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Corolary 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).
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Hence it follows, in the second place, that in any account that can be given to us here of our future state, the greater number of truths discovered about it must run in a negative strain, or be merely negative propositions. A positive account of a state different from our present situation and circumstances can only be given us, so far as it is not different; so far as it is not absolutely new. The laws, the connexions, the circumstances, which are new, or different, can only be explained negatively. If, therefore, our future state be really a very new, a very different one, which is only analogous to our present condition in a few general respects, the positive account of it cannot reach beyond these few general respects in which it is analogous to our present;<388> and the account given of it must chiefly run in the negative way, by telling us, that it is not like to the present in such and such respects. I shall not stay to observe what all who are acquainted with the sciences will readily grant, viz. that a very considerable part of what is called science is but negative knowledge. It is sufficient to my present purpose to remark, that to object against a revelation, that most of the doctrines in it concerning our future state are but negative propositions, would be in reality to object against a revelation, because an account is not given by it of a future state, which cannot in the nature of things be given.
But having just suggested these general objections, I now proceed to shew, that the account given by the christian doctrine of a future state is very full, and very satisfactory, and comfortable. And as we advance in this discourse, it will plainly appear, that even the negative accounts which christianity gives us of a future state are of the highest moment, and do by themselves make up a very important discovery concerning it.
The thinking part of man does not perish at death, but is immortal.
That the thinking part of man does not perish at death, but endures for ever, is plainly imply’d in what the scripture says of our entrance after death into a state of rewards and punishments. There are not, indeed, any formal reasonings in the books of revelation to prove the immortality of human souls; but it plainly asserts a future eternal state after death: and therefore assumes to itself the title of the doctrine of eternal life; the doctrine of immortality.a Our Saviour exhorts his disciples not to suffer themselves to<389> be terrified by powerful, violent men into that which is displeasing to God, because though they can kill the body, they cannot destroy the soul.a And in the epistle to the Hebrewsb we are told, it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment. Andc the same apostle tells us, that though in this life we continue not, yet after this life there is a continuing city, a continuing state. “We have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.” And to cite no more passages to prove a point which none, who are acquainted with the scriptures, can call into question, St. Paul,d in his epistle to the Thessalonians, thus comforts them; “Christ died for us, that whether we wake or sleep we should live together with him: Wherefore, comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.” It hath been disputed, whether the doctrine of a future state made any part of the Jewish dispensation or revelation. But whatever be determined as to that point, it is beyond all doubt, that a future state was known to the Jews; or, that they generally believed the immortality of the soul, and an after-state of rewards and punishments, immediately succeeding to this state of moral trial and discipline. And, indeed, mankind, in all ages and countries, have been universally persuaded of this truth. But having sufficiently enlarged upon this important article in the principles of moral philosophy, let me only observe, 1. That christianity is said to have brought life and immortality to light, not as containing arguments from the attributes of God, and the nature of moral agents, to prove it, but because it assures us of the immortality of human souls and a future state, by another kind of evidence, which shall afterwards be explained; and gives us a very satisfactory view of a future life, as we shall immediately see. 2. In truth, the hope of a future<390> life natural to all men, is itself a sufficient proof that there is a future life. For whence could this universal hope, which is so noble an incentive to great actions; which so exalts and ennobles, or greatens the human mind in proportion to its steady prevalence; i.e. in proportion as it is exercised and indulged,—whence could it come?—or to what other origine can it be attributed, but to the kind care of heaven to give us a presentiment of our being designed for a greater, a nobler end than merely to exist a few years in this our present sphere, and then to perish for ever? But if it really takes its rise from an instinct or anticipation so implanted in us, it is a hope which cannot deceive us;—on the contrary, it is a hope which was intended to excite and animate us to live as becomes beings of celestial birth, and made to acquire to ourselves immortal honour and happiness in a future state; and to comfort and uphold us under all the discouragements or oppositions our adherence to virtue, truth, and goodness may now meet with while it is in its probationary state. 3. And how can those, who believe an infinitely wise and good providence, ever allow themselves to imagine, that any being perishes, or is annihilated? The question about our immortality is commonly so stated, as if it meant to enquire by what special marks or arguments we men can prove, that we are not to be annihilated, after having been allowed to exist for some little time, since all other beings within our ken cease to be, or are destroy’d:—It is stated, as if the enquiry was concerning evidence for some peculiar grant, or charter, to us of immortality. But in reality, a providence being admitted, the only remaining question is in general, whether there be any reason to apprehend that any beings perish, or are destroy’d. And a providence being supposed, that question can hardly bear any dispute: for we not only see no instances of a destroying disposition in nature, so far as we are able to pry into its revolutions and changes; but if the words<391> justice and goodness have any meaning in the mouths of men, we cannot but conclude it to be not merely ungenerous, but unjust to destroy any being, any perceptive being,—and a fortiori, to destroy beings of amoral or rational kind. We can conceive a consistency between good government, and the gradual rise or progress of beings: we can likewise conceive a consistency between good administration, and the gradual sinking of beings, or their powers, according to certain laws of improvement and degeneracy.—And of all this we see examples in nature. But we clearly see an inconsistency between the wilful positive destruction of perceptive beings and benevolence: and we see no instances of such destruction in nature. If the government of the world be good, (and what is it that we fully know of nature which does not proclaim boundless, pure goodness?)—If the government of the world, I say, be good, no being can ever be destroyed; for that cannot be done, but because the greater good of the whole requires such destruction. But tho’ the greater good of the whole may require gradual rising and sinking of moral powers, according to certain laws, yet it can never require the destruction of any being, unless to annihilate a certain quantity of capacity for happiness can be necessary to make a greater quantity of happiness, or greater good in the whole, which is a downright contradiction. For the quantity or sum total of capacity for happiness being lessened, the quantity of attainable happiness must of necessity be lessened. 