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Proposition III - 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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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.
Whether the constitution of mankind, and of all things relating to mankind, or of the world in general, does not, so soon as we reflect upon it, clearly point out to us the necessity of conducting ourselves prudently; the necessity of studying the connexions which obtain in nature; the necessity of acting agreeably to the connexions of nature, in order to judge of or execute ends; the necessity of improving as much as we can in the knowledge of the connexions that obtain in the world; the necessity of directing our conduct by this knowledge; and consequently, the necessity of having the knowledge of the connexions in the world constantly present to us; and the necessity of self-command, or an established deliberative habit of thinking well before we act. But is not the whole language of such a state of things, a language that inculcates prudence, deliberation and self-command? Is it not wholly a state of discipline? And if such a state of discipline has once its due effect upon us, are we far from a state of virtue?<426>
Can we conceive to ourselves, that is, does the analogy of nature lead us to conceive any other first state (in kind) of created moral agents? I say in kind, because the question I now propose is not, whether we cannot conceive moral creatures gathering their knowledge faster, retaining it more easily, and so attaining prudence sooner than men; but whether we can conceive to ourselves any state of moral agents differing in kind from our state, or in which knowledge of their sphere of activity, however large it be, and of the connexions of nature, by which they are to regulate to themselves, and the habit of judging readily of connexions, and acting with promptitude and alacrity, in conformity to them, are not acquired by observation and exercise? It might justly be questioned in general, whether knowledge can be got but by observation; or habit but by exercise. And it might as justly be asked, whether there be any merit, any foundation for self-approbation, or for praise from others, but in acquired knowledge, and acquired virtuous habits. But it is sufficient to carry the question so far as we have done; because it is evident, that however much strangers to the connexions of things men must have been at their first setting out; it is plain that a great deal of knowledge must soon be acquired, by giving attendance to the connexions in nature; and men having once acquired knowledge, they have it in their power easily to communicate it to others; so that, after a few men had subsisted for some time in the world, if they did not acquire a good deal of knowledge, it must have been owing to their not attending to nature, to which attention all their interests conspired to excite them; and if they who had acquired knowledge themselves, did not take care to communicate it, it must be owing to their not acting according to impulses in their nature, to assist<427> others in that and every respect, than which better in kind, or better for the purpose, cannot be conceived. Perhaps what has been now said will be better understood by the following query.
Whether we can conceive a better provision in kind for exciting men to acquire the knowledge of nature, and to preserve and communicate it; or a better provision in kind, for directing and exciting men to act rightly, previous to their knowledge of nature, than the instincts or determinations with which men are originally furnished, such as the love of knowledge, curiosity, love of power, or inclination to extendur capacity and sphere of activity; compassion, benevolence, and a moral sense of beauty in veracity, gratitude, and every action which by experience will be found to be really conducive to publick good? But if better provision for that effect in kind cannot be imagined, let us consider.
Whether the augmentation of all our affections, appetites and powers by exercise, be not one of the best laws that can be imagined with respect to improvement? Whether any other method of augmentation would have such good or agreeable effects? Now these questions being premised about our constitution in general, let me ask in the next place,
Whether the social affections and moral sense with which our minds are endued; and the feelings which virtuous and vitious actions produce in us in consequence of them, be not a rich provision for qualifying<428> and exciting us to be virtuous, to be social and benevolent; and be not an argument, that the author of nature designed us for virtue, for virtuous improvements and enjoyments: whether it be not an argument for such intention, of the same kind with all arguments from final causes; as for example, that we are not made to live either in fire or water, &c. Natural connexions, as they are called commonly, in contradistinction to moral connexions, or those which relate more immediately to our moral powers, are allowed to be a language of nature, that tells us what we ought to do, and what we ought to forbear. But are not the moral connexions just mentioned also a language with respect to our conduct and the intention of our maker. If the former, and not the latter are a practical language in the sense mentioned, what makes the difference? And if the latter, as well as the former, speak a language with regard to our conduct,—what else is that language but a call to us to be virtuous, in order to have the best enjoyments,—the full meaning of which, when our dependence on one another is considered, than which nothing can be more evident, since every thing suggests it to us, amounts to this exhortation to us, “Enter into a right form of society or union for the promotion of general happiness; of the general best happiness of beings, endued with the affections, appetites and powers, that is, with the capacities of happiness you are as men naturally possessed of, in order to be happy by right social union.” If this be not the language of our frame to us, final causes, a language of nature, rules of imitation or practice deducible from natural connexions, are words without a meaning. But,
If mankind should enter into a right society, such as perhaps never wholly obtained, but such however as<429> nature fully points out to us, and prompts us to establish; would they not be extremely happy? Would not knowledge, virtue, and all the goods of the mind, as well as all outward goods, be very largely and very universally shared? Are not societies happy in proportion as their social union approaches to the best model of it; and are they not miserable, in proportion as their manner of union or confederacy is distant from it? Is there not in nature a really practicable union, which would make men very virtuous and proportionably very happy? And isa not such an union being practicable, the intention of nature? Is any thing that nature could do to establish it wanting, that can be specified? And if so, is nature, the author of nature to be blamed, that it is not established?
