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Plato, rather than that of Epicurus and Aristippus? The Grecians were divided in this matter: some followed the notions of the former, and, others, those of the latter. Why did not reason put the matter out of question in those times, or at least immediately after ? The infinite contradictions and uncertainties among the ancient philosophers, produced the sects of the Sceptics. In respect to religion, Socrates and Plato either were, or pretended to be, Sceptics, beating down the absurd notions of others, but seldom building up any thing of their own; or, when they did, building on mere conjectures, or arguments suspected by theinselves.
§ 26. If it be said, the finding out of truth by the light of nature, is a work of time; time hath taught the Tartars, Africans, and Americans, little or nothing of true theology, or morality, even yet. Time, of itself, can search nothing. It was the Christian religion that opened the eyes of the polite nations of Europe, and even of the deists of this age, wherein their eyes are still open, and they have any true principles by which they are able to examine the philosophy of the ancients, and, by comparing their several opinions one with another, and with the truths derived from the Christian revelation, to decide in favour of some against the rest.
§ 27. As to the doctrine of the IMMORTALITY OF Soul; it is certain, nothing can be more agreeable to reason, when once the doctrine is proposed and thoroughly canvassed; while, at the same time, there is no one probable opinion in the world, which mankind, left entirely to themselves, would have been more unlikely to have started. Who, if he was not assured of it by good authority, would ever take it into his head to imagine, that man, who dies, and rots, and vanishes for ever, like all other animals, still exists? It is well, if this, when proposed, can be believed ; but, to strike out the thought itself, is somewhat, I am afraid, too high and difficult for the capacity of men. The only natural argument, of any weight, for the immortality of the soul, takes its rise from this observation; that justice is not extended to the good, nor executed upon the bad man in this life; and, that as the Governor of the world is just, man must live hereafter to be judged. But as this only argument that can be drawn froin mere reason, in order either to lead us to a discovery of our own immortality, or to support the opinion of it when once started, is founded entirely on the knowledge of God and his attributes; and, as we have already seen, that such knowledge is almost unattainable by the present light of nature, the argument itself, which, before the fall, could not possibly have been thought of, is, since the fall, clogged with all the difficulties mere reason labours under, in finding out a right idea of God.
And, besides, this argument, in itself, is utterly inconclusive, on the
principles of the deists of our age and nation : because they insist ihat virtue fully rewards, and vice fully punishes itself. It is no wonder, that many heathen nations believed a future state, as they received it by tradition from their ancestors. But yet, there is this evidence, that mankind had not this doctrine merely from the easy and plain dictates of reason and nature, that many did not believe it.
§ 28. Socrates, in the Phædon of Plato, says most men were of opinion, that the soul upon its separation from the body, is dissipated and reduced to nothing. And Tully, in his first Tusculan question, says, Phercydes Cyrus, preceptor to Pythagoras, was the first person known to the learned world, who taught the immortality of the soul. The other arguments brought by Plato and Cicero for the immortality of the soul, besides that already mentioned, are very inconclusive. They themselves thought so. The former, in his Phædon, makes Socrates speak with some doubt concerning his own arguments, and introduces Simmias saying to Socrates, ofter having listened to his principal reasonings, “ We ought to lay hold of the strongest arguments for this doctrine, that either we ourselves, or others can suggest to us. If both ways prove ineffectual, we must however put up with the best proofs we can get, till some promise or revelation shall clear up the point to us.—One of Plato's arguments for the immortality of the soul, is this : “Every cause produces an effect contrary to itself; and that therefore, as life produces death, so death shall produce life.” Cicero, to prove that the soul will exist after it is separated from the body, endeavours to prove that it existed before it was joined to it; and to that end he insists, “ that what we call aptness in children to learn, is nothing more than memory." argument of Plato is this : " That alone which moves itself, inasmuch as it is never deserted by itself, never ceases to move : but the mind moves itself, and borrows not its motion from any thing else, and therefore must move, and consequently exist for ever.”
The wisdom of Socrates and Plato united, produce such arguments for a most favourite opinion, as they themselves are dissatisfied with, and therefore call for more ihan human help.
§ 29. Cicero being so fond of this opinion, that, as he says he would rather err with Plato in holding it, than think rightly with those who deny it, poorly echoes the arguments of Plato; adds little to them himself; and at the conclusion, in a manner giving up the point, with all the arguments brought to support it, endeavours to comfort himself and others against the approach of death, by proving death to be no evil, even supposing the soul to perish with the body. And this great philosopher, with all his knowledge, gives but one lot to the good and evil in another life. It was his opinion, If the soul is immortal, it must be happy : if it perishes with the body, it cannot be miserable. This consolation he administers alike to all men, without making any distinction, and consequently leaves moral obligation on a mere temporal footing, which in effect, is not a whit better than downright atheism. But in his dream of Scipio, when he does not reason nor seem to inculcate any particular doctrine, he indeed introduces the elder Scipio telling the younger, by way of dream, that those who served their country, and cultivated justice and the other virtues, should go to heaven after death : But that the souls of those that had violated the laws of the Gods and men, should, after leaving their bodies, be tossed about on the earth, and not return to heaven for many ages. Now if a person of Cicero's abilities and learning could, from the light of nature, work out no better scheme than this, which renders futurity almost useless to moral obligation, how much farther from truth and reason must we suppose the bulk of mankind to stray, if each ignorant person is to be left entirely to his own thoughts and discoveries, in respect to the future rewards of virtue, and punishments of vice?
