« PreviousContinue »
that many things which were formerly great and insuperable difficulties, unintelligible mysteries, should now, by further study and improvement, be well cleared up, and cease longer to remain difficulties; and that other difficulties should be considerably diminished, though not yet fully cleared up.
It may be expected that, as in the system of nature so in the system of revelation, there should be many parts whose use is but little understood, and many that should seem wholly useless, yea, and some that should seem rather to do hurt than good. I might further observe, that if we have a revelation given in ancient languages, used among a people whose customs and phraseology are but very imperfectly understood, many difficulties will arise from hence. And, in a very concise history, in which only some particular facts and circumstances that concern the special purpose of that revelation, are mentioned--and innumerable others are omitted that would be proper to be mentioned, if the main design were to give a full, clear, connected, continued history of such a people, or such affairs as the history mentions-it is no wonder that many doubts and difficulties arise.
& 22. Tindal's main argument against the need of any revelation, is, that the law of nature is absolutely perfect. But how weak and impertinent is this arguing, that because the law of nature (which is no other than natural rectitude and obligation) is perfect, therefore the light of nature is sufficient. To say, that the law of nature is perfect, yea, absolutely perfect, is no more than to say, that what is naturally fit and right in itself, is indeed right; and that what is in itself, or in its own nature perfectly and absolutely right, is absolutely right. But this is an empty, insipid kind of doctrine. It is an idle way of spending time, ink, and paper, to spend them in proving, that what is in its own nature perfectly true, is perfectly true; and what is in its nature perfectly good, is perfectly good; or that what is, is, and is as it is. But this is all that can be meant by the law of nature being perfect.
And how far is this from having any reference to that question, whether we have by mere nature, without instruction, all that light and advantage that we need, clearly and fully to know what is right, and all that is needful for us to be and to do, in our circumstances as sinners, &c. in order to the forgiveness of sin, the favour of God, and our own happiness? What, according to the nature of things, is fittest and best, may be most perfect ; and yet our natural knowledge of this, may
be most imperfect.
If Tindal, or any other deist, would assert, and urge it upon mankind as an assertion that they ought to believe, that the light of nature is so sufficient to teach all mankind what they ought, or in any respect need to be, and to believe and practise
for their good, that any additional instruction is needless and useless : then, all instruction in families and schools is needless and useless; all instruction of parents, tutors, and philosophers; all that has been said to promote any such knowledge as tends to make men good and happy by word of mouth, or by writing and books; all that is written by ancient and modern philosophers and learned men; and then, also, all the pains the deists take in talking and writing to enlighten mankind, is wholly needless and vain.
§ 23. When it is asserted that the light of nature, or the means and advantages which all mankind have by pure nature, to know the way of their duty and happiness, are absolutely sufficient, without any additional means and advantages; one of these two things must be meant by it, if it has any meaning; either that they are sufficient in order to a mere possibility of obtaining all needful and useful knowledge in these important concerns; or that these natural means have a sufficient tendency actually to reach the effect, either universally, or generally, or at least in a prevailing degree, according as the state of mankind may be.
If the former of these be meant, viz. that the means of understanding these things, which all mankind have by mere nature, is sufficient, in order to a bare possibility of obtaining this knowledge : even that, should it be allowed, will not at all prove, that further light is not extremely needed by mankind, A bare possibility may be ; and yet there may be no tendeney or probability that ever the effect (however necessary, and however dreadful the consequence of its failing) will be reached, in one single instance, in the whole world of mankind, from the beginning of the world to the end of it, though it should stand millions of ages.
But if by the sufficiency of these natural means be meant, a sufficiency of tendency actually to reach the effect-either universally, or in a prevailing degree, considering all things belonging to the state and circumstances of mankind-it is the very same thing as to say, that it actually does obtain the effect. For, if the tendency, all things considered, be sufficient actually to obtain the effect, doubtless it does actually obtain it. For, what should hinder a cause from actually obtaining the effect that it has a sufficient tendency to obtain, all things considered ? So that here, what we have to inquire, is, whether that effect be actually obtained in the world whether the world of mankind be actually brought to all necessary or very important knowledge of these things, merely by the means they have by nature ? History, observation, and experience, are the things which must determine the question.
§ 24. In order the more clearly to judge of this matter, of the sufficiency of the light of nature to know what is necessary
to be known of religion in order to man's happiness, we must consider what are the things that must be known in order to this; which are these two: Ist. The religion of nature, or the religion proper and needful, considering the state and relations we stand in as creatures : 2d. The religion of a sin. ner, or the religion and duties proper and necessary for us, considering our state as depraved and guilty creatures, having incurred the displeasure of our Creator.
As to the former, it is manifest from fact, that nature alone is not sufficient for the discovery of the religion of nature, in the latter sense of sufficiency: that is, no means we have by mere nature, without instruction, bring men to the knowledge of the nature of God, and our natural relation to, and dependence on him, and the consequent relations we stand in to our fellow-creatures, and the duties becoming these relations, sufficient actually to reach the effect, either universally, or generally, or in any prevailing degree. No; nor does it appear to have proved sufficient so much as in a single instance. A sufficiency to see the reasonableness of these things, when pointed out, is not the same thing as a sufficiency to find them out. None but either mere dunces, or those who are incorrigibly wilful, will deny that there is a vast difference.
