« VorigeDoorgaan »
notice and actual result, constituting government in the proper sense of the expression. And this is equally the case, whether He does it by His own immediate action, or by the operation of His regular laws. For if civil magistrates could make laws to execute themselves, or every criminal to execute them upon himself, without their interposition, we should be as much under their government as we are now, only in a much higher degree and more perfect manner.
Final causes then being admitted, all pleasures or pains, be they greater or less, must be admitted as forming instances of them ;-if God annexes pleasure or uneasiness to different actions, with an apparent design to influence our conduct; then He not only dispenses happiness and misery, but He rewards and punishes actions.
Thus we deduce that the Author of Nature is a governor or master; even prior to the consideration of His moral attributes,―(i. e. prior to our knowing what sort of master.) He exercises a dominion over us by rewards or punishments, in as strict a sense as children, servants, or subjects, are rewarded and punished by their respective governors. And thus the whole analogy of Nature fully shows, that there is nothing incredible in that doctrine of religion, "That God will reward and punish men for their actions hereafter."
But divine punishment is what men chiefly object against; and we, therefore, proceed to show that some circumstances in the natural course of punishments now, are analogous to what religion teaches concerning a future state of punishment, and render it credible.
It has been shown, that certain miseries follow certain imprudent or wilful actions, as well as vicious ones; and that these consequences, when foreseen, are properly natural punishments. Now these punishments often follow actions procuring present advantage or pleasure; as sickness and death follow intemperance and jollity. They often exceed the advantages and pleasures: they do not always immediately follow, so that the delay is no evidence of final impunity; because, after such delay, they often come suddenly and violently. There being, however, no certainty of evil consequences, persons do not always entertain a distinct expectation of them; and, therefore, only a credibility exists, that they will follow, whilst the real probability often is, that men may escape them. But still things take their destined course, and misery follows crime at its appointed period, in very many cases. Thus, the thoughtlessness of youth doth not prevent the consequences of rashness and folly being felt in mature life;' habits contracted at that age, are often their utter ruin; opportunities neglected do not return to them :
as in nature, if the seed-time be neglected, the whole year is lost. And though men may reform, and retrieve their affairs, yet evil consequences must, notwithstanding, be borne, proportioned to their inconsiderateness, folly, or wickedness. And, lastly, civil government being natural, its punishments are so too : thus, some are capital; just as the effects of some vices are mortal; and seem inflicted either to prevent the offender from being further mischievous, or as an example to deter others.
These things are not occasional or accidental, but of every day's experience, and proceed from general laws of God's providential government; and they are so analogous of what religion teaches us of the future punishment of the wicked, that the same description will suit both. In the book of Proverbs, Wisdom is introduced as publicly offering herself to be the guide of human life; and upon her offers being rejected, she exclaims1, "Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh: when your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind when distress and anguish cometh upon
1 Proverbs i. 24, &c.
you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer, they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me." The passage is figurative, but the meaning is obvious, and is expressed more literally thus:-" For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord: they would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. Therefore, shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them." And the whole is strikingly applicable, as well to what we experience here, as also to what religion teaches to be expected hereafter.
We see many persons receiving checks and warnings in the ways of vice and folly from their own experience,—from examples of others,-from advice of friends, &c.—and persisting, till the long delayed consequences break in upon them like a flood, and involve them in poverty, remorse, infamy, or death, beyond the possibility of escape.
And this is an account only of what is the general Constitution of Nature.
It is not meant, that men are uniformly punished in proportion to their misbehaviour; but that there are very many and dreadful instances of it; sufficient to show what the laws of the universe may admit; and sufficient to answer all objections against the credibility
of a future state of punishment, on the plea that our natural frailty and external temptations almost annihilate the guilt of our vices: as also to answer objections of other sorts, connected with the uncontrollable will of the Divine Being, and His incapability of offence or provocation.
Reflections of this kind are good, to put down that fearlessness for the future, which nothing but atheism For if dreadful punishments often fall upon men in this life, according to a course of things appointed by God ;—is there any pretence of reason to think, that let them live as licentiously as they please, there shall be nothing analogous to this, in a future and more general interest, under the providence and government of the same God?