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occasion for, though the plain acknowledged probability is, that they never shall. Then those who think the objection against revelation, from its light not being universal, to be of weight, should observe, that the Author of Nature, in numberless instances, bestow That upon some, which He does not upon others, who seem equally to stand in need of it. Indeed He appears to bestow all His gifts with the most promiscuous variety among creatures of the same species : health and strength, capacities of prudence and of knowledge, means of improvement, riches, and all external advantages. And as there are not any two men found, of exactly like shape and features ; so it is probable there are not any two, of an exactly like constitution, temper, and situation, with regard to the goods and evils of life. Yet, notwithstanding these uncertainties and varieties, God does exercise a natural government over the world : and there is such a thing as a prudent and imprudent institution of life, with regard to our health and our affairs, under that His natural government.
(From the Analogy of Religion.)
THE PRACTICAL RULE OF CONDUCT It is most readily acknowledged, that the foregoing treatise is by no means satisfactory ; very far indeed from it: but so would any natural institution of life appear, if reduced into a system, together with its evidence. Leaving religion out of the case, men are divided in their opinions, whether our pleasures overbalance our pains : and whether it be, or be not, eligible to live in this world. And were all such controversies settled, which perhaps, in speculation, would be found involved in great difficulties ; and were it determined upon the evidence of reason, as nature has determined it to our hands, that life is to be preserved : yet still, the rules which God has been pleased to afford us, for escaping the miseries of it, and obtaining its satisfactions, the rules, for instance, of preserving health, and recovering it when lost, are not only fallible and precarious, but very far from being exact. Nor are we informed by nature, in future contingencies and accidents, so as to render it at all certain, what is the best method of managing our affairs. What will be the success of our temporal pursuits, in the common sense of the word success,
is highly doubtful. And what will be the success of them in the proper sense of the word ; i.e. what happiness or enjoyment we shall obtain by them, is doubtful in a much higher degree. Indeed the unsatisfactory nature of the evidence, with which we are obliged to take up, in the daily course of life, is scarce to be expressed. Yet men do not throw away life or disregard the interests of it, upon account of this doubtfulness. The evidence of religion then being admitted real, those who object against it, as not satisfactory, i.e. as not being what they wish it, plainly forget the very condition of our being : for satisfaction, in this sense, does not belong to such a creature as man. And, which is more material, they forget also the very nature of religion. For, religion presupposes, in all those who will embrace it, a certain degree of integrity and honesty ; which it was intended to try whether men have or not, and to exercise in such as have it, in order to its improvement. Religion presupposes this as much, and in the same sense, as speaking to a man presupposes he understands the language in which you speak; or as warning a man of any danger presupposes that he hath such a regard to himself, as that he will endeavour to avoid it. And therefore the question is not at all, Whether the evidence of religion be satisfactory; but Whether it be, in reason, sufficient to prove and discipline that virtue, which it presupposes. Now the evidence of it is fully sufficient for all those purposes of probation; how far soever it is from being satisfactory, as to the purposes of curiosity or any other : and indeed it answers the purposes of the former in several respects, which it would not do if it were as overbearing as is required. One might add further ; that whether the motives or the evidence for any course of action be satisfactory, meaning here by that word, what satisfies a man that such a course of action will in event be for his good ; this need never be, and I think, strictly speaking, never is, the practical question in common matters. But the practical question in all cases is, Whether the evidence for a course of action be such, as, taking in all circumstances, makes the faculty within us, which is the guide and judge of conduct, determine that course of action to be prudent. Indeed, satisfaction that it will be for our interest or happiness, abundantly determines an action to be prudent: but evidence almost infinitely lower than this determines actions to be so too ; even in the conduct of every day.
(From the Same.)
THE BURDEN OF MUCH TALKING
THE Wise Man observes, that there is a time to speak and time to keep silence. One meets with people in the world, who seem never to have made the last of these observations. And yet these great talkers do not at all speak from their having anything to say, as every sentence shows, but only from their inclination to be talking. Their conversation is merely an exercise of the tongue : no other human faculty has any share in it. It is strange these persons can help reflecting, that unless they have in truth a superior capacity, and are in an extraordinary manner furnished for conversation ; if they are entertaining, it is at their own expense. Is it possible, that it should never come into people's thoughts to suspect, whether or no it be to their advantage to show so very much of themselves ? Oh that you would altogether hold your peace, and it should be your wisdom.
Remember likewise there are persons who love fewer words, an inoffensive sort of people, and who deserve some regard, though of too still and composed tempers for you. Of this number was the son of Sirach : for he plainly speaks from experience, when he says, As hills of sands are to the steps of the aged, so is one of many words to a quiet man.
But one would think it should be obvious to every one, that when they are in company with their superiors of any kind, in years, knowledge, and experience, when proper and useful subjects are discoursed of, which they cannot bear a part in ; that these are times for silence : when they should learn to hear, and be attentive ; at least in their turn. It is indeed a very unhappy way these people are in : they in a manner cut themselves out from all advantage of conversation, except that of being entertained with their own talk : their business in coming into company not being at all to be informed, to hear, to learn ; but to display themselves; or rather to exert their faculty, and talk without any design at all. And if we consider conversation as an entertainment, as somewhat to unbend the mind : as a diversion from the cares, the business, and the sorrows of life ; it is of the very nature of it, that the discourse be mutual. This I say, is implied in the very notion of what we distinguish by conversation, or
being in company.
Attention to the continued discourse of one alone grows more painful often, than the cares and business we come to be diverted from. He therefore who imposes this upon us is guilty of a double offence ; arbitrarily enjoining silence upon all the rest, and likewise obliging them to this painful attention.
(From Sermon On the Government of the Tongue.)