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Experience proves to me, that all my fa. culties are confined within certain natural limits, and that there is a point where pleasure ends, and pain begins. Thus by experience. Iam taught, that I must regulate the exercise of all my faculties according to their natural capacity.
I am therefore under a philosophical obligation to acknowledge, that there is a natural sanction of the laws of my being, since I experience pain whenever I transgress these laws.
Because I love myself, and I cannot but desire to be happy, I cannot but desire also the continuation of my existence. I perceive these same desires in all my fellowcreatures; and if some seem to wish for the cessation of their being, it is rather a change in their being, than the annihilation of it, which they desire.
My reason represents it to me as very probable, that death will not be the final period of my being: it discovers to me, although imperfectly, physical pre-ordained means which may prolong personality beyond the
grave: it assures me that I am a being capable of endless advancements towards perfection. By the continual progress which in my present state I am able to make towards virtue and truth, it teaches me to judge of those improvements which I may make in another state, wherein all my faculties will be perfected. Finally, from those philosophical notions which reason forms of the divine attributes and natural laws, it deduces new considerations, which add greatly to these different probabilities.
But reason discovers to me, at the same time, that it is not within the compass of my present faculties to allow me more than simple probabilities as to existence after death. * Nevertheless, my reason itselfmakes me perceive most forcibly how much it would contribute to my happiness, to have more than simple probabilities respecting my future state, at least such an aggregate of probabilities, as would be equivalent to what I call moral certainty. My reason furnishes me with the best proofs of the supreme intelligence of the author of my existence. It deduces very fairly from that
Vide part xvi. ch ii.
intelligence the supreme. WISDOM of that great Being. * His goodness will be that same WISDOM employed in procuring the greatest happiness of every sentient and every intelligent being. This adorable wisDOM having introduced into its place the system of human nature, must undoubtedly have willed every thing that could contribute to the greatest perfection of that system, Now nothing could more assuredly be fitter to produce the greatest perfection of this system, than to give to those beings of which it is composed a moral certainty of their future state, and to lead them to consider the happiness they will enjoy in that state, as a consequence of the moral perfec. tion which they have endeavoured to attain in their present state.
And since the actual state of humanity did not admit that the sole strength of reason should be sufficient to convince man of a future state, it was undoubtedly consistent with the character of infinite WISDOM, to give him by some other means an assurance so necessary to the perfection of the moral system.
* Vide part xvi. ch. iii.
But, because the plan of wisdom required, that intelligent but very limited beings, such as men, should inhabit the earth, it could not alter the faculties of these beings, so as to give them a sufficient certainty of their future state.
: It was therefore necessary for WISDOM to .employ in this design a means of such a nature that, though not included within the actual sphere of the human faculties, it should at the same time be so well adapted to the nature, and to the most rational exercise of those faculties, that man might, by this new means, acquire the degree of certainty which he wanted, and so anxiously sought after.
It was then from the hand of the supreme Being alone that man could receive this so desirable certainty. But what particular method could the supreme WISDOM take to convince man of the great design projected .for him? By what particular sign could man be assured that divine WISDOM itself had spoken?
I have admitted that nature has a legislator, and to admit this, is admitting at the same time that this legislator can suspend or modify, at his will, the laws which he has given to nature.
These laws are therefore in some sort the language of the author of nature, or the physical expression of his will.
I therefore easily conceive, that the author of nature may have employed this language to make known to men with certainty that which it was of the utmost consequence for them to know, and to know well; and that which reason alone was not able to discover to them.
Thus, because I evidently see that the legislator of nature can alone modify its laws, I think myself authorized in reason to admit, that he has spoken, whenever I can be reasonably convinced that certain striking modifications of these laws have taken place, and can clearly discover the design of these modifications.