4. If we consider man in particular, the only thing that can create any suspicion with regard to his subsistence, after what appears to us so terrible a shock, death, is this, that in this state our thinking powers have a very great dependence upon the laws of matter and motion, insomuch that certain bodily accidents make very dismal changes upon them. But there is ground to presume, that were the phenomena of that kind carefully collected and ranged, there<392> would remain no foundation for doubting about our immortality on that score; because, there are many instances of dying by diseases which gradually consume the body, while at the same time moral faculties remain intire, untouched, unviolated, nay, wax stronger and more vigorous; and there are many instances of emerging out of diseases, by which moral powers had been sadly depressed, to former vigour of understanding and virtue: And as we know that there can be no communication with a corporeal world, without subjection to its laws to some certain degree and extent; (because, being variously affected by the operations of the laws of a corporeal world, i.e. well by some, and ill by others, is implied in the very notion of union or communion with it;) so we likewise find, that the further we are able to carry our researches into the laws of our present corporeal state, or our present union with bodies, and by that means with a sensible world, the more and clearer evidences we perceive of the wisdom, fitness and goodness of these laws in various respects. Further, since it is evident, and is indeed acknowledged by all philosophers, that the connexions between different sensible qualities are arbitrary, or must be ultimately resolved into the will of the creating mind appointing them for wise and good ends; that it is mind alone that can properly be said to exist; and that all the ideas a mind receives from without, are conveyed into it by laws of arbitrary institution, or according to an order of positive establishment for good ends; since all this is so evident, that it is not disputed by any philosopher, it plainly follows, that whatever connexions may now take place between mind and body, or however the former may be affected by the latter, yet all these connexions and influences are arbitrary, and consequently may cease to take place, and yet mind or moral powers may continue in full vigour, fit for exercise independent of such connexions, or to be influenced and affected by connexions of a quite different nature.<393> Wherefore, all the arguments taken from the consideration of our moral powers, together with the moral attributes of the Creator and Governor of the world, to prove the immortality of our moral powers, have the same force as if no such connexions between our bodies and minds, as now take place, did subsist. That is, whatever probability or certainty, whatever degree of evidence results from the consideration of the manifold tokens we every where perceive of the wisdom and goodness of providence, that no beings capable of happiness, and much less moral beings, capable of moral, the highest happiness in kind that can be conceived, shall be destroyed; all such evidence remains the same as if there were none of those appearances of that strict intimate connexion with, and close dependence upon the laws of matter and motion in our present state, whence all doubts about our immortality are derived. In fine, the phenomena relating to our moral powers, and their dependence on matter and motion, what do they amount to but an arbitrary dependence, which produces many very good effects while it lasts, and which cannot last always: And therefore it is so far from being repugnant to the idea of good administration, when it is not considered as the only state the moral powers thus subjected, are to be placed in, that it is itself considered as but the first state of those moral powers, exceedingly agreeable to such an idea: whereas, on the other hand, what can be more opposite to all the signs of wisdom and good government we every where meet with in the world, and to all notions of divine benevolence, nay, of ordinary goodness, than to suppose any perceptive beings to be wilfully destroyed, any degree of capacity for happiness to be annihilated? Either we understand what wisdom and goodness mean, and may reason about these ideas, or they are words without any signification, and we cannot reason at all about any such ideas as these words seem to import. But if we can reason with any certainty at all about these ideas, we may rest satisfied,<394> that the rising or progress of perceptive beings to higher capacities; and the advancement of moral agents in moral perfection, in proportion to their care to cultivate and improve their rational faculties, the necessary opposite to which is sinking in consequence of neglectand abuse, are essentially involved, in the very idea of a good whole, or of perfect administration. We cannot otherwise give any coherent account or explication to ourselves of what would deserve to be called good administration, or of that government of the universe which we are led to apprehend, by whatever appearances we perceive to be tokens of wisdom and benevolence, and naturally rejoice in as such. But when we thus represent nature, or the universe to ourselves, all is agreeable, pleasant, consistent, harmonious; we comprehend it clearly to deserve the character of perfectly wise, kindly, generous: The worst appearances admit a solution on this supposition: And upon the contrary hypothesis, appearances in nature are the more unaccountable, in proportion to their seeming wisdom and goodness; be cause they evidently point out wisdom and goodness, which, were they what they have all the appearance of being, any instances of good and wise management can suggest to those who see not the whole of things, would certainly operate in away directly opposite to what is supposed, when beings are imagined to be wilfully destroyed. This reasoning does not barely mean, that it is impossible for a benevolent mind to discover instances of wise and good administration, as far as it can carry its enquiries; especially in those things, which at first sight, or till they were more fully canvassed and understood, appeared very irregular and exceptionable, without being disposed to believe the government of the universe thoroughly perfect; but this reasoning means further, that as there is no reason to infer any thing but the most perfect administration, from samples of wisdom and goodness in the government of the world; so he who<395> hath, from whatever arguments, once inferred a divine providence over-ruling all things, must, of necessity, acknowledge the immortality of all perceptive beings; it being impossible to frame a clear consistent idea of good government, without so conceiving of all beings. But having elsewhere insisted at full length upon the arguments for our future existence, I shall now pass to another proposition. Let me only add, that the christian revelation sets our immortality beyond all doubt, the chief intent of it being to excite to the practice of virtue here, as laying a foundation for our perfection and happiness in an immortal state, to which death is the transition or entrance; and to give us a just idea of the rewards and punishments, the laws and connexions in a future life, so far as is requisite to that excellent end. Now that it does so, will appear when we have considered the ensuing propositions.
Our future state, which immediately succeeds to this life, is a state of rewards and punishments, in which it shall be rendered to every one according to the deeds he hath done in the body, whether they be good or evil.
Not only is a future state asserted in the christian revelation, but this future state is affirmed to be a state of rewards and punishments, i.e. as the scripture explains it, a state in which it shall be rendered to every one “ according to the deeds he hath done in the body”; according to the deeds done in this present life: a state in which every one shall reap the fruit of his doings, whether good or evil: a state in which he who hath in this life sown to the flesh shall reap corruption, and he who hath sown to the spirit shall reap the fruits of the spirit, the fruits of virtue, the fruits of righteousness, and a well formed mind; the fruits of joy and peace,<396> which virtue alone can give. Thus it is the sacred writings speak in innumerable places.a “Be not deceived, says St. Paul, God is not mocked”: the rule of his government, resulting from his immutable moral rectitude, which cannot therefore be changed nor frustrated is, “That whatever a man soweth in this life, that shall he reap in the life to come. God will then render unto every one according to his doings.” Now, what do these and such like equivalent phrases amount to, but that this present state is our state of education, trial and discipline, to which our succeeding state shall be exactly proportioned and correspondent: Or that as this is the state in which we have opportunity of forming our minds to knowledge and love of virtue, or moral perfection, so our future state shall be correspondent to the state of mind formed and acquired in this our present school of discipline and improvement. The state of our rational powers and affections formed in this state, shall be the rule and measure, the foundation and source of our condition in our succeeding state: our after-harvest, as the apostle speaks, shall be answerable to this our seed-time; to this our present state of culture. “As we sow, so shall we reap.” Harvest cannot precede seed-time. The effect cannot take place before or without the cause. The end cannot prevent the means. The effect of education and culture cannot go before education and culture, or take place without it. The happiness which is the result of a good temper and disposition of soul, of a well-improved mind, of moral perfection, or virtue arrived by proper diligence in improving it to a certain degree of excellence, cannot take place till the mind is well-improved; or is by due exercise and discipline arrived at that degree of moral perfection. But, saith the holy scripture, whatever may be the outward situation of the virtuous mind in this state of education<397> and discipline, yet in a future state, duly improved, virtues shall have their natural and compleat effect, and produce unspeakable happiness, by being then placed in circumstances suited to such perfection, and proper to give it due