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post 11. And, tho God is the author of nations
common tranquillity. Neither does vice confift in following nature, by preferring happiness to misery; but in a selfijh monopolizing happiness to ourselves; and in prosecuting our own pleasures and desires, when they are inconsistent with or destručtive of the happiness of others, or of the common felicity.
I am sensible that there are two cases with regard to moral fitness and unfitness, which at first sight may seem to have no relacion to, or be founded upon the principles I have here laid down, viz. the making a grateful acknowledgment of a favour received, and the shewing resentment for an injury done, when a proper occasion offers. But I persuade myself, that every man, who carefully examines the case, will see, that the foremention'd principles are the ground and reason of each of these. For if the communicating of happiness was not right and fit in itself, there could be no foundation for gratitude. That is, if there was not something really valuable in the action, then there could not be any thing worthy of our acknowledgment. So that the fitness of the latter has an apparent dependence upon the fitness of the former. And on the other side, if the communicating of unhappiness was not, in the nature of the thing, really unfit, then there could be no reason or ground for our resentment; and consequently, the latter of these necessarily supposes the former, and is founded upon it. And, tho God is the author of nature, and of those rela
hich things stand in one to another; yet when things are thus constituted, and thus related, good and evil will necessarily and unavoidably arise from the nacure, and from the relations of the things themselves, and not from the arbitrary will and pleasure of their Maker. Thus pain will be evil and affli&tive, even tho God should determine and declare the contrary. His determination cannot possibly convince us, that pain is pleasant, because we experimentally feel and know the contrary. And thus the communicating of happiness will, in the nature of the thing, be really valuable in itself, and highly preferable to the communicating of misery, whether God determines any thing concerning it, or not. Having thus remov'd what gave occasion for the first complaint, by stating the notion of the terms beforemention'd, I now proceed to the
Second, namely, that I have been pleading the cause of infidelity, by which I suppose is meant, infidelity with regard to the christian revelation. But surely this complaint is as unkind, as it is groundless. And all that, I think, is needful for me to say, in the present case, is to request of the complainers, to consider what a compliment they hereby pay the christian religion, by thus representing it as an arbitrary institution ; given by God, not out of kindness to mankind, but as an instance of his absolute sovereignty and dominion over them : which must be the case, if what I have said, in my previous question, is injurious to the christian religion. And, thus much, I think, I may venture farther to say, that whether the present complaint against me is just, or not, yet the giving such a representation of the christian religion, as aforesaid, is most certainly paving the way to infidelity. Tho I persuade myself, that there is not any thing, which can strictly and properly be cailed the christian religion, but which may be Thewn to be the effect of wisdom and goodness, and not of capricious humour and arbitrary pleasure. The christian revelation gives us the most beautiful
representation of God, with regard to his moral character: it fets him forth as the fountain of wisdom and goodness; as the Father of mercies, and the God of all consolations ; yea, as love itself. And this leads me to enquire, what it is, that must constitute such a character, and wherein each of these con not wisdom and goodness consist in a right application of knowledge and power ? Surely, God is not wife, because he is knowing ; neither is he good, because he is powerful; but he is both wise and good in the right exercise of these, that is, as he applies his knowledge and power rightly in serving the best of purposes, namely, kindness and benevolence. He is both wise and good, in calling a multitude of creatures into being capable of happiness; and in a plentiful provision of all things, necessary to make them so. He is merciful and loving, in that he shews che most tender regard to the happiness and well-being of his creatures. And, is this the case ? then surely it must be moft monstrous to suppose, that what I have said, in my previous question is injurious to the christian religion ; seeing all that I have said is no more than the asserting and maintaining God's moral character, as aforesaid. And therefore, I desire it may be considered, whether such a representation of me be not injurious to the christian retigion ; because it considers the christian revelation, as a contradiction to itself, by representing it as an institution, which is inconsistent with the character it gives of that Being, whom it claims for its Author. It is true, the religious schemes of christians are too often mixed and compounded of such contradi&tions, as aforesaid. For in them men are led to make a general acknowledgment of the wisdom and goodness of God, when the particulars of those schemes plainly represent him to be otherwise. But, I presume, this cannot be justly charged upon christianity itself; and therefore I would desire those men, when they interpret the christian revelation, to take the nature and the fitness of things into the case, or else they will be in danger of offering violence to the moral character of our heavenly Father. · If men would but consult the nature and reason of things, in their enquiries concerning the properties and conduct of the Almighty, it would prevent them from raising all those false and unworthy images of God, which are too frequently pictur'd in their minds. Men are apt to form their conceptions of God and of his actions, from what they see grand and magisterial in the princes and potentates of the earth; only with this difference, in men they consider it, as limited and finite, but when they carry their thoughts to God, they consider it in him, as boundless and infinite. That pomp, that arbitrariness, that resentment, that insatiable revenge, that contempt, &c. which some earthly monarchs put on, and which command the