« Prev Letter VI. On Religious Evils. Next »



Religious Evils.



On Religious Evils.


I NOW come to my last head of Evils which I call Religious; by which I mean all that madness, and folly, into which mankind have perpetually fallen under the name of Religion; together with all those Persecutions, Massacres, and Martyrdoms, which some have been induced to inflict, and others to suffer, from an Enthusiastic zeal for those errors and absurdities: Evils 194of the most enormous size, and which of all others are the most difficult to be accounted for, as their existence seems most inconsistent with infinite Goodness, and most easily preventable by infinite Power, For, tho' human nature could not be exempted from natural and moral Evil (as has been shewn) even by Omnipotence, yet, one would think, a far less degree of power might have been sufficient to have defended it from Religious; by imparting to Mankind a true, rational, and explicit system of Theology and Ethics; by which means all the absurdities of false Religions, and all the calamities flowing from those absurdities, would have been effectually prevented. Wonderful therefore must it appear, since the happiness of Men, thro' every part of their existence, so much depends on their Religion, that is, on their entertaining 195right notions of God and his Attributes, of their duty to him, and their behaviour to each other; most wonderful, I say, and astonishing it must appear, that a wise and benevolent Creator should so far have deserted his Creatures on this important occasion, as to have suffered them, thro' all generations, to have wandered amidst such perilous precipices in the dark; or if at any time he has vouchsafed them any supernatural light, that it should have been so faint and glimmering that it has rather served to terrify them with the gloomy prospect of their danger, than to enable them to avoid it.

If we look back as far as history will carry us, we shall find all ages and nations practising, under the name of Religion, 196such inhuman, obscene, stupid and execrable Idolatries, that it would disgrace human Nature but to enumerate them: we shall see the wisest Men of the wisest Countries consulting Oracles of wood and stone, and confiding in the foolish superstition of the flight of birds, the entrails of beasts, and the pecking of chickens; we shall see them butchering their innocent herds and flocks as an attonement for their vices, and sacrificing their enemies, their slaves, their children, and sometimes themselves, to appease the wrath of their imaginary Deities, of whose worship no cruelty was too horrid to be made a part; and by whose infamous examples no wickedness was too execrable to be patronised. At length Christianity appeared, a sketch of Morality, the most rational, and of Religion the most sublime the world had ever seen; which, if ever God condescended to 197reveal his Will to Man, undoubtedly makes the fairest pretensions to be that Revelation: and indeed, if we seriously consider its internal Excellence, the reasonableness of its Morality, the sublimity of its Theology, that it alone has fixed the right Criterion of Virtue, alone discovered the magnanimity of Forgiveness: that its notions of the Deity, his attributes and dispensations, are so unlike all that ever entered into the heads of the wisest philosophers of preceding ages, and yet so well confirmed by the learned discoveries of all succeeding times; so far exalted above all human reason, and yet so conaonant with it, and what is most concluaive, so infinitely above the Capacities of those who published them to the World; if we add to this its obscure rise and amazing progress, I think, we can scarcely doubt but that there must be something 198Supernatural in it: and yet, with all these marks of Divinity stamped upon it, far from answering that idea of Perfection which we might expert from the