« ForrigeFortsett »
THE judicious Hooker has the following passage: “God first assigned Adam maintenance of life, and then appointed him a law to observe. True it is, that the kingdom of God must be the first thing in our purpose and desires; but inasmuch as a righteous life presupposeth life, inasmuch as to live virtuously it is impossible, except we live; therefore the first impediment which naturally we endeavour to remove is penury and want of things, without which we cannot live.” - In the foregoing treatise I have proceeded in some measure upon this hypothesis, having endeavoured to show in the first two books by what means a community is exempted from “that want of things without which they cannot live;” and in the third to exhibit the laws appointed for their observance when “maintenance of life” is assigned to them. But I have also attempted to do more than this. I have endeavoured to show further that the “observance of the law” secures “the maintenance of life;” that “a righteous life,” or the influence of religion and morals in a community, not only “presupposeth,” but is actually the condition of obtaining a competent portion of subsistence; and although “to live virtuously it is impossible, except we live,” yet in proportion as we do in fact live virtuously, the difficulty of living at all, or of finding the means to support life, will disappear. It has been my object to prove the truth of this gracious dispensation of Providence, by showing, in the first book, the admirable proportions maintained between population and subsistence in every gradation through which society passes, and the dependance which the maintenance of this proportion has upon the general conformity of the people with the express commands of God for their government. It was proved that, preserving this conformity even to a very moderate extent, their comfortable subsistence is always secured by the conservative principle upon which the progress of population is regulated, notwithstanding the continual decrease in the productive powers of the soil; so that at no period, from the very infancy of society to the highest state of civilization at which any people can be conceived to arrive, and from the very commencement of cultivation to its fullest state of production and improvement, will a tolerably virtuous and well-governed population press perniciously against the means of subsistence derived from its native soil.
In the application of these truths, in the second
book, the object has been to exhibit the means by which a moral people will employ their industry, in extracting a continual increase of subsistence from the soil of their own country to meet the demands of their augmenting numbers for food; and the precautions by which they will endeavour to secure this increase from waste and dilapidation. It is presumed to have been proved that, even in this department of the subject, which appears of a nature so strictly economical, success is very much dependant upon moral causes, through the influence of which economical measures will be efficient in raising produce for any increase of numbers to which a population so regulated will extend. There is therefore no physical impossibility of maintaining the people in comfort from their internal resources up to any given period of time. In the application of the fundamental truths of the treatise in the third book, the object has been to exhibit the means by which the conservative principle, inherent in the progress of the population, is kept alive and regulated by the influence of religion, morals, rational liberty, and security of property over the customs, habits, pursuits, and spontaneous distribution of the people. And it is presumed to have been proved that the free exercise of all the virtues commanded in Scripture, and of all the moral obligations which can be deduced from an enlightened conscience, are not only compatible with, but to a considerable extent absolutely essential to, the salutary progress of population. Nay, more, that the progress will be salutary in proportion to the prevalence of moral and religious principles. There is therefore no moral impossibility of maintaining the people in comfort and happiness from their internal resources up to any given period of time. The three books together may perhaps be allowed to exhibit something not far removed from a complete system of the elements of civil society, uniform in its tendency, agreeing with itself in all its parts, and strictly consonant with the revealed will of God, and with the moral laws thence derived. It shows that population may continue regularly increasing in numbers, wealth, and happiness from the first step in the career of society up to the highest point of civilization, under the operation of the laws which God himself hath appointed for their instruction, checked by no impediments but those which arise out of a wilful deviation from those laws; and above all unembarrassed by any principle of evil necessarily arising, not from their own propensity to vice, but from their obedience to the laws which God has given them to counteract it. Any approach towards the proof that such is the condition of human society in its fundamental elements must, I should think, afford sincere pleasure to every one who honours God and loves mankind. It must also animate his courage in the cause of both, in the joint pursuit of piety and political knowledge. Few things are more discouraging to great moral exertions than the morbid doubts thrown around the question of their ultimate efficacy. A man requires to see clearly before he undertakes to act resolutely. There is not therefore a more certain method of paralyzing his efforts than by unfixing his principles, nor more efficacious means of invigorating his good resolutions than by showing the positive certainty of their advantageous results. It is surely, therefore, no small accession to the practical value of any system, that it exhibits one uniform and undeviating principle of action, applicable to every conceivable state of things, infallible in the production of profitable consequences, and usefully operative in proportion as it is called into exercise. If the contemplation of such a system be useful towards the production, and animating to the progress, of the nobler sentiments among mankind in general, it should produce these effects in a peculiar manner among the ingenuous youth of the United
inquiries into the history and polity of their own country without tracing the consequences of such a system. Howsoever its vigour may, by lapse of time and partial neglect, have been permitted to droop in some of its departments, they will find in the construction of the system itself, that its founders looked to pure morals and sound religion as the fundamental principles of public prosperity. Our youth will therefore discover in the constitution of their own country, in church and state, at once the true foundations of national strength, and examples for the regulation of their own conduct and character as active citizens of a free country. If, during their perusal of the preceding view of the progress of society, they will bring the History of England to bear upon any one of the stages which have passed under investigation, they will probably find that the state has been carried through it with success, and made the transition to that which next succeeds, principally because it has in the main been governed upon the system recommended in this treatise; that is, that its laws and institutions have been founded in moral and religious principles, and that its leading statesmen, at the critical periods of its history, have usually referred their political measures to that unerring test. It will scarcely be denied, for example, that during the last century we have been profiting, almost exclusively, by the religious and political institutions left behind them by the great and good men who flourished at the REFORMATION and the REvoluTION ; that sound religion was the cardinal point to which all those institutions were directed, and, together with morals, afforded the principles upon which they were constructed. As little can it be denied that, during