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the answers here given to what is objected against religion, may equally be made use of to invalidate the proof of it, since their stress lies so very much upon our ignorance.” But,
First, Though total ignorance in any matter does indeed equally destroy, or rather preclude, all proof concerning it, and objections against it, yet partial ignorance does not. For we may in any degree be convinced, that a person is of such a character, and consequently will pursue such ends, though we are greatly ignorant what is the proper way of acting, in order the most effectually to obtain those ends ; and in this case objections against his manner of acting, as seemingly not conducive to obtain them, might be answered by our ignorance, though the proof that such ends were intended, might not at all be invalidated by it. Thus, the proof of religion is a proof of the moral character of God, and consequently, that his government is moral, and that every one, upon the whole, shall receive according to his deserts ; a proof that this is the designed end of his government. But we are not competent judges what is the proper way of acting, in order the most effectually to accomplish this end. (Pp. 238, 239.) Therefore our ignorance is an answer to objections against the conduct of Providence, in permitting irregularities, as seeming contradictory to this end. Now, since it is so obvious that our ignorance may
be a satisfactory answer to objections against a thing, and yet not affect the proof of it ; till it can be shewn, it is frivolous to assert, that our ignorance invalidates the proof of religion, as it does the objections against it.
Secondly, Suppose unknown impossibilities, and unknown relations, might justly be urged to invalidate the proof of religion, as well as to answer objections against it, and that in consequence of this, the proof of it were doubtful; yet still, let the assertion be despised, or let it be ridiculed ; it is undeniably true, that moral obligations would remain certain, though it were not certain what would, upon the whole, be the consequences of observing or violating them. For these obligations arise immediately and necessarily from the judgment of our own mind, unless perverted, which we cannot violate without being self-condemned. And they would be certain, too, , from considerations of interest. For, though it were doubtful what will be the future consequences of virtue and vice, yet it is however credible, that they may have those consequences which religion teaches us they will; and this credibility is a certain (page 234, and part ii. ch. vi.) obligation in point of prudence, to abstain from all wickedness, and to live in the conscientious practice of all that is good. But,
Thirdly, The answers above given to the objections against religion, cannot equally be made use of to invalidate the proof of it. For, upon supposition that God exercises a moral government over the world, analogy does most strongly lead us to conclude, that this moral government must be a scheme, or constitution, beyond our comprehension. And a thousand particular analogies shew us, that parts of such a scheme, from their relation to other parts, may conduce to accomplish ends, which we should have thought they had no tendency at all to accomplish ; nay, ends, which, before experience, we should have thought such parts were contradictory to, and had a tendency to prevent. And, therefore, all these analogies shew, that the way of arguing made use of in objecting against religion, is delusive ; because they shew that it is not at all incredible, that, could we comprehend the whole, we should find the permission of the disorders objected against, to be consistent with justice and goodness, and even to be instances of them.Now this is not applicable to the proof of religion, as it is to the objections against it ;* and therefore cannot invalidate that proof as it does these objections.
Lastly, From the observation now made it is easy to see, that the answers above given to the objections against Providence, though, in a general way of speaking, they may be said to be taken from our ignorance, yet are by no means taken merely from that, but from somewhat which analogy shews us concerning it. For analogy shews us positively, that our ignorance in the possibilities of things, and the various relations in nature, renders us incompetent judges, and leads us to false conclusions, in cases similar to this, in which we pretend to judge and to object. So that the things above insisted upon, are not mere suppositions of unknown impossibilities and relations; but they are suggested to our thoughts, and even forced upon the observation of serious men, and rendered credible too, by the analogy of nature. And, therefore, to take these things into the account, is to judge by experience, and what we do know; and it is not judging so, to take no notice of them.
• Sermon at the Rolls, p. 312. 2d Edit.
