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V. Proposition V. Though the necessity and indispensableness of all the great and moral obligations of natural religion, and also the certainty of a future state of rewards and punishments, be thus in general deducible, even demonstrably, by a chain of clear and undeniable reasoning; yet (in the present state of the world, by what means soever it came originally to be so corrupted, the particular circumstances whereof could not now be certainly known but by revelation,) such is the carelessness, inconsiderateness, and want of attention of the greater part of mankind; so many the prejudices and false notions taken up by evil education; so strong and violent the unreasonable lusts, appetites, and desires of sense; and so great the blindness introduced by superstitious opinions, vicious customs, and debauched practices through the world; that very few are able, in reality and effect, to discover these things clearly and plainly for themselves: But men have great need of particular 249teaching, and much instruction, to convince them of the truth, and certainty, and importance of these things; to give them a due sense, and clear and just apprehensions concerning them, and to bring them effectually to the practice of the plainest and most necessary duties.
1. Men hindered from discovering and understanding religious truths, by carelessness and want of attention. There is naturally in the greater part of mankind such a prodigious carelessness, inconsiderateness and want of attention, as not only hinders them from making use of their reason, in such manner as to discover these things clearly and effectually for themselves, but is the cause of the grossest and most stupid ignorance imaginable. Some seem to have little or hardly any notion of God at all; and more take little or no care to frame just and worthy apprehensions concerning him, concerning the divine attributes and perfections of his nature; and still many more are entirely negligent and heedless to consider and discover what may be his will. Few make a due use of their natural faculties, to distinguish rightly the essential and unchangeable difference between good and evil; fewer yet so attend to the natural notices which God has given them, as by their own understanding to collect that what is good is the express will and command of God, and what is evil is forbidden by him; and still fewer consider with themselves the weight and importance of these things, the natural rewards or punishments that are frequently annexed in this life to the practice of virtue or vice, and the much greater and certainer difference that shall be made between them in a life to come. Hence it is that (as travellers assure us) even some whole nations seem to have very little notion of God, or at least very poor and unworthy apprehensions concerning him; and a very small sense of the obligations of morality; and very mean and obscure expectations of a future state. Not that God has anywhere left himself wholly without witness; or that the difference of good and evil is to any rational being undiscernible; or that men at any time or in 250any nation, could ever be firmly and generally persuaded in their own minds that they perished absolutely at death: But through supine negligence and want of attention, they let their reason (as it were) sleep,255255 Multis signis natura declarat quid velit;—obsurdescimus tamen, nescio quomodo, nec audimus.—Cic. de Amicit. and are deaf to the dictates of common understanding; and, like brute beasts, minding only the things that are before their eyes, never consider any thing that is abstract from sense, or beyond their present private temporal interest. And it were well if even in civilized nations this was not very nearly the case of too many men, when left entirely to themselves, and void of particular instruction.
2. And by early prejudices and false notions. The greater
part of mankind are not only inattentive, and barely ignorant, but commonly they
have also, through a careless and evil education, taken up early prejudices, and
many vain and foolish notions, which pervert their natural understanding, and hinder
them from using their reason in moral matters to any effectual purpose. This cannot
be better described than in the words of Cicero: If we had come into the world,
saith he,256256 Si tales nos natura genuisset, ut eam ipsam intueri et perspicere,
duce cursum vitæ conficere possemus; haud esset sanè
rationem et doctrinam requireret. Nunc vero, &c.—Cic. Tusc. Quœst.
Nunc parvulos nobis dedit igniculos, quos celeriter malis moribus opinionibusque depravatis sic restinguimus, ut nusquam naturæ lumen appareat.——Simul atque editi in lucem et suscepti sumus, in omni continuo pravitate, et in summa opinionum perversitate, versamur; ut pene cum lacte nutricis, errorem suxisse videamur. Cum vero parentibus redditi, deinde magistris traditi sumus; tum ita variis imbuimur erroribus, ut vanitati veritas, et opinioni confirmatæ natura ipsa cedat.——Cum vero accedit eodem, quasi maximus quidem magister, populus, atque omnis undique ad vitia consentiens multitudo, tum plane inficimur opinionum pravitate, a naturaque ipsa desciscimus.—Ibid. in such circumstances as that we could clearly and distinctly have discerned nature herself, and have been able in the course of our lives to follow her true and uncorrupted directions, this alone might have been sufficient, and there 251would have been little need of teaching and instruction. But now nature has given us only some small sparks of right reason, which we so quickly extinguish with corrupt opinions and evil practices, that the true light of nature nowhere appears: As soon as we are brought into the world, immediately we dwell in the midst of all wickedness, and are surrounded with a number of most perverse and foolish opinions, so that we seem to suck in error even with our nurse’s milk: Afterwards, when we return to our parents, and are committed to tutors, then we are further stocked with such variety of errors, that truth becomes perfectly overwhelmed with falsehood, and the most natural sentiments of our minds are entirely stifled with confirmed follies; but when, after all this, we enter upon business in the world, and make the multitude, conspiring everywhere in wickedness, our great guide and example, then our very nature itself is wholly transformed, as it were, into corrupt opinions. A livelier description of the present corrupt estate of human nature is not easily to be met with.
