Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

a

proved. Pleasure and pain are indeed, to a certain degree, say to a very high degree, distributed among us, without any apparent regard to the merit or demerit of characters. And were there nothing else concerning this matter, discernible in the constitution and course of nature, there would be no ground, from the constitution and course of nature, to hope or to fear, that men would be rewarded or punished hereafter, according to their deserts; which, however, it is to be remarked, implies, that even then there would be no ground, from appearances, to think that vice, upon the whole, would have the advantage, rather than that virtue would. And thus the proof of a future state of retribution would rest upon the usual known arguments for it; which are, I think, plainly unanswerable, and would be so, though there were no additional confirmation of them from the things above insisted on. But these things are a very strong confirmation of them: For,

First, They shew, that the Author of nature is not indifferent to virtue and vice. They amount to a declaration from him, determinate, and not to be evaded, in favour of one, and against the other : such a declaration as there is nothing to be set over against, or answer, on the part of vice. So that were a man, laying aside the proper proof of religion, to determine from the course of nature only, whether it were most probable that the righteous or the wicked would have the advantage in a future life, there can be no doubt but that he would determine the probability to be, that the former would. The course of nature, then, in the view of it now given, furnishes us with a real practical proof of the obligations of religion.

Secondly, When, conformably to what religion teaches us, God shall reward and punish virtue and vice, as such, so as that every one shall, upon the whole, have his deserts, this distributive justice will not be a thing different in kind, but only in degree, from what we experience in his present government. It will be that in effect, toward which we now see a tendency. It will be no more than the completion of that moral government, the principles and beginning of which have been shewn, beyond all dispute, discernible in the present constitution and course of nature.

And from hence it follows, Thirdly, That as, under the natural government of God, our experience of those kinds and degrees of happiness and misery, which we do experience at present, gives just ground to hope for and to fear higher degrees and other kinds of both in a future state, supposing a future state admitted ; so, under his moral government, our experience that virtue and vice are;

a

a

in the manners above-mentioned, actually rewarded ar ished at present, in a certain degree, gives just ground 1 and to fear, that they may be rewarded and punished in a degree hereafter. It is acknowledged, indeed, that this is not sufficient ground to think, that they actually will be rewarded and punished in a higher degree, rather than in a lower : But then,

Lastly, There is sufficient ground to think so, from the good and bad tendencies of virtue and vice. For these tendencies are essential, and founded in the nature of things ; whereas the hinderances to their becoming effect are, in numberless cases, Dot necessary, but artificial only. Now, it

may

be much more strongly argued, that these tendencies, as well as the actual rewards and punishments of virtue and vice, which arise directly out of the nature of things, will remain hereafter, than that the accidental hinderances of them will. And if these hinderances do not remain, those rewards and punishments cannot but be carried on much farther towards the perfection of moral government, i. e. the tendencies of virtue and vice will become cifect ; but when, or where, or in what particular way, cannot be known at all but by revelation.

Upon the whole, there is a kind of moral government implied in God's natural government; (page 267) virtue and vice are naturally rewarded and punished as beneficial and mischievous to society, (page 268) and rewarded and punished directly as virtue and vice. (Page 269, &c.) The notion, then, of a moral scheme of government, is not fictitious, but natural; for it is suggested to our thoughts by the constitution and course of nature, and the execution of this scheme is actually begun, in the instances here mentioned. And these things are to be considered as a declaration of the Author of nature, for virtue, and against vice; they give a credibility to the supposition of their being rewarded and punished hereafter, and also ground to hope and to fear, that they may be rewarded and punished in higher degrees than they are here. And as all this is confirmed, so the argument for religion, from the constitution and course of nature, is carried on farther, by observing, that there are natural tendencies, and, in innumerable cases, only artificial hinderances, to this moral scheme being carried on much farther towards perfection than it is at present, (page 274, &c.) The notion, then, of a moral scheme of government, much more perfect than what is seen, is not a fictitious, but a natural notion, for it is suggested to our thoughts by the essential tendencies of virtue and vice. And these tendencies are to be

considered as intimations, as implicit promises and threatenings, from the Author of nature, of much greater rewards and punishments to follow virtue and vice than do at present. And, indeed, every natural tendency, which is to continue, but which is hindered from becoming effect by only accidental causes, affords a presumption, that such tendency will some time or other become effect : a presumption in degree proportionable to the length of the duration through which such tendency will continue. And from these things together arises a real presumption, that the moral scheme of government established in nature, shall be carried on much farther towards perfection hereafter, and, I think, a presumption that it will be absolutely completed. But from these things, joined with the moral nature which God has given us, considered as given us by him, arises a practical proof* that it will be completed ; a proof from fact, and therefore a distinct one from that which is deduced from the eternal and unalterable relations, the fitness and unfitness of actions.

CHAP. IV.

