Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

terest to his slave's comfort, is likewise a meritorious character: but still he is inferior to his slave. All however which I contend for, is, that these destinies, opposite as they may be in every other view, are both trials; and equally such. The observation may be applied to every other condition; to the whole range of the scale, not excepting even its lowest extremity. Savages appear to us all alike; but it is owing to the distance at which we view savage life, that we perceive in it no discrimation of character. I make no doubt, but that moral qualities, both good and bad, are called into action as much, and that they subsist in as great variety, in these inartificial societies, as they are, or do, in polished life. Certain at least it is, that the good and ill treatment which each individual meets with, depends more upon the choice and voluntary conduct of those about him, than it does or ought to do, under regular civil institutions, and the coercion of public laws. So again, to turn our eyes to the other end of the scale, namely, that part of it which is occupied by mankind, enjoying the benefits of learning, together with the lights of revelation, there also, the advantage is all along. probationary. Christianity itself, I mean the revelation of Christianity, is not only a bless/ - 2 M

[ocr errors]

ing but a trial. It is one of the diversified means by which the character is exercised: and they who require of Christianity, that the revelation of it should be universal, may possibly be found to require, that one species of probation should be adopted, if not to the exclusion of others, at least to the narrowing of that variety which the wisdom of the Deity hath appointed to this part of his moral economy”.

Now if this supposition be well founded: that is, if it be true, that our ultimate, or our most permanent happiness, will depend, not upon the temporary condition into which we are cast, but upon our behaviour in it; then is it a much more fit subject of chance than We usually allow or apprehend it to be, in what manner, the variety of external circumstances, which subsist in the human world, is distributed amongst the individuals of the species. “ This life being a state of proba

* The reader will observe, that I speak of the revelation of Christianity as distinct from Christianity itself. The dispensation may already be universal. That part of mankind which never heard of Christ's name, may nevertheless be redeemed, that is, be placed in a better condition, with respect to their future state, by his intervention; may be the objects of his benignity and intercession, as well as of the propitiatory virtue of his passion. But this is not “natural theology;” therefore I will not dwell longer upon it. *

[ocr errors]

tion, it is immaterial,” says Rousseau, “what kind of trials we experience in it, provided they produce their effects.” Of two agents who stand indifferent to the moral Governor of the universe, one may be exercised by riches, the other by poverty. The treatment of these two shall appear to be very opposite, whilst in truth it is the same: for though, in many respects, there be great disparity between the conditions assigned, in one main article there may be none, viz. in that they are alike trials; have both their duties and temptations, not less arduous or less dangerous, in one case than the other; so that if the final award follow the character, the original distribution of the circumstances under which that character is formed, may be defended upon principles not only of justice but of equality. What hinders therefore, but that mankind may draw lots for their condition? They take their portion of faculties and opportunities, as any unknown cause, or concourse of causes, or as causes acting for other purposes, may happen to set them out; but the event is governed by that which depends upon themselves, the application of what they have received. In dividing the talents, no rule was observed; none was necessary: in rewarding the use of them, that of the most correct justice. The chief difference at last appears to be, that the right use of more talents, i.e. of a greater trust, will be more highly rewarded, than the right use of fewer talents, i.e. of a less trust. And since for other purposes, it is expedient, that there be an inequality of concredited talents here, as well, probably, as an inequality of conditions hereafter, though all remuneratory, can any rule, adapted to that inequality, be more agreeable, even to our apprehensions of distributive justice, than this is? We have said, that the appearance of casualty, which attends the occurrences and events of life, not only does not interfere with its uses, as a state of probation, but that it promotes these uses. Passive virtues, of all others the severest and the most sublime; of all others, perhaps, the most acceptable to the Deity; would, it is evident, be excluded from a constitution, in which happiness and misery regularly followed virtue and vice. Patience and composure under distress, affliction, and pain; a steadfast keeping up of our confidence in God, and of our reliance upon his final goodness, at the time when every thing present is adverse and discouraging; and (what is no less difficult to retain) a cordial desire

for the happiness of others, even when we are deprived of our own: these dispositions, which constitute, perhaps, the perfection of our moral nature, would not have found their proper office and object in a state of avowed retribution; and in which, consequently, endurance of evil would be only submission to punishment.

[ocr errors]

Again: one man's sufferings may be another man's trial. The family of a sick parent is a school of filial piety. The charities of domestic life, and not only these, but all the social virtues, are called out by distress. But then, misery, to be the proper object of mitigation, or of that benevolence which endeavours to relieve, must be really or apparently casual. It is upon such sufferings . alone that benevolence can operate. For were there no evils in the world, but what were punishments, properly and intelligibly such, benevolence would only stand in the way of justice. Such evils, consistently with the administration of moral government, could not be prevented or alleviated, that is to say, could not be remitted in whole or in part, except by the authority which inflicted them, or by an appellate or superior authority. This consideration, which is founded in eur most acknowledged apprehensions of

A

« VorigeDoorgaan »