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with an evident design to illuminate and warm the whole earth, and the importance and benefit of this purpose we understand by experience. But does that grand luminary of the skies serve to no other purpose? The discoveries of philosophy lead us to conceive far greater and more extensive ends, which it is continually answering, beyond all the benefits which the inhabitants of the earth derive from it. So, in regard to all other parts of the world, we have not a capacity or view sufficient to comprehend the whole use for which they were made.
And if this observation be just in regard to the material and inanimate world, it is equally so of the living creatures that inhabit it; which are all subservient to the intentions of the Creator, and may answer many purposes far beyond the conception of our understandings. But men are continually referring every thing to themselves, and their own pleasure and advantage in life; and are with difficulty taught to conceive that the world in general, and human nature in particular, are framed for any different or higher purposes than their own private pleasure and felicity. Hence it is, that when they find themselves well and happy, then all is right, and the world is wisely made and governed; but when they become unhappy, -then the whole system of things seems inverted, and running into confusion and disorder. So weak and vain are our sentiments, wbilst we judge of divine constitutions and intentions by the little accidents and passions which affect our feeble nature!
The designs of creative wisdom run forward into spaces and ages infinitely beyond the limits of our sense and knowledge; and the lines appear to us as abruptly broken off
, only because we can no longer discern their continuance or connection. We may pursue things to the limits assigned us; but in vain do we attempt to proceed further, and pass on to things invisible, in the boundless creation that lies beyond, of which we know nothing but this one universal conclusion, which results from the whole of our observation and experience, ---that all things are made and governed by an all-powerful and most wise Being · Exclusive of those important discoveries with which we are so highly favoured in the gospel revelation, the knowledge of nature presents us with numberless marks of creative wisdom, affords ample matter of instruction, and clearly points out to us several beneficent ends, which it is our wisdom, as creatures endued with reason, to attend to and pursue, as the purpose of our creation and residence in this world.
We are not to conceive that the all-wise Former of the world resembles human projectors, who often pull down with one hand what they build with the other, and destroy, at one time or in one manner, what they were aiming to establish in another. The more we understand of the divine operations, the more shall we discover of harmony and unity of design,-be the more convinced that all things spring from one Wisdom, whose intentions are, at no time, in no part, in no effect, throughout the universal creation, opposite ör discordant, but all in perfect unison and concord.
If the Divine Wisdom intended, by the formation of this world, to produce life, pleasure, knowledge, and virtue, it necessarily follows, that these ends are pursued in perfect consistency; and it is our part to examine into the real fact, and to make use of our carefal observation to discern that consistency: and the more attentively and impartially we study the nature and state of mankind, the more clearly shall we perceive that these ends differ from each other, no otherwise than either as means differ from the end, or as the same object may appear different when viewed in different lights.
Life is previously necessary to all enjoyment of happiness, and to all attainment of knowledge and virtue. The delights which God hath indulged to human life, and which render it upon the whole a blessing, are the natural evidence of his goodness, without which there could be no piety or religion: they are also intimately connected with the affections of humanity and social virtue. In like manner, knowledge, virtue, and piety are the supports and means of human happiness; and men become more happy in proportion as they become more wise, virtuous, and religious. So that in respect to human nature in general, and the collective state of mankind, these several ends are inseparably united, rise and fall together, mutually serve to augment each other; the cultivation of one necessarily infers the advancement of the other; and all jointly contribute to, and constitute one object,--the good of the world.
If the acquisition of knowledge, or the practice of virtue, was any way detrimental to human life, or tended to increase the calamities and miseries, instead of the bappiness, of mankind; or, on the other hand, if the cultivation of human life, or the happy enjoyment of it, was inconsistent with the pursuit of knowledge or the practice of religion; if any one of these ends interfered with and was opposite to any other; this would appear a manifest contradiction in nature, and the world would seem to be the work, not of one all-wise Creator, but of some other beings, who bad each their different ends in view, and who opposed each other's designs.
But the wisdom of the almighty Maker of the world is most illustriously discovered in the perfect combination of numberless different parts, movements, and methods, which may seem, to a superficial observer, to aim at different and even contrary ends; yet are found, upon a deeper search, and more extensive view, to unite and terminate in one and the same general end. It is on this ground of evidence, that we acknow. ledge and believe that there is one God, all-perfect, the cause of all things, and that there is no other but He alone, who hath constituted, and who governs, the whole world. In the visible works of God there is discernible a perfect unity amidst an immense variety. There is a wonderful apparatus of nature for the support of human life; there is the like contrivance and preparation in the elements of the world and the human frame, for the pleasure, the instruction, and the virtue of mankind; and these purposes coincide in one, which is the good or happiness of mankind : for virtue itself is nothing else but sacrificing private ease, interest, or pleasure, to a more extensive good; therefore the wisdom of the Creator, by inciting men to virtue, intends the very same end as by bestowing life, or any of the pleasures of life.
The same is likewise intended by the provision made in nature for the instruction of mankind; for without knowledge there can be no happiness. Pleasure is not good, but evil, when opposite to virtue; for it is then opposite to the good of society. Knowledge is no better than ignorance, only as it leads to virtue, and conduces to the welfare of mankind. Virtue itself is esteemable only in proportion to its utility, or the degree in wbich it conduces to the good of the world in general; and that is not a real, but imaginary virtue, which has no tendency to the happiness of mankind. It is evident, then, that the creative wisdom of God, by the various provisions which he has made in nature for the several purposes above-mentioned, had, in the whole, one general and summary view to the good order and happiness of human society.
But though in respect to the world at large, or the whole body and state of mankind, all these intentions unite and terminate in one, and there is not the least opposition or disagreement; yet in respect to the state and conduct of individuals, separately considered, there is a great difference; and it does not follow that the same divine intentions are equally united in the nature and state of man in his single capacity, and separate from society.
Mankind, in general, increase in happiness in proportion as they increase in knowledge and virtue; but, in the instance of a single person, the contrary is possible, and the ends of piety and virtue may, in some particular cases, be opposite to the happy enjoyment of life, and even to life itself. Nature may here direct and incite to contrary ends at the same time. The natural principle of self-preservation, the natural desire of pleasure, the natural impulse of conscience, or sense of religion, may oppose each other; and it may be impossible to pursue one end without destroying or abandoning the other. Nevertheless, this opposition is so far from impeaching the divine wisdom and goodness, that it serves to illustrate them, and to shew the perfect consistency of nature throughout the whole, in order to one and the same general end : for the selfish affections, or the desires of self-preservation, and of private advantage and pleasure, are principles necessary in each individual. But as the selfish views and desires of individuals are often incompatible with a more general and extensive good, we may here observe the admirable provision which the wisdom of the Creator has made, in the constitution of the world and of human society, and in the reason, conscience, and affections of mankind, to induce individuals to submit their own private interest and pleasure to the public good. And the very contrariety which so frequently occurs between conscience and appetite, reason and passion, private inclination and public affection, the precepts of religion and the maxims of self-interest; this very contrariety is the strongest demonstration of consistency and unity of design in the all-wise Creator, as intending the good order of the world in general. The various means and intentions, which appear in all the parts of nature, terminate in one end, in respect to the whole, that is, in the greatest good; and for this very reason are calculated to different and contrary ends, in regard to individuals. All other ends are subordinate to virtue and piety in single persons; but in society, virtue and religion are subordinate to the happiness of mankind in general. Every natural faculty, affection, appetite, and passion, belonging to human nature, has its use; and by contributing either to the preservation, the pleasure, the knowledge, or the virtue of human life, is made subservient in some of those ways to the one great end, for which the world itself was made.