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Of the Government of God by Rewards and Punishments ; and particularly of the latter.
THAT which makes the question concerning a future life to be of so great importance to us, is our capacity of happiness and misery. And that which makes the consideration of it to be of so great importance to us, is the supposition of our happiness and misery hereafter, depending upon our actions nere. Without this, indeed, curiosity could not but sometimes bring a subject, in which we may be so highly interested, to our thoughts; especially upon the mortality of others, or the near prospect of our own. But reasonable men would not take any farther thought about hereafter, than what should happen thus occasionally to rise in their minds, if it were certain that our future interest no way depend upon our present behaviour; whereas, on the contrary, if there be ground, either from analogy or any thing else, to think it does, then there is reason also for the most active thought and solicitude to secure that interest; to behave so as that we may escape that misery, and obtain that happiness in another life, which we not only suppose ourselves capable of, but which we apprehend also is put in our own power. And whether there be ground for this last apprehension, certainly would deserve to be most seriously consi dered, were there no other proof of a future life, and interest than that presumptive one which the foregoing observations amount to.
Now, in the present state, all which we enjoy, and a great part of what we suffer, is put in our own power. For plea sure and pain are the consequences of our actions; and we are endued by the Author of our nature with capacities of foreseeing these consequences. We find, by experience, he does not so much as preserve our lives exclusively of our own care and attention to provide ourselves with, and to make
use of, that sustenance, by which he has appointed our lives shall be preserved, and without which he has appointed they shall not be preserved at all. And in general we foresee, that the external things, which are the objects of our various passions, can neither be obtained nor enjoyed, without exerting ourselves in such and such manners; but by thus exerting ourselves, we obtain and enjoy, these objects, in which our natural good consists, or by this means God gives us the possession and enjoyment of them. I know not that we have any one kind or degree of enjoyment, but by the means of our own actions. And by prudence and care, we may, for the most part, pass our days in tolerable ease and quiet: or, on the contrary, we may, by rashness, ungoverned passion, wilfulness, or even by negligence, make ourselves as miserable as ever we please. And many do please to make themselves extremely miserable, i. e. to do what they know beforehand will render them so. They follow those ways, the fruit of which they know, by instruction, example, experience, will be disgrace, and, poverty, and sickness, and untimely death. This every one observes to be the general course of things; though it is to be allowed, we cannot find by experience, that all our sufferings are owing to our own follies.
Why the Author of Nature does not give his creatures promiscuously such and such perceptions, without regard to their behaviour; why he does not make them happy without the instrumentality of their own actions, and prevent their bringing any sufferings upon themselves, is another matter. Perhaps there may be some impossibilities in the nature of things, which we are unacquainted with ;* Or less happiness, it may be, would, upon the whole, be produced by such a method of conduct, than is by the present: Or, perhaps, divine goodness, with which, if I mistake not, we make very free in our speculations, may not be a bare single disposition to produce happiness; but a disposition to make the good, the faithful, the honest man, happy. Perhaps an infinitely perfect Mind may be pleased with seeing his cren tures behave suitably to the nature which he has given them; to the relations which he has placed them in to each other; and to that which they stand in to himself; that relation to nimself, which, during their existence, is even necessary, and which is the most important one of all. Perhaps, I say, an
* Part i. chap. 7
infinitely perfect Mind may be pleased with this moral piety of moral agents, in and for itself, as well as upon account of its being essentially conducive to the happiness of his creation. Or the whole end, for which God made, and thus governs the world, may be utterly beyond the reach of our fa culties: There may be somewhat in it as impossible for us to have any conception of, as for a blind man to have a conception of colors. But however this be, it is certain matter of universal experience, that the general method of divine administration is, forewarning us, or giving us capacities to fore. see, with more or less clearness, that if we act so and so, we shall have such enjoyments, if so and so, such sufferings; and giving us those enjoyments, and making us feel those suffer ings, in consequence of our actions.
