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Proposition VI - 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 represents virtue or holiness not only as the condition of, and the qualification for the happiness of a future state; but it represents the happiness of a future state as consisting in, or resulting from virtuous exercises and enjoyments: and it represents a future state of happiness, as immortal, as enduring for ever.
The scripture, as we have seen, represents God’s government as a moral government for the promotion of virtue, and for advancing happiness in proportion to improvement in virtue. Such a government is a government in which distributive justice, in the proper just sense of it, prevails; and such does the scripture represent the moral government of God to be. According to revelation, this our present state is but our first probationary state. All this we<441> have already seen. And consequently there can be little or no difficulty in apprehending why sometimes the future happiness of virtue, and the future misery of vice should be set forth under the notion of rewards and punishments, and sometimes be represented as effects or consequences resulting from the nature, the constitution and order of things. For it is plainly the same to all intents and purposes, whether it is said that such is the constitution of things and the conduct of providence, that virtue in a future state shall be happy, and vice miserable; or that by the administration of things, virtue shall be rewarded, and vice punished in a future state. There cannot be so much as any seeming inconsistency between these two different expressions to those who know and reflect that the course of nature can mean nothing else but the order of things established by the author of all things; that the tendency and result of things can mean nothing but the tendency and result of connexions established and upheld by God; and that whatever happiness, or whatever misery, is the final result of God’s government, is the effect of his will, by which all things are appointed and effected. When things are said to happen, either in this world or in a future state, or at any period in consequence of general laws, the meaning is not, that certain rules or laws operate independently of a governing mind; for that is a direct contradiction or absurdity: But the meaning is, that the Author or Governor of the world hath appointed such and such effects to happen, according to such and such general laws or rules. Now, the advantages that are, in consequence of the will of the author of the world, the Father of all rational beings appointing a certain order and constitution of things, to happen to virtue in a future state, and the disadvantages that are to happen by the same will, and in consequence of the same constitution and order of things, to vice, because they are to happen by that cause, and in that manner, are as properly the natural results of things, as any effects<442> of the material kind are natural effects: but then the constitution appointed by the governor of the world being a good moral constitution, or a constitution intended for and adjusted to the promotion of virtue, and for that reason to the advancement of happiness with improvement in virtue; that being the end of the constitution appointed by the Author and Governor of the world, the high happiness to which virtue is to be advanced in a future state, after it hath been formed and established here by a course of discipline, may very properly be called its reward, being the honour and happiness to which it shall then be advanced, and to advance it to which, by fitting it for it, is the scope of its present state of discipline; and the future misery which is to be the fate of a vitious life in a future state, may very properly be called its punishment, being the depression and misery into which the abuse of moral powers in a state fitted to be a state of discipline for improvement in virtue, shall, according to the moral constitution and order of things, sink and degrade minds indued with rational affections and powers. For in this sense is the perfection one attains to in science, the reward of study; and is ignorance, on the other hand, the punishment of unattention and thoughtlesness, or wilful neglect of instruction: In this sense likewise, the honour and preferment bestowed on one, because he is qualified for it, and deserves it, is a reward to merit; and, on the other hand, the refusing favours to one who does not deserve them, is not qualified to use them well, or disposed to make an ill use of them, is a punishment to demerit. In this sense do we use the words rewards and punishments: it is the proper application of them. But to clear up a little the nature of future rewards and punishments, as well as to shew that there is no inconsistency in representing the same effects at the same time as rewards or punishments, and as the natural result of certain qualities; let it be observed, that ’tis not powers alone that can make happy, but in order to happiness<443> there must be powers, and objects suited to powers. Wherefore, when the happiness of the virtuous in a future state is said to be the effect of virtue, the effect of sowing to the spirit, reaping the fruits of one’s doings, or reaping as one had sown; the meaning must be, that it is a happiness resulting from moral powers improved into virtues, as exercised about objects proper or suited to them. There are, by consequence, two things which must concur to make the virtuous happy in another world, The improved state of their minds, and objects suited to that state of their minds. Now ’tis only the improved state of the mind that can properly be said to be the effect of virtuous exercises here: the objects which in a future state are the means of employment and gratification to the virtuous are not the effect of virtuous habits acquired here, but their existence or their taking place is the effect of the will of the governor of all things, in order that improved minds may have due happiness in a future state. The former properly comes under the denomination of the effect of a general law with regard to improvement in virtue in a state of discipline established by the Author of nature, the Father of spirits. The other comes properly under the denomination of an appointment of the same universal Father of all rational beings, for rewarding virtue after it is formed and acquired in a state of discipline; an appointment for making it happy, or for suitably employing and promoting it; and may therefore be very properly called positive reward. So that to speak properly and distinctly of a future state, as well as consistently with the scripture account of it, we ought to say, “there is a future happiness, a future glory, for which virtue alone can render fit, actually prepared for the virtuous, in order to reward their diligence to attain to moral perfection, by the right use of their moral powers in their first state of education and discipline.” This is the scripture doctrine concerning this present life, and our future state. And it highly<444> concerns us frequently to call to mind all these important truths, that we may be habitually influenced by them in our conduct.
Virtue or holiness is the condition of eternal happiness; without it we cannot have a right to it, or be made sharers of it.
It is expressly said, that nothing that defileth, no unclean or wicked person can enter into the kingdom of God, or heaven. The wicked cannot inherit that kingdom. It is the inheritance of the sanctified. Without holiness none can see the Lord, or dwell with him. In order to partake of the felicity of the blessed, one must partake of the divine nature; be holy and pure, as God is holy and pure. And therefore the constant language of holy writ to us, is, “having therefore these promises, this hope, let us sanctify ourselves, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”a And indeed we must first be persuaded that the government of the world is immoral, or that there is no difference between moral good and evil, before we can imagine that the happiness, the rewards of a future state can be given to any but the pure in heart, the virtuous, those who have given all diligence to perfect their rational nature. This is not a principle merely of revealed religion; it is the basis, or rather the whole of natural religion. It stands upon the same bottom with the reality of virtue and of a divine providence. But further,
Holiness or virtue is absolutely necessary to qualify for future happiness.
The happiness of the virtuous in a future state is represented to us under all the pleasant, grateful images that can raise our admiration, excite our desires, or rouse our ambition, to contend diligently for it: and<445> it is said to excel all that we can now be made to conceive, all description. “Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive the good things God hath prepared for, and will bestow upon those who loving him, give all diligence to imitate his holiness, and to become like to him.” But, at the same time, we are assured, that it is a happiness resulting from virtue, or for which a virtuous mind only is qualified. “It is reaping the fruits of a well-improved mind; the fruits of having sown to the spirit, the fruits of righteousness, and holiness, and charity.” It is a happiness of a pure and rational kind; a happiness suited to rational powers duly refined and improved by culture in a state of discipline. It is declared negatively to be a happiness which the vitious, the carnal, the impure and corrupt cannot relish, or are utterly incapable of. And it is declared positively to be a felicity resulting from, of a kind with, and proportioned to the rational nature; a happiness of which the pure, the holy only are susceptible, and which to them shall give light, liberty, joy, and felicity unspeakable. The meaning of all which is, briefly, that it is happiness unspeakable, arising from the exercise of a virtuous mind, about objects suited to its excellent disposition, suited to its noble affections, and highly improved powers.
The scripture represents the happiness of all beings superior to man, as consisting in virtuous dispositions suitably exercised. Nay, the happiness of God himself, the Father of spirits, is represented as resulting from the purity, the holiness of his nature, or his absolute moral perfection. And whence else can the chief happiness of any moral being arise, but from its moral powers improved into a capacity for being exercised about objects adequate to improved moral powers? If such happiness be not superior in kind to all other enjoyment, then are not moral powers superior in kind to merely animal faculties, which is an absurdity too gross to be<446> asserted, as hath already been often shewn in this discourse. But if moral powers, and the happiness they are capable of receiving by means of their natural exercises about proper objects, be superior in kind to all other faculties and their gratifications, then to imagine any other rewards for virtue, for moral perfection, besides the happiness resulting from the exercises of improved moral powers about objects commensurate or adapted to them, is to suppose them rewarded by a happiness in its nature inferior to those exercises, which is likewise absurd.
Further, the scripture specifies to us the exercises from which the future happiness of the virtuous flow.