The observations of the last chapter lead us to consider this little scene of human life, in which we are so busily engaged, as having reference, of some sort or other, to a much larger plan of things. Whether we are any way related to the more distant parts of the boundless universe into which we are brought, is altogether uncertain. But it is evident, that the course of things which comes within our view, is connected with somewhat past, present, and future beyond it. (Page 319, &c.) So that we are placed, as one may speak, in the middle of a scheme, not a fixed, but a progressive one, every way incomprehensible; incomprehensible, in a manner, equally with respect to what has been, what now is, and what shall be hereafter. And this scheme cannot but contain in it somewhat as wonderful, and as much beyond our thought and conception, (see part ii. ch. 2.) as any thing in that of religion. For, will any man in his senses say, that it is less difficult to conceive how the world came to be, and to continue as it is, without, than with, an intelligent Author and Governor of it? or, admitting an intelligent Governor of it, that there is some other rule of government more natural, and of easier conception, than that which we call moral ? Indeed, without an intelligent Author and Governor of nature, no account at all can be given, how this universe, or
the part of it particularly in which we are concerned, came to so be, and the course of it to be carried on, as it is; nor any of its
general end and design, without a moral Governor of it. That there is an intelligent Author of nature, and natural Governor of the world, is a principle gone upon in the foregoing treatise, as proved, and generally known and confessed to be proved. And the very notion of an intelligent Author of nature, proved by particular final causes, implies a will and a character. (Page 311.) Now, as our whole nature, the nature which he has given us, leads us to conclude his will and character to be moral, just and good ; so we can scarce in imagination conceive, what it
can be otherwise. However, in consequence of this his will and character, whatever it be, he formed the universe as it is, and carries on the course of it as he does, rather than in any other manner ; and has assigned to us, and to all living creatures, a part and a lot in it. Irrational creatures act this their part, and enjoy and undergo the pleasures and the pains allotted them, without any reflection. But one would think it impossible, that creatures endued with reason could avoid reflecting sometiines upon
all this ; reflecting, if not from whence we came, yet, at least, whither we are going, and what the mysterious scheme, in the midst of which we find ourselves, will at length come out and produce; a scheme in which it is certain we are highly interested, and in which we may be interested even beyond conception. For many things prove it palpably absurd to conclude, that we shall cease to be at death. Particular analogies do most sensibly shew us, that there is nothing to be thought strange in our being to exist in another state of life. And that we are now living beings affords a strong probability that we shall continue so; unless there be some positive ground, and there is none from reason or analogy, to think death will destroy us. Were a persuasion of this kind ever so well grounded, there would surely be little reason to take pleasure in it. But, indeed, it can have no other ground than some such imagination, as that of our gross bodies being ourselves ; which is contrary to experience. Experience, too, most clearly shows us the folly of concluding, from the body and the living agent affecting each other mutually, that the dissolution of the former is the destruction of the latter. And there are remarkable instances of their not affecting each other, which lead us to a contrary conclusion. The supposition, then, which in all reason we are to go upon, is, that our living nature will continue after death. And it is infinitely unreasonable to form an institution of life, or to act upon any other supposition. Now, all expectation of immortality, whether more or less certain, opens an unbounded prospect to our hopes and our fears; since we see the constitution of nature is such as to admit of misery, as well as to be productive of happiness, and experience ourselves to partake of both in some degree ; and since we cannot but know what higher degrees of both we are capable of. And there is no presumption against believing farther, that our future interest depends upon our present behaviour ; for we see our present interest doth ; and that the happiness and misery, which are naturally annexed to our actions, very frequently do not follow till long after the actions are done, to which they are respectively annexed. So that, were speculation to leave us uncertain, whether it were likely that the Author of nature, in giving happiness and misery to his creatures, hath regard to their actions or not; yet, since we find by experience that he hath such regard, the whole sense of things which he has given us plainly leads us, at once, and without any elaborate inquiries, to think, that it may, indeed must, be to good actions chiefly that he hath annexed happiness, and to bad actions misery; or that he will, upon the whole, reward those who do well, and punish those who do evil. To confirm this from the constitution of the world, it has been observed, that some sort of moral government is necessarily implied in that natural government of God which we experience ourselves under ; that good and bad actions, at present, are naturally rewarded and punished, not only as beneficial and mischievous to society, but also as virtuous and vicious, and that there is, in the very nature of the thing, a tendency to their being rewarded and punished in a much higher degree than they are at present. And though this higher degree of distributive justice, which nature thus points out and leads towards, is prevented for a time from taking place, it is by obstacles which the state of this world unhappily throws in its way, and which, therefore, are in their nature temporary. Now, as these things, in the natural conduct of Providence, are observable on the side of virtue, so there is nothing to be set against them on the side of vice. A moral scheme of government, then, is visibly established, and, in some degree, carried into execution ; and this, together with the essential tendencies of virtue and vice duly considered, naturally raise in us an apprehension, that it will be carried on farther towards perfection in a future state, and that every one shall there receive according to his deserts. And if this be so, then our future and general interest, under the moral government of God, is appointed to depend upon our behaviour, notwithstanding the difficulty which this may occasion of securing it, and the danger of losing it; just in the same manner as our temporal interest, under his natural government, is appointed to depend upon our behaviour, notwithstanding the like difficulty and danger. For, from our original constitution, and that of the world which we inhabit, we are naturally trusted with ourselves, with our own conduct and our own interest. And from the same constitution of nature, especially joined with that course of things which is owing to men, we have temptations to be unfaithful in this trust,