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As, then, under the government of God which we experience upon earth, we have a present interest, neither forced upon us, nor offered to our acceptance but only to our acquisition, so that by negligence, or a want of self-denial, we may fail of it; so the general analogy of Providence will lead us to conclude, that under the moral government of God, the chief and final good which religion proposes, may be lost to us, by our own negligence and misconduct.
OF THE PRESENT STATE, AS INTENDED FOR MORAL DISCIPLINE AND IMPROVEMENT.
ARGUMENT. The present life is plainly a state of Education and Improvement: the discipline of each stage being intended to fit and prepare us for the succeeding one; that of childhood preparing us for the duties of youth; of youth for manhood; and of manhood for old age. Hence, by analogy, it is perfectly credible, that (as religion teaches) the present life is a state of discipline and improvement, to qualify us, by the acquisition of habits of virtue, for a future one.
The present world is peculiarly fitted to be a school of moral discipline; and our experimental knowledge of the influence of its temptations upon our natural propensities, is calculated to confirm and establish us
in such settled habits of virtue, as that state will necessarily require.
Two questions naturally arise from our being placed in this probationary state :-First, "How we came to be so placed?" This, however, is a matter involved in insuperable difficulties; and, if even our faculties could comprehend it, it is doubtful whether the knowledge would benefit us.
The second question is, "What is our business here?" To this there is this satisfactory answer: "We are placed in this trying state to qualify ourselves, by the practice of virtue, for a future state of security and happiness."
Our education in early years, to fit us for the duties of mature age in the present life, is analogous to this our trial for a future one.
I. Every creature is naturally fitted for a particular way of life, by particular capacities, suited to the external circumstances wherein it is to be placed; so that if a man's capacities were entirely changed, he would be altogether as incapable of a human course of life and happiness, as if (his nature remaining unchanged,) he were placed in a world totally unsuited to his appetites and passions. "One thing is set over against another," as an ancient writer expresses it:
our nature corresponds to our external condition. Human life and happiness, therefore, are a result from our nature and condition jointly. Hence, though we know not what may be the employment and happiness of good men, in a future life, they must have some determinate capacities and character, to fit them for its enjoyment. Now,
II. All creatures seem constituted with a capability of becoming qualified for states of life, for which they were once wholly unqualified; and have faculties made for enlargement and acquirement of habits. We ourselves, particularly, have capacities not only for acquiring ideas and knowledge, but for storing them up in memory; and our faculties of apprehension, reason, and memory, are improved by exercise. Aptness in action, and in recollection, is plainly the result of habit; hence come habits of perception and action; by the former, we estimate magnitudes and distances (correcting, involuntarily, the impressions of the visual sense); and our readiness in speaking, or writing the words of language, is an instance of the latter. Bodily habits are the result of frequent use; and mental habits are equally so: the one are produced by repeated external acts; the other by the frequent exertion of inward principles-i. e. by carrying them into act, or by acting upon them. Hence habits of obedience, veracity, justice, and charity, are acquired by prac
tically exercising the internal principles; and habits of envy and revenge, by indulgence, whether in act or intention (an intention being an inward act). Resolutions to do well, or to impress upon ourselves, or others, a sense of practical virtue, are, therefore, virtuous acts, and contribute towards good habits. Whereas, mere theorizing upon virtue; may even weaken the moral sense; passive impressions growing weaker by repetition; just as familiarity with danger, or death, lessens fear; and, with distress, lessens pity.
Hence "Habits may be formed and strengthened, by a course of acting upon motives and excitements; whilst these very motives and excitements, themselves, may be less sensibly felt, even as the habits grow stronger:" e. g. perception of distress in others, excites to pity and benevolence; but familiarity with misery lessens the pity, though the principle of benevolence is improved by exercise; and whilst a man passively compassionates the distressed less, he has a greater aptitude actively to assist them.
The appointment of nature seems to be, that active habits are formed by exercise; and by custom we get a readiness, and often a pleasure, in a certain course of action; its difficulties lessen, as does our aversion to it; whilst the reasons for it appear more readily, and excite us more strongly. Practical principles thus grow not only absolutely stronger, but relatively