Page images


IF the reader should meet here with anything which he had not before attended to, it will not be in the observations upon the constitution and course of nature, these being all obvious; but in the application of them : in which, though there is nothing but what appears to me of some real weight, and therefore of great importance ; yet he will observe several things which will appear to him of very little, if he can think things to be of little importance, which are of any real weight at all, upon such a subject as religion. However, the proper force of the following Treatise lies in the whole general analogy considered together.

It is come, I know not how, to be taken for granted by many persons, that Christianity is not so much as a subject of inquiry; but that it is now, at length, discovered to be fictitious. And accordingly they treat it as if, in the present age, this were an agreed point among all people of discernment; and nothing remained but to set it up as a principal subject of mirth and ridicule, as it were by way of reprisals, for its having so long interrupted the pleasures of the world. On the contrary, thus much, at least, will be here found, not taken for granted, but proved, that any reasonable man, who will thoroughly consider the matter, may be as much assured as he is of his own being, that it is not, however, so clear a case, that there is nothing in it. There is, I think, strong evidence of its truth; but it is certain no one can, upon principles of reason, be satisfied of the contrary. And the practical consequence to be drawn from this is not attended to by every one who is concerned in it.

May, 1736.





The religious system of Bishop BUTLER is chiefly to be collected from the following Treatise, entitled, “The Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature.”

“All things are double one against another, and God hath made nothing imperfect;" Ecclus. xlii. 24. On this single observation of the Son of Sirach, the whole fabric of our prelate's defence of religion, in his “ Analogy," is raised. Instead of indulging, to idle speculations, how the world might possibly have been better than it is; or, forgetful of the difference between hypothesis and fact, attempting to explain the divine economy with respect to intelligent creatures from preconceived notions of his own; he first inquires, what the constitution of nature, as made known to us in the way of experiment, actually is ; and from this, now seen and acknowledged, he endeavours to form a judgment of that larger constitution which religion discovers to us. If the dispensation of Providence we are now under, considered as inhabitants of this world, and having a temporal interest to secure in it, be found, on examination, to be analogous to, and of a piece with, that further dispensation which relates to us as designed for another world, in which we have an eternal interest, depending on our behaviour here; if both may be traced up to the same general laws, and appear to be carried on according to the same plan of administration; the fair presumption is, that both proceed from one and the same Author. And if the principal parts objected to in this latter dispensation be similar to, and of the same kind with, what we certainly experience under the former; the objections, being clearly inconclusive in one case, because contradicted by plain fact, must, in all reason, be allowed to be inconclusive also in the other.

This way of arguing from what is acknowledged to what is disputed, from things known to other things that resemble them, from that part of the divine establishment which is exposed to our view to that more important one which lies beyond it, is on all hands confessed to be just. By this method, Sir Isaac Newton has unfolded the system of nature; by the same method Bishop Butler has explained the system of grace: and thus, to use the words of a writer whom I quote with pleasure, “has formed and concluded a happy alliance between faith and philosophy *."

And although the argument from analogy be allowed to be imperfect, and by no means sufficient to solve all difficulties respecting the government of God, and the designs of his providence with regard to mankind (a degree of knowledge which we are not furnished with faculties for attaining, at least in the present state); yet surely it is of importance to learn from it, that the natural and moral world are intimately connected, and parts of one stupendous whole or system; and that the chief objections which are brought against religion, may be urged with equal force against the constitution and course of nature, where they are certainly false in fact. And this information we may derive from the work before us; the proper design of which, it may be of use to observe, is not to prove the truth of religion, either natural or revealed, but to confirm that proof, already known, by considerations from analogy.

After this account of the method of reasoning employed by our Author, let us now advert to his manner of applying it ; first, to the subject of natural religion, and, secondly, to that of revealed.

I. The foundation of all our hopes and fears is a future life ; and with this the Treatise begins. Neither the reason

* Mr. Mainwaring's Dissertation, prefixed to his volume of Sermops.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »