« PreviousContinue »
for his use; and, as men have in fact more or less rightly used, neglected, or abused their own abilities, and those external things that have come within their power ; and thereby have rightly used, or abused their natural liberty : To from hence has followed, by a natural and unavoidable consequence, that great variety, and contrariety of characters as aforesaid.
But then, tho' man's agency has been the first and chief cause, of the various and different characters which have taken place amongst mankind; yet there have been a great number of secondary causes, if I may so speak, which have contributed greatly to the great variety and contrariety of tempers and conslitutions which have taken place in and amongst men, by which one man is more strongly inclined to industry than to indolence, another is more strongly inclined to indolence than to industry; one man is more strongly inclined to benevolence than to a vicious felfishness, another is more strongly inclined to a vicious Jelfishness than to benevolence, and the like: These have contributed greatly towards the forming mens characters as aforesaid.
This, I think, has been, most apparently, the case in fact. For, tho’ it may well be supposed that the original pair were rightly constituted; that is, that their constitutions were so poised or ballanced as that one part had not the ascendant over another, excepting that one part which was designed to direct and govern the whole ; I say, tho' it may well
be be supposed that this was the case of our first parents, when they came out of their Maker's hand; yet it could not well be expected that it would be the case, nor has it been so in fact with their pofterity. The tempers and conftitutions even of our first parents were liable to be altered and changed, by those various and different circumstances that were liable to attend them. Thus, their living in different climates, or their using too much, or too little exercise, of their eating or drinking too much, or too little, or their feeding upon improper food, of which, perhaps, for want of experience they might not have been very good judges, and the like, might have impaired the health, and altered the tempers and constitutions even of our first parents themselves. And, if this was, or might have been the case of the original pair, then, what changes, what variety and contrariety of tempers and constitutions might justly have been expected would take place in their numberless pofterity; even such as experience and fact has shewn them to be. For, as the circumstances of mankind in general would of course be greatly different from that of our first parents; so that difference of circumstances would introduce that great variety and contrariety of temper's and constitutions as we see at this day. And these have contributed much towards the introducing the different and contrary characters that have and do take place in and amongst mankind. But then, these are only second caufes, if they may be so called; because, notwithstanding mens tempers and constitutions every man has it in his power, and it is left to his option, with regard to his conduct, whether he will govern his natural inclinations, or be governed by them. .
I have already observed, that I do not intend to enter fully into this question, nor indeed do I think my self capable of it; but only, by way of effay, to hint at fome of the grounds or reasons of that great variety and contrariety of characters that take place amongst men ; and therefore, I shall take nos tice but of one thing more which has contributed greatly towards the forming mens characters as aforesaid, and that is Religion. For, as nothing has been more different and contrary than mens religion; so nothing has had more different and contrary influence upon mens affections and actions.
The word Religion is sometimes used in a restrained sense, and fignifies only those acts of piety and devotion by which, men pay either their publick or their private acknowledgments to God; and in this sense of the word Religion men are said to be more or less reli. gious, as they more or less abound in the use of these acts of devotion, or as they are more or less zealous with regard to them. The word Religion is also sometimes used in a more extensive sense, and is made to signify all these things by which men, as men, propose to obtain the divine favour ; and by which men,
as finners, propose to obtain God's mercy and the happiness of another world. And, whether the word Religion be taken in one sense or the other, as it is greatly different and contrary with respect to the opinions of the multitude of mankind; so it has had a very different, and sometimes a contrary influence upon their affections and actions. Alas! religion has been of such weight in the present case, as that it has not only over-ruled and controuled the understandings, but also the strongest appetites and paffons, and the most tender affections of men. It has extorted industry from the most indolent, and cruelty from the most tender. and compassionate. It has baffled the underftandings of the most discerning, and made weak men mad. It has laid waste cities, overturned kingdoms, and turned whole countries, into fields of blood. It would, perhaps, be not only an entertaining, but also a useful performance were I to give my reader a clear view of the great variety and contrariety of sentiments and practices with regard to religion, which now take place in the several parts of the world, and which have taken place in all the several ages of it; and likewise thew my reader what great variety and contrariety of effects religion has had upon the affections and actions of men, but this, it may well be supposed, is greatly above my ability to perform. All that I can do is only to remind my reader of what comes, in some measure, within his own notice and observation, and by which he.
may form some probable opinion of the case. Christians all are, or at least they all profess themselves to be discipled to one and the same master, and yet, notwithstanding, there now is, and has been, (almost ever since Christianity has had a being) great variety and contrariety of religious principles and practices amongst them; and these have had different and opposite influence upon their affections and actions. This has been so notoriously the case in fact, that it would fill a volume to enumerate the various and contrary religious sentiments that have been imbibed, and zealously contended for by Christians; the great variety and contrariety of religious practices that have prevailed amongst them; and the various and contrary events that have been occasioned by these. This, as I said before, must in some measure have come within my reader's own notice and observation, and therefore, needs no exemplification. If therefore, the religion of Christians, (who value themselves upon that much greater and clearer light, and much safer. guidance vouchsafed to them, by their religion, than any other part of mankind partake of,) has been, and fill is so various and contradictory, and if the present happiness and misery of mankind has been, and still is greatly affected by the religion of Christians, as the experience of this age, as well as many ages that are past, have abundantly Thewn it to be; then, what may we expect, or rather what may we not expect from the religions of all those other