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Loc. Gentlemen, your mutual compliments return so thick on each other, that I have scarce room to put in my thanks to both of you, for the information I have received from both, I was wondering indeed, how Pithander caine to deliver so long a discourse, in so regular a method and connexion on the sudden in free conversation : But Sophronius liath explained it to me, when he saith, it is the repetition of his sermon last Sunday. I acknowledge your goodness, Pithander, that you have given me the pleasure of hearing this excellent discourse, though I was not so good as to be at church: I inust confess, Sir, these suppositions or considerations of yours are not at all improbable, and carry a good force of argument with them. You give me a little better opinion of the bible than I had before, since it teaches you to unfold such a difficulty, and to shew us that God may be wise and good, notwithstanding the present wretched condition of the heathens, who overspread so great a part of this earth where we dwell. But then there is another difficulty ariseth here, and it is the very last I shall mention. “ Has God, who is so wise and good a Being, left the greatest part of his creation to become finally miserable ?” Is this consistent with the designs of a Being who possesses infinite goodness and equal wisdom?
Pirh. Truly, Sir, the scripture seems to inform us, that there are but few which shall be saved : Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leads to life, and they are but few who find it; whereas the way to destruction is broad, and crouded, with multitudes; Mat. vii. 13, 14. Aud the apostle John tells us that though we who believe in Christ, are of God, yet thc whole World lieth in wickedness; 1 John v. 19. And if at last it should prove, that there are far greater numbers condemned to bear the anger of their Maker, than those who enjoy his love, they have : nothing justly to complain of but their own ill conduct, since they shall be all condemned, even by their own consciences. God is just, even though all his creatures should make themselves miserable.
Soph. Will you give me leave, Pithander, to try whether upon some principles of philosophy and the rules of government, together with ssme charitable turns of thought, I may not be able to give satisfactory answers to the present inquiry and objection of Logisto.
Pirh. With all my heart, Sir, and I shall be happy to learn from you any further methods of relieving the difficulties that are supposed to attend the conduct of providence in its transactions with the race of men.
Sops. In the first place then, what if I should venture 'to tell you of another supposition that has been raised from some charitable turns of thought concerning those rude and barbarous nations, those guilty and unhappy creatures who lived and died
in ignorance and vice, whose parents had lost the knowledge of God, and their duty before they were born, and who never came within the reach of the gospel in any of the dispensations of it, either by Noal or Abraham, Moses or Christ? What if we should suppose these wretches, by the overflowing mercy of God, should be favoured with some other state of trial or probation, before the final sentence of the last day condemns them to perpetual misery? You know some persons have supposed, that in the invisible regions where sinful spirits are kept, the souls of the rebels who were disobedient in the days of Noah, and were drowned in the flood, enjoyed the preaching of the gospel by Jesus Christ bimself, and that after they had lain in prison and punishment some thousands of years Christ went into hell for that purpose; 1 Pet. iii. 19. and preached to the spirits in prison, who were once disobedient. Now what if these guilty and unhappy creatures, who never had any opportunity to acquaint themselves with the true God and his worship, and with any dispensation of his mercy, shall be raised again in the second resurrection, after the millenium, or the happy state of the church, is expired? And after they have sustained punishment for their former madness aud folly from the time of their death till that day, what if they should be put upon another trial under the dispensation of christianity, that so none of all the race of Adam may be finally condemned without having the actual knowledge of the gospel, at least in some or other of the ancient or later dispensations of it? This would not afford the least glimpse of hope to those sinners who have finally rejected the divine revelations which bave been made to them under any of the dispersations of the gospel, and especially under the light of christianity : Yet this would solve every difficulty, and remove every pretence against the justice of God, in his present conduct towards heathens. It is true, I can. that I can find this in
my bible: but a very learned and ingenious divine of the church of England, who wrote about thirty years ago, thinks he hath found it there, and that is Mr. Staynoe, in his first volume of the Salvation of Man by Jesus Christ, to which essay on this subject I refer you: but I'venture no further into these depths and unsearchables of the divine counsel. Yet it must be confessed, that if there should be any other state of trial appointed for those unhappy creatures, whom God is said to wink at in the days of their ignorance; Acts xvii. 80. and perhaps for this reason he is said to wink at them, because he intended another state of probation for them; I say, if there should be such a state, it is not improbable, that vast multitudes of them might repent and believe, and be saved.
Pith. This is a very strange supposition indeed': and I think there might be considerable objections raised against it from several places of scripture.
Soph. I only mentioned it, Sir, as a supposition that is not impossible ; for I cannot say that I come heartily into it, and therefore I will not undertake to be an advocate for it. Permit me then to make yet another supposition, in which many of our divines seem to have been encouraged by scripture; and that is, that before the final shutting up of the theatre of this world, there may probably be a long space of time, at least a thousand years, wherein virtue, religion, piety, and happiness shall be spread over the world ag universally as vioe and misery are now. Suppose also in this millennium there be a more regular and numerous propagation of mankind, when at the same time there shall be no wars, no public calamities and spreading depopulations of the world ; would not this blessed scene of things go a great way to provide and prepare such multitudes of inhabitants for the heavenly regious as might nearly equal the au:nbers of sinners in the six thousand years past?
But suppose after all, it shall be found in the great day of decision, that far the greatest part of the inhabitants of this our world have been wilful criminals against the laws of their Maker, and fall under a sentence of condemnation and punishment; and suppose that, upon the whole, it must be acknowledged, that there are some degrees of severity exercised by the Lord and Governor of the universe against the inhabitants of this little globe of earth; why may he not chuse to make the final impenitents of this our sinful world a monument of his punishing justice, his hatred of sin, and his vindication of his owo injured honour ? Why may he not set them up as an awful warning to millions of inhabitants of upper and larger worlds of his dominion, in comparison whereof perhaps this earth is no bigger than the prison of Newgate, when compared with the large and spacious cities of London and Westminster?
