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It has been now observed, that such and such miseries naturally follow such and such actions of imprudence and wilfulness, as well as actions more commonly and more distinctly considered as vicious; and that these consequences, wher they may be foreseen, are properly natural punishments annexed to such actions. For the general thing here insisted upon is, not that we see a great deal of misery in the world, out a great deal which men bring upon themselves by their own behaviour, which they might have foreseen and avoid ed. Now, the circumstances of these natural punishments, particularly deserving our attention, are such as these: That oftentimes they follow, or are inflicted in consequence of actions which procure many present advantages, and are accompanied with much present pleasure; for instance, sickness and untimely death is the consequence of intemperance, though accompanied with the highest mirth and jollity That these punishments are often much greater than the advantages or pleasures obtained by the actions, of which they are the punishments or consequences: That though we may imagine a constitution of nature, in which these natural punishments, which are in fact to follow, would follow immediately upon such actions being done, or very soon after; we find, on the contrary, in our world, that they are often delayed a great while, sometimes even till long after the actions occasioning them are forgot; so that the constitution of nature is such, that delay of punishment is no sort nor degree of presumption of final impunity: That, after such delay, these natural punishments or miseries often come, not by degrees, but suddenly, with violence, and at once; however, the chief misery often does: That, as certainty of such dis tant misery following such actions is never afforded persons, so, perhaps, during the actions, they have seldom a distinct full expectation of its following and many times the case is only thus, that they see in general, or may see, the credi bility that intemperance, suppose, will bring after its diseases; civil crimes, civil punishments; when yet the real probability often is, that they shall escape; but things notwithstanding take their destined course, and the misery inevitable follows at its appointed time, in very many of these cases. Thus, also, though youth may be alleged as an excuse for rashness and folly, as being naturally thoughtless, and not clearly foreseeing all the consequences of being untractable
*See Part ii. chap. 6.
and profligate; this does not hinder but that these conse quences follow, and are grievously felt throughout the whole course of future life. Habits contracted, even in that age, are often utter ruin; and men's success in the. world, not only in the common sense of worldly success, but their real happiness and misery depends, in a great degree, and in various ways, upon the manner in which they pass their youth; which consequences they, for the most part, neglect to consider, and perhaps seldom can properly be said to believe beforehand. It requires also to be mentioned, that, in numberless cases, the natural course of things affords us opportunities for procuring advantages to ourselves at certain times, which we cannot procure when we will; nor even recall the opportunities, if we have neglected them. Indeed, the general course of nature is an example of this. If, during the opportunity of youth, persons are indocile and selfwilled, they inevitably suffer in their future life, for want of those acquirements which they neglected the natural season of attaining. If the husbandman lets his seed-time pass without sowing, the whole year is lost to him beyond recovery. In like manner, though after men have been guilty of folly and extravagance, up to a certain degree, it is often in their power, for instance, to retrieve their affairs, to recover their health and character, at least in good measure, yet real reformation is, in many cases, of no avail at all towards preventing the miseries, poverty, sickness, infamy, naturally annexed to folly and extravagance, exceeding that degree. There is a certain bound to imprudence and misbehaviour, which being transgressed, there remains no place for repentance in the natural course of things. It is further, very much to be remarked, that neglects from inconsiderateness, want of attention,* not looking about us to see what we have to do, are often attended with consequences altogether as dreadful as any active misbehaviour, from the most extravagant passion. And, lastly, civil government being natural, the punishments of it are so too; and some of these punishments are capital, as the effects of a dissolute course of pleasure are often mortal. So that many natural punishments are final† to him who incurs them, if
* Part ii. chap. 6.
The general consideration of a future state of punishment most evidently belongs to the subject of natural religion. But if any of these re flections should be thought to relate more particularly to this doctrine, as taught in scripture, the reader is desired to observe, that Gentile writers,
considered only in his temporal capacity; and seem inflic ted by natural appointment, either to remove the offender out of the way of being further mischievous, or as an ex ample, though frequently a disregarded one, to those who are left behind.
