« AnteriorContinuar »
that man is plainly in his nature an accountable crea- PROP. ture, and capable of being judged. Those creatures, indeed, whose actions are all determined by some-being by thing without themselves, or by what we call mere nature an instinct, as they are not capable of having a rule given them, so it is evident that neither can they be ture. accountable for their actions. But man, who has entirely within himself a free principle or power of determining his own actions upon moral motives, and has a rule given him to act by, which is right reason, can be, nay, cannot but be, accountable for all his actions, how far they have been agreeable or disagreeable to that rule. Every man, because of the natural liberty of his will, can and ought to govern all his actions by some certain rule, and give a reason for every thing he does. Every moral action he performs, being free and without any compulsion or natural necessity, proceeds either from some good motive or some evil one; is either conformable to right reason, or contrary to it; is worthy either of praise or dispraise, and capable either of excuse or aggravation : Consequently, it is highly reasonable to be supposed, that since there is a Superior Being, from whom we received all our faculties and powers, and since in the right use or in the abuse of those faculties, in the governing them by the rule of right reason, or in the neglecting that rule, consists all the moral difference of our actions; there will at some time or other be an examination or inquiry made, into the grounds, and motives, and circumstances of our several actions, how agreeable or disagreeable they have been to the rule that was given us; and a suitable judgment be passed upon them. Upon these considerations the wisest of the ancient heathens believed and taught that the actions of every particular person should all be strictly tried and examined after his death, and he have accordingly a just and impartial sentence passed upon him: Which doctrine though the poets indeed wrapped up in fables and obscure riddles, yet the wisest of the philosophers
account. able crea
PROP. had a better notion of it, and more agreeable to rea
son. From this judgment, saith Plato,* let no man hope to be able to escape : For though you could descend into the very depth of the earth, or fly on high to the extremities of the heavens ; yet should you never escape the just judgment of the gods, either before or after death: An expression very agreeable to that of the Psalmist; Psal. cxxxix. 8, 9.
These, I say, are very good and strong arguments for the great probability of a future state: But that drawn as above, from the consideration of the moral attributes of God, seems to amount even to a demonstration.
V. Though the necessity and indispensableness of all the great and moral obligations of natural religion, and also the certainty of a future state of rewards and punishments, be thus in general deducible, even demonstrably, by a chain of clear and undeniable reasoning ; yet in the present state of the world, by what means soever it came originally to be so corrupted, the particular circumstances whereof could not now be certainly known but by revelation,) such is the carelessness, inconsiderateness, and want of attention of the greater part of mankind; so many the prejudices and false notions taken up by evil education ; so strong and violent the unreasonable lusts, appetites, and desires of sense ; and so great the blindness introduced by superstitious opinions, vicious customs, and debauched practices through the world ; that very few are able, in reality and effect, to discover these things clearly and plainly for themselves : But men have great need of particular
* Ταύσης της δίκης έτε συ μήποτε, έτε ει άλλος άτυχης γενόμενος επευξηται περιγενέσθαι θεών.γαρ αμεληθήση που υπ' αυτής ουχ ούτω
'Ou σμικρός ών, δύση κατά το της γης βάθος ουδει υψηλός γενόμενος, εις τον ουρανόν αναπτήση: τίσεις δε αυτών την προησήκεσαν τιμωρίαν, εί τ’ ενθάδε μένων, είτε και ει άδε διαπορευθείς, είτε και τούτων εις άγιώτερον έτι διακομισθείς TÓTOV.— Plalo de Legib. lib. 10.
teaching, and much instruction, to convince them PROP. of the truth, and certainty, and importance of these, things; to give them a due sense, and clear and just apprehensions concerning them, and to bring them effectually to the practice of the plainest and most necessary duties.