I. It represents that future happiness as resulting from knowledge, that is, from the exercises of the understanding about objects fitted to give it high delight, fitted to give it noble employment and full satisfaction. We are told in the passages already quoted, that we shall see God, and rejoice in the light of his countenance. The meaning of which must be, that we shall see far into the works of God, far into the scheme of providence, and all that wonderful order and beauty which must prevail throughout the government of an infinitely wise and good ruler. To see or know any mind is to have a clear and satisfying view of its character from its productions, its plans, its thoughts, its sentiments and affections, its conduct: and therefore to know God, in whatever degree of perfection, must mean, to have, to a certain degree, a clear and satisfactory view of his temper and character, from the knowledge of his works, his productions, his scheme of government. And how delightful is the contemplation of the order and harmony that appears in God’s works, to those who search them out, even now that we are able to see so small a part of them? How unspeakable therefore must our satisfaction be when we<447> shall have a fuller view of them; when all that is now involved in darkness shall be light to us? We now see but a very small part, we have now but a very narrow confined view; and yet what we see sufficiently manifests to us the infinite perfections of the great Creator and Governor of the universe; his eternal power, wisdom and goodness; and therefore highly ravishes and transports the mind. But then we shall have a much larger prospect of God’s government; then we shall be daily advancing in a more perfect knowledge of his administration? The knowledge we shall then be capable of receiving shall be so great, in comparison of what our present situation or point of view can afford us, that in respect of the former the latter is called, knowing as children know—Nay, so far superior shall it be to our present knowledge, in clearness, comprehensiveness, and satisfaction, that in respect of it our present knowledge is called, seeing but darkly, as thro’ a glass; and it is said to be, seeing God face to face, and knowing him even as we are known of him. The scripture, ’tis plain, here labours to give us a very high conception of our delight, arising from the perfection of our knowledge in a future state; and the expressions must not be understood as meaning that our knowledge shall ever bear any proportion to the fullness, the infinite perfection of the divine knowledge. What they are designed to signify to us, is the vast superiority in respect of extent and delight by which our future knowledge shall surpass the most perfect insight we can now acquire into the works of God. It shall be, in comparison of our present knowledge, what seeing and conversing with one, is in respect to knowing him only by report. It is seeing God, not darkly through a glass, but face to face. It is seeing him in his works, so as not to mistake him, but to have a clear and just apprehension of their beauty and excellency, and his perfections. It is seeing his divine excellencies fully display’d, as we see the character of one fully manifested<448> to us by his actions and conversation, with whom we are in intimate acquaintance and correspondence. ’Tis no wonder that some men, endeavouring to comprehend the full adequate meaning of such expressions about the perfection of our future knowledge of God, have over-strained or over-heated their imaginations, and quite lost themselves: their full import is too big for our present comprehension: and it is dangerous for us to indulge our imaginations upon so raptorous a subject, without keeping a strict guard over ourselves. For the command and ballance of the mind may be lost by admiration, even when the subject is truly noble and pure, as well as by too great indulgence to other affections. And it is sufficient for our present comfort to know, that there is a state prepared for well improved minds, in which their joy resulting from the intelligent admiration of God’s works, or of God in his works, in his administration, shall far exceed what revelation can now describe or paint out to us by the strongest images. Those who are acquainted with the pleasures of knowledge, the divine satisfaction which the discovery of beauty and order in the works of God now affords to an enlarged understanding, united with a sound, a well disposed heart, cannot be at a loss to conceive what is meant, when the happiness which is to arise from larger and clearer, yet ever growing knowledge of God, and the pious affections such knowledge must excite and maintain in the mind, is said to be unutterably, inconceivably great.
II. But our future happiness is not represented in scripture, as wholly consisting in the pleasures accruing from the contemplation of God in his works, from knowledge of the divine perfections and administration, and the devout affections towards God, which the knowledge of him must kindle and keep alive in the mind. It is represented, as, in a great measure, the fruit of active, social exercises and employments. If we<449> judge at all from the analogy of nature, we must suppose that our hereafter state will be a community; nothing which we at present see can lead us to the thought of a solitary, unactive, unsocial, disunited state in another life. Nothing here leads us to imagine, that men do not continue to be in another life one kind, mutually dependent one on another: much less does any thing here lead us to suppose, that men cease to be agents; or to have active powers and faculties. Nor can we, indeed, in our thoughts, imagine men to become so many unactive, solitary individuals, without sinking and degrading mankind, instead of exalting them in our imagination. And in scripture, a future life is not represented as a solitary, disunited, unactive state; but, on the contrary, as a community, and an united, active state. We are not represented as merely contemplative beings, wholly engaged, each particular by himself in contemplation, admiration, and worship, without any correspondence, without any sympathy, connexion, dependence, or commerce. No: a future state of happiness is represented as a kingdom, a city under the supreme direction of God, of which the blessed inhabitants are fellow-citizens, contributing to one another’s happiness, mutually serving and served. It is called a glorious kingdom, the glorious kingdom of God, a glorious city, a new Jerusalem, a heavenly state, or community; a kingdom wherein dwelleth righteousness; a city whose builder and maker is God, and which abideth for ever; and the rewards constituting the happiness of that state are expressed by receiving a kingdom, a trust, a rule. “Thou hast been faithful, saith our Saviour to the righteous and profitable servant, over a few things, and therefore I will make thee ruler over many.”43 The blessed are said to reign with God, and to rejoice in doing his will, in executing his commands, and to receive a crown from him, a crown of righteousness.<450>
Let it be observed on this head, that the scripture no where represents to us any state of unactive happiness. The happiness of God himself is set forth to us as consisting in the continual communication of his goodness; in the uninterrupted exercise of his power and wisdom, for the best and noblest purposes, in order to promote the greatest general good. This is the idea the scripture gives us of the divine felicity: it consists in his unbounded, uninterrupted, active benevolence. Now, in order to be happy in another life, we are told in scripture, we must be like to God in love, i.e. benevolence; and that must certainly mean active benevolence; but not surely in order to have no occasion for an active principle of benevolence. The idea of the happiness of angels and archangels, and of all the choirs of celestial beings superior to man, is represented as consisting in their being ministring spirits to God; or beings employed in great and important offices to promote the glorious scheme of divine providence, and who are extreamly happy in this their instrumentality; or in their thus co-operating with God, or for God.a
Again, Jesus Christ in scripture is represented as delighting to do the will of God; as rejoicing in executing his commands; as having a high charge committed to him, and as having fulfilled it in part, and going on to fulfil it thoroughly. Two things are very evidently asserted in scripture concerning Jesus Christ, his visiting mankind, and his return to the Father after his resurrection, when he ascended into heaven. “That what he did for mankind was undertaken and performed by him from a noble principle of benevolence and virtue, in obedience to the will of God, with great delight and complacency; and that the commission<451> with which he was trusted was given him because of his worthiness; that he undertook and executed it with high satisfaction; and that he was to receive, and has received, for what he did on earth, a glorious recompence of reward. Lo, I come, I delight to do thy will, O my God, yea, thy law is within my heart. He loved righteousness and hated iniquity; therefore God, even his God, anointed him with the oil of gladness above his fellows. He was made flesh, took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of man: and being found in fashion as a man, was in all things tempted as we are. He became obedient to the death, even the death of the cross—and God raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in heavenly places, far above all principalities and powers, might and dominion, and every name which is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come, and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things in the church—Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof—for worthy is the lamb which was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing—The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ, and he shall reign—Blessing, honour, and glory, and power be unto him who sitteth upon the throne, and unto the lamb for ever—” And we are thus exhorted by the author of the epistle to the Hebrews: “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us; looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith; who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.”44
Now, from all these ways of speaking laid together, without enquiring at present into the commission given<452> to Christ, with regard to mankind; or what that part is which he is employed in carrying on in God’s universal government; it is very manifest, 1. That his commission was given to him on account of his worthiness, his consummate virtue. The plain language of the scripture, of all that is said in the holy writings, about Jesus Christ, his commission, the power, the authority given to him of the Father, is, that true virtue is the only valuable consideration that prevails with God, the only power or quality, in heaven or in earth, that can be honoured and rewarded by him. 2. That as in this world, or God’s visible government, all is carried on chiefly by the instrumentality of men; so the invisible government of God is carried on by the instrumentality of agents superior to man. And, indeed, we must suppose the happiness of other rational agents to arise in a manner analogous to the happiness of good men, though in a superior degree, from their instrumentality in doing good; from their virtuous employments in promoting universal happiness. 