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let me ask of you, Could not the great God, who grasps and surveys all future and distant things in one single view, ! could not he from the beginning foresee your morning prayer for his protection, and appoint all second causes to concur for the
support of that crazy bridge, or to make that, old tower stand firm till you had escaped the danger? Or : could not he cause all the mediums to work so as to make, it fall before you come near it? Can he not appoint all his own transactions in the universe, and every event in the natural world, in a way of perfect correspondence with his own fore-knowledge of all the events, actions, and appearances of the moral world in every part of it? Can he not i direct every thing in nature, which is but his servant, to act in perfect agreement with his eternal prescience of our sins or of our piety? And hereby all the glory of Providence, and our necessary dependence upon it by faith and prayer, are as well secured as if he interposed to alter his own scheme every moment.
Let me ask again, Did not he in his own counsels or decrees appoint thunders and lightnings, and earthquakes, to burn up and destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, and turn them into a dead sea, just at the time when the iniquities of those cities were raised to their supreme height? Did he not ordain the fountains of the deep to be broken up, and overwhelming rains to fall down from heaven, just when a guilty world deserved to be drowned ; while he took care of the security of righteous Noah, by an ark which should float upon that very deluge of waters ? Thus he can punish the criminal when he pleases, and reward the devout worshipper in the proper season, by his original and eternal schemes of appointment, as well as if he interposed every moment anew. Take heed, Fidens, that you be not tempted away by such sophisms of Fatalio to with-hold prayer from God, and to renounce your faith in his providence.
Remember this short and plain caution of the subtile errors of men. Let a snake but once thrust in his head at some small unguarded fold of your garment, and he will in
sensibly and unavoidably wind his whole body into your
have found your op-
real advantage in maintaining the truth, be wise and watchful to observe it, and make a happy improvement of it. Rhapsodus has taken a great deal of pains to detract from the honour of Christianity, by sly insinuations that the sacred writers are perpetually promoting virtue and piety by promises and threatenings; whereas neither the fear of future punishment, nor the hope of future reward, can possibly be called good affections, or such as are the acknowledged springs and sources of all actions truly good. He adds further, that this fear, or this hope, cannot consist in reality with virtue or goodness, if it either stands as essential to any moral performance, or as a considerable motive to any good action and thus he would fain lead Christians to be ashamed of the gospel of Christ, because of its future and eternal promises and threatenings, as being inconsistent with his notion of virtue; for he supposes virtue should be so beloved and practised for the sake of its own beauty and loveliness, that all other motives arising from rewards or punishments, fear or hope, do really take away just so much from the very nature of virtue as their influence reaches to: and no part of those good practices are really valuable, but what arises from the mere love of virtue itself, without any regard to punishment or reward.
But observe in two pages afterwards, he grants that this principle of fear of future punishment, and hope of future reward, how mercenary and servile soever it may be accounted, is yet, in many circumstances, a great advantage, security, and support to virtue ; especially where there is danger of the violence of rage or lust, or any counter-working passion to control and overcome the good affections of the mind.
Now the rule and the practice of Christianity, or the gospel, as it is closely connected with future rewards and
punishments, may be well supported by this concession. Pray, Rhapsodus, tell me, if every man in this present life, by the violence of some counter-working passion, may not have his good affections to virtue controlled or overcome? May not therefore his eternal fears and hopes be a great advantage, security, and support to virtue in so dangerous a state and situation, as our journey through this world towards a better? And this is all that the defence of Chris. tianity necessarily requires.
And yet further let me ask our rhapsodist, if you have nothing else, sir, but the beauty, and excellency, and love. liness of virtue to preach and flourish upon, before such sorry and degenerate creatures as the bulk of mankind are, and you have no future rewards or punishments with which to address their hopes and fears, how many of these vicious wretches will you ever reclaim from all their varieties of profaneness, intemperance, and madness ? How many have you ever actually reclaimed by this smooth soft method, and these fine words ? What has all that reasoning and rhetoric done which have been displayed by your predecessors, the Heathen moralists, upon this excellency and beauty of virtue? What has it been able to do towards the reforming of a sinful world ? Perhaps now and then a man of better natural mould has been a little refined, and perhaps also there may have been here and there a man restrained or recovered from injustice and knavery, from drunkenness and lewdness, and vile debaucheries, by this fair reasoning and philosophy: but have the passions of revenge and envy, of ambition and pride, and the inward secret vices of the mind, been mortified merely by this philosophical language? Have any of these men been made new creatures, men of real piety and love to God?
Go dress up all the virtues of human nature in all the beauties of your oratory, and declaim aloud on the praise of social virtue, and the amiable qualities of goodness, till your heart or your lungs ache, among the looser herds of mankind, and you will ever find, as your Heathen fathers have done before, that the wild passions and appetites of men are too violent to be restrained by such mild and silken language. You may as well build up a fence of straw and feathers to resist a cannon-ball, or try to quench a flaming grenado with a shell of fair water, as hope to succeed in these attempts. But an eternal heaven and an eternal hell carry divine force and power with them: this doctrine from the mouth of Christian preachers has begun the reformation of multitudes: this gospel has recovered thousands among the dations from iniquity and death. They have been awakened by these awful scenes to begin religion, and afterwards their virtue has improved itself into superior and more refined principles and habits by divine grace, and risen to high and eminent degrees, though not to a consummate state. The blessed God knows human nature much better than Rhapsodus doth, and has throughout his word appointed a more proper and more effectual method of address to it by the passions of hope and fear, by punishments and rewards.
If you read on four pages further in these writings, you
will find the author makes another concession. He al. lows that the master of a family using proper rewards, and gentle punishments towards his children, teaches them goodness, and by this help instructs them in a virtue which afterwards they practise upon other grounds, and without thinking of a penalty or a bribe : and this, says he, is what we call a liberal education and a liberal service.
This new concession of that author may also be very happily improved in favour of Christianity. What are the best of men in this life? They are by no means perfect in virtue: we are all but children here under the
Master of the family, and he is pleased, by hopes and fears, by mer. cies and corrections, to instruct us in virtue, and to conduct us onward towards the sublimer and more perfect practice of it in the future world, where it shall be performed, in his own language, perhaps without thinking of penalties and bribes. And since he hath allowed that this conduct may be called a liberal education and a liberal service, let Chrisa
tianity then be indulged the title of a liberal education also, and it is admirably fitted for such frail and sinful creatures, while they are training up towards the sublimer virtues of the heavenly state.
XII. When you are engaged in a dispute with a person of very different principles from yourself, and you cannot find any ready way to prevail with him to embrace the truth by principles which you both freely acknowledge, you may fairly make use of his own principles to shew him his mistake, and thus convince or silence him from his own concessions.
If your opponent should be a Stoic philosopher, or a Jew, you may pursue your argument in defence of some Christian doctrine or duty against such a disputant, by axioms or laws borrowed either from Zeno or Moses. And though you do not enter into the inquiry how many of the laws of Moses are abrogated, or whether Zeno was right or wrong in his philosophy, yet if, from the principles and concession of your opponent, you can support your argument for the gospel of Christ, this has always been counted a fair treatment of an adversary, and it is called argumentum ad hominem, or ratio ex concessis. St Paul sometimes makes use of this sort of disputation, when he talks with Jews or Heathen philosophers; and at least he silences if not convinces them: which is sometimes necessary to be done against an obstinate and clamorous adversary, that just honour might be paid to truths which he knew were divine, and that the only true doctrine of salvation might be confirmed and propagated among sinful and dying men. XIII. YET great care must be taken lest your
debates break in upon your passions, and awaken them to take part in the controversy. When the opponent pushes hard, and gives just and mortal wounds to our own opinion, our passions are very apt to feel the strokes, and to rise in resentment and defence. Self is so mingled with the sentiments which we have chosen, and has such a tender feeling of all the opposition which is made to them, that personal brawls