divine Interposition, it was but a Sketch, whose Out-lines indeed appear the Work of a consummate Matter, but filled up from time to time by unequal and injudicious hands. It had many defeats in its institution, and was attended with many and great Evils in its consequences; in its institution it wanted Universality, 1111By want of Authenticity is here meant only the want of that demonstrable, and infallible Authority, of which all historical Facts are in their own Natures incapable; and which, had the friends of the Christian Revelation never pretended to bestow upon it, the truth of that event had been no more disputed, than the truth of any other well-attested History whatsoever.Authenticity, 1991212The want of Perspicuity in this Revelation needs surely no other testimony, than the Millions of Writers, who for seventeen Centuries have laboured to demonstrate, harmonise, systemise, illustrate, and explain every one of its Doctrines; and the no less numberless, and various Opinions, that remain to this Day concerning them all: much indeed of this obscurity has proceeded from Men's endeavours to make it what they fancied it should have been, but for which it was never intended; that is, a regular, clear, and explicit body of moral and political Institutes.Perspicuity, and 1313By Policy is here meant all Institutions and Regulations of human Government, both civil, and ecclesiastical; concerning which the Author of the Christian Religion has carefully avoided giving any directions. All these he has left to be ordered by every State in such a manner as shall appear to them most convenient, and has commanded his disciples to be subject, as Men, to their ordinances, not only for Wrath but for Conscience sake; but foreseeing the infinite mischiefs that must arise from trusting human Creatures with a divine power, he has forbid them as Christians, either to exercise, or submit to any authority over each other, under any pretence of its being derived from himself: Ye know, he says, that the Princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them; But it shall not be so among you; &c. Matt. xx. 25. And perhaps there is no stronger proof of the divine Wisdom of this great Instructor of Mankind, than the extraordinary caution with which he has passed over a subject, on which no rules could be prescribed not inconsistent either with Practice or with Virtue: and yet a Subject which all other Legislators have considered as their most important Object.Policy, and in its consequences it was soon corrupted, and from that corruption productive of the most mischievous effects. Its great 200Author designed it not to be exempted from any of there Imperfections. He revealed it only to a small and obscure corner 201of the World in Parables and Mysteries: He guarded not its original Purity, which seems to have died with himself, by committing it to any written Records, but left it in the hands of illiterate Men, who, tho' they were honest enough to die for it, were never wise enough perfectly to understand it. All Policy he disclaims in express Words, saying, My kingdom is not of this World; that is, 1 meddle not with the Political Affairs of Mankind; I teach Men to despise the World, but not to govern it. Nor did He expect any better consequences from its progress than those which actually 202followed: He was by no means ignorant of its future corruption, and that, tho' his primitive institution breathed nothing but Peace, and Forbearance, Good-will and Benevolence; yet that in mixing with the Policies and Interests of Mankind, it would be productive of tyranny and oppression, of martyrdoms and massacres, of national wars and family dissentions. Think not, says he, I come to send peace on Earth, I come not to send peace but a Sword: for I am come to set a man at Variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A Prophecy too fatally fulfilled!

