« PreviousContinue »
Miscellaneous Correspondence, &c.
A Letter to a Friend on Reason and Revelation.
H E regard I have for you, and the concern for your Welfare,
oully with you upon an Affair which you, as well as a great part of Mankind, are too apt to neglect either thinking upon at all, or when you are thinking upon it, to be guided by false Maxims, such as will not bear the test of Reason. As to the Scriptures, a great many in this Age have so far got the better of their Understandings as to be able to shut both their Eyes, in regard to any thing they say; but as to the dictates of Rca. son we are not yet arriv'd to that degeneracy of Manners, as to profess or deny giving an Ear to it; tho'.I am sure there is so close a conne&tion betwixt the one and the other, that a Man cannot discard the one without opposing the other, however he may deceive himself and imagine that he is guided by its Precepts. Now as God is the God of Reason as well as Revelation, and Truth is the same, and comes from the fame Fountain, whether convey'd thro' the channel of Reason or Revelation, what I am going to say to you shall be entirely fetch'd from Reasons for Right Reason is as sure a guide as Revelation : But the Misfortune is, a Man's own Reasoning is not always right Reasoning, and Truths that are deriv'd thro' it are seen with more Difficulty, more Exactness and Niceness are requir'd in the Process, and the corruption of human Nature is so great, that a Man may be easily led astray; the close attention that is necessary may be easily interrupted, and a Man may wander by a little false bias put upon his Thoughts in labyrinths of Error, and mazes of Confusion. Here you see the vast necessity of Revelation, where the same Truths are more plainly deliver'd, the foundation upon which they ftand much easier to be discern'd, and more obftinacy requir'd if we will not be guided by them; for how uncapable wou'd the bulk of Mankind be of examining such nice Speculations, and keeping close to that thread in all its Windings which leads to the discovery of Truth: The natural consequence wou'd be, for some of the better kind to have an implicit Faith in Men of superior Understandings; and for others to form Doctrines according to their own Imaginations, and establish them for Truths, or at least as Rules for their own Practice. Surely therefore every wise Man fhou'd judge the World much better provided for by that written Revelation, where there is much leis room for any such Impositions.
The first Truth I wou'd make plain to your Understanding is this, That those who wilfully disobey God, and continue in such Disobedience will suffer eternally. I am afraid you have endeavour'd to persuade yourself otherwise,
Now the way I wou'd prove this is, that a Power to do Well is attended with a Power to do Ill; this is absolutely necessary where there is the least
degree of Merit in doing well; for there must be a place for Demerit, if there is room for Merit; for where there is the least Commendation for using a Power well, it unavoidably follows it might have been usd otherwise: Now if God desires and likes that we Mou'd use our Powers or act well, He must desire and like that we shou'd not do the contrary, and consequently dislike our doing ill; and I am afraid it will be found that Punishment must as certainly follow his disliking our Actions, as Rewards his liking them; If Happiness attends Merit, the want of that Happiness is in some measure a Punishment; and therefore unless God rewards them that merit and demerit alike, Punishment of that kind must unavoidably attend upon the Sinners and perhaps it must as necessarily follow, in the nature of Things, that positive Punishment must as necessarily follow as this fort of Punishment; for if Merit cannot be rewarded without Demerit being punished, then beware, O Sinner! left thy Misery be as necessary as the Happiness of the Virtuous; that is, it may be as possible for God to cease to make the Virtuous happy, as to cease to make the Wicked miserable. For if God be the most free, I may say the most arbitrary, Agent that can be, yet the nature of Things, and his own Nature, may determine him to act as certainly in such a manner, as if his Actions were guided by a blind necessity of Nature. Now if it be true, from the nature of God and the nature of Things, that his Wisdom will as certainly determine him to reward Merit, as if he acted by necessity of Nature, it may be equally as true, for the same Reasons, that his Wisdom may as certainly determine him to punish Iniquity, as if he acted by necesity of Nature.
