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Thus, in our natural or temporal capacity, we are in a state of trial, that is, of difficulty and danger, analogous or like to our moral and religious trial.
This will more distinctly appear to any one who thinks it worth while more distinctly to consider what it is which constitutes our trial in both capacities, and to observe how mankind behave under it.
And that which constitutes this our trial, in both these capacities, must be somewhat either in our external circumstances or in our nature. For, on the one hand, persons may be betrayed into wrong behavior upon surprise, or overcome upon any other very singular and extraordinary external occasions, who would otherwise have preserved their character of prudence and of virtue: in which cases every one, in speaking of the wrong behavior of these persons, would impute it to such particular external circumstances. And, on the other hand, men who have contracted habits of vice and folly of any kind, or have some particular passions in excess, will seek opportunities, and, as it were, go out of their way to gratify themselves in these respects, at the expense of their wisdom and their virtuc; led to it, as every one would say, not by external temptations, but by such habits and passions. And the account of this last case is, that particular passions are no more coincident with prudence or that reasonable self-love, the end of which is our worldly interest, than they are with the principle of virtue and religion; but often draw contrary ways to one, as well as to the other; and so such particular passions are as much temptations to act imprudently with regard to our worldly interest, as to act viciously. However, as when we say men are misled by external circumstances of temptation, it cannot but be understood that there is somewhat within themselves to render those circumstances temptations, or to render them susceptible of impressions from them; so when we say they are misled by passions, it is always sup. posed that there are occasions, circumstances, and objects exciting these passions, and affording means for gratifying them. And therefore temptations from within and from without coincide, and mutually imply each other. Now, the several external objects of the appetites, passions, and affections, being present to the senses, or offering themselves to the mind, and so exciting emotions suitable to their nature, not only in cases where they can be gratified consistently with innocence and prudence, but also in cases where they cannot, and yet can be gratified impru. dently and viciously; this as really puts them in danger of voluntarily foregoing their present interest or good as their future, and as really renders self-denial necessary to secure one as the other; that is, we are in a like state of trial with respect to both, by the very same passions, excited by the very same means. Thus, mankind having a temporal interest depending upon themselves, and a prudent course of behavior being necessary to secure it, passions inordinately excited, whether by means of example, or by any other external circumstance, towards such objects, at such times, or in such degrees as that they cannot be gratified consistently with worldly prudence, are temptations, dangerous and too often successful temptations, to forego a greater temporal good for a less; that is, to forego what is, upon the whole, our temporal interest, for the sake of a present gratification. This is a description of our state of trial in our temporal capacity. Substitute now the word “future” for “temporal,” and “virtue" for “prudence,” and it will be just as proper a description of our state of trial in our religious capacity, so analogous are they to each other.
If, from consideration of this our like state of trial in both capacities, we go on to observe further how mankind behave under it, we shall find there are some who have so little sense of it that they scarce look beyond the passing day; they are so taken up with present gratifications as to have, in a manner, no feeling of consequences, no regard to their future ease or fortune in this life, any more than to their happiness in another. Some appear to be blinded and deceived by inordinate passion in their worldly concerns, as much as in religion. Others are not deceived, but, as it were, forcibly carried away by the like passions, against their better judgment and feeble resolutions too of acting better. And there are men, and truly they are not a few, who shamelessly avow, not their interest, but their mere will and pleasure, to be their law of life; and who, in open defiance of everything that is reasonable, will go on in a course of vicious extravagance, foreseeing with no remorse and little fear that it will be their temporal ruin; and some of them, under the apprehension of the consequences of wickedness in another state. And, to speak in the most moderate way, human creatures are not only continually liable to go wrong voluntarily, but we see likewise that they often actually do so with respect to their temporal interests, as well as with respect to religion.
Thus our difficulties and dangers, or our trials, in our temporal and our religious capacity, as they proceed from the same causes, and have the same effect upon men's behavior, are evidently analogous, and of the same kind.
