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Of a State of Probation, as implying Trial, Difficulties, and Danger.
THE general doctrine of religion, that our present life is a state of probation for a future one, comprehends under it several particular things, distinct from each other. But the first and most common meaning of it seems to be, tha our future interest is now depending, and depending upon ourselves; that we have scope and opportunities here for that good and bad behaviour, which God will reward and punish hereafter; together with temptations to one, as well as inducements of reason to the other. And this is, in great measure, the same with saying, that we are under the moral government of God, and to give an account of our actions to him. For the notion of a future account, and general righteous judgment, implies some sort of tempta tions to what is wrong, otherwise there would be no moral possibility of doing wrong, nor ground for judgment or dis crimination. But there is this difference, that the word pro bation is more distinctly and particularly expressive of allure ments to wrong, or difficulties in adhering uniformly to wha is right, and of the danger of miscarrying by such tempta tions, than the words moral government. A state of proba tion, then, as thus particularly implying in it trial, difficulties an danger, may require to be considered distinctly by itself
And as the moral government of God, which religion. teaches us, implies, that we are in a state of trial with regard to a future world; so also his natural government over us implies, that we are in a state of trial, in a like sense, with regard to the present world. Natural government, by rewards and punishments, as much implies natural trial, as moral government does moral trial. The natural govern
ment of God here meant,* consists in his annexing pleasure to some actions, and pain to others, which are in our power to do or forbear, and in giving us notice of such appointment beforehand. This necessarily implies, that he has made our happiness and misery, or our interest, to depend in part upon ourselves. And so far as men have temptations to any course of action, which will probably occasion them greater temporal inconvenience and uneasiness than satisfaction, so far their temporal interest is in danger from themselves, or they are in a state of trial with respect to it. Now, people often blame others, and even themselves, for their misconduct in their temporal concerns. And we find many are greatly wanting to themselves, and miss of that natural happiness which they might have obtained in the present life; perhaps every one does in some degree. But many run themselves into great inconvenience, and into extreme distress and misery, not through incapacity of knowing better, and doing better for themselves, which would be nothing to the present purpose, but through their own fault. And these things necessarily imply temptation, and danger of miscarrying, in a greater or less degree, with respect to our worldly interest or happiness. Every one, too, without having religion in his thoughts, speaks of the hazards which young people run upon their setting out in the world; hazards from other causes, than merely their ignorance, and unavoidable accidents. And some courses of vice, at least, being contrary to men's worldly interest or good, temptations to these must at the same time be temptations to forego our present and our future interest. Thus, in our natural or temporal capacity, we are in a state of trial, i. e. of difficulty and danger, analogous or like to our moral and religious trial.
This will more distinctly appear to any one, who thinks it worth while, more distinctly, to consider what it is which constitutes our trial in both capacities, and to observe how mankind behave under it.
And that which constitutes this our trial, in both these capacities, must be somewhat either in our external circumstances, or in our nature. For, on the one hand, persons may be betrayed into wrong behaviour upon surprise, or overcome upon any other very singular and extraordinary
* Chap. 2.
external occasions, who would, otherwise, have preserved their character of prudence and of virtue; in which cases, every one, in speaking of the wrong behaviour of these per sons, would impute it to such particular external circumstances. And, on the other hand, men who have contracted habits of vice and folly of any kind, or have some particu-' lar passions in excess, will seek opportunities, and, as it were, go out of their way, to gratify themselves in these respects, at the expense of their wisdom and their virtue ; led to it, as every one would say, not by external temptations, but by such habits and passions. And the account of this last case is, that particular passions are no more coincident with prudence, or that reasonable self-love, the end of which is our worldly interest, than they are with the prin ciple of virtue and religion, but often draw contrary ways to one as well as to the other; and so such particular pas sions are as much temptations to act imprudently with re gard to our worldly interest, as to act viciously.* However as when we say, men are misled by eternal circumstances of temptation, it cannot but be understood, that there is some what within themselves, to render those circumstances temptations, or to render them susceptible of impressions from them; so, when we say, they are misled by passions, it is always supposed, that there are occasions, circumstances, and objects, exciting these passions, and affording means for gratifying them. And, therefore, temptations from within, and from without, coincide, and mutually imply each other. Now, the several external objects of the appetites, passions, and affections, being present to the senses, or offering themselves to the mind, and so exciting emotions suitable to their nature, not only in cases where they can be gratified consistently with innocence and prudence, but also in cases where they cannot, and yet can be gratified imprudently and viciously; this as really puts them in danger of voluntarily foregoing their present interest or good, as their future, and as really renders self-denial necessary to secure one as the other; i. e. we are in a like state of trial with respect to both, by the very same passions, excited by the very same means. Thus, mankind having a temporal interest depending upon themselves, and a prudent course of behaviour being necessary to secure it, passions
*See Sermons preached at the Rolls, 1726, 2d Ed. 205, &c. Pref. p. 25, &c. Serm. p. 21, &c.
