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presumption that such tendency will, some time or other, become effect; à presumption in degree proportionable to the length of the duration through which such tendency will continue. And from these things together arises a real presumption, that the moral scheme of government established in nature shall be carried on much farther towards perfection hereafter, and, I think, a presumption that it will be absolutely completed. But from these things, joined with the moral nature which God has given us, considered as given us by him, arises a practical proof that it will be completed; a proof from fact, and therefore a distinct one from that which is deduced from the eternal and unalterable relations, the fitness and unfitness of actions
* See this proof drawn out briefly, Chap şi.
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, that 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 temptations to what is wrong, otherwise there would be no moral possibility of doing wrong, nor ground for judgment or discrimination. But there is this difference, that the word probation is more distinctly and particularly expressive of allurements to wrong, or difficulties in adhering uniformly to what is right, and of the danger of miscarrying by such temptations, than the words moral government. A state of probation then, as thus particularly implying in it trial, difticulties and danger, may require to be considered distinctly by itself.
And as the moral governinent 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 the 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 government of God here ineant,* 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 happines 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
* Chap. ii.
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, tempta. tions 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 external occasions, who would otherwise bave preserved their character of prudence and of virtue; in which cases, every one, in speaking of the wrong behaviour of these persons, 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 particular 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 principle of virtue and religion, but often draw contrary ways to one as well as to the other; and so such particular passions are as much temptations to act imprudently with regard to our worldly interest, as to act viciously.* However, as when we say, men are misled by external circumstances of temptation, it cannot but be understood that there is somewhat 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 fore. going their present interest or good as their future, and as really
See Sermons preached at the Rolls, 1726, 20 El. p. 205, &c. Pref. p. 14, &c, Serm, p. 21. &c.
renders self denial as 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 inordinately excited, whether by means of example, or by any other external circumstance, towards such objects, at 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 whole, our temporal interest, for the sake of a present gratification, This is a description of our state of trial in our tempor 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; so 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 thy 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 inore 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 interest, 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 interest 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's 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 interest, 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 taken up from com* inon 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 kñow not whereabout they are, and often makes the path of conduct so intricate and perplexed, that it is difficult to trace it out, difficult even to determine what is the pru-2 dent 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 several 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 nato ural appearances of our being in a state of degradation. And we certainly are in a condition, which does not seen, by any means, the most advantageous we could imagine or deserve, 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 tolorable 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, we naturally consider as an equitable thing, supposing it done by proper authority: Nor have we any more reason to complain of it, with regard to the Author of nature, than of his not having given us other advantages, belonging to other orders of creatures.
But the thing here insisted upon is, that the state of trial, which religion teacles us we are in, is rendered credible by its being throughout uniform and of a piece with the general conduct of Providence towards us, in all other respects within the compass of our knowledge. Indeed if mankind, considered in their natural capacity, as inhabitants of this world only, found themselves, from their birth to their death, in a settled state of security and happiness, without any solicitude or thought of their own; or if they were in no danger of being brought into inconveniences and distress, by carelessness, or the folly of passion, through bad example, the treachery of others, or the deceitful appearances of things; were this our natural condition, then it might seem strange, and be some presumption against the truth of religion, that it represents our future and more general interest, as not secure of course, but as depending upon our behaviour, and requiring recollection and self government to obtain it. For it might be alleged, “what you say is our condition in one respect is not in any wise of a sort with what we find, by experience, our condition is in another. Our whole present interest is secured to our hands, without any solicitude of ours; and why should not our future interest, if we have any such, be so too?" But since, on the contrary,