« PreviousContinue »
might, consistent with his own character as an absolute and arbitrary governour of the world, deceive us himself, as well as leave us in the hands of other deceivers. So that admitting Religion to be founded only on the arbitrary will of God, it would be the most uncertain and precarious thing in the world. And lupposing we could come to a certainty with respect to it; yet it could afford no folid grounds of peace, comfort, or safety, to mankind; because arbitrary will may set aside all promises and engagements
, and annex the feverest pains and penalties even to the strictest duty and obedience. And ;
: Tho', upon the present supposition, there is no such thing as right and wrong, as true and false Religion in nature; yet as a sense of right and wrong is so deeply rooted in the minds of most men that it becomes a kind of first principle to them ; so it will influence their affections and actions, it will greatly perplex and distress their minds, and will lay a foundation for endless disputes and controversies in matters of religion.
Thus, I have taken a view of the case supposing Religion to have no foundation in nature, but to be founded only on the opinions and fancies, or on the cunning and craftiness of men; or else to be the creature of some invisible agent, or agents, not divine; or else to be founded only on the absolute sovereignty and arbitrary will of God; these being, I think, all the possible ways in, and by which
religion could have been introduced into the world, supposing it to have no foundation in nature. I come now to the question before mentioned, viz. whether Religion has any folid foundation in nature ; that is, whether, there be in reality a right and wrong, a true and false Religion in nature ; and consequently, whether there be any certain obvious principles in nature or reason by which a man may di- . ftinguish these, and form a proper judgment in the present case, and which an honest upright man may safely and securely stay his mind upon.
I have already observed that the word Religion is sometimes used in a restrained sense, and is made to signify all those acts of piety and devotion by which men pay either their publick or their private acknowledgments to God. And, that the word Religion is also sometimes used in a more extensive sense, and is made to signify, either all those things by which men, as men, propose to obtain the divine favour ; or else all those things by which 'men, as finners, propose to obtain God's mercy and the happiness of another world. And according to this the enquiry is threefold, viz. First, whether piety has any foundation in nature, and what it is that nature points out to men with respect to it. Secondly, whether the grounds of mens acceptance with God is also founded in nature. Thirdly and lastly, when men by their mif- · behaviour have rendered themselves greatly
displeasing to the Deity; then, whether there is any thing in nature which can render them the proper objects of God's mercy and kindness, and consequently, will be the ground of the divine mercy to them.
And, that I may be both clear and full upon this question, I will first shew that there is a natural and an essential difference in things, and that one thing or action is really better or preferable to another in nature ; fecondly, that there is a rule of action resulting from that difference, which every moral agent ought in reason to govern his behaviour by ; and thirdly, that God makes this rule the measure of his actions in all his dealings with his creatures. From which it will follow that some actions are in their own nature justly approvable, and other's justly condemnable ; that some actions render the performing agent the suitable and proper object of approbation and affection, and that other actions render the agent the proper obje&t of dislike and resentment; that man, in the nature of the thing, is an accountable creature; and that there is in nature a just foundation for a future judgment and retribution. And, then, I will apply this to the point in question. And, here I shall have little else to do than to transcribe what I have already written upon the subject, that being full to my purpose.
* First, * First, I am to fhew that there is a natural and an essential difference in things; by which I mean, first, that there is not an uni. versal Jameness in nature, but that things and actions are really distinct and different from each other. That is to say, pleasure and pain, two and four, right and wrong, kind and unkind, are not the same thing; but those different terms are used to express
, and do convey to the mind ideas which are really distinct and different in nature. Pleasure is not the same thing as pain, two is not the same as four, right is not the same as wrong, kind is not the same as unkind, and the like. . Again, when I say there is a natural and an essential difference in things, I mean secondly, that there is not an universal indifference in nature, but that things and actions are really one better or preferable to another. That is to say, pleasure is in nature, (when considered ab, stractedly from all other confiderations,) better than pain; right is better than wrong; kind is better than unkind; and the like. And our discerning faculties do as naturally and as evidently perceive the difference betwixt these, with respect to their preferableness one to another, as those faculties do discern their differing one from another. That is, we do as naturally and as evidently perceive that pleafure is better than pain, as that pleasure is not pain; we do as naturally and evidently perceive that
doing * See my Discourse intitled, The Sufficiency of Reafor in Matters of Religion farther confidered.
doing right is better or preferable to doing wrong, as we perceive that right is not the fame thing as wrong ;' that to do right is commendable and worthy of a rational being, and therefore, ought in reason to determine his choice in it's favour ; and to do wrong is difreputable and unworthy of a rational being, and therefore, his choice ought always in reafon to be determined against it; and the like. And,
Tho' our reasoning faculty is absolutely necessary for the discovering the natural and essential difference in things, or to enable us to perceive it ; yet this faculty does not make or constitute that difference
. : Things and actions are really distinct from, and one preferable to another, when considered abstractedly from; and independent of any power in us; and out discerning faculty does only enable us to 'perceive, but does not constitute that difference. So that the difference in things does not result from, nor depend upon, any particular constitution of the mind, but is founded in nature, and therefore will appear the same to all minds, in which a capacity of discernment resides, tho' differently constituted. Two and four are really distinčt and different in nature, and this difference must and will appear the Jame to every mind in which a capacity of difcernment resides, tho’ differently constituted, Thus again, pleasure is in nature better and preferable to pain, and this difference must and will appear the fame to every mind,