inordinately excited, whether by means of example or by any other external circumstance, towards such objects, a. such times, or in such degrees, as that they cannot be gratified consistently with worldly prudence, are temptations dangerous, and too often successful temptations, to forego a greater temporal good for a less; i. e. to forego what is, upon the whole, our temporal interest, for the sake of a present gratification. This is a description of our state of trial in our temporal capacity. Substitute now the word future for temporal, and virtue for prudence, and it will be just as proper a description of our state of trial in our religious capacity, 60 analogous are they to each other.
If, from consideration of this our like state of trial in both capacities, we go on to observe farther, how mankind behave under it, we shall find there are some who have so little sense of it, that they scarce look beyond the passing day; they are so taken up with present gratifications, as to have, in a manner, no feeling of consequences, no regard to their future ease or fortune in this life, any more than to their happiness in another. Some appear to be blinded and deceived by inordinate passion, in their worldly concerns, as much as in religion. Others are, not deceived, but, as it were, forcibly carried away, by the like passions, against their better judgment, and feeble resolutions, too, of acting better. And there are men, and truly they are not a few, who shamelessly avow, not their interests, but their mere will and pleasure, to be their law of life; and who, in open defiance of every thing that is reasonable, will go on in a course of vicious extravagance, foreseeing, with no remorse and little fear, that it will be their temporal ruin; and some of them, under the apprehension of the consequences of wickedness in another state: and, to speak in the most moderate way, human creatures are not only continually liable to go wrong voluntarily, but we see likewise that they often actually do so, with respect to their temporal interests, as well as with respect to religion.
Thus, our difficulties and dangers, or our trials in our temporal and our religious capacity, as they proceed from the same causes, and have the same effect upon men's behaviour, are evidently analogous, and of the same kind.
It may be added, that as the difficulties and dangers of miscarrying in our religious state of trial are greatly increased, and, one is ready to think, in a manner wholly made, by the ill-behaviour of others; by a wrong education,
wrong in a moral sense, sometimes positively vicious; by general bad example; by the dishonest artifices which are got into business of all kinds; and, in very many parts of the world, by religion being corrupted into superstitions which indulge men in their vices; so, in like manner, the difficulties of conducting ourselves prudently in respect to our present interests, and our danger of being led aside from pursuing it, are greatly increased by a foolish education, and, after we come to mature age, by the extravagance and carelessness of others, whom we have intercourse with; and by mistaken notions, very generally prevalent, and ta ken up from common opinion, concerning temporal happiness, and wherein it consists. And persons, by their own negligence and folly in their temporal affairs, no less than by a course of vice, bring themselves into new difficulties, and, by habits of indulgence, become less qualified to go through them; and one irregularity after another embarrasses things to such a degree, that they know not whereabout they are, and often makes the path of conduct so intricate and perplexed, that it is difficult to trace it out; diffi cult even to determine what is the prudent or the moral part. Thus, for instance, wrong behaviour in one stage of life. youth; wrong, I mean, considering ourselves only in our temporal capacity, without taking in religion; this, in sev eral ways, increases the difficulties of right behaviour in mature age; i. e. puts us into a more disadvantageous state of trial in our temporal capacity.
We are an inferior part of the creation of God. There are natural appearances of our being in a state of degradation;* and we certainly are in a condition which does not seem, by any means, the most advantageous we could imagine or desire, either in our natural or moral capacity, for securing either our present or future interest. However, this condition, low, and careful, and uncertain as it is, does not afford any just ground of complaint: For, as men may manage their temporal affairs with prudence, and so pass their days here on earth in tolerable ease and satisfaction, by a moderate degree of care; so, likewise, with regard to religion, there is no more required than what they are well able to do, and what they must be greatly wanting to themselves if they neglect. And for persons to have that put upon them which they are well able to go through, and no more,
* Part 2, Chap. 5.