OF A STATE OF PROBATION, AS IMPLYING TRIAL, DIFFICULTIES,

AND DANGER.

a

The general doctrine of religion, that our present life is a state of probation for a future one, comprehends under it several particular things, distinct from each other. But the first and most common meaning of it seems to be, that our future interest is now depending, and depending upon ourselves ; that we have scope and opportunities here for that good and bad behaviour, which God will reward and punish hereafter ; together with temptations to one, as well as inducements of reason to the other. And this is, in great measure, the same with saying, that we are under the moral government of God, and to give an account of our actions to him. For the notion of a future account, and general righteous judgment, implies some sort of temptations to what is wrong, otherwise there would be no moral possibility of doing wrong, nor ground for judgment or discrimination. But there is this difference, that the word probalion is more distinctly and particularly expressive of al

• See this proof drawn out briefly, chap. vi.

lurements to wrong, or difficulties in adhering uniformly to what is right, and of the danger of miscarrying by such temptations, than the words moral government. A state of probation, then, as thus particularly implying in it trial, difficulties, and danger, may require to be considered distinctly by itself.

And as the moral government of God, which religion teaches us, implies, that we are in a state of trial with regard to a future world; so also his natural government over us implies, that we are in a state of trial, in the like sense, with regard to the present world. Natural government, by rewards and punishments, as much implies natural trial, as moral government does moral trial. The natural government of God here meant, (ch. ii.) consists in his annexing pleasure to some actions, and pain to others, which are in our power to do or forbear, and in giving us notice of such appointment beforehand. This necessarily implies, that he has made our happiness and misery, or our interest, to depend in part upon ourselves. And so far as men have temptations to any course of action which will probably occasion them greater temporal inconvenience and uneasiness thạn satisfaction, so far their temporal interest is in danger from themselves, or they are in a state of trial with respect to it. Now, people often blame others, and even themselves, for their misconduct in their temporal concerns.

And we find many are greatly wanting to themselves, and miss of that natural happiness which they might have obtained in the present life; perhaps every one does in some degree. But many run themselves into great inconvenience, and into extreme distress and misery, not through incapacity of knowing better, and doing better for themselves, which would be nothing to the present purpose, but through their own fault. And these things necessarily imply temptation, and danger of miscarrying, in a greater or less degree, with respect to our worldly interest or happiness. Every one, too, without having religion in his thoughts, speaks of the hazards which young people run upon their setting out in the world ; hazards from other causes than merely their ignorance, and unavoidable accidents. And some courses of vice, at least, being contrary to men's worldly interest or good, temptations to these must at the same time be temptations to forego our present and our future interest. Thus, in our natural or temporal capacity, we are in a state of trial, i. e. of difficulty and danger, analogous or like to our moral and religious trial.

This will more distinctly appear to any one, who thinks it worth while, more distinctly, to consider, what it is which constitutes our trial in both capacities, and to observe how mankind telave under it.

And that which constitutes this our trial, in both these capacities, must be somewhat either in our external circumstances, or in our nature. For, on the one hand, persons may be be. trayed into wrong behaviour upon surprise, or overcome upon any other very singular and extraordinary external occasions, who would otherwise have preserved their character of prudence and of virtue; in which cases, every one, in speaking of the wrong behaviour of these persons, would impute it to such particular external circumstances. And, on the other hand, men who have contracted habits of vice and folly of any kind, or have some particular passions in excess, will seek opportunities, and, as it were, go out of their way, to gratify themselves in these respects, at the expense of their wisdom and their virtue ; led to it, as every one would say, not by external temptations, but by such habits and passions. And the account of this last case is, that particular passions are no more coincident with prudence, or that reasonable self-love, the end of which is our worldly interest, than they are with the principle of virtue and religion, but often draw contrary ways to one as well as to the other; and so such particular passions are as much temptations to act imprudently with regard to our worldly interest, as to act viciously. However, as when we șay, men are misled by external circumstances of temptation, it cannot but be understood, that there is somewhat within themselves to render those circumstances temptations, or to render them susceptible of impressions from them ; so, when we say they are misled by passions, it is always supposed, that there are occasions, circumstances, and objects, exciting these passions, and affording means for gratifying them. And, therefore, temptations from within, and from without, coincide, and mutually imply each other. Now, the several external objects of the appetites, passions, and affections, being present to the senses, or offering themselves to the mind, and so exciting emotions suitable to their nature, not only in cases where they can be gratified consistently with innocence and prudence, but also in cases where they cannot, and yet can be gratified imprudently and viciously; this as really puts them in danger of voluntarily foregoing their present interest or good, as their future, and as really renders self-denial

U

See Sermons preached at the Rolls, 1726, 2d edit. p. 205, &c. Pref. p. 25. &c. Serm. p. 21, &c.

« AnteriorContinuar »