : that being the most noble and becoming to every one, wherein he may proceed with greatest profit to the community. He sees that active professions are more necessary to the public well-being than speculative, and that many of them require as great acuteness of parts, soundness of judgment, and as piercing sagacity, as the depths of philosophy.
Though his thoughts are continually raised up to objects above the coinmon observance, he does not think himself higher in merit or accomplishment upon that account. For as a sailor ordered up the main-mast top to descry ships, or clouds, or promontories at a distance, though higher in situation, is not higher in rank and eminence than the crew below, who take their measures according to his signals: so he considers himself as placed upon some watch tower, there to sit a careful spectator of the earth with its inhabitants, their ways, natures, and all that passes therein, and the heavens with all their glories; only to draw notices from thence for the service of his fellow-laborers, busied in employments below as useful and as laudable.
But he knows that in all professions there are certain technical terms and technical trains of thinking umintelligible to those who are not conversant in the business, though perhaps of superior understandings and more extensive knowledge. Therefore he communicates his notices where he judges they will be understood : for he esteems nothing too good for anybody, but if he withholds his lights from any, it is not owing to a supercilious opinion of their unworthiness, but to their inability to receive them ; which inability he does not attribute to a dulness of apprehension, or any other defect that might lessen them in his estimation, but to a want of the preparation necessary for that particular purpose.
4. Nor is he more prone to monopolize than to despise : for what valuables he possesses are of a nature to be imparted with