Page images
PDF
EPUB

and malice against each other, whilst the latter were firmly united among themselves by instinct, this might greatly contribute to the introducing such an inverted order of things. For

every one would consider it as inverted, since reason has, in the nature of it, a tendency to prevail over brute force, notwithstanding the possibility it may not prevail, and the necessity which there is for many concurring circumstances to render it prevalent.

Now, I say, virtue in a society, has a like tendency to procure superiority and additional power, whether this power be considered as a means of security from opposite power, or of obtaining other advantages. And it has this tendency, by rendering public good an object and end to every member of the society; by putting every one upon consideration and diligence, recollection and self-government, both in order to see what is the most effectuał method, and also in order to perform their proper part for obtaining and preserving it; by uniting a society within itself, and so increasing its strength, and, which is particularly to be mentioned, uniting it by means of veracity and justice. For as these last are principal bonds of union, so benevolence, or public spirit, undirected, unrestrained by them, is-nobody knows what.

And suppose the invisible world, and the invisible dispensations of Providence, to be in any sort analogous to what appears; or that both together make up one uniform scheme, the two parts of which, the part which we see, and that which is beyond our observation, are analogous to each other ; then there must be a like natural tendency in the derived power, throughout the universe, under the direction of virtue, to prevail in general over that which is not under its direction; as there is in reason, derived reason, in the universe, to prevail over brute force. But then, in order to the prevalence of virtue, or that it may actually produce what it has a tendency to produce, the like concurrences are necessary as are to the prevalence of reason. There must be some proportion between the natural power of force which is, and that which is not, under the direction of virtue: there must be sufficient length of time ; for the complete success of virtue, as of reason, cannot, from the nature of the thing, be otherwise than gradual: there must be, as one may speak, a fair field of trial, a stage large and extensive enough, proper occasions and opportunities for the virtuous to join together, to exert themselves against lawless force, and to reap the fruit of their united labours, Now, indeed, it is to be hoped, that the disproportion between the good and the bad, even here on earth, is not so great, but that the former have natural

power sufficient to their prevailing to a considerable degree, if circumstances would permit this power to be united. For, much less, very much less power, under the direction of virtue, would prevail over much greater, not under the direction of it. However, good men

over the face of the earth cannot unite; as for other reasons, so because they cannot be sufficiently ascertained of each other's characters. And the known course of human things, the scene we are now passing through, particularly the shortness of life, denies to virtue its full scope in several other respects. The natural tendency which we have been considering, though real, is hindered from being carried into effect in the present state ; but these binderances may be removed in a future one. Virtue, to row the Christian allusion, is militant here, and various untoward accidents contribute to its being often overborne ; but it may combat with greater advantage hereafter, and prevail completely, and enjoy its consequent rewards in some future states. Neglected as it is, perhaps unknown, perhaps despised and oppressed here, there may be scenes in eternity, lasting enough, and in every other way adapted, to afford it a sufficient sphere of action, and a sufficient sphere for the natural consequences of it to follow in fact. If the soul be naturally immortal, and this state be a progress towards a future one, as childhood is towards mature age, good men may naturally unite, not only amongst themselves, but also with other orders of virtuous creatures, in that future state. For virtue, from the very nature of it, is a principle and bond of union, in some degree, amongst all who are endued with it, and known to each other; so as that by it a good man cannot but recommend himself to the favour and protection of all virtuous beings, throughout the whole universe, who can be acquainted with his character, and can any way interpose in his behalf in any part of his duration. And one might add, that suppose all this advantageous tendency of virtue to become effect amongst one or more orders of creatures, in any distant scenes and periods, and to be seen by any orders of vicious creatures throughout the universal kingdom of God; this happy effect of virtue would have a tendency, by way of example, and possibly in other ways, to amend those of them who are capable of amendment, and being recovered to a just sense of virtue. If our notions of the plan of Providence were enlarged, in any sort proportionable to what late discoveries have enlarged our views, with respect to the material world, representations of this kind would not appear absurd or extravagant. However, they are not to be taken, as intended, for a literal delineation of what is, in fact, the particular scheme of the universe, which cannot be known without revelation ; for suppositions are not to be looked on as true, because not incredible; but they are mentioned to show, that our finding virtue to be hindered from procuring to itself such superiority and advantages, is no objection against its having, in the essential nature of the thing, a tendency to procure them. And the suppositions now mentioned do plainly show this; for they show, that these hinderances are so far from being necessary, that we ourselves can easily conceive how they may be removed in future states, and full scope be granted to virtue. And all these advantageous tendencies of it are to be considered as declarations of God in its favour. This, however, is taking a pretty large compass; though it is certain, that as the material world appears to be, in a manner, boundless and immense, there must be some scheme of Providence vast in proportion to it.

