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ends accomplished by it. All irregularities, perhaps, could not be prevented; and interpositions might produce more evil in one way, than they prevent in another.
It may be said, "We must judge of religion by what we do know; and that these answers, founded on our alleged ignorance, may, therefore, be applied to invalidate the proof of religion."
But though total ignorance does, yet partial ignorance does not, destroy all proof respecting any matter. If we be convinced of the general character of a person, we conclude that the objects he pursues will be correspondent, though we may not comprehend how the means he adopts will be conducive thereto; but our ignorance, therefore, does not invalidate the proof that such were his objects. Now the proof of religion, is a proof of the moral character of God, and that the end of His government is a dealing with each one, upon the whole, according to his deserts. But we know not the properest way of accomplishing this; and, therefore, our ignorance is an answer to objections as to the seeming irregularities in His government, though it does not affect the proof of it.
Again: Though it were admitted, that unknown relations might invalidate the proof of religion, yet the moral obligations would remain; for these arise from the innate feelings of our own mind, and we
cannot violate them without being self-condemned: and, even though the future results of virtue and vice were doubtful, yet it is credible they may be such as religion teaches; and, therefore, it is prudent to abstain from evil, and to do good.
Moreover, if God exercises a moral government over the world, analogy leads us to conclude it must be a scheme or system beyond our comprehension. Now a thousand particular analogies show us, that certain parts of a system may be necessary to the whole, however at first sight they may appear unsuited or contradictory. And in religion, therefore, could we comprehend the whole, the very things objected against may be very consistent with justice and goodness, and even be instances of them. Now this reasoning is not applicable to the proof of religion, as it is to the objections against it; and, therefore, cannot invalidate the proof, as it does the objections.
The above observations are not vague suppositions of unknown impossibilities and relations, but suggestions forced upon the mind of every observant man, by the analogy of nature, and rendered credible thereby ; teaching us, by experience, that we are not fit and competent judges of the scheme of God's moral go
These last observations lead us to conclude, that this little scene of human life is connected with a much more extensive system. It is evident, from all about us, that we are placed in the midst of some progressive scheme, incomprehensible and wonderful; containing in it things as much beyond our conception as any thing in religion can be. Indeed, it is more difficult to account for the origin and present existence of the world without, than it is with an intelligent Author and Governor of it; and no scheme of government is more readily conceivable than that which we call moral; whilst the contrary suppositions render all things utterly inexplicable.
That there is such an intelligent Author and Governor, is a principle we have hitherto gone upon, as confessedly proved; such a Being, it has been shown, must have a will and character, which the very nature He has given leads us to conclude is moral, just, and good, and cannot be otherwise. Under this will and character of His, all the events of this life are carried on. Now, as reasonable beings, we cannot help inquiring what will be the result to us of this scheme, in the midst of which we are. For particular analogies1
1 See Chap. I.
show, that at death we shall not cease to be; the dissolution of our bodies, which are not ourselves, not being the destruction of the living agents, which are so, and which will continue after death. Immortality opens an unbounded prospect of hopes and fears'; for, in our present experience, we find that our interest depends ultimately upon our behaviour; and we infer the same will hold in a future state, and that He will, upon the whole, reward the good and punish the bad.
To confirm this, there is a sort of moral government' observable in the natural government of the world; we see virtue and vice rewarded and punished as such, to such a degree, as to lead to a supposition of a still higher degree of distributive justice, in future, though temporary obstacles prevent it now. And as these things are observable on the side of virtue, so there is nothing to be set against it, on the side of vice.
A moral scheme of government is, then, in some degree, visibly carried on by God now; leading to the inference of a more perfect one hereafter, and of our future interest being dependent on our present conduct. This is put in our own power: and as, from obstacles and temptations, we have a hazard as to our temporal interest3; so, by analogy, the same holds with respect to our future one.
1 See Chap. II. 2 See Chap. III.
3 See Chap. IV.
How we came to be in this situation is, in the whole, But we may partly
beyond our comprehension.
account for it, by considering that a certain character1 must be necessary, to fit us for that future state (as it is to fit us for any state); that we are made capable of improvement of all kinds; that by cultivation of practical principles, we form habits thereof, and that the present world is peculiarly fitted for a state of moral discipline, as early life is calculated to form habits required in mature age. We, therefore, thence conclude the present state is a school of discipline, to form the character of virtue, suited for a future one.
And as all objections against God's moral government, founded upon necessity, are practically vain and delusive; so, our limited comprehension3 is a sufficient answer to objections against its equity and justice.
This should awaken serious thought; and engage us to the practice of virtue and piety; specially when we consider how very precarious is the short-lived pleasure, that vice can possibly bring now, and the righteous judgment hereafter. In comparison with religion, the inducements to vice are worthless; and to plead ungovernable passion, is but a poor apology, when we know we are placed here, to curb and control it; and, in fact, we do so control it, to secure our
1 See Chap. V. 2 See Chap. VI. 3 See Chap. VII.