happiness, by affording it suitable means, occasions, and subjects of exercise. In order to compleat happiness, there must be powers and objects adjusted to one another. Powers cannot make happy, unless there are objects suited to them. Nor can objects make happy, unless there are powers congruous or suitable to them. But virtuous powers, or more properly speaking, powers which render capable of virtuous qualities, and their proper exercises and employments, must be formed and advanced to a perfect state by gradual culture, and the exercises which such gradual improvement require. And therefore, in the nature of things, they cannot receive happiness from objects suited to their perfect state, till they are brought to that state. But when they are arrived, by due culture, to an improved state, which they cannot be brought to previously to culture or probation and discipline, then, saith the scripture, God the righteous judge and governor of the world, will render to virtue according to its perfection; that is, place it in circumstances suited to its improvement. The harvest, in this part of God’s government, shall be congruous to the seed-time, correspondent to the husbandry and good culture. Now, what idea can we form of a future state, more agreeable to the perfections of a just, a wise, a benevolent ruler of the world, and more agreeable to the nature of rational creatures, and their powers, than such a future state as hath been described, in which a well-improved mind shall reap the full and compleat harvest of its goods owing, its good culture, its good labours, its noble and glorious acquisitions: a state in which, as the scripture speaks, glory, honour and immortal life shall be rendered to those who bya patient<398> continuance in well-doing have sought after, contended for, and rendered themselves capable of the happiness which can only result from highly improved rational faculties; the happiness which can only flow from a pure and sanctified mind; or the empire of reason over all the passions. But if the reward, the recompence, the fruit, the harvest of a well-formed mind, and a well spent life, be joy, peace and happiness; what must be the reward, the fruit, the harvest of an impure corrupted mind, a defiled conscience, a life spent in degrading, abusing and prostituting the powers which constitute the dignity of mankind, and his capacity of moral happiness, instead of refining and exalting ourselves to a capacity and fitness for rational felicity! Must not opposite causes have opposite or contrary effects in the moral as well as the natural world? Can good and evil, happiness and misery spring from the same root? Can virtue, which is the improvement and right use of moral powers, and vice, which is the abuse and corruption of those powers, have the same effect, the same result? Can they produce or terminate in the same harvest? If of two things diametrically contrary one to another, as improvement and degeneracy, virtue and corruption certainly are, the natural fruit, or the just reward of the one, be eternal happiness resulting from moral perfection suitably placed; must not the fruit, the wages, the punishment of the other, be proportionable misery, resulting from deformity, guilt and pollution? The fruit of good seed and good husbandry (to keep to the apostle’s excellent similitude) cannot be more different from the fruit and product of corrupt seed and bad husbandry in the natural world, than the ultimate result or harvest of virtue and improved reason must be from that of abused reason and confirmed vice, inveterate corruption. These truths are of great importance, and therefore it is proper to enlarge yet more<399> fully upon them, and for that reason to separate them into several distinct propositions.
The scripture assures us, that in the future state of rewards and punishments, distributive justice is strictly observed.
This is the express doctrine of the holy scriptures in almost innumerable places.
“He cometh to judge the earth: and he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth.”a “If thou sayest, Behold web knew it not: doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? And he that keepeth thy soul doth not he know it? And shall not he render to every man according to his works?” “God shall bring every secret wish into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”c “The eyes of Godd are upon all the ways of the sons of men, to give every one according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” “But we know, says St. Paul,e that the judgment of God is according to truth. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and dost the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up unto thy self wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds”—For there is no respect of persons with God. So likewise St. Peter,a “It is written, Be ye<400> holy for I am holy. And if ye call on the Father, who with out respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.”
These declarations are very clear and full, and naturally lead every thinking person to the following reflexions.
I. That as, if the reality of virtue be not owned, justice and righteous judgment are words without a meaning; so the reality of virtue cannot be conceived, without concluding, that if the governor of the world be just, true, righteous, such must the constitution, the frame, and administration of things be, that every moral being shall reap the fruit of his doings, the proper consequences of his behaviour and conduct: or, in other words, the frame and government of things must be agreeable to the essential immutable differences of things, and consequently in favour of virtue; which it cannot be if virtue and vice have the same or equivalent effects, with regard to happiness and misery in the sum of things; or if virtue and vice is not distinguished according to its excellence and merit. Justice involves in its idea a regard to a rule in the distribution of things, or in appointing and adjusting their consequences. If there be no essential difference between virtue and vice, there can be no rule with regard to the distribution and connexion of things; but if there be any rule, a just governor must adhere to it in his government. And what other can that rule be, but regard to virtue, love of it, and concern about it; care to provide for it, and to honour and reward it suitably to its excellence? Now this being supposed to be the rule with regard to virtue, it necessarily follows, that with regard to the opposite to virtue, opposite conduct must take place. If the constitution of things be in favour of virtue, it cannot be in favour of vice. If virtue is to be treated according to its excellence, and suitably distinguished,<401> vice cannot but be treated in the contrary manner, or suitably to its contrary demerit; that is, it cannot but be the road to misery: it cannot but be attended with consequences correspondent to its natural repugnancy to virtue and good desert. We are too apt to consider the rule of justice only on one side. But we cannot take a full view of it without perceiving, that we cannot affirm positively there is justice in the administration of the world, with respect to virtue, without, at the same time, affirming as positively, that such is the government of the world, that vice must have as bad consequences in it, on the whole, as virtue has good consequences. It cannot be the general law in the government of moral beings, that virtue shall make happy, without being the general law, that vice shall make miserable. These are, in reality but two different views, or rather expressions of the same general law. 2. With regard to punishment in particular, our natural notions of justice necessarily lead us to conceive, that in the government of the world, the consequences designed to be the punishments of vice, are exactly proportioned to the ends of good government, not appointed or inflicted in an arbitrary way, that can only serve to produce pain and misery; but so regulated and adjusted, as the greater good of moral beings in the whole absolutely requires. We reason in this manner concerning vindicative or punishing justice in human society. And if we do not reason in the same manner with regard to vindicative or punishing justice in the government of the world, we quit our sole idea of justice, and utter words without any meaning. But if we thus conceive of justice in the government of the world, we in other words assert, that there will be no punishments in the government of the world, merely for the sake of producing pain or suffering; none but what the great and good end of that government requires; none but what are necessary to virtuous administration; or to a constitution of things, in favour of<402> virtue, and in opposition to vice. 3. Now, if we keep this idea of justice before us, we can never be at a loss to understand any ways of speaking in scripture concerning the punishments of the vitious in a future state, either with respect to intenseness or duration. Because such phrases must be consistent with what is necessarily implied in the justice and righteousness attributed to God as a governor and judge, in the strongest and clearest terms. But to clear up some difficulties with regard to the scripture doctrine of punishments, it is not amiss to suggest the few following remarks. 