« AnteriorContinuar »
The case is the fame with respect to any thing external, such as miracles, which may attend a re. velation ; the having thefe, or the want of them, cannot possibly prove a revelation to be divine, or to be the contrary. The baving them proves nothing, in the present case, because miracles are evidences of the power, but not of the the vera. city of the being that works them; and confequently, they may attend a lie, for any thing we know, or for any just ground we have to think the contrary. To urge, in this case, that God will not use his power, nor suffer other beings, viz. evil spirits to use theirs, for the confirma: tion of a lie, in a matter of such importance, this is the fame as to say, that God does not act ar: bitrarily, but from the fitness of things; because. this argument is founded upon the moral unfitness of such a conduct, Again, The want of mira. cles does not avail any thing, with regard to the divinity of a revelation, or the contrary. For as God does not make the fitness of things, but som vereign pleasure, the rule and measure of his actions ; so when he gives a revelation, it must be wholly at his pleasure, whether miracles shall attend it or not; and consequently, we cannot fairly conclude, from the want of miracles, either for or against the divinity of that revelation, they do not attend. Again,
Fourthly, If true religion is founded on the moral fitness of things, then man is naturally qua. lify'd to discover the true fense and meening of di. vine revelation, at least he is or may be secure from all dangerous and hurtful errors. 'Divine revelation, in this case, muft accord with the na: ture and relations of things ; and therefore, if any difficulty should arise about the sense and meaning of any branch of it, man has a safe and plain rule, viz. the fitness of things, to interpreț
it by; which, in the nature of the thing, is moft likely to lead him into the true sense of it ; how. cver, it will secure him from all dangerous crrors, because he cannot possibly fall into a burtful error, when the moral fitness of things is his guide.
If it should be urged, that tho' the fitness of things is a proper guide in this case, with regard to those parts of divine revelation that relate to practice ; yet it can give no light with regard to those points, which are purely speculative. I answer, Points of speculation are of two kinds, viz. those which are absolutely so, and those which are so only with regard to us. As to the former, they relate to the physical nature of things, and therefore, if God shall think fit to give any revelations of this kind, then it must be granted, that the moral fitness of things can give no light in such cases. But then it ought to be remembered, that God will either fo clearly de liver such points, as that there shall be no place for error, or else he will excuse all errors which arise from them; it being most absurd and ridiculous,' to suppose, that fuch a wife and good Being, as (upon the present supposition) God is allowed to be, should give a revelation in a way, in which it is liable to be misunderstood, and then be difpleased with his creatures, if they mistake the fenfe of it ; seeing such errors are not, in the nature of the thing; a proper foundation for resentment..
As to the latter, viz. points of speculation, which are so only with regard to us, these relate to facts past, present, or to come, performed by God, or some other agent; with respect to which, the same answer in general will serve, as in the former case ; namely, that if God shall think fic to reveal any thing of this kind, he will either make
the revelation so plain, as that there shall be no place for error, or else excuse all errors which pring from it. And, If the point be such as relates to divine conduct, either what God has done, or will do ; and if any difficulty arises about the sense and meaning of any such branch of divine revelation, then, I say, the fitness of things is the best rule to interpret it by, and is mort likely to lead us into the true sense and meaning of it. And the reason of this is evident; namely, because (upon the present supposition) it is the moral fitness of things, which is the rule and measure of God's actions. On the other side,
If true religion is founded on the arbitrary will of God, and if God gives a revelation to mankind, then man is not naturally qualify'd to discover the true sense and meaning of it, he not having any thing to guide him in his enquiries, and therefore must be under the utmost uncertainty in that case. For, As God acts from sovereign pleasure, so he may deliver his mind either clearly or darkly, expressly or in figures ; he may use the same term in the same or in different senses, and apply it properly or improperly to the subject, as he pleases; and man has not any thing to assist or guide him in his searches after truth. To reason, in this case, is likewise absurd ; because that, which arises from arbitrary pleasure, is out of reason's province ; and therefore those men fay right, who say that reason is not a judge of the sense and meaning of divine revelation, and that it must be interpreted by the same spirit which gave it. I say, this is evidently the cale, supposing God acts arbitrarily with his creatures ; only this difficulty will still remain, namely, that we have as little assurance of the sense and meaning of any second explanatory revelation, as of the first. To say in this case, that
God will not suffer a sincere and honest enquirer, who feeks his face, to fall into, or continue in any dangerous error ; this, if it be urged with any strength, is to reason from the moral fitness of things, which is here supposed to be discarded. And, as man is not secure from error, so his errors may be made as fatal to him as his Maker pleases : God may, if he pleases, punith every mistake with eternal misery, and if he should da fo (the contrary to which we cannot be assured of, upon the present supposition) there is no relief, For who can deliver out of his hand Again, ..
Fifthly, and leftly, If true religion is founded on the moral fitness of things, then it is one plain, fimple, uniform thing, which admits of no alteration, with regard to time or place, any otherwise than as the nature, the relations, and the circum: tances of things differ or change, True religion is the fame in all ages, in all countries, and in all worlds, (if I may lo speak) for if any of the other planets are inhabited with creatures constiented, circumstanced, and related as we are, their reli: gion must of course be the same as ours is the moral fitness of things being the fame įn all space, and thro' all duration.
Note, I would not here be understood to exz Blude all positive institutions ; for, as the circuma stances of things may render fome institutions proper and useful to imankind, as contributing to yirtue, or true goodness; so, when that is the case, there is a moral fitness even in those institutions, not for any intrinsick goodness in them, but upon the account of that virtue they are fubfervient ta, On the other side,
If true religion is founded on the arbierary will of God, then it depends upon his pleasure, whę. ther it shall be the same at all times, and to all "Bb
people, people, or not; he may, if he pleases, make different terms of acceptance, in every age, and to every nation or family, and that, which entitles to his favour to day, may draw forth his displeasure to-morrow, for any thing we know, or for any ground we have to think the contrary. To say, in this case, that God will always make known his pleasure to us, when he makes any such change, with regard to religion, this is what we can have no just ground for. That it is right and fit, in the nature of things, for God to act thus fairly with his creatures, will be granted ; but what have right and fit to do, or what influence can they have, where arbitrary pleasure is the rule of action? Which is the present case,
Thus, I think, I have given a fair representa. tion of this matter, and have shown in all the instances I have given above; how the case will stand, whether we corsider true religion as founded on the moral fitness of things, or on the arbi. frary will of God. And I imagine, it will easily be discerned, of what great importance this question is, and what neceffiiy there is of determining it, in order to the settling and determining all other queftions on this subject. But, possibly it may be urged, that I have started a difficulty, but not removed it; and therefore I crave leave to observe farther, that there are two ways only, in which we are capable of bringing this point to an issue ; namely, ferji, by examining what it is which God makes the rule of action in other cases, and fo to argue by analogy, that is, to inter from his conduct in one case, how he will act in 210ther; and, fecondly, to examine what it is, in the nature of things, which is not likely to direct and determine his actions. And, .
First, If we examine what it is which God makes the rule of action in other cases, we shall