Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAP. VII.

Of the Government of God, considered as a Scheme or Constitutions

imperfectly comprehended.

THOUGH it be, as it cannot but be, acknowledged, that the analogy of nature gives a strong credibility to the general doctrine of religion, and to the several particular things contained in it, considered as so many matters of fact, and likewise that it shews this credibility not to be destroyed by any notions of necessity-yet still objections may be insisted upon against the wisdom, equity and goodness of the divine government implied in the notion of religion, and against the method by which this government is conducted; to which objections analogy can be no direct answer. For the credibility or the certain truth of a matter of fact does not immediately prove any thing concerning the wisdom or goodness of it; and analogy can do no more, immediately or directly, than shew such and such things to be true or credible, considered only as matters of fact. But still, if, upon supposition of a moral constitution of nature and a moral government over it, analogy suggests and makes it credible that this government must be a scheme, system, or constitution of government, as distinguished from a number of single unconnected acts of distri butive justice and goodness, and likewise that it must be a scheme go imperfectly comprehended, and of such a sort in other respects, as to afford a direct general answer to all objections against the justice and goodness of it-then analogy is, remotely, of great service in answering those objections, both by suggesting the answer, and shewing it to be a credible one.

Now this, upon inquiry, will be found to be the case. For, first, upon supposition that God exercises a moral government over the world, the analogy of his natural government suggests and makes it credible that his moral government must be a scheme quite beyond our comprehension; and this affords a general answer to all objections against the justice and goodness of it. And, secondly, a more distinct observation of some particular things contained in God's scheme of natural government, the like things being supposed by analogy to be contained in his moral government, will farther shew how little weight is to be laid upon these objections.

I. Upon supposition that God exercises a moral government over the world, the analogy of his natural government suggests and makes it credible that his moral government must be a scheme quite beyond our comprehension; and this affords a general angwer to all objections against the justice and goodness of it. It is most obvious, analogy renders it highly credible, that upon supposition of a moral government, it must be a scheme; for the world, and the whole natural gov.

ernment of it, appears to be so, to be a scheme, system, or constitu. tion, whose parts correspond to each other and to a whole, as really as any work of art, or as any particular model of a civil constitution and government. In this great scheme of the natural world, individuals have various peculiar relations to other individuals of their own species. And whole species are, we find, variously related to other species upon this earth. Nor do we know how much farther these kinds of relations may extend. And, as there is not any action or natural event, which we are acquainted with, so single and unconnected as not to have a respect to some other actions and events so possibly each of them, when it has not an immediate, may yet have a remote natural relation to other actions and events, inuch beyond the compass of this present world. There seems indeed nothing from whence we can so much as make a conjecture, whether all creatures, actions and events, throughout the whole of nature, have relations to each other. But, as it is obvious that all events have future unknown consequences, so if we trace any as far as we can go into what is connected with it, we shall find, that if such event were not connected with somewhat farther in nature unknown to us, somewhat both past and present, such event could not possibly have been at all. Nor can we give the whole account of any one thing whatever; of all its causes, ends and necessary adjuncts; those adjuncts, I mean, without which it could not have been. By this most aston ishing connexion, these reciprocal correspondencies and mutual relations, every thing which we see in the course of nature is actually brought about. And things seemingly the most insignificant imaginable, are perpetually observed to be necessary conditions to other things of the greatest importance; so that any one thing whatever may for ought we know to the contrary, be a necessary condition to any other. The natural world then, and natural government of it, being such an incomprehensible scheme, so incomprehensible that a man must really in the literal sense know nothing at all, who is not sensible of bis ignorance in it, this inmediately suggests, and strong ly shews the credibility, that the moral world and government of it may be so too. Indeed the natural and moral constitution and gov. ernment of the world are se connected, as to make up together but one scheme; and it is highly probable, that the first is formed and carried on merely in subserviency to the latter, as the vegetable world is for the animal, and organized bodies for minds. But the thing intended here is, without inquiring how far the administration of the natural world is subordinate to that of the moral, only to observe the credibility that one should be analogous or similar to the other; that therefore every act of divine justice and goodness may