1. There is naturally in the greater part of man- Men hin. kind such a prodigious carelessness, inconsiderateness dered from and want of attention, as not only hinders them from ing and making use of their reason, in such manner as to dis. under
standing cover these things clearly and effectually for them- religious selves, but is the cause of the grossest and most stu- truths, by pid ignorance imaginable. Some seem to have little ness and or hardly any notion of God at all; and more take want of
attention. little or no care to frame just and worthy apprehensions concerning him, concerning the divine attributes and perfections of his nature; and still many more are entirely negligent and heedless to consider and discover what may be his will. Few make a due use of theirnatural faculties, to distinguish rightly the essential and unchangeable difference between good and evil; fewer yet so attend to the natural notices which God has given them, as by their own understanding to collect that what is good is the express will and command of God, and what is evil is forbidden by him; and still fewer consider with themselves the weight and importance of these things, the natural rewards or punishments that are frequently annexed in this life to the practice of virtue or vice, and the much greater and certainer difference that shall be made between them in a life to come. Hence it is that (as traveilers assure us) even some whole nations seem to have very little notion of God, or at least very poor and unworthy apprehensions concerning him; and a very small sense of the obligations of morality; and very mean and obscure expectations of a future state. Not that God has any
a where left himself wholly without witness; or that the difference of good and evil is to any rational being undiscernible; or that men at any time or in
PROP. any nation, could ever be firmly and generally per
suaded in their own minds that they perished absolutely at death : But through supine negligence and want of attention, they let their reason (as it were) sleep,* and are deaf to the dictates of common understanding; and, like brute beasts, minding only the things that are before their eyes, never consider any thing that is abstract from sense, or beyond their present private temporal interest. And it were well if even in civilized nations this was not very nearly the case of too many men, when left entirely to themselves, and void of particular instruction.
2. The greater part of mankind are not only inatearly pre-, tentive, and barely ignorant, but commonly they judices and
have also, through a careless and evil education, taken up early prejudices, and many vain and foolish notions, which pervert their natural understanding, and hinder them from using their reason in moral matters to any effectual purpose. This cannot be better described than in the words of Cicero: If we had come into the world, saith het in such circumstances as that we could clearly and distinctly have discerned nature herself, and have been able in the course of our lives to follow her true and uncorrupted directions, this alone might have been sufficient, and there
Multis signis natura declarat quid velit ;- -obsurdescimustamen, nescio quomodo, nec audimus.--Cic. de Amicit.
+ Si tales nos natura genuisset, ut eam ipsam intueri et perspicere, eâque optimâ duce cursum vitæ conficere possemus; haud esset sanè quod quisquam rationem et doctrinam requireret. Nunc vero, &c.—Cic. Tusc. Qucest. lib. 3.
Nunc parvulos nobis dedit igniculos, quos celeriter malis moribus opinionibusque depravatis sic restinguimus, ut nusquam naturæ lumen appareat. -Simul atque editi in lucem et suscepti sumus, in omni continuo pravitate, et in summa opinionum perversitate, versamur; ut pene cum lacte nutricis, errorem suxisse videamur. Cum vero parentibus redditi, deinde magistris traditi sumus; tum ita variis imbuimur erroribus, ut vanitati veritas, et opinioni confirmatæ natura ipsa cedat. -Cum vero accedit eodem, quasi maximus quidem magister, populus, atque omnis undique ad vitia consentiens multitudo, tum plane inficimur opinionum pravitate, a naturaque ipsa desciscimus. Ibid.
would have been little need of teaching and instruc- PROP. tion. But now nature has given us only some small sparks of right reason, which we so quickly extinguish with corrupt opinions and evil practices, that the true light of nature nowhere appears : As soon as we are brought into the world, immediately we dwell in the midst of all. wickedness, and are surrounded with a number of most perverse and foolish opinions, so that we seem to suck in error even with our nurse's milk : Afterwards, when we return to our parents, and are committed to tutors, then we are further stocked with such variety of errors, that truth becomes perfectly overwhelmed with falsehood, and the most natural sentiments of our minds are entirely stifled with confirmed follies; but when, after all this, we enter upon business in the world, and make the multitude, conspiring everywhere in wickedness, our great guide and example, then our very nature itself is wholly transformed, as it were, into corrupt opinions. A livelier description of the present corrupt estate of human nature is not easily to be met with.
3. In the generality of men the appetites and de- And by sires of sense are so violent and importunate, the bu. sensual
appetites, siness and the pleasures of the world take up so much passions, of their time, and their passions are so very strong and world
ly business and unreasonable, that of themselves they are very backward and unapt to employ their reason, and fix their attention upon moral matters, and still more backward to apply themselves to the practice of them. The love of pleasure is (as Aristotle elegantly expresses it,*) so nourished up with us from our very childhood, and so incorporated (as it were) into the whole course of our lives, that it is very difficult for men to withdraw their thoughts from sensual objects, and fasten them upon things remote from sense; and if perhaps they do attend a little, and begin to see the
* "Ετι δε εκ νηπίε πάσιν ημίν συντέθραπται [ηδονήδιό και χαλεπόν απότρίψασθαι τούτο το πάθος, έγκεχρωσμένον τώ βίω.-Aristot. Ethic. lib. 2.