Imatges de pàgina
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THE

PREVIOUS QUESTION,

With regard to

RELIGION.

A

S there is not any thing within the compass of human knowledge, which man is more concearn'd to discovers than what

is true religion ; fo there is not any subject men have exercis'd their thoughts upon, which has been more controverted, or that has produced more direful effects amongst mankind. The disputes betwixt Christians, Mahometans, Jews, and Pagans, and betwixt the several fests that take place amongfr each of these, are generally about religion ; each party thinking themselves obliged to defend and propagate what they esteem to be really such, and to root out, and abolish, what they judge to be otherwise. And, as the questions on this subject are various, so there is one question, namely, what true religion arises from and is founded upon? that is previous to them all; the right un. derstanding and settling of which point is necessary to the clearing and settling of the rest. . With regard to which, I obferve,

True religion, I think, muft arife from, and be founded upon, either the norel fitness of things, or the arbitrary will and pleasure of God: and this, I think, will plainly appear, when I have stated the notion, and sewn in what sense I understand the several terms I here make use of, viz. by the term religion, I understand that which is the ground

of

of divine acceptance; or, in other words, it is that which does render men acceptable and pleasing to God. And, By true religion, I mean that which does really do so; in opposition to every thing, which men imagine or pretend will do it, when, in reality, it does not. By the moral fitness of things, I mean that fitness, which arises from, and is found. ed in the nature and the relations of things; taking it for granted, that there is an effential difference becwixt good and evil, or fitness and unfitness, 2rising from the nature and the relation of things, antecedent to, and independent of any divine or human determination concerning them : so that, when I say true religion arises from, and is found. ed upon the moral fitness of things, my meaning is (supposing that to be the case) that the duty which God requires at our hands is such, as, in the nature of things, is fit and proper to be requir. ed of, and expected from creatures constituted, circumstanced, and related as we are ; and that the ground of his being pleased with, and shewing us favour, is, because we are the suitable and

proper objects of his approbation and affection.

The term arbitrary is opposed to restraint, and when it is apply'd to human actions, the restraint is of two kinds, namely, political and moral. Political restraint is that which arises from the law and constitution of every country, in which men live, or which they rule over. And men are said to act or not to act arbritarily, as their actions are not, or as they are governd and restrain'd by those laws. As thus, All those Princes, who act according to their own will and pleasure, and who have the sole power of making laws for, and the disposing of the persons and properties of their subjects, fuch princes are said to be arbitrary, and their government is called arbitrary government, be cause they are not under the direction nor the

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restraint of law, in the exercise of it. On the other side, when men aét, or rule, not according to their own will and pleasure, but by, according or to a precedent law, then they are said not to act or rule arbitrarily. As, when the King of Great Britain acts agreeably to the laws of this kingdom, then he is said not to act arbitrarily, that is, not to act against, or above law; because, in all such cases, his actions are govern'd and restrain'd by the laws of his country. It is not the good or bad principle the action springs from, nor yet the good or evil it produces, which denominates the action to be arbitrary in this respect, or to be the contrary; but only as the actor is under, or above the restraint of human laws, as aforesaid. Moralrestraint is that which arises from the moral fitness of things; and men are said to act arbitrarily, in this respect, when they are under no such reftraint, that is, when they act without any regard to the fitness, or unfitness of things, as aforesaid. And on the other side, they are said not to act arbitrarily; in this respect, when they make the moral fitness of things the rule and measure of their actions.

To apply the term arbitrary to God, it can respect only moral restraint. For tho’human laws are rules for men to direct their behaviour by, and therefore men's actions may properly be said to be arbitrary, or to be otherwise, as the actor is under, or above the restraint of such laws; yet thefe are not a rule to God. And therefore, if his actions are directed by any law, it must be by the fitness of things, and confequently he cannot properly be said to act arbitrarily, or the contrary, any otherwise, than as he is not, or as he is influ. enced, and restrained by the moral fitness of things as aforesaid. So that when I apply the term arbitrary to God, I oppose it to moral restraint, as above explained. Which leads me to observe, By

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the arbitrary will of God, I mean (supposing this to be the case) that he is not influenced and

governed in his dealings with his creatures, by the moral fitness of things, but by fovereign pleasure; he commands and forbids, loves and hates, rewards and punishes arbitrarily, that is, without regarding the fitness, or unfitness of what he requires, or dispenses; or the suitableness, or unsuitableness of the objects of his approbation, or dislike. And, when I say true religion is founded upon the arbitrary will of God, my meaning is (supposing that to be the case) that the duty which God requires from us, and which, when complied with, will render us the objects of his favour, does not arise from its being right and fit, in the nature of things, but merely from Tovereign pleasure : God makes whatever he pleases the conditions of his favour, without any regard to right or wrong in the case.

Having thus explain'd the terms, I think it evidently appears that true religion, or that which will render men acceptable to God, must be either, what God has arbitrarily made the conditions of bis favour; or else, that which, in the nature of things, renders men the suitable and proper obječts of it ; which of these is the case is the present question. And that this question, in order of nature, goes before all other questions on this subject; and that che fettling of it is necessary to the settlement of the rest, and consequently, that it is of the greatest importance to mankind, this, I think, will as evidently appear as the former, when I have fairly examined the point, and shewn how the case will stand, in the several particulars following, whether we consider true religion, as founded on the moral-fitness of things, or on arbitrary pleasure, as aforesaid. And,

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Firft, If true religion arises from, and is founded upon the moral fitness of things, then God, in this respect, answers the character, which the whole frame of nature gives him, that is, he acts the part of a wife and good Being. It is the utmost perfection of wisdom and goodness, for a Being, who has all knowledge and all power, abfolutely and indepently in himself, and is at perfect liberty in the use and exercise of these, for such an one, when he has callid moral" agents into being, not to take advantage of the impotency and dependency of such creatures, by imposing upon them, or acting arbitrarily with them, or by them; but, on the contrary, to make the moral fitness of things the rule and measure of his actions, with regard to what he requires from, and dispenses to them : This, I say, is wisdom and goodDess to perfection. And this is the very case, with respect to God, supposing true religion arises from, and is founded upon the moral fitness of things, as aforesaid. God can, with regard to his natural liberty and ability, command from us, and deal with us, as he pleases; he being all possibility of controul; and therefore, for him

not to make use of his knowledge and power disagreeably, or to the disadvantage of his creatures, but to direct these by the rules of wisdom and goodness, in all his dealings with them; this is truly valuable, and highly worthy of that God, who is, by his own choice, the common parent every creature, as he voluntarily call'd them into being. On the other side,

If true religion is founded on the arbitrary will of God, then God does not, in this respect, anLwer the character which nature has given him, that is, he does not act the part of a wife and good being. One who has all knowledge and power absolutely and independently in himself, and con

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