§ 30. Thus upon considering the extent and strength of human faculties, we have found them at present utterly incapable of attaining to any competent notion of divine law, if left wholly to themselves. This is vastly confirmed by experience; from which it appears, that mankind, instead of being able, through a long series of ages, by the mere light of nature, to find out a right idea of God and his laws; on the contrary--after having without doubt, been well acquainted at first with both-gradually, and at length almost universally, lost sight of both; insomuch, that idolatry as bad as atheism, and wichedness worse than brutality, were established for religion and law in all countries. The philosophers who lived in the most knowing countries, and sought for religion and moral truth, but sought in vain, as the wisest of them confess, render this argument still more cogent and conclusive.
$31. As the apostle Paul observes in the first chapter of his cpistle to the Romans, men did not like to retain God in their knowledge ; and, professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Thus were their foolish hearts darkened ; upon which God gave them over to a reprobate mind, and gave them up to uncleanness, to sins of all kinds, even such as were utterly against nature. St. Chrysostom, in his descant on this passage, says, “ The Gentiles fell into a kind of madness, insomuch, that having deprived themselves of the light, and involved their minds in the darkness of their own thoughts, their attempt to travel towards heaven ended in a
miserable shipwreck, as his must do, who, in a dark night, andertakes a voyage by sea.” Being guided by conceit, and too great an attachment to sensible things, they entered upon a wrong way; so that, still the longer they travelled, the farther they wandered from the knowledge of the true God, and right religion. The doctrine of St. Paul, concerning the blindness into which the Gentiles fell, is so confirmed by the state of religion in Africa, America, and even China, where, to this day, no advances towards the true religion have been made, that we can no longer be at a loss to judge of the insufficiency of unassisted reason, to dissipate the prejudices of the Heathen world, and open their eyes to religious truths.
$32. The starting of a proposition is one thing, and the proof of it quite another. Every science has its proofs in the nature of things. Yet all sciences require to be taught ; and those require it most, the first principles of which lie a little out of the reach of ordinary capacities. The first principles of religion, being of a high and spiritual nature, are harder to be found out than those of any other science ; because the minds of men are gross and earthly, used to objects of sense; and all their depraved appetites and corrupt dispositions, which are by nature opposite to the true religion, help to increase the natural weakness of their reason, and clip the wings of their contemplation, when they endeavour by their own strength, to soar towards God and heavenly things. No man in his, nor hardly in any other time, knew better how to catch at the evidence of divine truths discovered in the works of creation, nor had better opportunities than Plato. Yet, with all the help he derived from foreign and domestic instruction, he finds himself on every occasion at a loss. When he speaks of God and divine matters, he relies on oracles, traditions, and revelations; and having got a little taste of this kind of instruction, is every now and then confessing his want of more, and wishing for it with the greatest anxiety. And, not thinking the traditions which he was acquainted with sufficient, he talks of a future instructor to be sent from God, to teach the world a more perfect knowledge of religious duties. “The truth is,” (says he, speaking in his first book, De Legibus, concerning future rewards and punishments,) "to determine or establish any thing certain about these matters, in the midst of so many doubts and disputations, is the work of God only." In his Phædon, one of the speakers says to Socrates concerning the immortality of the soul, “ I am of the same opinion with you, that in this life, it is either absolutely impossible, or extremely difficult, to arrive at a clear knowledge in this matter.” In the apology he wrote for Socrates, he puts these words into his mouth, on the subject of reformation of manners : “ You may pass the remainder of your days in sleep, or despair of finding out a sufficient expedient for this purpose, if God, in his providence, doth not send you some other instructor.” And in his Epinomis he says, “Let no man take upon him to teach, if God do not lead the way."
$ 33. In the book De Mundo, ascribed to Aristotle, we have a remarkable passage to this effect: “ It is an old tradition, almost universally received, that all things proceeded from God, and subsist through him ; and that no nature is self-sufficient, or independent of God's protection and assistance.” In his metaphysics, he ascribes the belief of the gods, and of this, that the Deity compasses and comprehends all nature, to a tradi tionary habit of speaking, handed down from the first men to after ages. Cicero, in his treatise concerning the nature of the gods, introduces Cotta blaming those who endeavoured by argumentation, to prove there are gods, and affirming that this only served to make the point doubtful, which by the instructions and traditions of their forefathers, had been sufficiently made known to them, and established. Plutarch, speaking of the worship paid to a certain ideal divinity, which his friend had called in question, says, “ It is enough to believe pursuant to the faith of our ancestors, and the instructions communicated to us in the country where we were born and bred ; than which, we can neither find out nor apply, any argument more to be depended on."
$ 34. It will be further useful to observe, that the thoughts of men, with regard to any internal law, will be always mainly influenced by their sentiments concerning the chief good. Whatsoever power or force may do, in respect to the outward actions of a man, nothing can oblige him to think or act, as often as he is at liberty, against what he takes to be his chief good or interest. No law, or system of laws, can possibly answer the end and purpose of a law, till the grand question, what is the chief happiness and end of man, be determined, and so cleared up, that every man may be fully satisfied about it.
Before our Saviour's time, the world was infinitely divided on this important head. The philosophers were miserably bewildered in all their researches after the chief good. Each sect, each subdivision of a sect, had a chief good of its own, and rejected all the rest. They advanced as Varro tells us, no fewer than 288 opinions in relation to this matter ; which shows, by a strong experiment, that the light of nature was altogether unable to settle the difficulty. Every man, if left to the particular bias of his own nature, chooses out a chief good for himself, and lays the stress of ali his thoughts and actions on it. Now, if the supposed chief good of any man should lead him, as it often does, to violate the laws of society, to hurt others, and act against the general good of mankind, he will be very unfit for society; and consequently as he cannot subsist out of it, an enemy to himself.