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The soul uneasy, and confin'd from home,
Now the reason why the Poet chuses to insist on this proof of a future state in preference to others, I conceive, is in order to give his system (which is founded in a sublime and improved Platonism) the utmost grace of miformity. For we know this HOPE was Plato's peculiar argument for a future state; and the words here. employed, The soul uneasy, &c. his peculiar expression: We have seen the argument illustrated with great force of reasoning, by our most eminent modern divines: But no where stronger urged than by our Poet, in this Essay. He says here, in express terms, That God gave us Hope to supply that future bliss which he at present keeps hid from us. In his 2d Ep. 1. 264. he goes still farther, and says, this HOPE quits us not even at death, when every thing mortal drops from us.
Hope travels through, nor quits us when we die.
And, in the 4th Epistle he shews how the same HOPE is a certain proof of a future state, from the consideration of God's giving Man no appetite in vain, or what he did not intend should be satisfied; (which is Plato's great argument for a future state.) For, describing the condition of the good man, he breaks out into these rapturous strains:
For him alone hope leads from goal to goal,
Are giv'n in vain, but what they seek they find. 1. 331, et seq. It is only for the good man, he tells us, that hope leads from goal to goal, &c. It would be strange indeed then, if it should be a delusion.
But it hath been objected, that the system of the best weakens the other natural arguments for a future state, because if the evils which good men suffer, promote the benefit of the whole, then every thing is here in order;
and nothing amiss that wants to be set right: Nor has the good man any reason to expect a reparation, when the evils he suffered had such a tendency. To this we reply, that the system of the best is so far from weakening those natural arguments, that it strengthens and supports them. To consider it a little, if those evils to which good men are subject be mere disorders, without any tendency to the greater good of the whole, then, though we must indeed conclude that they will hereafter be set right, yet this view of things, representing God as suffering disorders for no other purpose than to set then right, gives us a very low idea of the Divine Wisdom. But if those evils (according to the system of the best} contribute to the greater perfection of the whole, a reason may be then given for their permission, and such a one as supports our idea of Divine Wisdom to the highest religious purposes. Then, as to the good man's hopes of a retribution, those still remain in their original force. For our idea of God's justice, and how far that justice is engaged to a retribution, is exactly and invariably the same on either hypothesis. For though the system of the best supposes that the evils themselves will be fully compensated by the good they produce to the whole, yet this is so far from supposing that particulars shall suffer for a general good, that it is essential to this system, to conclude that, at the completion of things, when the whole is arrived to the state of utmost perfection, particular and universal good shall coincide.
Such is the WORLD'S great harmony, that springs
Where small and great, where weak and mighty, made
Ep. iii. 1. 296, et seq.
Which coincidence can never be without a retribution to good men for the evils suffered here below.
To return then to the Poet's argument, he, as we said, bids Man comfort himself with expectation of future happiness, and shews him that this HOPE is an earnest of it: But first of all puts in one very necessary caution,
Hope humbly then, with trembling pinions soar. And provoked at those miscreants, whom he afterwards [Ep. 3.
[Ep. 3. 1. 262.] describes as building Hell on spite, and Heaven on pride, he upbraids them [from 1.94 to 109.] with the example of the poor Indian, to who also Nature hath given this common HOPE of mankind. But though his untutored mind had betrayed him into many childish fancies concerning the nature of that future state, yet he is so far from excluding any part of his own species (a vice which could proceed only from vain science, which puffeth up), that he humanely admits even his faithful dog to bear him company.
And then [from I. 108 to 119.] shews them, that complaints against the established order of things, begin in the highest absurdity from misapplied reason and power, and end in the highest impiety, in an attempt to degrade the God of Heaven, and assume his place.
Go wiser thou, and in thy scale of sense
That is, be made God, who only is perfect, and hath immortality:
To which sense the lines immediately following confine us:
Snatch from his hand the balance and the rod,
From these men, the Poet turns to his Friend, and [from 1. 118 to 137.] remarks that the ground of all this extravagance is pride; which, more or less, infects the whole species:--shews the ill effects of it, in the case of the fallen angels; and observes, that even wishing to invert the laws of order is a lower species of their crime :then brings an instance of one of the effects of pride, which is the folly of thinking every thing made solely for the use of Man; without the least regard to any other of God's creatures.
Ask for what end the heavenly Bodies shine,
Annual for me, the grape, the rose, renew
The ridicule of imagining the greater portions of the material system were solely for the use of Man, philosophy has sufficiently exposed: and common sense, as the Poet shews, instructs us to know that our fellow-creatures, placed by Providence the joint inhabitants of this globe, are designed by Providence to be joint sharers with us of its blessings.
Has God, thou fool! work'd solely for thy good,
Having thus given a general idea of the goodness and wisdom of God, and the folly and ingratitude of Man, the great Author comes next (after this necessary prepa'ration) to the confirmation of his thesis, That partial Moral Evil is universal Good: but introduceth it with a proper argument to abate our wonder at the phænomenon of moral evil, which argument he builds on a concession of his adversaries. "If we ask you,” says he, [from 1. 136 to 147.]" whether Nature doth not err "from the gracious end of its Creator, when plagues, "earthquakes, and tempests, unpeople whole regions "at a time? you readily answer, No. For that God acts by general and not by particular laws; and that "the course of matter and motion must be necessarily "subject to some irregularities, because nothing created is perfect." Say you so? I then ask, why you should expect this perfection in Man? If you own that the great
end of God (notwithstanding all this deviation) be general happiness, then it is Nature, and not God that deviates; and do you expect greater constancy in Man?
Then Nature deviates, and can Man do less?
i. e. if Nature, or the inanimate system (on which God hath imposed his laws, which it obeys as a machine obeys the hand of the workman), may in course of time deviate from its first direction, as the best philosophy shews it may*; where is the wonder that Man, who was created a free agent, and hath it in his power every moment to transgress the eternal Rule of Right, should sometimes go out of order?
Having thus shewn how Moral Evil came into the world, namely, by Man's abuse of his own free-will, he comes to the point, the confirmation of his thesis, by shewing how moral Evil promotes Good; and employs the same concession of his adversaries, concerning natural Evil, to illustrate it.
1. He shews it tends to the good of the whole, or universe [from 1. 146 to 157.] and this by analogy. "You own, says he, that storms and tempests, clouds, rain, heat, and variety of seasons are necessary (notwithstanding the accidental evils they bring with them) to "the health and plenty of this globe; why then should you suppose there is not the same use, with regard to "the universe, in a Borgia and a Catiline?" But you say, you can see the one and not the other. You say right. One terminates in this system, the other refers to the whole. But, says the Poet, in another place,
of this frame, the bearings and the ties, The strong connexions, nice dependencies, Gradations just, has thy pervading soul Look'd thro'? Or can a part contain the whole? 1. 29, et seq.
While Comets move in very eccentric orbs, in all manner of positions, blind Fate could never make all the Planets move one and the same way in orbs concentric, some inconsiderable irregularities excepted, which may have risen from the mutual actions of Comets and Planets upon one another, and which will be apt to increase till this system wants a reformation. Sir Is. Newt. Optics, Quest. ult.