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nothing in nature but personal valuableness in us, which can render us the proper objects of God's approbation and affection; therefore, whatever beside this is represented as the grounds of our acceptance with the Deity, that must of necessity :be falle religion, and cannot poffibly be otherwise. As to any instituted means of religion, these are to be considered as means only, and not as the end which is intended to be promoted by them. And they become means, not by being instituted, nor yet, barely by being used, but only when they are so used, as to become subservient to that end, viz, the making us wife and good, which constitutes true religion, in the present case.
I am sensible, that these are truths which will not be acceptable to many Religionists, even to many zealous and orthodox Christians, who are very unwilling to be convinced that virtue and happiness are so necessarily connected together, that the latter cannot be obtained without the former ; that a man cannot obtain the happiness of another world, without becoming a good man in this. Alas! how many Christians are there who would much rather be carried safe to heaven, by the strength and virtue of their Master's merits; than be obliged to follow him, in that narrow way, and through that streight gate of virtue and good works, which is the only path that leads thither. It is not the offering to God thousands of rams, nor ten thousands of rivers
of oil, nor the first-born of a man's offspring, nor the first-born of every creature, which can possibly render a man approvable to God; because as these do not render a man personally valuable in himself, they do not render him the proper objext of the divine approbation and affection. But it is the doing justice, the loving mercy, and the walking bumbly with God, which will render a man acceptable to the Deity; because these render him personally valuable in bimself, and the proper object of the divine acceptance. And this is the case both with and without divine revelation, and whether men be in high or low stations, and whereever their lot is cast, in any part of the world. The sum of the matter is this, true religion, (when the term is used to express the grounds of our acceptance with God) consists in the right use and exercise of our intellectual and ačtive faculties, by our doing all that in reason may be expected from us, in our respective circumstances, to have our understandings rightly informed; and in an honest and upright behaviour, in the general course of our actions, agreeably thereto. This, I say, and this only, constitutes true religion ; because it is this, and this only, which renders us personally valuable in our selves, and the proper objects of divine regard. And whatever besides this is represented to be, or which may be relied upon as the ground of acceptance with God, all such things
are false grounds, and consequently, are false religion. This is the state of the case independent of any divine revelation or promulged law, and when considered in the abftract nature and reason of things. And this leads me to enquire,
Thirdly and lastly, whether religion, when the term is used to express the grounds upon which finners obtain the divine mercy, is also founded in nature. And here, I think, it will be proper to state the notion of mercy, and shew what idea we annex to that term, in the present cafe. By mercy, I think, we intend the remitting to an offender, in whole, or in part, the punishment which, by his offence, he had justly rendered himself obnoxious to. So that mercy stands opposed first, to cruelty, whereof justice is the mean. He who lays upon the offender a greater punishment * than his crime deserves, is cruel. He who punishes equal to the offence, is just. And he who remits that punishment, in whole, or in part, is merciful. Again, mercy stands opposed secondly, to unmerciful; that is, to the punishing such offenders as have rendered themselves the proper objects of mercy. He who punishes such an offender as hás rendered himself the proper obje&t of mercy, is unmerciful; and he who remits that punishment, is merciful. Again mercy, or a merciful disposition, is generally, and, I
think, think, justly esteemed to be a perfe&tion, or a good quality in the agent in which it takes place; and unmercifulness, or an unmerciful disposition, is generally esteemed to be an imperfe&tion, or an evil quality in the subject in which it resides. But then, this fupposes that there is something in nature which renders an offender the proper object of mercy, for otherwise mercifulness could not be a perfection, nor unmercifulness an imperfection in nature, Besides, to suppose a perfection to take place in nature, and at the same time to suppose that there is nothing in nature which corresponds with, and is the ground of * that perfection, is the same gross absurdity as to suppose an effect without a cause. And if there is something in nature which renders an offender the proper object of mercy, (which must needs be the case) then, to Thew mercy to fuch an offender must be right and fit, for that very reason, namely, because he, viz. the offender, is become the suitable and proper object of such mercy. And to be unmerciful to such an offender as has rendered himself the proper object of mercy, by punishing him according to the demerit' of 'his crime, must be wrong and blame-worthy, for the very fame reason, viz. because by his becoming the proper object of mercy he ceased to be the proper object of punishment, and therefore, to punilh such an offender must be wrong. An offender,
* See my Collection of Traits, page 142.
by his offence, becomes the proper object of punishment, and must continue lo to be, till he has suffered the punishment his crime deserves, or till something takes place in him which renders him the proper obje&t of mercy; and when either of these take place, then he ceases to be the proper object of punishment. I say, when either of these take place, because when the offender has rendered himself the proper obje&t of mercy, and as far as he has done so, then he thereby ceases to be the proper object of punishment, as much as he would, by his suffering in whole, or in part, the punishment his crime deserved. I here put the case, when the offender has rendered himself the proper object of mercy, and as far as he has done fo; because, possibly, * an offender may become the proper object of mercy in part, that is, such circumstances may attend him as may render it reasonable that his punishment should be abated, but not wholly taken away. This must be the case, except we admit that an offender can be the proper object of mercy to the full, and of punishment to the full, at the same time, which is an apparent contradiction ; because mercy consists in the remission of punishment. So that it is not the shewing mercy to any, or to all offenders, without any rule or reason; but only
* I here admit the supposition that an offender may become the proper object of mercy only in part, but do not take upon me to maintain either side of the question.