3. It is no less evident from what is said of Jesus Christ, and his glorious commission and charge from the Father, and of the angels being ministring spirits to the heirs of salvation, and to execute other great purposes of God’s universal benevolence, that beings of the noblest and most perfect orders may have occasion for fortitude, for magnanimity and resignation to the divine will, in order to their noble employments, in the execution of which they are happy beyond all expression. The patience, the magnanimity, the resignation to God, and the benevolence to mankind, with which Jesus Christ bore the contradiction, the raillery, the persecution of sinners, is set before us in scripture, at once as an example of, and a strong motive to our sedulous study of those virtues. And they shew, that there may be occasion for these virtues in the most perfect state. But my design being merely to shew the consistency of the principles of religion discoverable by reason, with the fundamental<453> doctrines of revelation concerning God, providence, virtue, and a future state, and not to enter into any enquiry concerning any doctrine peculiar to christianity; ’tis sufficient to have observed, that according to the accounts given us in scripture of the divine felicity, and of the happiness of all moral beings, there is no ground to imagine, that the happiness of any moral being in any state, however perfect, is an inactive happiness. And therefore though we are not able to see here into the employments of our future state; nor indeed to receive any account of them from revelation, except a very general one, as hath been observed, we have reason to conclude, that our happiness in a future state is not an inactive but an active one, to which all the habits of virtue formed in this present state of discipline are necessary preparatives, or qualifications. Nor can we indeed conceive ourselves changed into a passive state without being sunk and degraded. Though the scripture had not expressly said, that our future state shall be a society, a regular social state, we must, we cannot chuse but imagine it to be such; for analogy inevitably leads us to conceive every state of moral beings of whatever rank or dignity, as such. And considering what variety there must be in respect of genius, temper, and abilities among men, as they enter into a future state upon their leaving this world, partly owing to original differences, and partly the effect of various situations and circumstances in this life; all which diversity is very consistent with virtuous tempers—what immense variety of happy employments may we fancy to ourselves in consequence of perfect union and harmony—perfect government to promote universal good, universal advancement in knowledge, and higher moral perfection? For though the habits of virtue be necessary to qualify us for the heavenly state, let us not imagine, that there is no farther progress to be made, after our entrance in to it, in moral perfection. This is equally contrary to scripture, and to all our ideas of<454> moral beings. Their capacity of progress knoweth no stop, no bounds; but their perfection will ever be advancing in proportion to culture, which, the first habits of virtue being well established in the mind, will never afterwards be wanting. In order to help our imaginations in this pleasing attempt to form some faint idea of future happiness in the active way, let us first figure to ourselves the vast happiness that mankind would enjoy even here in consequence of perfect government; such government, as the best writers on politicks have demonstrated human nature to be capable of, and consequently not to be impracticable—and then let us raise our minds to a celestial state of beings, compleatly virtuous, and unanimously conspiring to the promotion of their best common interests, in a social well-regulated state, the orders of which secure the constant advancement of the greatest publick good such beings are capable of—i.e. the souls of good men are capable of in a state where they can take in larger views of God’s providence; and are redeemed from the necessity of attending to low animal cares. For let it be remembered, that though christianity tells us we are again at the general resurrection to be embodied; yet, according to the account christianity gives of that re-union with bodies, it is to be with bodies capable of affording our minds higher and nobler means of enjoyment and exercises than our present bodies are. Our present bodies are admirably adjusted to the present state of our minds. And the bodies with which the spirits of just men made perfect are to be cloathed at the resurrection, shall be equally well adapted to that state of our souls.a “All bodies, saith St. Paul, are not the same. There are terrestial and celestial bodies. And the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised<455> in incorruption. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. This corruptible shall therefore put on incorruption; and this mortal shall put on immortality.” And these bodies are to qualify us for inheriting a new heaven and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.a “Then shall the tabernacle of God be with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” By these and many parallel passages is evidently pointed out to us a happiness to the virtuous, to commence at that period, resulting from righteousness, the universal prevalency of righteousness, from perfect government and society; from a government so perfect as to deserve, in a peculiar manner, the name of a Theocracy, or God’s immediate government. The revelation of these future things cannot extend beyond certain bounds; because nothing can be discovered to us concerning future felicity, but what is analogous to our present experience. And there may be wise and good reasons for its not being so extensive and full as analogy admits, though we cannot possibly determine whether it is so or not. It is sufficient for us, that revelation concurs with reason to assure us of a future state, in which every man shall reap as he has sown here. The holy scripture represents the future state of the virtuous, as a social active state. And reason and analogy oblige us to conceive of it as such; to conceive of every state, of every class of moral beings as such; i.e. as a state in which their power encreases with their knowledge of the connexions of things; a state in which all goods, all enjoyments are the purchase of industry, and in which there is a common interest to<456> be promoted. Here in our present state, to use the expression of a very great man, “nature sells all to industry: it is the treasure which purchases all of God.” And there is good reason to imagine, that this law of industy is universal. It seems, indeed, necessarily to belong to the very character of created agents. We cannot suppose this law altered, with regard to the exercise of power, and the acquisitions of industry, without sinking created agents into a lower class of merely passive beings. Agency includes in it a capacity of extending power by knowledge, and of acquiring by the exercises of intelligent power. Beings who have no power can acquire nothing; they cannot act. And as it is acting, and acquiring by acting, which alone distinguishes an agent from a merely perceptive being; so it is difference with regard to spheres of power, that constitutes higher and lower, superior and inferior agents in nature. Wherefore, if beings in a future state have no more any sphere of activity, they are no more agents. But where there is a sphere of activity, there industry or exercise of power is the purchaser of all goods. Further, where there is no activity, no sphere of power, and where the law of industry does not take place, there can be no virtue or merit. For what is virtue or merit, but greatness of mind, or a disposition to extend and enlarge one’s power, guided and directed by benevolence: a disposition to promote publick good by our power; and to extend our capacity to promote it. We can form no other notion of virtue or merit: it can be nothing else in any state. It cannot therefore belong to any state of beings, where there is no sphere of activity, and where the law of industry does not take place. Again, where the law of industry takes place, and beings are capable of virtue and merit, there must be a publick interest to promote, as well as a private one. Virtue and merit, as they suppose a sphere of activity or power, so they include in their notion the dependence of a publick interest upon the use<457> particulars make of their power, a mutual relation and connexion, regular society and the instrumentality of particulars in promoting the general interests. What entertainment, in fine, what employment can we imagine to belong to beings who have no sphere of power, and no common good to promote? Such beings must be lower than men are in their present state. And, on the other hand, what a variety of excellent, noble entertainments and employments may belong to men, in whose minds benevolence predomines when their sphere of activity being enlarged, i.e. their capacity of encreasing in knowledge, and of encreasing in power proportionably to encrease in knowledge being enlarged, they have a great common good to pursue, even the common advancement of the whole society, or state of good men from greater to greater moral perfection; in a state where no differences inconsistent with virtue remaining, every particular will be continually laying himself out withfull complacency and delight to promote the publick interest; in a state where the habits of virtue being fully established in every mind, the diversity which then takes place shall be no other than what is necessary to lay a foundation for mutual union, for mutual giving and receiving; and thus every one shall mutually give an dreceive; and all shall be equally happy in giving and receiving: what a vast variety of very noble employments may, must take place in such a perfect state? And towards such a state is the natural tendency of reason, of virtue, of a moral constitution. Whatever happiness would be the effect of general virtue here, in our first state, while our powers are but in embrio, as it were, and while our sphere of power, though not contemptible, but rather great, is yet narrow in respect of what it may be in another situation; that happiness must, however, be but in considerable in comparison of the happiness general virtue must produce, when our powers are formed to great perfection by culture, and our sphere<458> of activity, is greatly enlarged, and continually enlarging. And yet, who can express all the happiness which the prevalence of virtue, according to its natural tendency, would produce even in our present state? It is almost above description. Our present sphere of activity is very well adapted to our powers in their first state to be perfected by culture; very well adapted to make a proper school of exercise for perfectionating them; for perfectionating virtuous habits in us in particular; and our present happiness depends upon the prevalence of virtue, and rightly constituted society, in order to make men good, or promote virtue: it is the effect of the natural tendency of virtue; and holds proportion to its prevalence. And therefore as it is reasonable to think, that enlargement of our sphere of activity will be the reward of virtue; so the general prevalence of virtue in a state where our sphere of activity is enlarged, and continually enlarging, must, in consequence of the natural tendency of virtue, produce the most perfect happiness—happiness too big for the mind at present to comprehend—the prospect of which ought powerfully to animate us to give all diligence now to add virtue to virtue; to grow and advance in spiritual strength, in vigour and perfection of mind, and not to faint or weary; forasmuch as we know that our labour shall not be in vain; that our acquisitions shall not be destroyed; but that in a future state we shall continue to go on from strength to strength, from glory to glory, rejoicing in God the rewarder of virtue. This delightful hope ought ever to be present with us, that we may look upon every circumstance in our present life, as an opportunity for perfecting ourselves in some virtue, for which there is a glorious recompence in store; for some virtue which shall add to our crown of glory in the life to come, where the righteous shall shine in proportion to their righteousness; and those who by their counsel, joined with a noble example, have turned many to righteousness, shall rule with God.<459> These strong expression sare authorised by the scripture. And it is no small satisfaction to a virtuous mind to find all good and wise men in all ages of the world representing the future state of the virtuous in like expressions: for as an excellent ancient philosopher observes, “the greater, the nobler the mind is, the more it becomes in love with virtue and virtuous exercises; the more it delights itself in the hopes of future happiness in the society of the virtuous, resulting from greater power and greater perfection in virtue proportioned one to another, or keeping pace one with another.” It only now remains to observe in the last place,
That according to the scripture account of the state of the virtuous in the life to come, it is a state of unchangeable, immortal glory and happiness.
Now it is absurd to imagine this security to arise from an impossibility of falling from virtue; for a possibility of falling from virtue is included in the very nature of moral or free agency. This security arises from the perfection of virtue acquired in a state of discipline; from the strength and power of virtuous habits gradually formed. Some men arrive in this state to such a perfection of virtue, that we say, without any hesitation, it is impossible for them to degenerate. i.e. It is morally impossible they should, on account of their strong sense of the excellency of virtue, and of the firmness of their virtuous habits, settled and fixed in them by long practice; by habitual self-government uniformly and vigorously persisted in, till now virtue is become the very temper and bent of their soul. And in this sense is it, that the virtuous, in a future state, are secure from degeneracy. It is, 1. Because their virtue is become habitual, become temper, or is firmly established. It is a state of discipline that must form this perfect virtue; but the habits of virtue being formed in a state of discipline by<460> habitual self-government unto perfection, they will then be in no danger of being over-power’d, but will bind to virtue by the cords of love, by that close union and coherence which confirm’d love of virtue, and continued practice in it, necessarily produces, in consequence of the very nature of habit. There is no reason to imagine that there will be no particular affections then belonging to us, or that many of our present particular affections shall not then remain with us: self-love must remain while sensibility remains: and the desire of extending our power, together with delight in the happiness of others, and desire of their esteem, and all other social affections, will doubtless remain. But benevolence being settled into a firm principle, our sense of the excellency of virtue, and our satisfaction with virtuous exercises, as the best, the noblest, and pleasantest exercises of the mind, being deeply rooted in us by long practice, by various trial and discipline, reason and virtue will govern us uniformly and irresistibly; order and harmony will prevail uninterruptedly in our souls. It will be impossible to fall away from virtue, because it will be impossible to lose sight of its excellence, to lose the relish of its uncloying delights; and to become vitious would cost the violentest, the most painful struggle. 2. No doubt, the remembrance of our state of discipline, and a larger view of the fatal consequences of vice to rational minds, in consequence of the moral rectitude of the divine government, together with a more comprehensive knowledge of the wise ends of all the trials alloted to the virtuous in this state, will add mightily to the strength of virtue in a future state, and by consequence, to the security of the virtuous; as well as make a considerable part of the happiness of that state. For how doth a just view of the excellence of virtue, and of its agreeableness to God the Father of spirits, and the hope of eternal happiness in consequence of the perfection of the divine government, strengthen and<461> embolden here, even amidst prevailing corruption, and when virtue is most violently persecuted? 3. And when virtue is general, then must virtuous ambition and emulation be universally prevalent: then virtue will animate virtue: it will be continually whetted and invigorated by noble examples. Evil example is indeed a powerful corrupter, but good example is a no less powerful incentive to virtue: and how can virtue decline, while the sense of its excellence, the unspeakable blessings it daily rewards with, and glorious patterns of it are incessantly stimulating to make further advances in what we shall then feel not to have been fruitless labour in our first state of discipline; but to have been indeed contending towards glory and fulness of joy, far beyond what we could then conceive, that shall daily augment as we advance in moral perfection, which, in the nature of things, knows no bounds or limits? How can virtue degenerate in such a state? It is impossible. Before virtue is perfected into habit, it may decline, even after great advances have been made in it; but after it is fully established by discipline, and hath tasted the fruits of its perfection, it must then be natural to the mind; it must then be, so to speak, the very complexion, the very temperament and constitution of the soul, which cannot be changed. The happiness of the virtuous endureth for ever, because their righteousness endureth for ever; and righteousness, or virtue thoroughly formed, is in its nature a living principle, a never dying, immortal, un-changeable principle.a Righteousness, says the wise man, is immortal; “wisdom is glorious, and never fadeth away.” The very true beginning of her is the desire of discipline, and the care of discipline is love, and love is the keeping of her laws, and the keeping of her laws is the assurance of incorruption, and incorruption makes us near to God: therefore the desire of wisdom bringeth to a kingdom, a kingdom immortal.<462> The righteous live for evermore, their reward also is with the Lord, and the care of them with the most high: therefore they shall receive a glorious kingdom, and a beautiful crown from the Lord’s hand; but as for the wicked, they shall say, “this was he whom we had sometimes in derision, and a proverb of reproach; we fools accounted his life madness, and his end to be without honour: but now is he numbered among the children of God, and his lot is among the saints! therefore have we erred from the way of truth, and the light of righteousness hath not shined upon us, and the sun of righteousness arose not upon us; we wearied ourselves in the way of wickedness and destruction; yea, we have gone through desarts, where there lay no way: but as for the way of the Lord we have not known it. What hath pride profited us? or what good hath riches with our vaunting brought us? all those things are passed away like a shadow,—and we are consumed in our wickedness.”
To conclude, why may we not suppose the security of the virtuous in a future state to arise in a great degree from the perfect government of that state; from its excellent orders conspiring to preserve and promote virtue. In this our first state, while virtue is but in the very initial steps of its progress, “good orders in a government make good men; virtue is promoted and prevails in proportion to the aptitude of the orders constituting government to promote, spread, and advance it.” And if we suppose any public union or government in a state of just men made perfect, as we cannot chuse but suppose there must be, that government will be perfect; it will be immortal; it will be a government so constituted, that virtue shall never perish, but be ever advancing, and by its perpetual advancement be perpetually adding to the glory and felicity of the citizens of that heavenly state. Thus analogy leads, nay, in a manner necessitates us to paint out a future state to ourselves; and revelation, by representing<463> a future state to us as a community, sufficiently authorises our figuring it to ourselves under the notion of perfect happiness, resulting from perfect government, in consequence of the natural tendency of the universal prevalence of virtue and virtuous union. In this sense it is properly called the harvest of virtue; its ripeness; its completion: and this life is as properly represented to be our seed time. In such a state as hath been described, every one shall reap the fruit of the seed he hath sown here; the fruit of his doings. To improve in virtue is to lay up treasures in heaven; or to lay a foundation for eternal happiness: and if the government of the moral world be moral, i.e. wise and good, this must be the rule; “that whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” All we have said of providence, of virtue, or of a future state, is concluded in the meaning of this comprehensive, emphatical doctrine of St. Paul, which it was proposed to illustrate: “Be not deceived, God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap; for he that soweth to his flesh, shall of his flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the spirit, shall of the spirit reap life everlasting. Let us not therefore be weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”45 As certain as it is that the government of the world is under the direction of an infinitely wise and good God, so certain is it that there is a future state succeeding to this life, in which virtue shall be fully rewarded; and that the serious study and practice of virtue here must finally terminate in perfect happiness, arising from perfect habits of virtue suitably placed, in order to have proper exercise, and high enjoyment by such exercise: for if there be a God, he must delight in virtue; and what he delights in, he will make happy: but improved virtue can only be made happy by being placed in circumstances for larger exercise of virtue, and higher advancements in it. If there be a God, and that there is all<464> nature cries aloud, his government must be equal, wise, and good, exceeding good; but if the government of moral beings be such, moral improvements and acquisitions will not be destroyed or annihilated by him; but virtue shall at last have the full effect and completion of its natural tendency, which is to make a society of the just perfectly happy. Virtue, or care to improve moral powers, is the delight of God, and it shall have success; it shall have its wishes and desires accomplished, which is to arrive at perfection and great felicity, in consequence of that perfection suitably situated or circumstantiated. Finally, if there be a God. He who soweth to the spirit, and not to the flesh; he who by patient and unwearied diligence in well-doing seeketh for glory, honour, and eternal happiness, shall obtain it, and not be disappointed: He shall reap the glorious fruits of his labours, the fruits of righteousness, joy, and peace; all the happy fruits which highly improved virtue is able to afford to the mind, if it be placed suitably to its merit and tendency. But if the natural harvest of moral improvements be happiness; if, by the constitution of things, virtue be the road to eternal happiness, what must the natural harvest, the natural effect, the ultimate result of sowing to the flesh and corruption, or of abused reason, impure affections, and a vitious life, be? All this is included in the apostle’s account of the divine government, and of the final issue of things, after our state of probation, our seed-time is at an end. And all these important truths have been illustrated and confirmed in this discourse from various considerations. The following general corolaries do therefore manifestly result from what hath been proved to be the joint doctrine of reason and of revelation concerning God, providence, virtue, and a future state.<465>
That there is a God, and a future state, and that to grow and improve in virtue, is the duty of mankind, is a doctrine which reason clearly teaches: it is a doctrine deducible from the natural relations and connexions of things; it is therefore a doctrine which may be known to be true without revelation.
And by consequence it is a doctrine which divine revelation cannot contradict. There can be no doctrine in a divine revelation in consistent with this immutable truth. Nay, revelation must place the whole of religion in living agreeably to this doctrine. It may add a particular kind of evidence to this truth, distinct from what it intrinsically carries with it, very proper to engage men to attend to its intrinsick evidence. But it cannot substitute any thing in the room of natural religion; for natural religion must remain the same, while the nature of things remains unchanged; while moral creatures are moral creatures; or a moral constitution is a moral constitution. The practice of virtue is therefore the whole of human duty, and the sure road to eternal happiness, whether there be any such thing as a divine revelation or not. And they are led into a fatal mistake by revelation; i.e. they sadly pervert divine revelation, who understand it as commuting the practice of virtue for any thing else; or as substituting any other thing in its room: for revelation cannot misrepresent the nature of things; it cannot contradict the very principles upon which its own evidence must depend. But it is plain from the nature of things, that there is a God, and that virtue alone is acceptable to him:<466> and this principle being removed, divine revelation is a term without any meaning.
If God hath at any time given to mankind a revelation of his will concerning their duty and interest; or if any being hath at any time by divine authority interposed to give mankind a call to the study of virtue, by giving them an account of God’s government of rational beings, and the final issue of things with regard to mankind; such an event must be considered as making a part of the general scheme of God’s just, righteous, and merciful government; and not as an accident a levent, not originally comprehended in the design or plan of providence, but extraneous to it, and quite separate from it: as a part therefore of God’s universal plan for promoting general good, by promoting moral perfection among his moral creatures. This plainly follows from what hath been said of God’s government by general laws. But a revelation from God to take mens minds off from the study of virtue, to place their duty, to place religion and piety in any thing else is a downright contradiction: to suppose such a revelation coming from God, is to suppose God become an immoral agent, or a promoter of vice. This follows from the nature of virtue and the perfections of God; or from the very nature of moral powers, as hath been shewn.
It must therefore be a perversion or gross misunderstanding of revelation, to derive any hopes from it of eternal happiness without virtue; without true and sincere goodness of heart and mind. One must be an utter stranger to the course of nature or providence to object against revelation, because the promotion<467> of virtue and happiness among mankind is there ascribed to the instrumentality of Jesus Christ. But without entering into an enquiry which belongs not to our present design, we may most certainly conclude that it is mistaking revelation fundamentally, because it is destroying the very fundamentals of natural religion to hope for salvation, favour with God, and eternal felicity, without virtue. If there be no natural religion, there can be no such thing as revealed religion. But what is the very essence of natural religion? Is it not that the sincere study and practice of virtue is the sole way to the divine favour and approbation; and that as it is the only way, so it is a sure and certain way to it? In what indeed doth the belief of a God and a providence, of the reality of virtue and a future state ultimately terminate, but in this momentous truth, “That according to the constitution and government of things it being morally good, virtue is the only road to eternal happiness; nothing else can give a right to it; nothing else can qualify for it.” If this be not true, natural religion is a mere sound; and consequently it is absurd to enquire about a divine revelation. But, on the other hand, if it be true, we must carry that truth along with us in our enquiries, as the test by which we are to try pretences to revelation, and as the key for interpreting a divine revelation. And in reality it is ignorance of natural religion, or losing sight of its very first principles, which hath misled men, or suffered them to be misled into mistakes about christianity, and given rise to interpretations of scripture, which encourage vice, and subvert the very foundations of morality. For whatever may be thought obscure in it, this is its plain and uniform language, “That without holiness no man can see the Lord.” But the truth I chiefly proposed by this discourse to establish, is,<468>
That whatever motive may induce one to treat christianity as an imposture, he who imagines that, christianity being removed, the obligations to the practice of virtue become less strict and rigid, is an utter stranger to the extent of natural religion and moral obligations. It would be a breach of that charity which christianity so strongly recommends, to suppose that all who doubt of christianity are seduced into that scepticism by inclination to give themselves up to corrupt affections, without fear of hereafter. But it is of great importance to us to fix this truthfirmly upon our minds, “That virtue, firm adherence to virtue, is a moral obligation arising necessarily from the nature of a moral creature; and that every immoral indulgence is as repugnant to the law of nature as it is to christianity.” And it is to prove and enforce that important truth that I have been comparing the doctrine of the christian revelation concerning God, virtue, and a future state, with the doctrines of reason; with what may be plainly deduced from the nature of things; or may be clearly perceived to be true by all who will but give any attention to the frame and constitution of the human mind, and the connexion of things about us. It is not because it is a difficult, but because it is an important truth, that I have insisted so long upon all the more considerable branches and consequences of it; and because as he who does not often meditate upon it, passes his life in a most irrational manner; so he who daily reflects upon it with due attention will there by be daily excited to more and more diligence to improve in virtue, in purity of mind, in true goodness; and he will never want true joy; joy which nothing can take from him, and in comparison of which all other delights are mere vanity.—Joy which may be<469> justly called joy in the Lord, because it is joy arising from the belief of his moral rectitude and all-perfect administration; from the sense of his esteem, approbation and love, and from the assurance of eternal happiness in consequence of his good-will toward virtue, his love of it, and delight in it. “Having therefore this hope, let us act agreeably to it, and comfort ourselves with it: having this glorious hope, let us cleanse ourselves from all pollution of the flesh, and of the spirit, and perfect holiness in the filial fear of God, for as much as we know that our labour shall not be in vain in the Lord: for unto every one who by patient continuance in well-doing seeketh for glory, honour, and immortality, God will render glory, honour, peace, and eternal life, whether he be Jew or Gentile; for there is no respect of persons with God; but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted of him; and we know that under his infinitely wise and good government all things shall work together for the eternal good of them who love him, and loving him imitate his moral excellencies.”46 This is the doctrine of reason, and it is likewise confirmed to us by revelation, by an evidence of another kind.
I shall conclude by shewing what kind of evidence divine revelation gives to that important, joyful truth.
And here I shall endeavour to prove that the christian revelation gives a very proper, full, and truly philosophical evidence for the truth of that doctrine concerning God, providence, virtue, and a future state, we have found to be the joint doctrine of reason and the christian revelation; and evidence, which however leaves full room and scope for all rational inquiries,<470> or does not incroach upon the province of reason, which is to gather knowledge from nature by analogy, induction from experience, and the comparison of our ideas. Now in order to shew that the evidence with which the teaching of Christ and his apostles was accompanied, is a natural, proper, adequate and truly philosophical evidence of the truth of the christian doctrine concerning God, providence, virtue, and a future state, of the whole of the christian institution, we have only to consider how Christ and his apostles reasoned upon the subject; i.e. what evidence they profered and appealed to for the truth of their doctrine; and then to examine the nature of such reasoning, such evidence. In the first place, it is obvious from the history of Christ and his apostles, that they appealed to the miraculous works they did as proper proofs of the truth of their doctrines, and of their divine authority or mission to teach them: they appealed to the works they wrought, to the samples they gave of their power to foretell future events; their power to cure instantaneously all diseases of the body; their power to cure in the same extraordinary manner all diseases of the mind, or to convert bad into good dispositions; their power to bestow gifts and blessings of all sorts bodily and spiritual; and their power of raising the dead. I think all the works Christ and his apostles appealed to as proper proofs of their doctrines, and of their divine mission to teach them, are reducible into one or other of these abovementioned classes. 2. So that when Christ appealed to his works, to the works he did himself of these kinds just mentioned, and to the works of the same kinds he gave his apostles power to do, for the truth of his doctrine, his reasoning amounts briefly to this plain invincible argument, “The works I do, and enable others to do, shew such an extensive knowledge of nature, such an extensive knowledge of the government of the natural and moral world, and such a large command in nature, that you can<471> have no reason to doubt of my qualification to instruct or inform you concerning the government of the world; and you have no ground to doubt of my good will toward you, my benevolence, candor, and sincerity: you have therefore sufficient reason to give full credit to what I assure you to be fact or truth, with relation to the Governor of the world, and his government; with regard to your duty and interest in consequence of his character and government.”
This is the plain meaning of what our Saviour asserted when he said, “The works that I do testify of me. Believe me for my work’s sake.” And this reasoning is, as was said in the beginning of this discourse,a truly satisfactory, truly philosophical. For it proceeds upon the following principles, none of which can be refused.
I. That one who hath a larger insight into or knowledge of nature and the connexions of things, i.e. of the government of the world, is qualified to instruct those who have not so large an insight into, or knowledge of the government of the world.
II. That samples of knowledge are proper proofs of knowledge, and samples of power are proper proofs of power; and consequently samples of large knowledge of nature, and of a large sphere of activity, or of extensive power and command in nature, are proper proofs of large knowledge of nature, and of a large extensive power and command in nature.
III. That there can be no reason to doubt the truth of the assertions of one concerning certain truths or facts with relation to the government of the world, who gives samples of very large and extensive knowledge of nature, and very large and extensive command in nature, if there be no contradiction or absurdity in such assertions; and if there be no reason<472> to doubt of the sincerity and integrity of the asserter or informer; but, on the contrary, all the reason that can be required to believe his honesty and candor.
If these propositions be true, the evidence which Christ gave for the truth of his doctrine concerning the Governor and government of the world, must be a full and proper evidence of its truth; or it must be said, either that he did not give sufficient samples of his benevolence to mankind, his regard to truth, honesty, and sincerity, which was never asserted, such an uninterrupted series of generosity, benevolence, and sincerity was his life: or that the many works he wrought of the kinds above mentioned, were not samples of a very large insight into, and power in nature; which will be to affirm that samples of power to see into men’s minds, and foretell their future actions; power to change mens minds; power to deliver from evils of all sorts, corporeal and mental; power to confer gifts of all sorts, bodily and spiritual; power to raise the dead; power to transfer to others this same extensive power he himself was possessed of, did not shew a very large and extensive knowledge of nature, and power in nature. One or other of these two must be asserted, or the evidence Christ gave of the truth of his doctrine must be admitted to have been a proper and full evidence of its truth; for we have already shewn that there is no absurdity in his doctrine concerning God and the government of the world, virtue or human duty, and a future state. But the first never was and hardly will ever be asserted: and the other cannot be affirmed without denying that samples of power and knowledge are a proper evidence of power and knowledge; i.e. without absurdly demanding some other proof of power and knowledge besides samples or specimens of them. For what larger power or knowledge can we conceive, (creating power excepted) than universal knowledge of, and command over mens minds, and bodies, earth, sea, air, every element,<473> and even death itself, of which Christ’s works were specimens, in the same sense that samples of skill among men to build, paint, cure diseases, move the passions, &c. are samples of skill to do these things? Surely it will not be said that specimens of knowledge are not specimens of knowledge: and as little can it be said that the works of Christ were not specimens of such a vast insight into, and command in nature, as shewed him to have a very comprehensive view of nature. But to say that having sufficient evidence of one’s honesty, we may not trust his account of nature upon his giving us specimens of his large acquaintance with nature, is in fact to say that testimony is never to be depended upon or credited: it is to say, for instance, that those who are not able to cure their own diseases, or do not thoroughly understand the medicinal art, can never have good reason to trust to a physician, whatever evidences he may give of his skill: it is to say, one has or can have no reason to believe a mathematician, or natural philosopher, whatever evidences he may have given of his knowledge, when he asserts any truth, unless we are able ourselves to investigate it, or at least to comprehend his demonstration of it: it is, in one word, to say that testimony, with whatever circumstances of credibility it may be attended, ought never to create trust. In fine, when instruction is offered to us in the government of the world, our first business is to compare that instruction with what we know of nature; and if it be agreeable to what we know, if there be no absurdity in it, the reason to credit it must be in proportion to the assurance we have of our instructor’s integrity and knowledge, our instructor’s sincerity, and his capacity or qualification to instruct us. If therefore the instructor gives sufficient samples of his sincerity, and sufficient samples of his knowledge, or his capacity to instruct us, we have sufficient reason to credit him, or there can never be sufficient reason to credit testimony.<474> But in order to see the full force of this argument, it is not improper to put two cases.
I. First therefore, let us suppose instruction in the nature of God, in human duty, and in a future state, of the kind that hath been delineated in this discourse, to be offered to a people plunged in ignorance and superstition, quite strangers to true natural religion; or, which is worse, having very false and perverted notions of it: now if such instruction were given to a people in this situation, attended with works of the kinds abovemention’d, no doubt the works would, if any thing could, rouse their attention.—What, therefore, would be the evidence to such a people of the truth of such instruction, previously to their being able by reason to find out an intrinsick evidence in the doctrines thus taught them, as truths or facts to which they ought to attend in the conduct of their lives?—What would be the evidence in this case? would it not be precisely this? “We have no reason to doubt of the good-will and sincerity of this instructor, and his works plainly shew his large acquaintance with the frame, constitution, and government of the world, natural and moral; we have therefore as good reason to trust his testimony, as we can have to trust any testimony; but trust testimony we must in innumerable cases: we have as good reason to trust this testimony, as we have to trust testimony upon which we venture our greatest interests, and therefore it would be highly unreasonable not to trust such testimony.”
Now let us see how the evidence will stand, when any among such a people so instructed, being excited to exercise their reason, have compared the instruction so received with what they are able to learn from the language of nature, or the connexions of things: if they find that the further they carry on their enquiries into nature and the government of the world by reason, the clearer evidence they perceive by reason for the truth of their teacher’s doctrines concerning<475> God, human duty, &c. what will, in that case, be the state of the evidence? will they not thus find a new evidence for the truth of their teacher’s doctrines, which will confirm them in their reliance on his testimony? a new evidence, which, if it do not augment the former, at least leaves it as it was. For surely, one who had admitted the truth of a proposition in geometry, or of an experiment in natural philosophy, upon the testimony of one skill’d in these arts, in whom he had reason to confide, has no ground to doubt of such testimony, when having made further advances in geometry or experimental philosophy, he comes to see the truths he had formerly received upon testimony, as it were with his own eyes. And must not the same hold true with respect to moral truths?
II. Let us now put the case therefore, that the people, or at least many among them to whom such instructions as hath been described was offered, had by their acquaintance with nature, or by reasoning about morals, a very clear knowledge, and full conviction of the greater, the more essential part of such instruction (for the truths of natural religion, as hath been observed, must necessarily be the greater, the more essential, the fundamental part of a revelation) what will be the evidence for such instruction in that case? Will it follow that there is no reason to rely upon or trust to such testimony, because there is another evidence for the greater the more essential doctrines it asserts or teaches? Surely it cannot be said, that because one kind of evidence for a truth is good, that therefore another kind of evidence is not good. And therefore the evidence in such a case must stand thus. “Here there is a double evidence for certain truths; an evidence from the nature of things; an intrinsick evidence; and likewise an extrinsick evidence, or an evidence from testimony, upon which there is a sufficient reason to rely independently of all other considerations.” If there are no other doctrines taught by such <476>instruction, but doctrines which are capable of proof from the nature of things, the only fair conclusion is, that there is so much the better reason to believe such instruction, that there is nothing in it but what may be perceived by accurate enquirers into the nature of things to be true. For it cannot be said, that a testimony attended with evidences of credibility is not credible, because there is other evidence for the truth of the facts it asserts. One kind of evidence may be inferior to another kind of evidence, but every evidence is what it is in itself, independently of any other evidence. And to assert, that in such a case evidence by testimony is superfluous, and that therefore it is absurd to suppose any such evidence to be offered to us in a wise government, is certainly to take too much upon us to assert. Grant it to be superfluous evidence, and it will not follow from thence, that it is not good evidence: but to assert any instruction of the kind mention’d to be unworthy of good and wise administration, or to be instruction that can serve no useful purpose in the divine government, is to assume to ourselves a right of dictating to the Governor of the world: it is to claim such full knowledge of all that is necessary to the general good of moral beings, or fit for God to do in carrying on the great purposes of his government, as we certainly have no title to pretend to. If we should grant that thinking men have no occasion for such instruction, no occasion for such a call to virtue and piety,—will it follow from hence, that such a call to virtue, such instruction in the character of the Governor of the world, and in the final issue of things, is absolutely useless?—Are all men philosophers?— have all men sufficient capacity or leisure for accurate enquiries into nature?—are all thinking men sufficiently virtuous?—or if they are, and being wise and good, perfectly whole, they have no need of such instruction, such discipline, such a wholesome monitor and physician, does it follow that the ignorant,<477> the blind, the unthinking have no need of such information, such admonishment? Supposing such instruction in the nature of God, human duty, and a future state, offer’d to the world in the manner mentioned; if any, thinking themselves wise and virtuous enough, should have said, “We know all this you pretend to teach us sufficiently; we knew it long ago, and have no need of your teaching,” would it not have been a very proper answer, “Well, if you are wise and righteous; if you know all these things, and knowing them walk answerably to such principles, you have indeed no need of me; I come not to you; the whole have not need of the physician; the righteous have no need of repentance; I come to the ignorant, to the sick, to sinners; and as the sick have need of the physician, so have sinners of repentance, and the ignorant of instruction.”
Again, if together with the greater and more essential part of such instruction in religion (for the truths of natural religion, as it hath been often said, must be the greater, the essential part of revealed religion) some other doctrines are taught, how will the evidence for them stand? If they are contradictory to the other greater and more essential part, or to any principles of reason, then the testimony must be rejected, whatever evidences the teacher may give of his power and knowledge. But that not being the case, or when no doctrine taught by an instructor giving sufficient samples of his extensive knowledge of nature and command in nature, can be proved to be inconsistent with any principles of reason, then the more evidence is found by enquiring into the nature of things, of the truth of the principal or fundamental doctrines in such instruction, the more ground there is to rely on the testimony for the truth of all it asserts: because no doctrines contained in it being contrary to reason, there is either good reason to credit that testimony, or no testimony whatsoever can be sufficient to create trust; no samples of honesty are sufficient<478> evidences of honesty; no samples of insight into nature, and the government of the world, are samples of it; and no being, however superior to others in knowledge, is qualified by his superior knowledge to instruct those who have not so large a view of nature. In such a case the evidence must necessarily stand thus. There being no contradictory or absurd assertion in the doctrine of this teacher, the evidence for his testimony is in proportion to the samples he gives of his honesty, piety and virtue, his candor and good-will to mankind, and his regard to the supreme Being, and to the samples he gives of his comprehensive knowledge of nature and the government of the world. This we may lay down as a general theorem concerning instruction by a being of large and comprehensive knowledge. And therefore the evidence Christ gave of the truth of his testimony, there being no contradiction or absurdity in any of his doctrines, must be in proportion to the evidences he gave of his sincerity, piety and virtue, and to the evidences he gave of his comprehensive knowledge of nature, and extensive command in it. If the general truth concerning extraordinary instruction be true, the evidence Christ gave for the truth of his testimony cannot be invalidated but by shewing that there was no reason to trust his honesty; or, that the samples he gave of his knowledge and power, by the works of the kinds abovementioned, bear no proportion to the knowledge necessary to qualify him for instructing us in the truths he asserted; neither of which hath ever yet been attempted by any of the disputers against christianity.
It is ridiculous to say, in general, that facts and doctrines have no relation one to another; and, therefore, that no works of whatever kind can prove the truth of doctrines. For all true doctrines or assertions concerning the state and government of the world are facts: every assertion concerning the nature or connexion of things is an assertion of a fact; it is saying such or such a thing is fact. In one word, all truths<479> are facts; and all facts are truths. What is any mathematical proposition concerning a circle, for instance, but a proposition affirming, that if there be in nature a circle it must have such property, or such a property in fact belongs to it? What is any doctrine or proposition in natural philosophy, but an assertion of a certain fact; as for example, that the air is elastic? And what is any moral truth, doctrine, or proposition, but an assertion of a fact in the moral world; as for instance, that the law of habits works so and so in certain circumstances. All this is very obvious; and I only mention it in order to shew how unphilosophical that assertion is, which hath been so often repeated in disputing against christianity, and upon which so great stress seems to be laid by a late writer:47 “That doctrines and works can have no relation, no connexion, and therefore the truth of doctrines can never be inferred from any works.” For how absurd is this affirmation, when we consider that all doctrines are facts: it is saying, that facts and works, i.e. facts and facts have no relation, but are disparata; which, I think, none will assert in direct terms. But the absurdity of a certain general, vague, but very dogmatical way of throwing aside miracles, as things that can have no relation to the truth of doctrines, which hath been very often repeated since Spinoza first suggested it, as something so evident that it needs no proof; the absurdity of a heterogeneousness between works and doctrines, which is supposed by certain objectors against the evidence of christianity to be manifest and quite indisputable, will appear, if we consider how we reason in natural philosophy, or how we reason in the affairs of life. How do we reason in natural philosophy? Does not the whole of that science consist in inferring doctrines or facts from experiments, that is, from works? How does the philosopher prove the air, for instance, to be elastic and ponderous; or gravity to be an universal law of nature? Does he not prove it to be so by induction from experiments,<480> from facts or works which are samples of that property or law? And how do we reason in life? How are we determined to act in cases of the greatest moment and concern to us in matters of health, of property, in every affair; is it not from samples, from experiments, from facts or works, that we draw our conclusions? How, in fine, do we reason to prove the doctrine of the divine existence, i.e. how do we reason to prove, that in fact there is a God and a providence? Is it not from the facts in nature, which are samples of power, wisdom, and goodness, that we infer this truth? In all these cases, therefore, doctrines are inferred from facts, i.e. facts are inferred from facts. Facts in all these cases are the medium of proof: they make the premises from which the conclusion is inferred. And therefore facts and doctrines are not heterogeneous: but facts and doctrines have the nearest relation; the same relation that any medium of proof has to the conclusion deduced from it.
Now to apply this to the present case. When instruction in the government of the world, or in certain facts relating to the Governor and government of the world, and human duty and interest in consequence of that government, is offered in the manner above-mentioned; doctrines are taught, but what are these doctrines? They are doctrines asserting certain facts. And what is the medium of proof offered? Certain works. How then are these works a medium of proof for the truth of the doctrines they are wrought to confirm? They are evidences of their truth in the same way that experiments in natural philosophy, or in moral reasonings, are proofs of the conclusions or doctrines inferred from them. They are proofs of their truth, in the same manner that samples of knowledge or power are samples of knowledge and power. They have the same relation to the instruction they are brought to confirm, that other experiments, specimens, or samples have to the fact, the law, the property, or, in general,<481> the truth of which they are samples, specimens, or experiments. They are brought to prove a large and comprehensive knowledge of nature, and they are samples of it: they are brought to prove a large and extensive command in nature, and they are samples of it. They therefore make a proper proof of it, a truly philosophical evidence of it, because they make the same proof of it that experiments make of the conclusions deduced from them in natural philosophy. The only enquiry that remains with regard to such evidence, if there be no absurdity or inconsistency in the doctrines, is whether the samples given are analogous in kind, and bear a suitable proportion in quantity or moment to the knowledge or power claimed. And therefore the evidence Christ gave of his qualification to teach us was a proper, a full, a truly philosophical proof of his qualification to teach, as being a proper adequate proof of the power and knowledge he claimed; unless it can be shewn that the works he did were neither analogous in kind nor proportioned in moment or quantity to the power and knowledge he claimed. Because such signs of power and knowledge as are analogous and commensurate to a claim, are a proper proof of it: the only proof of it the nature of the thing admits; and to demand any other is an absurd demand. It is true, signs of power are only signs of power. But we have already observed, that signs of goodness are proper proofs of goodness. And with relation to Jesus Christ, the works he did to prove his knowledge and power were at the same time samples of his benevolence and goodness. For it is observable, that he delighted not in shewing his power to inflict miseries; he delighted not in cursing, but in blessing. It was not unnecessary to give some examples of his power to curse as well as bless; to inflict pains, as well as to deliver from evils and bestow benefits, because a few instances of power to hurt make a deeper impression on some minds than a thousand examples of communicating blessings. But he chose to shew his power to inflict<482> pains and miseries, to curse, blast, or make miserable, but in a few instances; and those of such a kind as could do but little mischief, as in cursing the fig-tree, and sending the devils into the swine. All his other works were works of mercy and goodness. He went about continually doing good.
Thus, therefore, we see how, in general, works may prove doctrines, by proving the capacity or qualification of the teacher to instruct us in them. And with relation to Christ in particular, we see that his works were a full and proper evidence of the power and knowledge he claimed, a full and proper evidence of large and comprehensive knowledge and power, sufficient to qualify him for instructing us in the facts relating to the government of the world he asserted or taught. The works he did were not only proper to rouse and awaken a people plunged in superstition to attend to the great and important truths, of which they had lost, as it were, all sense and feeling; but they were sufficient to shew, that he was an instructor every way qualified to assure us of the reality of the important doctrines or facts he averred to be true.
But the propriety, the aptitude, the adequate fitness of the evidence Christ gave by his works of the truth of his doctrines, will appear yet in a stronger light if we compare his principal doctrines each of them singly with the works he did to prove their truth. They may be reduced to these few general heads, the doctrine of a future state of happiness to the virtuous, and misery to the wicked, and a resurrection from the dead, the doctrine of forgiveness of sins, or assurance that the sincere penitent who reforms and becomes virtuous shall find favour with God, and the doctrine of assistance to the sincere penitent in conquering his bad habits, and in making progress in holiness, especially in times of difficulty and trial. Now all his works were proper specimens or samples of each of these doctrines. He delivered the penitent from grievous evils; bestowed<483> great blessings upon them, external and internal; and he, in order to prove a future state, died and rose again from the dead, raised the dead; and gave power of raising the dead to his apostles, as well as of working other extraordinary works. While he was upon earth, he was continually giving instances of the most extensive knowledge and power in nature over every element, every disease, over body and mind, over death itself. And before he left earth, and ascended into heaven, he promised to send upon his apostles, who were to be employed in propagating his doctrines, the extraordinary gifts necessary to them for that effect, which accordingly he did; thus giving an indisputable proof of his power and good-will to fulfill all he had promised. So that of what yet remains to be accomplished by him we have just reason to say, “He who did the greater, can he not, will he not do the lesser?” But having fully consider’d the doctrines of Jesus Christ in this light, i.e. as exemplified by his works in my philosophical enquiry concerning the connexion between the miracles and doctrines of Jesus Christ, I shall not now insist farther upon it.
The truth of the history of Jesus Christ and his apostles stands upon an evidence which must be admitted while moral or historical evidence is admitted. And therefore the enemies of christianity in no age have ever attacked that evidence. But the truth of the history being yielded, the evidence of christianity must be indisputable, if samples of power or knowledge are proper evidences of power or knowledge; which, I think, cannot possibly be denied. For that general proposition being allowed, it cannot be said that the works of Christ were not analogous in kind to his general pretension to be a well qualified instructor; or, that they were not analogous in kind to each particular doctrine he taught. That hath never yet been asserted: nor hath it been said, or can it be said, that the samples he gave of various power in the natural and moral world were not<484> proportioned to the moment of his claim as a divine instructor. That is, no objection hath ever hitherto been made against christianity, which hath any tendency to invalidate it. For it is self-evident, that, admitting the truth of the history, there is no way of invalidating the claim of Christ to be a sufficiently qualified instructor in the doctrines he taught, but by shewing either that his works were not samples of his claim in kind, or not proportioned samples of it; there being no way of proving that a claim to knowledge or power is not sufficiently proved by samples, but by shewing that the samples are not analogous or not proportioned in moment to that claim: A general truth, so evident, that I should not have insisted so long upon it, had I not observed, that it is not attending to it that makes numbers swallow down, so readily, objections against christianity, which due attention to it would quickly shew to make nothing at all against christianity; or to have no force but what lies in sophistically misrepresenting the state of the question. Let me only add, 1. that there being intermixed with the history of our Saviour and his apostles, and their other writings, together with the doctrines taught by Christ, and an account of the miraculous works wrought by him, and by his apostles in consequence of power delegated to them by him, to qualify them for propagating his doctrine, certain prophecies of future events, the gradual fulfilment of these prophecies makes a growing evidence for the truth of the history and the doctrines of Christ. This is a consideration of great importance; for it shews that the christian doctrine is not left by its great teacher to depend merely upon an evidence of past facts; but is built upon an evidence to which gradual fulfilment of prophecies was gradually to give new force and strength. But this argument is so fully, so accurately handled in an excellent late treatisea upon the connexion of natural and<485> revealed religion, that it would be arrogance in me to attempt to add any thing to what is there said. 2. An instructor in the nature of God, and in several important facts relating to the government of the moral world, and to human duty in consequence of that government, who confirmed his instruction in the manner above-mentioned, might justly argue in this manner: My doctrine is so comfortable, so beneficial to mankind, and hath so direct a tendency to promote true piety and virtue, that nothing can be more unreasonable than to suppose, that I have an ill design, or am assisted in the works I do by any malicious spirit, endued with extraordinary knowledge and power. It is to suppose an evil spirit acting contrary to its natural disposition. It is to suppose a wicked being employing all its power and skill to promote virtue, piety, and goodness. And thus our Saviour reasoned in answer to those who said, he worked miracles by the assistance of the devil. “The pharisees said in the irhearts,a this fellow doth not cast out devils but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils. And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city divided against itself shall not stand. And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself: how shall then his kingdom stand? And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children pretend to cast them out?b Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out devils by the spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you. Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man, and then he will spoil his house.” 3. But if it be said, the question is about Christ’s pretension to a commission from God to instruct; to this the answer is obvious. For if one gives by his works<486> such sufficient samples of the power and knowledge he pretends to, that there is reason to trust to his instruction, independently of all consideration of his pretension to a divine commission to instruct; his pretension to such a commission cannot render his works insufficient evidences of his capacity to instruct. And therefore, such an instructor might reason with those to whom he offered instruction in this manner. I have given you sufficient evidence of my capacity to instruct you in certain truths, and of my integrity, you have therefore good reason to believe my word, and receive my instruction, tho’ I had pretended to no divine commission, but to come to you of my self purely and solely out of my own good-will towards you. Since therefore I tell you, that I am commissioned by God to instruct you, and do not claim the honour to myself, but ascribe it to him who sent me, what reason have you not to believe me? Is my testimony less credible, or are the works I do less proper evidences of my qualification to instruct you, because I do not take the glory to myself, but give it wholly to him to whom truly it is due, even unto God, who sent me to instruct you, and gave me all the power in heaven and earth my works shew me to have for that effect; even to satisfy you that I am sent by him well qualified to instruct you in the doctrines I teach. And in this manner do we find our Saviour actually reasoning: “My doctrine is not mine,a but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God, or whether I speak of my self. He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory; but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him.” “Jesus answered,b I have not a devil, but I honour my Father, and ye dishonour me. And I seek not mine own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth. If I honour myself,<487> my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me, of whom you say, that he is your God.” Christ pretended to a divine commission; and ’tis evident, that if his qualification to instruct, and the particular doctrines he taught, were sufficiently justified and proved by proper samples, the truth of the divine commission to which he pretended must necessarily be admitted. For what reason can there possibly be to doubt of the mission, when the particular knowledge or power the missionary claims as missionary, is sufficiently ascertained by proper samples? But besides, the whole series of the miracles of Jesus Christ were appealed to by him as one continued proof of his pretension to a divine mission: as one continued proof that he was qualified by God to be our instructor; and that his power was given to him for that end. His works were therefore at the same time proper samples of his divine mission, and of his capacity to instruct. What indeed can a divine mission mean, but a certain sphere of knowledge and power bestowed by God, and employed by his authority, to instruct in certain truths? But this being the meaning of a divine mission, samples or experiments of power and knowledge, analogous and proportional to the power and knowledge claimed, and analogous to the particular doctrines taught, are a proper proof of a divine mission: the only proof that can be demanded or imagined, if samples or experiments of knowledge and power be proper evidences of knowledge and power. And sure there can be no other way of shewing knowledge and power, but by giving certain specimens of it. But this argument is fully illustrated in my enquiry into the connexion between the miracles and doctrines of Jesus Christ. I shall therefore only add, in the last place, that as the evidence Christ gave of the truth of his doctrines, and his divine mission to teach them, is a proper, full, and truly philosophical evidence of his pretensions; so christianity leaves full room for all rational enquiries into<488> the government of the world, and does not in the least encroach upon the province of reason. The christian doctrine is an account of certain important facts relating to the government of the world, virtue, piety, and a future state, confirmed by testimony attended, as we have seen, with all the proper, all necessary tokens or signs of credibility: but such an account is not intended to hinder, prevent, or cut off our enquiries into the natures and connexions of things. It discovers to us several truths, to the knowledge of which we cannot attain by our enquiries into nature, or by reasoning from any truths so discovered. It also discovers to us several truths, which may be known to be true, by attending to the nature and connexions of things, or by reasoning from truths so discovered. But it leaves room for us to search as deeply as we can into the government of the world, in order to have intrinsick evidence for those truths, distinct from that extrinsick evidence which it gives for their truth, by well qualified testimony. It is therefore absurd to say that it is not consistent with divine wisdom to give us any instruction in truths discoverable by reason, besides what we may have from reason, to which kind of instruction none can be superior. For supposing, which is not the case, that there were no truths in the christian revelation, but such as are discoverable by reason, or capable of scientific proof, it would not follow that it would be inconsistent with wisdom and goodness to give us a testimony concerning their truth, upon which we might depend; since such testimony might be of use to such as are not capable, or have not time to make rational enquiries into nature, and thus to get scientific conviction of their truth; of great use to comfort and direct such in the practice of virtue: and since as it leaves rational enquiries upon the same footing as if there were no such instruction by testimony, so it may be, it cannot but be of great use to rouze men, capable of being rouzed, to due diligence in carrying on rational<489> enquiries, in proportion as they have time and opportunity for such useful and laudable employment.
Surely none who is acquainted with the history of the world at the time when Christ appeared, will say, that instruction in true religion was not very seasonable at that time: and how it can be proved to be inconsistent with divine wisdom to give men calls to virtue and instructions in important truths, relative to virtue and piety, when they are sadly corrupt and ignorant, by a teacher duly qualified to gain attention and give satisfaction by proper samples of power and knowledge, I am at a loss to imagine: and yet the greater part of the arguments against revelation seem to turn upon a supposition that such calls to virtue are evidently repugnant to divine administration. To say there never was or could be any such call, any such instruction, because it does not happen every where, in every age, or very often, and very universally, is a way of reasoning, which, if adhered to, would lead into numberless absurdities too evident to be mentioned. And to say it is not worth while to examine a pretension to divine authority to instruct in certain doctrines, because God cannot, consistently with his wisdom, at any period of time, give a people any instruction by the testimony of an extraordinary teacher, is certainly to take upon us to dictate to the Governor of the world. Sure I may say, that before one is thus hindered from examining a pretended revelation, he ought to have very clear evidence for the inconsistency with divine wisdom, by which he justifies his neglect or contempt of the pretension. It is manifestly unjustifiable, unless that inconsistency be proved: and when was it proved, or who ever yet attempted to prove it? To prove such an inconsistency, one must indeed first know all that is proper or requisite to promote the general good of moral beings, God’s end of creation and government, which none certainly will, in direct terms at least, pretend to. Finally, to ask why, if christianity be a divine<490> revelation, it is not more universal, is to ask why the Governor of the world gave it to mankind in such a manner as to leave the propagation of it to be carried on by the instrumentality of christian believers, according to the common course of human affairs, i.e. it is to ask why God so orders the world, as to give christians an excellent opportunity of exercising their benevolence towards the rest of mankind, involved in ignorance and superstition, by taking proper methods to bring them to the knowledge of the most salutary and comfortable truths.
Christianity is therefore a most excellent doctrine, and is attended with sufficient evidence of its truth.
BIBLIOGRAPHY OF WORKS CITED
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[a. ]Mat. v. 8. xiii. 43. xxv. 34. Rom. ii. 7. 10. 1 John iii. 2. iii. 7. 2 Cor. vii. 1. Ep. i. 4. iv. 1, 17, 20, &c. 1 Thess. ii. 12. 1 Tim. ii. 2, 4, 7, 8. Titus ii. 11, 12.
[43. ]Matt. 25.21.
[a. ]Heb. i. 7. 14. Ephes. i. 20, 21, &c. Philip. ii. 5, &c. Heb. i. 2, 3, &c. Rev. v. 5, &c. Rev. vi. 15, &c. Heb. xii. 2, 3.
[44. ]Heb. 12.1–3.
[a. ]1 Cor. xv. 39–44, 50, 53.
[a. ]2 Peter iii. 13. Isa. lxv. 17, &c. Rev. xxi. 3, &c.
[a. ]Wisdom i. 15. vi. 10, 18, &c.
[45. ]Gal. 6.7–9.
[46. ]The quoted passage starts with a paraphrase of Rom. 2.7, 10, followed by Acts 10.35.
[a. ]Sect. I.
[47. ]Benedictus de Spinoza (1632–77), Tractatus theologico-politicus, ch. 6. See his Tractatus theologico-politicus (Gebhardt edition, 1925), trans. Samuel Shirley (Leiden: Brill, 1989).
[a. ]By A. A. Sykes, D.D. [Arthur Ashley Sykes (1684?–1756), The Principles and Connexion of Natural and Revealed Religion Distinctly Considered (London, 1740), ch. 8.]
[a. ]Matt. xii. 24, &c. [Clarke, Works, 3:47–48; see also Clarke’s comments in his Sermon 86, in Works, 1:539–40.]
[b. ]See Dr. Clarke’s Paraphrase.
[a. ]John vii. 16, &c.
[b. ]John viii. 48, &c.