And that this is a fad and dismal Truth will appear pretty plain, if we examine the Calamities and Miseries that are met with and recorded to have been found in the World : For if from the nature of God, and the - nature of Things it was poflible, or consistent with Wisdom, to have conferråd the same degrees of Happiness upon his free Creatures, without making room for others to be miserable, God might have prevented the Misery that has befallen, and continually befalls his Creatures, without diminishing the Happiness of others. Now to suppose this, is to suppose that God makes Creatures miserable, which the nature of Things, and the : Wisdom of his own Nature do not determine him to do. And if God makes Creatures miserable without being determined by the Wisdom of his own Nature, and the nature of Things, he chufes that Misery which might, consistent with his own Attributes, and the nature of Things, have been prevented : But if he chures the Misery of his Creatures he delights in Misery, which is absolutely contrary to the nature of a perfect and happy Being; what Misery has been in the World, therefore, the Wisdom of his own Nature, and the nature of Things have determind him to inflict : For when supreme Wisdom determines, the Punishment is as certain as when Neceflity obliges ; and the fame Reasons that determine him once may determine him eternally. This is a most attonishing Thought, and shou'd make every Sinner tremble. That great and good Man, Dr. Tillotson, made a flip, out of a tender regard to wicked Men, in asserting that God might forbear to execute his Threatnings, meaning such as were not Conditional. God, it's true, can do every thing; but yet we may justly say he cannot Lye; why, Because he will not; so we justly lay he cannot forbear lo execute his Threatnings, seeing
whatever his Wisdom sees proper and fit to be done, according to the nature of Things, we say he can no more forbear to do than if he was conftraind by Necessity. And as Experience shews us, that his Wifdom has determind him to execute his Threatnings, so we justly say that God cannot forbear to execute his Threatnings.
The other Truth I wou'd endeavour to convince you of is, That God Almighty requires of us a perfect Abstinence, except in lawful Matrimony. This is a Truth this licentious Age endeavours to hide and get rid of, but to no purpose to satisfy the Conscience of any Man, who will give himself but time for Reflection even and Consideration,
I agree with you, that Desires and Appetites were implanted in our Nature to be gratified; but it is as true likewise, that they were planted to prove and try our Obedience: If they were given only to be gratified, God wou'd have guarded them by an absolute Necessity laid upon our Nature, that they shou'd not be abus'd; for if the enjoyment of them had been the only end of their being planted within us, he wou'd not have put it in our Power to hurt ourselves or others, by any Excesses and Irregularities in that Enjoyment; but it is plain to any Man, that is the least acquainted with human Nature, that both may be done. Why did God therefore give us the liberty of harming ourselves and others by their Gratification ? My Answer is very easy, God did it to raise us to greater degrees of Happiness than what arises from the enjoyment of Sense; for God has not only given us Appetites to be gratified, but liberty about the gratification of them, that we might attain to greater Happiness in using our Liberty well: For Liberty is necessary to any great degrees of Happiness in Creatures ; since the more like God Creatures are, the more happy they must be: But without Liberty there is no possibility of approaching to the likeness of God; for how can our Wills or Desires be any ways conformable 10, or like his, if we have not an opportunity of willing or desiring otherwise than he does. A Necesity laid upon the Creature, and his Liberty taken away, the Will of the Creature ceases a-course, and the Happiness attending its Will, imitating the Will of God, must be destroy'd. To make us capable therefore of enjoying our Appetites, and at the same time greater Happiness than what arises from the gratification of them, it was expedient for God not to bind us by any natural Necessity to regulate them well, only to give us a litcriy lo to do, and thew us his Will therein ; Now this Will the light of Reason might have discovered; but its approaches to the Heart of Man, in this his degenerate State, are by so many bye Ways, thro' such long Windings and Reaches, that it is generally loft, and has but little Influence; especially since it learn’d of Adam to dislike its Dictates, and at the same time a knack of shutting its Eyes against what it dislikes : However, as his Will in this point has been more plainly discover'd other ways, let us see if it might not likewise have been found out by the light of Reason ; tho' I must own, when a Man is Mew'd by a Guide any particular Place in which he is concern'd, it is an easier matter to trace out another way wherehy he inight have found it himself, than originally and actua aliy to find it; so when new Truths are made manifest to us by Revelation, it is an easier matter to thew how they might have been found out other ways, than actually to have found them out. Now in the Point before us, God has sufficiently made known to us by the Works of the Creation, that he desires the Happiness of all his Creatures in their several Kinds and
