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Virtuous persons have, indeed, been punished as evil-doers, and wicked men have been often rewarded; but this was not only an inversion of the settled order of things, but done under the avowed assumption of punishing the bad, and of rewarding the good. The reality of the eternal distinction between virtue and vice was necessarily taken for granted by Nero and Caligula as much as by the wisest and the best of governors; since without this assumption, laws would be totally void of authority and sanction.
The inference which I would deduce from this is, that as man cannot exist in society, that is, in reality, cannot exist at all in this world without being the subject of moral law and government, it is clearly manifest that he is under the authoritative obligations of his great moral Governor and Judge. What else is the government of parents and of magistrates, but the divine providence and authority exercised in a particular way, intended to remind those who are subject to it, that they are moral agents, formed so as to be instrumental in their own happiness or ruin, and accountable to God for the use of their talents and the improvement of their opportunities?
THE MORAL GOVERNMENT OF GOD IS SO CONDUCTED AS TO LEAD OUR VIEWS TO A FUTURE STATE.
THE moral government of God is conducted in such a way in the present life, as unavoidably to lead our views to a future state of being. The reality of such a state is impressed on the mind by reflecting on the intellectual and moral constitution of man, by which he is capable of indefinite and endless improvement, and fitted for enjoying far greater happiness than falls to his lot in the present life. There is, besides, nothing in death that warrants the presumption that it is the entire destruction of our being. The organs through which the soul in this introductory state of being holds intercourse with the material world, are indeed dissolved; but why should this imply the extinction of the living principle of thought and activity?
The greatness of the transition from the embodied to the disembodied state, leads us to conjecture that the soul in making it will undergo a mighty change; but to infer its annihilation from this circumstance, is not only an assumption perfectly gratuitous, but contrary to all the analogies of nature. How different is the state of the same identical being, as to capacity of action, exertion, and enjoyment, in the course of the few fleeting years of mortal existence? Who that witnessed Newton when a babe, could have anticipated the day when he should describe the movements, and measure the laws of other worlds. The VOL. II.
various and wonderful transformations through which animals pass, shew that it is possible to undergo them without the destruction of the living principle.
But it is to the circumstances in which mankind are placed, viewed in connexion with the moral government of God, that I would now direct my attention, as suggesting considerations which unavoidably lead us to expect a future state of being. The slightest survey of these circumstances will convince us of the impossibility of governing the world without a belief in the reality of such a state. Without it the best code of laws would be unavailing; and so necessary is its operation to the order and existence of society, that all legislators, ancient and modern, have wisely availed themselves of it as an useful and indispensable auxiliary. Knowing that no human sanction has equal efficacy with that which is divine, and that the fear and hope of things obscurely apprehended, and hid in futurity, take a strong hold on the heart and imagination of man, they have made the fundamental principles of religion subservient to the authority of their laws, and the observance of their institutions.
It was reserved for modern times to make a great and memorable experiment on the practicability of governing mankind without any reference to religion, to God, and to eternity. But the ephemeral transactions of that period of guilt and crime have passed away, and have furnished in their history what may admonish future generations of the inutility of laws unsupported by the principles of religious belief. If, indeed, all the suggestions of conscience, enlightened by a knowledge of the divine will, and acting under
the belief of a judgment to come, be often so inefficient in restraining from vice, and in stimulating to virtue, what would be the condition of society if every such restraint were removed, and men were to look to the present life alone for their rewards and punishments? The obvious inference from this fact is, that if the belief of a future state be so necessary to the order of society, and the moral improvement of mankindthis necessity is evidence in favour of its reality. The God of infinite wisdom, power, and goodness, who is the supreme Lord and Ruler of all things, would not render a belief in a future existence necessary to society, unless the object of this belief were to be realized. The supposition that the God of truth would govern the world by a delusion is repugnant to every notion we can entertain of his veracity and perfection, and derogatory to the glories of his character.
Besides, a future state of being seems to be necessary to the display and vindication of divine justice. The equity of God will lead him, we are assured, to proportion with perfect exactness the happiness or the misery of his creatures to the degree of virtue or of vice which prevails in their character. But no such unvarying and complete distribution of happiness and misery takes place in the present state; for virtuous men are often exposed to the greatest distresses, while the wicked sometimes live and die in prosperity. It is no sufficient counterbalance to this inequality, that the secret satisfaction accompanying the exercise of virtue, renders a good man happier in his most calamitous state, than it is possible for the
wicked to be in his greatest prosperity; and that without any future reward, the pleasure of an approving conscience in any situation, is not only a compensation adequate to human virtue, but far more enviable than the highest earthly gratification.
This is no sufficient counterbalance to the unequal allotments of Providence, because the support and comfort of the pious in their afflictions chiefly arise from the expectation of a future state; and since this expectation is their greatest encouragement to maintain their integrity under every trial, we cannot suppose that a God of infinite wisdom, justice, and goodness, should so order it, that a principal foundation of virtue should be groundless. There are, moreover, sufferings so extreme which the pious are occasionally called to endure, but which they are enabled to bear with fortitude and resignation, from the lively views which they entertain of the happiness of that eternal state from which death and sorrow shall be excluded. Would it not reflect on the justice, faithfulness, and other perfections of God, if no such state were ever to arrive, and we were then forced to believe that the Deity places his rational and virtuous offspring in situations in which no doctrines of religion could afford consolation, if the whole truth were known?
Good men, besides, in seasons of calm reflection, often have their tranquillity interrupted by perplexing doubts and fears as to their conformity to the will of God. Their disquieting apprehensions on this head are generally in proportion to the refinement and delicacy of their moral feelings and perceptions. Can