Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION II - The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy
Return to Title Page for The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
SECTION II - George Turnbull, The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy 
The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy, ed. and with an Introduction by Alexander Broadie (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The scripture doctrine concerning providence more fully explained, in order to prove a future state, and that this is an established rule in the divine government of mankind, “That whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
A necessary observation upon reason premised, by way of
Tho’ it be a plain and universally received rule in criticism, that the obscurer passages of an author are always to be interpreted by the plain ones, and not the plain ones made doubtful by those that are more obscure, not to extend which to the sacred writings, in common with all others, would be most unaccountable partiality, to say no worse of it: yet upon some obscure passages of scripture are certain doctrines founded which are inconsistent not only with reason, but with the whole tenor of the scripture in general, or numberless plain declarations therein, in order to banter revelation, and turn it into ridicule. But to all impartial men such railing must indeed appear not merely ridiculous, but highly unjust and abusive; if it be really unjust or ridiculous not to observe the same rules of criticism in interpreting all books: and I now choose rather to take notice of some very false and hurtful opinions about scripture doctrines, into which those who pay a serious regard to revelation are misled through wrong notions of natural religion, by some passages of scripture: opinions by which they are induced to think very meanly of the guide God hath given us, without which revelation could be of no use to even our reason, as if by it we could not attain to<123> any just ideas of the divine moral perfections; far less come at any knowledge of his works of creation and providence, or of the equity of his ways to man. The passages by which weak men (for however pious they may be, very weak and ignorant they certainly are) are misled into such injurious notions of reason, and of God the father of lights whose image and gift it is, are such as that in Isaiah,a who says, speaking of God, “there is no searching of his understanding.” But even in the same place doth not the prophet appeal thus both to reason and tradition or revelation: “Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard that the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth fainteth not, neither is weary?”—And doth he not in a following verse affirm, “that they that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength: they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint.” The plain meaning of which passage must be, That they who endeavour to know God, in order to conform themselves to his image and will (which necessarily implies a capacity of knowing God) shall feel their faculties enlarge, and they shall gradually ascend in knowledge and in holiness, so as to become at last able to make a very swift progress in both, without wearying or fainting.
Or that other passage of the same prophet,b “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts”—Whence some have inferred that we cannot have any clear apprehension of the divine perfections, so as to be able to affirm in any case, that any thing is unjust with respect to God; so totally different is justice in God from what we call such in men—Whereas the verse immediately preceeding plainly shews it can have<124> no such meaning—Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon—Where it is evidently supposed that we can distinguish between righteous and unrighteous ways, between mercy and its contrary; and thus understand what it is not to be like to wicked and unrighteous men, but to have justice, goodness, and righteousness higher than the most perfect men, as heavens are higher than earth.
Or that of the Psalmist,a Clouds and darkness are round about him— Though it is often repeated by the same Psalmist—That we have full evidence from his works, that judgment and righteousness are the habitation of his seat—And that the whole universe is full of the riches of his bounty and goodness.
Or that of Zophar in Job,b “Canst thou by searching find God? Canst thou find out the almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven, what canst thou do; it is deeper than hell, what canst thou know?”—Though there nothing evidently is said, but that finite minds cannot fully comprehend all the ways of infinite knowledge.
Or that of Solomon,c “As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit (of the wind it should be translated, according to that of our Saviour, ‘Thou hearest the sound thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth’). As thou knowest not what is the way of the wind, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child; even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all”—Which cannot be understood as if it were absolutely impossible for men to attain to any skill in the anatomy of the human body, or of the animal<125> oeconomy and growth in general; but in the same sense as the wise author of the Book of Ecclesiasticus, who having given a noble description of all the parts of the visible creation known in his time, sums up all at last with this judicious exclamation,d There are still hid greater things than these, and we have seen but a few of his works.
Or that of the Apostle St. Paul,e O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are the judgments of God, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord; or who hath been his counsellor? Where tho’ the full extent of the riches of God’s wisdom and mercy are said to be beyond human reach, and many of his ways to be past our finding out; yet we are plainly supposed to be able to know and understand not only what wisdom and mercy means; but that they may be in God in the most exalted degree of perfection, and therefore may produce many things perfectly consistent with them which we cannot comprehend.
Or, to name no more, that of the same apostle,a Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?—The plain meaning of which words and those which follow is, “Where is the philosopher skilled in the wisdom of the Greeks? Where is the scribe studied in the Jewish learning? Where the professor of human arts and sciences? Hath not God rendered all their learning and wisdom folly, plainly proved it to be so by the discovery of the truths of the Gospel? For since the world, by their natural parts and improvements in what with them passed for wisdom, acknowledged not the only true God, tho’ he had clearly manifested himself to them in the wise contrivance and admirable frame of the<126> world, it pleased God, by the plain (which seems foolishness to them) doctrine of the gospel, to bring to true and salutary knowledge, those who understanding it, believe, receive, and conform to it.”
As there is no foundation for the doctrines which have been mentioned in these or any other texts of scripture: so the frequent exhortations in scripture to search after the knowledge of God, to prove all things, and hold fast that which is good; to prove God’s ways, and carefully to prove and try all pretended revelations from him, and to be ready to give a reason of any faith or hope we entertain or profess: the frequent commendations of those who take pleasure in searching into God’s works, God’s revelations, laws and testimonies; the severe censures of the ignorant, deceived, blind, and rash; the severe corrections of superstition, idolatry, and of implicite blind faith, and of talking deceitfully even for God: all these together, with the direct assertions of his justice, truth, goodness, faithfulness, mercy, and all his other perfections in scripture, as the ground, the only ground of religious love, hope and confidence; and the frequent appeals to his works, as evidently bearing the marks of his glorious attributes, and loudly calling upon us to study and imitate them, to love, adore, and copy after them, are sufficient refutations of such tenets, which obviously leave nothing to dignify human nature, above that of the brutes, who are only inferior to us in respect of their not being endued with reason, as we are; and leave no foundation for religion or morality. For if we may not understand the justice and goodness of God, in the same sense as we attribute those moral perfections to men, we cannot understand them at all; and consequently, we ascribe them to God without any meaning; and we, in reality, must deny moral differences of actions to be certainly intelligible by us, and consequently say, that we have indeed no rule of action.<127> In truth, if we may not exercise our reason, or are not able to make any advantageous use of it, in studying the works of God, in order to know God, and our relation to him, and the duties resulting from that relation; What are we? Or what indeed is our reason good for? For, how mean, how low, how truly barren, and unprofitable is all knowledge, in comparison of this!
Let us not therefore vilify our reason, which is our glory; but let us quit ourselves like men, which it alone makes us to be. Let us look upon it as the image of God in our souls, which renders us capable of delighting in the contemplation of his works, by rendering us able to see clearly the manifest tokens of infinite intelligence, power and goodness, shining so visibly in them; and capable of transplanting these virtues, by careful and diligent imitation, thro’ the sincere love of them, into our minds and lives. And let us accordingly delight ourselves, day and night, in searching into his works, and in endeavouring to conform ourselves more and more to the universal language of them all; the plain language of our own truly wonderful frame in particular; that to endeavour to be like God, is our proper study, our end, our dignity, our glory, our happiness. All this is the proper work of reason, and to it must revelation speak. It might be as reasonably offered to the brutes, as to us, had we not reason to understand its voice, and discern its evidences of truth and divine authority. But let us not be surprized, if we are frequently puzled, and in the dark.
For as we cannot judge of a kingdom; nay, not of a small family, unless we know its whole constitution and government; but may presume, that the parts not yet understood by us are of a piece with what we perceive clearly to be good or bad: as we cannot be competent judges of a ship, a watch,<128> or any machine, without understanding its mechanism, or the parts, and mutual references of parts, which compose it: but we may in such cases reasonably presume, because other works of the same artist, which we fully comprehend, are wisely contrived for their ends, that these also will be found to be such, when they are duly considered and fully comprehended.—Or so soon as we begin to discover the uses of some parts, we may infer, that a full insight into the whole would discover the uses of all the parts, and the excellent contrivance of the whole for a useful end.—So with respect to the works of God, if we can no where see any vestiges of good order and contrivance, then are they wholly incomprehensible to us, and we can make no conclusion from them: but, on the other hand, if, as far as we have advanced by the study of them, we have still found more clear evidences of excellent general laws, and of good and wise administration; then have we excellent reason from such samples to judge well of the whole; or to conclude, that all is perfectly good, tho’ we know but a part, and can indeed see but a very small part of the scheme which is carrying on to perfection, even so far as it is advanced, in our narrow and limited situation. Thus we must reason concerning God’s works, or give over reasoning in such a manner concerning men’s works, and consequently give over acting upon probabilities, that is, acting upon the evidence on which the management of human affairs absolutely depends. Let us remember, that such conclusions concerning God from his works, are agreeable to what we have good ground to think of him from other considerations and arguments, those and such like which have already been considered; and that the scripture account of God is likewise to the same effect. And thus, let us not suffer ourselves to be shaken or startled, that we should at any time be in the dark, who see but a small part<129> of a scheme, that is indeed but a little way advanced. But let us, without fear of displeasing God, who cannot be intelligently loved, worshiped or praised, without clear and just ideas of him, which may be safely depended upon as infallibly certain, exercise our reason with candor, diligence and impartiality: not stand in awe to search, but yet search respectfully; not fear incurring his displeasure, for falling into any errors we can fall into in the diligent honest search of truth, without any biass, or with the pure love of it: far less dread his displeasure for endeavouring to grow in knowledge, in the knowledge of his perfections especially, to the utmost pitch of knowledge, the most enlarged diligent mind can reach. If we cannot clearly comprehend the agreements of certain ideas, or may not safely depend upon our clear conceptions of them, then can we not indeed attain to any knowledge. But if we can discover some agreements of certain ideas, and may depend on such discoveries, we may likewise with equal assurance depend upon our clear perceptions of certain disagreements of ideas: that is, we may depend upon it, that what we clearly perceive to be impossible, unjust, &c. is really what we clearly perceive it to be. Let it, however, be remembred, that very consistently with this position, between which and absolute scepticism there is no medium, (for I now would have knowledge to be understood in its largest sense, comprehending not merely demonstrative truths, but probability in its several ascending degrees) it may justly be said, that many questions may be asked relative even to known truths, to which we are not able to give any satisfying answer to ourselves. No truth can lead by a just chain of reasoning to an absurdity; and therefore there cannot lie objections against any truth, which are in that sense absolutely insolvable, that is, which necessarily terminate in a plain absurdity; for objections, thus terminating, are indeed demonstrations that the propositions from which they necessarily result<130> are absolutely false, because contradictory. But what is it that we know so fully, as to be able to enumerate all its qualities, or powers, and their productions; or that we can answer every intelligible question about it? Do we know any property of any body in this manner? Any law of nature in this manner? Do we know ourselves, or any part of ourselves, in this manner? And as justly may one say, who is ignorant of the particular use of some part of a machine, tho’ he knows in general the end of the machine, that the machine is useless, or that part at least useless; that he shall never be able to comprehend it, or that no man can: nay, as justly may he infer, that for that reason, there is no such machine existing, but that his senses are deceived, when he thinks he sees it; as, in any case of natural, or of moral providence, say what he understands is not certain; it cannot be depended on, but must be given up as a deception, because there are several things relating to it he does not yet know, and cannot account for. To argue in this manner, in either case, or indeed at any time in any instance, is in effect to assert, “That because there is one question in a science which we cannot solve, there is no such science.” Every impossibility or contradiction perceived to be such is a part of our knowledge: we cannot exclude negative propositions from our knowledge without sadly contracting its bounds: many, very many such propositions, both in natural and moral knowledge, are of the highest use and importance. But a question, which is intelligible, tho’ not answerable, is no more than a question, to which as yet we cannot reply: for it would not only be absurd to conclude that no being can solve it; but it would be absurd to say that we ourselves may not afterwards be very capable of giving an answer to it. Otherwise how had science advanced? For how many questions about the government of the material world were but lately deep mysteries in that sense; which are now no more so, but clearly understood, tho’ related to, or connected with other properties, and laws of properties<131> not yet understood, and therefore the proper object of search to the curious.
It was not unnecessary to premise this observation in an attempt to explain providence. It might otherwise appear too presumptuous and arrogant to many, tho’ it be indeed man’s properest and best study.
Of divine providence according to the scripture doctrine.
It is universal, extending not merely to the material, but likewise to the moral world, and is absolutely uncontroulable.
The providence of God, in which the apostle asserts, it must be a law, “That whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap,” (because to deny it is to entertain the most injurious apprehension of the providence or government of God; or to mock God) is in scripture frequently asserted to be universal, or over all, and absolutely irresistible and uncontroulable.
That there is one God, who created and ruleth all things, is the express doctrine of the sacred scriptures in many places. Not only did he create, and doth he support and rule the inanimate material world; but he likewise made, upholds in being, and over-rules all perceptive and all moral beings. Nay, he is represented, not only to have created angels, and men, and all the various orders of rational beings, as well as all the various ranks of merely animal ones, and to have given them all their powers, capacities, affections and appetites; but he is likewise represented to fore-know all the actions of all agents. “The ways of man are before the Lord, and he pondereth all his goings.a His eyes<132> are upon the ways of man, and he fathometh all his goings.”b And all things are open and naked before him from the beginning, from everlasting. And indeed this exactness of knowledge is necessary to the judge of all the earth, in order to his doing that which is right in the final decision of men’s eternal state; or that he may render to every one according to his works, and thus every one may reap as he sows. This is too evident to need being insisted upon. For it is manifest beyond doubt, that, in order to a just distribution of rewards and punishments, or of happiness and misery in the government of men upon the whole of things, God must not only know the actions of men, but likewise be, as is asserted in numberless places of holy writ, a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.c “He must be able to search all hearts, as he is said to be, and to understand all the imaginations of the thoughts.” “The Lord must not see merely as man seeth. For man looketh on the outward appearance: the Lord must be able to look into the heart.”d This perfection is necessary to judge the world in equity, and to render to every one the fruit of his doings; since virtue and vice lie not merely in the outward actions, but principally in the heart. And therefore in scripture, as the inward truth and sincerity of the mind is represented to be what God chiefly regards; so, on the other hand, the heart of man is said to be deceitful above all things, and able not only to deceive others, but to deceive itself by secret partiality, and very difficultly perceptible flattery: but, at the same time it is said, no man can deceive God, who is greater than our hearts, and knoweth all things.a The abstruse, difficult question upon this subject, is not how God knows present and past actions, but how he fore-knows future free actions. And this must be such in the nature of things,<133> in consequence of our being created minds, and therefore not able to judge, but by faint analogy, of the extent and manner of the operation of God’s natural powers and perfections: the difficult question relating to this subject is, God’s fore-knowledge of future events. “Known unto the Lord are all his works from the beginning of the world.”b Now, no doubt, God, who gave to us, and all creatures, all the powers they enjoy, and who hath established all the laws, according to which they improve or degenerate, and, in general, operate or admit any changes of whatever kind; and who likewise hath ordered all the laws, according to which external material effects are produced; nay, properly and strictly speaking, immediately produces them; such a being must needs know all the possible results of powers, and laws of powers, which are thus of his own creation and establishment. Here there is no difficulty at all. For such universal knowledge, nay, such an establishment is by none thought inconsistent with liberty of action in men, in any sense of liberty of action. But fore-knowledge of free actions is thought by some an impossibility in the nature of things; and by others, it is judged absolutely repugnant to, and incompatible with the liberty of moral agents: and therefore some have said, that the perfect government of moral beings does not require such pre-science: but that in order to the wise choice of the best system, the full knowledge of all possible connexions, and their results; the perfect comprehension of all the consequences of all possible distributions of powers, and laws of powers, is sufficient. But many predictions of events, which have been exactly fulfilled, recorded in scripture, prove divine fore-knowledge in such instances: and being admitted in some instances, it is not only possible that it may be universal, but it really cannot<134> be supposed not to be universal, or not to extend to all; since no possible reason can be given, why, or how it can take place in any one instance with respect to events depending on free actions of moral agents, and not reach to all, without supposing it to be in such instances, not merely fore-knowledge, but positive decree or appointment, which hypothesis, it is owned, is absolutely incompatible with free agency.
The difficulty therefore with respect to divine prescience of free-actions, as distinguished from consciousness of what is decreed and appointed to happen, is thus accounted for by the best writersa on the subject.
I. They observe, in general, that our finite understanding may very reasonably be allowed not to comprehend all the ways of infinite knowledge, as the scripture says we cannot. “Can’st thou by searching find out God? Can’st thou find out the Almighty to perfection?”b But this acknowledgement of the incomprehensibleness of God must always be understood, as it really is in the scriptures, and by such writers, with relation to such things only as do not imply any express, clear contradiction: for whenever that is the case, it cannot be said of such things, that they are incomprehensible, or what we cannot understand; but, on the contrary, are such things which we do plainly and distinctly understand that they cannot possibly be. The necessary falsity and absurdity of all such things being as evident to our understandings, as the truth of the plainest principles. It must also be observed, as these authors do take notice, that this acknowledgement ought to be understood only of things expressly revealed, not of any human doctrines or reasonings.
