Page images

and ill-doing, the presages of conscience, the love of good characters, and dislike of bad ones, honour, shame, resentment, gratitude; all these, considered in themselves, and in their effects, do afford manifest real instances of virtue, as such, naturally favoured, and of vice, as such, discountenanced, more or less, in the daily course of human life; in every age, in every relation, in every general circumstance of it. That God has given us a moral nature,* may most justly be urged as a proof of our being under his moral government; but that he has placed us in a condition which gives this nature, as one may speak, scope to operate, and in which it does unavoidably operate, i. e. influence mankind to act so as thus to favour and reward virtue, and discountenance and punish vice; this is not the same, but a further additional proof of his moral government ; for it is an instance of it. The first is a proof, that he will finally favour and support virtue effectually; the second is an example of his favouring and supporting it at present, in some degree.

If a more distinct inquiry be made, whence it arises that virtue, as such, is often rewarded, and vice, as such, is punished, and this rule never inverted; it will be found to proceed, in part, immediately from the moral nature itself which God has given us ; and also, in part, from his having given us, together with this nature, so great a power over each other's happiness and misery. For, first, it is certain, that peace and delight, in some degree and upon some occasions, is the necessary and

present effect of virtuous practice; an effect arising immediately from that constitution of our nature. We are so made, that welldoing, as such, gives us satisfaction, at least in some instances ; ill-doing, as such, in none. And, secondly, From our moral nature, joined with God's having put our happiness and misery, in many respects, in each other's power,

it cannot but be that vice, as such, some kinds and instances of

* See Dissertation II.

it at least, will be infamous, and men will be disposed to punish it as in itself detestable; and the villain will by no means be able always to aroid feeling that infamy, any more than he will be able to escape this further punishment which mankind will be disposed to inflict upon him, under the notion of his deserving it. But there can be nothing on the side of vice to answer this ; because there is nothing in the human mind contradictory, as the logicians speak, to virtue. For virtue consists in a regard to what is right and reasonable, as being so ; in a regard to veracity, justice, charity, in themselves; and there is surely no such thing as a like natural regard to falsehood, injustice, cruelty. If it be thought, that there are instances of an approbation of vice, as such, in itself, and for its own sake (though it does not appear to me that there is any such thing at all; but, supposing there be), it is evidently monstrous; as much so as the most acknowledged perversion of any passion whatever. Such instances of perversion, then, being left out as merely imaginary, or, however, unnatural; it must follow, from the frame of our nature, and from our condition, in the respects now described, that vice cannot at all be, and virtue cannot but be, favoured, as such, by others, upon some occasions, and happy in itself in some degree. For what is here insisted upon, is, not the degree in which virtue and vice are thus distinguished, but only the thing itself, that they are so in some degree; though the whole good and bad effect of virtue and vice, as such, is not inconsiderable in degree. But that they must be thus distinguished, in some degree, is in a manner necessary; it is matter of fact, of daily experience, even in the greatest confusion of human affairs,

It is not pretended but that, in the natural course of things, happiness and misery appear to be distributed by other rules, than only the personal merit and demerit of characters. They may sometimes be distributed by way of mere discipline. There may be the wisest and best reasons why the world should be governed by general laws, from whence such promiscuous distribution perhaps must follow; and also why our happiness and misery should be put in each other's power, in the degree which they are. And these things, as in general they contribute to the rewarding virtue and punishing vice, as such; so they often contribute also, not to the in-, version of this, which is impossible, but to the rendering persons prosperous though wicked, afflicted though righteous ; and, which is worse, to the rewarding some actions, though vicious, and punishing other actions, though virtuous. But all this cannot drown the voice of nature in the conduct of Providence, plainly declaring itself for virtue, by way of distinction from vice, and preference to it. For, our being so constituted as that virtue and vice are thus naturally favoured and discountenanced, rewarded and punished respectively as such, is an intuitive proof of the intent of nature that it should be so; otherwise the constitution of our mind, from which it thus immediately and directly proceeds, would be absurd. But it cannot be said, because virtuous actions are sometimes punished, and vicious actions rewarded, that nature intended it : For, though this great disorder is brought about, as all actions are done, by means of some natural passion, yet this may be, as it undoubtedly is, brought about by the perversion of such passion, implanted in us for other, and those very good purposes. And indeed these other and good purposes, even of every passion, may be clearly seen.

