« AnteriorContinuar »
he burnt up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be, in all holy conversation and godliness; looking for, and hasting unto the coming of the day of God!—Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. -To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
These are motives by which Christians in every age, have been induced to practice that morality which, while writing against Christianity, Paine, Bolingbroke, and many others have been compelled to applaud. But the far greater part of them are rejected by Deists; and what will they substitute, of equal efficacy, in their place? The love of Christ constraineth us, but what have they to constrain them? Will self-love, or the beauty or utility virtue answer the purpose ? Let history and observation deter: mine.
It may be alleged, however, that Deists do not reject the whole of these important motives ; for that some, at least, admit the doctrine of a future life, which, with the acknowledgment of one living and true God, may be thought sufficient for all the purposes of morality.
That the doctrine of a future life is of great importance in the moral system, is allowed ; bụt the greatest truth, if dissevered from other truths of equal importance, will be divested of its energy. As well might a hand dissevered from the body be represented as sufficient for the purposes of labour, as one or two unconnected principles for the purposes of morality. This is actually the case in the present instance. The doctrine of a future life, as held by Christians, has stimulated them to labour and suffer without intermission. From a respect to this recompense of reward, a kingdom had been refused, where the acceptance of it would have interfered with a good conscience. Yea, life itself has been sacrificed, and that not in a few, but in innumerable instances, where it could not be retained but at the expense of truth and uprightness. But is it thus among Deists? Does the doctrine of a future life as held by them, produce any such effects? When was it known, or heard, that they sacrificed any thing for this, or any other principle of a moral nature ? Who among them ever thought of such a thing ; or who expected it at their ha: ds ?
But this is not all: ferr s such a connexion in truth, that if one part of it be given up, it will render us less friendly towards other parts, and so destroy their efficacy. This also is actually the case in the present instance. Our adversaries do not cordially embrace even this truth ; but on the contrary, are continually undermining it, and rendering it of no effect. Lord Herbert, it is true, considered it as an essential article of natural religion ; and it was his opinion, that he could scarcely be accounted a reasonable creature who denied it: but this is far from being the case with later deistical writers; the greater part of whom either deny it, or represent it as a matter of doubt. Some of them disown every principle by which it is supported, and others go so far as to hold it up to ridicule, labouring withal to prove the hope of it unfriendly to the disinterested love of virture. Volney, in his Law of Nature, or Catechism for French Citizens, says nothing about it. Paine just touches upon it, in his Age of Reason, by informing us that "he hopes for happiness beyond this life :” but, as happiness has its counterpart, and stands upon the general doctrine of retribution, he is afraid to say he believes it. It must be reduced to a mere matter of " probability,” lest the thoughts of it should damp him in his present pursuits, and render him “the slave of terror."* Bolingbroke, though he acknowledges its antiquity, and great utility in promoting virtue, yet represents it as a “mere invention of philosophers, and legislators,” and as being “ originally an hypothesis, and which may, therefore, be a vulgar error." 6. Reason,” he says,
" will neither affirm nor deny a future state.” By this the eader might be led to expect that this writer was neither for it nor against it; yet the whole of his reasonings are directed to undermine it.f Hume, like the writer last mentioned, acknowledges the utility of the doctrine, but questions its truth. He would not have people disabused, or delivered from such a prejudice, because it would free them from one restraint
Age of Reason, Part I. p. 1.
Part II. pp. 100, 101.
† Works, Vol. V.
upon their passions. Any person who should undertake this work, he allows, would be a bad citizen ; yet he might, for aught he knows, be a good reasoner.* Shaftesbury employs all his wit and satire in endeavouring to raise a laugh at the very idea, representing the heathen world as very happy till Christianity arose and teazed them about an hereafter. “A new sort of policy,” he says,
“ which extends itself to another world, and considers the future lives and happiness of man rather than the present, has made us leap beyond the bounds of natural humanity, and out of a supernatural charity has taught us the way of plaguing one another most devoutly." +
Lord Shaftesbury's wit may very well be passed by, as being what it is : in connexion with the foregoing quotations, it suffices to show us what efficacy the doctrines of a future life, as held by Deists, may be expected to possess. But this writer is not contented with raillery: he must also attempt to reason against the doctrine ; contending that it has a pernicious influence on the morals of men ; that it is a mercenary principle, and opposed to the disinterested love of virtue, for its own sake. “ The principle of self-love," he observes, “which is naturally so prevailing in us, is improved and made stronger by the exercise of the passions on a subject of more extended interest : and there may be reason to apprehend that a temper of this kind will extend itself through all the parts of life. And this has a tendency to create a stricter attention to self-good and private interest, and must insensibly diminish the affection towards public good, or the interest of society, and introduce a certain narrowness of spirit, which is observable in the devout persons and zealots of almost every religious persua
This objection, the reader will recollect, is in direct contradiction to the principles of Bolingbroke, and, it may be added, of Volney, and other deistical writers, who m intain self-love to be the origin of virtuous affection. Some Christian writers, in answering it, have given up the doctrine of disinterested love, allowing that all religious affection is to be traced to the love which we bear to ourselves, as its first principle. To me, this appears no other than betraying the truth, and ranking Christianity with every species of apostacy and false religion which have at any time prevailed in the world. A clear idea of the nature of self-love, if I mistake not, will enable us to determine this question ; and to answer the deistical objection without rendering Christianity a mercenary system.
* Philosophical Essays, p. 231.
+ Characteristics, Vol. I. p. 18.
*Characteristics, Vol. II. p. 58.
Every man may be considered either singly, or connectedly ; either as a being by himself, or as a link in a certain chain of beings. Under one or other of these views every man considers himself, while pursuing his own interest. If the former, this is to make himself the ultimate end of his actions, and to love all other beings, created or uncreated, only as they subserve his interest or his pleasure : this is private self-love : this is mean and mercenary, and what we commonly understand by the term selfishness. But if the latter, there is nothing mean or selfish in it. He who seeks his own well-being in connexion with the general good, seeks it as he ought to do. No man is required directly to oppose his own welfare, though, in some instances, he may be required to sacrifice it for the general good. Neither is it necessary that he should be indifferent towards it. Reason, as well as scripture, requires us to love ourselves as we love our neighbour. To this may be added, every man is not only a link in the chain of intelligent beings, and so deserving of some regard from himself, as well as from others, but every man's person, family, and connexions, and still more the concerns of his soul, are, as it were, his own vineyard, over the interests of which it is his peculiar province to exercise a watchful care. Only let the care of himself and his immediate connexions be in subserviency to the general good, and there is nothing mercenary in it.
I need not multiply arguments to prove that the doctrine of rewards does not necessarily tend to encourage a mercenary spirit, or that it is consistent with the disinterested love of virtue. Lord Shaftesbury himself has acknowledged this : “ If by the hope of reward," he says, “be understood the love and desire of virtuous enjoyment, or of the very practice or exercise of virtue in another life, the expectation or hope of this kind is so far from being derogatory to virtue, that it is an evidence of our loving it the more sincerly, and for its own sake.”* This single concession contains an answer to all which his lordship has advanced on the subject : for the rewards promised in the gospel are all exactly of the description which he mentions. It is true, they are often represented under the images of earthly things ; but this does not prove that, in themselves they are not pure and spiritual. That there is nothing in them adapted to gratify a mercenary spirit, the following observations will render plain to the meanest capacity.
First: The nature of heavenly enjoyments is such as to admit of no monopoly, and consequently to leave no room for the exercise of private self-love. Like the beams of the sun, they are equally adapted to give joy to a world as to an individual : nay, so far is an increase in the number of the participants from diminishing the quantum of happiness possessed by each individual, that it has a tendency to increase it. The interest of one is the interest of all ; and the interest of all extends to every one.
Secondly: The sum of heavenly enjoyments consists in a holy likeness to God, and in the eternal enjoyment of his favour.t But holy likeness to God is the same thing as “the very practice or exercise of virtue," the hope of which, Lord Shaftesbury acknowledges, " is so far from being derogatory to it, that it is an evidence of our loving it the more sincerely, and for its own sake.” And as to the enjoyment of the divine favour, a proper pursuit of this object, instead of being at variance with disinterested affection, clearly implies it; for no man can truly desire the favour of God as his chief good, without a proportionate esteem of his character, and that for its own excellency. It is impossible that the favour of any being whose character we disapprove should be sought as our chief good, in preference to every other object in the universe. But a cordial approbation of the divine character is the same thing as a disinterested affection to virtue.
* Characteristics. Vol. Il. pp. 65, 66.
† 1 John iii. 2. Rev. xxi. 3, 4.