II. Secondly, They observe, that in the matter before us, the question is not, whether men’s actions be free, but whether or no, and how that freedom of action, which makes a moral agent such, and men to<135> be men, can be consistent with fore-knowledge of such actions. For if these two things were really inconsistent and irreconcileable, it would follow, not that men’s actions were not free, (since that would totally subvert all morality and religion, and take away all the moral attributes of God at once); but, on the other side, it would follow, that such free actions as men’s are, and without which rational creatures cannot be rational or moral agents, were not the objects of the divine fore-knowledge. And, in such a case, it would be no more a diminution of God’s omniscience, not to know things impossible and contradictory to be known, than it is a diminution of omnipotence, not to be able to do things impossible and contradictory to be done.
III. But, in the third place, say they, this is not the case; for these things being premised, we may now answer directly to the question, that fore-knowledge of free actions is not an impossibility or contradiction; i.e. is not inconsistent with liberty, because pre-science has no influence at all upon the things fore-known. And it has therefore no influence upon them, because things would be just as they are, and no otherwise, tho’ there was no fore-knowledge. Fore seeing things to come, does no more influence or alter the nature of things, than seeing them when they are. What hath no productive energy, or power, cannot make necessary. But knowledge of no kind, neither knowledge of present, past, nor to come, can have any productive efficiency. It is will alone that produces, gives existence, or brings into being: independently, if the connexion between the will to produce and the effect be necessary, as it must be between the will of an infinite, independent being, and all the effects willed by such a being: dependently, if the connexion between the will immediately choosing or willing the effect, and the existence of the effect so willed, be established by the will of another mind, as must be the case with regard to all<136> derived beings, and their derived efficiency. Knowledge is merely passive, it can give light, point out the path, the proper road and choice, and so persuade to an election and pursuit; or it merely contemplates and reviews an object; but that is all it can do; it therefore produces or gives existence to nothing. It is the same whether we speak of dependent or independent, finite or infinite knowledge in this case; for being but knowledge, it cannot be active or productive, it can only comprehend, understand, see, or persuade. Further, the manner of God’s fore-knowing future free-actions, must not, cannot be supposed to be like his fore-knowledge of things necessary, as all material effects are; for that would be to confound things together, which are totally distinct, and to assert that there is no active power in nature, but the power of God: and perhaps such an assertion does not terminate there, but must really go further. But it is sufficient to our purpose to observe, that to suppose the divine fore-knowledge of free-actions, i.e. of the volitions of rational beings, to be necessary, in the same sense that his fore-knowledge of effects produced by his will and decree that they should exist is necessary, is no more to speak of fore-knowledge in the sense we are now considering it, viz. as distinguished from consciousness of effects to be produced, in consequence of positive will or decree to give them existence; but is merely to speak of that later consciousness, which cannot without impropriety of speech, or, at least, without departing from the question, as above limited and defined, be called pre-science.
IV. Now, in the fourth place, they add, That the divine fore-knowledge of free-actions we may have some obscure glimse of, in some such manner as this. What one man will freely do upon any particular occasion, another man, by observation and attention, may in some measure judge; and the wiser the person be who makes the observation, the more<137> probable will his judgment be, the seldomer will he be deceived, and the more may he, or others, depend upon it in their resolutions and actions of the greatest moment. An angel, in the like case, would make a judgment of the future event as much nearer to certainty than that of the wisest man, as the angelick nature and faculties are superior to the human. And therefore, in God himself, whose powers are all, in every respect, infinitely transcending those of the highest creatures, it must needs be, beyond any assignable bounds in respect of certainty, superior to what any the most perfect creature can attain to; that is, it must be certain beyond any chance or hazard of mistake or error; or, in other words, it must be absolutely certain and infallible; for where there is no hazard of erring, knowledge must be infallible. But however certain it may be, it cannot have any influence upon the fore-known free-actions, unless we say the fore-knowledge of wise men in particular cases, upon the certainty of which their greatest interests may be ventured, and daily are very wisely adventured, can have some proportionable influence upon them; and the more certain fore-knowledge of a higher creature a proportionable greater influence. For will being out of the question, whatever influence knowledge can have as knowledge, cannot belong solely and wholly to the most perfect knowledge; but can only belong to such knowledge, in a degree proportionable to its perfection, and must belong to knowledge, as knowledge, in every degree of it, in some proportional degree. But who ever imagined, that the fore-knowledge of a most perfect creature, however certain, however much to be depended upon in matters of the highest importance, had or could have any influence upon free actions, so certainly foreseen by it. In fine, while knowledge, either of present, past, or to come, as knowledge, can have no influence, the degrees of its certainty can make no alteration in that respect; that<138> is, they can produce no influence. Because this maxim is universally true, “that whatever belongs to any property as such, must belong to it in proportion to the degree in which it is such a property; in proportion, so to speak, to its moment or quantity, in like manner, as what belongs to gravity as such, must belong to every quantity of it proportionally.” Another thing I would add, (for what hath been just now said, and what follows I would not have imputed to any other but myself, by whom they are added, lest they should be found not to be true, of which however I have no apprehension) is, that when a ruling passion is established in the breast, good or bad, that being known, and the circumstances in which it is placed being known, the determinations choices, and actions of such persons may be very certainly determined. No wise man, for instance, is at a loss to determine how a thoroughly good and wise man he is thoroughly acquainted with will act in any given case; or how any man, whom he certainly knows to be governed by any given ruling passion, will be swayed in any particular assigned circumstances.
But it is time to leave a subject which hath been so often handled by others.
What remains to be observed concerning providence, according to the scripture account of it is, that it is absolutely irresistible.a No counsel, no devise against the Lord can prosper: his will, his power is absolutely irresistible. And therefore when we read of the Devil’s setting up a kingdom in opposition to the kingdom of God, great care must be taken that we do not so understand it, as if the Devil had, properly speaking, any power against God. We are<139> sufficiently instructed not to take such ways of speaking in that absurd sense; since, in scripture, wicked men are said to set themselves up against God, resist his will, and exalt themselves in opposition to God’s kingdom, which sure no person can understand of natural power in man to resist God. But like ways of speaking about the Devil’s opposition to God, without entering into an enquiry what the Devil is, must be interpreted in the same sense, as meaning not opposition of natural powers, but of moral powers and dispositions to God, by doing things wicked and displeasing to God, as wicked men likewise do. Not only is it an absurdity to suppose any created power able to contend, fight against, or oppose God, the supreme Author of all power; but in scripture we read in many places of God’s absolute power and supremacy over all malicious wicked spirits; and of his giving power to the good, as such, to discomfit the temptations and machinations of such against them. I beheld Satan, as lightning fall from heaven: behold I give unto you power over the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.b God is faithful, and will not suffer us to be tempted above what we are able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that we may be able to bear it.c Resist the Devil, says St. James, and he will flee from you.d And St. Jude assures us,e that the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day.
Certain ancient corrupters of religion in the primitive times, from the many evils and wickednesses which are in the world, inferred, there was a supreme evil principle originally opposite to and independent upon the power of God, which monstrous opinion was first taught by some Persian philosophers, 18 who<140> called the good principle light, and the evil principle darkness. And against this absurd opinion it is, that Isaias, in his prophecy to Cyrus, King of Persia,a thus declares: “I am the Lord, and there is none else: I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace and create evil: I, the Lord, do all these things.” This doctrine is directly contrary to the whole tenor of the scripture, which expressly asserts one supreme cause the fountain of all power, who is infinitely good and we shall immediately have occasion to shew more fully than hath been yet done, that an independent mind absolutely evil is an impossibility. Mean time, with regard to many ways of speaking in the scripture about the devil and his kingdom, ’tis well worth while briefly to take notice of a very important observation that hath been often made on this subject, which is, that all rational beings whatsoever, capable of good and evil, must be created originally in a state of trial or probation. Answerable therefore to what we see among men, ’tis reasonable to suppose that among all other creatures, likewise indued with the power of willing or choosing, and consequently invested with a certain sphere of activity and dominion, allowing for their respective circumstances, powers, and capacities, there will be proportionally a difference of conduct and behaviour. And accordingly the scripture assures us, that among angels some continued to be the favourites of God, who do his pleasure; and that others of them sinned, and kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation. And concerning the chief of those, our Saviour tells us,a that from the begining he abode not in the truth. What the particular sin of those disobedient angels was, is not distinctly revealed; and therefore it is a vain thing to make conjectures about it. This only we may be sure of, that it was not, as some have incautiously represented it, a<141> rebelling against God, by way of open force; but a presuming foolishly, as wicked men also do, to transgress the laws of their nature and their God: and they are punished not beyond, but suitably to their deserts, or they reap the fruit of their doings. From the figurativeness of the expressions applied to fallen angels, and to sinful men, when they are said to resist or oppose God, as well as from the nature and evident reason of the thing, ’tis plain, that the kingdom of Satan set up in opposition to the kingdom of God, is not literally a kingdom of force or power, but in the spiritual sense a kingdom or party, a dominion or prevalency of sin, in opposition to the kingdom or establishment of righteousness. Departing from virtue and goodness, is revolting from the kingdom of God, and declaring, that we will not have him to reign over us. Hence wicked men are called the children of the devil, and good men the children, the sons of God. The phrase is very elegant, and according to the analogy of the Jewish language, very usual and expressive. For the highest way in that language of expressing any particular quality, similitude, or relation, is by stiling them the children of that thing or person by which any extraordinary quality, similitude, or relation is intended to be expressed. Thus men of meek, calm spirits, are in scripture called the sons of peace; and outrageous oppressors, sons of violence. Men of true courage are sons of valour; and in still a sublimer sense, sons of thunder; persons of exemplary virtue, faith, and piety, of whatever nation they are of, are children of Abraham. Men under the sentence of death are called sons of death. Judas for his singular corruptness is stiled the son of perdition. And persons under any great or lasting distress, sons and daughters of affliction. Many of which figures have a very great grace, nay, give a very extraordinary energy even to modern poesy, as those acquainted with the sublimest of poets, Milton, will readily acknowledge.<142>
Thus then we have proved that, agreeably to reason and scripture, the divine providence is as universal as is necessary, in order to the exact observance of that rule of just and equitable moral government asserted in the text, “That as one sows, so shall he reap.”
The Divine Providence is clearly and expresly asserted in scripture to be infinitely wise and good; so that from hence it may justly be concluded to be a rule strictly observed by it in the government of moral beings; “That upon the whole every one shall reap as he sows.”
The knowledge of the supreme fountain of all power must of necessity be proportional to his power; so that if the latter be boundless and infinite, the former must likewise be so. As God cannot know things, or relations of things, but from consciousness of his own power to produce, so his knowledge must be proportionable to his power. Whatever therefore is possible in respect of infinite power, must be clearly known by the infinite mind possessed of that power. But to say the power of an independent original mind, the one cause of all things, is limited, is certainly to say, it is limited without any thing to limit it, there being nothing beyond or without it to limit it; or there being in reality no source of limitation upon it, beside natural impossibility, if that can properly be called a limitation, or a confining and restricting cause; as it certainly cannot. God’s power therefore is infinite; and his knowledge, which cannot but be proportionable to his power, is also infinite.
Wherefore though the scripture, the design of which is never to enter into philosophical discussions; but merely to give such clear ideas of the perfections of God and of his providence as are necessary, or of importance<143> to the direction of our conduct, doth no where expresly affirm that God knows all possible things and relations of things; yet since it says, that nothing (which does not imply a contradiction) is impossible to God, that he is all powerful and knoweth all things, we may justly say that he fully comprehendeth all possible things, and all possible relations, habitudes, connexions, dependencies, and consequences of things. All power is intelligent power; and infinite intelligent power necessarily implies this in it. So likewise does the free choice of God in choosing what possible system to create, imply it. And from our power of imagining various combinations and distributions of things which never existed to us, we may draw a very probable argument, That the divine mind, from whom we derive this power of conceiving various systems by analogy in our imagination, hath full knowledge of all possible variety of systems or combinations of things.
But though infinite knowledge thus defined be necessary to infinite wisdom and presupposed by it; nay, though infinite wisdom must necessarily belong to such knowledge, yet wisdom in a distinct way of conceiving it, is a different attribute from knowledge. Wisdom, properly speaking, is the right use or exercise of knowledge. And therefore it differs from knowledge, as the use of a power differs from the power itself. ’Tis therefore in the divine nature, possessed of infinite knowledge, the exercise of that knowledge, and the power inseparably connected with it, in the best and properest way, for the best end. Having the infinite knowledge just defined, he must always know the best end, and always clearly see the means that are fittest to produce that end; and knowing both these, he must always be disposed, without any byass to the contrary, to act accordingly. No person will say, that there can be various possible combinations of things, with certain consequences resulting<144> from them, and yet not better and worse, more fit and less fit; more and less perfect combinations of things. To assert that, is to say that all properties are the same, and will turn to the same account, however they are ranged, placed, distributed or combined. And that God can perceive all possible relations and consequences of things, and yet not perceive what is fitter and worse; since we cannot understand and compare different combinations, without clearly seeing it in these cases, is to suppose God void of a capacity of the noblest and usefulest kind which he hath given us. Nay, which is more, it is supposing him to know all combinations of things without understanding that which alone can render such knowledge either useful or pleasant. And which is yet more absurd, if any thing can be so, it is really to suppose God to know and fully understand combinations of things without understanding them. For what is it to understand fully any disposition of parts and properties, but to know its natural consequences, results, effects and tendencies; or, in one word, its aptitudes to certain ends. Now if the first mind must know what is best, he must choose it with full delight and complacency; he must prefer it, and preferring it, he must invariably pursue it. That he must pursue what he unchangeably prefers will be owned, since nothing can alter his views of his things, nor his temper and disposition. And to suppose him not to like what is best, that is, what appears to his perfect understanding such, is to imagine him, without liking and approving the best, capable of giving us a disposition to distinguish the appearances of things, and so to delight in what appears best to us, that however corrupt we may have rendered our minds, yet we cannot choose but approve what is best, while it is perceived by us. Strong passions may quickly obscure our view of it, and hurry us into pursuits very contrary to it; but we cannot reflect upon or view it without approbation.<145> And it is impossible we can be so framed by a being, who, knowing the best, does not like or approve it.
It may very justly be questioned whether any being can be capable of perceiving beauty, order and proportion, whether in material or moral objects, without being pleased with it, and naturally delighting in it. There may be creatures, who have no ideas of beauty. But to assert, that a mind may perceive beauty without being delighted by it, seems to be absurdly to distinguish between an agreeable perception and the pleasure perceived. For whatever qualities we may find, by enquiry into natural connexions, to be united with beauty, order and proportion, in material or moral objects, which, when discovered, may, by associating or blending themselves with the ideas of beauty, order and proportion, greatly heighten our pleasure in contemplating them; yet beauty, order, and proportion, are names for certain agreeable ideas, distinct from any others that may be connected with them, either by nature, or by voluntary association: i.e. they are names for certain pleasures. And surely pleasure of whatever kind cannot be perceived without perceiving pleasure.
There are certain ideas, which we express by the words, harmony, proportion, order, beauty, even in material objects, which give delight to all mankind, quite distinct from their affording any gratification to any of our sensitive appetites; and from quite another view of them, than as being for their interest and further advantage; but merely as such intellectual forms, images or ideas immediately, and by themselves. The faculties from which we receive these pleasures, and the pleasures themselves, are as natural, and as easily to be accounted for, as any sensual appetite whatever, and the pleasures arising from its gratification. There is no question that can be asked about them, as, “How they give us pleasure?” “Whence it comes? And what it is?” that does not<146> likewise belong to all our other pleasures, and the faculties by which they are perceived, and in the same sense; and that may not therefore be resolved in the same way: which will ultimately be in all cases, “That we are so constituted, or such is our nature and frame.” Otherwise we must run into the same absurdity with respect to the causes of our pleasures, as some do in speculation about efficient causes; that is, suppose an infinite series of them.
To explain this subject a little more fully, because the argument, I think, is not very common; let it be considered what is meant when visible beauty is said to be connected with regularity in objects, and with utility; that regularity and utility are the foundation of visible beauty, or the qualities whence it results: or, in other words, that it is regular objects composed of various parts, conspiring by their mutual respects, and close union, to some proper or good end in the simplest manner, which alone excite the perception of beauty in us. For what is the meaning of this, but that where we perceive beauty, we shall always find, by proper enquiry, that there is regularity, unity of design, simplicity and utility? Perhaps it must be so in the nature of things. But whether it must be so or not in the nature of things, we constantly find by observation, that it is so in fact with regard to us. Yet the perception of beauty is distinct from the regularity and utility with which it is connected. So distinct, that beauty may, and frequently is perceived, where there is no notion of regularity, or of unity of design. Nay, beauty is so distinct from regularity, that the latter is discovered by proper rules and measures, which we are excited to apply to a beautiful object, by the agreeable perception of beauty with which it immediately strikes us. And as for utility, in many cases, where beauty is perceived and admired, it is not easily discovered. They are therefore said to be connected together, because they are found to be so in fact; or because we learn from experience,<147> that beauty being always connected with regularity and utility, in order to produce it in human workmanship, we must study regularity and utility, and take the proper methods to produce them. They are therefore connected together, as other ideas of different senses are, which by their connexion or co-existence make the same object. And consequently, to confound visible beauty with any other perception, is the same absurdity as to confound smell with any other sensation. And as it would be absurd to distinguish the agreeableness or disagreeableness of a smell from the smell itself; so it is the same absurdity to distinguish the agreeableness of beauty from the beauty perceived.
