Изображения страниц

ment must be a scheme quite beyond our comprehension; and this afforas a general answer to all objections against the justice and goodness of it. And, secondly, A more distinct observation of some particular things contained in God's scheme of natural government, the like things being supposed, by analogy, to be contained in his moral government, will farther show how little weight is to be laid upon these objections.

1. Upon supposition that God exercises a moral government over the world, the analogy of his natural government suggests and makes it credible, that his moral government must be a scheme quite beyond our comprehension: and this affords a general answer to all objections against the justice and goodness of it. It is most obvious, analogy renders it highly credible, that upon supposition of a moral government, it must be a scheme,-for the world, and the whole natural government of it, appears to be sc-to be a scheme, system, or constitution, whose parts correspond to each other, and to a whole, as really as any work of art, or as any particular model of a civil constitution, and government. In this great scheme of the natural world, individuals have various peculiar relations to other individuals of their own species. And whole species are, we find, variously related to other species, upon this earth. Nor do we know how much farther these kind of relations may extend. And, as there is not any action, or natural event, which we are acquainted with, so single and unconnected as not to have a respect tc some other actions and events, so, possibly, each of them, when it has not an immediate, may yet have a remote, nat ural relation to other actions and events, much beyond the compass of this present world. There seems indeed, nothing from whence we can so much as make a conjecture, whether all creatures, actions, and events throughout the whole of nature, have relations to each other. But, as it is obvious that all events have future unknown consequences, so, if we trace any, as far as we can go, into what is connected with it, we shall find, that if such event were not connected with somewhat farther, in nature unknown to us, somewhat both past and present, such event could not possibly have been at all. Nor can we give the whole account of any one thing whatever; of all its causes, ends, and necessary adjuncts; those adjuncts, I mean, without which it could not have been. By this most astonishing connexion, these reciprocal correspondences and mutual relations, every

thing which we see in the course of nature, is actually brought about. And things seemingly the most insignificant imaginable, are perpetually observed to be necessary conditions to other things of the greatest importance; so that any one thing whatever may, for aught we know to the contrary, be a necessary condition to any other. The natural world, then, and natural government of it, being such an incomprehensible scheme; so incomprehensible, that a mar must really, in the literal sense, know nothing at all, who is not sensible of his ignorance in it: this immediately suggests, and strongly shows the credibility, that the moral world and government of it may be so too. Indeed, the natural and moral constitution and government of the world are so connected, as to make up together but one scheme; and it is highly probable, that the first is formed and carried on merely in subserviency to the latter, as the vegetable world is for the animal, and organized bodies for minds. But the thing intended here is, without inquiring how far the administration of the natural world is subordinate to that of the moral, only to observe the credibility, that one should be analagous or similar to the other: that, therefore, every act of divine justice and goodness may be supposed to look much beyond itself and its immediate object; may have some reference to other parts of God's moral administration, and to a general moral plan; and that every circumstance of this his moral government may be adjusted beforehand with a view to the whole of it. Thus, for example: the determined length of time, and the degrees and ways in which virtue is to remain in a state of warfare and discipline, and in which wickedness is permitted to have its progress; the times appointed for the execution of justice; the appointed instruments of it; the kinds of rewards and punishments, and the manners of their distribution; all particular instances of divine justice and goodness, and every circumstance of them, may have such respects to each other, as to make up altogether a whole, connected and related in all its parts; a scheme, or system, which is as properly one as the natural world is, and of the like kind. And supposing this to be the case, it is most evident that we are not competent judges of this scheme, from the small parts of it which come within our view in the preBent life; and therefore no objections against any of these parts can be insisted upon by reasonable men.

This our ignorance, and the consequence here drawn from it, are universally acknowledged upon other occasions; and,

though scarce denied, yet are universally forgot, when persons come to argue against religion. And it is not perhaps easy, even for the most reasonable men, always to bear in mind the degree of our ignorance, and make due allowances for it. Upon these accounts, it may not be useless to go on a little farther, in order to show more distinctly, how just an answer our ignorance is, to objections against the scheme of Providence. Suppose, then, a person boldly to assert, that the things complained of, the origin and continuance of evil, might easily have been prevented by repeated interpositions; * interpositions so guarded and circumstanced, as would prelude all mischief arising from them: or, if this were impracticable, that a scheme of government is itself an imperfection; since more good might have been produced without any scheme, system, or constitution at all, by continued single unrelated acts of distributive justice and goodness, because these would have occasioned no irregularities and farther than this, it is presumed, the objections will not be carried. Yet the answer is ob. vious; that, were these assertions true, still the observations above, concerning our ignorance in the scheme of divine government, and the consequence drawn from it, would hold in great measure, enough to vindicate religion against all objections from the disorders of the present state. Were these assertions true, yet the government of the world might be just and good notwithstanding; for, at the most, they would infer nothing more than that it might have been better. But, indeed, they are mere arbitrary assertions; no man being sufficiently acquainted with the possibilities of things, to bring any proof of them to the lowest degree of probability. For, however possible what is asserted may seem, yet many instances may be alledged, in things much less out of our reach, of suppositions absolutely impossible and reducible to the most palpable self-contradictions, which not every one by any means could perceive to be such, nor perhaps any one at first sight suspect. From these things it is easy to see distinctly, how our ignorance, as it is the cornmon, is really a satisfactory answer to all objections against the justice and goodness of Providence. If a man, contemplating any one providential dispensation, which had no relation to any others, should object, that he discerned in it disregard to justice, or a deficiency of goodness, nothing