1. The punishments threatened to the wicked in scripture, when they are represented under the idea of punishments (I say, under the idea of punishments, because the evils which are to befal the vitious in another state, are often represented to us in scripture under another view, as we shall see afterwards) they are represented to be strictly just, strictly approportioned to ill desert; to be punishments which wise and just government make necessary. God is no where represented as delighting in exercising his power to inflict evil: punishing is on the contrary represented to be his strange work; or what he is obliged to by his regard to virtue, and to the great ends of moral government. He is not willing that any should perish, but on the contrary, he wills that all men would act so as that they may have eternal happiness: and the evils sinners draw upon themselves are commensurate to their desert; such as they themselves shall see to be just and equal; the effects of laws and rules necessary to perfect government. Governors of human societies may be tyrants, and delight in cruelty; or may err in their judgments, as well with regard to the general laws of punishment, as with regard to the particular applications of the general laws, without any evil intention, merely through imperfection of knowledge.—But God cannot err in any of these respects,—far less can he act arbitrarily. And what is the consequence of this, but that his judgments,<403> his punishments, must be according to right and truth, agreeable to justice, exactly fitted to serve the great purpose of his administration, which can be nothing else but the greater good of moral beings? Wherefore, nothing can be meant by the phrases expressing the duration, or the kind of future punishments, which is contrary to justice, nothing which is arbitrary or tyrannical. But he who ventures on a sinful life, because he thinks the punishments to be inflicted upon sinners after this life can neither be so intense, nor of such long continuance, as some ways of speaking about them in scripture seem to import,—how must such a person reason with himself, if he believes the reality of virtue, and consequently the reality of God’s adherence to the interests of virtue in the government of the world: how must he reason with himself: let him but speak out his meaning clearly to himself, and he will soon cease to be any longer influenced by such unaccountable reasoning. For however he may disguise his reasonings upon this subject, this must ultimately be the meaning of it. “The constitution of things, if it be just, if it be good, it must be in favour of virtue; but surely regard to virtue and its interests cannot make the consequences of vice so extremely fatal as the scripture speaks: ’tis true, the scripture says all the direful consequences of vice are just, are necessary to perfect government; but surely, as odious as vice is, it cannot have so very unhappy effects; and therefore I may venture upon sinful indulgences: I am sure, in a just government, virtue must be fully distinguished from vice; virtue alone can recommend to the divine favour; and vice must have very miserable consequences: I am sure, on the one hand, that there can be no consequences of vice which are not agreeable to justice, to perfect government; but I am as sure, on the other, that under a good administration, virtue only can be the road to rewards, to happiness,—yet I can’t think a vicious life will render so intensely and lastingly miserable as the<404> scripture speaks; and therefore, I need not be quite so afraid of continuing in a sinful course as these scripture phrases would make me, did I take them in their severest sense.” This, I say, must be the reasoning that passes in his mind who believes the reality of virtue, and of a divine infinitely perfect administration, when he would diminish his fears with respect to his continuance in an irregular, dissolute, vitious course of life.—And what thinking man can approve of such reasoning, or draw any encouragement to sin from it? Can any way of diminishing fears, or solacing one’s self, be more weak and unreasonable? And yet this is indeed all it amounts to. If persons do not believe the moral differences of actions, and a divine providence, I am not now reasoning with them. But if they do, how can they possibly draw any consolation to themselves, from an imagination, that tho’ the consequences of a vitious life must be very fatal, yet they cannot be such very intense or durable evils as the scripture threatens? Is it a way of arguing with themselves, that they can possibly vindicate? 3. Let it be observed on this head farther, that in whatever phrases the intenseness, the kind, or the duration of punishments in another life are expressed, it is the wicked, the hardened, the impenitent, which are said to suffer them. It is no where said, that moral agents lose their liberty; their moral agency, and cease to be intelligent free beings.—It is no where said, that moral agents are tied to vice by any other setters but those which arise from the power of evil habits, with which wicked men are held so fast entangled, as we see by experience, that they become not merely impotent, but really averse with respect to virtue. But, on the other hand, the scripture, as well as reason assures us, that without virtuous habits there can be no happiness, no reconciliation with God, no attaining to his favour and love. And what is the conclusion from all this, but that the scripture represents to us in the strongest terms, the necessity of<405> virtue in order to happiness, in order to avoid extreme misery, in consequence of the justice and perfection of the divine government, in consequence of the divine moral rectitude, or of his strict regard to the unalterable relations of things; the essential differences between virtue and vice, in consequence of the divine benevolence, or his disposition to promote the moral perfection, and moral happiness of intelligent beings, capable of moral improvements and enjoyments; all these ways of considering providence being, according to the scripture account of God’s government or providence, necessarily connected together, if not essentially involved in one another. 4. Let me add, that some of the best ancient moralists, in their representations of, or reasonings about the punishments of a future state, have considered some diseases, i.e. some vitious states of the mind, as incurable. Socrates says, “The design of wise and just punishments must be, not only to better others, but to better the immediate sufferers: But in cases when the disease being incurable, the latter end cannot be gained, still the former end may make punishments necessary, and will sufficiently justify them.”a And that excellent philosopher often speaks of the havock vice long continued in makes upon the mind; upon our mental powers, in the most awakening manner. He says oftner than once, “That voluptuousness so dissolves the force of the mind, so putrifies it, that it at last renders it quite incapable of moral exercises.” And indeed when we seriously reflect upon the fatal tendency of vitious indulgences in that respect, we have good reason to tremble at the thoughts of losing the empire of our reason, and suffering evil passions to prevail over it, till it is as it were extinguished by them. I am apt to think the ancient doctrine of the Metempsychos is, was designed as an allegory to express the different direful changes various<406> vices make upon intellectual powers and capacities, and the temper or bent of the mind. But whether that doctrine was so intended or not, it is visible, that if the mind is not daily improving in rational perfection, it is daily sinking; if it is not cultivated, it corrupts.—And some do in this state, through vicious indulgencies of their passions, degenerate into such an utter disrelish of and in capacity for all rational exercises, into such a corrupt vitious disposition, that it seems morally impossible they can ever return to a condition or temperature of mind necessary to moral happiness and perfection, necessary to the gradual improvement such happiness presupposes.—Some indeed become so low, so mean, so sensual, so polluted and others so savage, so bloody, so cruel, so insolent, so ferocious, so malignant, that their degraded condition of mind, or vitiated disposition, cannot be expressed but by likening them to certain brute animals, according to the language of the Metempsychosis system. But not to insist longer on this melancholly subject, I shall conclude this article with observing, that according to reason, as well as scripture, there can be no happiness in a future state without virtuous habits; and the contrary to happiness is misery; and to object against christianity upon account of the strongest declarations of this truth (which is all it can be said to do) is to object against it for inculcating the advantages of virtue, and the danger of vice upon us, in terms that cannot lead us into any mistake about our happiness here or hereafter, while it remains true, “That virtue, and virtue only, can be acceptable to God, recommend to his favour, merit his esteem and love, or produce rational happiness.”