If therefore we suppose the Author of our nature to have any conception of proportion, order and beauty, in natural or moral objects, he must necessarily have pleasure and delight in perceiving them; for not to suppose it, is to suppose him to have pleasant conceptions and not to have them. But if he have not conceptions of proportion, order and beauty, then hath he produced, and made us capable of perceiving what he knows not, or has no idea of.
If we pursue this argument but a little farther, since we not only perceive beauty and order, moral and natural, with immediate delight; but are capable of making such perceptions the objects of our reflexion, and thereby of receiving new delight from them, as objects worthy of our approbation and pursuit; and thus are capable of determining to set ourselves to improve such a capacity with all diligence, by our reason, into what is called, with respect to natural beauty, a good taste of nature, and of the arts which imitate nature; and what is called, with respect to moral beauty, a good taste of the harmony and consistency of life and manners; or, in one word, of virtue, and a good moral temper. This being our constitution, for the very same reasons just mentioned, the Author of our nature must have in him a perfect love and approbation of natural and moral beauty, he must delight in<148> it with a delight of approbation, and therefore must steadily pursue it in all his operations and works. I thought it not improper to shew, that the Author of our frame must have delight in beauty and order, natural and moral, analogous to ours, in the same way that any of our other powers or perfections are analogous to his. And what hath been said, may very easily be applied to the perception of the greater good in a system, and delight in it, or approbation of it, if these two be not really co-incident. For that perception must be a beautiful and agreeable one to every mind who can form it; and must be approved as the best pursuit by every mind who can reflect upon it: it is so at least with regard to us. And God, who hath so constituted us, must himself have the perception of best, and having it, he must have delight in it, and approve it, as the best, the worthiest end. He who hath implanted in us our capacity of discerning the best in certain cases, and our determination to like and approve it, must have, analogous to it, a perfect conception of best and worthiest in every possible case, in all circumstances, in the whole of his creation, and full delight in it, and approbation of it as such. It cannot but be so in the nature of things, unless ideas of beauty and order, and love of them, and delight in them, can be blindly, i.e. fortuitously produced.
Now it is remarkable, that God is said, in scripture, to delight in the beauty of his visible creation; to rejoice in it; to review it with full complacency and satisfaction. And indeed, it is as certain, that God cannot give, or render capable of any one faculty, without a distinct adequate conception of it; as that he cannot give any other without a distinct adequate idea of it. If he can blindly produce any thing, every thing may be blindly produced: chance may be the author of every thing: nay, with regard to what is supposed to be produced, without a clear and distinct understanding of it by the supreme cause, the supreme cause and chance are the same thing.<149>
“Tho’ we could not possibly have any glimpse of the way and manner how God can have clear conceptions of all the pleasures and pains of which he hath rendered his creatures capable, and which are the effects of his laws; yet it is not in this case alone, that we cannot fully account for the divine manner of knowing or perceiving things: that is often the case, and must necessarily be so, even with regard to minds far superior to ours, because they are not infinite.” But for the sake of what is obscure and unknown, we must not give up with clear and certain truths.
Such as this, “that what is not perceived or known, cannot be intended, aimed at, designed; or, in one word, produced with intelligence: and what is not so produced is really produced without a producer, which is absurd.”
We are indeed sufficiently warned by the holy scripture, as well as by reason, not to ascribe any imperfection to God; yet we are sufficiently authorized by the sacred writers to ascribe eyes, ears, hands, and all our senses, and all kinds of affections to God, so far as these ways of speaking only serve, or are only employed (as they are in scripture) to denote that God must have clear adequate conceptions of all his works, and cannot be the blind Author of any thing. For to ascribe blind production to him, is not only to attribute imperfection to him, but it is to assert an impossible thing, or a down-right contradiction. With regard to the affection we are now speaking of, it is ascribed to God in direct terms. He is said to delight in moral beauty, the beauty of holiness; nay, in all beauty and order, even that of the inanimate material creation, for he pronounced it good; and he is said to abhor all deformity, moral deformitya in a more special manner. The argument we have been now using to establish the holiness,<150> the goodness, the purity of God, or his supreme love of order, beauty, proportion, publick good; and, in one word, what his infinite knowledge perceives to be best, is Job’s: “Shall mortal man be more just than God? Shall a man be more pure than his Maker?”19 The angels are higher than men, yet even the most perfect of them must be infinitely inferior to God, in purity, sanctity, and every perfection; for from him is all derived that they possess or are capable of. And another inspired writer reasons, as hath been observed, to the same purpose: Heb that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see? This emphatical solid reasoning is ushered in by a most awakening solemn preface, “Understand ye brutish”; to give us to understand, how absurd it is to imagine any capacity or perfection we possess, must not be derived from one who possesses it, and all perfection in the most compleat degree and manner; since were any thing so produced, it would be produced without intelligence, than which there cannot be a greater absurdity supposed.
Thus then, tho’ whatever imperfection attends or may attend any affections in us, or in any order of created beings, cannot belong to God; yet not to ascribe to him delight in beauty and order, moral and natural, is to ascribe to him the greatest of all imperfections, want of capacity of discerning order and beauty; or, which is yet worse, if it be at all conceiveable, ill affection towards what he perceives to be orderly, beautiful and best. This proposition is therefore true in general, that God knows what he has made, and knowing beauty, natural and moral, and the best in every possible case, is naturally and immutably well affected towards it, and steadily and unerringly pursues it.<151>
But, in order to infer the wisdom of God, as it hath been above defined, no more is necessary than merely to reflect, that every unwise action, or circumstance of action, must necessarily proceed, either from shortness of understanding, from defect of power, or from faultiness of will. It is either because the agent knows not, or that he cannot, or that he will not do what is best. But from each of these defects and imperfections, the divine nature is infinitely removed. Therefore, every action of God, must of necessity, (in the moral sense of the word necessity) be what is absolutely in itself, and upon the whole most wise. “By wisdom therefore, as the scripture speaks, hath the Lord founded the earth, by understanding hath he established the heavens; by his knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down dew.”20 Or, as the prophet expresses it, “He made the earth by his power, he established the world by his wisdom, and stretched out the heavens by his understanding.”21 Who can express the mighty acts of the Lord, or shew forth all his praise? How manifold, O Lord, are thy works; in wisdom hast thou made them all. This wisdom of God do all his visible works speak aloud, says St. Paul.
The providence of God, if it be infinitely wise, must also be infinitely good; for an infinitely wise being cannot be maliciously disposed, but must be of the most beneficent disposition, or be disposed to extend happiness as far as his omnipotence can: Goodness being nothing but a fixed disposition to do always what in the whole is best; and, so far as is consistent with right and justice, what is most beneficial to all. It is evident, that the supreme, universal, original mind, having all knowledge, his understanding can never mistake or err in judging what is best; and having no want of any thing to complete his own happiness, no private good distinct from the exertion of his power to communicate happiness, his will can never be influenced by any wrong affection, or have any allurement, temptation, or provocation<152> laid before it to act otherwise than according to what he knows to be best. But hence it is very obvious to reason, that he could not possibly have any other motive to create, but only that he might create all the various capacities of perfection and happiness, which it was fit for infinite wisdom to produce, in order to display its riches and fullness; and for infinite goodness to produce, in order to give existence to the greatest quantity of good that could possibly exist; and that he might dispense happiness to moral beings in proportion to their different improvements and deserts. In proportion, I say, to their different improvements and deserts: For it is necessary to equal or just administration, that happiness should be approportioned to goodness or merit; depend upon it, or result from it, in consequence of the constitution and administration of things. Goodness does not mean profusion without rule, but according to the best rule and measure; but proportion to merit, or good desert, must be the best rule in dispensing happiness, or a measure and rule or proportion in dispensing it, must be words without a meaning; which cannot be said, while an essential difference between moral good and evil is allowed.
In truth, an independent, all-powerful evil mind, is a complication of absolutely incompatible and repugnant qualities. It is a complication of infinite power and infinite knowledge, which are in the nature of things inseparable, and of infinite blindness, darkness and ignorance: it is a compound of independence and self-sufficiency and happiness, and of insufficiency to happiness, absolute discontent and uneasiness. For what else are envy, hatred and malice, but absolute misery? And to perfect the absurdity, it is a combination of freedom from all provocation, want, distress or injury, implied in independence, and of envy, resentment and cruelty, which ever suppose dependence, distress and injury, or provocation.
To be satisfied of the truth of these reasonings, we need only reflect, that our nature (and every moral being<153> must be by its constitution the image of its Creator) is no less a stranger to self-hatred than it is to ill-will, emulation and resentment being away; but, on the contrary, there is deeply inlaid into it, benevolence or good-will. There is no such thing as love of injustice or oppression for their own sake: there is no such thing as delight in mischief as such: no such thing as disinterested malice. As corrupt and irregular as men sometimes become; we perceive nothing in the world that is vicious or hurtful, but what is really the fruit of eager desire safter external goods, which all observers of human nature have acknowledged there is reason to think the most abandoned would choose to obtain by innocent means, if they were as easy and as effectual to their end. Emulation and resentment, by any one who will take a right view of human nature, as we shall see afterwards, will not be found to be arguments of any thing like pure malice in our frame. And indeed all the principles and passions in the mind, which are equally distinct from self-love and benevolence, (of which there are very many) do primarily and most directly lead us to right behaviour with regard to others, as well as ourselves, and but accidentally to what is evil. Now can such a nature be the production of a being of pure malice. As well may we suppose benevolence to aim at nothing but evil, as disinterested malice to have carefully and designedly thus produced a very complicated frame, so evidently calculated for the generous pursuit of the good of its kind, in many different respects, all concurring to the same good end, and mutually strengthening and exciting one another for that effect.
Nor need I stay to prove, that the scriptures assert the infinite goodness of God in the strongest and clearest terms. It is the universal language of the Bible. And indeed it would be in vain to recommend to us the love of God, without representing him as such. For it is this perfection alone that can render him the object of love. And this is the character given of God in the scriptures, that he is love.<154>
I shall therefore upon this head only make two very important remarks, and then proceed to enquire into a particular character given of God in scripture as merciful, which seems to imply something distinct from the general notion of goodness.
I. In opposition to reasonings to prove the goodness of God from his works, to which the holy scriptures are ever appealing as manifest evidences of it, it hath, or may be said, that he who knows not the whole, and cannot see the final issue and tendency of all things, can pronounce no certain judgment of it.
Let it therefore be observed, first of all, that the issue of such an objection is not atheism, but mere doubt or scepticism: for it goes no further than this; what tho’ we can count many goods, yet because we cannot number all, we cannot positively say whether the ballance lies upon the side of cruelty or benevolence; for may not all the goods we can count be finally conducive to evil, which, upon the whole, is perhaps far superior in quantity to good, as it must be, if the goods that are in it be but subservient means to evil.
Now, it seems sufficient to take off this scepticism, that we can easily imagine to ourselves a system in which there is nothing but pain; and a system in which there is nothing but pain, and no pleasure, must be a worse system than one, in which there are many pleasures. But a being delighting absolutely in ill, would produce the worst system that could be. But if it is said, in pursuing the objection, that we can also conceive a system in which there is nothing but pleasure, and therefore, if a good being must choose the best, the author of a system, in which there is any mixture of pain, must be at best but a very imperfect being, or cannot be absolutely good. The question being thus reduced to its ultimate terms, it may be answered, in the first place, by appealing to any one, “what a spectator of any complex piece of work, ignorant in a great measure of the various parts, and<155> references of parts by which it is constituted, and consequently of its general end, whatever that end be; but who, upon the first sight, and partial view of it, plainly saw several things to be just and beautiful, while others appeared to his eye disproportionate and wrong; what such a spectator would infer from these appearances to his eye in this imperfect view of the whole?” Would he not immediately conclude there was a probability, that a full sight and knowledge of the whole frame would wholly destroy the appearances of wrongness and disproportion? But that there is no probability, that a complete view of the whole, that is, of all the parts, and all their mutual respects constituting the whole, would destroy the particular, just, beautiful, and right appearances? Would he not conclude, that such a view might shew the parts already appearing good and just, to be so likewise in another manner, and higher degree, by subserviency to greater goods or nobler ends? He would not certainly conclude that the right appearances perceived were not intended? And as for irregularity and disorder do we ever suspect it to be designed? He would therefore infer, that the wrong appearances are not really such, but appearances which even good and just parts must have to a spectator who has not a full view of the whole.
Thus are we necessarily led or determined by our make and frame to reason concerning men, human actions, human inventions; and every thing we see and are determined to act by in the way of probability: and which of our affairs in life admits of any other evidence or manner of determination and choice? And if it be so, we are made to reason so likewise concerning the whole of nature; that is, we are made to conclude well of the works of our Author, the Author of all things, from the samples of beauty and good we see. But would an evil being have so made us? There are many evident reasons why a good<156> being should make us so, of which this is principal, even that we may thus be naturally led to conclude his goodness, and to love and imitate it. But no reason can be assigned that could move pure malice to make us so, unless it be merely to disappoint us terribly at last, which if it be the aim of the Author of nature, its accomplishment is reserved for a future state, in such a way that the further we are able to advance in the search of his works at present, the more and clearer evidences we see of good order, and wise and beautiful administration in it; and the more appearances of evil are destroyed. For this is known by all philosophers to be the truth of the case with regard to this system of which we are a part. The only thing that can be disputed in this reasoning is a fact, for the truth of which we must appeal to experience: which is, the determination in our nature to reason, or rather to choose and act in the way mentioned. But let every man try himself fairly whether this is not the way here a sons and is naturally disposed to reason about men and things, as well as the government of the world. For who does not naturally judge of men in this manner, never presuming they are evil, unless there be very evident instances in their conduct, which clearly demonstrate they must be bad; but, on the contrary, ever presuming with great assurance, that the good things they do come from a good heart, and are not snares to deceive? Thus do all men reason, till they have quite corrupted their minds, and have studied and struggled themselves in opposition to nature, under the specious shew of acquiring prudence, into a resolution to suspect all men, and to treat them as if they were knaves: and even then they must sometimes judge contrary to this unnatural, affected rule, and very frequently do so. ’Tis in vain to say, that beings of another make will judge differently; for the question is, how we are formed to judge, and what must be the final cause, and consequently the motive<157> for implanting such a disposition in our nature; or so constituting us. We have no reason to imagine there are any such beings in nature as have not the like disposition: we know none such. And if we are really so made, we must either own that we are designedly so made, in order to judge well of our Creator, and in order to have a benevolent idea of our fellow creatures, and a kind disposition towards them, which design can only be the design of a very generous creator; or we must say that we cannot know the final cause of any thing, or conclude any thing from it when known; not of the eye or ear, for example; for their final causes are not more evident than the final ends now mentioned of our natural determination to assent to or be satisfied with probability, in the manner described, in judging of complicated works, and of all appearances in men or things.
What renders the answer to the preceeding objection compleat is, that though we can conceive a variety of beings perpetually entertained by agreeable sensations in a passive manner, yet we can only conceive it to be in a passive way, and in a way not reducible to general laws; and we cannot possibly conceive a regular system of great moral happiness, in which certain choices and actions are not attended with evil or hurtful consequences; because moral agency supposes capacity of prudence and folly, virtue and vice, good and ill desert, and such agency cannot take place, as hath been often said, but in a state where if certain methods be chosen and pursued, certain pains will be the consequence. Moral agents justly treated, are agents so placed that they shall upon the whole reap as they sow; reap the fruits of their doings; that is, beings of good desert shall have proportional happiness, and beings of bad desert shall have proportional misery. But such a system does ours, as has been proved, plainly appear to be even at present; whence it is highly reasonable to conclude, that<158> as revelation teaches us, it shall more fully be found to be such the farther it advances, that is, in an afterlife, to which this is as spring to harvest in the natural world. But let it be observed, that when abstracting from the arguments which demonstratively prove the moral perfections of God, and consequently a future state, or in other probable reasonings we say, it is highly reasonable to conclude so and so; or it is natural, it is likely; if in such cases we ask what that means: the only answer that can be given to the question is, that we are, because our circumstances require such a frame, so adjusted or constituted that when we perceive no necessary connexion, but mere likelihood, we are determined to acquiesce in such perceptions according to the various degrees of likelihood. It does not follow from hence that rules may not be laid down by careful observers of the course of things, and of the different consequences of venturing to act upon different degrees of probability, for assisting and directing us in judging of degrees of likelihood, and of satisfaction or acquiescence proportioned to them, in the same manner as it is necessary, to try and examine the real values of objects, in respect of any good or advantage they are fitted to afford, least we should imagine more in them than there is, and so act with affection not proportioned to their real, but to a false imaginary value. That by no means follows. For in effect it is but observing how appearances of likelihood, which in fact do influence the mind, all of them in some degree, turn out in the ordinary course of judging and acting upon such appearances. But if the mind had no disposition to confide in certain degrees of likelihood, nothing but demonstration could satisfy us: that is, nothing but clear perception of necessary agreement or disagreement of ideas could determine us to act: nothing else indeed can produce what is properly called assent of the understanding: it really means that perception: likelihood or probability<159> produces properly a disposition to act with more or less hope or assurance; with more or less diffidence about the event; which, to treat accurately of it, will be best measured by the quantity of interest one would stake or risk upon acting on hope or assurance so produced.
Our being so made is necessary to our situation, and it is therefore an argument of the care of our Maker about us; and being so made, not to be satisfied about the wisdom and goodness of the Author and Ruler of the world, in the manner it teaches and prompts us to reason and acquiesce, is really doing violence to our nature; and accordingly we feel it to be so. For no fact is more certain, than that whatever pains men may take to think ill of the Author of nature, or even to doubt of his moral perfection, in opposition to the plain evidence we see every where of wisdom and goodness, they can never attain to their end. Nature will often tell them, by making them feel the violence they do to a very proper determination in their nature, that they act a most unaccountable, unnatural part. Were this determination merely given us to satisfy us in enquiries after the character of our Maker and Ruler, it might perhaps, by opposition, be at last quite overpowered. But being by our circumstances necessitated often to yield to it, and act conformably to it, and frequently feeling the advantages of it in these respects, opposition to it in that single instance is too bare-faced partiality, or dissonancy and inconsistency to be palliated to ourselves with any specious shew by all the cunning artfulness of the most deceitful heart, ever so much practised in cheating itself by giving things false colours; the most dangerous of all wicked dispositions to ones self, as hypocrisy is the most dangerous of all vices in respect of society.
II. A second observation I would make is, that though wisdom and goodness may properly be said to constitute the moral character of the Deity, which renders<160> him the proper object of religion, love, esteem, hope, gratitude, and confidence; yet there are several other attributes ascribed to the Deity in holy writ, which we have good reason, from the contemplation of ourselves and our situation, to conclude really to belong to him: attributes that may be deduced from wisdom and goodness, being really included in them; but which however we can consider distinctly from them; and must so consider, in order to have a clear conception of them. These attributes are truth, or faithfulness and veracity, purity or holiness, and equity and justice.
Sure I need not stay to prove that the scriptures frequently ascribe these perfections to the Deity, and that reason leads us to ascribe them to the Deity will be evident, if we attend to our own make. For it is as manifest as that we are made to approve benevolence in ourselves and others, that our moral understanding or moral sense is not indifferent to every thing but the degrees in which the benevolent disposition seems to prevail, and in which it seems to be wanting. For were we so constituted, we should neither approve of benevolence to some persons preferable to others, nor disapprove injustice and falshood upon any other account than merely as a greater share of happiness was observed likely to be produced by the first, and of misery by the last. Both of which suppositions are contrary to manifest experience in our situation. There are numberless cases in which, notwithstanding appearances, we are not competent judges whether a particular action will upon the whole do good or harm; this will in all very complex cases be a very difficult enquiry, for which the bulk of mankind at least are not qualified. And therefore it is fit that in a system where the greater good of the creation is the end of its Author, we should not only be indued with benevolence, and reason to guide it in its properest exercise; but likewise be immediately determined by our nature<161> to certain methods of acting which upon the whole will produce the greatest good, by a sense of fitness in them, and unfitness in their contraries, quite distinct from a perception, that the observation or transgression of them is for the happiness or misery of our fellow-creatures; but as directly and immediately, and by the same approving and disapproving faculty, as we are determined to approve benevolence, and disapprove its opposite, or all departures from it. And as this is fit, so in fact, this is the case with respect to us, for there are several dispositions of mind and several actions which we cannot but approve or disapprove, abstracted from the consideration of their conduciveness to the happiness or misery of the world: several dispositions and conformable actions which are naturally and necessarily approved or disapproved by conscience, by that power within us, which is the judge of right and wrong, without any reflection on their consequences with regard to publick or private interest. Numberless instances of this kind will occur to every thinking person. All pieces of falshood, deceit, and treachery do thus appear base and detestable to our approving and disapproving sense: some to every person, even those whose sense of right and wrong hath been most industriously perverted. Nay, there are even certain actions which we can hardly give any other name to, than the general one of indecencies, which yet are odious and shocking to human nature.
Upon the supposition that strict observance of truth, veracity, decency, and other such rules of conduct, which we are naturally determined to approve, quite distinct from all consideration of their conduciveness to the greater good or ill of our kind, be really contributive to such ends, it plainly follows, that there is a good reason for so constituting us, with regard to them, who really are not in all cases able to judge of the tendency of actions, in respect of the over-ballance of happiness or misery they may produce: nay, upon that supposition there is a very good reason for so constituting<162> us, even though we were always able to judge easily and readily of the tendency of every action; viz. in order to strengthen the benevolent principle, and to be, if not directors and guides to it, yet assistants and corroboratives of it. And if the world be the contrivance and production of an infinitely good being, as we have found it to be, as the principle of benevolence, so these other dispositions, and the approving sense of them, cannot be implanted in us, but for the greater good; or for their amiableness and usefulness. Whatever be the reason of implanting them in us, they are to us a natural rule of action. But they cannot be given us to be such by an infinitely wise and good being, unless they be really worthy of the approbation with which we are determined by him to contemplate and reflect upon them. And nothing can have amiableness or approveable worthiness to such a being, but what is really in itself by its observance conducive to the greater good, his only end of creation and government. Now though we could not determine whether those rules of veracity, truth, and justice we are made to approve, be rules that God himself observes, and must observe in the government of the world: yet if we cannot prove the contrary; since we are so made, the presumption will naturally lie that they are such, even to him. And that it is so revelation expressly declares. But that the observance of those rules must be necessary to government, whose end is the greater good of moral beings, is almost certain. For what is truth and veracity but acting according to the truth, the reason, the real fitnesses and proportions of things? And whence else can the greater good of a system result? What is purity and holiness, but moral rectitude, or a disposition of mind conformable to the truth and reason of things; from which if the greater good in the whole do not necessarily ensue, there is and must be a contrariety between the disposition of things most conformable to reason and<163> truth, and the disposition of things most conducive to good, happiness, and perfection, which is absurd. Though we are not competent judges in every case of the necessary means to the greater good of a system of which we know so small a part; yet we are sure in general that no conceivable transgression of truth and veracity can be such; as for instance, “giving the marks of a revelation to what is not”; and far less, “deceiving hopes implanted in moral beings by nature,” and yet far less, “punishing or making them miserable for pursuing what is evidently the end of their natural frame when justly considered”: the not rendering upon the whole to every rational agent according to his good or ill desert: the inflicting any evil or misery for the sake of plaguing the innocent. Now if by induction we find that every instance we can imagine of violation of truth and veracity is contrary to the pursuit of greater good, we may justly conclude, that the universal observance of them is necessary to the greater good. And to all these reasonings we have yet this other to add, that God our Author, who hath given us such a moral understanding, by which we are not indifferent to veracity and truth, and other moral qualities, and their contraries, must have clear conceptions of them, and of their appearances to our moral understanding, as he hath constituted it. He therefore so formed our understanding, either because he perceives a real absolute amiableness in these qualities, which, if it be owned, they are then allowed to be really, absolutely, and immutably amiable in themselves to all moral understandings; and therefore they must be so to the Deity, and of consequence they must be a rule of action with regard to him: or because they have, though not an absolute amiableness in themselves, yet a relative fitness with regard to mankind in their situation, in order to direct them in their conduct for the greater good of their kind: upon which last supposition, at the same time that it must<164> be owned, that great goodness alone could have so constituted us, we must needs be very much puzzled to explain, how an appearance of amiableness and approveableness can be given to intelligible objects or images, not essentially belonging to them, or what that means. If it be not co-incident with the absurdity already mentioned of separating an object or quality perceived from the perception; it is at least, but a puzzling, perplexing hypothesis; whereas the other is a simple and consistent one, liable to no difficulties: since it goes upon no other supposition but this self-evident principle or fact, that all intelligible forms or images have essentially some appearance to the moral understanding, capable of reflecting on them, which necessarily excites either approbation or disapprobation as such, abstracted from all other considerations, as visible forms do of beauty or deformity, regularity or irregularity. All appearances to the eye produce either the one or the other of these sensations, though ’tis only more remarkable or striking ones that are very much attended to, others being in comparison of them comparatively as nothing. And all moral appearances must in like manner affect the mind, when they are reflected upon, and so made objects to it, either with a perception of beauty or of deformity; though ’tis in like manner only the principal kinds of such appearances in respect of which others are comparatively as nothing, that are much attended to.
Now truth and simplicity are in all instances so inseparable, that we may safely always prefer the more simple hypothesis to all others. And indeed we are naturally framed so to do; and while we are influenced by this disposition to look out for the simplest hypotheses, where looking out for any is either necessary to assist and direct in our choice with regard to action; or to quiet our minds, by taking off uneasy and perplexing difficulties and doubts, we never have in the event reason to repent so doing. The physician, the naturalist,<165> will always before experiment presume the truth of the simplest hypothesis; for experiments always turn out in its favours; and thus shew, that our determination by nature to embrace the most simple hypotheses, is by no means a deceit: But this, as it is a very strong argument of the care of nature about us, so it is an instance of that strict regard to truth or veracity, which is one of the divine perfections we are now enquiring about. For to give an instinct or determination which deceives us, is falshood; and to give one that does not, is veracity. And thus again we have another argument to prove what we are contending for. For all our determinations being right guides, or guides which do not deceive, or lead astray from our proper pursuits to disappointment, they are really so many samples of the adherence of the Author of our frame, and of all things, to truth and veracity in his government of mankind; from which, according to all the rules of analogy, it is reasonable to conclude the rule to be universal in the divine government.
III. But what hath been said of the truth and faithfulness of God, naturally leads me to take particular notice of what is taught in holy writ of the mercy, the compassion, the patience and long-suffering of God, attributes under which he is peculiarly represented to us by the inspired writers. Whatever evils befal men in this life, yet the holy scripture declares, that God always affords men sufficient provision for their eternal happiness, if by their own perverseness they neglect not the means which he gives them for that end. Nay, the sacred books often tell us, that one great end of temporal evils is the advantage that may be reaped from them, with regard to advancement in virtue, and thereby laying a foundation for great future felicity. God has endowed men with reason and natural conscience, to distinguish between good and evil, and to forwarn them, as it were, by an inward and perpetual<166> instinct of the certainty of a future state, in which it shall be rendered to every one according to his desert. And revelation confirms this by declaring expresly, that according to the several degrees of men’s knowledge in these matters, he will require of them a severer or less severe account in such a manner as becomes the judge of the whole earth, to do right. And that in the mean time, in order to bring sinners, if possible, to repentance, and a just sense of their duty; he with much patience, long-suffering, and forbearance frequently, nay, generally defers their punishment or misery; and if they do repent, he forgives and pardons them, as a father receives a returning child; or a shepherd rejoices over one of his flock that had been lost: for so the scripture speaks.a And this is that part of goodness which is strictly and properly distinguished in the holy scriptures by the name of Mercy. The character or description there given of the divine mercy, patience, and long-suffering consists in this, “That God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should repent and live; or be restored to his favour by returning to the ways of truth and holiness, without which it is impossible in the nature of things to be happy in a future life; that he is ready to forgive the penitent sinner; and that sentence against an evil work is not speedily executed,b that the sinner may have space, opportunity, and inducement to repent.”
How emphatical are the words of the Psalmist to this purpose,c “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, long-suffering, and of great goodness—He<167> hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities and wickednesses—Like as a father pitieth his own children, even so the Lord is merciful unto them that fear him; for he knoweth whereof we are made, he remembereth that we are but dust.” And the particular instances given us in scripture of this patience and forbearance of God toward sinners, shew us that this is the meaning of it.
And indeed the general conduct of providence towards sinful and corrupted men and nations, shew that the mercy and patience, ascribed to God in scripture, do really belong to him. A very wise Heathend in his enquiry “Why the wicked, whose ways God must abominate, are not immediately destroyed,” among many other reasons gives these. 1. That in general, this world is the state of our probation, and the next the state of rewards and punishments; that many vitious men are led to repentance at last, and become exceeding good; remarkably virtuous and useful. [Upon which head I can’t but remark, that the Jews had a proverb, that no man could equal the zeal of a sincere penitent: And St. Paul ’s description of such a person is very well worth our attention.a “Behold this selfsame thing, that ye have sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness is wrought in you; yea what clearing of yourselves; yea what indignation; yea what fear; yea what vehement desire; yea what zeal; yea what revenge?”] The other reason, he adds, 2. is, That very wicked men are fathers of good and worthy children; that by the bad the virtuous are exercised and tried; and other wicked persons are punished. 3. That they themselves, far from being happy, are really miserable, however dazzling to unthinking eyes their outward prosperity may appear. 4. That the world being governed by general laws, or in a regular manner, and not by partial wills, God brings about the punishment<168> of wicked men and nations very often in such a manner, as must be more instructive to all thinking men, than positive interpositions can be, by shewing wickedness to be in the general and natural course of things the ruin of individuals and of states. And 5. That such are the natural connexions and dependencies of mankind, that no wicked man can be destroyed without involving others, perhaps good, or at least not so bad, in his ruin. An excellent author gives these reasons for God’s forbearance, in not suddenly destroying, or very visibly punishing wicked men as their sins deserve, from the consideration of the general conduct of providence; all of which are justified by revelation. 6. But another remarkable reason he gives is directly the language of scripture, which is,b That Men in general are qualified and fitted to contemplate and understand the government of God in the world, as the divine behaviour and conduct, in order to make it the model or pattern of their own. And this patient, merciful, tender, compassionate conduct of God in the course of his providence towards sinners, shews us how compassionate, how tender, how forgiving, we ought to be; we, who after our best endeavours are liable to so many weaknesses, which require mutual indulgence from one another; and fall so far short of our duty to God, that we greatly need pardon and mercy from him who must hate iniquity. A patient, meek, compassionate, forgiving spirit, so necessary to happiness in human life, is frequently urged upon us in the new testament, from the consideration of the mercy of God, and his readiness to pardon us; his tender compassion for all our weaknesses; and his not exacting rigidly of us all that duty requires at our hands, and we are really qualified to perform, would we but set ourselves with all our might to do it. And how can the cruel, unforgiving man presume to ask pardon<169> of God? The natural notion of equity must first be forgot by us, before we can choose, but yield to that remarkable reasoning of the son of Sirach,a “He that wrongeth shall find vengeance from the Lord, and he will surely keep his iniquities in remembrance. Forgive thy neighbour the hurt he hath done to thee, so shall thy sins also be forgiven when thou prayest. One man beareth hatred against another, and doth he seek pardon from the Lord? He sheweth no mercy to a man which is like himself, and doth he ask forgiveness of his own sins?” I have mentioned this emphatical reasoning, because not a few thro’ very imperfect notions of natural religion, imagine a forgiving, meek, patient temper is no part of it.