Is it esteemed any unreasonable severity in the government of Great Britain, if twenty or thirty prisoners in Newgate are capitally punished every year, in order to deter the millions of inhabitants of these two great cities from the like crimes? Does not every governor find it proper and necessary that there should be some examples made, of executing and sustaining the penalties of the law, when villains, by their own crimes, have incur ed these penalties? Does not prudence itself sometimes see it need. ful by such executions to vindicate the wisdom and justice of the government, to maintain the authority of the laws, and to secure the rest of the subjects in their constant obcdience? And may not a sovereign prince chuse which criminale he pleases to pardon in a rebellious province, and which of them he will make a monament of terror to preserve the honour of bis government, and due obedience to his laws? And if by this means he secures millious of his subjects in their allegiance to himself, and in the enjoyment of a thousand happy privileges, which he has bestowed upon them; who can say, that this sovereigu has acted any thing unbecoming a wise or a gracious ruler?
Alas! Sir, we have too ambitious and over-weening a conceit of ourselves, when we imagine, that we, who dwell on this little spot of ground, are the whole of the intellectual creation of God; or even that we make any great or considerable part of it. Perhaps the world of those spirits which we call angels, may be as large and numerous as ours : There are many ranks and degrees of them, thrones and principalities, dominions and powers. The multitudes of their armies are ten thousand times ten thousand: And there may be some reason to think that even all these ranks of intelligent creatures are bat an inconsiderably small portion of the intellectual works of God. Perhaps most, if not all these orders of angels might be formed with a regard to this earth only, to be divine agents and messengers to manage tire affairs of this terrestrial province of God's dominion. It is possible, that all the intellectual creatures of which God has given us an account, from the beginning of Genesis to the end of the Revelation, have some special relation to this little world of ours. Are they wt all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation ? Heb. i. 14. And the fallen angels in the grand scheme of God's universal government, perhaps, have all their posts assigned to them by divine order, or by divine permission, to transact no other affairs but what relate to mankind. It is possible, that all we call angels and devils are only God's iu visible ministers of this his kingdom of visible creatures called men, both in their bodied and unbodied state. Why may not his other visible dominions among the stars, which I shall point out presently, have also their proper ranks of invisible minister's, by which his providence and governnent may be carried on among them.
Let us consider yeť further, what innumerable ranks of beings may be found in the vast universe which God has made, superior both to men and angels, in a gradation almost intinite. Let us think of the astonishing varieties and gradations of beings belonging to this our globe, in air, on earth, or in the sea, which lie in the descending scale or creatures betwixt the nature of man, and the nature of an oyster, or if there be any animal of lower life : And why may there not be another variety and gradation of beings as vast and astonishing in the ascending scale of existences, all superior to us, and yet the highest of them iutinitely beneath God, its Maker? surely the wisdom of God hath an inexhaustible sufficiency of invention to contrive, and his power to produce such gradations, and such varieties. How audacious a thing is it then, for such little creeping animals, who dwell on this clod of clay, to fancy ourselves so large a part of the workmanship of God, or so considerable a portion of his extensive dominions? And since we are a sinful race of creatures, who have fallen from our original state of boliness, and felicity, why may not the blessed God think fit to make the greatest part of our rebellious world a monument of his just resente ment against sin, while other numerous ranks of beings abide firm in their duty and in their happiness, and perhaps are contirmed in their allegiance and felicity, partly by the warning they receive from the revolt and punishment of the inbabitants of this earthly globe.
It is generally now agreed by philosophers, that the planet. ary worlds, such as Mars, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn, are replenished with inhabitants, as well as this earth, which is a planaiary body like themselves. They are placed in such a situation to the sun, which is a central fire, and are carried round it in cer. tain periods of time, so as to receive light and beat from it in proportion to their distances and their revolutions, just as our earth does : and they seem to be as proper habitations for a variety of unknown creatures, as the globe on which we tread. Can we suppose, that the air, the earth, and the water all round this our world should be thus replenished every where as it is, with multitudes of inbabitants, and all, in some measure, under the dominion of mankind, whose race is propagated and spread all around it, and is there not as much reason to conceive, that these vast bulky bodies, the planets, which are so well fitted for the residence of animal and intellectual ereatures, should be mere waste wildernesses, huge solitudes of lifeless matter, without any vital beings to replenish, possess, and adorn them? Without any intellectual tenants there, who may give God the glory of his works? This seeins pot only contrary to the dictates of reason, and to the appearances of nature round about us, but to the words of scripture itself; for the prophet Isaiah tells us, chapter xlv. verse 18, That the God who created the heavens, and formed the earth, and made it, he created it not in vain; he forined it to be inbabited : Whence the inference is very natural and obvious, that had he not formed it to be the habitation of some creatures, it had been inade in vain.
And may we not make the same inference concerning those huge planetary globes of Saturn and Jupiter, which, perhaps, are two hundred times as big as this earth? They, surely, are made to be inhabited, and designed for some better and nobler purpose, than merely to give us mortals a little glimmering light in the absence of the moon, to direct a wandering ship at midnigist, and to entertain the curiosity of an astronomer and his spying-glass. These seem to be purposes too low and mean, too little and inconsiderable for the prodigious vastness of those hea veuly bodies, and the regularity of their situations and m:tions