by sensual appetites, passions, and worldly business. In the generality of men the appetites and desires of sense are so violent and
importunate, the business and the pleasures of the world take up so much of their
time, and their passions are so very strong and unreasonable, that of themselves
they are very backward and unapt to employ their reason, and fix their attention
upon moral matters, and still more backward to apply themselves to the practice
of them. The love of pleasure is (as Aristotle elegantly expresses
it,257257 ἡτι δὲ ἐκ νηπίου πᾶσιν ἡμῖν συντέθραπται [ἡδονὴ]
διὸ καὶ χαλεπὸν αποτρίψασθαι τοῦτο τὸ πάθος, ἐγκεχρωσμένον τῷ βίῳ.—Arislot.
Ethic. lib. 2. c. 2. ) so nourished up with us from our very childhood, and so incorporated (as
it were) into the whole course of our lives, that it is very difficult for men to
withdraw their thoughts from sensual objects, and fasten them upon things remote
from sense; and if perhaps they do attend a little, and begin to see the
252reasonableness of governing themselves by a higher principle
than mere sense and appetite, yet with such variety of temptations are they perpetually
encompassed and continually solicited,258258 Vitia de mercede sollicitant;
avaritia pecuniam promittit: luxuria multas ac varias voluptates; ambitio purpuram
et plausum; et ex hoc potentiam, et quicquid potentia ponit.—Senec. Epist.
Τόδε δὲ ἴσμεν, ὅτι ταῦτα τὰ πάθη ἐν ἡμῖν οἷον νεῦρα ἢ μήρινθοί τινες ενοῦσαι, σπῶσί τ9ε ἡμας καὶ ἀλλήλαι; ἀνθέλκουσιν, ἐναντίαι οὄσαι ἐπ᾽ ἐναντί_ς πράξεις.—Plato de Legib. lib. 1. and the strength of passions and appetites, make so great opposition to the motions of reason, that commonly they yield and submit to practise those things which at the same time the reason of their own mind condemns,259259 ——Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor. and what they allow not that they do; which observation is so true of too great a part of mankind, that Plato upon this ground declares all arts and sciences to have, in his opinion,260260 ἡδοξε δὲ, καὶ νῦν ἔτι δοκεῖ, τὰ μὲν ἄλλα ἐπιτηδεύματα πάντα, οὐ σφόδρα χαλεπὰ εἷναι· τὸ δὲ τίνα τρόπον χρὴ γίγνεσθαι χρηστοὺς ἀνθρώπους, παγχάλεπον.—Plato in Epinomide. less of difficulty in them than that of making men good; insomuch that it is well, saith he,261261 Φρόνησιν δὴ καὶ ἀληθεῖς δόξας βεβαιοῦν, ἐυτυχἐς ὅτῳ καὶ πρὸς τὸ γῆρας παργγίνετο.—Id. de Legib. lib. 1. if men can come to attain a right sense, and just and true notions of things, even by that time they arrive at old age.
4. And above all, by vicious habits and practices. But that which, above all other things, most depraves men’s natural understanding, and hinders them from discerning and judging rightly of moral truths, is this; that as stupid and careless ignorance leads them into fond and superstitious opinions, and the appetites of sense overcome and tempt them into practices contrary to their conscience and judgment; so, on the reverse, the multitude of superstitious opinions, vicious habits, and debauched practices, which prevail in all ages through the greater part of the world, do reciprocally increase men’s gross ignorance, carelessness, and stupidity. False and unworthy notions of God, or superstitious apprehensions concerning 253him, which men carelessly and inconsiderately happen to take up at first; do (as it were) blind the eyes of their reason for the future, and hinder them from discerning what of itself originally was easy enough to be discovered. That which may be known Rom. i. 19, &c. of God has been manifest enough unto men in all ages, for God hath showed it unto them: For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and godhead: So that they who are ignorant of him cannot but be without excuse. But notwithstanding all the heathen world had so certain means of knowing God, yet generally they glorified him not as God; neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened; and they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into images of the meanest and most contemptible creatures; and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever: The natural consequence of which absurd idolatry, and also the just judgment of God upon them for it was, that they were given up to a reprobate mind, to uncleanness, and to all vile affection to such a degree, that not only their common practices, but even their most sacred rites and religious performances became themselves the extremest abominations. And when men’s morals are thus corrupted, and they run with greediness into all excess of riot and debauchery; then, on the other hand, by the same natural consequence, and by the same just judgment of God, both their vicious customs and actions, as well as superstitious opinions, reciprocally increase the blindness of their hearts,Eph. iv. 18. 19. darken the judgment of their understandings, stupify and sear their consciences so as to become past feeling,262262 Justos natura esse factos;——tantam autem esse corruptelam malæ consuetudinis, ut ab ea tanquam igniculi extinguantur a natura dati, exorianturque et confirmentur vitia contraria.—Cic. de Legib. lib. 1. and by degrees extinguish wholly that light of 254nature in their own minds, which was given them originally to enable them to discern between good and evil.
