« AnteriorContinuar »
which is restrained from producing its genuine Fruits, ought not to be honoured with the Name of Virtue.
I would willingly establish the Force of my Conclusion, before I proceed to consider more particularly those Assertions on which it is jounded.—Now for the effectual Support of the Conclusion, nothing further seems to be necessary, than to vindicate the Propriety of praising Faith, on account of an Excellence not its own: to confirm at large, what we have already asserted, that it stands exactly upon the fame Footing with all other Good Qualities $ and particularly with those fundamental Virtues, the Love of God, and our Neighbour.—To this End, it may be proper to remove a very material Objection, which will naturally occur to a thinking Man, on perusing what has been here advanced.
For may it not be urged, That the Instances produced are by no Means parallel to the Cafe before us? That right Affections naturally flow from right Conduct, but that no Degree of Care in our Pursuits after Knowlegc, can ever be sufficient to ensure our Success? That on the contrary, an exact and scrupulous Inquiry may, in numberless and obvious Cafes, be productive of Error, as well as Truth? and that Error itself would, in these Instances, have the fame Title to the Name ef Virtue, which is here pleaded in Behalf of
true true Faith ?—It is impossible to answer Objections of this Kind, without running into a Controversy, which, in a great Measure, will be only verbal. But even a verbal Controversy may, in this Case, be of real use. For, unless it be persectly consistent with the common Forms of Speech, to bestow the highest Commendations on Faith, for the fake of a borrowed Excellence; it may be thought that our Saviour considered bare Assent, as a Thing in its own Nature praise-worthy. Than which a greater Absurdity cannot be imputed to him. Let us therefore examine, with this View, what Force there is in the Objections proposed? and whether Faith have not as fair a Title to our Praise, as the other Virtues compared with it?
That the Instances produced are in ail respects parallel, is a Point I am not concerned to maintain. It is sufficient for my Purpose, that they agree in those Particulars, in which the course of my Argument requires it. I mean that religious and benevolent Affections can only be entitled to the Name of Virtues on account of a derivative Excellence. They are acquired by a Series of virtuous ASlions, and are therefore esteemed and called Virtues. In this respect they agree with Faith. In another respect they are supposed to differ. But that, I presume, no way affects the Point before us., For, supposing a Quality to be "virtuously acquired, what avails it, whether it was the neceJJ'ary Consequence, or only the probable Result of Right Conduct? And yet this is the sole Point of Difference, which can be alleged in the present Case.—A careful and conscientious Endeavour to obtain a sound and rational Faith, tho' it naturally tends to make us wise Men, may yet, thro' a Concurrence of accidental Impediments, be altogether insufficient for that Purpose. But how does it follow from hence, that Faith is no Virtue? Whoever attempts to draw such a Conclusion, must first prove that all moral Improvements, of what kind soever, are absolutely and entirely in our own Power j than which nothing can be more false, or more contrary to universal Experience. Every Capacity, every Age, every Station in Life has peculiar Advantages and Disadvantages in this respect: almost every Individual is separately furnished with Means and Opportunities which others want.
But to put this Matter out of all doubt, I believe it will appear, to a considerate In»quirer, that this is actually the Case in the Instances alleged; and by consequence, that the Parallel holds quite thro'. I am not afraid to affirm that the Love of God and our Neighbour, in that Degree of Perfection which the Gospel recommends, are not universally
attainable; are not in all Men the necejfary Effects of Right Conduft. It cannot, I think, be questioned, that very many Persons, thro' a Defect in their natural Constitution, are not capable of AffeSlions at all; or at least in so cold and languishing a Degree, as can by no means come up to those Characters of Love, which are laid down in the New
Testament. But setting this aside, Men's
Progress in these and all other Virtues will unavoidably depend on their Progress in Knowlege. For, supposing, what the Objection allows us to suppose, that Sincerity is not inconsistent either with Ignorance or Error', supposing that an honest and virtuous Man should yet fall into great Mistakes; whether relating to the Deity, or his Fellow Creatures, or the respective Duties he owes to both; how is it possible he should love them as he ought ?— He who will assert the Possibility of this, will find himself obliged to maintain, that these Evangelical Virtues were practised in as great Perfection by the Greeks and Romans, nay, by the most ignorant and barbarous Nations, as by the Followers of Christ himself; those, I mean, who make the best use of the Revelation they enjoy; If he will not maintain this, he must then impute the Desicicnce universally to no other Cause but wrong Conduct. If this too be given up, it remains that right Conduct may, in numberless Instances,
fail fail of producing right Affection:. These Affections therefore are only the probable Effect of virtuous Actions; and therefore the Instances are still parallel. A Man sincerely virtuous may, not only in Point of Faith, but in many other Respects, fall short of Evangelical Perfection.
It is then no Objection to what we have been faying, that many Persons want the Means of arriving at a true Faith: that some have not Leisure, or Capacity, to enter upon a rational Inquiry; that others, who are Masters of both, are yet frequently hindered by unavoidable Prejudices, from the Discovery of the Truth. This, I fay, can never prove that those who are blessed with more 'favourable Opportunities, may not deserve great Praise for making a right Use of them; or that some Part of the Credit may not be derived on the Faith itself thus acquired.
But an exaff and scrupulous Inquiry may frequently be productive of Error. And is Error too a moral Virtue ?—I answer, this is a great Mistake. An impartial Inquiry may sometimes terminate in Error; but that it is the Cause of Error, I utterly deny. If it frequently happens in our Search after Truth, that we embrace the Shadow instead of the Substance; this Delusion is by no means to be ascribed to our Diligence in searching: but to those Impeditne?its, whatever they were,