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afford any objection against it; and consequent, ly, every man must be under the utmost uncertainty, whether the Religion he adheres to be of God, or not. And therefore, to raise
original of any Religion from the perfections of the Deity, would be greatly absurd; because, upon the present supposition, there is no such thing as perfection or imperfection in nature. And,
As to any external evidence which may be fupposed to attend any Religion, such as Prophesies, Miracles, &c. these can afford no light in the present case. I have already observed that as knowledge is communicable ; so foreknowledge may be communicable also; and that as to power, it is equally as easy for God to communicate one kind or degree of power, as another; I say, this is, or may be the case for any thing we know or can shew to the contrary; and consequently, there is no prophesy nor miracle which takes place among men but may be produced by the operation of some invisible agent not divine. Now, if this may be the case, of which no one can prove the contrary; then, no external evidence whatever can possibly prove any Re
may be produced, not by the operation of God, but of some other invisible agent not divine. And, were we to presume that such evidences are of God, it would not help the case ; because, upon the present supposition, God
might, consistent with his own character as an absolute and arbitrary governour of the world, deceive us himself, as well as leave us in the hands of other deceivers. So that admitting Religion to be founded only on the arbitrary will of God, it would be the most uncertain and precarious thing in the world. And supposing we could come to a certainty with respect to it; yet it could afford no folid grounds of peace, comfort, or safety, to mankind; be'cause arbitrary will may set aside all promises and engagements, and annex the feverest pains and penalties even to the strictest duty and obedience. And • Tho', upon the present supposition, there is no such thing as right and wrong, as true and false Religion in nature ; yet as a sense of right and wrong is so deeply rooted in the minds of most men that it becomes a kind of first principle to them ; so it will influence their affections and actions, it will greatly perplex and distress their minds, and will lay a foundation for endless disputes and controversies in matters of religion.
Thus, I have taken a view of the case supposing Religion to have no foundation in nature, but to be founded only on the opinions and fancies, or on the cunning and craftiness of men; or else to be the creature of some invisible agent, or agents, not divine; or else to be founded only on the absolute sovereignty and arbitrary will of God; these being, í think, all the possible ways in, and by which
religion cupposing it cor to the quition has any
religion could have been introduced into the world, supposing it to have no foundation in nature. I come now to the question before mentioned, viz. : whether Religion has any folid foundation in nature ; that is, whether there be in reality a right and wrong, a true and false Religion in nature ;, and consequently, whether there be any certain obvious principles in nature or reason by which a man may distinguish these, and form a proper judgment in the present case, and which an honest upright man may. Jafely and securely stay his mind upon.
I have already observed that the word Religion is sometimes used in a restrained fenfe, and is made to signify all those acts of piety and devotion by which men pay either their publick or their private acknowledgments to God. And, that the word Religion is also sometimes used in a more extensive sense, and is made to signify, either all those things by which men, as men, propose to obtain the divine favour ; or else all those things by which men, as finners, propose to obtain God's mercy and the happiness of another world. And according to this the enquiry is threefold, viz. First, whether piety has any foundation in nature, and what it is that nature points out to men with respect to it. Secondly, whether the grounds of mens acceptance with God is also founded in nature. Thirdly and lastly, when men by their misbehaviour have rendered themselves greatly
D 2 displeasing
displeasing to the Deity; then, whether there is any thing in nature which can render them the proper objects of God's mercy and kindness, and conlequently, will be the ground of the divine mercy to them.
And, that I may be both clear and full upon this question, I will first shew that there is à natural and an essential difference in things, and that one thing or action is really better or preferable to another in nature; fecondly, that there is a rule of action resulting from that difference, which every moral agent ought in reason to govern his behaviour by; and thirdly, that God makes this rule the measure of his actions in all his dealings with his creatures. From which it will follow that some actions are in their own nature justly approvable, and others justly condemnable ; that some actions render the performing agent the suitable and proper obje&t of approbation and affection, and that other actions render the agent the proper obje&t of dillike and resentment; that man, in the nature of the thing, is an accountable creature; and that there is in nature a just foundation for a future judgment and retribution. And, then, I will apply this to the point in question. And, here I shall have little else to do than to transcribe what I have already written upon the subject, that being full to my purpose.
* First, I am to Thew that there is a na. tural and an essential difference in things; by which I mean, first, that there is not an universal sameness in nature, but that things and actions are really distinct and different from each other. That is to say, pleasure and pain, two and four, right and wrong, kind and unkind, are not the same thing; but those different terms are used to express, and do convey to the mind ideas which are really diftin&t and different in nature. Pleasure is not the fame thing as pain, two is not the same as four, right is not the same as wrong, kind is not the same as unkind, and the like. Again, when I say there is a natural and an essential difference in things, I mean fecondly, that there is not an universal indifference in nature, but that things and actions are really one better or preferable to another. That is to say, pleasure is in nature, (when considered abItractedly from all other confiderations,) better than pain; right is better than wrong; kind is better than unkind; and the like. . And our discerning faculties do as naturally and as evidently perceive the difference betwixt these, with respect to their preferableness one to another, as those faculties do discern their differing one from another. That is, we do as naturally and as evidently perceive that pleasure is better than pain, as that pleasure is not pain; we do as naturally and evidently perceive that
doing * See my Discourse intitled, The Sufficiency of Reason in Matters of Religion farther considered.