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without meaning, will have a meaning found in them by fanciful people; and that such as are fanciful in any one certain way, will make out a thousand coincidents, which seem to favor their peculiar follies. Men, I say, may talk thus; but no one who is serious, can possibly think these things to be nothing, if he considers the importance of collateral things, and even of lesser circumstances, in the evidence of probatility, as distinguished, in nature, from the evidence of demon. stration. In many cases, indeed, it seems to require the truest judgment, to determine with exactness the weight of circumstantial evidence; but it is very often altogether as convincing, as that which is the most express and direct.
This general view of the evidence for Christianity, considered as making one argument, may also serve to recom. mend to serious persons, to set down every thing which they think may be of any real weight at all in proof of it, and particularly the many seeming completions of prophecy; and they will find, that, judging by the natural rules, by which we judge of probable evidence in common matters, they' amount to a much higher degree of proof, upon such a join: review, than could be supposed upon considering them sepa rately, at different times; how strong soever the proof migh: before appear to them, upon such separate views of it. Fo probable proofs, by being added, not only increase the evidence, but multiply it. Nor should I dissuade any one from setting down what he thought made for the contrary side. But then it is to be remembered, not in order to influence his judgment, but his practice, that a mistake on one side, may be, in its consequences, much more dangerous than a mistake on the other. And what course is most safe, and what most dangerous, is a consideration thought very material, when we deliberate, not concerning events, but concerning conduct in our temporal affairs. To be influenced by this consideration in our judgment, to believe or disbelieve upon it, is indeed as much prejudice, as any thing whatever. And, like other prejudices, it operates contrary ways in different men. For some are inclined to believe what they hope; and others, what they fear. And it is manifest unreasonableness, to apply to men's passions in order to gain their assent. But in deliberations concerning conduct, there is nothing which reason more requires to be taken into the account, than the importance of it. For, suppose it doubtful, what would be the consequence of acting in this, or in a contrary manner; still, that taking one side could be attended with little or no
bad consequence, and taking the other night be attended with the greatest, must appear, to unprejudiced reason, of the highest moment towards determining how we are to act. But the truth of our religion, like the truth of common matters, is to be judged of by all the evidence taken together. And unless the whole series of things which may be alleged in this argument, and every particular thing in it, can reasonably be supposed to have been by accident, (for here the stress of the argument for Christianity lies,) then is the truth of it proved: in like manner as if, in any common case, numerous events acknowledged, were to be alleged in proof of any other event disputed; the proof of the disputed event would be proved, not only if any one of the acknowledged ones did of itself clearly imply it, but, though no one of them singly did so, if the whole of the acknowledged events taken together, could not in reason be supposed to have happened, unless the disputed
one were true.
It is obvious, how much advantage the nature of this evidence gives to those persons who attack Christianity, especially in conversation. For it is easy to show, in a short and lively manner, that such and such things are liable to objec tion, that this and another thing is of little weight in itself; but impossible to show, in like manner, the united force of the whole argument in one view.
However, lastly, as it has been made appear, that there is no presumption against a revelation as miraculous; that the general scheme of Christianity, and the principal parts of it, are conformable to the experienced constitution of things, and the whole perfectly credible; so the account now given of the positive evidence for it, shows, that this evidence is such, as, from the nature of it, cannot be destroyed, though it should of lessened.
CHAP VIII.Į OBJections against the analogy, &c. 241
Of the Objections which may be made against arguing from the Analogy of Nature to Religion.
Ir every one would consider, with such attention as they are bound, even in point of morality, to consider, what they judge and give characters of, the occasion of this chapter would be, in some good measure at least, superseded. But since this is not to expected; for some we find do not concerr themselves to understand even what they write against: since this treatise, in common with most others, lies open to objections, which may appear very material to thoughtful men at first sight; and, besides that, seems peculiarly liable to the objections of such as can judge without thinking, and of such as can censure without judging; it may not be amiss to set down the chief of these objections which occur to me, and con. sider them to their hands. And they are such as these:— "That it is a poor thing to solve difficulties in revelation, by saying, that there are the same in natural religion; when what is wanting is to clear both of them, of these their common, as well as other their respective, difficulties: but that it is a strange way indeed of convincing men of the obligations of reigion, to show them that they have as little reason for their worldly pursuits; and a strange way of vindicating the justice and goodness of the Author of nature, and of removing the objections against both, to which the system of religion lies open, to show, that the like objections lie against natural providence; a way of answering objections against religion, without so much as pretending to make out, that the system of it, or the particular things in it objected against, are reasonable espe tially, perhaps, some may be inattentive enough to add, musi this be thought strange, when it is confessed that analogy is no answer to such objections: that when this sort of reason
ing is carried to the utmost length it can be imagined capable of, it will yet leave the mind in a very unsatisfied state; and that it must be unaccountable ignorance of mankind, to imagine they will be prevailed with to forego their present interests and pleasures, from regard to religion, upon doubtful evidence."
Now, as plausible as this way of talking may appear, that appearance will be found in a great measure owing to half. views, which show but part of an object, yet show that indistinctly; and to undeterminate language. By these means weak men are often deceived by others, and ludicrous men by themselves. And even those who are serious and considerate cannot always readily disentangle, and at once clearly see through the perplexities in which subjects themselves are involved; and which are heightened by the deficiencies and the abuse of words. To this latter sort of persons, the following reply to each part of this objection severally, may be of some assistance; as it may also tend a little to stop and silence others.
First, The thing wanted, i. e. what men require, is to have all difficulties cleared. And this is, or, at least for any thing we know to the contrary, it may be, the same, as requiring to comprehend the divine nature, and the whole plan of Providence from everlasting. But it hath always been allowed to argue from what is acknowledged to what is disputed. And it is in no other sense a poor thing, to argue from natural religion to revealed, in the manner found fault with, than it is to argue in numberless other ways of probable deduction and inference, in matters of conduct, which we are continually reduced to the necessity of doing. Indeed the epithet poor may be applied, I fear, as properly to great part, or the whole, of human life, as it is to the things mentioned in the objection. Is it not a poor thing, for a physician to have so little knowledge in the cure of diseases, as even the most eminent have? To act upon conjecture and guess, where the life of man is concerned? Un doubtedly it is: but not in comparison of having no skill a all in that useful art, and being obliged to act wholly in the dark.
Further: Since it is as unreasonable as it is common, to urge objections against revelation, which are of equal weight against natural religion; and those who do this, if they are not confuted themselves, deal unfairly with others, in making it seem that they are arguing only against revelation, or particu lar doctrines of it, when in reality they are arguing against
moral providence; it is a thing of consequence to show, that such objections are as much levelled against natural religion, as against revealed. And objections, which are equally ap plicable to both, are, properly speaking, answered, by its being shown that they are so, provided the former be admitted to be true. And without taking in the consideration how distinctly this is admitted, it is plainly very material to ob serve, that as the things objected against in natural religion, are of the same kind with what is certain matter of experi ence in the course of providence, and in the information whicr God affords us concerning our temporal interest under his gcvernment; so the objections against the system of Christianity and the evidence of it, are of the very same kind with those which are made against the system and evidence of natural religion. However, the reader upon review may see, that most of the analogies insisted upon, even in the latter part of this treatise, do not necessarily require to have more taken for granted than is in the former; that there is an Author of nature, or natural Governor of the world; and Christianity is vindicated, not from its analogy to natural religion, but chiefly, from its analogy to the experienced constitution of nature.
Secondly, Religion is a practical thing, and consists in such a determinate course of life; as being what, there is reason to think, is commanded by the Author of nature, and will, upon the whole, be our happiness under his government. Now if men can be convinced that they have the like reason to believe this, as to believe that taking care of their temporal affairs will be to their advantage; such conviction cannot but be an argument to them for the practice of religion. And if there be really any reason for believing one of these, and endeavouring to preserve life, and secure ourselves the necessaries and conveniences of it; then there is reason also for believing the other, and endeavouring to secure the interest it proposes to uз. And if the interest which religion proposes to us be infinitely greater than our whole temporal interest, then there must be proportionably greater reason for endeavouring to secure one, than the other: since by the supposi tion, the probability of our securing one, is equal to the probability of our securing the other. This seems plainly unanswerable; and has a tendency to influence fair minds, who consider what our condition really is, or upon what evidence we are naturally appointed to act; and who are disposed to acquiesce in the terms upon which we live, and attend to and