Page images
PDF
EPUB

:

the order of things present fewest difficulties and obscurities in our contemplation of it? His Lordship was plainly in these sentiments, when, arguing against God's compliance with the Jewish hardness of heart, he thought it more becoming the Master of the Universe, to bend the perverse stiffness of their Wills and, when, arguing against a future state from the present good order of things, he will shew, he says, AGAINST DIVINES AND ATHEISTS IN CONJUNCTION, that there is little or no irregularity in the present dispensations of Providence; at least, not so much as the World commonly imagine. And why was this paradox advanced, but from a consciousness that the more exact the present administration of God's providence appeared, the more manifest it made his Justice? But now his Lordship's followers may be apt to say, that their Master has here done no more, indeed scarce so much, at least not in so express terms, as a celebrated Prelate, in one of his discourses at the Temple; who tells us, "That an immediate and visible interposition of Providence in Behalf of the righteous, and for the punishment of the wicked, would INTERFERE WITH THE FREEDOM OF MORAL AGENTS, AND NOT LEAVE ROOM FOR THEIR TRYAL.' But they who object this to us have not considered the nature of moral differences. For, as another learned Prelate well observes, A little experience may convince us, that the same thing, at different times, is not the same. Now if different times may make such alterations in identity, what must different men do? The thing said being by all candid interpretation to be regulated on the purpose of saying.

99*

2. Lord Bolingbroke's second objection against an equal Providence is, that it would MAKE VIRTUE, SERVILE" If the Good, besides the enjoyment of all that happiness which is inseparable from Virtue, were exempted from all kinds of evil, and if the Wicked, besides all those evils which are inseparable from Vice, and those which happen to all men in the ordinary course of events, were exposed to others that the hand of God inflicted on them in an extraordinary manner, such good men would have VERY LITTLE MERIT; they would have, while they continued to be good, no other merit than that of children, who are cajoled into their duty; or than that of Galley-slaves, who ply at the oar, because they hear and see and fear the lash of the boatswain." +

If the perfection of a rational Creature consist in acting according to reason; and if his merit rises in proportion as he advances in perfection; How can that state, which best secures him from acting irrationally, lessen or take away his merit? Are the actions of the Deity of less worth for his moral incapacity of being unjust or malignant? The motive which induces to right action is indeed more or less excellent according to the dignity or nature of the Agent: But the question here is not concerning the excellence, but the power of the motive to turn ACTION into PASSION; which is the only way I can conceive of destroying merit in the subject. Now I hold, that this fancy, That motives exterior to the Being on which they work, are able to turn an Agent to a Patient, is one of the greatest of

• Vol. ii. pp. 258, 259.

the Bishop of Bangor," p. 165.

"Scripture vindicated from the Misrepresentations of 1 Vol. v. p. 428.

Physical absurdities; and therefore commonly goes about disguised, in the garb of Metaphysics. For while AGENCY remains, MERIT subsists: the degrees of which do not depend on the less or greater force which the motives have on the affections, but on the more or less reason of the choice. In a word, there is no other way of taking away the merit and demerit of human actions, than by taking away agency, and making MAN passive, or, in other terms, A MACHINE.

But to expose in a more popular way the futility of this reasoning, it will be sufficient to observe, that the objection holds equally against all religious Sanctions whatsoever. And so indeed it was fairly urged by Lord Shaftesbury who pretended that every motive regarding SELF, tended to servilize Virtue. Without doubt, one sort, just as much as another; a future state, just as well as an equal Providence. Nay, if we were to appreciate matters very nicely, it would seem, that a future state without an equal providence (for they are always to be considered separately, as they belong to different Dispensations) would more strongly incline the Will, than an equal providence without a future state as the value of future above present good is, in this case, immensely great. But the human mind being so constituted, that the distance of good takes off proportionably from its influence, this brings the force of the two sanctions nearer to an equality; which at length proves but this, That the objection to the merit of Virtue holds against all religious sanctions whatsoever. In the use of which objection, Lord Shaftesbury was not only more ingenuous, as he urged it against them all, but more consistent, as he urged it on his doctrine of a perfect disinterestedness in our nature; whereas Lord Bolingbroke is amongst those who hold, that self-love and social, though coincident, are two essential principles in the human frame.

"That two consistent motions act the Soul,

And one regards ITSELF, and one the WHOLE."

