« AnteriorContinuar »
rent, or of a magistrate, is little or nothing without the power of rewarding and punishing. Nothing, therefore, but a firm belief in a future state of retribution can be expected to restrain men from giving into those indulgences to which they have a strong propensity. 1. With respect to every article of religion, the light of nature is far from being sufficiently clear and distinct, so as to be inferred with certainty by the most intelligent of men. With respect to what is most essential to human happiness, the wisest of men do not appear to have been, in fact, superior to the bulk; having, in a variety of respects, laid down the most erroneous rules for the conduct of men. Plain as the most important maxims of morality are, there is not one of them, but what the most enlightened not only of the ancient philosophers, but of modern unbelievers, have controverted. What we call conscience, and which we might expect to be a better guide, in this respect, than even reason, is by no means the same uniform principle in all men. It is formed by various associations of ideas, depending on the circumstances of our education, so that things which absolutely shock some persons, are not felt as at all improper by others. There is, therefore, something wanted superior to the dictates of reason, or natural conscience; and this can only be revealed religion, or the authority of our Maker, which must be obeyed without reasoning. Men will, no doubt, dispute even about the will of God,when it is most clearly revealed, as they do concerning the most express laws that are ever made by men; but if this be done with respect to the articulate voice of God, it will be done to a much greater extent, and with much more plausibility, to the inarticulate voice of nature, which every person will interpret as he is previously inclined. If, when men are hurried on by passion or swayed by interest, they will transgress such positive and acknowledged commands, as thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal, &c., as we see that, in fact, they do, it will not, however, be without reluctance and remorse; and therefore, transgressions will be less frequent and less flagrant, and repentance and amendment may be more reasonably expected to follow. But, where no such positive command is acknowledged to exist, and the voice of nature alone is to be consulted about the proper conduct of life, most men will mistake their own inclination for the voice of nature, and consequently sin without reluctance or remorse. Of this it would be easy to give instances in the clearest of all cases; but this would take up too much of our time, and something of this was mentioned in my last discourse.
2. Still less would men, by the mere light of nature, have ever attained to any satisfactory conclusion with respect to the ultimate design of the Author of nature in the formation of man. I mean the prolongation of his existence beyond the grave. On this most interesting of all questions nature is altogether silent. Judging from appearances, as the brutes die, so does man; and all his faculties and powers die with him. That at death any thing escapes, unaffected by this catastrophe, is a mere arbitrary supposition, unsupported by any appearance, or probability of any kind.
# # #
Supposing that it were possible, by the mere light of nature, to arrive at the belief of a future state; yet judging from present appearances, it could not be the future state announced in the Scriptures, a state in which virtue will find an ample recompence, and vice its just punishment, but only such a life as this and in all other respects resembling the present; which is the belief of the North-American Indians, and most other barbarous nations. If, because we dislike any thing in the present system, we entertain an idea that the inconvenience complained of will be removed in a future state; where is the evidence that, under the same powers or principles of nature, whatever they are, things will be ordered in a better manner Is it possible to infer from what we see (and we have nothing else by which to guide our conjectures), that those evils which the Author of nature has thought proper, for whatever reason, to introduce or to permit here, will not be continued there also If we say, that it is not agreeable to justice that good and bad men should be treated as they are here; where is the evidence, from any present appearances, that the Author of nature intended that they should ever be treated otherwise 1 Left to the light of nature, we could only reason from what we know, and this would lead us to expect that, if there be any life after death, it will be similar to the present. It is only from the express assurance of the Author of nature, communicated by revelation, that we believe the future state will be better than the present, that in it the righteous will be fully rewarded, and the wicked punished. It is evident, therefore, that when we abandon revelation, we give up all religion properly so called, all that can have any salutary influence on the hearts and lives of men. 3. With respect to men, there is certainly a great advantage in precepts and commands, promises and threatenings, being delivered in words, proceeding as from a real person, it being by this means that instructions are delivered with the greatest distinctness. It may, indeed, be said, and with truth, that nature speaks to men and that nature teaches and nature threatens; but, besides that the information is more indistinctly communicated, it is in a manner less apt to make an impression and command respect. It is, therefore, of great advantage that the attention of men be directed to something beyond mere nature, viz. to the Author and Lord of nature; and that he be considered not as an allegorical personage, but a real, intelligent Being, capable of communicating his will in words, and such signs as men are daily accustomed to, and apt to be impressed by. esides, all men feel an unavoidable propensity to address themselves to the Being on whom they depend; and without some mode of intercourse with him, they would soon lose sight of him, as a child would of his father, if he never saw him, and had no access to him. Without an idea of God, different from what we could collect from the contemplation of nature, there would be no such thing as prayer. Indeed, unbelievers in revelation ridicule the idea of prayer as unnatural and absurd, though all nations, without exception, have had recourse to it; which is a clear proof that it is natural, as every thing that is universal must be.
Authority is best supported by a mixture of affection, but there cannot be any thing of this except towards a being resembling other beings which have been the object of our affection, and which have engaged our confidence. And in revelation, but by no means in nature, the Supreme Being appears to us in the familiar character of a parent, — a person with whom we can have communication who may be conceived to be always present with us, who encourages us to address ourselves to him, who always hears us, and sometimes answers us. By this means God easily becomes the object of real affection and attachment. Here we find a solid foundation for love and fear, which are the chief motives for men's actions,
# $: :*
4. They who give so decided a preference to the light of nature, the appearances of which are uniform, to that of revelation, which supposes an occasional departure from the usual course of nature, betray their ignorance of the nature of man, by whom all uniform appearances are apt to be disregarded, but who never fail to be struck by what is unusual. Does not every human being see the regular rising and setting of the sun, the periodical returns of summer and winter, seedtime and harvest; but how few ever think of the wisdom or benevolence of these appointments They content themselves with observing effects, and directing their conduct by them, without ever reflecting on the cause. But whenever any thing unusual happens, when comets are seen, or eclipses of the sun or moon take place, their attention is forcibly arrested; and after reflecting on the cause of the extraordinary appearances, they may be induced to give some attention to those
that are constant. I shall illustrate this by a case which I have put on a former occasion. Let a person unacquainted with clocks, watches, and other machines, be introduced into a room containing many of them, all in regular motion. He sees no maker of these machines, and knows nothing of their internal structure; and as he sees them all to move with perfect regularity, he may say, on the principles of the atheistical system, that they are automata, or self-moving machines; and so long as all these machines continue in regular motion, and he knows nothing of the making of them, or the winding of them up, this theory may appear plausible. But let us suppose that, coming into this room again and again, and always attending to the machines, he shall find one of them much out of order, and that at length its motion shall entirely cease; but that, after continuing in this state some time, he shall again find it in perfect order, moving as regularly as ever. Will he not then conclude that some person, whom he has not seen, but probably the maker of the machines, had been in the room in his absence The restoration of motion to the disordered machine would impress his mind with the idea of a maker of them, in a much more forcible manner than his observing the regular construction and uniform motion of them. It must convince him of the existence of some person capable of regulating, and, therefore, probably of making these machines, whether he should ever see this person or not. Thus do miracles prove the existence of a God, in a shorter and more satisfactory manner than the observation of the uninterrupted course of nature. If there be a Being who can control the course of nature, there must be one who originally established it; in whatever difficulty we may still be left with respect to his nature, and the manner of his existence. # $ # 5. No less are they mistaken who imagine that the evidences