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supply the want of those natural perceptions of praise, and blame, which had been removed, and to give him a practical belief of his being an accountable creature. Now this correction must convince him, either, first, that the system was false; or, secondly, that it was inconclusively misapplied. Even so, what the fatalist experiences of the conduct of Providence, ought to convince him, that his system either is false, or is misapplied, when applied to religion.
In short, the scheme of fatality, when practically applied to the affairs of life, will always be found fallacious and absurd.
Now, no absurdity of this kind results from the supposition of our being free; but, all our reasoning on such principles is justified by experience. Hence, though the opinion of necessity be speculatively true, yet, practically it is as if it were false; and that, through the whole course of the present world, which is constituted, as if it were free.
Since then, the application of fatalism (even though abstractedly true) to the affairs of life, assuredly misleads us dreadfully as to our present interest; it is by analogy, equally dangerous to apply it to a future, and more important one; and, therefore, highly absurd to conclude that we are free from the obligations of religion, which is a practical matter.
If then, upon the supposition of freedom, the evidence of religion be conclusive, it is so upon supposition of necessity; for the latter not being applicable to practical subjects, is, with respect to them, as if
Moreover we are conscious of possessing within ourselves a will and a character; and if this be reconcileable with fate, in us, it must be also in the Author of Nature. Now His natural government, and final causes, do imply a will, and some character or other, respecting the creatures he governs; and hence, Necessity is as reconcileable with the particular character of justice, veracity, and charity, in Him,— (which attributes are the foundation of Religion),as with any other character; for this necessity does not hinder men from being benevolent, true, and just, rather than cruel, faithless, and unjust.
Neither, again, does this supposition of God's being necessarily of that character which is the foundation of religion, destroy the proof of His being so, and consequently the proof of religion. For it is evident from experience, that happiness, or misery, is not our fate, in such a sense as not to be the consequences of our conduct; but that in fact they are so. God's government therefore is of the same kind as that of a father over children, or a magistrate over subjects. Whatever
becomes of the abstract question of fate, veracity and justice are evidently the rule and measure of God's authority in exercise.
The proof then, from final causes, of an intelligent Author of Nature, is not affected by this opinion of necessity; and it is a fact, that He governs the world by rewards and punishments.
Moreover, He has given us a moral faculty, to discern between good and bad; by which we approve the virtuous, and disapprove the vicious. Now, this very faculty implies a rule of action, so authoritative, that we cannot violate it without being self-condemned. And it cannot but be plainly considered as a command from Him, to creatures capable of estimating it as such; and as carrying with it a virtual promise to obedience, and a threatening to disobedience. The very sense of good or evil, in the moral discernment, renders the sanctions of it evident to the understanding; and can only be an imparted presentiment of what is to be hereafter. Hence, we cannot but believe that the results of virtue and vice, shall at length correspond to the ideas, which God has so peculiarly impressed upon our minds.
Now, no objection, from necessity, can lie against this general proof of religion; for the possession of a faculty is a fact, and the conclusion drawn results immediately from the fact; the conclusion not being
drawn from our own notions of fitness, that He should: but, from the innate sense of good or ill desert, assuring us that He will. And this is corroborated, and almost verified, by the natural tendencies of virtue and vice; and by the fact that God does punish vicious actions, as such, in the strictest sense'. Hence, again, the general proof of religion is unanswerably real.
Natural religion hath also an external evidence, which the doctrine of necessity cannot affect. "That there is a God, the Maker, moral Governor, and Judge of mankind, who will deal with every one according to his works," is,-1st, A belief in some way or other professed in all ages and countries, as far as we know ; it is, 2ndly, An historical fact, that this whole system of belief was received in the first ages; and there is, 3rdly, Express historical or traditional evidence, that it was taught first by revelation. These things have great weight. The first shows it conformable to the common sense of mankind; the second corroborates its truth; and the third must be admitted as some real proof of a revelation; for why should not tradition be admitted as proof of a fact, against which there is no presumption? And this proof goes to show, that religion existed, prior to any book supposed to contain it.
1 See Chapter III. Section IV. page 34.
The above observations, taken altogether, amount to a real practical proof of religion; a proof sufficient to influence men of thought and reflection, if it be admitted that there is no proof to the contrary. But it is replied, "We need not dispute about the probable particulars, when the whole opinion is false: government, by rewards and punishments, implies we are free, and not necessary, agents; and it is impossible the Author of Nature should govern us, upon a supposition as true, which He knows to be false: hence it is absurd that He will punish or reward us for our actions, considered as good or bad."
Here, then, the argument comes to a point; and the answer is plain. The whole constitution of nature and analogy of Providence clearly show this conclusion to be false, wherever the fallacy may happen to lie. The doctrine of freedom shows where; viz. in supposing ourselves necessary, instead of free, agents. But, upon the doctrine of necessity, the fallacy is, in asserting it to be "incredible that necessary agents should be rewarded or punished." This conclusion must, in some way, be false; for that God does govern His creatures by a method of rewards and punishments, is an evident fact, observable in the natural course of things around us.
If, then, it be incredible that necessary agents should be rewarded or punished, then men must be