Capacities; the inanimate Part by blind Neceffity, the sensitive Part by Instinct, are absolu:ely determind to follow those Laws and Rules which are necessary for the Preservation, Order and Happiness of the Whole: Tho' Man therefore be left at liberty, it is only that he Mou'd submit voluntarily to be guided by the same Rules which others by Compulfion are forc'd to submit to (that he might be capable of greater degrees of Happiness, as has been observ'd before). Whatever Rules therefore tend to the Preser vation, Order and Happiness of the Whole, God has mark'd out as the Rules of our Action, tho' he has given us a liberty of not following them : For either he must have markd out such Rules for us to follow, or he must cease to will those Rules hou'd be follow'd ; that is, He must will and defire the Happiness of the whole Creation, and not will and desire the same, which is a Contradiction. Whatever particular Rule and Law therefore can be prov'd to tend to the Preservation, Order, or Happiness of Mankind in general, is plainly discover'd to be the Rule and Law God wou'd have us to be guided by, and which he has mark'd out for our Obedience; and consequently whatever tends to the Destruction, Disquiet and Unhappiness of Man, is á Rule and negative Law by which we may judge of our Disobedience. An Act of Dilobedience therefore to God is an A&tion of that fort which tends to the destruction, confusion and unhappiness of Men : Fornication is an Action of that fort; for the promiscuous use of Women naturally and unavoidably tends to the Confufion, Disorder and Devastation of Mankind, it in a great measure prevents the propagation of Children, the care of their Education on one side is utterly loit thereby, and the Diseases that attend such a boundless liberty are intolerable. Now there is but one plain, simple Rule to prevent all this Confusion, That two fou'd be join'd together during Life; or that every Man fhou'd have his own Wife, and every Wife her own Husband : This tends to preserve the order, quiet and peace of Mankind, and consequently is discover'd by that to be the Will of God. But perhaps you may say, This is very well in the main, and very proper for Society; but that a few shou'd now and then transgress this Rule is of little fignification, and by a prudent Transgression (if I may properly so speak) no great detriment follows. To this I answer, if God has given us any Rule to square our Adions by, as I have before sewn you hc has, it must be a general Rule, or we must prove the Exceptions as plainly as the Rule is prov'd to us; when a Man can prove, that he in particular, or any few Persons in particular, are excepted, then I agree he may transgress : But let it be well consider'd, what I have prov'd above, that God has given us a Rule to follow, in order to Mew our willingness to obey him, and by that means be exalted-to greater degrees of Happiness. Now the breaking or observing this Rule is the test of his Obedience, and in such case it is of no signification that he thinks the breach in particular is attended with no Inconveniencies ; for there can be no teft of Obedience where a Man is left as a Judge himself, when the particular Action in which he is concern'd is inconvenient; since he may easily imagine to himself the detriment of abstaining to be greater. Besides, if a Rule is given a Man both to prevent Inconveniencies, and likewise to try his Obedience, he is to follow the Rule both when Inconveniencies attend it, and when they do not as one Reason may remain for observing the Latv
tho' the othep be taken away; for in negative Laws no Circumstances whatsoever can juftify the breaking of them. The preserving to every Man his Property, to use and dispose of it himself without having it forcibly or clandestinely taken away from him, is necessary to the Order, Peace, Quiet and Happiness of Mankind. Hence appears the plainness of that negative Law that a Man is not to Steal. But posibly particular Cases may happen where a Man Mall have so much Property, and of such fort, as may be neither of use to himself or Society; But must particular People be left to judge in such Cases, and so break this Law where they think the use of the Law is lost ? Such a latitude given wou'd quite destroy the Law, and the greated Confusion must inevitably follow. It is the very same Case in all negative Laws, and God proves us thereby, to know whether we are capable of that Happiness he designs us for. I am your faithful Friend and Servant,
A. B. Of the METHODISTS, SIR, Midh such a diversity of Opinions about the Methodists, and the va
rious Reflections made on their Doctrine and Practice, it is not the casiest thing in the World to arrive at a right knowledge of them; and so forcible a bias do Education and Prejudice set on the Mind in favour of the religious Tenets first imbib'd, that it requires no small degree of Impartiality, of Humility, and disinterested love of Truth, to be able to judge coolly and equitably of whatsoever contradicts them. But I hope it will be allow'd by all wise and good Christians, of whatsoever Order, that the Holy Scriptures are the only infallible Test of every Point of Doctrine, and of every Action. To the Law and to the Testimony : if they speak not according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them. Let this then be granted, and let both the Doctrine and the Practice of the Methodists be strictly examined by that sacred Rule, and be either approved or condemned, embraced or rejected, according as they are found to agrec or disagree therewith.
As for my own part, when I first heard of the rise of the Methodists, I considered them as a meer Ignis fatuus, a fallacious Light, of short continuance, and as such not worthy regard. As repeated and still larger Accounts of them reach'd my Ear, my attention to them began to be a little awakened; but yet not enough to engage my serious Consideration. It is somewhat more than a Year since Mr. Whitefield's Discourse on Regeneration, or the New Birth, accidentally fell into my hands : I gave it a hasty reading, and was thereby convincd of the goodness of the Man's Design: He seemed to discover a warm Concern for the Salvation of Souls, his Reasoning I thought clear and strong, and well confirm'd with Scripture Proofs, undeniably evincing that the most unblamable, inoffensive Con. versation in the fight of Men, unless the natural Corruption of our Hearts be subdued, and the very bent and bias of our Wills changed, from a prevailing love of this World, to a prevailing love of God and Holiness, cannot entitle us to the Kingdom of Heaven. One or two of his Journals fell next into my hands, which surprised me. I wish'd he had concealed fome things which he thought proper to publish'; but was thereby convinc'd of his undissembled Piety and Zeal, and of his extensive Usefulness. However my Judgment on him, and his Brethren the Merbodifis, by reason