fears, the humble addresses, the filsome flatteries, and the savish submission of those that are under them: this is that glass, which men look thro, when they take a view of their Creator. And this has led them, not to change the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things; but into that, which is much worse, namely, into the likeness and fimilitude of an evil spirit. That is, men haye represented God, as under the influence of evil and vicious affections, such as cruelty, infatiable revenge, &c. which is the true pieture of an evil spirit. St. Paul told the Corinthians, 1 Epist. Chap. x. 20. That the things which the Gentiles sacrificed, they facrificed to devils, and not to God. That is, the Gentiles, by their facrifices, addressed themselves to beings (real or fictitious) which they apprehended to be under the po tions, and so they facrificed to devils. And well had it been, if this could have been charged only on the Gentiles. But, alas! some christians have drawn such a picture of the Deity, as makes him resemble the chiefest of devils. They have represented God, as calling a multitude of creatures into being, on purpose to make them miserable. And, that he might have a colour of doing justice in the case, they consider him as placing those creatures in such a state, as that they must necessarily transgress, and then punishing them eternally for that transgression: than which, I think, nothing can be more cruel and barbarous, it being far worse, than what is commonly charged upon the devil himself. The devil is usually represented, as tempting men to that which exposes them to divine
leasure. And so he endeavours to make them miserable, but leaves it at their choice; whether they will follow his temptations, or not : whereas God is considered as ordaining to misery, antecedent to men's choice. And tho these, and the like religious principles reflect great dishonour upon God, with regard to his moral character, yet the men of these principles pretend to have the highest zeal for his honour and glory. And accordingly, if they can find a person, who they think has taken up false notions of the Deity, with regard to his natural character, namely, his natural properties, his per
res, his personality, and the like, then they open their mouths like a trumpet to proclaim such a one's great wickedness, as they are pleased to call it; and charge him with blasphemy, and with doing the greatest disponour to his Maker: not considering that the dishonour done to God, when considered in his natural capacity, bears no comparison with that much greater dishonour done to him, when considered in his m Suppose a man to be of a healthy vigorous constitution, and that he is really a
oneft virtuous man; and suppose any one should say of him, that he is weak and infirm in his body; and another should say, that he is a fool or a knave; in both cases the man's character is injur'd ; in the former in his natural, in the latter in his moral capacity. And here, I presume, it will be allow'd by all, that the injury done in the former case bears no comparison to the injury done to the man's character in the latter. And yet this is the very case, with respect to God. The injury done him, with regard to his natural character, is as it were nothing when compared with that much greater, which is done him in his moral. I shall not here aggrayate the case, but leave it to every man's serious consideration. And,
Now, I think, I begin to exceed the bounds of a letter, and to cast a blemish upon my former performance. For will not every one be ready to say of my previous question, surely, its defects were great, if it needed so large a supply? But suppose I have been faulty in making the supplement larger than the performance, yet I hope it is what will easily be excused; when it is considered, that this is what I am necessarily led into, in order to vindicate the moral character of our beavenly Father. A point, in which not only the honour of
God, but the interest and happiness of mankind, are nearly concern'd. For, if God is in reality such a wife and good Being, who directs his actions by the moral fitness of things (as I think I have proved him to be) then it will follow, that as nothing but personal virtuousness and personal viciousness can, in the nature of the thing, render us the suitable and proper objects of divine approbation or dislike; so it must be a matter of the utmost concern to us all, to put on such a temper of mind and such a behaviour, as will render us worthy of divine regard.
If any thing farther should appear necessary to be said upon this subject, I must leave it, to constitute a second supplement to my previous question. And in the mean time I beg leave to subscribe myself,
Your most obliged
Friend and Servant.
CASE of A B R A HAM,
Regard to his offering up Isaac in facrifice, re-examined.
In a Letter to a Clergyman.
days past, you were pleased to query, whether what I have for-
braham's offering up Ifaac in sacrifice, did not clash with what I have lately faid upon that point, in the supplement to my previous question? This query has given me occasion to re-examine the subject, the result of which I beg leave to lay before you in the following observations. And,
First, I here take for granted (as being already elsewhere proved) the following proposition, namely, that God is absolutely wife and good; that is to say, God always (without the least variation) conducts his actions by the rules of wisdom and goodness; or, in other words, he always does that which upon the whole is best, or most subfervient to the common good. And therefore if I have at any time past advanced, or endeavoured to maintain any propositions which are inconhstent with the above proposition, all such propositions I now retract as erroneous. I thought it proper to make this remark, in order to prevent all objections of this kind. For, supposing that at different times I should advance two propositions inconhstent with each other, all I think, that would follow from hence is, that my judgment of the same point has been different at different times: which surely is a common case with those men whose opinions are the result of a free enquiry, and are not taken upon trust. I say, this is all that will follow, supposing the case as above; for, as to the propositions themselves, their truth or falsehood does not depend upon my advancing them, but upon the strength or weakness of the evidence which attends them. Again,