And as to the latter, viz. the religion of a sinner, or the duties proper and necessary for us as depraved, guilty, and offending creatures; it is most evident, the light of nature cannot be sufficient for our information, by any means, or in any sense whatsoever. No, nor is the law of nature sufficient either to prescribe or establish this religion. The light of nature is, in no sense whatsoever, sufficient to discover this religion. It has no sufficient tendency to it; nor, indeed, any tendency at all to discover it to any one single person in any age.
And it not only has no tendency to the obtaining of this knowledge, by mere natural means, but it affords no possibility of it.-Not only is the light of nature insufficient to discover this religion, but the law of nature is not sufficient to establish it, or to give any room for it
On the Medium of moral Government-particularly
91. By conversation, I mean intelligent beings expressing their minds one to another, in words, or other signs intentionally directed to us for our notice, whose immediate and main design is to be significations of the mind of him who gives them. Those signs are evidences distinguished from
works done by any, from which we may argue their minds. The first and most immediate design of the work is something else than a mere signification to us of the mind of the efficient. Thus, I distinguish God's communicating his mind to us by word or conversation, from his giving us opportunity to learn it by philosophical reasoning; or, by God's works which we observe in the natural world.
§ 2. There is a great difference between God's moral government of his creatures, that have understanding and will, and his general government of providential disposal. — The nature, design, and ends of the latter, by no means require that it should be declared and made visible by a revelation of the methods, rules, particular views, designs, and ends of it: these are secret things that belong to God; in which men's understandings and wills are no way concerned. There is no application to these faculties in it; nor are these faculties any otherwise concerned, than the qualities or properties of inanimate and senseless things.
But it is quite otherwise with respect to God's moral government of a kingdom or society of intelligent and willing creatures ; to which society he is united as its head, ruling for its good. The nature of that requires, that it should be declared, open and visible. How can any moral government be properly and sufficiently established and maintained in a kingdom of intelligent agents, consisting in exhibiting, prescribing, and enforcing methods, rules, and ends of their own intelligent voluntary actions, without declaring, and particularly promulgating to their understandings, those methods, rules, and enforcements? The moral government of a society, in the very nature of it, implies, and consists in an application to their understandings, in directing the intelligent will, and enforcing the direction by the declaration made.
§ 3. It is needful, in order to a proper moral government, that the ruler should enforce the rules of the society, by threatthing just punishments, and promising the most suitable and wise rewards. But without word or voluntary declaration, there is no threatening or promising in the case, in a proper
To leave the subject to find out what reward would be wise, if there appear in the state of things room for every subject to guess at it in some degree, would be a different thing from promising it. And to leave men to their own reason, to find out what would be a just, deserved, and, all things considered, a wise punishment, though we should suppose some sufficiency in every one's reason for this, would be a different thing from threatening of it.
It is needful in a moral kingdom, not in a ruined and deserted state-ihe union between the head and members remaining--that there should be conversation between the go
vernors and governed. It it requisite that the former should have intercourse with the latter in a way agreeable to their nature ; that is by way of voluntary signification of their mind to the governed, as the governed signify their minds voluntarily one to another. There should be something equivalent to conversation between the rulers and ruled; and thus the rulers should make themselves visible. The designs and ends of government should be made known; it should be visible what is aimed at, and what grand ends or events are in view, and the mind of the rulers should be declared as to the rules, measures, and methods, to be observed by the society. If the rulers are sovereign, absolute disposers, it is necessary their will should be particularly declared, as to the good and evil consequence of obedience or disobedience, which they intend as moral enforcements of the rules and laws, to persuade the will to a compliance. For they can reach the will, or affect it at all, no further than they are made known.--It is requisite something should be known, particularly, of the nature, weight, and degree of the rewards and punishments, and of their time, place, and duration,
§ 4. Thus, it is requisite that it should be declared what is the end for which God has made us, and made the world ; supports it, provides for it, and orders its events. For what end mankind are made in particular ; what is intended to be their main employment; what they should chiefly aim at in what they do in the world : how far God, the Creator, is man's end; and what man is to aim at with respect to God, who stands in no need of us, and cannot be in the least dependent on us : how far, and in what respect, we are to make God our highest end; and how we are to make ourselves, or our fellowcreatures, our end : what benefits man will have by complying with his end; what evils he shall be subject to by refusing, or fajling so to comply, in a greater or lesser degree. If we have offended, and deserved punishment, it must be known on what terms (if at all) we may be forgiven and restored to favour ; and what benefits we shall receive, if we are reconciled.
It is apparent, that there would be no hope that these things would ever be determined ainong mankind, in their present darkness and disadvantages, without a revelation. Without a revelation-now extant, or once extant, having some remaining influence by tradition-men would undoubtedly for ever be at a loss, what God expects from us, and what we may expect from him ; what we are to depend upon as to our concern with God, and what ground we are to go upon in our conduct and proceedings that relate to him ; what end we are to aim at; what rule we are to be directed by; and what good, and what harm, is to be expected from a right or wrong conduct. Yea, without a revelation, men would be greatly at a loss concern