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reason, one would think, that we (if we are not besotted) should oppose it to our utmost too. However, let us but have our liturgy continued to us as it is, till the persons are born who shall be able to mend it, or make a better, and we desire no greater security against either the altering this or introducing another.
The truth is, such as would new model the Church of England ought not only to have a new religion, (which some have been so long driving at,) but a new reason likewise to proceed by; since experience (which was ever yet accounted one of the surest and best improvements of reason) has been always for acquiescing in things settled with sober and mature advice, (and, in the present case also, with the very blood and martyrdom of the advisers themselves,) without running the risk of new experiments; which, though in philosophy they may be commendable, yet in religion and religious matters are generally fatal and pernicious. The church is a royal society for settling old things, and not for finding out new. In a word, we serve a wise and unchangeable God, and we desire to do it by a religion and in a church (as like him as may be) without changes or alterations.
And now, as in so important a matter I would interest both universities, so I do it with the same honour and deference to both; as abhorring from my heart the pedantic partiality of preferring one before the other; since (if my relation to one should never so much incline me so to do) I must sincerely declare, that I cannot see how to place a preference where I can find no preeminence. And, therefore, as they are both equal in fame, and learning, and all that is great and excellent, so I hope to see them always one in judgment and design, heart and affection; without any strife, emulation, or contest between them except this one. (which I wish may be perpetual,) namely, which of the two best universities in the world shall be most serviceable to the best church in the world, by their learning, constancy, and integrity.
But to conclude, there remains no more for me to do, but to beg pardon of that august body to which I belong, if I have offended in assuming to myself the honour of mentioning my relation to a society which I could never reflect the least honour upon, nor contribute the least advantage to.
All that I can add is, that, as it was my fortune to serve this noble seat of learning for many years, as her public, though unworthy orator, so upon that, and other innumerable accounts, I ought for ever to be, and to acknowledge myself, her most faithful, obedient, and devoted servant,
WESTMINSTER ABBET, Nov. 17, 1693.
THE PRACTICE OF RELIGION ENFORCED
PREACHED AT WESTMINSTER ABBEY, 1667.
"He that walketh uprightly walketh surely."— PROV. X. 9.
As it were easy to evince, both from reason and experience, that there is a strange, restless activity in the soul of man, continually disposing it to operate, and exert its faculties; so the phrase of Scripture still expresses the life of man by walking; that is, it represents an active principle in an active posture. And because the nature of man carries him thus ont to action, it is no wonder if the same nature equally renders him solicitous about the issue and event of his actions; for every one, by reflecting upon the way and method of his own workings, will find that he is still determined in them, by a respect to the consequence of what he does; always proceeding upon this argumentation: If I do such a thing, such an advantage will follow from it, and therefore I will do it. And if I do this, such a mischief will ensue thereupon, and therefore I will forbear. Every one, I say, is concluded by this practical discourse; and for a man to bring his actions to the event proposed and designed by him, is to walk surely. But since the event of an action usually follows the nature or quality of it, and the quality follows the rule directing it, it concerns a man, by all means, in the framing of his actions, not to be deceived in the rule which he pro
poses for the measure of them; which, without great and exact caution, he may be these two ways,
1. By laying false and deceitful principles. 2. In case he lays right principles, yet by mistaking in the consequences which he draws from them.
An error in either of which is equally dangerous; for if a man is to draw a line, it is all one whether he does it by a crooked rule, or by a straight one misapplied. He who fixes upon false principles treads upon infirm ground, and so sinks; and he who fails in his deductions from right principles, stumbles upon firm ground, and so falls; the disaster is not of the same kind, but of the same mischief in both.
act and behave himself in this world, as to secure himself from an estate of misery in the other. And thus to act, is, in the phrase of Scripture, to "walk uprightly ;" and it is my business to prove, that he who acts in the strength of this conclusion, drawn from the two forementioned principles," walks surely," or secures a happy event to his actions, against all contingencies whatsoever.
And to demonstrate this, I shall consider the said principles under a threefold supposition :
of such as are to be governed by them; and lastly, since experience shews that rewards and punishments, terminated only within this life, are not sufficient for that purpose, it fairly and rationally follows, that the rewards and punishments, which God governs mankind by, do and must look beyond it.
And thus I have given a brief proof of the certainty of these principles; namely, that there is a supreme governor of the world; and that there is a future estate of happiness or misery for men after this life; which principles, while a man steers his course by, if he acts piously, soberly, and temperately, I suppose there needs no farther arguments to evince, that he acts prudentially and safely. For he acts as under the eye of his just and severe Judge, who reaches to his creature a command with one hand, and a reward with the other. He spends as a person who knows that he must come to a reckoning. He sees an eternal happiness or misery suspended upon a few days' behaviour; and therefore, he lives every hour as for eternity. His future condition has such a powerful influence upon his present practice, because he entertains a continual apprehension and a firm persuasion of it. If a man walks over a narrow bridge when he is drunk, it is no wonder that he forgets his caution, while he overlooks his danger. But he who is sober, and views that nice separation between himself and the devouring deep, so that if he should slip, he sees his grave gaping under him, surely must needs take every step with horror, and the utmost caution and solicitude.
