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indeed produce wrong effects upon our minds, yet, when duly reflected upon, have all of them a direct tendency to bring us to a settled moderation and reasonableness of temper; the contrary both to thoughtless levity, and also to that unre strained self-will, and violent bent to follow present inclina tion, which may be observed in undisciplined minds. Such experience, as the present state affords, of the frailty of our nature, of the boundless extravagance of ungoverned pas sion, of the power which an infinite Being has over us, by the various capacities of misery which he has given us; in short, that kind and degree of experience which the present state affords us, that the constitution of nature is such as to admit the possibility, the danger, and the actual event, of creatures losing their innocence and happiness, and becom ing vicious, and wretched; hath a tendency to give a practical sense of things very different from a mere speculative knowledge, that we are liable to vice, and capable of misery. And who knows, whether the security of crcatures in the highest and most settled state of perfection, may not, in part, arise from their having had such a sense of things as this, formed, and habitually fixed within them, in some state of probation? And passing through the present world with that moral attention which is necessary to the acting a right part in it, may leave everlasting impressions of this sort upon our minds. But to be a little more distinct: allurements to what is wrong; difficulties in the discharge of our duty; our not being able to act a uniform right part without some thought and care; and the opportunities which we have, or imagine we have, of avoiding what we dislike, or obtaining what we desire, by unlawful means, when we either cannot do it at all, or at least not so easily, by lawful ones; these things, i. e. the snares and temptations of vice, are what render the present world peculiarly fit to be a state of discipline to those who will preserve their integrity; because they render being upon our guard, resolution, and the denial of our passions, necessary in order to that end. And the exercise of such particular recollection, intention of mind, and selfgovernment, in the practice of virtue, has, from the make of our nature, a peculiar tendency to form habits of virtue, as implying not only a real, but also a more continued, and a more intense exercise of the virtuous principle; or a more constant and a stronger effort of virtue exerted into act Thus, suppose a person to know himself to be in particular danger, for some time, of doing any thing wrong, which yet
he fully resolves not to do, continued recollection, and keep ing upon his guard, in order to make good his resolution, is a continued exerting of that act of virtue in a high degree, which need have been, and perhaps would have been, only instantaneous and weak, had the temptation been so. It is indeed ridiculous to assert, that self-denial is essential to virtue and piety; but it would have been nearer the truth, though not strictly the truth itself, to have said, that it is essential to discipline and improvement. For, though actions materially virtuous, which have no sort of difficulty, but are perfectly agreeable to our particular inclinations, may possi bly be done only from these particular inclinations, and so may not be any exercise of the principle of virtue, i. e. not be virtuous actions at all; yet, on the contrary, they may be an exercise of that principle, and, when they are, they have a tendency to form and fix the habit of virtue. But when the exercise of the virtuous principle is more continued, of tener repeated, and more intense, as it must be in circumstances of danger, temptation, and difficulty, of any kind and in any degree, this tendency is increased proportionably. and a more confirmed habit is the consequence.
This undoubtedly holds to a certain length, but how far it may hold, I know not. Neither our intellectual powers, nor our bodily strength, can be improved beyond such a degree; and both may be over-wrought. Possibly there may be somewhat analogous to this, with respect to the moral character; which is scarce worth considering. And I mention it only, lest it should come into some persons thoughts, not as an exception to the foregoing observations, which perhaps it is, but as a confutation of them, which it is not. And there may be several other exceptions. Observations of this kind cannot be supposed to hold minutely, and in every case. It is enough that they hold in general. And these plainly hold so far, as that from them may be seen dis. tinctly, which is all that is intended by them, that the preent world is peculiarly fit to be a state of discipline for our im provement in virtue and piety; in the same sense as some sciences, by requiring and engaging the attention, not to be sure of such persons as will not, but of such as will, set themselves to them, are fit to form the mind to habits of attention.
Indeed, the present state is so far from proving, in event, a discipline of virtue to the generality of men, that, on the contrary, they seem to make it a discipline of vice. And
the viciousness of the world is, in different ways, temptation, which renders it a state of virtuous discipline, in the degree it is, to good men. The whole end, and the whole occasion of mankind being placed in such a state as the present, is not pretended to be accounted for. That which appears amidst the general corruption is, that there are some persons, who, having within them the principle of amendment and recovery, attend to and follow the notices of virtue and religion, be they more clear or more obscure, which are afforded them; and that the present world is, not only an exercise of virtue in these persons, but an exercise of it in ways and degrees peculiarly apt to improve it; apt to improve it, in some respects, even beyond what would be by the exercise of it required in a perfectly virtuous society, or in a society of equally imperfect virtue with themselves. But that the present world does not actually become a state of moral discipline to many, even to the generality, i. e. that they do not improve or grow better in it, cannot be urged as a proof that it was not intended for moral discipline, by any who at all observe the analogy of nature. For of the numerous seeds of vegetables and bodies of animals, which are adapted and put in the way, to improve to such a point or state of natural maturity and perfection, we do not see perhaps that one in a million actually does. Far the greatest part of them decay before they are improved to it, and appear to be absolutely destroyed. Yet no one, who does not deny all final causes, will deny, that those seeds and bodies which do attain to that point of maturity and perfection, answer the end for which they were really designed by nature; and therefore that nature designed them for such perfection. And I cannot forbear adding, though it is not to the present purpose, that the appearance of such an amazing waste in nature, with respect to these seeds and bodies, by foreign causes, is to us as unaccountable, as, what is much more terrible, the present and future ruin of so many moral agents by themselves, i. e. by vice.
Against this whole notion of moral discipline it may be objected, in another way, that so far as a course of beha viour, materially virtuous, proceeds from hope and fear, so far it is only a discipline and strengthening of self-love. But doing what God commands, because he commands it, is obedience, though it proceeds from hope or fear. And a course of such obedience will form habits of it; and a constant regard to veracity, justice, and charity, may form dis
tinct habits of these particular virtues, and will certainly form habits of self-government, and of denying our inclinations, whenever veracity, justice, or charity requires it. Nor is there any foundation for this great nicety, with which some affect to distinguish in this case, in order to depreciate all religion proceeding from hope or fear. For veracity, jus tice, and charity, regard to God's authority, and to our own chief interest, are not only all three coincident, but each of them is, in itself, a just and natural motive or principle of action. And he who begins a good life from any one of them, and perseveres in it, as he has already in some degree, so he cannot fail of becoming more and more of that character, which is correspondent to the constitution of nature as moral, and to the relation which God stands in to us as moral governor of it; nor, consequently, can he fail of obtaining that happiness, which this constitution and relation necessarily supposes connected with that character.
These several observations, concerning the active principle of virtue and obedience to God's commands, are applicable to passive submission or resignation to his will; which is another essential part of a right character, connected with the former, and very much in our power to form ourselves to. It may be imagined, that nothing but afflictions can give occasion for or require this virtue; that it can have no respect to, nor be any way necessary to qualify for a state of perfect happiness; but it is not experience which can make us think thus: Prosperity itself, whilst any thing supposed desirable is not ours, begets extravagant and unbounded thoughts. Imagination is altogether as much a source of discontent as any thing in our external condition. It is indeed true, that there can be no scope for patience, when sorrow shall be no more; but there may be need of a temper of mind, which shall have been formed by patience. For, though self-love, considered merely as an active principle leading us to pursue our chief interest, cannot but be uniformly coincident with the principle of obedience to God's commands, our interest being rightly understood; because this obedience, and the pursuit of our own chief interest, must be, in every case, one and the same thing; yet it may be questioned, whether self-love, considered merely as the desire of our own interest or happiness, can, from its nature, be thus absolute and uniformly coincident with the will of God, any more than particular affection can; coincident in
such sort, as not to be liable to be excited upon occasions, and in degrees, impossible to be gratified consistently with the constitution of things, or the divine appointments. So that habits of resignation may, upon this account, be requisite for all creatures; habits, I say, which signify what is formed by use. However, in general, it is obvious, that both self love and particular affections in human creatures, considered only as passive feelings, distort and rend the mind, and therefore stand in need of discipline. Now, denial of those particular affections, in a course of active virtue and obedience to God's will has a tendency to moderate them, and seems also to have a tendency to habituate the mind to be easy and satisfied with that degree of happiness which is alloted to us, i. e. to moderate self love. But the proper discipline for resignation is affliction. For a right behaviour under that trial, recollecting ourselves so as to consider it in the view in which religion teaches us to consider it, as from the hand of God; receiving it as what he appoints, or thinks proper to permit, in his world and under his government, this will habituate the mind to a dutiful submission; and such submission, together with the active principle of obedience, make up the temper and character in us which answers to his sovereignty, and which absolutely belongs to the condition of our being, as dependent creatures. Nor can it be said, that this is only breaking the mind to a submission to mere power, for mere power may be accidental, and precarious, and usurped; but it is forming within ourselves the temper of resignation to his rightful authority, who is, by nature, supreme over all.
Upon the whole, such a character, and such qualifications, are necessary for a mature state of life in the present world, as nature alone does in no wise bestow, but has put it upon us in great part to acquire, in our progress from one stage of life to another, from childhood to mature age; put it upon us to acquire them, by giving us capacities of doing it and by placing us, in the beginning of life, in a condition fit for it. And this is a general analogy to our condition in the present world, as in a state of moral discipline for anoth er. It is in vain, then, to object against the credibility of the present life being intended for this purpose, that all the trouble and the danger unavoidably accompanying such discipline might have been saved us, by our being made a once the creatures and the characters which we were to be. For we experience, that what we were to be, was to be the