It may be added that as the difficulties and dangers of miscarrying in our religious state of trial are greatly increased, and, one is ready to think, in a manner wholly made by the ill behavior of others; by a wrong education, wrong in a moral sense, sometimes positively vicious, by general bad example, by the dishonest artifices which are got into business of all kinds, and, in very many parts of the world, by religion being corrupted into superstitions, which indulge men in their vices; so in like manner the difficulties of conducting ourselves prudently in respect to our present interest, and our danger of being led aside from pursuing it, are greatly increased by a foolish education; and, after we come to mature age, by the extravagance and carelessness of others whom we have intercourse with, and by mistaken notions very generally prevalent, and taken up for common opinion, concerning temporal happiness, and wherein it consists. And persons, by their own negligence and folly in their temporal affairs, no less than by a course of vice, bring themselves into new difficulties, and by habits of indulgence become less qualified to go through them; and one irregularity after another embarrasses things to such a degree that they know not whereabout they are, and often makes the path of conduct so intricate and perplexed that it is difficult to trace it out - difficult even to determine what is the prudent or the moral part. Thus, for instance, wrong behavior in one stage of life, youth — wrong, I mean, considering ourselves only in our temporal capacity, without taking in religion — this, in several ways, increases the difficulties of right behavior in mature age, that is, puts us into a more disadvantageous state of trial in our temporal capacity.
We are an inferior part of the creation of God. There are natural appearances of our being in a state of degradation. And we certainly are in a condition which does not seem by any means the most advantageous we could imagine or desire, either in our natural or moral capacity, for securing either our present or future interest. However, this condition, low, and careful, and uncertain as it is, does not afford any just ground of complaint. For as men may manage their temporal affairs with prudence, and so pass their days here on earth in tolerable ease and satisfaction by a moderate degree of care, so likewise with regard to religion, there is no more required than what they are well able to do, and what they must be greatly wanting to themselves if they neglect. And for persons to have that put upon them which they are well able to go through, and no more, we naturally consider as an equitable thing, supposing it done by proper authority. Nor have we any more reason to complain of it, with regard to the Author of nature, than of his not having given us other advantages belonging to other orders of creatures.
But the thing here insisted upon is, that the state of trial which religion teaches us we are in is rendered credible by its being throughout uniform, and of a piece with the general con. duct of Providence towards us, in all other respects within the compass of our knowledge. Indeed, if mankind, considered in their natural capacity as inhabitants of this world only, found themselves, from their birth to their death, in a settled state of security and happiness, without any solicitude or thought of their own, or if they were in no danger of being brought into inconveniences and distress, by carelessness or the folly of passion, through bad example, the treachery of others, or the deceitful appearances of things — were this our natural condition, then it might seem strange, and be some presumption against the truth of religion, that it represents our future and more general interest, as not secure of course, but as depending upon our behavior, and requiring recollection and self-government to obtain it. For it might be alleged, “What you say is our condition in one respect is not in any wise of a sort with what we find by experience our condition is in another. Our whole present interest is secured to our hands without any solicitude of ours; and why should not our future interest, if we have any such, be so too ?” But since, on the contrary, thought and consideration, the voluntary denying ourselves many things which we desire, and a course of behavior far from being always agreeable to us, are absolutely necessary to our acting even a common decent and common prudent part, so as to pass with any satisfaction through the present world, and be received upon any tolerable good terms in it — since this is the case, all presumption against self-denial and attention being necessary to secure our higher interest is removed. Had we not experience, it might, perhaps, speciously be urged, that it is improbable anything of hazard and danger should be put upon us by an Infinite Being; when everything which is hazard and danger in our manner of conception, and will end in error, confusion, and misery, is now already certain in his foreknowledge. And, indeed, why anything of hazard and danger should be put upon such frail creatures as we are may well be thought a difficulty in speculation, and cannot but be so, till we know the whole, or, however, much more of the case. But still the constitution of nature is as it is. Our happiness and misery are trusted to our conduct, and made to depend upon it. Somewhat, and in many circumstances a great deal too, is put upon us either to do or to suffer, as we choose. And all the various miseries of life, which people bring upon themselves by negligence and folly, and might have avoided by proper care, are instances of this; which miseries are beforehand just as contingent and undetermined as their conduct, and left to be determined by it. .
These observations are an answer to the objections against the credibility of a state of trial, as implying temptations, and real danger of miscarrying with regard to our general interest, under the moral government of God; and they show that, if we are at all to be considered in such a capacity, and as having such an interest, the general analogy of Providence must lead us to apprehend ourselves in danger of miscarrying, in different degrees, as to this interest, by our neglecting to act the proper part belonging to us in that capacity. For we have a present interest under the government of God, which we experience here upon earth. And this interest, as it is not forced upon us, so neither is it offered to our acceptance, but to our acquisition; in such sort, as that we are in danger of missing it, by means of temptations to neglect or act contrary to it, and without attention and self-denial, must and do miss of it. It is then perfectly credible that this may be our case with respect to that chief and final good which religion proposes to us.
From «The Analogy of Religion,
Natural and Revealed.”