But all this is to be ascribed to the general course of nature.' True. This is the very thing which I am observing. It is to be ascribed to the general course of nature; i. e. not surely to the words, or ideas, Course of nature, but to him who appointed it, and put things into it; or to a course of operation, from its uniformity or consistency, call ed natural, and which necessarily implies an operating agent. For when men find themselves necessitated to confess an Author of Nature, or that God is the natural govenor of the world, they must not deny this again, because his government is uniform; they must not deny that he does all things at all, because he does them constantly; be. cause the effects of his acting are permanent, whether his acting be so or not; though there is no reason to think it is not. In short, every man, in every thing he does, naturally acts upon the forethought and apprehension of avoiding evil, or obtaining good: and if the natural course of things be the appointment of God, and our natural faculties of knowledge and experience are given us by him, then the good and bad consequences which follow our actions are his appointment, and our foresight of those consequences is a warning given us by him, how we are to act.
'Is the pleasure, then, naturally accompanying every parti 'cular gratification of passion, intended to put us upon gra tifying ourselves in every such particular instance, and as a reward to us for so doing?' No, certainly. Nor is it to be said, that our eyes were naturally intended to give us the sight of each particular object to which they do or can ex
tend; objects which are destructive of them, or which, for any other reason, it may become us to turn our eyes from. Yet there is no doubt, but that our eyes were intended for us to see with. So neither is there any doubt, but that the foreseen pleasures and pains, belonging to the passions, were inten ded, in general, to induce mankind to act in such and such
Now, from this general observation, obvious to every on› that God has given us to understand he has appointed satis faction and delight to be the consequence of our acting in one manner, and pain and uneasiness of our acting in another, and of our not acting at all; and that we find the consequences, which we were beforehand informed of, uniformly to follow; we may learn, that we are at present actually under his government, in the strictest and most pro per sense; in such a sense, as that he rewards and punishes us for our actions. An Author of Nature being supposed, it is not so much a deduction of reason as a matter of experience, that we are thus under his government; under his government, in the same sense as we are under the government of civil magistrates. Because the annexing pleasure to some actions, and pain to others, in our power to do or forbear, and giving notice of this appointment beforehand to those whom it concerns, is the proper formal notion of government, Whether the pleasure or pain which thus folows upon our behaviour, be owing to the Author of Nature's acting upon us every moment which we feel it, or to his having at once contrived and executed his own part in the plan of the world, makes no alteration as to the matter before us. For, if civil magistrates could make the sanction of their laws take place, without interposing at all, after they had passed them; without a trial, and the formalities of an execution: if they were able to make their laws exe cute them themselves or every offender to execute them upon himself, we should be just in the same sense under their government then, as we are now; but in a much higher degree, and more perfect manner. Vain is the ridicule with which one foresees some persons will divert themselves, upon finding lesser pains considered as instances of divine punishment. There is no possibility of answering or evading the general thing here intended, with out denying all final causes. For, final causes being admitted, the pleasures and pains now mentioned must be admitted too, as instances of them. And if they are; if God annex
es delight to some actions and uneasiness to others, with an apparent design to induce us to act so and so, then he not only dispenses happiness and misery, but also rewards and punishes actions. If, for example, the pain which we feel upon doing what tends to the destruction of our bodies, suppose upon too near approaches to fire, or upon wounding ourselves, be appointed by the Author of Nature to prevent our doing what thus tends to our destruction; this is altogether as much an instance of his punishing our actions, and consequently of our being under his government, as declaring, by a voice from heaven, that if we acted so, he would inflict such pain upon us, and inflicting it whether it be greater or less.
Thus we find, that the true notion or conception of the Author of Nature, is that of a master or governor, prior to the consideration of his moral attributes. The fact of our case, which we find by experience, is, that he actually exercises dominion or government over us at present, by rewarding and punishing us for our actions, in as strict and proper a sense of these words, and even in the same sense as children, servants, subjects, are rewarded and punished by those who govern them.
And thus the whole analogy of nature, the whole present course of things, most fully shows, that there is nothing incredible in the general doctrine of religion, that God will reward and punish men for their actions hereafter; nothing incredible, I mean, arising out of the notion of rewarding and punishing, for the whole course of nature is a present instance of his exercising that government over us, which implies in it rewarding and punishing.
BUT, as divine punishment is what men chiefly object against, and are most unwilling to allow, it may be proper to mention some circumstances in the natural course of punishments at present, which are analogous to what religion teaches us concerning a future state of punishment; indeed so analogous, that as they add a further credibility to it, so they cannot but raise a most serious apprehension of it in those who will attend to them.