But to prevent mistakes upon this head, let it be observed, 1. That in the administration of a God of infinite purity and holiness, or of absolute moral rectitude, the only road to true happiness must be virtue, or purity and sanctity of manners. Nay, in the nature of things, rational happiness cannot arise but from well improved rational faculties: virtuous enjoyment virtue alone can give: none can possibly partake of a happiness bearing any likeness to the happiness of the divine mind, but by becoming partakers of that divine nature, or like to God in that moral rectitude from which his felicity results. 2. Whence it follows, in the second place, that till the sinner repents, he is naturally, and according to the essential differences of things to which the divine government is and must be consonant, quite out of the road to true happiness, and in the direct natural way to misery, the proper, natural and necessary misery of a rational moral being; a mind confirmed in depravity and vice. 3. But then, thirdly, When a penitent sincerely reforms, and returns to virtue, he puts himself into the natural and the appointed way to rational happiness, the result of rational<170> perfection. 4. And yet, in the fourth place, God’s sparing very wicked sinners, and putting means in their way for their reclamation from vice; and his freely pardoning them, are in a proper and strict sense, acts of grace, of patience, mercy, and forgiveness; in the same manner that a man’s not merely forgiving his enemy, but restoring him to his favour and confidence upon his sincere repentance, and taking proper methods to bring him back to a sense of his vice, and a better mind, are what a man is not strictly obliged to do in justice, and could not be blamed for not doing; but is truly and properly not mere lenity but benignity; the highest generosity. And indeed, such goodness is called among men, God-like, from a natural sense of the divine compassion and forbearance, of which we are all monuments. 5. In the last place, as such compassionate administration is not inconsistent with government by general laws; but supposes compassion and mercy to have moved God in the choice of his conduct towards men, and to have determined him to the methods by which he is really found to govern the world; so, on the other hand, it is plain, that to a generous mind, continuance in sin will be highly aggravated by the consideration of such tender and merciful government. Sinful conduct, in proportion as wicked men have less or more shared of it, according to different circumstances, all of which were the choice of infinite mercy in order to greater good in the whole, does certainly heighten in proportion their guilt, and render their wickedness more inexcusable, if ingratitude be a sin: And the truly good, or all who ever come to take a just view of things, will look upon it as doing so; and therefore far from having any disposition to indulge vicious appetites in hopes of forgiveness, they will be more unwilling to offend. This goodness will lead them to repentance; it will engage them to double watchfulness and diligence, not to offend God, whose laws are really but so many rules for our<171> attainment to true and unchanging happiness; and to recommend themselves to his favour by duly grateful behaviour. This is the meaning of the Psalmist, when he says, “There is forgiveness with God,a that he may be feared.” To whom among men is one who hath any sense of honour most desirous to be acceptable; whom does he most fear, most reverence, and most love; the person who tho’ he exacteth nothing but what is just, yet hath no compassion, no lenity; or he who, tho’ he be strictly good and virtuous, and cannot be reconciled to vice, is however of a kindly generous disposition, and taking all pains to reform the bad, is willing to accept of them when they sincerely reform? This patience of God is a truly amiable quality; and among the many good ends it evidently serves in order to promote the greater good, this one is none of the least, that this patience, duly considered, exciteth toward God such a filial reverence, as is indeed an excellent virtue even with respect to society by its natural fruits: for it naturally produces a generous regard to those who are wisely merciful; and a compassionate forgiving temper toward our fellow-creatures when they hurt or wrong us.
I shall conclude this article with observing, that as to think of abusing goodness and mercy, is the worst, the most irreclaimable of vitious tempers; so there cannot be a falser or more pernicious mistake in speculation, than to imagine, that there is no reason to fear the goodness, the mercy of a pure and holy being, who must have the strictest regard to moral rectitude in his conduct. For, on the contrary, such goodness, such mercy, is the natural and just object of the greatest fear to an ill man.
A humourous, capricious being may change. And a being, who is rather malicious than good, may be appeased by cringing and flattery. But such a goodness<172> or mercy as hath been defined, is a fixt, steady, unmoveable principle of action; which, tho’ it may bear long with sinners, in order to give them space to reform, and in order to excite them to it, by a sense of the gratitude and respect naturally due to such forbearance, which is the good principle in our natures that is last corrupted or quite defaced; yet it cannot alter the nature of virtue and vice, or of moral perfection and happiness; A connexion, which, if God could alter, yet he would not change on any consideration; far less to gratify vitious men who are unwilling to forsake their wicked pleasures. Every one may observe how much greater chance of impunity an ill man has in a partial administration, than in a just and upright one. And no attribute of God which we can consider, does not prove to us, that virtue alone can recommend to his favour, or put us into the road to true and lasting happiness under his administration.
Now having thus briefly considered the scripture doctrine concerning the principal attributes of God, to which his government of mankind, and all moral beings must be agreeable, it is evident, that whether they are considered as parts of the divine goodness; as belonging to the idea of it, or necessarily resulting from it; or separately, as distinct perfections; they all shew us, that this must be an unalterable rule in it. “That whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he reap.” Denying it to be such, is ultimately to deny every one of his moral perfections.
If he hath a strict regard to moral rectitude, then must the serious pursuit of it be the only way under his administration to happiness; and by consequence its opposite must have an opposite effect. If he be good, he must pursue the general good of moral beings; that is, he must conduct all things so, as may best serve to promote the greatest quantity of moral happiness, resulting in the nature of things only from moral perfection. If he be true and faithful, his administration must be<173> correspondent to what the nature and frame of man, as a moral being, shews to be his end, even to attain to happiness by attaining to moral perfection: for this is plainly the natural language of our whole frame with regard to our end; that man is here, in order to lay a foundation for future unchangeable happiness resulting from a well-improved mind, suitably placed, by the sedulous pursuit of virtue: this his frame and make duly considered, as clearly points out, as any other constitution whatsoever indicates its end by the disposition and combination of the parts which constitute it. If God be pure, holy, just and good, then will he certainly upon the whole render to every moral being, suitably to the use he makes of the stock put into his hand for improvement in his circumstances. And if God be patient and forbearing toward sinners, it is to lead them to repentance,a and there by into the road to happiness; because he is not willing that any should be miserable, but that all should, by acting agreeably to their nature, at last find the reward, the advantage of so doing, which cannot be obtained any other way.
The apostle had therefore good reason to say, it is a gross deceit, because it is mocking God to imagine, “That whatever a man soweth, that shall he not also reap.”
The divine, infinitely wise, just, good, faithful, and merciful providence, governs the whole universe by general laws: and what is said in the sacred writings of the ministry of angels, and of special miraculous interpositions of providence on certain occasions, is not inconsistent with government by general laws.
It hath been already more than once observed, that the phrases by which God’s government of the material<174> world is expresseda in scripture, plainly mean the production of all natural effects according to established general laws.
And in holy writ several general laws in the moral world are mentioned or acknowledged: as the law of habits, or the improvement and degeneracy of the mind in consequence of that general law; or the established power of usage, custom or habit; the law of industry, according to which all acquisitions, external or internal, are made: and finally, this important law in the text, that it shall be rendered to every moral being, upon the whole of things, according to the foundation they have laid in their first state of probation; that every one shall reap as he has sown, or according to his behaviour: he shall reap the natural fruits of the seed he sows. Government therefore throughout all by general laws, throughout the moral as well as the natural world, is the doctrine of the scriptures. And indeed, as, seeing we can trace government by general laws in very many instances in nature, we have hence reason to presume, that the government of the moral world is analogous to it, and likewise by general laws; so were we strangers to the material world, if we can trace the observance of those general laws which have been mentioned in the moral world, we would have in like manner good ground to infer, that the material part must likewise be governed by general laws analogously to the moral; and that from this single consideration, which is evident at first sight, that the material and moral do make one system, or are intimately and closely blended together, and have but one Author, and one end or scope.
But this subject is of great importance, and therefore it is well worth while, in the first place, to shew more particularly than hath been yet done, how, or<175> upon what grounds we may reason so from the material world to the moral, as to infer government by general laws in the later from government by general laws in the former. And then, secondly, to consider, whether marvelous interpositions are not repugnant to the doctrine of government by general laws, whether in the material or moral world.
I. Let us enquire how, or in what manner, and upon what ground, we may reason from the government of the material world to that of the moral. For some consider these two as so quite distinct, that good order may appear in the one, and yet there may be nothing but disorder and confusion in the other. They think, that as one may have a very good taste of architecture, gardening, and laying out fields, and yet be a very bad head of a family in other respects; so the contrivance of the material world may shew excellent taste of beauty and order in that kind, and yet an equal good taste of moral order and harmony may be wanting. And therefore they conclude, that it is only from moral administration, that the moral character of any being can be inferred with any degree of certainty or assurance.
Now, in answer to this specious reasoning, it might be shewn, that the taste of beauty in architecture, and the other ingenious arts, is so analogous to and connected with good taste of beauty and harmony in moral conduct, that if one who hath the former be irregular and dissolute in his morals, he must be so in down-right contradiction to the sole principle upon which his delight in the ingenious arts and works of taste is founded; and so be at perpetual variance with himself. And therefore we naturally presume, that one who shews perfect good taste in the external oeconomy of his house, gardens, &c. cannot fail in his moral conduct thro’ ignorance, but thro’ the strength of ill-grounded appetites, in opposition to frequent reproaches<176> of natural conscience, not seldom excited, and always exaggerated by the exercises of his other taste, or rather of the same taste about inferior objects, which, when it is duly cultivated, naturally leads to right moral conduct: a ground of suspicion that cannot take place with regard to the Author of the universe, or any original, universal, independent mind.
But not to insist upon what would unavoidably lead us into a long enquiry into the principles of the polite arts, and the nature and foundation of good taste in them, we shall only observe, that tho’ moral philosophy be distinguished from natural, and the moral from the natural world for several good reasons; yet it would be a very great mistake, if any one should be led by that distinction to consider them as two distinct or separate worlds, or two distinct spheres of action: for not only are they but parts making one world or system; but strictly speaking, there is but one possible object of divine care or providence, which is the happiness of beings capable of happiness in their several degrees; and therefore the whole constitution and government of what is called the material part of the creation is, properly speaking, a moral constitution and government; being nothing else, but a constitution and government, according to which perceptive beings are affected in such and such manners by certain sensations. But this being true, it is unreasonable to speak of the government of a material, and the government of a moral world as distinct systems: the more proper and philosophical way, is only to speak of a moral government, or of the government of beings capable of happiness and misery. And therefore, if in tracing and examining this moral government, certain universal laws are found out; and, in general, if as far as we are able to carry our enquiries, the moral government seems to be carried on by universal and not partial laws; we have certainly reason to conclude, that universally throughout the same moral government, all is governed by general<177> laws. When we speak of arguing from the material world to the moral, it sounds at first like arguing from conduct in one sphere to conduct in an absolutely different one. But it is not really so; for it is only arguing from some parts of one and the same sphere to other parts of it; or from some samples of conduct in one and the same sphere to conduct universally in that same one sphere or system. No doubt, we may reason in many instances very justly from one’s conduct in one sphere to what might be expected of the same being in another sphere. But in the matter now before us, we do not argue from one different sphere to another, but we conclude from samples of conduct in several instances what may be judged of the conduct of the same being universally throughout the whole of that one government. But if it is said, that all being granted which is demanded, yet when we have found in the moral government of providence only general laws and good order with respect to the conveyance of sensations into our minds from without; or, in other words, with respect to the manners in which we are affected by sensible pleasures and pains; can we from thence alone conclude, that general laws and good order are universally observed with regard to every thing upon which the greater good in the whole administration depends? May not a scheme of government be well so far, and no further? And that order just mentioned, with regard to the conveyance of sensible ideas, may be, and is likely to be but a very small part of the whole scheme. True. But certainly if general laws are clearly perceived to prevail to any degree in a government, there immediately arises a presumption that they prevail universally throughout the same one government. Suppose two absolutely distinct independent governments are found at the first comparison to have a similitude, will not a presumption immediately arise, that there may be throughout the whole a similitude between them; and will not this<178> presumption strengthen in proportion, as the comparison advancing, greater likeness is found between them: and if these two governments are known to be contrived and under the administration of the same head and ruler, will not the presumption from the beginning be yet stronger on that account, that a very great resemblance will be found between them by acurate inspection and comparison? By parity of reason therefore in a government which appears plainly to be one, to be contrived, effected and governed by one and the same head, there must arise a very strong presumption, because it is such, that throughout the whole of it there is analogous or similar government; and this presumption will grow stronger in proportion to the new instances of analogy and likeness, or of similar government by general laws, that are discovered, even tho’ all these instances should be of the same category, as all instances with regard to the conveyance of sensible ideas are. But, no doubt, the presumption will become yet stronger if general laws are found to prevail likewise in some instances that are not of the same category with sensations, but so remote from them, as to belong to quite a different rank or category of effects.
II. Now, in the second place, government by general laws is no less obvious in many other instances, than it is with respect to the methods in which sensible ideas are conveyed, which are properly called the laws of nature; or the connexions between certain means and certain ends in the material part of God’s government of moral beings. In our enquiry into the moral world, several laws are proved to be general in it from their effects, in the same manner as natural philosophers have proved certain laws in the sensible world to be general. But not to repeat what hath been said there, let me but just suggest here that there is a<179> much more exact correspondence and analogy between the natural and moral world, (in what sense we understand this distinction, hath been just now explained) than superficial observers are apt to imagine or take notice of; so that it may be justly said of the whole of the divine government, as far as we are able to extend our enquiries into it, with the son of Syrach,a “All things are double one against another: and God hath made nothing imperfect.” The inward frame of the human mind, all its affections and powers, and all their laws correspond to the external condition and circumstances in which man is placed, i.e. to the laws of the sensible world, which we are at present capable of enjoying in various ways, and consequently of being variously affected by it; these two constitutions are so analogous, so correspondent, so nicely adjusted to one another, that had we no other argument to prove them to be one system directed to one end, by one Author and Ruler, by similar methods of government, that single consideration would be sufficient to evince it. For as we must either not admit final causes at all, or we must admit them wherever we perceive them; so, we must either admit similarity and correspondence, wherever we perceive it, or not admit it in any instances. And there are no where in nature, clearer instances of analogy in nature, than between several laws of the natural world, and several laws of the moral world.
A careful examiner will find, that all our affections and passions are not only well-suited to our external circumstances; but that they themselves, and all the laws or methods of exercising them, with their different consequences, have a very exact correspondence with, and analogy to the sensible world, and its laws. Is there not an obvious similarity between the principle of gravitation toward a common center, and universal benevolence, in their operation? And what is self-love, but the attraction by which a private system is constituted, preserved, and kept together, in like manner, as by close cohesion of parts, particular bodies<180> are formed and preserved. Nor is there any more inconsistency between the co-existence of the two principles of self-love and benevolence in the same mind, than between the attraction of parts by which every particular body is formed, and its gravitation toward the common center of the whole system, in order to the coherence or support of the whole. Homogeneous bodies more easily coalesce than others: and so is it with minds. For is not friendship a particular sympathy of minds analogous to that particular tendency we may observe in certain bodies to run together and mix or adhere? Compassion, or a disposition to relieve the distressed, is it not similar to that tendency we observe in nutritious particles of several kinds, to run to the supply of wants in bodies which they are respectively proper to supply. Hunger, and other such appetites, are with regard to our conservation what a disposition in all plants to attract their proper nutriment is to them; which, while they want, they droop and seem uneasy like famished animals. Minds repel injuries in the same way that bodies do, (our eye-lids, for example) instantaneously, by a similar, innate, repelling force. And which is yet a more remarkable instance of similarity between the natural and the moral world, dominion is proportional to property, as gravity to quantity of matter; so that all mutations in the orbs of civil government, if one may so speak, are resolvable into that moral law of dominion, in like manner as all the motions and variations in the celestial orbs are into the natural law of gravitation.a
But since no one can be acquainted with nature, or indeed with the imitative arts, with poetry in particular, without perceiving and admiring the<181> correspondence between the sensible and moral world, from which arises such a beautiful, rich source of imagery in poetry, and without which there could be no such thing; I shall not insist longer upon it than just to observe, that we are excellently fitted to admire the beauty of the natural world, and to trace that connexion between beauty and utility, every where prevailing in nature, confessed by artists, who imitate nature as the foundation of their arts; and which is the chief source of all the natural philosopher’s delight: and there is the same connexion in the moral part, between the moral beauty of affections, actions and characters, and real advantage, real soundness and usefulness, whether with respect to the private system; i.e. the good of each individual, or the publick system, i.e. the good of our kind. And, to add no more, as every thing in nature requires culture, in order to its arrival to its perfect state; so likewise does every quality of the mind require proper diligence to bring it to proper maturity: and as the power of man in the natural world, extends no further, than uniting and disuniting elementary unchangeable bodies; so in the moral world, all his power likewise consists in uniting and disuniting; or associating and dissociating elementary unchangeable ideas and affections. So that, upon the whole, from the consideration of nature, there is good reason to conclude, that all is governed by general laws very analogous or similar.
III. But if any one should say, why lay such a stress upon government by general laws; for is it not sufficient, that all things be disposed, placed and adapted for the greater good, whether the author of nature works by general laws or not: i.e. whether effects are reducible to certain harmonies and analogies, or stand single, and have no relation to one principle: or, in other words, tho’ no two effects are instances of the same manner of operation: for those are the<182> different phrases by which philosophers explain their meaning when they speak of general laws. To this an answer hath already been given, viz. that were that the case, nature could not be called an united system; it would be a loose incoherent heap of effects, without any cement or union, like a heap of independent unconnected stones. And how one end can be pursued in such a case, or what meaning the pursuit of general good can have upon that supposition, I am entirely at a loss to conceive. But one thing is certain, beyond all doubt, that no intelligent creature could ever understand such a course of things, perceive beauty in it, comprehend it, or form rules of conduct to itself from it. From which it plainly follows, that all the interests of intelligent beings, all their rational exercises of understanding, of will, or of affections, absolutely require government by general laws: knowledge, contemplation of beauty, activity, prudence, virtue, are impossible attainments, but in a state where general laws do obtain, and are traceable to a certain degree. But this hath been already observed, and is only repeated now, because it is necessary to be put in mind of it, in order to our being able to answer the other question with regard to providence, which it was proposed to discuss under this head, namely,
II. Whether miraculous interpositions of providence are consistent with government of the world by general laws. An excellent author reasons to this purpose on this subject. “It is from analogy that we conclude the whole of nature to be capable of being reduced into general laws. It is from our finding, that the course of nature in some respects, and so far, goes on by general laws, that we conclude this of the rest. And if that be a just ground for such a conclusion, it is a just ground also, if not to conclude, yet to apprehend, to render it supposeable and credible, which is sufficient for answering objections, that God’s<183> miraculous interpositions may have been, all along, in like manner, by general laws of wisdom. Thus, that miraculous powers should be exerted at such times, upon such occasions, in such degrees and manners, and with regard to such persons rather than others; that the affairs of the world, being permitted to go on in their natural course so far, should just at such a point have a new direction given them by miraculous interpositions; that these interpositions should be exactly in such degrees and respects only; all this may have been by general laws. These laws are unknown indeed to us: but no more unknown than several other laws from whence certain effects proceed are, though it is taken for granted, they are as much reducible to general ones as gravitation. Now, if the revealed dispensations of providence, and miraculous interpositions be by general laws, as well as God’s ordinary government in the course of nature, made known by reason and experience; there is no more reason to expect, that every exigence, as it arises, should be provided for by these general laws of miraculous interpositions, than that every exigence in nature should by the general laws of nature. Yet there might be wise and good reasons, that miraculous interpositions should be by general laws; and that these laws should not be broken in upon, or deviated from by other miracles.”