From what inscrutable source can all these imperfections, and all these consequent Evils, derive their existence? On what incomprehensible plan must the wise Disposer 203of all things proceed, to suffer men thus to bewilder themselves in the labyrinths of error, and from thence to plunge into the gulphs of wickedness and misery, when the least direction from his omnipotent hand would lead them thro' the flowery paths of Truth to Virtue and Felicity? Strange! that he has not given them reason sufficient to perform this important office! Stranger! that, if ever he condescended to assist that Reason with his infinite Wisdom, even the Religion that results from that supernatural assistance should be still deficient in almost every one of the principal requisites necessary towards accomplishing the great and beneficent ends it was designed for! that it should want Universality to render it impartial, Authenticity to make it demonstrable, Perspicuity to make it intelligible, and Policy to make it useful to Mankind: 204that it should immediately have been corrupted, and from that corruption been productive of all the Misery and Wickedness it seemed calculated to prevent. But on examination we shall find, that these Evils, like all those of which we have before treated, owe their existence to no defect of goodness or power in God, but to the imperfection of Man and their own necessity: that is, to the impracticability of giving a perfect Religion to an imperfect Creature. From whence this impracticability arises I will endeavour to explain.

There are but two methods, that we know of, by which God can communicate a Religion to mankind: that is, either by the deductions which he has impowered him to make by the Force of that natural Reason which he has implanted in 205him, or by the extraordinary interposition of Divine Revelation: now from the first of these little need be said to shew that nothing perfect can be expected: our Reason is unstable in its foundations, and uncertain in its conclusions; our lives are extremely short, and our progress in science no less tedious, and retarded by numberless obstacles: much of our time is employed in getting ideas, and much in acquiring language to express them: few Men have capacities to reason, and fewer leisure: some having sense but no learning, want materials to work with: others having learning and no sense, become more absurd by having amassed much matter to mistake about: so that to raise any tolerable system of Religion, or Morals, from human reason, requires the labours of many generations; from all which have already part how little 206truth can we collect? and yet perhaps much of that little is owing to Revelation, which we are apt to think unnecessary from the very assistance we have received from it; like the Country-man who despised the Sun because it shined in the daytime. We see but a very small part of the great Whole, and see that small part so superficially, that we comprehend not the essence of any thing; 207neither of 1414Metaphysicians divide all Being into Spirit and Matter: to Spirit they attribute motion, activity, sensibility, thought, will, and reason, free from all solidity, and extension; to Matter they ascribe solidity and extension only, void of all self-motion, sense, and perception: but these descriptions are quite arbitrary, founded only upon their own imaginations, and by no means consistent with experience: for Spirit seems to have many properties not so distinct from Matter by its intimate Union with it in the composition of all animals; and matter has certainly many qualities contradictory to this distinction, such as cohesion, attraction, elasticity, electricity, fermentation, heat, and vegetation, none of which can be accounted for from the mere passive principles of solidity and extension.Body or Spirit, of 1515Many philosophers have considered Time and Space as real essences; whereas they have certainly no more than an imaginary existence derived solely from the imperfection of human conceptions, and human language. They are in themselves really nothing, and the attributes we bestow upon them are applicable with equal propriety to nothing: that is, nothing has neither beginning nor end, nor can be comprehended within any bounds. The intervening period between historical facts we distinguish by the names of days and years; the distances between places we call yards and miles, and from this manner of expressing ourselves they gain the appearance of being something; whereas abstracted from those facts, and places, they are really nothing: so that if all things were annihilated, Space would immediately vanish, and literally speaking, Time would be no more.Space or 208Time, of 1616All the Ideas we have of Infinity and Eternity are acquired by adding in our imagination Miles to Miles and Years to Years, by which means we come never the nearer to them: for no addition of parts can ever make any thing infinite or eternal; no two objects can be placed at an infinite distance, because they would then be the two ends of Infinity: an infinite number is a contradiction in terms; and therefore every thing that is infinite or eternal must exist in some manner which bears no manner of relation to Space, or Time, and which must therefore be to us totally incomprehensible.Infinity or Eternity; we know scarce any thing of any thing, and least of all of the nature of God or ourselves; and therefore it is by no means surprismg that all Religions derived from such a source should be full of Errors and Absurdities. If it be 209asserted that God might have given to Man a more comprehensive Reason and a greater Insight into Nature and Futurity: I answer, he certainly might, and he might also have given him the strength of the Horse and the swiftness of the Stag, as well as the understanding of an Angel; but then he had not continued to be Man; or if he had, he would have suffered many superior Evils from there unhappy acquisitions.

If we consider the other method, by which God can communicate a Religion to Mankind, we shall find it no less incapable 210of producing a perfect one; because tho' God is sufficiently able to give a perfect Religion, Man is utterly unable to receive it. God cannot impart knowledge to Creatures, of which he himself has made them incapable by their nature and formation he cannot instruct a Mole in Astronomy, or an Oyster in Musick, because he has not given, them Members nor Faculties necessary for the acquisition of those sciences: neither is this any diminution of his Omnipotence, because acting in such a manner would be willing Contrarieties at the same time: it would be opposing his own Designs, making Creatures what they are not, and granting them Powers which he thought proper to deny them: a Revelation therefore from God can never be such as we might expert from infinite Power, Wisdom and Goodness, but must condescend to the 211Ignorance and Infirmities of Man. Was the wisest Legislator in the World to compose Laws for a nursery, they must be childish Laws: so was God to reveal a Religion to Mankind, tho' the Revealer was divine, the Religion must be human, or it could be of no use to those for whose sake it was revealed: and therefore, like them, it must be liable to numberless Imperfections, amongst which all those Deficiencies before-mentioned are absolutely unavoidable, and impossible to be prevented by any power whatever these are the Want of Universality, Authenticity, Perspicuity and Policy; its certain Corruption, with all that inundation of Wickedness and Misery which must flow from that Corruption. Great and numerous Evils! from which it is not difficult to shew, that no Revelation communicated 212to Man can be exempted by an Omnipotent Revealer.

First then it must want Universality: that is, however conducive it may be to the virtue and happiness of Mankind in general, it cannot be alike communicated to all Men in all ages and all nations of the World; because, from the nature of things, it must have a beginning and a progression: it must at first be revealed at some time and in some place; and when-ever and where-ever that is, there must have been times and places in which it was not revealed; and therefore it is impossible it can be Universal; and this not proceeding from any impotence or partiality in the Revealer; but from the modes of existence of all human affairs.


It must likewise want Authenticity; that is, tho' its divine Authority may be more or less credible according to the circumstances of the evidence, yet it can never be capable of a direct or demonstrative proof; because God must communicate this Revelation to Mankind either by a general or a particular Inspiration: that is, either by inspiring all men, or by inspiring a few to teach it to others: the first of these methods, or a Universal Inspiration, is impossible in nature, and absurd even in imagination, and would be the total alteration of human nature: the other must ever be liable to infinite uncertainty, because tho' a Man may possibly know when he himself is inspired, (tho' that, I think, may be very well questioned) yet, that he should ever produce indubitable credentials of a Divine Commission to others, who are uninspired, 214 seems utterly impracticable, there being no marks by which the fact can be ascertained, nor any faculties in the human mind which are able to distinguish it: the excellence of the Revelation he teaches, its beneficent ends, and the miracles he may work in its confirmation, may altogether render it more or less probable, but can never amount to a certain proof, because we know so little of the ends and consequences of things, and so much less of the nature of Miracles: we understand indeed nothing about them, but that we ourselves are unable to perform them; but what Beings of superior Orders may be able to do we cannot tell; nor yet what power, inclination or permission such Beings may have to deceive us: If it is impossible therefore we can be certain of the divine Authority of a Revelation, even by 215a personal communication with its first Author, much less can we be assured of it thro' the fallacious mediums of Tradition or History; for whoever observes the propensity men have to impose upon themselves and others, how difficult it is to come at a true representation of the commonest fact, even at the distance of a few miles or a few years, will be easily convinced, that all human Tradition can be nothing more than a Complication of designed Fraud and inevitable Error; a Glass which misrepresents all objects by magnifying or diminishing them, just as it is placed by the hand of Knavery for the inspection of Folly and Credulity. History indeed carries with it a greater Authority, but must ever be liable to infinite Imperfections: we can never be certain that the Writers of it, being Men, were not imposed upon themselves, or did not intend to impose on others; and therefore 216its original evidence cannot be conclusive, and must grow daily weaker in proportion to its antiquity: it must necessarily be subject to all uncertainties proceeding from the variation of languages and customs, ignorant transcribers, false translations, interpolations and forgeries; and as the histories of Religions are more connected with Mens interests than those of other occurrences, so they must be ever more subject to these Frauds and Impositions; for the same reason that a Bank-note is more likely to be counterfeited than a Newspaper. It is therefore impossible that History can afford us any certain proof of a supernatural and miraculous dispensation, because a Fact, unlikely to be true, can never be demonstrated by a relation not impossible to be false. If it be said, that God may inspire the writers of such important 217Records with Infallibility; I answer, the Proof that he has so inspired them will be attended with no less difficulty than the proof of that divine authority which is to be established by it; and it must ever be absurd to prove the truth of a Revelation by the infallibility of its Records, and the infallibility of its Records from the truth of the Revelation. It is plain therefore, that, tho' infinite Goodness may reveal a Religion to so imperfect a creature as Man, yet infinite Power cannot, by reason of that Imperfection, give to that Revelation such a degree of Authenticity, that is, such a demonstrable proof of its divine Authority, as some Men unreasonably expect, and others as ridiculously bestow upon it.1717Nothing here offered is meant by any means to invalidate the authority of Revelation: that of the Christian is possessed of as much certainty as the nature of the fact, and the nature of its evidence will admit of. Those who endeavour to bestow more upon it, do in reality but make it less; and, like unskillful Architects, weaken a building already sufficiently strong, by overloading it with unnecessary supporters.


It must want Perspicuity: that is, it must be much more obscure both in its speculative and practical Doctrines, than might be expected from the interposition of infinite wisdom, truth and benevolence. In its speculative Doctrines, Obscurity must be unavoidable, because they must treat of subjects above the reach of our Comprehensions: which neither eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor has entered into the heart of Man to conceive; and therefore no Power can impart to us clear and explicit Ideas of such things without first bestowing on us new faculties and new senses; that is, without the 219total alteration of our Natures. But what is most of all extraordinary is, that it must be likewise to a certain degree obscure in its practical and moral precepts; and this from a reason not the less valid for having never before been insisted on; which is, from the Necessity of Moral Evil: that is, since God, as has been shewn, was obliged by Necessity to admit Moral Evil into the Creation, he must probably be obliged, by the same Necessity, to suffer it in some degree to continue; and therefore cannot inforce the universal practice of Virtue by laws so explicit, by threats and promises so glaring, and by commands so incontestably of divine Authority, as can admit of no doubt; for these would be so absolutely irresistible as at once to eradicate all human Vice, which has already been proved to have been admitted only from the impossibility of its exclusion 220without the introduction of greater Evils, or the loss of superior Good. If Omnipotence could not prevent the existence of Moral Evil by the original formation of Man, totally to extirpate it by Revelation would be to counteract his own wise, tho' incomprehensible designs and therefore a Divine Revelation can never be a regular Body of practical institutes, clear and perspicuous, free from all doubts and altercations, inforced by perpetual Miracles, by visible and immediate Rewards and Punishments; but a still Voice whispering gentle Warnings, divine Admonitions and supernatural Truths; a Light shining, in a dark place, illuminating to a certain degree the native obscurity of the human Mind, and discovering by faint glimmerings the Deigns of Providence, and a distant prospect of a future Life.


It must also want Policy: that is, it can never prescribe political rules by which Mankind can be conducted in the Government of Nations, or their pretended rights of War and Peace, because all these affairs being incapable (as has been shewn) of being carried on by any other means than those of violence, fraud, and corruption; a Divine Revelation cannot possibly give any directions about them; because all such must be necessarily inconsistent either with Virtue or with practicability: totally to forbid these methods of governing mankind, who can be governed by no other, would be destructive of all government; to allow them, of all Morality: and therefore it is necessary that Men should be left to act in these matters at their peril, as particular circumstances may require, with only a general system of religion and morality 222for their guide. If a divine Revelation can give no laws for the management of Civil Government, much less can it institute any new policies peculiar to itself, under the names of Spiritual or Ecclesiastical; all which, however divine in their Original, must necessarily be administer'd, if administer'd by Man, by the same unjustifiable methods as others, with this additional inconvenience, that they could never be justly resisted. God cannot therefore, I apprehend, delegate Spiritual power to Man, without patronizing all that Violence, Corruption, and Iniquity, which must result from it, and without which no power in the hands of Men can be exercised over men. For the imperfection of Man is incompatible with the purity of a Divine Government. The Government of all creatures must correspond with their natures; 223and it seems to me as impossible that Societies of Men should submit under a Divine Government, as that Wolves and Tygers shou'd live together under the regulations of human Policy: but most of all impossible it must be that a divine and human Government should subsist together in the same Society, for they must immediately clash: and whenever that happens, the least spark of divine authority, if really divine, must infallibly consume all human power, and destroy all Civil Government whatever.

Lastly, it must very soon be corrupted, and from that corruption be productive of the most mischievous effects: for, as the purest stream pour'd into an impure vessel must partake of its impurity; so must the most perfect Religion, that can be reveal'd by God to so imperfect a Creature as Man, 224partake of his imperfection, and produce many and great Evils, both natural and moral; that is, much of that misery, and wickedness, which it was intended to prevent: this no wisdom can obviate, no power put a stop to, so long as that imperfection remains; but it must constantly come to pass from a train of unavoidable consequences, which must invariably follow their causes, so long as human nature continues what it is.

For instance, when a Divine Revelation is first communicated to mankind, it must be received (if received at all) because its precepts are approved, and its authority believed; and all those nations who thus approve the one, and believe the other, must esteem it both their interest and their duty to encourage and support it. This 225they can effect by no other means than by granting peculiar privileges to all who profess it, by forming from it their national Religion, and publick worship, and by maintaining an ,Order of Men to preach that Religion, and minister that worship to the people; all which amounts to a National Establishment. Now the moment any Religion becomes national, or established, its purity must certainly be lost, because it is then impossible to keep it unconnected with men's interests; and if connected, it must inevitably be perverted by them. Whenever temporal advantages are annex'd to any religious profession, they will be sure to call in all those who have no religion at all: knaves will embrace it for the sake of interest, fools will follow them for the sake of fashion; and when once it is in such hands, Omnipotence itself can never preserve its purity. That very Order of Men, 226who are maintained to support its interests, will sacrifice them to their own; and being in the sole possession of all its promises, and all its terrors, and having the tenderness of Childhood, the weakness of Age, and the ignorance of the vulgar to work upon; I say, these Men, vested with all these powers, yet being but Men, will not fail to convert all the mighty influence they must derive from them to the selfish ends of their own avarice and ambition, and consequently to the total destruction of its Original Purity: from it they will lay claim to powers which it never design'd them, and to possessions to which they have no right; to make good these false pretensions, false histories will be forg'd, and fabulous traditions invented; groundless terrors will be flung out to operate on superstition and timidity; Creeds and Articles will be contriv'd to confound all Reason, and tests imposed to sift 227outall who have honesty or courage enough to resist these unwarrantable encroachments. Devotion will be turned into farce and pageantry, to captivate men's eyes, that their pockets may with more facility be invaded: they will convert Piety into Superstition, Zeal into Rancour, and this Religion, notwithstanding all its Divinity, into diabolical malevolence. By degrees knaves will join them, fools believe them, and cowards be afraid of them; and having gained to considerable a part of the World to their interests, they will erect an independent dominion among themselves dangerous to the liberties of Mankind, and representing all those who oppose their tyranny as God's enemies, teach it to be meritorious in his fight to persecute them in this world and damn them in another. Hence must arise Hierarchies, Inquisitions, and Popery; for Popery is but the consummation of that 228tyranny which every religious System in the hands of Men is in perpetual pursuit of, and whose principles they are all ready to adopt whenever they are fortunate enough to meet with its success.

This Tyranny cannot subsist without fierce and formidable Opposition, from whence innumerable Sects, Schisms, and Dissentions will lift up their contentious heads, each gaping for that very power, which they are fighting to destroy, tho' unable either to acquire or retain it; and introductive only of their constant concomitants, Ignorance, Self-conceit, Ill-breeding, Obstinacy, Anarchy, and Confusion. From these contests all kinds of Evils must derive their existence, blood-shed and desolation, persecutions, massacres, and martyrdoms.

All these Evils, you see, are but the necessary Consequences of the national Establishment 229of any Religion which God can communicate to Man, in whose hands its Divinity can never long preserve its purity or keep it unmixed with his imperfections, his folly and wickedness. Nay, so far is the Divinity of a Revelation from being able to prevent its corruption, that it will but increase and hasten it; for the greater share of Divinity it partakes, the greater must be its Excellence; the greater its Excellence, the more universal must be its Approbation; the more it is approved, the more it must be encouraged; the more it is encouraged, the sooner it will be established; and the sooner it is established, the sooner it must be corrupted and made subservient to the worst purposes of the worst of men; yet it is plain this Establishment is no more than the consequence of its excellence, and men's approbation; no more than the alternative of its total 230extinction, and without which it cannot be preserved at all; and therefore the corruption of every divine Revelation communicated to Man, is, by the nature of Man, clearly unavoidable.

From what has been here said it appears plainly, that all the numerous Evils which adhere to, and all the mischievous effects which follow all human Religions, whether natural or revealed, by no means owe their existence to any want of power, wisdom or goodness in God, but like all others, to the imperfection of Man; that is, to his folly and wickedness, which must inevitably corrupt them. It is also, I think, no less evident, that all arguments levelled against the divine Original of Christianity, founded on its imperfections and pernicious consequences, (which are all, I think, that have any weight) may 231be proved to be vain and inconclusive; and this not by concealing or denying those imperfections and pernicious consequences, as many have absurdly attempted, but by fairly shewing, that they all proceed from the imperfections of those Creatures to whom it is revealed; and that, so long as those continue, there cannot be prevented by any wisdom, goodness, or power whatever.1818If we look into the Deistical Writings of all times, we shall find, that they have always attacked the Christian Religion most successfully from this Ground; they have shewed the many Imperfections that adhere to it, and then concluded, that nothing imperfect could drive its Original from God: their adversaries have injudiciously denied those Imperfections, which for the most part are true, and agreed to their Conclusion, which is indiputably false; for every thing we possess is derived from God, and yet we possess nothing endued with absolute Perfection.


Thus, Sir, if I mistake not, I have sufficiently, tho' concisely, answered that most abstruse and important Question, Whence came Evil? and proved, that all the Evils we feel, and all which we see around us, derogate not in the least from the wisdom, power, or goodness of our Creator; but proceed entirely from that subordination which is so necessary to the happiness and even to the existence of the great and incomprehensible Whole. I have shewn that all subordination must imply imperfection in some Beings or other; and that all imperfection must consist in the absence of comparative good, or the admission of positive Evil. I have shewn that most of the Evils we usually complain of are of the first kind; the want only of those perfections we see others enjoy, or imagine infinite power might have bestowed upon ourselves; which are therefore in fact no Evils 233at all; that those of the latter sort, or positive Evils, are such as from the nature of things must intrude themselves into Creation, and therefore that Omnipotence can do no more than make choice of that System which admits the fewest; being obliged by the imperfection of all created Beings, the untractableness of Matter, and some incomprehensible connection between Good and Evil, Happiness and Misery, to admit both, or to give existence to neither. I have likewise shewn that Moral Evil may have its necessity and utility, as well as Natural; at least, that if Natural Evils are necessary, Moral ones are expedient, to prevent that necessary Misery from falling to the share of perfect. Innocence, and to convert unavoidable sufferings into just punishments; that tho' the essence of all Moral Evil consists in the production of Natural, yet it may have some collateral tendency 234to Good; and that the Wicked, whilst they are justly punished for the miseries which they occasion, may probably, by that very guilt and punishment, some way remotely contribute to universal happiness. I have shewn that if Natural and Moral Evils could not be prevented, the existence of Political and Religious Evils must of course be unavoidable, they being but the certain consequences of the other: that all human Government must be in the highest degree imperfect, and big with all manner of Evils, being the dominion of ignorant and wicked creatures over each other; that, as such creatures can be governed only by fear of punishment or hopes of reward, all Government amongst them must be founded on Violence or Corruption, and ever supported and administred by the same vitious and unjustifiable methods: that no power whatever can give a perfect 235Religion to so imperfect a creature as Man, either by Nature or Revelation; not by nature, because, whilst that is human nature, he can never discover by Reason the Truths on which a Perfect system of Theology or Ethics can be erected; not by Revelation, because he wants faculties to comprehend such supernatural discoveries, altho' they should be imparted to him; that, was he capable of once receiving a perfect Religion, it is not possible he could long retain it; because, if it could be kept entirely separate from his worldly interests, it would soon be neglected and perish in oblivion; and, if it was not, such a connection would quickly corrupt its purity, and destroy its. essence, so that national establishments would be necessary for its support, and yet infallibly productive of its destruction. That all these Evils proceed not from wrong dispositions or accidental causes, but 236singly and solely from the imperfection of Man; and yet that in the gradation from infinite perfection to absolute nothing, there must be one rank occupied by such a Creature as Man with all his imperfections about him; that these imperfections must be annexed to his situation, and adhere to every thing that relates to him, to his happiness, to his morals, to his government, and to his religion: that, in like manner, all other created Beings must have Evils and Imperfections peculiar to their stations and proportioned to their inferiority; notwithstanding all which, there is as much Good, and as little Evil in the universal system as the nature of Creation will admit of; and that therefore it is a work equal to what we might expect from the Operations of infinite Benevolence joined with infinite Power.

F I N I S.

« Prev Letter VI. On Religious Evils. Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |