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round the sun. The wisdom of a God does not aim at such poor and unworthy designs, by such stupendous fabrics as these rolling worlds. Caucasus, or Teneriff, or a taller mountain, if it were made only for the birth or residence of a mouse, would be a more proportionate contrivance, and, perhaps, a wiser design.
And what if we make yet another excursion beyond the circle wherein Saturn rolls, which is the most distant of our planetary globes? What if we suppose, with some modern virtuosos, that every fixed star is a sun, or central fire, to enlighten and warm a whole set of planetary worlds, which may roll round it? And what if all these worlds are furnished with intellectual inhabitants? What a stupendous idea shall we have of the magnificence of the works of God and the extent of his innumerable dominions? Where is the hurt or danger of it, if we should yield to these reasonings, and to the philosophy of the age, so far as to imagine these innumerable worlds to be the appointed residences of conscious beings? Let us suppose them all inhabited by animal and intellectual creatures of God, and, perhaps, better peopled thau this our earth is, especially if sin and death have not entered amongst them.
Now though we are not favoured with the knowledge of the state, or laws, or circumstances of the inhabitants of those worlds, because we are a rebellious and criminal province of God's dominion, and deserve to dwell in ignorance and darkness; yet those upper regions and worlds may be favoured with a large and particular account of the state and circumstances of this earth, and of the conduct of God towards the rebel inhabitants of it: And this notice of the degeneracy and rebellion of mankind, together with the severity of God, our common Governor, against a great part of men, may have a happy influence to secure their obedience, and to preserve the inhabitants of those worlds in an everlasting state of duty and happiness.
As it has pleased God, in his wisdom and goodness, to reveal to us the haevy and endless punishment he has inflicted on the evil angels for their first rebellion and disobedience, and has told us, "That he spared not the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell, and has reserved them in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day," and some greater punishment to ensue, in order to warn us of the dangerous crimes of pride and rebellion; 2 Pet, i. 4. Jude 6. 1 Tim. iii. 6. So it is very probable, that the same divine wisdom and goodness has made our crimes and punishments ou this globe of earth a monument of his just severity, to give warning to some vast and unknown regions of upper worlds, lest they also should sin against their Maker, after our example, and fail under his dreadful displeasure, as mankind has done,
Though it should appear at the great day of judgment, that
the largest part of the inhabitants of this our earth are condemned to greater or less degrees of unhappiness, yet, as I before hinted, perhaps all this earth, with all the number of its inhabitants put together, are not so much in comparison of the holy and happy worlds of intellectual beings which God has created, as Newgate is in comparison of the populous cities of Westminster and London: And if by the punishment of a few criminals there are millions preserved in duty and happiness, then the great and blessed God will have a spacious and most illustrious display of his goodness above and beyond the exercise of his more awful perfections of justice or vengeance: And even the exercise of these awful perfections upon a few of the subjects of his dominions, will become as it were a means in the hand of his goodness, to make millions of them for ever blessed.
Thus though the largest part of mankind may be sinful and unhappy, yet I am persuaded, that the far largest part of God's whole intelligent creation are holy and happy beings; and if there are some thousands of miserable immortal souls on this little globe, yet there may be, perhaps, above a thousand whole worlds of conscious beings, who are happy in the favour of the God who made them, who love and serve him, and rejoice in his love through all the ages of their immortality. How unreasonable is it then for us to pass a judgment either on the conduct of God, or on the state of his intellectual creation, by such a narrow and limited survey of his wisdom, justice, and goodness, as this our little planetary globe of earth can afford us?
LOG. Well, Sophronius, I am wonderfully pleased with this last speech of yours. This seems effectually to secure the honour of the divine perfections against all charges. If yoù could shew us the inhabitants of these castles in the air, these ætherial worlds. But are not all these mere suppositions of wild fancy, and imaginary scenes? What certainty have you of such unknown creatures and unknown dominions of God the Creator?
SOPH. It is granted, Logisto, that these are suppositions, but they are such suppositions as I have shewn you are plainly built upon principles of reason: the force of argument that maintains them is so strong, that, in my opinion, it rises to a very high degree of probability, and therefore they are not to be called imaginary scenes or the airy castles of wild fancy. If these reasonings are good and solid, then it will follow, that these unknown worlds are so far from being mere fancies, that they are the solid and real structures of God himself. Besides, Sir, as I remember, it was mentioned by Pithander, that if we can but find out any such hypotheses or suppositions which may solve real difficulties in the conduct of
God and providence, this will effectually prove, that these difficulties are not insolvable: and much more effectual are they to remove these difficulties, when the reason of things so far conspires with these suppositions, as goes very near to prove them great realities.
PITH. I am much inclined to come into these sentiments of Sophronius, since they carry such an appearance of reason and truth in them, and since they have so happy an effect as to represent far the greatest part of the intellectual works of God holy and happy, and hereby do so much honour to the equity and goodness of the great Creator.
LOG. I cannot but approve such a scheme as this, which bestows virtue and happiness upon almost all the intelligent creatures of God; for I can hardly conceive, that ever a being of such boundless, wisdom, power, and goodness, should produce so many millions of creatures capable of pleasure and pain, felicity and misery, without designing and securing felicity to far the greatest part of them, as far as is consistent with the freedom of their will.
Sorn. So far as things appear to me, Logisto, I cannot but agree with you in this sentiment: and by such considerations and reasonings as these, I think we have removed the grand difficulty that lay upon your mind with the greatest weight, viz. How it should come to pass that so many thousand inhabitants of the heathen world, who are originally fallen from God, should go on from age to age in the neglect of God and virtue, still running on in the paths of misery, and be so far abandoned by their Creator, as not to have a practical and proximate sufficiency in their own reasoning powers to guide and conduct them to religion and happiness.
But after all, Sir, give me leave to say, that the nature of the great and blessed God is infinitely superior to all our powers and conceptions, his thoughts are so far above our thoughts, and his ways so far above our ways, that if there should remain such difficulties in the conduct of his providence towards his creatures, that we could not fairly account for by our reason, and by all our suppositions, yet we are still bound to believe matter of fact, when our reason, experience, and observation assure us of the truth of it. We cannot but believe, that the heathen world actually lies in a dark and deplorable state; and yet, on the other hand, we are bound to believe, that the great God is perfectly wise, and righteous, and good. The ways and works of God may be unknown and unscarchable, but they can never be unjust. There may be infinite schemes within his comprehensive view, whereby his wisdom can reconwile those things which we know not how to reconcile. Those different propositions in the science of theology, as well as in
mathematical learning, stand within his view in a most perfect and amiable consistency, which to our narrow thoughts appear so dissonant, and almost inconsistent. If there are such sort of seeming inconsistencies in some parts of geometry, when we run into the doctrines of infinite and incommensurables, which yet all stand right in the eye of God, much more may we suppose, that in the works of the great God, and his divine schemes and transactions, there may be many things which seem to us all difficulty and darkness, and yet before him they stand in the fairest and most easy light.
When St. Paul had considered the long darkness that lay upon the Gentile world for many ages, the peculiar privilege of the Jews, to be made, during those ages, the favourites of God; when he considered again, these very favourites, almost the whole nation of them, so far left as to abuse the Son of God himself, to run into infidelity, and thereby to be abandoned of God, their Benefactor and their King; when again, in prophetic vision, after this once favourite people had continued long under unbelief, guilt, and misery, he saw that they should be recovered, and restored to the true religion, and the favour of God, in his xi. chapter to the Romans; with what ecstasy of devout surprize and adoration does he conclude his discourse! "God hath shut up both the Gentiles and the Jews, by turns under unbelief, that he might have mercy upon both, in his own season: God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all. O the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been his counsellor! Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things, to whom be glory for ever. Amen. LOG. I know not how to make a sufficient acknowledgment to you, gentlemen, for the favour you have done me, and the light you have given me in these conferences. I am fully satisfied, that the bulk of the heathen world is in a very dark and deplorable state, and amongst those who have lost all traditional knowledge of divine revelation, their own reason is far from being sufficient in any practical sense, as you have explained it, to lead them to virtue, religion and happiness.
pon a just review, I am convinced, that had I been so unhappy as to be born amongst them, my reasoning powers would have been exercised to no better purpose than theirs are: For why should I be so vain as to imagine myself the wisest man among so many thousands of the present age, and the millions of former generations? I begin to see there is a necessity of some better advantages, in order to reform mankind, and to
render them wise, and pious, and happy: Nor do I know how this can be attained, but by some favourable discoveries sent from heaven And as for all other religions, that in our age pretend to divinity and revelation, it is evident in itself, that none of them can compare with the doctrines of the New Testament, either for its own internal excellency, or the outward proofs that it came from God. I must confess therefore, I think I am come as far as king Agrippa, when he heard Paul's apology for himself; for you have almost persuaded me to become a christian.
PITH. Permit me, Sir, in the language of St. Paul, to make my reply: Would to God that not you only, but all the young gentlemen of our age, who have been tempted to abandon the religion of their fathers, and to forsake the gospel, and the faith in which they were educated, would bethink themselves ere it be too late, become not only almost, but altogether as firm believers in Christ as I profess myself to be.
SOPH. And as you have done me the honour, gentlemen, to put me into the place of the learned, and made me your moderator during this couference, I ask leave now to resign this honour and office; and since Pithander has formed snch a benevolent and pious wish, I take pleasure to occupy the place of the unlearned, and confirm it with a most sincere and devout, Amen.