Page images
PDF
EPUB

or in religion, are generally the most evident, both in the nature of things, and in the word of God; and where points of faith or practice are exceeding difficult to find out, they cannot be exceeding important. This proposition may be proved by the goodness and faithfulness of God, as well as by experience and observation.

14. In some of the outward practices and forms of religion, as well as human affairs, there is frequently a present necessity of speedy action one way or other : in such a case, having surveyed arguments on both fides, as far as our time and circumstances admit, we must guide our practice by those reasons which appear most probable, and seem at that time to overbalance the rert yet always reserving room to admit farther light and evidence, when such occurrences return again. It is a preponderation of circumstantial arguments that must determine our actions in a thousand occurrences.

15. We may also determine upon the probable arguments where the matter is of small consequence, and would not answer the trouble of seeking after certainty, Life and time are more precious than to have a large share of them laid out in scrupulous inquiries, whether smoaking tobacco, or wearing a periwig be lawful or no.

16. In affairs of greater importance, and which may have a long, lasting, and extensive influence on our future conduct or happiness, we should not take up with probabilities, if certainty may be attained. Where there is any doubt on the mind, in such cases we should call in the aslistance of all manner of circumstances, reasons, motives, consequences on all sides: we must wait longer, and with earnest request seek human and divine advice before we fully determine our judgment and our practice, according to the Roman sentence,

Quod ftatuendum eft semal deliberandum eft diu. We should be long in considering what we must determine once for all.

SECT. IV. Principles and Rules of Judgment in Matters of human

Prudence. THE great design of prudence, as distinct from

I morality and religion, is to determine and manage every affair with decency, and to the best advantage.

This is decent, which is agreeable to our state, condition, or circumstances, whether it be in behaviour, discourse, or action.

That is advantageous, which attains the most and best purposes, and avoids the most and greatest inconveniencies.

As there is infinite variety in the circumstances of persons, things, actions, times and places, so we must be furnithed with such general rules as are accommodable to ail this variety by a wise judgment and descretion : for what is an act of consummate prudence in some times, places and circumstances, would be consummate folly in others. Now these rules may be ranged in the following manner.

1. Our regard to persons or things shall be governed by the degrees of concernment we have with them, the relation we have to them, or the expectations we have from them. These should be the measures by which we should proportion our diligence and application in any thing that relates to them.

2. We should always consider whether the thing we pursue be attainable; whether it be worthy our pursuit; whether it be worthy the degree of pursuit ; whether it be worthy of the means used in order to attain it. This rule is necessary both in matters of knowledge and matters of practice.

3. When the advantages and disadvantages, conveniencies and inconveniencies of any action are balanced together, we must finally determine on that side which has the superior weight; and the sooner in things which are necessarily and speedily to be done or determined.

4. If advantages and disadvantages in their own nature are equal, then those which are most certain or likely, as to the even, should turn the scale of our judgment, and determine our practice.

5. Where the improbabilities of success or advantage are greater than the probabilities, it is not prudence to act or venture. It is proper to inquire whether this be not the case in almost all lotteries; for they that hold ftakes will certainly secure part to themselves; and only the remainder being divided into prizes must render the improbability of gain to each adventurer greater than the probability.

6. We should not despise or neglect any real advantage, and abandon the pursuit of it, though we cannot attain all the advantages that we desire. This would be to act like children, who are fond of something which strikes their fancy most, and sullen and regard less of every thing else, if they are not humoured in that fancy.

7. Though a general knowledge of things be useful in science and in human life, yet we should content ourselves with a more superficial knowledge of those things which have the least relation to our chief end and design.

8. This rule holds good also in matters of business and practice, as well as in matters of knowledge ; and therefore we should not grasp at every thing, left in the end we attain nothing. Persons that either by an inconstancy of temper, or by a vain ambition, will purfue every sort of art and science, study and business, feldom grow excellent in any one of them : and projectors who form twenty schemes, seldom use sufficient application to finish one of them, or make it turn to good account.

9. Take heed of delaying and trifling amongst the means instead of reaching at the end. Take heed of wasting a life in mere speculative studies, which is called to action and employment : dwell not too long in philofophical, mathematical, or grammatical parts of learning, when your chief design is law, phyfic, or divinity Do not spend the day in gathering flowers by the way fide, lest night come upon you before you arrive at your journey's end, and then you will not reach it.

10. When the case and circumstances of wife and good men resemble our cale and circumstances, we may borrow a great deal of instruction towards our prudent conduct from their example, as well as in all cases we may learn much from their conversation and advice.

11. After all other rules remember this, that mere fpeculation in matters of human prudence can never be a perfect director without experience and observation. We may be content therefore in our younger years to commit fome unavoidable mistakes in point of prue dence, and we shall see mistakes enough in the conduct of others, both which ought to be treasured up among our useful observations, in order to teach us better judga ment for time to come. Sometimes the mistakes, imprudences and follies, which ourselves or others have been guilty of, give us brighter and more effectual less sons of prudence, than the wiseft counsels, and the faire est examples could ever have done.

SECT. V.

Principles and Rules of Judgment in Matters of human:

Testimony.

MT HE evidence of human testimony is not so pro

1 per to lead us into the knowledge of the effence and inward nature of things, as to acquaint us with the existence of things, and to inform us of matters of fact both past and present. And though there be a great deal of infallibility in the testimony of men, yet there are some things we may be almost as certain of, as that the fun shines, or that five twenties make a hundred. Who is there at London that knows any thing of the world, but believes that there is such a city as Paris in France ; that 'the Pope dwells at Rome; that Julius Cæsar was an emperor; or that Luther had a great hand in the reformation ?

If we observe the following rules, we may arrive at such a certainty in many things of human testimony, is that is it morally impossible we should be deceived, that is, we may obtain a moral certainty.

1. Let us confider whether the thing reported be in itself possible ; if not, it can never be credible, whosoever relates it.

2. Consider farther whether it be probable, whether there are any concurring circumstances to prove it, be. fides the mere teftimony of the person that relates it. I confess, if these last conditions are wanting, the thing may be true, but then it ought to have the stronger teltimony to support it.

3. Consider whether the persons who relates it be capable of knowing the truth; whether he be a fkilful judge in such matters, if it be a business of art, and a nice appearance in nature, or some curious experiment in philosophy. But if it be a mere occurrence in life, a plain, sensible matter of fact, it is enough to inquire whether he who relates it were an eye or ear-witness, or whether he himself had it only by hear-say, or can trace it up to the original.

4. Consider whether the narrator be honest and faithful, as well as fkilful ; whether he hath no biass upon his mind, no peculiar gain or profit by believing or reporting it, no interest or principle which might wrap his own belief aside from truth, or which might tempt him to prevaricate, to speak falsely, or to give a representation a little different from the naked truth of things, In short, whether there be no occafion of suspicion concerning his report.

5. Consider whether several persons agree together in the report of this matter; and if so, then whether there persons who joined together in their testimony might not be supposed to combine together in a falsehood. Whether they are persons of sufficient skill, probity and credity. It might be also inquired, whether they are of different nations, sects, parties, opinions, or interests. For the more divided they are in all these, the more likely is their report to be true, if they agree together in their account, or the sanie thing; and efpecially if they perlift in it without wavering.

« PreviousContinue »