be supposed to look much beyond itself, and its immediate object; may have some reference to other parts of God's moral administration, and to a general moral plan; and that every circumstance of this his moral governient inay be adjusted beforehand with a view to the whole of it. Thus for example;—the determined length of time, and the degrees and way in which virtue is to remain in a state of war, fare and discipline, and in which wickedness is permitted to have its progress; the times appointed for the execution of justice; the appointed instruments of it; the kinds of rewards and punishments,

and the manners of their distribution; all particular instances of divine justice and goodness, and every circumstance of them, may have such respects to each other as to make up altogether a whole, connected and related in all its parts; a scheme or system which is as properly one as the natural world is, and of the like kind. And, supposing this to be the case, it is most evident that we are not competent judges of this scheme, from the small parts of it which come within our view in the present life; and therefore no objections against any of these parts can be insisted upon by reasonable men.

This our ignorance, and the consequence here drawn from it, are universally acknowledged upon other occasions; and, though scarce denied, yet are universally forgot, when persons come to argue against religion. And it is not perhaps easy, even for the most ieasonable men, always to bear in mind the degree of our ignorance, and make due allowances for it. Upon these accounts, it may not be useless to go on a little farther, in order to shew more distinctly how just an answer our ignorance is, to objections against the scheme of Providence. Suppose then a person boldly to assert that the things complained of, the origin and continuance of evil, might easi. ly have been prevented by repeated interpositions;* interpositions so guarded and circumstanced, as would preclude all mischief arising from them; or, if this were impracticable, that a scheme of government is itself an imperfection, since more good might have been produced without any scheme, system, or constitution at all, by continued single unrelated acts of distributive justice and goodness; because these would have occasioned no irregularities. And farther than this, it is presumed, the objections will not be carried. Yet the answer is obvious, that were these assertions true, still the observations above, concerning our ignorance in the scheme of divine government, and the consequence from it, would hold in great measure, enough to vindicate religion against all objections from the disorders of the present state. Were these assertions true, yet the government of the world might be just and good notwithstanding; for, at the most, they would infer nothing more than that it might have been better. But indeed they are mere arbitrary assertions, no man being sufficiently acquainted with the possibilities of things to bring any proof of them to the lowest degree of probability. For however possible what is asserted may seem, yet many instances may be alleged, in things much less out of our reach, of suppositions absolutely impossible, and reducible to the most palpable self contradictions, which not every one by any means would perceive to be such, nor perhaps any one at first sight suspect. From these things it is easy to see distinctly how our ignorance, as it is the common, is really a satisfactory answer to all objections against the justice and goodness of Providence. If a man, contemplating any one provi. dential dispensation, which had no relation to any others, should ob ject, that he discerned in it a disregard to justice, or a deficiency of goodness, nothing would be less an answer to such objection than our ignorance in other parts of Providence, or in the possibilities oß things no way related to what he was contemplating. But when we

[ocr errors][merged small]

know not but the parts objected against may be relative to other parts unknown to us, and when we are unacquainted with what is in the nature of the thing practicable in the case before us, then our ignorance is a satisfactory answer; because, some unknown relation, or some unknown impossibility may render what is objected against, just and good; nay, good in the highest practicable degree.

II. And how little weight is to be laid upon such objections will farther appear, by a more distinct observation of some particular things contained in the natural government of God, the like to which may be supposed, from analogy; to be contained in his moral govern. ment.