This reasoning from analogy is certainly very just. But it is not from analogy merely, that we have reason to conclude, that the whole of the divine government must be by general laws; and consequently, that even miraculous interpositions must be all along carried on by general laws, tho’ unknown to us. Because the scheme of providence which is carrying on, whether in a way we can trace, as we do when we are able to reduce certain effects into their general laws; or in methods unknown to us; must be a scheme, all the parts of which were chosen by the divine creator and<184> ruler of all things, as the best and fittest in order to promote his sole end, universal good; an end called in scripture very properly his glory. It cannot therefore be a scheme which frequently requires interpositions, at certain points, till then never thought of by the ruler of the world, and maker of all things. That is inconsistent with his perfections. And yet between such instantaneous, extemporary, and before unthought of interpositions to serve particular exigencies, and a scheme in which all is carried on according to a general order and method; or, which is the same thing, according to general laws established by him from the first, or more properly speaking, from all eternity, there is no middle. The one or the other must be the case; but the former being absurd, the later must be true. But if miraculous interpositions cannot mean such extemporary, unpremeditated or casual interpositions, pro re nata;22 ’tis plain, miraculous interpositions can be in no other sense miraculous to us, than any other effects are really such, whose laws are unknown to us, tho’ we do not call all such miraculous. A miraculous interposition, the effect of a general law, is not miraculous, if by miraculous is meant anomalous; because that would be to say, it is an anomalous effect of a general law. But as the commonalty of mankind, who have no notion of general laws, call nothing miraculous but what is uncommon, and do call all uncommon effects such; so even the philosophers, whose daily employment it is to trace general laws, do not however call effects which they daily or often see miraculous, merely because they know nothing of their general laws; but such only as are either contrary to general laws they are acquainted with; or are, at least, at the same time extremely uncommon, and extremely unlike the common course of nature. In this sense, do they who believe the truth of the dispensations recorded in holy writ, say many things in them are contrary to known laws, and many are very unlike the common<185> course of nature, and they are therefore miraculous. But when that is said, nothing is said that is contrary to the doctrine of the divine government throughout all, from the beginning, and for ever by general laws. For all these dispensations may have been carried on by general laws unknown to us, as many laws of effects, which being very common, do not startle us, are: and if they be really what they are represented to be in the scriptures, that is, if they be really true, or if they really happened, they must have been brought about by general laws, since providence works in no other manner.
But here it will be said, is not all this directly repugnant to what you have been endeavouring to establish; for of what use can miraculous interpositions be, if no rules can be inferred from them for our conduct; but rules for conduct can only be deduced from known general laws, or effects reducible into general laws: and is it not very contradictory to talk of an established order of nature, and at the same time of effects or interpositions contrary to this order of nature: And yet what do miraculous interpositions mean, but dispensations suspending or counteracting and conquering general laws of nature? In order therefore to takeoff all those difficulties and clear this matter as fully as we can. Let it be observed,
I. That if there are created beings in nature higher than man, as it hath been often said nature and reason render highly probable there are, of very various ranks, gradually ascending in knowledge and power one above another, in such proportion that the lowest of them transcends man, as man does the highest class of brutes; upon that supposition, every order of such beings will have its peculiar sphere of power, activity, or dominion alloted to it, as man hath his appointed to him. But the exertions of power natural to a rank of beings superior to man, or according<186> to the laws of their nature, and of their sphere of activity, will be in respect to man miraculous in the strongest sense of the word, that is, impossible, or absolutely beyond his reach. To such beings the laws which limit human power in the natural world may be no confinement; but it may be in their power to act quite contrary to them. For hence it will not follow, that the same nature admits repugnant laws, since what we call the laws of matter and motion, or the laws of the sensible world, are the laws according to which sensible effects are produced to us or in us, and according to which we must operate, in order to gain certain ends; and while these remain the same to us, nature remains the same of us. Thus, to explain the matter by an example or two, though the law of gravity prevail universally through the natural world, insomuch that all the appearances of the planets are reducible into it, together with that centrifugal force, which is the result of the inertnes of matter; and that we cannot suspend or change it, but must act and work conformably to it; yet very consistently with this order of nature it may be in the power of beings, superior to us, to act contrary to this property which is to us a rule and boundary of power, so as to be able to walk upon the water, and to suspend heavy bodies in the air, &c. In like manner, though it be not in our power to cure any diseases but gradually, and by certain methods discovered to us by experience; yet it may be in the power of beings of a superior sphere of activity immediately or instantaneously to cure or remove certain diseases by methods altogether unconceivable by us. All this may be, and yet order in nature may be preserved; for order is preserved while the laws belonging to every particular class of beings prevail invariably, making to each class their peculiar spheres of power and rules of action. Nay, various orders of beings cannot possibly take place in nature, but it must be true, that with respect to every lower kind there will really be in nature as various<187> exertions of power quite miraculous, as there are orders of beings higher than them, that is, exertions of power, which being perceived by them, would necessarily appear quite miraculous to them. And if we suppose it possible, as there being no contradiction in it we must allow it to be, that beings superior to man belonging to the same system, may operate upon the same material objects, and render at times their operations visible to us, then will in all such cases real miracles happen to us; that is, operations performed, either contrary to the laws of matter and motion we cannot suspend or alter, but must invariably conform to in all our operations; or though agreeably to them, yet, which comes to the same thing, without such a visible intermediate progress as all our operations are and must be performed in; for both of these ways of operating are equally miraculous with respect to us. But as if ever such productions of superior beings visible to us have happened, or shall happen, they are productions of power derived from God, according to spheres of activity and laws of powers appointed by him, and so make a part of the general scheme of providence: so whether they be a part of it or not, human power, and the laws of human power, or our sphere of activity and dominion can suffer no alteration; nor consequently, our rules of conduct pointed out to us by our make and sphere, or deducible from it. We must suppose beings of superior ranks to man either to have no power in the material world to produce sensible effects; or we must needs suppose many effects may be produced by them, which are not miraculous, but reducible to the general laws of nature, and therefore in no degree surprising to us. But whatever their powers and operations may be, all that is, is according to the will of one cause the Author of all things, from whom all powers and laws of powers are derived, and who hath appointed all things for the greater good. And there is really no more reason to say that the world is not the same uniform<188> system, if we consider it as the theatre in which various beings with different powers exert themselves variously; than there is to say, that nature or the world is not the same uniform system, because different men have different degrees of knowledge, and consequently of power; or because in ages of science men have vastly greater power than they had in ages of ignorance, and before certain laws of nature, and properties of things were known, which being discovered, augment man’s power. The scripture asserts that there are various orders of beings superior to man, who have vast powers, and are not inactive, but are continually employed in exerting their powers. But they are said to be created by God, and to be subject to him; to be ministring spirits to do his will. And there is no inconsistency with what is said there, of their being employed or employing themselves to the service of good men, or in any other way under the superintendency of providence, or agreeably to the great end providence proposed and unerringly pursues, in giving to beings various powers, and appointing to each class its peculiar sphere and bounds. For so far every thing is carried on with infinite wisdom and goodness, and according to general laws. And man, though he knows not the spheres of other beings, yet in proportion as he knows his own sphere, which with regard to him is never altered, may know his duty or rule of conduct, which, with regard to every being, can be nothing else but what its make and sphere points out, and renders always the same to it. But when it is said, that the sphere of man remains always the same, let it not be inferred from hence, that a man may not be endued with power, the exertions of which will be truly miraculous to his fellow-creatures, and shew him to be endued with knowledge and power superior to them, or to be directed and assisted in certain operations by some being of a superior rank to man; for though that may be, yet the natural sphere of mankind will remain<189> the same even in that case, and while it remains the same, the duties resulting from it must also be the same.
II. Now this being understood, it must be obvious, that interpositions or dispensations of providence, said in scripture to have been particular, extraordinary, or miraculous; as in delivering a particular person or nation, in conveying certain blessings, or inflicting certain evils at certain times upon persons or nations, in sending a preacher of his will invested with power to give it an evidence of an authority more than human, and in other such like instances, are by no means contradictory to the doctrine of the government of the world by general laws; because we may evidently comprehend how all such may be produced by general laws, as making parts of the vast scheme of providence. And though we should never be able to trace these effects to their general laws, yet some other created beings superior to us, may in their larger situation be able to do it; and in that way may be capable of deducing to themselves very useful observations for their conduct from such laws, in the same manner as we do rules for our conduct, from what we are able to discover of the connexions and laws of things in the world, by our experience and reason.
But if it be said, of what use can such dispensations be with regard to man? It may be answered, No exertions of the powers of other beings; no particular miraculous interpositions of providence, can alter the rules of conduct, which are deducible from our make, our sphere of activity, and the connexions and laws of things with regard to us. So that it will always remain to be our business to know these, that we may not by any means, by any false reasoning, or specious shew of supreme, divine authority, be deluded into the reception of rules contrary to them. For nothing inconsistent with them can be a true rule to<190> us; a rule that will not misguide us. But then a certain part of providence, which we cannot discover by experience or reason, being made known to us by divine revelation, or, which comes to the same in the present case, by a being superior to us, who is acquainted with it; though the general rules according to which it is carried on be not laid open to us; yet by such information of certain facts, if there be reason to depend upon it, we may be led to the knowledge of certain rules of conduct, or certain duties otherwise not known to us; because these may as evidently result from the knowledge of that part of providence thus discovered to us, as our other duties knowable by reason and experience do result from those parts of providence whence they are inferred: and if the former be not inconsistent with the latter, that is, contradictory to them, we can have no reason to object against them upon the account of the manner in which we are brought to the knowledge of them; but in such a case, the whole question will turn upon the credibility of our information concerning that part of providence from which they result and are inferred. Did rules thus made known to us clash with those deducible from experience and reason, we would have sufficient ground to reject the information. But if they do not, the credibility of such information, as hath been now supposed, will doubtless be a question well worth our considering; nay, a question we cannot refuse to consider with close and candid deliberation, without transgressing one rule of conduct, which reason and experience clearly teaches us; namely, not to despise any information concerning the conduct of providence, and our duties resulting from it, which hath any likelihood of truth: for those beings, who are invested with superior knowledge to us, or who have larger views of nature than we, are certainly able to instruct us, who are not so wise and knowing; and we being made to receive our knowledge for the direction of<191> our conduct, not wholly by immediate experience, but in a great measure by testimony, ought to examine instruction in nature or providence offered to us by testimony. It is not now my present business to enquire into the particular miraculous dispensations of providence mentioned in scripture; but merely in general to shew how such are not inconsistent with the government of the world by general laws, which hath been done. And this was necessary, in order to reconcile them with what the scripture says, as we have seen of fore-knowledge, and of an universal providence, by which general laws are established, which all things invariably obey; or according to which all effects are produced for the greater good. For in such a manner do the holy writers speak of all things animate and inanimate; of all beings of whatever orders and ranks.a “The works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure in them. His work is honourable and glorious: and his righteousness endureth for ever. He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered: the Lord is gracious and full of compassion. The works of his hands are verity and judgment; all his commandments are sure. They stand fast for ever, and are done in truth and uprightness.—The Lord is high above all nations and his glory above the heavens. The Heavens are the Lord’s; but he hath given the earth to the children of men.— Great is our Lord, and of great power; his understanding is infinite.— Praise him from the heavens, praise him in the heights. Praise him all ye angels, praise ye him all hosts, praise ye him sun, moon, and stars, praise him all the stars of light. Praise him ye heavens, and ye nations above the heavens. Let them praise the Lord, for he commanded, and they were created. He hath also stablished them for ever and ever: he hath made a decree which<192> they shall not pass—Let all beings praise the Lord, for his name alone is excellent, his glory is above the earth and heaven, for all, even fire, and hail, and snow, fulfil his will. The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all. Bless the Lord, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of the Lord, the voice of his word. Bless ye the Lord, all ye his hosts, ye ministers of his that do his pleasure. Bless the Lord all his works in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul. Bless the Lord, O my soul: O Lord, my God, thou art very great, thou art clothed with honour and majesty—Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flaming fire—He appointeth the moon for seasons; the sun knoweth his going down—O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.” “He that liveth for ever created all things in general. The Lord only is righteous, and there is none other but he who governs the world with the palm of his hand, and all things obey his will, for he is the king of all by his power. As for the wondrous works of the Lord, there may nothing be taken from them, neither may any thing be put unto them, neither can the ground of them be found out.”a So likewise in a few words the apostle St. Paul,b For of him, and to him, and through him, are all things, to whom be glory for ever. Amen.
The providence of God always works agreeably to, or consistently with the liberty of moral agents.
The doctrine of predestination having been often shewn to have no foundation in holy writ, and to be utterly<193> subversive of all morality and religion: and the doctrine of fore-knowledge having been proved not to be inconsistent with free-agency, I shall only here briefly take notice what it is in which the holy scripture places moral liberty, and what it, as such, includes in it, or necessarily presupposes.
I. According to the scripture,a The man who is not governed by reason, but by caprice, humour, fancy, or appetite, is unable to controul his desires, or never exercises the power and authority of his reason to examine them, and keep them within reasonable and becoming bounds, is a slave, in bondage, or a stranger to moral freedom. It describes the miserable slavery of such persons by many excellent ways of expression: telling us, they areb servants of sin: servants to uncleanness and to iniquity, and servants of corruption. That they cannot cease from sin: that sin hath dominion over them, and reigns in their mortal bodies, while they obey it in the lusts thereof. That though in their mind they cannot choose but approve the laws of God clearly pointed out to them by their make and frame, and therefore the law of their nature, yet they feel another law in their members warring against the law of their mind, and bringing them into captivity to the law of sin; so that they cannot do the things that they would, or that they approve. That which they do, they allow not; for what they would, that they do not; but what they hate, that they do. All which is comprised in one expressive word afterwards. They are sold under sin: that is, they have by long ill habits and corrupt practice, as it were, given up themselves, parted with their liberty, and yielded themselves absolutely<194> into the snare of the Devil (the snares of vice) to be taken captive by them at will. This phrase is twice applied in the old testament to Ahab,a that he did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord. And twice to the people of Israel; in the days of Hosea,b that they sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord: and in the days of Antiochus,c that they were sold to do mischief.
II. The true liberty of a rational agent is placed by the holy scripture in his being able to govern all his appetites, and his whole conduct, by reason, with delight and complacency. It consists therefore in a just unbyassed judgment, and in a power of acting conformably to its dictates. Man therefore, in the scripture sense, is free, when his reason hath the place or authority due to it in his mind, and gives laws to all his appetites and choices. And he is then free, because he is master of himself; his better part rules, the guiding principle within him has the power and authority which of right belongs to it, and all the parts made to be ruled by it are under proper subjection to it. He is then neither awed by base, mean, unreasonable fears, nor bribed by foolish, fantastick hopes: he is neither tumultuously hurried away by blind, rash, precipitant, unruly lusts and passions, nor imposed upon and cheated by false appearances of present good, but considers impartially, and judges soundly, and acts effectually, and with manly resolution. This is to quit ourselves like men: to act like reasonable beings. For to what other end can reason be given us: what else is its use or dignity? This, in the scripture language, is the freedom of a man, of a christian, of an angel; of every rational agent. How emphatically do the scriptures speak of it.d The law of the spirit of life<195> hath made me free, saith the apostle, from the law of sin and death; and delivered me from the bondage of corruption, into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. Such a person is said to be dead to sin; that is, to have destroyed the power of vitious appetites,e that he should no longer live the rest of his life in the flesh, to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. He is said to live to God, and to live after the spirit. The truth is said to have made him free, and the law according to which he regulates himself is called the perfect law of liberty.a His delight is in this law, and it is his meat and his drink to do the will of God. O Lord, saith the Psalmist, I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast broken my bones asunder, and I shall walk at liberty, for I seek thy commandments.
III. Now this true moral liberty implies in it a just sense of right and wrong; a well-informed understanding; or, in one word, a clear, strong, and sound reason, able to distinguish what is fit and becoming in every circumstance. ’Tis the understanding that guides us. And therefore our Saviour says,b “The light of the body is the eye; if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness.” ’Tis therefore our principal business to take care, that this light within us be not corrupted, or even weakened, so as not to be able to serve the purpose of a guide; but that it burn strong and clear. ’Tis only a sound and just judgment of things, that can shew us clearly the right road. And therefore in the scripture language<196> it is truth that sets and maintains us free; it is truth that is the light of life: and our principal interest is to get wisdom, discretion, and a sound understanding. If we look into our mind, and consider how our affections are excited or subdued, how they are taken off from certain objects, and placed on others, we shall quickly perceive that we are influenced by our opinions and fancies. And that in order to act wisely, we must first be able to judge truly and wisely. “No man, says an excellent philosopher,23 sets himself about any thing, but upon some view or other, which serves him for a reason for what he does: and whatsoever faculties he employs, the understanding, with such light as it has, well or ill informed, constantly leads; and by that light true or false, all his operative powers are directed. The will itself, how absolute and incontroulable soever it may be thought, never fails in its obedience to the dictates of the understanding. Temples have their sacred images, and we see what influence they have always had over a great part of mankind. But in truth the ideas and images in men’s minds are the invisible powers that constantly govern them, and to these they all pay universally a ready submission. It is therefore of the highest concernment, that great care should be taken of the understanding to conduct it right in the search of knowledge, and in the judgments it makes.”
We shall have occasion to treat more fully in another place of the conduct of the understanding, and the duties of that class. Mean time, ’tis obvious from what hath been said, that nothing can be more false than to assert that men are not accountable for their understanding; for if men are not accountable for their understanding, they cannot be accountable for their actions: if it is not in their power to have sufficient light to guide them, they cannot have it in their power to direct themselves aright. ’Tis, on the contrary, properly speaking, for our understanding, that is, for<197> our right use of it that we are chiefly accountable. Or if any do not like that way of speaking, ’tis to our right or wrong conduct, in consequence of our following a right or wrong judgment of things, that we owe and must owe all the consequences that come upon us, by our conduct in this world: it is according to it we fare. And if there be another world, our fate in it must depend, in like manner as in our present temporal affairs, upon the road we take and pursue; and what is it that directs us to the road we take, good or bad, what points it out to us, or prompts us to go in it, but our opinion or judgment of things. So that whatever way we consider things, or whatever view we take of them, it is to our right or wrong understanding chiefly that we are beholden for all the consequences of our choices and pursuits.
IV. Yet, in the fourth place, in order to have freedom, inward liberty and mastership of the mind, and of all our appetites by our reason, ’tis not sufficient to have a sound and well-informed reason; but reason must actually reign in our minds, and exert its authority in governing us according to the dictates of right judgment. Now how does reason acquire or maintain this ruling and governing authority, which as naturally belongs to it, as it does to the eye to see, or the ear to hear? It must acquire it by actual practice, and maintain it in the same way. ’Tis by repeated acts that bad appetites acquire a ruling power, which does not belong to them. And it is by repeated acts that reason can alone acquire or preserve its rightful power and authority of governing. This is the consequence of the law of habits, which renders us capable of improvement to perfection. So that without such a law man would not be a free-agent; or his free-agency would be of no use to him: for without it he could never, by all his repeated labours, attain to habitual command<198> over himself, or to the power of acting habitually under, or by the direction of his reason. As this will soon appear to be the truth of the case to any person who gives the least attention to the human mind; so it is manifestly implied in the descriptions given by the sacred writings, of liberty and slavery, which have been just mentioned; and in all the commands and exhortations to govern our unruly appetites, and to act like reasonable creatures.
V. Now that it is in every man’s power to improve his understanding, and to attain to the government of his affections, passions, and actions, by his reason, by setting himself seriously to do it; and in every man’s power to set himself to do it, no man doubts while he consults his inward feeling and experience. It is only called into question by some pretended philosophers, who do it by asking questions which really have no meaning. If a created agent can be free, says a philosopher, man is certainly so, for he has all the appearance of it: he has the same consciousness as if he were; and all things are so constituted with regard to him, as if he were; for his happiness or misery, in the far greater part, are of his own procuring: almost all he suffers or enjoys is the product, the consequence of his own different pursuits; of his own conduct and behaviour. In one word, all the appearances, all the sentiments and feelings we experience, inward and outward, are owned to be appearances of freedom in man, in any conceivable sense of freedom. What therefore is doubted of, if man’s free agency be doubted of, is doubted of contrary to experience, from which alone we can learn what man is or is not, what man hath or hath not. It is therefore doubted of in opposition to that evidence, upon which we sufficiently rest in all cases, when experience is known to be the evidence that must decide. Moreover, certain absurd consequences are owned to result<199> from the contrary supposition. For it is owned that if a man allows himself to act as if he were not free, he will soon repent his folly, and return to the common rules of action, which suppose man to be a free and accountable agent. Now what is the amount of all this, but that experience, or, in a word, consciousness, far from affording us any ground of doubt about our freedom, assures us of it in such a manner, that freedom, were we possessed of it, could not otherwise make itself known to us by consciousness; and that outward experience shews the constitution of things about us to be such, as they would be if we were free; such as it is really unjust they should be, if we are not free; because that for us to act in any instance upon the supposition of our not being free, would be to involve ourselves in inextricable miseries: to act, for example, as if we were neither capable of praise or blame, good or ill desert, of reward nor punishment, &c. what madness would it be?
’Tis true, some philosophers, who assert necessity in opposition to free-agency, have endeavoured to shew, that men, though not free agents, are nevertheless capable of praise and blame, and may be justly rewarded and punished. And without examining how consistent or inconsistent with their account of necessity these assertions are, lest that should appear invidious, let me only observe, that if we are really and truly, in a proper sense, owned to be capable of praise and blame, of good and ill desert, and of reward and punishment, then must the dispute, in all practical respects, be at an end; and be indeed in speculation but a logomachy. For free-agency cannot be better described than to be “That power of acting with choice, the consciousness of which in ourselves naturally leads us to apprehend ourselves to be capable of praise and blame, good and ill desert, reward and punishment, and therefore accountable to ourselves, to<200> society, to our fellow-creatures, and to our Creator, for our conduct.” Now this liberty being owned, whatever inconsistency there may be between such an assertion, and certain ways of speaking about our freedom, the foundation of morality is safe and entire; and such ways of speaking must be classed with other inaccuracies philosophers fall into in other very important matters; philosophers who affect to depart from common language, and to subtilize into perplexing intricacies, things, in which common sense finds no difficulty at all. And indeed the consciousness of such free-agency cannot be denied, without saying that a sense of merit or demerit in ourselves or others, never apprehended but where choice and freedom is supposed, and always unavoidably apprehended in all such cases, is a mere delusion; to say which, what better is it than with the Pyrrhonists,24 to doubt of the reality of every thing, and whether we dream or are awake?
VI. But after all, what is this mighty dispute about? Is it whether we have perceptions or not? Or whether we will or not? Or whether our volitions are our own or not? Or is it whether we form judgments or not? Or whether our judgment guides us or not? Yes, they will tell us, here lies a part of it; for if our judgments necessarily determine our choices, then are our choices necessary. Now to this I answer, that experience, to which alone we can appeal, because nothing else can decide the matter, tells us, that though our choices are always guided and influenced by our opinions or judgments; yet, 1. In the first place, our opinions or judgments do not produce our choices. They act no otherwise upon us than the light or guide does, which being offered to conduct us to a place, perswades us to accept of the opportunity, and go to that place. Knowledge can produce nothing: and it is only experienced to give light, to direct and perswade. And, 2. As it is in our power to get knowledge<201> by seeking after it in a proper way, so it is in our power to remain in darkness by avoiding light and knowledge, if we choose it. And therefore, though it should be granted (contrary to all feeling and experience) that there is no difference between the last judgment of the understanding, and volition, or nolition, that is, the choice of the mind to do or forbear doing, which some have asserted, in order to secure their darling notion of necessity; yet we are still free or have power, because to be rightly informed in order to judge right, or to be in utter ignorance, is in our power. Experience tells us we must set ourselves to get knowledge in order to have it, and that by setting ourselves to get it, we may attain to it: we are sure of attaining to it in a very great degree, especially in matters of conduct, if we seek after it. But how is it the mind is experienced to set itself to get knowledge, but by an act, a firm resolution of its own will, to seek after it?
But they will not quit us here: they will reply, Must not the mind be excited to will the acquisition of knowledge by pursuit; and what excites that volition, is it not a judgment of the mind about the importance of knowledge? These volitions themselves therefore are the necessary consequences of judgments, that is, perceptions, in all which we are passive, as all philosophers own.
That we are passive in our judgments, in this sense, that we must see things as they appear to us, is owned by all philosophers; and that judgment itself is passive or can produce nothing, shall be as readily owned. But what can they conclude from all these concessions against our freedom, or our having it in our power to get knowledge, to direct us in our choices by our endeavours to get it, if we set ourselves to do it in earnest; and our having it in our power to direct our choices by our knowledge? There cannot indeed be a progress of causes, nor even of means, to infinity. That is absurd. But the way how we are excited to exert ourselves to acquire knowledge will be evident<202> to those who look into what passes in the human mind. All things about us speak out loudly to us the importance of knowledge; and nature hath not only made knowledge agreeable to the understanding, as light is to the eye; but hath likewise implanted a strong curiosity after knowledge, and an impatience under ignorance or darkness, in order to move and excite us to set ourselves seriously to get it.
What then, after all, is it that remains to be discussed in relation to this dispute about our free agency, but this single question, which is also a question of experience; namely, Whose act, exercise, or production is our volition, choice, or preference? Now to this experience plainly answers, it is our own totally: it is wholly the act, the exercise, the production of our own mind. What do they who assert that we are not free agents say? They own, and must own, that if we consult experience, it tells us so. And why then may we not, trusting to experience, rest satisfied it is so; and so put an end to a question which is plainly about a matter of fact, and inward experience. For if it is said, reason tells us the contrary; here is an opposition acknowledged between reason and experience, which if yielded, puts an end to all reasoning and all experience, as very idle foolish employment. Yet it is to reason the appeal is here made from experience, which is so far from being allowed in other matters of experience, that to speak of appealing from experience to theory, or reason not founded on experience, would be reckoned the grossest absurdity by all enquirers into nature or fact. But what are these reasons? It would be endless to trace the defenders of necessity, or the deniers of free-agency in man, through all their subtle sophistical resorts. Let it therefore suffice to take notice of their capital much boasted of argument, which I think is of that species of sophistry called, petitio principii, begging the question.25 <203>
Whatever is not produced by a cause (say they) is produced by chance, which it is absurd to suppose any thing to be. But whatever is produced by a cause, is the necessary effect of that cause which produces it. Therefore every thing that is produced is a necessary effect. From which it follows (continue they) that whatever is effected or produced in our mind, is a necessary effect: not only our ideas and affections, but our volitions, for these begin to be, or are produced, and must have a cause, and are therefore necessary effects of their cause.
This is their capital argument,a upon which I beg leave to make the few following remarks.
I. If by the maxim, whatever is produced must have a cause, be meant, that whatever is produced must have an external producer, it is the maxim of those who plead for an infinite series of external causes, and assert, that the production of all things which exist may be accounted for by that supposition.
It would be invidious to imagine that to be their meaning, since they own the existence of one supreme cause of all beings. But if that be not the meaning of the maxim, it can be no injury to their argument against liberty or free-agency to change it thus.
Whatever is produced must have a producer, but whatever is produced is the necessary effect of its producing cause; therefore whatever is produced within or without a mind, is a necessary effect.
II. Now when the argument is thus stated, it is plain, that to say whatever is produced is the necessary effect of its producing cause, is begging the conclusion it is brought to prove, if by necessary effect be meant the opposite to free production: and if by necessity<204> be meant any thing else, the argument concludes nothing at all. If by necessity be meant a production which is not free, their argument, in other words, stands thus, whatever is produced must have a producer: but nothing that is produced is a free production; or, in other words, whatever is produced is quite the contrary or opposite to free production. Therefore, nothing produced within or without a mind is a free production, but is a necessary effect in a sense destructive of free production, or free agency. And who does not see that this is to beg what is to be proved, viz. That there is no free agency, no free production? That to reason thus is to beg the question about our free-agency is plain; for if it proves any thing, it proves that the volitions of the divine mind are not free actions, exertions, or productions of its activity. And yet they are either free actions; or motives, i.e. judgments must have a physical productive power (which none will assert) for they have no external producer. They therefore who reason thus, can bring forth no conclusion from their reasoning, till they have shewed what none of them have yet attempted to do, that free production or action is a contradiction: for sure it is not sufficient to prove it to be so, merely to assert, that whatever is produced must be necessary; while in reality, for all they say about it in their definitions,a that assertion amounts to no more than to say, whatever is produced must be unfree, which is plainly begging the question.
III. But if by necessity they mean any thing else but what is expressed by the words unfree or not free, what is it they mean? Surely, they cannot merely mean by it power sufficient to produce its production; for then their argument would be a mere paralogism, amounting to this, whatever is produced, is produced by a sufficient producer. But whatever is<205> produced, is produced by sufficient power to produce it; therefore, whatever is produced within or without a mind, is produced by sufficient power to produce it; of which nobody will say any thing, but that it is an idle unmeaning repetition of the same proposition three times. And if by necessity they mean power between the exertion of which to produce something, and the actual production of that something, there is such a connexion as cannot but take place; or to suppose which not to take place, is a contradiction. That there must be somewhere in nature such power, will be readily granted; for were there not in nature some such power, all power would be derived from nothing. But doth it follow from that single consideration that no exertions of power are free? Does it follow that the exertions of creating power are not free? Or does it follow that by such power minds may not be produced, which though productions by their volitions be effected in consequence of a connexion established between them and their volitions by the power which created them, and gave them their sphere of derived power or dominion; yet their volitions are the free actions of their own minds, in consequence of their having had conferred upon them by their author the active power, will, the only faculty or power that can be called active, and a power which cannot be active or called so without being at the same time free, and called so; free and active being really but synonymous words? To prove that something else must be advanced besides, that there is and must be necessity some where in nature, meaning by necessity, underived power, between the productions of which, and its exertions to produce them, there is a necessary connexion, or a connexion, the non-existence of which is a contradiction. For that it does not follow from that single consideration will be plain, when taking necessity in the meaning above defined, the argument is stated thus.<206>
“There must be somewhere in nature a power, between the productions of which and its exertions to produce them there is a necessary connexion; but whatever is produced by such power, within or without a mind, is not active or free, but necessary, that is, unfree or unactive. Therefore nothing in our mind is active or free.” Now when the argument is thus stated, who does not immediately see that the thing to be proved is begged? viz. That underived power cannot produce an active mind, whose volitions are its own, not produced in it by an external cause, but its own efforts or exertions. It follows indeed from the maxim, that whatever active being begins to exist, is created by underived power of the kind defined. But does it follow from that maxim, that underived power cannot communicate the power of willing? Or that it can produce no being that is active; nothing, in one word, distinct from passive impressions; such as our sensible ideas, for instance, are felt and universally acknowledged to be. None of these consequences follow, at least without some other intermediate steps which I have not yet seen offered by any writer for necessity. And far less then does it follow from hence, without some other intermediate steps, that if an active being can be created, its volitions will not be its own volitions, its own efforts, totally its own acts. But it is really to no purpose to dwell longer on such an idle dispute.a
Let us keep to experience in all natural and in all moral enquiries, which are all of them equally about matters of fact. And if we do so in this question, it must soon be determined, for we all know, we all feel, we are free agents, and that praise or blame is due to us for our conduct, when we are free from external restraint or compulsion: that it is in our power to get knowledge to direct us in the way wherein we<207> ought to walk; and having got knowledge, it is in our power to choose and walk in the right path. This is matter of experience. And the scripture treats us as such free beings, with a certain moral sphere of activity, and tells us, that our happiness for ever depends upon our conduct; for every one shall reap the fruit of his doings: and that the governor of the world in all his dispensations, preserves our liberty free and unencroached upon; or acts with us, and toward us, always as free agents. Whatever assistances we may have in the course of providence for doing good; or whatever temptations to do evil; the good we do is our own doing, and the evil we do is our own doing; and it shall finally be rendered unto every man according to what he hath done, whether it hath been good or bad, with such allowances for different circumstances, not only as justice obliges to make; but, which is more, with all the allowances that mercy can make consistently with the great purpose of providence, universal good, and the unchangeable nature of moral rectitude; the unalterable moral differences of things.
This is the substance of the scripture doctrine concerning divine providence, with which reason and experience exactly agree. And hence arises this plain consequence.
From the proceeding accounts of divine providence, it plainly follows, that all is conducted by infinite wisdom, goodness, veracity, faithfulness and mercy: all therefore is right or perfect. But how is it right or perfect?
I. Not in such a sense, as if by the corruptions of mankind several miseries were not introduced into the world, without which it would be a much happier, a much better, and more perfect state; but because the<208> general laws by which all is governed, and whence proceed all the consequences of corruption among mankind, are excellent, are perfect, and cannot be changed but to the worse; being the choice of infinite wisdom and mercy, because they are the best. In a moral government, the consequences of vice and corruption must be very different from those of virtue. But consequences of all sorts in our system are the effects of general laws, admirably calculated for the best, and by the observance of which the greater good in the whole will be effectually accomplished. The government of the world is perfect, because all the powers, and all the consequences of all the powers, and laws of powers belonging to it, are such as they ought to be in order to greater good, the sole end of an infinitely wise and good being in all his administration. Yet after all,
II. Let it be remembered, that when all that is, is said to be perfect and right, it is only said to be so as a part of an excellent or perfect whole, carried on by providence for the greater good in the sum of things. All is perfect, considered as a part of an advancing scheme, which is absolutely good. But considered as a whole ending with this life of man, it is not then perfect, but very imperfect. And therefore it cannot end in that manner; but it must be only a part that hath a much further respect even to an immortal life to come. The work, the contrivance of an infinitely perfect being must be perfect; and upon supposition, that this life is not the whole of providence with regard to man, but a part only, as it plainly appears to be, we can sufficiently account for every thing. What therefore remains to be concluded, but as instinct or natural hope prompts us to expect, and as the scripture fully assures us, “that this is not the whole of our existence, the whole of providence with regard to us, but a part, a very small part only.” There must be, in the nature of things, a very great difference between<209> a part of a whole considered as a part, and considered as a whole; What, in the later sense or view, would be very imperfect, very incomplete, nay, very bad, may, in the other sense or view, be very perfect and good. Now as the arguments à priori, which prove a divine providence over-ruling all, plainly lead to this consequence, that the present state cannot be the whole, but only a part of an excellent whole, which is gradually advancing: so if we abstract from all those arguments, and confine ourselves merely to what we see of things, and argue only à posteriori, it is plain, that our present state hath no appearance of a whole, but, on the contrary, hath all the appearances or signs of its being but a part; and if we consider it as a part, it hath all the evidences and signs of a well administered part, so far especially as virtue, or the improvement of moral beings, are concerned. It must therefore be such a well governed part of an excellent whole, if we can at all reason from analogy; for whence can we conclude good order in the whole, but from what we see of good and wise government? And what else can we infer from thence, but the continuance of perfectly good order for ever, or throughout the whole?
III. This is the doctrine of experience, of reason and revelation; and hence we may easily see what we ought to think of what the scripture says of evils and miseries introduced into the world by means of sin and corruption; while at the same time all is affirmed to be good, as all the parts of the government of an infinitely wise and good being must be: as, for instance, of the deluge, whether universal or partial, whether the effect of a comet, or of whatever other cause, (for all which enquiries the ways of speaking about it in scripture leave sufficient latitude;) for it and every event must be the effect of good general laws; the universe being so governed. Upon the whole therefore, from the beginning, order hath been kept in nature,<210> and also in man. And therefore tho’ the apostle not only groans, but represents all good men, nay, the whole creation, as groaning for the immortality which is to succeed this state;a yet he expressly asserts, that even in this present state all things work together for the good of the pious and virtuous; and that present miseries are, in a great measure, the effects of the corruption of mankind; so that whatever obscurity there may be in some particular phrases in these parallel passages, they in general amount to no more than what may be said of an architect, or master of a house, who, tho’ he longs earnestly to have the building finished, and to be free from all the evils and incumbrances which attend the carrying on of his scheme, is however highly pleased with the foundation that is laid, and the work so far as it is advanced; and is only earnest to have it compleated, that he may enjoy all the pleasures and advantages of it: or, more properly still, of a founder of a state, who rejoicing in the hopes of compleating at last his noble scheme, bears patiently with all the evils and hardships attending the laying the first foundation, and yet earnestly longs for the completion of it, and the happiness that will then accrue to him, and all the members of that state.
This Corolary is necessary to prevent mistakes, and clear up the true sense in which the present unfinished state of things may be properly called a perfectly good part of providence. It is such, because it is a proper part of a perfectly good whole; or is such a part as plainly manifests, that the whole which is carried on is good, being governed by excellent general laws, which produce the greater good in the whole.
Now all this being very obvious from what hath been said, may it not be inferred,<211>
That the highest love, praise and adoration, must be due by all moral beings to the supreme infinitely perfect Creator and Ruler of the universe; by man in particular? Every character, in proportion to its perfection, naturally raises our esteem, love and praise. And what then must be due to a character infinitely perfect, upon whom we absolutely depend, the author of all things? Can we believe there is such a being, and not take pleasure in meditating upon his perfections; or not think it our duty frequently to meditate upon them? And can we contemplate them without feeling the warmest motions of love and adoration towards him? Meditation upon his perfections will naturally excite love and adoration, and love and adoration will naturally excite earnest desires and endeavours to imitate such a perfect character, and become like to it. Meditation on God will naturally produce praise and resignation to his all-perfect will, and the most serious longings after greater and greater conformity to his amiable, beautiful, perfect image, in order to have the most comfortable inward consciousness of being acceptable and agreeable to him; the object of his favour and delight. And in those acts of the mind, which must be in themselves exceeding pleasant, and have a very happy influence upon the temper, doth the holy scripture place devotion, praise and prayer. This is evident, if we attend to the acts of devotion recorded in the scriptures, many of which have been already quoted; and to the many exhortations to maintain and keep alive upon our minds, a strong sense of the divine perfections, and of our dependence upon God, and the infinite obligations we are under to him; the many exhortations to pray without ceasing, and to rejoice in God evermore.a And indeed an habitually pious<212> regard to God, consisting in love and resignation, can only be produced or preserved by frequent meditation on God, and the repeated acts of praise, and resignation, and prayer, to which meditation naturally leads. But not to insist long on this subject, three things are very evident from that excellent pattern, or model of devotion, or prayer recommended to us by our Saviour. 1. That we ought to praise God with the most serious warm affection. 2. That we ought to resign ourselves, with respect to all external events independent of our own foresight and care, to his all-perfect will, which ordereth and disposeth every thing to the best. 3. That we ought to indulge ourselves in acts of benevolence towards all men; in acts of forgiveness to our enemies, under the serious perswasion of God’s readiness to forgive the penitent, and of the need we stand in of his patience, forbearance, and tender mercy: and in asking or breathing after more perfect virtue, to ask which is indeed to have.a
This is plainly the meaning of our Lord’s prayer, as it is commonly called; for if we attend to what is said in scripture of God’s glory, more especially manifested in the government of higher orders of moral beings; or in the heavens: to what is meant in holy writ by his kingdom; namely, the advancement of piety, righteousness and virtue in the world;b and to what is called there the bread of life, namely, the doctrine of eternal life. If we attend to all these things, and to the general tenor and genius of scripture language, this will be found to be a just paraphrase upon it. Our Father which art in heaven. O Lord, whose supreme excellency and glory appears more and more illustriously in the government of moral beings, in proportion as they approach nearer to thee in power and perfection; thou art also our Father, the Father of mankind; we also all are the object<213> of thy care; thou art not unmindful of us, for tho’ thou hast made us lower than the angels, yet thou hast crowned us with glory and honour, and given us a very noble dominion; for we are capable of knowing thee, loving thee, and imitating thee, and of growing in happiness, as we advance in conformity to thy moral rectitude, and become more like to thee, are more desired of thee, and delighted in by thee. Hallowed be thy name. O let all beings capable of understanding thy infinite perfection, and magnifying thee, praise and exalt thy infinitely pure and holy name, for all power is derived from thee, natural or moral; and all the inanimate things by obeying the infinitely good laws thou hast appointed to regulate their motions, do shew forth thy praise, the infinite excellency of thy nature, and that perfection which all moral beings ought to love, cannot but love and adore while they meditate upon it, and ought to imitate in order to the attainment of their proper perfection and happiness, and the sense of thy love and approbation, to which no other enjoyment bears any proportion. Let angels, and archangels, men, and all rational beings, reverence, adore, and hallow thy wonderful character and name, and purify and sanctify themselves, as thou art pure and holy. Let thy kingdom come. O may the righteousness, the benevolence, the purity, the virtue, in which thou delightest, and for advancing in which all moral beings are made, and well fitted and qualified by thee, each order of them in its sphere, encrease and spread, that the world of rational beings may be such as thou made and intended them to be, such as it is in their power to be, and such as thou wouldst rejoice to behold them. Let thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven. O that men were such, that so thy will might be done in earth their habitation, as it is done amongst the higher orders of celestial beings, who perfectly obey thy will, and are perfectly happy in so doing. Give us this day our daily bread. We were made by thee, we are preserved by thee, and from thee we receive every thing that we enjoy:<214> O may a sense of our dependence upon thee, and of our infinite obligations to thy bounty, be ever present with us, that we may walk humbly and piously with thee; and receive from thy hand whatever comes to us as of thy ordering; as the bread fittest for us, as the food most convenient for us. Let us ever remember what we are, and that the nourishment of our spiritual part in virtue is the chief thing that concerns us; the bread of life to our souls; that thus we may make the best use of every event that befals us, which we could neither foresee nor prevent, for the advancement in us of those divine qualities, which are our chief excellence, and from which alone true happiness can accrue to us. Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. O how far short do we every day fall of our duty, and of the improvements we might have made in virtue; but thou, O Lord, art full of mercy and compassion, and will graciously forgive the infirmities and weaknesses of men, who are seriously pious and virtuous, who have the root of true virtue in them, and who, tho’ they are not indulgent to their own faults and miscarriages, yet are very tender and compassionate toward their fellow-creatures, and very ready to forgive them; ready, as all who study to be like God must be, to bless them who hurt them, to heap coals of fire on the heads of their enemies, who use them wrongfully and despitefully, and to overcome evil by good. Without this right temper of mind, it would be the most wicked arrogance to hope to share of thy mercy; for to such only can the compassion of the holy God, who hateth iniquity, extend. But having this temper, and an earnest desire to improve in it, we have confidence towards God, who, like a tender Father, pitieth his children, and generously remembreth that they are but here in a state of trial and probation, for the improvement of the faculties and dispositions thou hast implanted in them, to perfection. Lead us not into temptation: but deliver us from evil.<215> Let us remember the great end of events with respect to us in this our first state of trial; or the use we ought to make of them, that they may not tempt us to sin; that neither prosperity nor adversity may ever seduce us from our duty, but that we may look upon them both as means for our building ourselves up in holiness by our right use of them. The world is full of snares and temptations; so thou hast thought proper it should be. And indeed such must a state for acquiring virtue be. Let it be to us, not a state of temptation to sin, but of education in virtue, by our proper use of every thing that befals us. This is the earnest desire of our souls, under the sense of thy perfection who ruleth over all; whose kingdom the world is, and to whom as belongeth all power, so is due from thy rational creatures all honour and glory for ever. Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory. Now, that the mind must be much improved by such exercises, is evident at first sight: and will fully appear, when we come to consider more particularly the doctrine of the scripture concerning virtue, and its agreeableness with reason.
[a. ]Chap. xl. 28.
[b. ]Chap. lv. 8–9.
[a. ]Ps. xcvii. 2. xcii. 5. cxlv. 5. Isa. 40.8. Ps. lxxxix. 14.
[b. ]Job. v. 9. ix. 10, 11. xi. 7–8. xxvi. 14.
[c. ]Eccles. xi. 5.
[d. ]Chap. xliii. 36.
[e. ]Rom. xi. 33–34.
[a. ]1 Cor. i. 20.
[a. ]Prov. v. 21.
[b. ]Job xxxiv. 21.
[c. ]Heb. iv. 12. 1 Chron. xxviii. 9.
[d. ]1 Sam. xvi. 7. Psal. xxxiv. 13, 14, 15.
[a. ]1 John iii. 20.
[b. ]Acts xv. 18.
[a. ]Dr. Samuel Clark, and Mr. Woolaston. [Samuel Clarke discusses this in A Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God, proposition 10; William Wollaston discusses it in The Religion of Nature Delineated, 99–110.]
[b. ]Job xi. 7.
[a. ]Deut. x. 17. 1 Sam. xiv. 6. Job xl. 2, iv. 2. Jerem. i. 19. James iv. 2. Rev. xix. 6. Psal. lxxxvi. 3. cxv. cxxv. cxlv. Isaiah xl. 10, &c. Dan. iv. 13. &c. Ephes. i. 11, 17.
[b. ]St. Luke x. 18-19.
[c. ]1 Cor. x. 13.
[d. ]Chap. iv. 7.
[e. ]Ver. 6.
[18. ]Manichaeism, the gnostic religion founded by the Persian Mani (216–77), taught these doctrines. Clarke criticizes Manichaeism in his sermon 10 in his Works, 1:62.
[a. ]Chap. xlv. 6, 7.
[a. ]John viii. 44.
[a. ]Habak. i. 13. Job iv. 17, xv. 15, 16.
[19. ]Job 4.17.
[b. ]Psal. xciv. 9. Prov. v. 21. Jer. xxiii. 23, &c.
[20. ]Prov. 3.19–20.
[21. ]Jer. 51.15.
[a. ]Luke xv. 7.
[b. ]Rom. ii. 4. Eccles. viii. 11. 2 Peter ii. 15. Rom. ix. 22.
[c. ]Ps. ciii. 8. The Book of Wisdom says (Chap. x.) Thou, Lord, hast mercy upon all; and winkest at the sins of men, that they should amend. This is the way of his merciful providence. He chastises by little and little them that offend, and warnest them, by putting them in remembrance wherein they offend, that leaving their wickedness, they may believe in thee, O Lord.
[d. ]Plutarch. [Plutarch, De his qui sero a numine puniuntur, 550D-551C, 552D, 554B.]
[a. ]2 Cor. vii. 11.
[b. ]2 Peter iii. 9, 10.
[a. ]Eccles. xxiii.
[a. ]Psal. cxxx. 4.
[a. ]Rom. ii. 4. Ezek. xviii. 21, &c. xxxiii. 11. Acts xxvi. 20. xvii. 10. 2 Tim. ii. 25, 26. 2 Pet. iii. 9.
[a. ]Psal. xxxiv. 4, &c. Psal. iii. 7, 8. cxlviii. 5, 6, 7, 8.
[a. ]Ecclus. xiii. 4.
[a. ]All the mutations which have happened in the most considerable states, of which ancient history gives us any tolerably exact accounts, may be reduced into effects of this law, and of inequality in the rotation of power, as the phenomena in the mundan system are resolved into effects of gravitation. See the ingenious Mr. Harrington’s works. A careful consideration of the principles he goes upon will lead us to a solution of many great moral phenomena from very simple and excellent principles or laws in the moral world. [That power should rotate is a key idea of James Harrington’s. See especially his Commonwealth of Oceana.]
[22. ]“In these circumstances” or “as things stand.”
[a. ]Ps iii. civ. cxiii. cxv. cxlvii. cxlviii.
[a. ]Eccles. chap. xviii.
[b. ]Rom. xi. 36.
[a. ]Dr. Sam. Clark’s Sermons. [The passage is part quotation from, and part paraphrase of, a portion of Clarke’s sermon 35, in Works, 1:215–22.
[b. ]John viii. 34. Rom. vi. 19. 2 Peter ii. 19. Rom. vi. 14. vii. 2. Gal. v. 17.
[a. ]1 Kings xxi. 20, 25.
[b. ]2 Kings xvii. 17.
[c. ]1 Maccab. i. 16.
[d. ]Rom. viii. 2, 21.
[e. ]Rom. vi. 7. 1 Peter iv. 1, 2. James i. 25.
[a. ]Ps. i. 2. John iv. 34. viii. 32. Ps. cxvi. 16.
[b. ]Matt. vi. 22, 23.
[23. ]Locke, Of the Conduct of the Understanding §1, in his Some Thoughts Concerning Education; and, Of the Conduct of the Understanding, edited by Ruth W. Grant and Nathan Tarcov (Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett, 1996).
[24. ]Pyrrhonists were followers of the Greek skeptical philosopher Pyrrho of Elis (ca. 365–270 bc).
[25. ]Petitio principii is the fallacy of “begging the question”; that is, using as a premise the proposition that is to be proved.
[a. ]See a philosophical enquiry concerning liberty and necessity. [Thomas Hobbes, Of Liberty and Necessity (1654).]
[a. ]The writers for necessity never give any other definition of necessity, but that it is the opposite to freedom.
[a. ]After all freedom properly belongs to the agent, and not to the faculty of willing, and it signifies to have power.
[a. ]Rom. viii. 20, &c. 2 Cor. iv. 17, &c.
[a. ]Luke xxi. 36. Rom. xii. 12. Phil. iv. 6. Col. iv. 2, 3. 1 Peter iv. 7. 1 Thess. v. 17. 1 Peter i. 17.
[a. ]1 Kings iii. Matth. vii. 7, &c. Luke xi. 9, &c. James i. 5, &c. iv. 2, 3.
[b. ]John vi. 27, 33, 35, 51. Matth. iv. 4.