plan. It is at any rate evident, that a larg

and ample province remains for the exercise of Providence, without its being naturally perceptible by us; because obscurity, when applied to the interruption of laws, bears a necessary proportion to the imperfection of our knowledge when applied to the laws themselves, or rather to the effects which these laws, under their various and incalculable combinations, would of their own accord produce. And if it be said, that the doctrine of Divine Providence, by reason of the ambiguity under which its exertions present themselves, can be attended with no practical influence upon our conduct; that, although we believe ever so firmly that there is a Providence, we must prepare, and prowide, and act, as if there were none ; I answer, that this is admitted: and that we further allege, that so to prepare, and so to provide, is consistent with the most perfect assurance of the reality of a Providence: and not only so, but that it is, probably, one advantage of the present state of our information, that our provisions and preparations are not disturbed by it. Or if it be still asked, Of what use at all then is the doctrine, if it neither alter our measures nor regulate our conduct? I answer again, that it is of the great

est use, but that it is a doctrine of sentiment and piety, not (immediately at least) of action or conduct; that it applies to the consolation of men's minds, to their devotions, to the excitement of gratitude, the support of . patience, the keeping alive and the strengthening of every motive for endeavouring to please our Maker; and that these are great liSES. – -

Of ALL views under which human life has ever been considered, the most reasonable in my judgement is that, which regards it as a state of probation. If the course of the world was separated from the contrivances of nature, I do not know that it would be necessary to look for any other account of it, than what, if it may be called an account,

is contained in the answer, that events rise

up by chance. But since the contrivances of nature decidedly evince intention ; and since the course of the world and the contrivances of nature have the same author; we are, by the force of this connexion, led to believe, that the appearance, under which events take place, is reconcileable with the supposition of design on the part of the Deity. It is enough that they be reconcileable with this supposition; and it is undoubtedly true, that they may be reconcileable, though we cannot re

concile them. The mind, however, which contemplates the works of nature, and, in those works, sees so much of means directed to ends, of beneficial effects brought about by wise expedients, of concerted trains of causes terminating in the happiest results; so much, in a word, of counsel, intention, and benevolence: a mind, I say, drawn into the habit of thought which these observations excite, can hardly turn its view to the condition of our own species, without endeavouring to suggest to itself some purpose, some design, for which the state in which we are placed is fitted, and which it is made to serve. Now we assert the most probable supposition to be, that it is a state of moral probation; and that many things in it suit with this hypothesis, which suit no other. It is not a state of unmixed happiness, or of happiness simply: it is not a state of designed misery, or of misery simply: it is not a state of retribution: it is not a state of punishment. It suits with none of these suppositions. It accords much better with the idea of its being a condition calculated for the production, exercise, and improvement of moral qualities, with a view to a future state, in which these qualities, after being so produced, exercised, and improved, may, by a new and more favouring constitution of things, receive their reward, or become their own. If it be said, that this is to enter upon a religious rather than a philosophical consideration, I answer, that the name of Religion ought to form no objection, if it shall turn out to be the case, that the more religious our views are, the more probability they contain. The degree of beneficence, of benevolent intention, and of power, exercised in the construction of sensitive beings, goes strongly in favour, not only of a creative, but of a continuing care, that is, of a ruling Providence. The degree of chance which appears to prevail in the world, requires to be reconciled with this hypothesis. Now it is one thing to maintain the doctrine of Providence along with that of a future state, and another thing without it. In my opinion, the two doctrines must stand or fall together. For although more of this apparent chance may perhaps, upon other principles, be accounted for, than is generally supposed, yet a future state alone rectifies all disorders: and if it can be shown, that the appearance of disorder is consistent with the uses of life as a preparatory state, or that in some respects it promotes these uses, then. so far as this hypothesis may be accepted, the ground of the difficulty is done away.

In the wide scale of human condition, there is not perhaps one of its manifold diversities, which does not bear upon the design here suggested. Virtue is infinitely various. There is no situation in which a rational being is placed, from that of the bestinstructed Christian, down to the condition of the rudest barbarian, which affords not room for moral agency; for the acquisition, exercise, and display of voluntary qualities, good and bad. Health and sickness, enjoyment and suffering, riches and poverty, knowledge and ignorance, power and subjection, liberty and bondage, civilization and barbarity, have all their offices and duties, all serve for the formation of character: for when we speak of a state of trial, it must be remembered, that characters are not only tried, or proved, or detected, but that they are generated also, and formed, by circumstances. The best dispositions may subsist under the most depressed, the most afflicted fortunes. A West-Indian slave, who, amidst his wrongs, retains his benevolence, I for my part, look upon, as amongst the foremost of human candidates for the rewards of virtue. The kind master of such a slave, that is, he, who in the exercise of an inordinate authority, postpones, in any degree, his own in

« VorigeDoorgaan »