First, as in the scheme of the natural world no ends appear to be accomplished without means, so we find that means very undesirable often conduce to bring about ends, in such a measure desirable as greatly to overbalance the disagreeableness of the means. And in cases where such means are conducive to such ends, it is not reason, but experience, which shews us that they are thus condusive. Experience also shews many means to be conducive and necessary to accomplish ends, which means, before experience, we should have thought would have had even a contrary tendency. Now from these observations relating to the natural scheme of the world, the moral being supposed analogous to it, arises a great credibility, that the putting our misery in each other's power to the degree it is, and making men liable to vice to the degree we are-and in general, that those things which are objected against the moral scheme of Providence, may be, upon the whole, friendly and assistant to virtue, and productive of an overbalance of happiness, i. e. the things objected against may be means, by which an overbalance of good will, in the end, be found produced. And from the same observations, it appears to be no presumption against this, that we do not, if indeed we do not, see those means to have any such tendency, or that they seem to us to have a contrary one. Thus those things which we call irregularities, may not be so at all, because they may be means of accomplishing wise and good ends more considerable. And it may be added, as above, that they may also be the only means by which these wise and good ents are capable of being accomplished.

After these observations it may be proper to add, in order to obviate an absurd and wicked conclusion from any of them, that though the constitution of our nature from whence we are capable of vice and misery, may, as it undoubtedly does, contribute to the perfection and happiness of the world; and though the actual permission of evil may be beneficial to it, (i. e. it would have been more mischievous, not that a wicked person had himself abstained from his own wickedness, but that any one had forcibly prevented it, than that it was permitted) yet notwithstanding, it might have been much better for the world if this very evil had never been done. Nay, it is most clearly conceivable, that the very cominission of wickedness may be beneficial to the world, and yet that it would be infinitely more beneficial for men to refrain from it.. For thus, in the wise and good constitution of the natural world, there are disorders which bring their own cures, diseases which are themselves remedies. Many a man would have died, had it not been for the gout or a fever;

yet it would be thought madness to assert, that sickness is a better or more perfect state than health, though the like with regard to the moral world has been asserted. But,

Secondly, the natural government of the world is carried on by general laws. For this there may be wise and good reasons; the wisest and best, for ought we know to the contrary. And that there are such reasons, is suggested to our thoughts by the analogy of nature; by our being made to experience good ends to be accomplished, as indeed all the good which we enjoy is accomplished, by this means, that the laws by which the world is governed are general. For we have scarce any kind of enjoyments but what we are in some way or other, instrumental in procuring ourselves, by acting in a manner which we foresee likely to procure them; now this foresight could not be at all, were not the government of the world carried on by general laws. And though, for ought we know to the contrary every single case may be at length found to have been provided for even by these, yet to prevent all irregularities, or remedy them as they arise, by the wisest and best general laws, may be impossible in the nature of things, as we see it is absolutely impossible in civil government, But then we are ready to think, that, the constitution of nature remaining as it is, and the course of things being permitted to go on in other respects as it does, there might be interpositions to prevent irregularites, though they could not have been prevented or remedied by any general laws. And there would indeed be reason to wish, which, by the way, is very different from a right to claim, that all irregularities were prevented or remedied by present interpositions, if these interpositions would have no other effect than this. But it is plain they would have some visible and immediate bad effects; for instance, they would encourage idleness and negligence, and they would render doubtful the natural rule of life, which is ascertained by this very thing, that the course of the world is carried on by general laws. And farther, it is certain they would have distant effects, and very great ones too, by means of the wonderful connexion before mentioned.* So that we cannot so much as guess what would be the whole result of the interpositions desired. It may be said, any bad result might be prevented by farther interpositions, whenever there was occasion for them; but this again is talking quite at random, and in the dark. Upon the whole then, we see wise reasons, why the course of the world should be carried on by general laws, and good ends accomplished by this means; and, for ought we know, there may be the wisest reasons for it, and the best ends accomplished by it. We have no ground to believe, that all ieregularities could be remedied as they arise, or could have been precluded, by general laws. We find that interpositions would produce evil, and prevent good; and, for ought we know, they would produce greater evil than they would prevent; and prevent greater good than they would produce. And if this be the case, then the not interposing is so far from being a ground of complaint, that it is an instance of goodness. This is intelligible and sufficient, and going farther seems beyond the utmost reach of our faculties.

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »