« AnteriorContinuar »
what time, and in what manner, it came first into the world ; and whether it were believed by any considerable part
of it. And were he upon inquiry to find, that a particular person, in a late age, first of all proposed it as a deduction of reason, and that mankind were before wholly ignorant of it; then, though its evidence from reason would remain, there would be no addi. tional probability of its truth, from the account of its discovery. But instead of this being the fact of the case, on the contrary, he would find what could not but afford him a very strong confirmation of its truth : First, That somewhat of this system, with more or fewer additions and alterations, hath been professed in all ages and countries of which we have any certain information relating to this matter. Secondly, That it is certain historical fact, so far as we can trace things up, that this whole system of belief, that there is one God, the Creator and moral Governor of the world, and that mankind is in a state of religion, was received in the first ages. And, thirdly, That as as there is no hint or intimation in history, that this system was first reasoned out; so there is express historical or traditional evidence, as ancient as history, that it was taught first by revelation. Now, these things must be allowed to be of great weight. The first of them, general consent, shews this system to be conformable to the common sense of mankind. The second, namely, that religion was believed in the first ages of the world, especially as it does not appear that there were then any superstitious or false additions to it, cannot but be a farther confirmation of its truth. For it is a proof of this alternative ; either that it came into the world by revelation, or that it is natural, obvious, and forces itself upon the mind. The former of these is the conclusion of learned men. And whoever will consider, how unapt for speculation rude and uncultivated minds are, will, perhaps from hence alone, be strongly inclined to believe it the truth. And as it is shewn in the second part (ch. ii.) of this treatise, that there is nothing of such peculiar presumption against a revelation in the beginning of the world, as there is supposed to be against subsequent ones ; a sceptic could not, I think, give any account, which would appear more probable even to himself, of the early pretences to revelation, than by supposing some real original one, from whence they were copied. And the third thing abovementioned, that there is express historical or traditional evidence, as ancient as history, of the system of religion being taught mankind by revelation ; this must be admitted as some degree of real proof, that it was so taught. For why should
not the most ancient tradition be admitted as some additional proof of a fact, against which there is no presumption ? And this proof is mentioned here, because it has its weight to shew, that religion came into the world by revelation, prior to all consideration of the proper authority of any book supposed to contain it; and even prior to all consideration, whether the revelation itself be uncorruptly handed down and related, or mixed and darkened with fables. Thus the historical account which we have, of the origin of religion, taking in all circumstances, is a real confirmation of its truth, no way affected by the opinion of necessity. And the external evidence, even of natural religion, is by no means inconsiderable.
But it is carefully to be observed, and cught to be recollected after all proofs of virtue and religion, which are only general, that as speculative reason may be neglected, prejudiced, and deceived, so also may our moral understanding be impaired and perverted, and the dictates of it not impartially attended to. This, indeed, proves nothing against the reality of our speculative or practical facultics of perception; against their being intended by nature to inform us in the theory of things, and instruct us how we are to behave, and what we are to expect, in consequence of our behaviour. Yet our liableness, in the degree we are liable, to prejudice and perversion, is a most serious admonition to us to be upon our guard, with respect to what is of such consequence, as our determinations concerning virtue and religion ; and particularly, not to take custom, and fashion, and slight notions of honour, or imaginations of present ease, use, and convenience to mankind, for the only moral rule. (Diss. ii.)
The foregoing observations, drawn from the nature of the thing, and the history of religion, amount, when taken toge: ther, to a real practical proof of it, not to be confuted ; such a proof as, considering the infinite importance of the thing, I apprehend, would be admitted fully sufficient, in reason, to influence the actions of men, who act upon thought and reflection; if it were admitted that there is no proof of the contrary. But it may be said ; “ There are many probabilities, which cannot indeed be confuted, i. e. shewn to be no probabilities, and yet may be overbalanced by greater probabilities on the other side; much more by demonstration. And there is no occasion to object against particular arguments alleged for an opinion, when the opinion itself may be clearly shewn to be false, without meddling with such arguments at all, but leaving them just as they are. (Pages 233, 239.) Now the method of government by rewards and punishments, and especially rewarding and punishing good and ill desert, as such, respectively, must go upon supposition that we are free, and not necessary agents. And it is incredible, that the author of nature should govern us upon a supposition as true, which he knows to be false ; and therefore absurd to think, he will reward or punish us for our actions hereafter ; especially that he will do it under the notion, that they are of good or ill desert." Here, then, the matter is brought to a point. And the answer to all this is full, and not to be evaded ; that the whole constitution and course of things, the whole analogy of providence, shows, beyond possibility of doubt, that the conclusion from this reasoning is false, wherever the fallacy lies. The doctrine of freedom, indeed, clearly shows where; in supposing ourselves necessary, when in truth we are free agents. But, upon the supposition of necessity, the fallacy lies in taking for granted, that it is incredible necessary agents should be rewarded and punished. But that, somehow or other, the conclusion now mentioned is false, is most certain. For it is fact, that God does
govern even brute creatures by the method of rewards and punishments, in the natural course of things. And men are rewarded and punished for their actions, punished for actions mischievous to society as being so, punished for vicious actions as such, by the natural instrumentality of each other, under the present conduct of Providence. Nay, even the affection of gratitude, and the passion of resentment, and the rewards and punishments following from them, which in general are to be considered as natural, i. e. from the author of nature; these rewards and punishments, being naturally * annexed to actions considered as implying good intention and good desert, ill intention and ill desert ; these natural rewards and punishments, I say, are as much a contradiction to the conclusion above, and shew its falsehood, as a more exact and complete rewarding and punishing of good and ill desert, as such. So that, if it be incredible that necessary agents should be thus rewarded and punished, then men are not necessary, but free ; since it is matter of fact that they are thus rewarded and punished. But if, on the contrary, which is the supposition we have been arguing upon, it be insisted, that men are necessary agents, then there is nothing incredible in the farther supposition of necessary agents being thus rewarded and punished; since we ourselves are thus dealt with.
Sermon eighth, at the Rolls.
From the whole, therefore, it must follow, that a necessity supposed possible, and reconcilable with the constitution of things, does in no sort prove, that the author of nature will not, nor destroy the proof that he will, finally, and upon the whole, in his eternal government, render his creatures happy or miserable, by some means or other, as they behave well or ill. Or, to express this conclusion in words conformable to the title of the chapter, the analogy of nature shows us, that the opinion of necessity, considered as practical, is false. And if necessity, upon the supposition above-mentioned, doth not destroy the proof of natural religion, it evidently makes no alteration in the proof of revealed.
From these things, likewise, we may learn in what sense to understand that general assertion, that the opinion of necessity is essentially destructive of all religion. First, In a practical sense; that by this notion atheistical men pretend to satisfy and encourage themselves in vice, and justify to others their disregard to all religion. And, secondly, in the strictest sense ; that it is a contradiction to the whole constitution of nature, and to what we may every moment experience in ourselves, and so overturns every thing. But by no means is this assertion to be understood, as if necessity, supposing it could possibly be reconciled with the constitution of things, and with what we experence, were not also reconcilable with religion ; for
upon this supposition it demonstrably is so.
OF THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD, CONSIDERED AS A SCHEME OR
CONSTITUTION, IMPERFECTLY COMPREHENDED.
Though it be, as it cannot but be, acknowledged, that the analogy of nature gives a strong credibility to the general doctrine of religion, and to the several particular things contained in it, considered as so many matters of fact; and likewise, that it shows this credibility not to be destroyed by any notions of necessity ; yet still, objections may be insisted upon against the wisdom, equity, and goodness of the divine government, implied in the notion of religion, and against the method by which this government is conducted, to which objections analogy
can be no direct answer. For the credibility, or the certain truth, of a matter of fact, does not immediately prove any thing concerning the wisdom or goodness of it: and analogy can do no more, immediately or directly, than shew such and such things to be true or credible, considered only as matters of fact. But still, if, upon supposition of a moral constitution of nature and a moral government over it, analogy suggests and makes it credible, that this government must be a scheme, system, or constitution of government, as distinguished from a number of single unconnected acts of distributive justice and goodness; and likewise, that it must be a scheme, so imperfectly comprehended, and of such a sort in other respects, as to afford a direct general answer to all objections against the justice and goodness of it; then analogy is, remotely, of great service in answering those objections, both by suggesting the answer, and shewing it to be a credible one.
Now, this, upon inquiry, will be found to be the case. For, first, Upon supposition that God exercises a moral government over the world, the analogy of his natural government suggests, and makes it credible, that his moral government must be a scheme quite beyond our comprehension ; and this affords a general answer to all objections against the justice and goodness of it. And, secondly, A more distinct observation of some particular things contained in God's scheme of natural government, the like things being supposed, by analogy, to be contained in his moral government, will farther show how little weight is to be laid upon these objections.
1. Upon supposition that God exercises a moral government over the world, the analogy of his natural government suggests and makes it credible, that his moral government must be a scheme quite beyond our comprehension : and this affords a general answer to all objections against the justice and goodness of it. It is most obvious, analogy renders it highly credible, that upon supposition of a moral government, it must be a scheme, for the world, and the whole natural government of it, appears to be so—to be a scheme, system, or constitution, whose parts correspond to each other, and to a whole, as really as any work of art, or as any particular model of a civil constitution and government. In this great scheme of the natural world, individuals have various peculiar relations to other individuals of their own species. And whole species are, we find, variously related to other species, upon this earth. Nor do we know how much farther these kinds of relations tend. And, as there is not any action, or natural event, which