But we might go further, and retort upon both these noble Adversaries of Religion, that the charge of making virtue servile affects all moral, as well as religious sanctions; as well that, whose existence they allow, as those which they would persuade us to be visionary; both these illustrious Patrons of infidelity acknowledging that moral sanction which arises from God's making the practice of virtue our INTEREST as well as duty.* Now interest and servility is, it seems, the same thing, with these generous Spirits, as it was with the good old woman, Joinville speaks of, amongst the Enthusiasts of Syria, who carried about a pan of live-coals in one hand, and a dish of cold water in the other, to burn up Paradise and to extinguish Hell, that men might be brought to serve God dispassionately, without hope or fear. So near a-kin are Fanaticism and Free-thinking, that their nature betrays them even when they strive most to hide their common parentage.

3. His Lordship's third cavil to an equal Providence is, that it would

RELAX GENERAL BENEVOLENCE.

-"But would there not be, at the same time, some further defect in this scheme? I think there would. It seems to me, that these good men being

• Vol. v. p. 429.

† Ibid.

thus distinguished by particular providences, in their favour, from the rest of mankind, might be apt either not to contract, or to LOSE THAT GENERAL BENEVOLENCE, which is a fundamental Principle of the Law of Nature, and that PUBLIC SPIRIT, which is the life and soul of Society. God has made the practice of morality our interest, as well as our duty. But men who found themselves constantly protected from the evils that fell on others, might grow insensibly to think themselves unconcerned in the common fate and if they relaxed in their zeal for the Public good, they would relax in their virtue; for public good is the object of Virtue. They might do worse; spiritual pride might infect them. They might become in their own imaginations the little Flock, or the chosen Sheep. Others have been so by the mere force of Enthusiasm, without any such inducements as those which we assume, in the same case; and experience has shewn, that there are no Wolves like these Sheep."

99*

The case assumed, to which his Lordship objects, and against which he pretends to argue, is that of an equal Providence which exactly distributes good to Virtue, and to Vice evil. Now the present objection to such a state is, an' please you, that this favourable distinction of good, to the virtuous man, would be apt to destroy his general benevolence and public spirit. These, in his Lordship's account, and so in mine too, are the most sublime of all Virtue; and therefore, it is agreed, they will be most highly rewarded: But the tendency of this favourable distinction, if you will believe him, may prove the loss of general benevolence and public spirit. As much as this shocks common sense, his Lordship has his reason. God has made the practice of morality our INTEREST as well as duty. But men, who find themselves constantly protected from the evils that fall on others, might grow insensibly to think themselves unconcerned in the common fate.

God has made the practice of morality our INTEREST as well as duty. Without doubt he has. But does it not continue to be our interest, under an equal, as well as under an unequal Providence? Nay, is it not more evidently and invariably so, in the absence of those inequalities which hinder our seeing clearly, and feeling constantly, that the practice of morality is our INTEREST as well as duty?

-But men who found themselves constantly protected from the evils that fall on others, might grow insensibly to think themselves unconcerned in the cOMMON FATE. What are those evils, under an equal Providence, which fall on others, and from which the good man is protected? Are they not the punishments inflicted on the wicked? And how is the good man protected from them? Is it not by his perseverance in Virtue? It is therefore impossible he should grow unconcerned to those evils which his Lordship calls the common fate, when he sees his interest and his duty so closely connected, that there is no way of avoiding those evils but by persevering in virtue. But the name of common fate, which he gives unto them, detects his prevarication. He pretends to reason against an equal Providence, yet slurs in upon us, in its stead, a Providence which only protects good men ; or rather one certain species of good men; and leaves all other to their COMMON • Vol. v. p. 429.

FATE.

But admit it possible for the good man to relax in his benevolence, and to grow insensible to the common fate: there is, in the state here assumed, a speedy means of bringing him to himself; and that is, his being no longer protected from the evils that fall on others: for when men relax in their benevolence, his Lordship tells you, they relax in their virtue: and, give me leave to tell his Lordship, that when men relax in their virtue, an equal Providence relaxes in its protection; or, to speak more properly, the rewards of virtue are abated in proportion.

