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Reflections of this kind are not without their terrors to serious persons the most free from enthusiasm, and of the greatest strength of mind; but it is fit things be stated and considered as they really are. And there is, in the present age, a certain fearlessness with regard to what may be hereafter under the government of God, which nothing but an universally acknowledged demonstration on the side of atheism can justify, and which makes it quite necessary that men be reminded, and, if possible, made to feel that there is no sort of ground for being thus presumptuous, even upon the most sceptical principles. For, may it not be said of any person, upon his being born into the world, he may behave so as to be of no service to it, but by being made an example of the woeful effects of vice and folly; that he may, as any one may, if he will, incur an infamous execution from the hands of civil justice; or in some other course of extravagance shorten his days; or bring upon himself infamy and diseases worse than death ; so that it had been better for him, even with regard to the present world, that he had never been born? And is there any pretence of reason for people to think themselves secure, and talk as if they had certain proof, that, let them act as licentiously as they will, there can be nothing analogous to this, with regard to a future and more general interest, under the providence and government of the same God!
CHAPTER III. Of the Moral Government of God. As the manifold appearances of design and of final causes in the constitution of the world, prove it to be the work of an intelligent Mind, so the particular final causes of pleasure and pain, distributed amongst his creatures, prove that they are under his government—what may be called his natural government of creatures endued with sense and
reason. This, however, implies somewhat more than seems usually attended to, when we speak of God's natural government of the world. It implies government of the very same kind with that which a master exercises over his servants, or a civil magistrate over his subjects. These latter instances of final causes as really prove an intelligent Governor of the world, in the sense now mentioned, and before* distinctly treated of, as any other instances of final causes prove an intelligent Maker of it. .
. But this alone does not appear, at first sight, to determine any thing certainly concerning the moral character of the Author of nature, considered in this relation of governor; does not ascertain his government to be moral, or prove that he is the righteous Judge of the world. Moral government consists not barely in rewarding and punishing men for their actions, which the most tyrannical person may do; but in rewarding the righteous and punishing the wicked; in rendering to men according to their actions, considered as good or evil. And the perfection of moral government consists in doing this, with regard to all intelligent creatures, in an exact proportion to their personal merits or demerits. . Some men seem to think the only character of the Author of nature to be that of simple absolute benevolence. This, considered as a principle of action, and infinite in degree, is a disposition to produce the greatest possible happiness, without regard to persons' behaviour, otherwise than as such regard would produce higher degrees of it. And supposing this to be the only character of God, veracity and justice in him would be nothing but benevolence conducted by wisdom. Now, surely, this ought not to be asserted, unless it can be proved; for we should speak with cautious reverence upon such a subject. And whether it can be proved or no, is not the thing here to be inquired into; but whether, in the constitution and conduct of the world, a righteous government be not discernibly planned out; which necessarily implies a
* Chap 2.
righteous governor. There may possibly be in the creation beings, to whom the Author of nature manifests himself under this most amiable of all characters, this of infinite absolute benevolence ; for it is the most amiable, supposing it not, as perhaps it is not, incompatible with justice : but he manifests himself to us under the character of a righteous governor. He may, consistently with this, be simply and absolutely benevolent, in the sense now explained ; but he is, for he has given us a proof in the constitution and conduct of the world that he is, a governor over servants, as he rewards and punishes us for our actions. And in the constitution and conduct of it he may also have given, besides the reason of the thing, and the natural presages of conscience, clear and distinct intimations that his government is righteous or moral: clear to such as think the nature of it deserving their attention ; and yet not to every careless person who casts a transient reflection upon the subject.*
But it is particularly to be observed, that the divine government which we experience ourselves under in the present state, taken alone, is allowed not to be the perfection of moral government. And yet this by no means hinders, but that there may be somewhat, be it more or less, truly moral in it. A righteous government may plainly appear to be carried on to some degree; enough to give us the apprehension that it shall be completed, or carried on to that degree of perfection which religion teaches us it shall; but which cannot appear till much more of the divine administration be seen, than can in the present life. And
• The objections against religion, from the evidence of it not being universal, nor so strong as might possibly have been, may be urged against natural religion, as well as against revealed. And, therefore, the consideration of them belongs to the first part of this Treatise, as well as the second. But as these objections are chiefly urged against revealed religion, I chose to consider them in the Second Part. And the answer to them there, chap. vi., as urged against Christianity, being almost equally applicable to them as urged against the religion of nature, to avoid repetition, the reader is referred to that chapter.
the design of this chapter is to inquire, how far this is the case ; how far, over and above the moral nature * which God has given us, and our natural notion of him as righteous governor of those his creatures to whom he has given this nature ;t I say how far, besides this, the principles and beginnings, of a moral government over the world may be discerned, notwithstanding and amidst all the confusion and disorder of it.
Now one might mention here, what has been often urged with great force, that, in general, less uneasiness, and more satisfaction, are the natural consequences of a virtuous than of a vicious course of life, in the present state, as an instance of a moral government established in nature; an instance of it, collected from experience and present matter of fact. But it must be owned a thing of difficulty to weigh and balance pleasures and uneasinesses each amongst themselves, and also against each other, so as to make an estimate, with any exactness, of the overplus of happiness on the side of virtue. And it is not impossible, that, amidst the infinite disorders of the world, there may be exceptions to the happiness of virtue, even with regard to those persons whose course of life, from their youth up, has been blameless; and more with regard to those who have gone on for some time in the ways of vice, and have afterwards reformed. For suppose an instance of the latter case; a person with his passions inflamed, his natural faculty of self-government impaired by habits of indulgence, and with all his vices about him, like so many harpies, craving for their accustomed gratification : who can say how long it might be before such a person would find more satisfaction in the reasonableness and present good consequences of virtue, than difficulties and self-denial in the restraints of it? Experience also shows, that men can, to a great degree, get over their sense of shame, so as that, by professing themselves to be without principle, and avowing even direct villainy, they can support * Dissertation II.
1 Chap. 6. See Lord Shaftesbury's Inquiry concerning Virtue, Part 2.
themselves against the infamy of it. But as the ill actions of any one will probably be more talked of, and oftener thrown in his way, upon his reformation ; so the infamy of them will be much more felt, after the natural sense of virtue and of honour is recovered. Uneasiness of this kind ought indeed to be put to the account of former vices ; yet it will be said, they are, in part, the consequences of reformation. Still I am far from allowing it doubtful, whether virtue, upon the whole, be happier than vice in the present world; but if it were, yet the beginnings of a righteous administration may, beyond all question, be found in nature, if we will attentively inquire after them. And,
I. In whatever manner the notion of God's moral govern* ment over the world might be treated, if it did not appear whether he were, in a proper sense, our governor at all ; yet when it is certain matter of experience, that he does manifest himself to us under the character of a governor, in the sense explained, * it must deserve to be considered, whether there be not reason to apprehend that he may be a righteous or moral governor;-since it appears to be fact, that God does govern mankind by the method of rewards and punishments, according to some settled rules of distribution, it is surely a question to be asked, What presumption is there against his finally rewarding and punishing them according to this particular rule, namely, as they act reasonably or unreasonably, virtuously or viciously? since rendering man happy or miserable by this rule, certainly falls in, much more falls in, with our natural apprehensions and sense of things, than doing so by any other rule whatever ; since rewarding and punishing actions by any other rule, would appear much harder to be accounted for by minds formed as he has formed ours. Be the evidence of religion, then, more or less clear, the expectation which it raises in us, that the righteous shall, upon the whole, be happy, and the wicked miserable, cannot, however, possibly be considered as absurd or chimerical ; because it is no more than an expectation, that a method of
• Chap. 2.