Wherefore men have great need to be taught and instructed in matters of religion. By these means it comes to pass, that though the great obligations and the principal motives of morality, are indeed certainly discoverable and demonstrable by right reason; and all considerate men, when those motives and obligations are fairly proposed to them, must of necessity (as has been fully proved in the foregoing heads) yield their assent to them as certain and undeniable truths; yet under the disadvantages now mentioned, (as it is the case of most men to fall under some or other of them,) very few are of themselves able, in reality and effect, discover those truths clearly and plainly for themselves: But most men have great need of particular teaching and much instruction, not without some weight of authority, as well as reason and persuasion;
1st. To raise and stir up their attention,—to move them to shake off their habitual carelessness, stupidity, and inconsiderateness,—to persuade them to make use of their natural reason and understanding, and to apply their minds to apprehend and study the truth and certainty of these things: For, as men, notwithstanding all the rational faculties they are by nature indued with, may yet, through mere neglect and incogitancy, be grossly and totally ignorant of the plainest and most obvious mathematical truths; so men may also, for want of consideration, be very ignorant of some of the plainest moral obligations, which, as soon as distinctly proposed to them, they cannot possibly avoid giving their assent unto.
2. To give them a due sense, and right and just apprehensions concerning these things,—to convince them of the great concern and vast importance of them,—to correct the false notions, vain prejudices, and foolish opinions, which deprave their judgment,—and to remove that levity and heedlessness of spirit which makes men frequently to be in their practice very little influenced by what in abstract opinion they may seem firmly to believe: For there are many men 255who will think themselves highly injured if any one should make any doubt of their believing the indispensable obligations of morality, and the certainty of a future state of rewards and punishments, who yet in their lives and actions seem to have upon their minds but a very small sense of the weight and infinite importance of these great truths.
3. To inculcate these things frequently upon them, and press them effectually to the practice of the plainest and most necessary duties,—to persuade them to moderate those passions,—to subdue those lusts,—to conquer those appetites,—to despise those pleasures of sense,—and (which is the greatest difficulty of all) to reform and correct those vicious customs and evil habits which tempt and hurry them too often into the commission of such things, as they are convinced at the same time, in the reason of their own minds, ought not to be practised: For it is very possible men may both clearly understand their duty and also be fully convinced of the reasonableness of practising it, and yet at the same time find a law in their membersRom. vii. 23. warring and prevailing against the law of their mind, and bringing them into captivity to the law of sin and death. Men may be pleased with the beauty and excellency of virtue,263263 Quidam ad magnificas voces excitantur, et transeunt in affectum dicentium, alacres vultu et animo. Rapit illos instigatque rerum pulchritudo.——Juvat protinus quæ audias, facere. Afficiuntur illi, et sunt quales jubentur, si illa animo forma permaneat, si non impetum insignem protinus populus honesti dissuasor excipiat. Pauci illam quam conceperant mentem, domum perferre potuerunt.—Senec. Epist. 109. and have some faint inclinations and even resolutions to practise it, and yet, at the return of their temptations, constantly fall back into their accustomed vices, if the great motives of their duty be not very frequently and very strongly inculcated upon them, so as to make very deep and lasting impressions upon their minds, and they have not some greater and higher assistance afforded them than the bare conviction of their own speculative reason.256
For these reasons (I say) it is very fit, that, notwithstanding the natural demonstrableness both of the obligations and motives of morality, yet considering the manifest corruptness of the present estate which human nature is in, the generality of men should not by any means be left wholly to the workings of their own minds, to the use of their natural faculties, and to the bare convictions of their own reason, but should be particularly taught and instructed in their duty, should have the motives of it frequently and strongly pressed and inculcated upon them with great weight and authority, and should have many extraordinary assistances afforded them, to keep them effectually in the practice of the great and plainest duties of religion.
The great use and necessity of an order of preachers. And hence we may, by the way, justly observe the exceeding great use and necessity there is, of establishing an order or succession of men, whose peculiar office and continual employment it may be, to teach and instruct people in their duty, to press and exhort them perpetually to the practice of it, and to give them all possible assistances for that purpose. To which excellent institution, the right and worthy notion of God and his divine perfections, the just sense and understanding of the great duties of religion, and the universal belief and due apprehension of a future state of rewards and punishments; with the generality even of the meaner and more ignorant sort of people among us, are now possessed of; is manifestly and undeniably almost wholly owing: As I shall have occasion hereafter more particularly to observe.
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