1st, As certainly true;
And if the pious man brings his actions to a happy end, whichsoever of these suppositions his principles fall under, then certainly, there is none who walks so surely, and upon such irrefragable grounds of prudence, as he who is religious.
1. First of all, therefore, we will take these principles (as we may very well do) under the hypothesis of certainly true: where, though the method of the ratiocination which I have cast the present discourse into, does not naturally engage me to prove them so, but only to shew what directly and necessarily follows upon a supposal that they are so; yet to give the greater perspicuity and clearness to the prosecution of the subject in hand, I shall briefly demonstrate them thus.
It is necessary that there should be some first mover; and, if so, a first being; and the first being must infer an infinite, unlimited perfection in the said seing: forasmuch as if it were finite or limited, that limitation must have been either from itself or from something else. But not from itself, since it is contrary to reason and nature, that any being should limit its own perfection; nor yet from something else, since then it should not have been the first, as supposing some other thing coevous to it, which is against the present supposition. So that it being clear, that there must be a first being, and that infinitely perfect, it will follow, that all other perfection that is, must be derived from it; and so we infer the creation of the world; and then supposing the world created by God, (since it is no ways reconcileable to God's wisdom, that he should not also govern it,) creation must needs infer providence; and then it being granted, that God governs the world, it will follow also, that he does it by means suitable to the natures of the things he governs, and to the attainment of the proper ends of government; and moreover, man being by nature a free moral agent, and so capable of deviating from his duty, as well as performing it, it is necessary that he should be governed by laws; and since laws require that they be enforced with the sanction of rewards and punishments, sufficient to sway and work upon the minds
But for a man to believe it as the most undoubted certainty in the world, that he shall be judged according to the quality of his actions here, and after judgment receive an eternal recompense, and yet to take his full swing in all the pleasures of sin, is it not a greater frenzy, than for a man to take a purse at Tyburn, while he is actually seeing another hanged for the same fact? It is really to dare and defy the justice of Heaven, to laugh at right-aiming thunderbolts, to puff at damnation, and, in a word, to bid Omnipotence do its worst. He, indeed, who thus walks, walks surely; but it is because he is sure to be damned.
I confess it is hard to reconcile such a stupid course to the natural way of the soul's acting, according to which, the will moves according to the proposals of good and evil, made by the understanding; and, therefore, for a man to run headlong into the bottomless pit, while the eye of a seeing conscience assures him that it is bottomless and open, and all return from it desperate and impossible; while his ruin stares him in the face, and the sword of vengeance points directly at his heart, still to press on to the embraces of his sin, is a problem unresolvable upon any other ground, but
that sin infatuates before it destroys. For Judas to receive and swallow the sop, when his master gave it him seasoned with those terrible words, "It had been good for that man that he had never been born;" surely this argued a furious appetite and a strong stomach, that could thus catch at a morsel with the fire and brimstone all flaming about it, and, as it were, digest death itself, and make a meal upon perdition.
I could wish that every bold sinner, when he is about to engage in the commission of any known sin, would arrest his confidence, and for a while stop the execution of his purpose, with this short question, Do I believe that it is really true, that God has denounced death to such a practice, or do I not? If he does not, let him renounce his Christianity, and surrender back his baptism, the water of which might better serve him to cool his tongue in hell, than only to consign him over to the capacity of so black an apostasy. But if he does believe it, how will he acquit himself upon the accounts of bare reason? For does he think, that if he pursues the means of death, they will not bring him to that fatal end? Or does he think that he can grapple with divine vengeance, and endure the everlasting burnings, or arm himself against the bites of the never-dying worm? No, surely, these are things not to be imagined; and therefore I cannot conceive what security the presuming sinner can promise himself, but upon these two following accounts,
1st, That God is merciful, and will not be so severe as his word; and that his threatenings of eternal torments are not so decretory and absolute, but that there is a very comfortable latitude left in them for men of skill to creep out at. And here it must indeed be confessed, that Origen, and some others, not long since, who have been so officious as to furbish up and reprint his old errors, hold, that the sufferings of the damned are not to be, in a strict sense, eternal; but that, after a certain revolution and period of time, there shall be a general gaol-delivery of the souls in prison, and that not for a farther execution, but a final release. And it must be farther acknowledged, that some of the ancients, like kind-hearted men, have talked much of annual refrigeriums, respites, or intervals of punishment to the damned, as particularly on the great festivals of the resurrection, ascension, pentecost, and the like. In which, as these good men are more to be commended for their kindness and compassion, than to be followed in their opinion; (which may be much better argued by wishes than demonstrations ;) so, admitting that it were true, yet what a pitiful, slender comfort would this amount to! much like the Jews abating the punishment of malefactors from forty stripes to forty save one. A great indulgence indeed, even as great as the diffe
rence between forty and thirty-nine; and yet much less considerable would that indulgence be of a few holydays in the measures of eternity, of some hours' ease, compared with infinite ages of torment.