But as the world goes on still, and ever did, if we abstract from what a good model of government, to which nature sufficiently directs, alone can produce, what goods or evils in the world flow from blameable causes or laws. Those which proceed from the law of industry, by which goods internal and external must be acquired by application to acquire them, certainly do not proceed from a bad law. Those which proceed from the law of habits, do not flow from a bad one. And those which proceed from perversions of passions, which are in themselves of great use, or rather necessity, are not the effects of bad laws or causes. What effects then, in the course of nature, are with respect to their causes bad? None certainly can be named: for all the goods and evils in human life are reducible into something comprehended in one or other of these causes. The evils flowing from the sources mentioned, are not<430> evil in respect of their sources, for their sources even where the greatest confusion prevails in consequence of want of right civil government, or of bad civil government, are the sources of great goods; and they are not only necessary to qualify men for a social union, from which unspeakable happiness and perfection would as naturally arise as good fruit from a good well cultivated tree; but they are incentives, prompters, nay directors and guides, to finding out and executing such a model.
Now, all these things being considered, is not the present establishment or order of nature as much in favour of virtue and against vice, i.e. is there not as much provision made for distributive justice, in the course of human affairs, as can be supposed to take place in consequence of natural constitutions, in a first state of mankind, formed to acquire knowledge and virtuous habits by culture, and to arrive to happiness by right social union? Especially, if we add to all that hath been said one other consideration, which is the fitness or rather necessity of various temptations to vice, and of various trials of virtue, in order to the formation of virtuous habits; or in a state where they are not yet acquired, but to be acquired. I add this consideration, which hath been often already mentioned, because it well deserves the serious reflection of those who believe the reality of virtue, and yet are perplexed with doubts about the government of the world (for with such only am I now reasoning) whether the result of all that disorder and confusion in the world, which right human government would in a great measure diminish, if not put an end to, can be said to amount to, more than such trials of virtue and temptations to vice, as make a very proper theatre for forming the virtues, for making mens characters known, and for improving<431> in moral prudence and every great and noble accomplishment of the mind those who set themselves to do it; which cannot be called a bad constitution, since, while it serves that excellent purpose, it is in a great degree but the effect of the want of that right social union man is excellently fitted for, and strongly incited to by nature; and to which therefore, as hath been already said, we must be understood to be called by the author of nature, by natural connexions, in the same sense any other connexions are said to speak or point out a rule of action to us. Here then is evidently great good arising by the constitution and government of things, out of an evil against which there is, by the same constitution, all conceivable remedies, i.e. all the remedies consistent with leaving it to men to improve themselves, and to work their own happiness, i.e. all the remedies consistent with the first state of beings capable of exercising reason, acquiring knowledge, and gratifying either self-approbation or benevolence. And therefore, last of all let me ask,
What seems to be the natural tendency of such a state, whether total extinction at death, or continued existence and a transition into a new state. And if the latter, whether is it more probable that it shall be a state in which virtuous habits being formed, virtue shall have its excellent natural tendency fully accomplished; or a state in which vitious habits shall be the gainer by the exchange of conditions, and triumph over virtue; a state in which men having attained to characters, to formed tempers and dispositions, distributive justice, the same we perceive here in our first state, while our characters and tempers are but forming in kind but to a higher degree, i.e. in a proportion and manner suitable to formed tempers and characters: or a state in which virtuous dispositions and habits shall meet with disappointment, find no objects<432> correspondent to them; and vice shall exult over virtue, in the vile employments, exercises and enjoyments belonging to its corrupt nature. The former revelation assures us shall be the case. And is it not likewise the language of the present state of things that it shall be so? What else does it presage, to what else does it tend? But shall not the end be as the beginnings prognosticate? Shall not the completion be answerable to the present tendency? And when we consider the nature of an infinitely perfect author and governor of the universe, must we not reason with ourselves in this manner: “It becomes the father of rational beings, it is agreeable to his wisdom and goodness to pursue the best methods of promoting virtue: for of all his works rational beings are the most excellent: and the highest excellency of rational beings is well-improved reason, a virtuous temper and right action. It therefore highly becomes the universal Father and governor, to make every thing contribute to the increase, the promotion, the honour and advantage of virtue. It must be the noblest exercise of his wisdom and goodness, and the greatest benefit to the universe, to execute a scheme for forming, exercising, exhibiting, illustrating and rewarding the virtue of all beings, according to their several ranks and degrees; and if that be the scheme God intends and pursues, he will certainly make the promotion of virtue the measure and rule by which he acts, in conferring benefits and favours, in distributing happiness and misery; and consequently virtue must be sufficiently taken care of in all its stages; and vice cannot in the ultimate result of things be the gainer, the triumpher; but must, on the contrary, be made fully to feel its odiousness to God, on account of its intrinsick deformity and guilt, its contrariety to the rational nature, and its repugnancy to all the noblest exercises of moral powers.”
Thus then, whatever view we take of things, the scripture doctrine of a state succeeding after death to<433> the present, in which distributive justice shall have its compleat accomplishment, is the most natural, consistent and probable opinion. This sure is saying the least of it. But let it be but granted to be the most probable opinion, what its influence ought to be upon our conduct in life, is too evident to be insisted upon.
[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.]
[a. ]If any one can doubt of this, let him consider Mr. Harrington’s scheme of government, and his reasonings upon it. [Harrington’s “scheme of government and his reasonings upon it” are developed in extenso in his A Commonwealth of Oceana and A System of Politics, in Political Works, ed. Pocock.]