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length, or numbers, can never be infinite ; whatever had a beginning must have an end, because beginning and ending are the modes of temporary existence : what has no end could have no beginning, because both are equally inconsistent with eternity. In truth, all these absurdities arise from applying to eternity our ideas of time, which, being two modes of existence intirely different, bear not the least relation to each other : time is in its nature finite and successive; eternity infinite and instantaneous; and therefore their properties are no more applicable to each other, than those of sounds to colours, or of colours to sounds; and we can no more form eternity out of time, than, by mixing red, blue, and green, we can compose an anthem or an opera."
The following, we think, will strike our readers as very satisfactory and ingenious.
" It has been frequently asked, why God created the universe at the time in which he did create it, and why he suffered millions of ages to pass away before the commencement of so glorious a work ? To this it may be replied with equal conciseness and truth, that in fact no such ages ever did or could pass before it was created; nor was it created in any time at all ; for neither the essence or actions of God have the most distant relation to time; he has been pleased in his infinite wisdom to bestow on some parts of his creation a temporal mode of existence, and from this alone time derives its origin: to suppose time antecedent to temporal existence, is to suppose effects to precede their causes; and not less absurd, than to imagine, that there could be perception before sensitive beings, or thought before intelligent beings existed. This very question proves the absurdity of connecting time and eternity together; for if God's power of creating is coeval with his existence, that existence eternal, and that eternity only time extended, this evident contradiction follows, that God, though always equally able, yet in fact never could create any thing so soon, but that he might have created it sooner: that is, in other words, that he never could create any thing as soon as he could. All this puzzle arises from our foolishly supposing, that eternal and temporal beings must act in a manner similar to each other : if we do any thing, it must be done at some time or other; but God acts in ways as different from ours, as inconceivable to us; his ways are not like our ways, nor his thoughts like our thoughts : one day is to him as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day; that is, neither of them, with his manner of existing, thinking, or acting, have any connection whatever.
All disputes about God's foreknowledge and predestination are of the same species, and derive their birth intirely from the same absurd supposition. Foreknowledge and predestination imply succession, and are relative to time, which has no relation to the essence or perception of the Creator of all things; and therefore, in the sense usually applied to them, cannot with any propriety be attributed to him. He knows all things and ordains all things; but as all things are equally present to the divine intuition, it is impossible that he can foreknow or predestinate any thing.
Of the same kind are all questions concerning the præ-existent and future state of the soul, arising likewise from confounding our ideas of these two modes of existence, temporal and eternal: whenever the soul is united with a body, perceiving all things by succession through material organs, it acquires ideas of time, and can form none of existence unconnected with it; but whenever this union is dissolved, it probably returns again to its native mode of eternal existence, in which the whole circle of its perception being at once visible, it has nothing further to do with time; it is neither old or young, it lives no more in the seventeenth than in the seventh century, no nearer to the end than the beginning of the world : all ideas of years and ages, of præ-existence and futurity, of beginning and ending, will be totally obliterated : and possibly it will be as incapable of forming any conceptions of time, as it is now of eternity. The soul, therefore, being quite unconnected with time, whenever it is unconnected with a body, cannot properly be said to exist in another time, either prior or posterior, but only in another manner.
Every argument, also, endeavouring to prove the injustice and disproportion of eternal punishments for temporal offences, is founded on the same erroneous principles, and admits of the same answer; that all computations of the magnitude of such punishments from their duration, by heaping years and ages upon each other, are absurd and inconsistent with that state in which they are to be inflicted : crimes will there be punished according to the degrees of their malignity, but neither for a long, or a short, nor for any time at all; for all punishments must be correspondent to the state in which they are suffered: in an eternal state they must be eternal, in a temporal they must be temporal; for it is equally impossible that a being can be punished for a time, where no time is, as that it should be punished everlastingly in a state which itself cannot last. As therefore, from the nature of things, this dispensation is necessary, it cannot be unjust, and from the infinite wisdom and goodness of the Author of nature, we may reasonably presume that it cannot be disproportioned to its several objects."
He concludes in the following lively strain :
“ After all that has been here advanced, I am not insensible that we are here so constantly conversant with temporal objects, and so totally unacquainted with eternal, that few, very few, will ever be able to abstract existence from time, or comprehend that any thing can exist out of, and unconnected with it: in vain should I suggest, that the various planets are peopled by the divine wisdom with a variety of beings, and even this terrestrial globe with innumerable creatures, whose situations are so different, that their manner of existence is quite unknown and incomprehensible to each other ; that millions inhabit the impenetrable recesses of the unfathomable ocean, who can no more form conceptions of any existence beyond the limits of that their native element, than we ourselves can beyond the boundaries of time; and that therefore, in reality, time may be no more necessary to
existence than water, though the mode of that existence we are unable to comprehend. But, I well know, these analogous arguments have little weight; the prejudice of education, the strength of habit, and the force of language, all formed on the supposed union of existence with time, will persuade men to reject this hypothesis as vain and chimerical. To all busy men, and men of business, to all jogging on in the beaten roads of professions, or scrambling up the precipices of ambition, these considerations must appear unprofitable illusions, if not incomprehensible nonsense; for to endeavour to convince a merchant subsisting on long credit, a lawyer enriched by delay, a divine who has purchased a next presentation, a general who is in no hurry to fight, or a minister whose object is the continuance of his power, that time is nothing, is an arduous task, and very unlikely to be attended with success. Whoever desires to taste or understand such abstracted speculations, must leave for awhile the noisy bustle of worldly occupations, and retire into the sequestered shades of solitude and contemplation: from whence he will return, certainly not richer, possibly not wiser, but probably more susceptible of amusement from his own company for want of better, and more able to draw entertainment from his own imaginations; which, in his journey through life, he will often find an acquisition not altogether inconsiderable.”
In the Essay “on the analogy between things material and intellectual,” the language is more florid and polished than in any of the others, and the ingenuity with which he displays the curious coincidences and relations existing between the moral and the material world, equally remarkable.
Take the following specimens.
“ In the material world, for instance, we see all disorders cured by their own excesses; a sultry calm fails not to produce a storm, which dissipates the noxious vapours, and restores a purer air; the fiercest tempest, exhausted by its own violence, at length subsides; and an intense sun-shine, whilst it parches up the thirsty earth, exhales clouds, which quickly water it with refreshing showers. Just so in the moral world, all our passions and vices, by their excesses, defeat themselves : excessive rage renders men impotent to execute the mischiefs which they threaten; repeated treacheries make them unable to deceive, because none will trust them; and extreme profligacy, by the diseases which it occasions, destroys their appetites, and works an unwilling reformation.
" As in the natural world, the elements are restrained in their most destructive effects, by their mutual opposition; so in the moral, are the vices of mankind prevented from being totally subversive of society, by their continually counteracting each other: profusion restores to the public the wealth which avarice has detained from it for a time; envy clips the towering wings of ambition; and even revenge, by its terrors, prevents many injuries and oppressions: the treachery of the thief discovers his accomplices; the perfidy of the prostitute brings the highwayman to justice; and the villainy of the assassin puts an end to the cruelty of a tyrant.”
And again :
“ We behold with admiration the vivid azure of the vaulted sky, and variegated colours of the distant clouds; but, if we approach them on the summit of some lofty mountain, we discover that the beauteous scene is all illusion, and find ourselves involved only in a dreary fog, or a tempestuous whirlwind; just so, in youth, we look up with pleasing expectation to the pleasures and honours which we fondly imagine will attend maturer age; at which, if we arrive, the brilliant prospect vanishes in disappointment, and we meet with nothing more than a dull inactivity or turbulent contentions.
“The properties of the various seasons of the year, the gaiety of spring, the vigour of summer, the serenity of autumn, and the gloom of winter, have been so often assimilated to the corresponding periods of human life; the dangers and disquietudes of grandeur so often compared to the tempestuous situation of lofty mountains; and the quiet safety of inferior stations, to the calm security of the humbler vale, that a repetition of them here would be impertinent and useless ; yet they all contribute to point out that analogy which uniformly pervades every part of the creation with which we are acquainted.”
The tendency of the three remaining Essays may be considered doubtful. -Our author certainly does not lean to what is called the liberal side of the question, but yet his views are too elevated, and his reasoning too lively and ingenious, to be confounded with the prejudiced and bigoted diatribes of men, who loudly defend the systems that be, only because they are. In religion, perhaps, our author too decidedly rejects the cooperation of reason with faith; and in civil and ecclesiastical polity, allows his love of ease and quiet to blind him to the difference between personal security and personal liberty.
Though we may refuse our assent to the conclusions to be drawn from the following passage, we cannot deny it to be very amusing.
“ That all men are born free. This is so far from being true, that the first infringement of this liberty is being born at all; which is imposed upon them, without their consent given either by themselves or their representatives; and it may easily be shewn, that man, by the constitution of his nature, never subsists a free and independent being, from the first to the last moment of his residence on this terrestrial globe; where, during the first nine months of his existence, he is confined in a dark and sultry prison, debarred from light and air ; till at length, by an habeas corpus brought by the hand of some kind deliverer, he is set at liberty: but what kind of liberty does he then enjoy ? he is bound hand and foot, and fed upon bread and water, for as long a period; no sooner is he unbound, than he makes so bad a use of his liberty, that it becomes necessary that he should be placed in a state of the severest discipline ; first under a nurse, and then a schoolmaster, both equal tyrants in their several departments ; by whom he is again confined without law, condemned without a jury, and whipt without mercy. In this state of slavery he continues many years, and at the expiration of it, he is obliged to commence an involuntary subject of some civil government; to whose authority he must submit, however ingeniously he may dispute her right, or be justly hanged for disobedience to her laws. And this is the sum total of human liberty. Perhaps it may be said, that all this may be ingenious ridicule, but cannot be intended for serious argument; to which I reply, that it is the most serious argument that can be offered, because it is derived from the works and the will of our Creator; and evidently shews, that man was never designed by him to be an independent and self-governed being, but to be trained up in a state of subordination and government in the present life, to fit him for one more perfect in another: and, if it was not a reflection too serious, I should add, that, in the numerous catalogue of human vices, there is not one which so completely disqualifies him from being a member of that celestial community, as a factious and turbulent disposition, and an impatience of controul; which frequently assumes the honourable title of the love of liberty.”
He thus attempts to explode the doctrine of the tacit compact between the governors and the governed.
“ This imaginary compact is represented by some, as a formal agreement entered into by the two contracting parties, by which the latter give up part of their natural independence, in exchange for protection granted by the former ; without which voluntary surrender, no one man, or body of men, could have a right to controul the actions of another; and some have gone so far as to assert, that this surrender cannot be made binding by representation, that parents cannot consent to it for their children, or nations for individuals, but that every one must give his personal concurrence, and that on this alone the constitution of every government is or ought to be founded: but all this is a ridiculous fiction, intended only to subvert all government, and let mankind loose to prey upon each other; for, in fact, no such compact ever was proposed or agreed to, no such natural independence ever possessed, and consequently can never have been given up. We hear a great deal about the constitutions of different states, by which are understood some particular modes of government, settled at some particular times, which ought to be supported with religious veneration through all succeeding ages : in some of these, the people are supposed to have a right to greater degrees of liberty than in others, having made better bargains for themselves, and given up less of their natural independence: but this, and all conclusions drawn from these premises, must be false, because the facts on which they are founded are not true; for no such constitutions, established on general consent, are any where to be found; all which, we see, are the offsprings of force or fraud, of accident, and the circumstances of the times, and must perpetually change with those circumstances : in all of them, the people have an equal right to preserve or regain their liberty, whenever they are able. But the question is not, what right