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may be now going on throughout the universe, and may go on hereafter, in the same mixed way as here at present upon earth; virtue sometimes prosperous, sometimes depressed; vice sometimes punished, sometimes successful. The answer to which is, that it is not the purpose of this chapter, nor of this treatise, properly to prove God's perfect moral government over the world, or the truth of religion, but to observe what there is in the constitution and course of nature to confirm the proper proof of it, supposed to be known, and that the weight of the foregoing observations to this purpose may be thus distinctly proved. Pleasure and pain are indeed, to a certain degree, say to a very high degree, distributed amongst us, without any apparent regard to the merit or demerit of characters. And were there nothing else, concerning this matter, discernible in the constitution and course of nature, there would be no ground, from the constitution and course of nature, to hope or to fear, that men would be rewarded or punished hereafter according to their deserts; which, however, it is to be remarked, implies, that even then there would be no ground, from appearances, to think that vice, upon the whole, would have the advantage, rather than that virtue would. And thus the proof of a future state of retribution would rest upon the usual known arguments for it; which are, I think, plainly unanswerable, and would be so, though there were no additional confirmation of them from the things above insisted on. But these things are a very strong confirmation of them. For,
First, They show that the Author of nature is not indifferent to virtue and vice. They amount to a declaration from him, determinate, and not to be evaded, in favour of one, and against the other; such a declaration as there is nothing to be set over against, or answer, on the part of vice. So that were a man, laying aside the proper proof of religion, to determine from the course of nature only, whether it were most probable that the righteous or the wicked would have the advantage in a future life, there can be no doubt but that he would determine the probability to be, that the
former would. The course of nature, then, in the view of it now given, furnishes us with a real practical proof of the obligations of religion.
Secondly, When, conformably to what religion teaches us, God shall reward and punish virtue and vice, as such, so as that every one shall, upon the whole, have his deserts, this distributive justice will not be a thing different in kind, but only in degree, from what we experience in his present goIt will be that in effect, toward which we now see a tendency. It will be no more than the completion of that moral government, the principles and beginning of which have been shown, beyond all dispute, discernible in the present constitution and course of nature. And from hence it follows,—
Thirdly, That as, under the natural government of God, our experience of those kinds and degrees of happiness and misery, which we do experience at present, gives just ground to hope for and to fear higher degrees and other kinds of both in a future state, supposing a future state admitted; so, under his moral government, our experience that virtue and vice are, in the manners above-mentioned, actually rewarded and punished at present, in a certain degree, gives just ground to hope and to fear, that they may be rewarded and punished in a higher degree hereafter. It is acknowledged, indeed, that this alone is not sufficient ground to think that they actually will be rewarded and punished in a higher degree, rather than in a lower. But then,
Lastly, There is sufficient ground to think so, from the good and bad tendencies of virtue and vice. For these tendencies are essential, and founded in the nature of things; whereas, the hinderances to their becoming effect are, in numberless cases, not necessary, but artificial only. Now, it may be much more strongly argued, that these tendencies, as well as the actual rewards and punishments of virtue and vice which arise directly out of the nature of things, will remain hereafter, than that the accidental hinderances of them will. And if these hinderances do not remain, those
rewards and punishments cannot be carried on much further towards the perfection of moral government; i. e. the tendencies of virtue and vice will become effect; but when, or where, or in what particular way, cannot be known at all but by revelation.
Upon the whole, there is a kind of moral government implied in God's natural government;* virtue and vice are naturally rewarded and punished as beneficial and mischievous to society,† and rewarded and punished directly as virtue and vice. The notion then of a moral scheme of government is not fictitious, but natural; for it is suggested to our thoughts by the constitution and course of nature, and the execution of this scheme is actually begun, in the instances here mentioned. And these things are to be considered as a declaration of the Author of nature, for virtue, and against vice; they give a credibility to the supposition of their being rewarded and punished hereafter, and also ground to hope and to fear, that they may be rewarded and punished in higher degrees than they are here. And as all this is confirmed, so the argument for religion, from the constitution and course of nature, is carried on farther, by observing, that there are natural tendencies, and in innumerable cases, only artificial hinderances, to this moral scheme being carried on much farther towards perfection than it is at present.§ The notion, then, of a moral scheme of government, much more perfect than what is seen, is not a fictitious but a natural notion; for it is suggested to our thoughts by the essential tendencies of virtue and vice. And these tendencies are to be considered as intimations, as implicit promises and threatenings, from the Author of nature, of much greater rewards and punishments to follow virtue. and vice than do at present. And, indeed, every natural tendency, which is to continue, but 'which is hindered. from becoming effect by only accidental causes, affords a presumption, that such tendency will, some time or other, become effect: a presumption in degree proportionable to Page 29. † Page 34. + Page 35, &c. § Page 41, &c.
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.
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
See this proof drawn out briefly, chap. 6. .
to wrong, or difficulties in adhering uniformly to what is right, and the danger of miscarrying by such temptations, than the words moral government. A state of probation then, as thus particularly implying in its trial, difficulties and danger, may require to be considered distinctly by itself.
And as the moral government 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 meant,* 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 happiness 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 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;
* Chap. 2.