Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

or deprivation of things, allowed to be of more consequence than what are called the good things of life, are not considered as arguments against the goodness of God, why should an unequal distribution of riches and other external things be so considered ? especially as every thinking person must acknowledge, that this inequality and unequal distribution of property should and ought to be in the world; and that if it did not exist, the utmost.confusion and inconvenience must every where prevail. In fact, the business of life could not otherwise be carried on ;; for without this inequality, and with an equal right to command, who would obey? and without obedience, there could be nothing but anarchy and confusion. It is therefore so far from an imputation on the goodness of God that this inequality does exist, that it would be a very great one if it did not, as the goodness of God consists in his consulting the general happiness of mankind: and if this difference in station, and possession of honours and riches, did not prevail, the world would upon the whole be much unhappier than it is. But herein is an astonishing proof of the goodness of God, that, whilst this inequality, for the wisest pur

poses, does exist, no man, on a summary contemplation or judgment of human nature, has ever yet been able to determine that one lot or condition in it, abstractedly considered, possesses a more absolute degree of intrinsic happiness than another; or that kings enjoy, on the whole, more happiness than peasants: (the general conclusion is, I believe, in favour of the latter :) which is a convincing proof, supported by the universal suffrage of mankind, how little genuine happiness is implicated in the possession of the external things of life, in its honours, or riches. It may likewise be observed as a mark of the goodness of God, that he has given man that self-love or self-approbation, that, though numbers of men would change fortunes or conditions with others, few would choose to change themselves; and the difference of fortune ought not to be deemed any considerable evil, whilst man is so well satisfied with himself. But I think it may be made to appear, that the goodness of God has, even with respect to external things, decreed as great a preponderancy in favour of a good man, as could possibly be done without violating his own laws by a constant interposition of miracles. Suppose, for ex

ample, one hundred young men to begin the world in any particular vocation; let them possess equal understandings, equal fortune, and equal diligence, and let them be equally intent on amassing wealth ; but in that pursuit let fifty of them act on moral and religious principles, and the other fifty disregard all other principles but those which they think will enrich them : now is there any person who imagines, when the advantages arising from confidence and credit are thrown into the scale of the first, and that distrust, which is naturally engendered by dishonesty, (and which is so great an impediment to success in all extensive business,) is thrown into the latter, but that there will be a greater proportion of wealth abiding with the men and in the families of the first, than in the second class? The general conclusion of mankind at least is that there will, from those well-known proverbs, that " Honesty is the “ best policy,”and that“ Ill-gotten wealth sel“dom prospers.” If this is admitted, it settles the argument, by proving, that there is as great a preference given by God to the man of virtue and piety, in the acquisition of external things, as is consistent with his dealing with him as a free agent. Probably with re

spect to 'wealth, its moderate attainment in every country is in general the reward of industry and integrity; and without any particular interference of Providence, every honest and healthy man almost has it in his power to acquire sufficient, and more than sufficient, to provide food and raiment for himself and family. But we have every reason to think Providence so far orders events, that a good man is very rarely left in a state of actual destitution. Even Epictetus observes, “ Such is the care the immortal gods take of

men, that when did you see even a beggar, “ unless he was utterly worthless, that ever “ perished for want?". And in his Psalms David observes as follows : 6 I have been

young, and now am old ; and yet saw I

never the righteous forsaken, or his seed “ begging their bread.” Whereas there are few people who have not observed how often a vicious and impious conduct has reduced men to beggary. So that in fact, even in the external things of this life, as great a distinction is made in favour of a virtuous pious man, as could possibly be made, consistently with the state and condition of human life, and without God's eternally overruling by miracle that natural course of providence

and conduct, which he has been pleased to appoint shall prevail in human affairs, and by which we may observe many wise ends are promoted. For by this unequal distribution of the external things of life, the industry of many men is strongly excited to provide for themselves and their families; others are inspired by it with ambition and emulation to advance their fortunes. It gives life and spirit to the world, and makes it a busy scene of action: and however, from the concussion of their interests, and in those struggles for wealth and power which men are perpetually making, and in their endeavours to excel and rival each other, a great deal of folly and wickedness is shewn and perpetrated, and a great deal of misery and mischief is occasioned ; at the same time, from these struggles, a great deal of good, as well as mischief, is accomplished : for by the manner in which men, as free agents, act in these struggles, is developed and manifested to the observance of God the degree both of virtue and vice which exists in their hearts. And without this inequality of fortune, and uncertainty in human affairs and events, Providence itself would have little or nothing to do in them: for it is in the visible

« PoprzedniaDalej »