« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
likely to procure them : now this foresight could not be ato all, were not the government of the world carried on by general laws. And though, for aught we know to the contrary, every single case may be, at length, found to have been provided for even by these; yet, to prevent all irregularities, or remedy them as they arise, by the wisest and best general laws, may be impossible in the nature of things, as we see it is absolutely impossible in civil government. But then we are ready to think that the constitution of nature remaining as it is, and the course of things being permitted to go on in other respects as it does, there might be interpositions to prevent irregularities, though they could not have been prevented or remedied by any general laws. And there would indeed be a reason to wish- which, by the way, is very different from a right claim that all irregularities were prevented or remedied by present interpositions, if those interpositions would have no other effect than this. But it is plain they would have some visible and immediate bad effects ; for instance, they would encourage idleness and negligence, and they would render doubtful the natural rule of life, which is ascertained by this very thing, that the course of the world is carried on by general laws. And farther, it is certain they would have distant effects, and very great ones too, by means of the wonderful connexions before mentioned*. So that we cannot so much as guess what would be the whole result of the interpositions desired. It may be said, any bad result might be prevented by farther interpositions, whenever there was occasion for them ; but this again is talking quite at random, and in the darkt. Upon the whole, then, we see wise reasons why the course. of the world should be carried on by general laws, and good ends accomplished by this means ; and, for aught we know, there may be the wisest reasons for it, and the best ends accomplished by it. We have no ground to believe, that all irregularities could be remedied as they arise, or could have been precluded by general laws. We find that interposi-, * Page 99, &c.
+ Pages 100, 101.
tions would produce evil, and prevent good; and, for aught we know, they would produce greater evil than they would prevent, and prevent greater good than they would produce, And if this be the case, then the not interposing is so far from being a ground of complaint, that it is an instance of goodness. This is intelligible and sufficient; and going farther seems beyond the utmost reach of our faculties.
But it may be said, that, “ after all, these supposed impossibilities and relations are what we are unacquainted with ; and we must judge of religion, as of other things, by what we do know, and look upon the rest as nothing ; or, however, that 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. 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 shown, 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 * 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 answer 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 show 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 show, that the way of arguing made use of in objecting against religion is delusive; because they show 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.
* Part ii. chap. 6.
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 shows us concerning it. For analogy shows 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.
CONCLUSION. 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 a reference, of some sort or other, to a niuch larger plan of things. Whether we are any way related to the more distant parts of the boundless universeinto 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*. 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 t, as anything 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 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. 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 andthe pains allotted them, without any reflection. But one would think it impossible, that creatures endued with reason could avoid reflecting sometimes upon all this ;-reflecting, if not from whence we
* Sermon at the Rolls, p. 312. 2d Edit.