« PreviousContinue »
within their Power: And this arose from an obvious Discernment of the natural Excellence of the one, of its Tendency to promote the Happiness of Man, whether we consider him apart by himself, or as a Member of Society. For if Virtue and Vice had no other Foundation than the mere Pleasure and Authority of Legislators, the Laws made concerning them would have been as various, as in all other indifferent Matters: There could have been no such universal Agreement about their Nature, among all polite and learned Nations ; but they would have changed in every Climate, in every different Form of Government that prescribed them.
But tho' all Legislators have agreed in this Point, it is at the same cime equally evident, that none of them have been able to assign to the different Branches and Degrees of Virtue, their proper and just Reward; or to
the different Complications of Vice, their deserved Punishment. This has not been, nor indeed is capable of being effected; and for these Reasons ; because many Acts, which appear to us to be Virtuous, or Vicious, may be otherwise; and because many Acts of Virtue and Vice never fall under our Notice or Cognizance at all. The Credit which Virtue maintains in the World, makes many a fair Hypocrite ; the Punishments of Vice drive Sinners into the Dark, where many Wickednesses are committed, such as no Eye can discover, and therefore no Power can redress.
This has been the State of the World from the Beginning to this Day; and must be so, as long as the Interests and Allotments of Virtue and Vice are lefe under Human Inspection, and to the Judgment of Men only.
This Calé has greatly perplex'd and offended many wise and
good Men, who have at last been unable to discover any Remedy for it. Hard.it is, that the most excellent of Mankind should meet with the worst Fate; and that the most Wicked and Mischievous should not only escape, but profpcr.
To say that Virtue is its own Reward; that it is inseparably actended with Peace and Happiness within ; and that Vice carries its own Punishment with it, (were it always true) does by no means reach the Difficulty. For suppose Virtue to be always happy within, why must it not be outwardly happy also ? Is it upon that Account reasonable that it should be impoverish’d, imprison'd, or disgrac’d: if it endures Afflictions better, does it therefore deserve them more? Or are the Loss of Convenience, Liberty, Reputation, such Difcouragements, as Virtue only is insensible of:
And suppose that Vice must necelsarily be attended with a secret Anguih and Sting within (which however is not always the Cafe) must it therefore receive no other Punishment? Or is it fit therefore that it fhould be enriched, honour'd and advanc'd? What is then to be done ? Here is plainly a great Defect, fomething wanting, which no Human Power or Wisdom can provide for, or supply.
Let us attend to the Words of the Text, and we shall see this great Difficulty removed, and Light arise from the Darkness. We must all
We must all appear before the Judgment-Seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his Body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. This is the most important Truth that ever was made known to the World: It clearly vindicates the Divine Justice in the seemingly unequal Distribution of
the Things of this Life: It satisfies all the anxious Reasonings of Mankind: It exhibits to Virtue a full Reward for all its Discouragements and Sufferings: and assures us there will be a Time when Wickedness shall be brought to Justice: and if any thing can be a Check to Wickedness, the Terrors of the Lord must be.
Tho this Truth was never made clear and certain, till the Publication of the Gospel, yet it was not wholly unknown to the World before. Many of the Superstitions, both of the Greeks and Romans, are evidently founded on the Supposition of a future State. They had their Elysian Fields for Heroes, and Men of virtuous Character; and other infernal Abodes for the Wicked, with a variety of Punishments, very fabulous indeed, but nevertheless very significative. In this View it is worth our observing, that the Expression made use of by St. Paul,