However, spiritual pride (he says) might infect the virtuous thus protected: And this he will prove à fortiori, from the case of ENTHUSIASTS; who only imagine they have this protection, and have it not. Now, what if we should say, it is this very enthusiastic spirit itself, and not the visions of Protection it is apt to raise, which is the true cause of spiritual pride? ENTHUSIASM is that temper of mind, in which the imagination has got the better of the judgment. In this disordered state of things, Enthusiasm, when it happens to be turned upon religious matters, becomes FANATICISM: and this, in its extreme, begets the fancy of our being the peculiar favourites of Heaven. Now, every one sees, that SPIRITUAL PRIDE is the cause, and not the effect of the disorder. For what but spiritual pride, springing out of presumptive holiness, could bring the Fanatic to fancy himself exalted above the common condition of the Faithful? It is true, when he is got thus far, the folly which brought him hither, may carry him further; and then, all to come will be indeed the effect of his disorder. But suppose it were not the enthusiastic Spirit, but the visions of protection, it is apt to raise, which is the cause of spiritual pride; Is there no difference between a vision and a reality? Fancy may occasion those disorders which Fact may remove. This, I persuade myself, is the case here: The real communication of Grace purifies those passions, and exalts them into virtues, which the strong delusion of such a state only renders more gross and violent. And here it may be worth while to take notice, that his Lordship, in this objection to an extraordinary Providence, from the hurt it does to general benevolence, seems to have had the Jewish People in his eye; who in the latter ages of their Republic were commonly charged, and perhaps not altogether unjustly, with want of benevolence to the rest of mankind: a fact, which though it makes nothing for his purpose, makes very much for mine, as it furnishes me with an example to support what is here said of Fanaticism; an infirmity pretty general amongst the Jews of those Ages. They had outlived their extraordinary Providence; but not the memory, nor even the effects of it; nay, the warmer tempers were hardly brought to think it had ceased. This filled them with spiritual pride, as the elect of God; a disposition which, it is confessed, tends readily to destroy or to relax general benevolence. But what now are the natural consequences, which the actual administration of an equal Providence would have on the human mind? In this case, as in the other, a warm temper, whose object was Religion, would be obnoxious to the common weakness of our nature, and too apt to disgrace itself by spiritual pride: but as this is one of the vices which an equal Providence is always at hand to punish, the cure would be direct and speedy. The reco

vered Votary, we will now suppose to be received again into the number of the Good; and to find himself in the little flock and chosen sheep, as they are nick-named by this noble Writer. Well, but his danger is not yet over; the sense of this high prerogative of humanity might revive, in a warm temper, the still unmortified seeds of spiritual pride. Admit this to be the case; what follows? His pride revives indeed, but it is only to be again humbled: for punishment is still closely attendant on vice and folly. At length, this holy discipline, the necessary consequence of an equal Providence, effectually does its work; it purifies the mind from low and selfish partialities, and adorns the Will with general benevolence, public spirit, and love of all its fellow-creatures.

What then could support his Lordship in so perverse a judgment concerning the state and condition of good men under an equal Providence? That which supports all his other insults on Religion; his sophistical change of the question. He objects to an equal Providence (which, Religionists pretend, hath been administered during one period of the Dispensation of Grace) where good men are constantly rewarded, and wicked men as constantly punished; and he takes the matter of his objection from the fanatical idea of a favoured elect (which never existed but in over-heated brains), where reward and punishment are distributed, not on the proportions of merit and de-merit, but on the diabolic dreams of certain eternal decrees of election and reprobation, unrelated to any human principle of justice.

But now, Reader, keep the question steadily in your eye, and his Lordship's reasoning in this paragraph discloses such a complication of absurdities as will astonish you. You see an equal Providence, which, in and through the very act of rewarding benevolence, public spirit, and humility, becomes instrumental in producing, in those so rewarded, selfishness, neglect of the public, and spiritual pride.

His Lordship's last objection to an extraordinary Providence is, that it would NOT ANSWER ITS END.

"I will conclude this head" (says he) "by observing, that we have example as well as reason for us, when we reject the hypothesis of particular Providences. God was the king of the Jewish People. His presence resided amongst them, and his justice was manifested daily in rewarding and punishing by unequivocal, signal, and miraculous interpositions of his power. The effect of all was this, the People rebelled at one time and repented at another. Particular Providences, directed by God himself immediately, upon the spot, if I may say so, had particular temporal effects only, none general nor lasting and the People were so little satisfied with this system of Government that they deposed the supreme Being, and insisted to have another King, and to be governed like their neighbours."

99

In support of this last objection, the Reader sees, his Lordship was forced to throw off the mask, and fairly to tell us what he aimed at; that is to say, to discredit the extraordinary Providence mentioned by Moses. An equal Providence, says he, will not answer its end. What is its end? Here, his prevarications bring us, as usual, to our distinctions.-When this Providence • Vol. v. p. 430.

E

VOL. JII.

« PreviousContinue »