III. I proceed to another observation upon the scripture doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments, which is, that God is said to dispense them without respect of persons. Now this expression, so often repeated in scripture, ought to lead us to these<407> following reflexions. 1. That in the dispensation of future rewards and punishments, God the righteous judge, cannot fall into the error human judges may; which is to be biassed in their sentences or determinations by any partial regards, by prejudices of any kind, either in favour of persons, or contrariwise. This is a truth too evident to be insisted upon. It is however worth while to remark, that there was good reason to insist much upon it to the Jews, whose prevailing error it was, that they were in a particular manner the only favourites of heaven; the only people for whom God had any regard or love. Nor can we wonder that people should ever have entertained so gross, so absurd a notion of God, if we reflect, that even among christians, not a few seem to conceive of God, as having chosen from among mankind arbitrarily, or without any reason, a particular determinate number of favourites, of elect persons to whom all his bounty is confined. The Jews were distinguished from the other nations of the earth in so extraordinary a manner, in order to carry on God’s scheme, not of partial, but of universal benevolence, that it may be easily conceived how they came to be puffed up with a very high conceit of themselves above all other nations of mankind, which it was extremely difficult, not only for their own prophets, but for our Saviour and his apostles to correct. But after christianity hath declared to us in the strongest terms, that no man, no nation of men, is common or unclean, i.e. to be deemed or called such: But that of a truth, God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation, he that feareth him and worketh righteousness, is accepted of him:a after this plain declaration, that the favour of God extended to all men equally; and that his giving a particular revelation, with other distinguishing privileges, to the Jews, was not done out of any partial regard to them,<408> as earthly kings may distinguish particular favourites to the prejudice of their states in general; but with a benevolent purpose towards all mankind in general; after this declaration, to imagine contrary to the clear voice of reason, that God hath any other purpose, or will judge according to any other rule, in the dispensation of future rewards and punishments, besides regard to good and ill desert, is certainly something extremely unaccountable. 2. But it is sufficient to have just mentioned that absurdity; and far less need I stay long to prove, that in the dispensation of future rewards, God will not pay any regard to the distinctions of rich and poor, high and ignoble birth, &c. which now take place among mankind. This is so manifest, that it does not stand in need of any illustration. But how happy would it be for the world in general, and for persons of distinction, as they are called, themselves in particular, if they would frequently reflect upon this plain truth. The more obvious it is, the more unaccountable certainly is every sentiment, every behaviour which is not strictly agreeable and correspondent to it. And yet surely pride and insolence, in whatever degree, on the account of temporary external distinctions, are by no means reconcilable with that truth. Thinking men will not find it an easy matter to conciliate certain distinctions which are the sources of most insufferable vanity and arrogance, and by consequence, of great depression and misery in society, with the law of nature; or what must, according to it, be the sole legitimate end of magistracy and government, viz. to diffuse happiness, as universally as may be, among mankind. But whatever be as to that, surely it is fit for the distinguished, for the great, as they are called, frequently to reflect, that in the life to come, God the righteous judge cannot pay regard to persons in any other sense but that of personal or real merit; and consequently, those who have had great power, large means in their hands in this life for doing good,<409>have a proportionably large stock to account for. 3. What hath been said of merely external advantages, such as birth and riches, and their concomitants in this life, is equally true of intellectual endowments and acquisitions; that is, God in the dispensation of future rewards and punishments, will not pay regard to the understanding, the imagination, the reasoning faculties and their improvements, as constituting a kind of merit by themselves. For without virtue, i.e. without a benevolent disposition reigning in the heart, and submitting every appetite and passion in the soul habitually to the publick order and good of society, there is no merit in the finest imagination, nay, nor the most extensive reach of understanding. Great abilities, without a good heart, must render one in the sight of God exceedingly contemptible; for do they not appear so in the eyes of all good men? And in what community must they not, in the nature of things, be pernicious! What makes it chiefly necessary to dwell a little on this head is this. Men are too apt to place a great deal of merit in cultivating their imaginations into a fine taste, and in replenishing their understandings with great variety of knowledge; and no doubt, this is a very worthy employment, and every man’s duty in proportion to his circumstances, as we have already had occasion to prove: But all this we know may be often done to a very high degree, while yet the heart remains very vitious in many respects; very sensual, very ambitious, nay, very inhuman. For how many men of vast learning, and of exquisite taste, are yet quite slaves, some to one and some to another very wicked and unruly appetite? And yet certain it must be, that if the temper be not virtuous, if there is not perfect inward liberty, or self-command, and an exact government of the passions; i.e. if to attain to virtuous habitudes be not the chief study, such a man is really not a good man, however many other qualifications he may possess; he is not in the way to be a partaker of the divine nature<410> or temper; he is not in the way to be like God; or to have that real worth and excellence which alone can merit his favour and approbation, and the want of which is indeed highly aggravated in his sight by other mental accomplishments. This is a plain consequence from what hath been said of the nature of virtue or moral perfection. And it well deserves our attention, that we may not lay too great stress upon our care to improve our understandings, as if such care comprehended in it the whole of human duty and perfection, and could not but qualify for and entitle to great rewards in another life. All improvements of our intellectual faculties are certainly very valuable acquisitions, and do fit for high exercises and enjoyments, when united with virtue, or a well governed mind; but when real merit and demerit is to be judged in order to be rewarded or punished, they cannot enter into the consideration in any other view before God, than as aggravations of guilt, if virtue be wanting; for such just judges amongst men must account them. 4. God is no respecter of persons, but will render to every one according to his real desert; according to his works, whether they be good or bad; according to the character of his mind: that is, it is virtue and vice that shall then only make the distinction or difference among men: then shall they be fully perceived to make the only difference among men in the sight of God. Where there is a right disposition of soul; diligence to improve our understanding in the knowledge of God and his works, and of moral relations and obligations, and in all useful science, in proportion to its moment or usefulness, to the utmost of his power, will not be wanting; that will evidently be perceived to be duty; and it will be constantly and seriously in one’s view as such; but the circumstances of mankind being very different with respect to the acquisitions of knowledge, as well as the actual exercise of several virtues, it would be unjust, according to all our notions of justice and<411> injustice, according to which we must reason, to reward or punish men in another life according to any other rule, but the virtue that prevails in the temper of their minds, and their serious disposition to have improved themselves, and bettered society here, as far as they could by all their diligence to enlarge their powers and exert them. This would be unjust; for nothing else depends upon us, or is at our disposal: all other things are independent of us, and no man can be justly punished or rewarded for what it neither depended upon him to do, nor not to do. This would be to respect persons in the same sense that we say, judges on earth respect the persons and not the merits of men. Accordingly the scripture doctrine is, that God will require of men according to what they have received; according to the stock put into their hands for improvement and doing good in the world. a “For the kingdom of heaven, saith our Saviour, the method of God’s dispensations and dealings with mankind, which I am come to declare unto you, may be fitly represented by this similitude: A certain man being to take along journey into a far country, divided a stock amongst his servants. Now, to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, according to each one’s prudence and ability: and then took his journey, expecting that every one should make an improvement proportionable to what had been committed to him.” Thus the gifts, talents and abilities wherewith God entrusts men, are many and various, and God will require of each one proportionable to his power and opportunities of doing good. “Then he that had five talents traded and gained five others: likewise he that had two talents traded and gained two more.” Thus some men improve according to their proportion, those gifts and faculties wherewith God <412>has endued them to the increase of virtue and religion, and the good of the world. “But he that had received one talent, traded not with it, but hid it, and it became useless.” Thus other men make no improvements of those gifts wherewith God has blessed them, but they live idly, and are useless in the world. “After a long time the lord of these servants returned home, and called them all to an account.” Thus God will call all men after their state of probation to judgment. “Then he that had five talents gave in his account, that he had traded with them and had gained five talents more: and his lord commended him for having been faithful in a small trust, and advanced him to a place of greater honour, and gave him a very great reward. In like manner, he that had two talents gave in his account, that he had traded with them, and gained two talents more: and his lord commended him also for having been faithful in a smaller trust, and gave him likewise a great reward.” Thus those who have less or fewer abilities and opportunities than others, if they do but diligently improve and suitably use them they are endued with in their several proportions, shall be suitably or proportionably honoured and rewarded with higher trusts, with greater abilities and opportunities. “But he that had received one talent, and made no use of it, began to excuse his own negligence, by accusing his lord’s severity in exacting more of him than had been committed to him. But his lord answered and said; you are an idle and slothful person: if you knew that I expected an improvement of what I left you, why did not you trade with it and improve it, that when I came home I might receive my own encrease.” Thus wicked men, who make no use of those abilities and opportunities which God has put in their hands, think it a hardship that God should require them to take pains and improve his gifts, and employ and use them for the good of the world. But when God calls them to an account,<413> they shall be silenced and condemned, because though they know that God expected they should employ and improve his gifts to his honour, and to their own and others advantage, yet they were slothful and did it not. “Take away therefore, saith the lord of the servants, from this slothful servant his one talent, and give it to him that has ten, that he may increase more and more, and cast the unprofitable servant out of doors, into darkness and misery.” Thus God, to those who improve his gifts and graces here, will add more in the world to come, that they may yet farther encrease, and be more fully blessed by so doing: but from those who improve not his gifts, and the advantages he affords them, he withdraws what he had already given, and finally punishes them with misery proportionable to their negligence, sloth, or misuse. This is an excellent account of the method of God’s dealing with mankind. It is exactly agreeable to the best notions of equality, and justice, and good moral government. For the plain purport of it is, that it is according to the diligent use we have made of our trust for the good of mankind that we are to be rewarded, and in proportion to our neglect or misuse of our trust that we are to be punished. Men are not to suffer for not having done or acquired what it was not in their power to do or acquire, but for their not improving to the best advantage the faculties and opportunities put into their hands by providence. Now, as it hath been shewn, to acquire a right temper of mind, command over the passions, and contempt of sensual enjoyments, in comparison of the exercises of moral powers, the exercises of a benevolent disposition, more particularly is in every man’s power, whatever his outward situation may be: and our outward situation ought to be looked upon by us, whether it be prosperous or adverse, as a situation we are to make the best use of for attaining to self-command, inward liberty, and mastership of the mind, love to God and mankind, and every virtue it<414> gives us opportunity of exerting and strengthening. And it is therefore for improvement in virtue, and actual exercises of it, suitable to one’s circumstances, for which every man is to be called to account, and according to which he is to be accepted or condemned by God, the judge and governor of all moral beings, the end of whose government must as certainly be the promotion of moral perfection and moral happiness, as he is holy, pure, just, and good. Various differences among mankind, as it hath been often observed in this essay, are necessary to make them one community, having a common interest to be effected by common rightly conjoined force. And in so constituting one kind or community, whatever share of the differences requisite to that effect be ascribed to original formation; or to the external circumstances in which beings are placed, i.e. to the operations of external laws, by which various circumstances are occasioned: however, I say, the differences necessary to community be divided between these two sources, to one or the other of which they must all be owing; there is in so constituting a community no act of arbitrary sovereignty, no arbitrary predeliction, if the good of the whole be the reason of that constitution; that is, of the differences which compose it. In truth, variety of parts being once acknowledged necessary to a constitution or whole, to ask why such a one is such a part, and not another, is to ask why the parts necessary to a whole are themselves the parts necessary to that whole. It is the same absurdity as to ask why the eye is not the ear in the natural body. If God, the creator of mankind, pursues the general good in framing and placing mankind, he is no respecter of persons, in originally constituting that community, whether we consider him as originally framing various genius’s; or, if we may so speak, casting minds in different moulds; or appointing general laws, which by their operation shall produce different influences, or give different turns to the same powers and affections, unless to regard the good of the whole,<415> in framing the parts, and in appointing all the general laws, according to which the members composing the whole shall be influenced, be to respect persons, to respect parts or members, and not the whole. Now that there cannot be a whole, moral or natural, without parts, is self-evident. And there is no reason to imagine, that the independent creator of a whole world could have any end in view besides the good of the whole. But which is yet more satisfactory, the further, the more narrowly we enquire into any of the parts of the system, of which mankind is a part, and in to the frame, constitution, and situation of mankind in particular, the better reason we perceive to conclude, that our author intends the universal good. Wherefore it is highly reasonable to infer, that the greater good of the whole is the scope intended, and that will be effected by God in his creation and government. He is therefore no respecter of persons in the formation of mankind; and he will not be a respecter of persons in judging mankind, and allotting them their several situations in another life. If he be not a respecter of persons in the former, there is no ground to apprehend he will be so in the latter. But if he be not a respecter of persons in the latter, but intends and pursues the general good of the whole, then it must be true not only; first, that mankind will be judged and called to account, in order to be rewarded or punished only for the right use they have made of their abilities and opportunities for doing good, and not for what was not committed or entrusted to them: because to treat moral beings otherwise would evidently be contrary to justice, truth, and benevolence; diametrically repugnant to that advancement and promotion of moral perfection and happiness, which must necessarily be the greater good of a moral system. 