We have then a declaration, in some degree, of present effect, from Him who is supreme in nature, which side he is of, or what part he takes; a declaration for virtue, and against vice. So far, therefore, as a man is true to virtue, to veracity and justice, to equity and charity, and the right of the case, in whatever he is concerned, so far he is on the side of the divine administration, and co-operates with it ; and from hence, to such a man, arises naturally a secret satisfaction and sense of security, and implicit hope of somewhat further. And,

V. This hope is confirmed by the necessary tendencies of virtue, which, though not of present effect, yet are at present discernible in nature, and so afford an instance of somewhat moral in the essential constitution of it. There is in the nature of things, a tendency in virtue and vice to produce the good and bad effects now mentioned, in a greater degree than they do in fact produce them. For instance, good and bad men would be much more rewarded and punished as such, were it not that justice is often artificially eluded, that characters are not known, and many who would thus favour virtue and discourage vice, are hindered from doing so by accidental causes. These tendencies of virtue and vice are obvious with regard to individuals. But it may require more particularly to be considered, that power in a society, by being under the direction of virtue, naturally increases, and has a necessary tendency to prevail over opposite power, not under the direction of it; in like manner as power, by being under the direction of reason, increases, and has a tendency to prevail over brute force. There are several brute creatures of equal, and several of superior strength, to that of men; and possibly the sum of the whole strength of brutes may be greater than that of mankind; but reason gives us the advantage and superiority over them, and thus man is the acknowledged governing animal upon the earth. Nor is this superiority considered by any as accidental; but as what reason has a tendency, in the nature of the thing, to. obtain. And yet, perhaps, difficulties may be raised about the meaning, as well as the truth of the assertion, that virtue has the like tendency.

To obviate these difficulties, let us see more distinctly how the case stands with regard to reason, which is so readily acknowledged to have this advantageous tendency. Suppose, then, two or three men, of the best and most improved understanding, in a desolate open plain, attacked by ten times the number of beasts of prey; would their reason secure them the victory in this unequal combat? Power, then, though joined with reason, and under its direction, cannot be expected to prevail over opposite power, though merely brutal, unless the one bears some proportion to the other. Again, Put the imaginary case, that rational and

irrational creatures were of like external shape and manner: it is certain, before there were opportunities for the first to distinguish each other, to separate from their adversaries, and to form an union among themselves, they might be upon a level, or, in several respects, upon great disadvantage, though, united, they might be vastly superior ; since union is of such efficacy, that ten men, united, might be able to accomplish what ten thousand of the same natural strength and understanding, wholly ununited, could not. In this case, then, brute force might more than maintain its ground against reason, for want of union among the rational creatures. Or suppose a number of men to land upon an island inhabited only by wild beasts; a number of men who, by the regulations of civil government, the inventions of art, and the experience of some years, could they be preserved so long, would be really sufficient to subdue the wild beasts, and to preserve themselves in security from them; yet a conjunction of accidents might give such advantage to the irrational animals, as that they might at once overpower and even extirpate, the whole species of rational ones. Length of time, then, proper scope and opportunities for reason to exert itself, may be absolutely necessary for its prevailing

er brute force. Further still : There are many instances of brutes succeeding in attempts, which they could not have undertaken, had not their irrational nature rendered them incapable of foreseeing the danger of such attempts, or the fury of passion hindered their attending to it; and there are instances of reason and real prudence preventing men's undertaking what, it hath appeared afterwards, they might have succeeded in by a lucky rashness. And in certain conjunctures, ignorance and folly, weakness and discord, may have their advantages. So that rational animals have not necessarily the superiority over irrational ones, but, how improbable soever it may be, it is evidently possible, that, in some globes, the latter may be superior. And were the former wholly at variance and disunited, by false self-interest and envy, by treachery and injustice, and consequent rage

« PreviousContinue »