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spects where nature fails; in particular to supply the deficiencies of natural light. Is it credible, then, that so many ages should have been let pass, before a matter of such a sort, of so great and so general importance, was made known to mankind; and then that it should be made known to so small a part of them? Is it conceivable, that this supply should be so very deficient, should have the like obscurity and doubtfulness, be liable to the like perversions, in short, lie open to all the like objections, as the light of nature itself ?'* Without determining how far this in fact is so, I answer, it is by no means incredible that it might be so, if the light of nature and of revelation be from the same hand. Men are naturally liable to diseases; for which God, in his good providence, has provided natural remedies.† But remedies existing in nature have been unknown to mankind for many ages; are known but to few now; probably many valuable ones are not known yet. Great has been, and is, the obscurity and difficulty, in the nature and application of them. Circumstances seem often to make them very improper, where they are absolutely necessary. It is after long labor and study, and many unsuccessful endeavours, that they are brought to be as useful as they are; after high contempt and absolute rejection of the most useful we have; and after disputes and doubts, which have seemed to be endless. The best remedies, too, when unskilfully, much more if dishonestly, applied, may produce new diseases; and, with the rightest application, the success of them is often doubtful. In many cases, they are not at all effectual; where they are, it is often very slowly and the application of them, and the necessary regimen accompanying it, is, not uncommonly, so disagreeable, that some will not submit to them; and satisfy themselves with the excuse, that if they would, it is not certain whether it would be successful. And many persons, who labor under diseases, for which there are known natural remedies, are not so happy as to be always, if ever, in the way of them. In a word, the remedies which nature has provided for diseases, are neither certain perfect, nor universal. And indeed the same principles of arguing, which would lead us to conclude that they must be so, would lead us likewise to conclude that there could be no occasion for them; i. e. that there could be no diseases at all. And, therefore, our experience that there are diseases, shows, that it is credible beforehand, upon supposition nature † See Chap. 5.
* Chap. 8.
has provided remedies for thein, that these remedies may be as by experience we find they are, not certain, nor perfect, nor universal; because it shows, that the principles upon which we should expect the contrary, are fallacious.
And now, what is the just consequence from all these things? Not that reason is no judge of what is offered to us as being of divine revelation. For this would be to infer, that we are unable to judge of any thing, because we are unable to judge of all things. Reason can, and it ought to judge, not only of the meaning, but also of the morality and the evidence, of revelation. First, It is the province of reason to judge of the morality of the Scripture; i. e. not whether it contains things different from what we should have expected from a wise, just and good Being; for objections from hence have been now obviated; but whether it contains things plainly contradictory to wisdom, justice, or goodness; to what the light of nature teaches us of God. And I know nothing of this sort objected against Scripture, excepting such objections as are formed upon suppositions, which would equally conclude, that the constitution of nature is contradictory to wisdom, justice, or goodness; which most certainly it is not. Indeed, there are some particular precepts in Scripture, given to particular persons, requiring actions, which would be immoral and vicious, were it not for such precepts. But it is easy to see, that all these are of such a kind, as that the precept changes the whole nature of the case and of the action; and both constitutes and shows that not to be unjust or immoral, which, prior to the precept, must have appeared and really have been so: which may well be, since none of these precepts are contrary to immutable morality. If it were commanded, to cultivate the principles, and act from the spirit of treachery, ingratitude, cruelty; the command would not alter the nature of the case, or of the action in any of these instances. But it is quite otherwise in precepts which require only the doing an external action; for instance, taking away the property or life of any. For men have no right to either life or property, but what arises solely from the grant of God When this grant is revoked, they cease to have any rights at all in either; and when this revocation is made known, as surely it is possible it may be, it must cease to be unjust to deprive them of either. And though a course of external acts, which without command would be immoral, must make an immoral habit, yet a few detached commands have no such
natural tendency. I thought proper to say thus much of the few Scripture precepts, which require, not vicious actions, but actions which would have been vicious, had it not been for such precepts; because they are sometimes weakly urged as immoral, and great weight is laid upon objections drawn from them. But to me there seems no difficulty at all in these precepts, but what arises from their being offences; i. e. from their being liable to be perverted, as indeed they are, by wicked designing men, to serve the most horrid purposes, and perhaps, to mislead the weak and enthusiastic. And objections from this head are not objections against revelation, but against the whole notion of religion, as a trial; and against the general constitution of nature. Secondly, Reason is able to judge, and must, of the evidence of revelation, and of the objections urged against that evidence; which shall be the subject of a following chapter.*
But the consequence of the foregoing observations is, that the question upon which the truth of Christianity depends, is scarce at all, what objections there are against its scheme, since there are none against the morality of it; but what objections there are against its evidence: or, what proof there remains of it, after due allowances made for the objections against that proof. Because it has been shown, that the objections against Christianity, as distinguished from objections against its evidence, are frivolous. For surely very little weight, if any at all, is to be laid upon a way of arguing and objecting, which, when applied to the general constitution of nature, experience shows not to be conclusive: and such, I think, is the whole way of objecting treated of throughout this chapter. It is resolvable into principles, and goes upon suppositions, which mislead us to think, that the Author of nature would not act, as we experience he does; or would act, in such and such cases, as we experience he does not in like cases. the unreasonableness of this way of objecting will appear yet more evidently from hence, that the chief things thus objected against, are justified, as shall be farther shown,† by distinct, particular, and full analogies, in the constitution and
course of nature.
But it is to be remembered, that as frivolous as objections of the foregoing sort against revelation are, yet, when a sup、 posed revelation is more consistent with itself, and has
* Chap. 7.
Chap. 4, latter part; and 5, 6,
more general and uniform tendency to promote virtue, than, all circumstances considered, could have been expected from enthusiam and political views; this is a presumptive proof of its not proceeding from them, and so of its truth; because we are competent judges, what might have been expected fram enthusiasm and political views.
Of Christianity, considered as a Scheme or Constitution, imperfectly comprehended.
It hath been now shown,* that the analogy of nature ren ders it highly credible beforehand, that, supposing a revelation to be made, it must contain many things very different from what we should have expected, and such as appear open to great objections; and that this observation, in good measure, t kes off the force of those objections, or rather precludes them. But it may be alleged, that this is a very partial answer to such objections, or a very unsatisfactory way of obviating them: because it doth not show at all, that the things objected against can be wise, just, and good; much. less, that it is credible they are so. It will therefore be proper to show this distinctly, by applying to these objections against the wisdom, justice, and goodness of Christianity, the answer above† given to the like objections against the constitution of nature; before we consider the particular analogies in the latter, to the particular things objected against in the former. Now, that which affords a sufficient answer to objections against the wisdom, justice, and goodness of the constitution of nature, is its being a constitution, a system or scheme, imperfectly comprehended; a scheme, in which means are made use of to accomplish ends; and which is carried on by general laws. For, from these things it has been proved, not only to be pos sible, but also to be credible, that those things which are objected against, may be consistent with wisdom, justice, and goodness; nay, may be instances of them: and even that the constitution and government of nature may be perfect in the highest possible degree. If Christianity, then, be a scheme, and of the like kind, it is evident, the like objections again t must admit of the like answer. And,
*In the foregoing Chapter.
1 Part i. Chap. 7, to which this all along refers.