[ocr errors]

would be less an answer to such objection, than our ignorance in other parts of Providence, or in the possibilities of things, no way related to what he was contemplating. But when we know not but the parts objected against may be relative to other parts unknown to us, and when we are unacquainted with what is, in the nature of the thing, practicable in the case before us, then our ignorance is a satisfactory answer; because some unknown relation, or some unknown impossibility, may render what is objected against just and good; nay, good in the highest practical degree.

II. And how little weight is to be laid upon such objec tions will farther appear, by a more distinct observation of some particular things contained in the natural government of God, the like to which may be supposed from analogy, to be contained in his mural government.

First, As, in the scheme of the natural world, no ends appear to be accomplished without means; so we find that means very undesirable often conduce to bring about ends in such a measure desirable, as greatly to over-balance the disagreeableness of the means. And in cases where such means are conducive to such ends, it is not reason, but experience, which shows us that they are thus conducive. Experience also shows many means to be conducive and necessary to accomplish ends, which means, before experience, we should have thought would have had even a contrary tendency. Now, from these observations relating to the natural scheme of the world, the moral being supposed analogous to it, arises a great credibility, that the putting our misery in each other's power to the degree it is, and making men liable to vice to the degree we are; and, in general, that those things which are objected against the moral scheme of Providence may be, upon the whole, friendly and assistant to virtue, and productive of an over balance of happiness; i. c. the things objected against may be means by which an over-balance of good will, in the end, be found produced. And, from the same observations, it appears to be no presumption against this, that we do not, if indeed we do not, see those means to have any such tendency, or that they seem to us to have a contrary one. Thus, those things which we call irregularities, may not be so at all; because they may be means of accomplishing wise and good ends more considerable. And it may be added, as above, that they may also be the only means by which these wise and good ends are capable of being accomplished.

After these observations it may be proper to add, in order to obviate an absurd and wicked conclusion from any of them, that though the constitution of our nature, from whence we are capable of vice and misery, may, as it undoubtedly docs, contribute to the perfection and happiness of the world ; and though the actual permission of evil may be beneficial to it, (i. e. it would have been more mischievous, not that a wicked person had himself abstained from his own wickedness, but that any one had forcibly prevented it, than that it was permitted;) yet, notwithstanding, it might have been much better for the world if this very evil had never been done. Nay, it is most clearly conceivable, that the very commission of wickedness may be beneficial to the world, and yet that it would be infinitely more beneficial for men to refrain from it. For thus, in the wise and good constitution of the natural world, there are disorders which bring their own cures ; diseases which are themselves remedies. Many a man would have died, had it not been for the gout or fever; yet it would be thought madness to assert, that sickness is a better or more perfect state than health; though the like, with regard to the moral world, has been asserted.


Secondly, The natural government of the world is carried on by general laws. For this there may be wise and good reasons; the wisest and best, for aught we know to the con trary. And that there are such reasons, is suggested to our thoughts by the analogy of nature; by our being made to experience good ends to be accomplished, as indeed all the good which we enjoy is accomplished, by this means, that the laws, by which the world is governed, are general. For we have scarce any kind of enjoyments, but what we are, in some way or other, instrumental in procuring ourselves, by acting in a manner which we foresee likely to procure them: now this foresight could not be at all, were not the government of the world carried on by general laws. And though, for aught we know to the contrary, every single case may be, at length, found to have been provided for even by these, yet to prevent all irregularities, or remedy them as they arise, by the wisest and best general laws, may be impossible in the nature of things, as we see it is absolutely inpossible in civil government. But then we are ready to think, that the constitution of nature remaining as it is, and the course of things being permitted to go on, ir other respects, as it does, there might be interpositions to prevent irregularities, though they could not have been prevented or

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »