Page images

In another place he mentions the prefumptions of reason, and owns, that our Lord's resurrection, his asura ces of a FU CURE STATE, and n's miracles, ADDED to these prefumptions (such is his manner of speech) are fificient (for what? why) to latisty all that are willing to liften to truth. (L. p. 31 ) But of what truth they are to be fatis fied; and, if it be the truth of a future state, what interest they are to have in it, and what right they have to it, he cares not exprefly to say. And, as to these presumptions of reason, he gives us no account of them, what they are, or whence they arise. On the contrary, he hath all along employed such reasonings, as, if true, are strong presumptions against a future state. For he suppoles virtue to be a sufficient reward to itself in this life: It is the imitation of God, (he says), and therefore must be the happiness of man ; (p. 26.) nay, the practice of virtue is happiness itse f. (p. 23.) And if so, then it is not necessary that a future reward should be reserved for virtue ; for it þath a fufficient reward already. A virtuous heathen is, at this rate, as happy as a virtuous Christian : a man without the prospect of another world, is as happy as with it; for if the practice of virtue te happiriefs it felt, he that possesses ha-pia nejs itself can, by no other considerations or views, have any addition made to his happiness. If the doctrine of this letter be true, This world may be our home, and not the place of our pilgrimage, as we Christians think, and call it: for our present state is, it seems, a state of fruition and felicily, not a state of preparation and trial; an!, should there be no other life, yet such a suppo'la

tion will not reflect on the justice or goodness of God, which are sufficiently vindicated by his wife distribution of good and evil in this life, and by that pleasure and pain with which virtue and vice are severally and inseparably attended. • Now these principles do, as I conceive, 'tend to subvert the belief of a future state; and have therefore been generally entertained by all those who doubted of the reality of such a state, or exprefly disbelieved it, without shaking off at the same time the obligations of morality. Such, particularly, were the Stoics, who first brought these tenets into repute and fashion: An Atheistical fect of philosophers, that held the world to be God: and having no certain persuasion, much less evidence, of another life, and yet designing to be thought lovers of virtue, knew not how to defend its cause, but by affirming that virtue was its own reward; and the practice of it, happiness itfelf; such an șappiness, as no afflictions, no torments, which befel a man, could deprive him of, or any ways diminish. I will not argue against fuch wild paradoxes as these: The excellent words I have once already cited, (Pref. p. 32.) are a sufficient reply to them-" Thus to cry up virtue, to o the weakning our belief and hope of the immorof tality of the soul, however at first blush it may * seem plausible, is in effect no better than a subtle « invention to ruin virtue by itself, since it can“ not possibly sublift but by the belief and support « of another life.”

Whether the Letter-writer intended, by what he had wrote, to undermine this belief, is left to God, and his own conscience. Sure I am, there


are feveral paffages in his piece (besides those I have mentioned) which look that way; and require a great deal of candour to be interpreted in such a senfe, as doth not reflect on the certainty of this great article of all religion. For he is not afraid to say, thal“ he much questions, whether “ ever there was, or can be, a persecution, mere“ ly for the sake of the moral virtue of any per“ fon," p. 29. A doubt which shakes the only moral evidence of a future state, which he can any ways be supposed to allow of: For if virtue, as virtue, be not perf cuted here, there is certainly (upon his principles) no reason for rewarding it hereafter. And what could tempt him to enter. tain such a doubt? Were not Socrates and Aristides (to name no other heathens) plain instances of this kind? and, when Joseph suffered under the accusation of Potiphai's wife, was he not pera • secuted merely for the fake of a moral virtue ?" And can this be in any degree strange to those who have considered how wicked men look upon themselves as reproached and affronted by exemplary goodness? And how justly therefore they are represented in the book of wisdom, as speak ing this language-" The righteous (say they) is “ nor for our turn, he is clean contra y to our do“ings ; he was made to reprove our thoughts, “ he is grievous unto us even to behold; for his “ life is not like other mens, his ways are of a“ Dother fashion— Therefoie let us lie in wait “ for the righteous,” &c. p. II, 12. 14, 15. For my part, I can no way account for his doubts, in fo plain a cafe, but upon this foot, that he fore


saw the perfecution of virtue, as virtue mult ne.

Zeffarily infer a future reward. ..... But should virtue be perfecuted, yet still he de.

hies that the hopes of a distant récompencé would afford it any immediate relief: for thefe are his words That the best of men' are sometimes in " this state the most miserable, as far as the evils t of this world can make them fo, may possibly « bé true; but it is ćqually true, whether you súp. « pofe a future state, or suppose it not;" L. p. 15. that is [for I can make no other fenfe of his words] the virtuous persons, so perfecúted, are equall miserable under both suppositions, theit hopes of a future happiness being no manner of allay to their present miseries. And how cán thé belief of a future state be more effectually supplanted than by such an opinion? Can one think him in earnest, when he sayš, that he is fure, the * certainty of a future state stands in need of no å such supports," as mine? for even without them, #philosophers afserted it-and so may Chri« ftians," L. P. 31.-He takes away the strongest inducement which the best philosophers had (or indeed which mere reason could have) to believe á future state ; and then he leaves us to depend upon the bare affertions of some other philosophers (on their authority without reason) for the truth of it. And is not this a very satisfactory änd ample équivalent? What fhould hinder us from exchangining the clearest evidences of a fu. ture state, for the groundless assurances of these philosophers of his acquaintance concerning it ?

Other paffages there are in the Letter, equally liable to exception : but I delight not to dwell on


these blemishes, or to make the worst and most invidious construction of things. My chief business was to prove, that the doctrine delivered in my sermon was neither New nor Unscriptural, vor “ in itself false and pernicious :" and having, I hope, effectually made good what I undertook in these refpeéts, I shall not be solicitous to enquire into the peculiar articles of this Writer's creed, nor even to dive into the secret springs and motives that fet him at woik.

He solemnly disclaims any uneasiness conceived at the character given of Mr. Bennet, or any de

fire of lessening mine, (p. 2.) If his professions be , real it will puzzle him to give a good account, why he took occasion from my Sermon to vend his thoughts on this argument. How come I to be singled out from that crowd of writers, who have all' along maintained the same doctrine ? Why must he particularly represent me, as put“ting pleas into the mouths of licentious persons," (L. p. 28 ) for saying That, which hath been so often already said by men of learning, and judga ment, and virtue, without incurring the reproachi cither of their own times or of those that followed? But (which is worst of all) why are these positiong charged upon me, as their fóle author and inventor; and the reader led into a belief that they were “ never before seriously maintained by any “ person of virtue and underitanding ?” L. p. 19.

These are such manifest indications of infine cerity and malice, as all his grave pretence of “ Concern for the cause of virtue" will not cover or elude. If, afrer all, he pleads Ignorance for his excuse; since I have shewn him his foul VOL. II.



« PreviousContinue »