Page images

in our cities; discases and pains in our own persons, or those of our nearest friends and relations, and death on our right hand and on our left; what are all these but awful and yet kiod warnings from the tender and compaflionate Father of mankind, who thews himself willing to give his poor unthinking, short-fighted creatures all poslible advantages for virtue and happiness, that might be at all consistent with their nature as free agents, with their condition as beings in a state of difcipline, and with the grand and universal scheme, which must be equitable, unchangeable, and uniform.

And, as if all this, and a thousand times more not mentioned, had not been enough, we are taught, that angels have a charge over us, to aslist us in our trials, and to prevent cur falling too shamefully; that the Divinc Providence watches over us, and suits our circumstances to our strength and ingenuity of difpofition. And to crown all, the Ambassador of heaven, the image of Paternal Deity, and brightness of Divine Glory has descended to our world, and in our own nature shewn us, both by his example and his divine laws, what it is to live as we ought, and how we may infallibly attain the end of our being. If this is not doing enough for us,--what would be enough?

Thus it appears plain, that the present was intended for a state of discipline, and is very well adapted to that purpose. Nor does the actual failure and hideous ruin of numbers of moral agents, who will undoubtedly be found hereafter to have perverted this state of discipline for virtue, into an education in vice, prove, that the state was not intended for training them up to virtue, or that it is not properly adapted to that purpose, any more than the amazing number of abortions, which happen in the natural world, proves, that the general design of seeds was not to fructify, and produce plants and animals. Naturalists shew us, that in some cases millions of stamina perish for one that comes to maturity. And, as we conclude every feed of a plant, or animal egg, was formed capable of fructification, so we may, that every moral agent was formed capable of attaining happiness. The great difference is, that in the


natural world, the numerous abortions we have been speaking of, are the consequence of the common course of nature; but in the moral, of the fatal perverseness of unhappy beings, who wilfully rush upon their own destruction.

Some have made a difficulty of conceiving how the wiseft and best of beings, who must have foreseen, that great numbers of his unhappy short-fighted creatures, in spite of all that should be done for them, would obftinately throw themselves into destruction, and defeat the end of their creation; some have puzzled them selves, I say, how to reconcile with the divine perfections of wisdom and goodness, the creating of such beings.

But what state of discipline for free agents can be conceived, without suppoling a possibility of their behaving illin it? Nothing but an absolute restraint upon the liberty of the creature, which is wholly inconsistent with the ature of free agency, and of a state of discipline, could have prevented their acting in many instances amiss. But the all-bounteous Creator has effectually put it out of the power of the most presumptuously infolent of his creatures to arraign his justice. For, if he has given to every accountable being a fair opportunity of working out his own happiness; if he has put into the hands of every individual the means; placed him in the direct way toward it, and is ready to assist him in his endeavours after it; if he has, in short, put happinels in the power of every accountable being, which he undoubtedly has, as thewn above; he has, to all intents and purposes, done the same as if he had given it to every individual. For he, who poinis me out the way to get an estate, or any of the good things of life, and who affifts and supports me in my endeavours to procure it, he it is to whom I am obliged for whatever I acquire in confcquence of his advice, and by means of his protection and aslistance? Now, if the beneficent Author of being has thus given to every individual fuch means of happiness, as it must be wholly through his own perverseness if he milles it ; what shadow of pretence is there for cavilling, or what difficulty in under


I 4

tanding and vindicating the wisdom and goodness of the adorable Author of existence? If we lay the whole blame, and with the utmost justice, on him, who, having an opportunity and means for gaining any fecular advantage put in his hands, neglects them; if we fhould as much condemn the man, who, through obftinacy or indolence, has let slip an opportunity of making his fortune, as another, who through extravagance has diffipated one already in his poffeffion; if we Thould as justly look upon that person as our benefactor, by whose means we acquire the conveniences of life, as on the immediate giver of a gift, what remains but that we justify and adore the boundless goodness of the universal Parent of Nature, who, by calling innumerable creatures into existence, by endowing them with reason, by placing them in a state of discipline, and giving them all poslible advantages for the improvement, necessary for happiness, has, in effect, put in the hands of every accountable being a felicity fit for a God to bestow? And if every individual, that shall hereafter be condemned, shall be obliged to confess his fentence just, and to own that he might have acted a better part than he did, the Divine justice and goodness stand fully vindicated in the light of the whole rational creation.

For, what: -Muft the infinite Author of existence (with reverence be it spoken) must He deny himself the exertion of his boundless goodness in producing an universe of conscious beings, of whom numbers will in the event come to happineis, merely to prevent the selffought destruction of a set of wicked degenerate beings? Either there must have been no creatures brought into being above the rank of brutes, consequently no happiness above the animal enjoyed by any created being, or freedom of agency must have been given. And what freedom is conceivable without a poffibility of error and irregularity, and consequently of misery? But is not the happiness of one virtuous mind of more confequence than the voluntary ruin of a thousand degenerate beings? And is not a state, in which we have the opportunity of attaining an inconceivable felicity, if we be


not inexcusably wanting to ourselves, is not this a state to be wished for by mankind, if they had their choice either to come into it or not? As for those unhappy beings of our fpecies, who, proceeding from one degree of vice and folly to another, shall at last come to be har. dened against all good, what is the value of thousands of such beings in the estimation of infinite wisdom and rectitude, that their destruction should be thought a hardship? For what else are such degenerate beings fit? Besides, we know that Divine Wisdom has so planned out his universal economy, that an inferior good shall, in the end, proceed from what was by wicked beings intended for ruin and mischief, ; The whole human species were originally formed capable of happiness, and every individual has happiness in his power But as the Divine Wisdom, which perfectly knew the future characters of all his creatures, with all the circumstances they should be effected by, foresaw that numbers would come to deviate from the eternal rule of rectitude, it was proper that a secondary scheme should be provided, by means of which those free agents, who should not voluntarily yield the due obedience and concurrence with the general design, should, by superior direction, be forced to contribute to the greater perfection and beauty of the whole. Of this secondary part of the divine economy, we can trace out some very considerable parts, as the following, viz. We know that wicked and cruel men, in endeavouring to root out truth, and sweep virtue from theearth; have ever been made, in spite of themselves, the instruments of their more general establishment. The whole race of persecutors of Christianity, from Herod down to Lewis XIV, have so egregiously overshot themselves, as to be the very causes of the greater prevalency of true religion, which has given occasion to the well-known saying, That the blood of the martyrs has been the feed of the church. In' more private life, it is notorious, that a very considerable part of the trials of the virtue of good men arises from the wicked part of the species. And every trial, where the good man comes off with honour, serves naturally to establish his virtue, and to increase his reward hereafter.

The The mere contrast between the character of the pious, the temperate and benevolent man, and that of the blasphemer, the voluptuary, and the hard-hearted, sets off the former to the utmost advantage, and presents it to the general observation in the fairest point of view; by which votaries to virtue are gained, and a horror at vice is raised in every considerate mind. And in the future state, what powerful effects may be produced by the fearful and exemplary punishments inflicted on those of our species, or others, who have degenerated from the dignity of their nature, and, as much as they could, defeated the end of their creation, may be imagined by those who consider what extensive connections between the various orders of being may hereafter come to be opened to our view, and that, as all moral and free agents of all orders are now allied, they may hereafter come to be united, and make one immense and universal society; and whatever has been originally intended for usefulness to one order of moral agents, may at last come to be useful to all. Something analogous to this we have in the case of the fallen angels, whose ruin is mentioned in Scripture as a warning to us.

It has been said, Since the Supreme Being foresaw, without a possibility of error, what would be the exact character of every one of his creatures, was it not to have been expected, that such of them as he knew would turn out wicked, and come to ruin, should never have been brought into existence, or cut off in the beginning of life? Our Saviour says of Judas, for example, that it had been better for him never to have been born. How then, say they, came he to be born? Or why was he not removed out of life, before he came to the age of perpetrating the most atrocious 'crime that ever was or can be committed ?

Though I would not be the proposer of such pre, sumptuous questions, I think it innocent enough to endeavour to answer them. And first, if we consider, that to infinite purity and rectitude wickedness is so odious as to render the guilty person altogether contemptible in his fight, we ihall not wonder that he does


« PreviousContinue »