2. But it must likewise be true, in the second place, that mankind will be called to a strict account for their imployment of their trust, and be rewarded<416> or punished accordingly: be cause not to distinguish beings in this manner after their state of probation, would not be to respect persons according to their merits and demerits: such government could not be called moral government, for promoting virtue and virtuous happiness; it would be quite the reverse. The idea the scripture gives us of God’s moral government, (and that idea alone can be stiled just moral government) is not respecting persons, but pursuing the general good of moral systems, viz. that he will dignify and reward, degrade and punish moral beings in a future state according to their behaviour in their state of trial and discipline. Thus, and thus alone, can virtue be promoted, or moral government answer any of the ends that can be supposed to be pursued by it, when we conceive it to be just or good. And there is no reason, from the present constitution of things, to apprehend that the government we are under is not such a government. There is, therefore, no reason to apprehend, that the scripture account of God’s government, and of a future state, is not true. And to whom, indeed, can this idea of God’s government be disagreeable; nay, not highly comfortable, but to such as absolutely hate virtue, if any such creature there can be. Every man hath it in his power to be good. And therefore there is no man to whose interest this scheme of government is repugnant. Can it possibly be made an objection against it, that if this be the case the vicious must be great losers? And yet no other objection can be made against it: for according to it virtue is great, unspeakable gain. But that such is the scheme of divine providence, that in the whole of things virtue shall be the gainer beyond all expression, and vice the only loser or sufferer, in proportion to its guilt and demerit—that this is the scheme of providence, as the scripture declares to us in the strongest terms, who can doubt; since, even in this life, such is the constitution and situation of mankind; such are all the powers, laws,<417> and circumstances of powers belonging to our present state and rank, that in reality it is owing to the want of virtue, and to the prevalence of vice, that men are not exceeding happy—even in our present state of probation, such is the natural tendency; such is the natural influence of all causes, that mankind are more or less happy, more or less miserable, in proportion as virtue or vice prevails—in proportion as men unite and confederate to promote virtue, in proportion as society is well constituted and regulated, and wisdom and virtue have the ascendant. For this being the case, as it evidently is, what else can we imagine the ultimate result of things must be, but the depression of vice and the prevalency of virtue, or the triumph of virtue over vice, and the full effect of its natural influence and tendency, which is happiness? If we consider what a happy effect a well ballanced civil constitution, whose orders, to use the words of a very great man,awould constrain the members to operate towards the best interests of the whole, must necessarily have—how can we either doubt of the real excellency of virtue—its necessary connexion with private and publick happiness—of the wisdom and goodness of our author—or of the excellent final tendency of the powers and laws of powers which constitute our present condition—the excellent final tendency of virtuous dispositions and improvements? How great, how glorious a happiness hath that excellent author shewn to be within the present reach of mankind, because it would be the natural and necessary result of good government? And is the author of our nature to be blamed for only putting it in our power to attain to such happiness in that way? Or hath he by so doing given us such a convincing proof of his generous, beneficent intention towards us; and shall we doubt of the justice, the goodness, the full perfection of that scheme which he is carrying on towards<418> its completion? Virtue is the basis of private and publick happiness here; and vice is the source of all the greatest evils or miseries we complain of in this life. Ought we not therefore to conclude, that virtue and vice must be in another life, the former the compleat source of happiness, and the latter the proportionable source of misery? Is it reasonable to judge of the whole government of the moral world, contrary to what we perceive of it? But what else does what we perceive indicate, but a natural tendency in virtue of itself to produce publick and private happiness, and a natural tendency of vice to produce publick and private misery; and what does this point out to us, but that the government of the Author of our nature, and of all things, is as much in favour of virtue as it can be in a state for forming and improving virtuous habits; and that our Maker and Judge will finally render unto virtue and vice, according to their natural or essential desert, without respect of persons? This reasoning deserves to be more fully developed. Let me therefore enlarge a little upon it. The scripture doctrine, that God will finally reward and punish men in another life according to this rule, namely, as they act virtuously or vitiously here, certainly falls in much better with our natural apprehensions of just and good government, than not rewarding or punishing; or doing so by any other rule whatever. That method of government necessarily appears more natural than any other, to minds formed as the author of nature has framed ours. Our frame and disposition to approve distributive justice in the government of the world, to look out for it and to expect it, is a natural presage or warning to us, that it actually obtains: it is, upon any other supposition, a most unaccountable make and formation. We can easily satisfy ourselves how it comes about, that till the scheme of providence be further advanced, we should not be able to see such a perfect distributive justice in the administration of the world, as our natural determination<419> to apprehend and approve it, as a right rule, unavoidably disposes us to conclude, must obtain in the whole. But upon supposition, that there is not in the whole perfect distributive justice, we cannot possibly account for the frame of our mind, by which we are unavoidably led to the conception and approbation of it, as the only right rule. There is, therefore, at least a very strong presumption from the abstract consideration of our moral nature, independently of all other arguments, that the distributive justice, which revelation assures us of, does actually obtain in the government of the world. But the conviction arising from this single consideration is mightily enforced, when we look attentively into the connexions of things with regard to virtue and vice, even in this present state: for there we plainly discover, first, several clear and striking evidences of that distributive justice, of which revelation assures us, and which our own moral frame naturally leads us to apprehend: such clear evidences of distributive justice, that we can then reason with ourselves in this manner; “The distributive justice, which revelation assures us shall be compleated in a future state; and which our natural apprehensions and sense of things determine us to think must prevail in the whole of the divine government, is actually begun here, it prevails in a very great degree: there are plain traces of its being begun: and therefore there is no reason to doubt but it will be carried on to its completion.” Secondly, we may learn from our moral frame, and the connexions of things, several reasons why distributive justice does not perfectly appear here; why it cannot, in the nature of things, fully take place in this state; and if this likewise be the plain language of nature to us, then the full language of the present constitution of things concurs with revelation, and manifestly declares to us, “That according to the established frame and order of things the distributive justice, which our natural disposition of mind leads us to<420> look out for the observance of, in the government of the world, as the only approveable rule of government, is begun and carried on here as far as the present state of things permits, and will be compleated when the scheme of providence is farther advanced.”