Supposing, therefore, that few sinners relieve themselves with such groundless, trifling considerations as these, yet may they not however fasten a rational hope upon the boundless mercy of God, that this may induce him to spare his poor creature, though by sin become obnoxious to his wrath? To this I answer, that the divine mercy is indeed large, and far surpassing all created measures, yet, nevertheless, it has its proper time; and after this life it is the time of justice; and to hope for the favours of mercy then, is to expect a harvest in the dead of winter. God has cast all his works into a certain, inviolable order; according to which, there is a time to pardon and a time to punish; and the time of one is not the time of the other. When corn has once felt the sickle, it has no more benefit from the sunshine. But,
2dly, If the conscience be too apprehensive (as for the most part it is) to venture the final issue of things upon a fond persuasion, that the great Judge of the world will relent, and not execute the sentence pronounced by him; as if he had threatened men with hell rather to fright them from sin, than with an intent to punish them for it; I say, if the conscience cannot find any satisfaction or support from such reasonings as these, yet may it not, at least, relieve itself with the purposes of a future repentance, notwithstanding its present actual violations of the law? I answer, that this certainly is a confidence of all others the most ungrounded and irrational. For upon what ground can a man promise himself a future repentance, who cannot promise himself a futurity? whose life depends upon his breath, and is so restrained to the present, that it cannot secure to itself the reversion of the very next minute. Have not many died with the guilt of impenitence and the designs of repentance together? If a man dies to-day, by the prevalence of some ill humours, will it avail him, that he intended to have bled and purged to-morrow?
But how dares sinful dust and ashes invade the prerogative of Providence, and carve out to himself the seasons and issues of life and death, which the Father keeps wholly within his own power? How does that man, who thinks he sins securely under the shelter of some remote purposes of amendment, know, but that the decree above may be already passed against him, and his allowance of mercy spent; so that the bow in the clouds is now drawn, and the arrow levelled at his head; and not many days like to pass, but perhaps an apoplexy, or an imposthume, or some sudden disaster, may stop his breath,
and reap him down as a sinner ripe for destruction.
I conclude, therefore, that, upon supposition of the certain truth of the principles of religion, he who walks not uprightly has neither from the presumption of God's mercy reversing the decree of his justice, nor from his own purposes of a future repentance, any sure ground to set his foot upon; but in this whole course acts as directly in contradiction to nature, as he does in defiance of grace. In a word, he is besotted, and has lost his reason; and what can there be for religion to take hold of him by? Come we now to the
2d supposition, under which we shew that the principles of religion, laid down by us, might be considered, and that is, as only probable. Where we must observe, that probability does not properly make any alteration either in the truth or falsity of things, but only imports a different degree of their clearness or appearance to the understanding. So that that is to be accounted probable, which has more and better arguments producible for it, than can be brought against it; and surely such a thing, at least, is religion. For certain it is, that religion is universal, I mean the first rudiments and general notions of religion, called natural religion, and consisting in the acknowledgment of a Deity, and of the common principles of morality, and a future estate of souls after death, (in which also we have all that some reformers and refiners amongst us would reduce Christianity itself to.) This notion of religion, I say, has diffused itself in some degree or other, greater or less, as far as human nature extends. So that there is no nation in the world, though plunged into never such gross and absurd idolatry, but has some awful sense of a Deity, and a persuasion of a state of retribution to men after this life.
But now, if there are really no such things, but all is a mere lie and a fable, contrived only to chain up the liberty of man's nature from a freer enjoyment of those things, which otherwise it would have as full a right to enjoy as to breathe, I demand whence this persuasion could thus come to be universal? For was it ever known, in any other instance, that the whole world was brought to conspire in the belief of a lie? Nay, and of such a lie, as should lay upon men such unpleasing abridgments, tying them up from a full gratification of those lusts and appetites which they so impatiently desire to satisfy, and, consequently, by all means to remove those impediments that might any way obstruct their satisfaction? Since, therefore, it cannot be made out upon any principle of reason how all the nations in the world, otherwise so distant in situation, manners, interests, and inclinations, should, by design or combination, meet in one persuasion; and withal that men who so mortally hate to be deceived and im
posed upon, should yet suffer themselves to be deceived by such a persuasion as is false; and not only false, but also cross and contrary to their strongest desires: so that if it were false, they would set the utmost force of their reason on work to discover that falsity, and thereby disenthral themselves; and farther, since there is nothing false, but what may be proved to be so; and yet, lastly, since all the power and industry of man's mind has not been hitherto able to prove a falsity in the principles of religion, it irrefragably follows, (and that, I suppose, without gathering any more into the conclusion than has been made good in the premises,) that religion is at least a very high probability.
And this is that which I here contend for, That it is not necessary to the obliging men to believe religion to be true, that this truth be made out to their reason by arguments demonstratively certain; but that it is sufficient to render their unbelief inexcusable, even upon the account of bare reason, if so be the truth of religion carry in it a much greater probability, than any of those ratiocinations that pretend the contrary; and this I prove in the strength of these two considerations,
1st, That no man, in matters of this life, requires an assurance either of the good which he designs, or of the evil which he avoids, from arguments demonstratively certain ; but judges himself to have sufficient ground to act upon, from a probable persuasion of the event of things. No man who first trafficks into a foreign country has any scientific evidence that there is such a country, but by report, which can produce no more than a moral certainty; that is, a very high probability, and such as there can be no reason to except against. He who has a probable belief, that he shall meet with thieves in such a road, thinks himself to have reason enough to decline it, albeit he is sure to sustain some less (though yet considerable) inconvenience by his so doing. But perhaps it may be replied, (and it is all that can be replied,) that a greater assurance and evidence is required of the things and concerns of the other world, than of the interests of this. To which I answer, that assurance and evidence (terms, by the way, extremely different; the first, respecting properly the ground of our assenting to a thing; and the other, the clearness of the thing or object assented to) have no place at all here, as being contrary to our present supposition; according to which, we are now treating of the practical principles of religion only as probable, and falling under a probable persuasion. And for this I affirm, that where the case is about the hazarding an eternal or a temporal concern, there a less degree of probability ought to engage our caution against the loss of the former, than is necessary to engage it about preventing the loss of
probable that there will be such a future
THE PRACTICE OF RELIGION ENFORCED BY REASON
the latter. Forasmuch as where things are
2d consideration or argument, namely, That bare reason, discoursing upon a principle of self-preservation, (which surely is the fundamental principle which nature proceeds by,) will oblige a man voluntarily and by choice to undergo any less evil to secure hiniself but from the probability of an evil incomparably greater, and that also such an one, as, if that probability passes into a certain event, admits of no reparation by any after remedy that can be applied to it.
Now, that religion, teaching a future estate of souls, is a probability, and that its contrary cannot with equal probability be proved, we have already evinced. This, therefore, being supposed, we will suppose yet farther, that for a man to abridge himself in the full satisfaction of his appetites and inclinations, is an evil, because a present pain and trouble; but then it must likewise be granted, that nature must needs abhor a state of eternal pain and misery much more; and that if a man does not undergo the former less evil, it is highly probable that such an eternal estate of misery will be his portion; and if so, I would fain know whether that man takes a rational course to preserve himself, who refuses the endurance of these lesser troubles to secure himself from a condition infinitely and inconceivably more miserable.
But, since probability, in the nature of it, supposes that a thing may or may not be so, for any thing that yet appears, or is certainly determined on either side, we will here consider both sides of this probability: as,
1. That it is one way possible, that there may be no such thing as a future estate of happiness or misery for those who have lived well or ill here; and then he who, upon the strength of a contrary belief, abridged himself in the gratification of his appetites, sustains only this evil; namely, That he did not please his senses and unbounded desires, so much as otherwise he might and would have done, had he not lived under the captivity and check of such a belief. This is the utmost which he suffers: but whether this be a real evil or no, (whatsoever vulgar minds may commonly think it,) shall be discoursed of afterwards.
2. But then, again, on the other side, it is
For a man, while he lives here in the world, to doubt whether there be any hell or no; and thereupon to live so, as if absolutely there were none; but when he dies, to find himself confuted in the flames; this, surely, must be the height of wo and disappointment, and a bitter conviction of an irrational venture and an absurd choice. In doubtful cases, reason still determines for the safer side; especially if the case be not only doubtful, but also highly concerning, and the venture be of a soul and an eternity.
He who sat at a table, richly and deliciously head by one single thread or hair, surely had furnished, but with a sword hanging over his enough to check his appetite even against all the ragings of hunger and temptations of sensuality. The only argument that could any way encourage his appetite was, that possibly should encounter it with another question, the sword might not fall; but when his reason What if it should fall? and moreover, that the likelihood that it would, to a mere possipitiful stay by which it hung should oppose bility that it might not, what could the man this doubt and horror working in his mind? enjoy or taste of his rich banquet, with all
Though a man's condition should be really in itself never so safe, yet an apprehension make a quick and a tender reason sufficiently and surmise that it is not safe, is enough to Let the most acute and learned miserable.