First, In explaining and carrying to greater heights several points of morality.

Secondly, In furnishing new and stronger motives to enforce the practice of morality.

Thirdly, In giving us more amiable ideas of the Supreme Being, more endearing notions of one another, and a true state of ourselves, both in regard to the grandeur and vileness of our natures.

Fourthly, By shewing us the blackness and deformity of vice; 10 which in the Christian system is so very great, that he who

is possessed of all perfection, and the sovereign Judge of it, is represented by several of our divines as hating sin to the same degree that he loves the sacred Person who was made the propitiation of it.

Fifthly, In being the ordinary and prescribed method of making morality effectual to salvation.

I have only touched on these several heads, which every one who is conversant in discourses of this nature will easily arge

upon in his own thoughts, and draw conclusions from them 20 which may be useful to him in the conduct of his life. One I am

sure is so obvious that he cannot miss it, namely, that a man cannot be perfect in his scheme of morality, who does not strengthen and support it with that of the Christian faith.

Besides this, I shall lay down two or three other maxims which I think we may deduce from what has been said.

First, That we should be particularly cautious of making any thing an article of faith, which does not contribute to the confirmation or improvement of morality.

Secondly, That no article of faith can be true and authentic, 30 which weakens or subverts the practical part of religion, or what I have hitherto called morality.

Thirdly, That the greatest friend of morality, or natural religion, cannot possibly apprehend any danger from embracing Christianity, as it is preserved pure and uncorrupt in the doctrines of our national church.

There is likewise another maxim which I think may be drawn from the foregoing considerations, which is this ; That we should, in all dubious points, consider any ill consequences that may arise

from them, supposing they should be erroneous, before we give 40 up our assent to them. For example, in that disputable point SUPPOSED JUDGMENTS.


of persecuting men for conscience sake, besides the embittering their minds with hatred, indignation, and all the vehemence of resentment, and ensnaring them to profess what they do not believe, we cut them off from the pleasures and advantages of society, afflict their bodies, distress their fortunes, hurt their reputations, ruin their families, make their lives painful, or put an end to them. Sure, when I see dreadful consequences rising from a principle, I would be as fully convinced of the truth of

it as of a mathematical demonstration, before I would venture 10 to act upon it, or make it a part of my religion.

In this case, the injury done our neighbour is plain and evident, the principle that puts us upon doing it of a dubious and disputable nature. Morality seems highly violated by the one, and whether or no a zeal for what a man thinks the true system of faith may justify it, is very uncertain. I cannot but think, if our religion produces charity as well as zeal, it will not be for shewing itself by such cruel instances. But, to conclude with the words of an excellent author, “We have just enough religion

to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one 20 another.'-C.

No. 483. On judgments, or what are rashly assumed to be such; instances of this temerity; its presumption and folly.

Nec Deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus

Hor. Ars Poet. 191.
Nor let a God in person stand display'd,
Unless the labouring plot deserye his aid.

We cannot be guilty of a greater act of uncharitableness, than
to interpret the afflictions which befal our

neighbours, as punishments and judgments. It aggravates the evil to him who suffers, when he looks upon himself as the mark of divine vengeance, and abates the compassion of those towards him, who regard him in so dreadful a light. The humour of turning every misfortune into a judgment proceeds from wrong notions of religion, which, in its own nature, produces good-will towards men, and

puts the mildest construction upon every accident that befals 30 them. In this case therefore, it is not religion that sours a man's

temper, but it is his temper that sours his religion : people of

gloomy unchearful imaginations, or of envious malignant tempers, whatever kind of life they are engaged in, will discover their natural tincture of mind in all their thoughts, words, and actions. As the finest wines have often the taste of the soil, so even the most religious thoughts often draw something that is particular from the constitution of the mind in which they arise. When folly or superstition strike in with this natural depravity of temper, it is not in the power even of religion itself, to preserve

the character of the person who is possessed with it from appear10 ing highly absurd and ridiculous.

An old maiden gentlewoman, whom I shall conceal under the name of Nemesis n, is the greatest discoverer of judgments that I have met with. She can tell you what sin it was that set such a man's house on fire, or blew down his barns. Talk to her of an unfortunate young lady that hath lost her beauty by the small-pox, she fetches a deep sigh, and tells you, that when she had a fine face she was always looking on it in her glass. Tell her of a piece of good fortune that has befallen one of her ac

quaintance, and she wishes it may prosper with her, but her 20 mother used one of her nieces very barbarously. Her usual re

marks turn upon people who had great estates, but never enjoyed them, by reason of some flaw in their own, or their father's behaviour. She can give you the reason why such a one died childless; why such an one was cut off in the flower of his youth; why such an one was unhappy in her marriage; why one broke his leg in such a particular spot of ground; and why another was killed with a back-sword », rather than with any other kind of weapon. She has a crime for every misfortune that can befal

any of her acquaintance; and when she hears of a robbery that 30 has been made, or a murder that has been committed, enlarges

more on the guilt of the suffering person than on that of the thief or assassin. In short, she is so good a Christian, that whatever happens to herself is a trial, and whatever happens to her neighbours is a judgment.

The very description of this folly, in ordinary life, is sufficient to expose it; but when it appears in a pomp and dignity of style, it is very apt to amuse and terrify the mind of the reader. Herodotus and Plutarch very often apply their judgments as

impertinently as the old woman I have before mentioned, though 40 their manner of relating them makes the folly itself appear




venerable. Indeed, most historians, as well Christian as Pagan, have fallen into this idle superstition, and spoken of ill success, unforeseen disasters, and terrible events, as if they had been let into the secrets of Providence, and made acquainted with that private conduct by which the world is governed. One would think several of our own historians in particular had many revelations of this kind made to them. Our old English monks seldom let any of their kings depart in peace, who had en

deavoured to diminish the power or wealth of which the eccle10 siastics were in those times possessed. William the Conqueror's

race generally found their judgments in the New Forest, where their fathers had pulled down churches and monasteries. In short, read one of the chronicles written by an author of this frame of mind, and you would think you were reading an history of the kings of Israel and Judah, where the historians were actually inspired, and where, by a particular scheme of Providence, the kings were distinguished by judgments or blessings, according as they promoted idolatry or the worship of the true God.

I cannot but look upon this manner of judging upon misfortunes not only to be very uncharitable in regard to the persons whom they befal, but very presumptuous in regard to him who is supposed to inflict them. It is a strong argument for a state of retribution hereafter, that in this world virtuous persons are very often unfortunate, and vicious persons prosperous; which is wholly repugnant to the nature of a Being who appears infinitely wise and good in all his works, unless we may suppose that such a promiscuous and undistinguished distribution of good and evil,

which was necessary for carrying on the designs of Providence in 30 this life, will be rectified and made amends for in another. We

are not therefore to expect that fire should fall from heaven in the ordinary course of Providence; nor, when we see triumphant guilt or depressed virtue in particular persons, that Omnipotence will make bare its holy arm in defence of the one or punishment of the other. It is sufficient that there is a day set apart for the hearing and requiting of both according to their respective merits.

The folly of ascribing temporal judgments to any particular crimes, may appear from several considerations.

I shall only 40 mention two: first, That, generally speaking, there is no calamity or affliction, which is supposed to have happened as a judgment to a vicious man, which does not happen to men of approved religion and virtue. When Diagoras the atheist n was aboard one of the Athenian ships there arose a very violent tempest ; upon which the mariners told him, that it was a just judgment upon them for having taken so impious a man on board. Diagoras begged them to look upon the rest of the ships that were in the same distress, and asked them whether or no Diagoras was on

board every vessel in the fleet. We are all involved in the same 10 calamities, and subject to the same accidents; and when we see

any one of the species under any particular oppression, we should look upon it as arising from the common lot of human nature, rather than from the guilt of the person who suffers.

Another consideration that may check our presumption in putting such a construction upon a misfortune is this, that it is impossible for us to know what are calamities and what are blessings. How many accidents have passed for misfortunes, which have turned to the welfare and prosperity of the persons

in whose lot they have fallen? How many disappointments have, 20 in their consequences, saved a man from ruin? If we could look

into the effects of everything, we might be allowed to pronounce boldly upon blessings and judgments; but for a man to give his opinion of what he sees but in part, and in its beginnings, is an unjustifiable piece of rashness and folly. The story of Biton and Clitobus n, which was in great reputation among the Heathens, (for we see it quoted by all the ancient authors, both Greek and Latin, who have written upon the immortality of the soul), may teach us a caution in this matter. Those two brothers, being

the sons of a lady who was priestess to Juno, drew their mother's 30 chariot to the temple at the time of a great solemnity, the

persons being absent who by their office were to have drawn her chariot on that occasion. The mother was so transported with this instance of filial duty, that she petitioned her goddess to bestow upon them the greatest gift that could be given to men; upon which they were both cast into a deep sleep, and the next morning found dead in the temple. This was such an event as would have been construed into a judgment, had it happened to the two brothers after an act of disobedience, and would doubt

less have been represented as such by any ancient historian who 40 had given us an account of it.-0.

« ForrigeFortsett »