These things are not what we call accidental, or to be met with only now and then; but they are things of every day's experience; they proceed from general laws, very general ones, by which God governs the world, in the na tural course of his providence. And they are so analogous to what religion teaches us concerning the future punishment of the wicked, so much of a piece with it, that both would naturally be expressed in the very same words and manner of description. In the book of Proverbs,* for instance, Wisdom is introduced as frequenting the most public places of resort, and as rejected when she offers herself as the natural appointed guide of human life. How long,' speaking to those who are passing through it, 'how long, ye simple ones, will ye love folly, and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? Turn ye at my reproof. Behold, I will pour out my spirit upon you, I will make known my words unto you.' But upon being neglected, 'Because I have called, and ye refused, I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at naught all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity, I will mock when your fear cometh; when your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when
both moralists and poets, speak of the future punishment of the wicked, both as to the duration and degree of it, in a like manner of expression and of description as the Scripture does. So that all which can positively be asserted to be matter of mere revelation, with regard to this doctrine, seems to be, that the great distinction between the righteous and the wicked shall be made at the end of this world; that each shall then receive according to his deserts. Reason did, as it well might, conclude, that it should, finally and upon the whole, be well with the righteous and ill with the wi ked, but it could not be determined, upon any principles of reason, whether human creatures might not have been appointed to pass through other states of life and being, before that distributive justice should finally and effectually take place. Revelation teaches us, that the next state of things, after the present, is appointed for the execution of this justice; that it shall be no longer delayed; but the mystery of God, the great mystery of his suffering vice and confusion to prevail, shall then be finished; and he will take to him his great power, and will reign, by rendering to every one according to his works,
* Chap. 1.
distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me.' This passage, every one sees, is poetical, and some parts of it are, highly figurative; but their meaning is obvious. And the thing intended is ex pressed more literally in the following words: 'For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord; therefore shall they eat the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. For the security of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them.' And the whole passage is so equally applicable to what we experience in the present world, concerning the consequences of men's actions and to what reli gion teaches us is to be expected in another, that it may be questioned which of the two was principally intended.
Indeed. when one has been recollecting the proper proofs of a future state of rewards and punishments, nothing, methinks, can give one so sensible an apprehension of the latter, or representation of it to the mind, as observing, that after the many disregarded checks, admonitions, and warnings, which people meet with in the ways of vice, and folly, and extravagance; warnings from their very nature; from the examples of others; from the lesser inconveniences which they bring upon themselves; from the instructions of wise and virtuous men: after these have been long despised, scorned, ridiculed; after the chief bad consequences, tem poral consequences, of their follies, have been delayed for a great while; at length they break in irresistibly, like an armed force; repentance is too late to relieve, and can serve only to aggravate their distress: the case is become des perate; and poverty and sickness, remorse and anguish, in famy and death, the effects of their own doings, overwhelm them, beyond possibility of remedy or escape. This is an account of what is in fact the general constitution of na
It is not in any sort meant, that according to what appears at present of the natural course of things, men are always uniformly punished in proportion to their misbe haviour; but that there are very many instances of misbe haviour punished in the several ways now mentioned, and very dreadful instances too, sufficient to show what the laws of the universe may admit; and, if thoroughly considered, sufficient fully to answer all objections against the credibili
ty of a future state of punishments, from any imaginations, that the frailty of our nature and external temptations almost annihilate the guilt of human vices; as well as objections of another sort; from necessity; from suppositions that the will of an infinite Being cannot be contradicted; or that he must be incapable of offence and provocation.*
Reflections of this kind are not without their terrors to serious persons, the most free from enthusiasm, and of the greatest strength of mind; but it is fit things oe stated and considered as they really are. And there is, in the present age, a certain fearlessness with regard to what may be hereafter under the government of God, which nothing but an universally acknowledged demonstration on the side of atheism can justify, and which makes it quite necessary that men be reminded, and, if possible, made to feel, that there is no sort of ground for being thus presumptuous, even upon the most sceptical principles. For, may it not be said of any person, upon his being born into the world, he may behave so as to be of no service to it, but by being made an example of the woful effects of vice and folly: That he may, as any one may, if he will, incur an infamous execution from the hands of civil justice; or in some other course of extravagance shorten his days; or bring upon himself infamy and diseases worse than death? So that it had been better for him, even with regard to the present world, that he had never been born. And is there any pretence of reason for people to think themselves secure, and talk as if they had certain proof, that, let them act as licentiously as they will, there can be nothing analogous to this, with regard to a future and more general interest, under the provi dence and government of the same God?
* See Chap 4 and 6