But let us return to the earth, our habitation, and we shall see this happy tendency of virtue, by imagining an instance

not so vast and remote-by supposing a kingdom, or society of men, upon it, perfectly virtuous, for a succession of many ages; to which, if you please, may be given a situation advantageous for universal monarchy. In such a state there would be no such thing as faction ; but men of the greatest capacity would, of course, all along, have the chief direction of affairs willingly yielded to them, and they would share it among themselves without envy. Each of these would have the part assigned him to which his genius was peculiarly adapted ; and others, who had not any distinguished genius, would be safe and think themselves very happy, by being under the protection and guidance of those who had. Public determinations would really be the result of the united wisdom of the community, and they would faithfully be executed by the united strength of it. Some would in a higher way contribute, but all would in some way contribute, to the public prosperity; and in it each would enjoy the fruits of his own virtue. And as injustice, whether by fraud or force, would be unknown among themselves, so they would be sufficiently secured from it in their neighbours. For cunning and false self-interest, confederacies in injustice, ever slight, and accompanied with faction and intestine treachery: these, on one hand, would be found mere childish folly and weakness, when set in opposition against wisdom, public spirit, union inviolable, and fidelity on the other, allowing both a sufficient length of years to try their force. Add the general influence which such a kingdom would have over the face of the earth, by way of example particularly, and the reverence which would be paid it. It would plainly be superior to all others, and the world must gradually come under its empire; not by means of lawless violence, but partly by what must be allowed to be just conquest, and partly by other kingdoms submitting themselves voluntarily to it throughout a course of ages, and claiming its protection one after another, in successive exigencies. The head of it would be an universal monarch, in another sense than any mortal has yet been, and the Eastern style would be literally applicable to him, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him. And though indeed our knowledge of human nature, and the whole history of mankind, show the impossibility, without some miraculous interposition, that a number of men here on earth should unite in one society or government, in the fear of God and universal practice of virtue, and that such a government should continue so united for a succession of ages; yet, admitting or supposing this, the effect would be as now drawn out. And thus, for instance, the wonderful power and prosperity promised to the Jewish nation in the Scripture, would be, in a great measure, the consequence of what is predicted of them; that the “people should be all righteous, and inherit the land for ever,” Isaiah lx. 21.; were we to understand the latter phrase of a long continuance only, sufficient to give things time to work. The predictions of this kind, for there are many of them, cannot come to pass in the present known course of nature ; but suppose them come to pass, and then the dominion and pre-eminence promised must naturally follow to a very considerable degree.

Consider, now, the general system of religion: that the government of the world is uniform, and one, and moral ; that virtue and right shall finally have the advantage, and prevail over fraud and lawless force, over the deceits as well as the violence of wickedness, under the conduct of one supreme Governor;

and from the observations above made it will appear, that God has, by our reason, given us to see a peculiar connexion in the several parts of this scheme, and a tendency towards the completion of it, arising out of the very nature of virtue ; which tendency is to be considered as somewhat moral in the essential constitution of things. If any one should think all this to be of little importance, I desire

consider what he would think, if vice had, essentially and in its nature, these advantageous tendencies, or if virtue had essentially the direct contrary ones.

But it may be objected, that notwithstanding all these natural effects, and these natural tendencies of virtue, yet things

« PreviousContinue »