Our great business here is, to attend to our own make and frame, its situation, and the connexions of things relative to us; relative to our moral powers in particular; to observe what is the natural language of these connexions; what kind of government they point out to us; and to consider how our behaviour ought to be directed in consequence of the language they speak to us; or the rules they indicate to us. Now, if we attend to the connexions of things, and their natural language, we shall clearly perceive the beginnings of distributive justice, such a tendency as plainly points out the same distributive justice here in kind, which revelation says, is to be perfected in degree hereafter. For are not all the good and bad effects of virtue and vice here, whether upon mens own minds, in consequence of our moral determination to approve the one and disapprove the other, or in consequence of the course of human affairs, turning chiefly upon the same moral make; the same approbation and disapprobation unavoidably influencing mankind to favour and reward virtue, and to discountenance and punish vice—are not all these effects plain evidences of an administration in favour of virtue, and in opposition to vice; or, in other words, of distributive justice actually begun? It is to no purpose to say, that it is not the author of nature who rewards and punishes when effects are brought about by the instrumentality of men. For that course of nature in which the instrumentality of men bears a part, whatever that part be, is still the course of nature; it is still a course approved, established, and upheld by the supream Author of nature: it is still his government; and therefore, whatever distributive justice is in it, is distributive justice in God’s government, or<421> in consequence of the order settled and established by him. That in the present order of the world, the instrumentality of men makes a part, is no ground of objection against the wisdom of the course of nature, unless it can be thought a good ground of objection against it, that there should be created moral agency in the course of nature; that is, moral creatures: for where there are created moral agents, there created moral agency, or the instrumentality of moral agents, must be a part of the course of nature: or, unless it can be thought a good ground of objection against providence, that there is such a particular kind of moral agents as mankind in the world: for if men exist, the instrumentality of men must be a part of the course of nature. But the instrumentality of men being admitted to be a part in the course of nature, against which there is no ground of objection, the distributive justice in the course of nature that is so brought about, can be no ground of objection against nature: that is, 1. Deficiencies in distributive justice necessarily or unavoidably arising from the dependence of distributive justice upon the instrumentality of men, are no ground of objection against the course of nature; because that from which they arise is no ground of objection against the course of nature. 2. Whatever distributive justice takes place in the course of nature by the instrumentality of men, since it takes place in consequence of the moral nature God has given to man, and the condition in which God has placed our moral nature in order to its operation, it is distributive justice intended by God, carried on by his government, or in consequence of the connexions of things established by him, and therefore plainly bespeaks to us his regard to virtue and disregard to vice. I mention the former of these two conclusions, because punishing and rewarding mean making happy or miserable in some degree; and the instrumentality of men in the course of nature, means our dependence upon one another in respect of happiness<422> and misery; whence it follows, that deficiencies in the present state of the world, with respect to rewarding the virtuous and punishing the vitious, i.e. deficiencies in distributive justice in the course of nature, which are resolvable into the instrumentality of men, i.e. into our mutual dependence upon one another in respect of happiness and misery, can be no objection against the present course of nature, unless it be a reasonable ground of objection against the course of nature, that we men are dependent one on another; we men, who are made to attain to comprehensive views and virtuous habits by observation and exercise, or, in one word, gradual culture: And yet, it is evident to every one who will reflect upon the order and connexions of things, and the events happening in consequence of them, that the greater part of what is called deficiency or imperfection with respect to distributive justice in this world, is to be resolved into the dependence of it upon men; that is, into the dependence of human happiness and misery upon the instrumentality of men, who cannot be perfect but by perfecting themselves. Distributive justice must depend upon the instrumentality of men, as far as the mutual dependence of men upon one another in respect of happiness and misery reaches. As far therefore as the imperfection of men reaches, must there be deficiencies or imperfections in it, which can only amend as men amend, i.e. as men become wiser and better. And therefore ultimately, all deficiencies in distributive justice resolvable into the imperfections of men, are accountable in the way that the imperfection of men is accountable: they do not make a separate objection, though they be often stated as if they did; but being a necessary consequence from the imperfection of men, they stand or fall with it. But as it hath been often said in this discourse, when we consider the natural furniture of mankind for advancement to great moral perfection, to bring an objection from the imperfection of men against the wisdom of providence,<423> is to accuse providence for having made a species of beings which has in its power to attain to a very great degree of moral perfection, by due culture and diligence to improve; which is ultimately to object against providence for creating a certain capacity of virtue and merit; for furnishing creatures with powers and means of improving, is all that can be done to produce virtuous creatures, or beings capable of merit. To demand more is to demand something that cannot be specified.
The other conclusion, viz. That whatever degree of distributive justice takes place by the instrumentality of men, naturally points out the regard of God, the maker and governor of the world, to distributive justice, is no less manifest: For whence comes it about that virtue is rewarded or vice punished by the instrumentality of men in any degree? Does it not arise from the moral nature of man, and the circumstances influencing that moral nature to act, determining men to approve virtue and disapprove vice; to esteem, countenance and honour beneficent intention, and to despise, abominate and resent injurious intention? Were there no such disposition prevailing in men, virtue would never be esteemed, rewarded or honoured as such; nor vice hated and punished as such. And therefore, whatever honour, esteem and reward virtue meets with in the world as such; and, on the other hand, whatever hatred and punishment vice meets with in the world, as such, must be ascribed to our disposition to approve virtue and disapprove vice. And for that reason, such a disposition in our minds must be considered as a provision the author of nature hath made for distributive justice among mankind. The more perfect men are, and the more perfect society is, the more prevalent will this moral disposition be; the more steady and uniform, as well as more discerning will its operations be; and consequently, the more perfect will distributive justice be. Were society perfect, there would be but small ground<424> of complaint against the course of distributive justice: righteousness would flow through as a river, and there would be no complaining of iniquity or oppression heard in the streets. Consequently, whatever provision the author of nature hath made for the perfection of mankind, the perfection of human society; such provision hath he made for the perfection of distributive justice. So that the fact with regard to distributive justice here, as far as it depends upon the instrumentality of men, stands thus: “It is proportionable to the perfection of men; to the perfection of human society: it increases and decreases with it. And therefore all the provision made by the author of nature for the perfection of mankind, of human society, whether in respect of affections, powers, means, occasions, or in whatever respects, is really provision for a proportionably perfect course of distributive justice.”
I have said all along distributive justice, as far as it depends upon the instrumentality of men; or, in other words, upon our dependence on one another, because there are rewards of virtue and punishments of vice, which are the effects of the course of nature, independently of the instrumentality of men; and are therefore called natural by way of distinction from those which accrue to virtue and vice through the instrumentality of men; not as if the latter were not as natural, or as much the effects of settled connexions of things as the former; but to denote the more direct and immediate manner in which they are produced. Of this kind are the immediate effects of virtue and vice upon the mind and temper; the different inward feelings with which they are naturally, and in a considerable degree necessarily attended, which have been often mentioned in this discourse. Now, these being immediate effects of the frame of our minds and the constitution of things, by compensating the deficiencies in distributive justice, arising from its dependence on the instrumentality of men, which, by a careful observation of<425> mankind, they will be found to do in a greater measure than is commonly apprehended, they sufficiently shew on which side the administration of the world is, and whither it tends: namely, in favour of virtue, and against vice. But having sufficiently, on several occasions, shewn what these natural rewards of virtue and punishments of vice are; I shall conclude all this reasoning with the few following queries, to such as may happen to doubt of the fundamental point I have been endeavouring to prove: queries, which I think studiers of nature will own to be proposed in the proper way of stating questions about the government of the world; questions about fact, as all questions about the government of the world, natural and moral, are in the nature of things; and ever ought to be considered to be.
[a. ]2 Tim. i. 10. 1 John v. 11.
[a. ]Mat. x. 28.
[b. ]Heb. ix. 27.
[c. ]Heb. xiii. 14.
[d. ]1 Thess. v. 10–11.
[a. ]See the texts quoted in the introduction to this discourse.
[a. ]Rom. ii. 7, 8, &c.
[a. ]Ps. xcvi. 13. xcviii. 9.
[b. ]Prov. xxiv. 12.
[c. ]Eccl. iii. 17. xii. 14.
[d. ]Jerem. xxxii. 19. Ezek. xxxiii. 8, 9.
[e. ]Rom. ii. 2–6.
[a. ]1 Pet. i. 16, 17.
[a. ]Plato’s Gorgias. [Plato, Gorgias, 525c.]
[a. ]Acts x. 28, 34, 35.
[a. ]Matt. xxv. Dr. Sam. Clarke’s Paraphrase. [Clarke, Works, 3:110–12.]
[a. ]Mr. Harrington in the Oceana. [This appears to be a paraphrase, rather than an exact quote, from Harrington’s Oceana; see Political Works, ed. Pocock, 171–73.]