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natural Evidence, distinguished from the Intricacies of Philosophy, is the Thing which we inquire after, and which will stand its Ground, whatever becomes of the private Notions of learned Men: For Nature may be in the right in giving Notice of a future Life, however Men may be mistaken, when they come to consider and ascertain the Nature and Cause of it; which to do is the Mark and Aim of Philosophy.
But the common Consent is the Voice and Law of Nature; for what all
in must needs derive itself from something that is common to all; and what is fo, but the Sense and Instinct of Nature? When Men come to Speculation, they differ as much in the Cast and Turn of their Minds, as they do in the Features and Lineaments of their Faces; and therefore speculative Reasoning will never produce a common Persuasion.
This Belief and Persuasion of the Certainty of a future Life arose from the common Sense that Men have of the Difference of Good and Evil, and of every Man's being accountable for the Things done in this World; which Account not being taken in this World, as the least Degree of Observation will enable Men to see, they concluded,
or rather they felt from the very Force of Reason and Conscience, that there was an Account to be given hereafter. Such an internal Argument as this, which springs up in the Heart and from the Heart of every Man, has a greater Weight in it, than all the Reasonings of Philofophy put together, and will tie Men down, if not to hope for, yet at least to fear a future Immortality; either of which is the silent Voice of Nature testifying the Reality of a Life to come.
That this is the true Foundation of the universal Belief of a future Life, may be learnt from hence, That the Persuasion of another Life was always connected with the Supposition that there were different States, for good and bad Men; so that you cannot any-where trace the Notion of Immortality, but you find Evidence also for the different Conditions of Men in another Life, according as they have behaved themselves in this. Now, these two Opinions being thus infeparably united, it is easy to judge which is the natural Sense, and which the Consequence : Let
and he will find, that it is not the Expectation of living that makes Men infer the Reasonableness or Necessity of a Judgment, but it is the reasonable and natural Expectation of Judgment
which makes them infer the Neceflity and Reality of a future Life.
Into what great Absurdities this natural Notion
grew under the Management of Poets, is well known : They named the Princes and the Judges, and described the Tortures of the Wicked, as their Fancies led them; and their Inventions became the vulgar Theology. But this still shews the Truth of what I have afferted; for neither would the Poets, whose Business it is to raise fine Scenes upon the Plan and Probability of Nature, have so painted the Torments and the Enjoyments of Men departed, neither would the World have received their Inventions, had there been no Foundation in Nature to support the Romance.
As to such as imagine that the Notion of a future Life arose from the Descriptions and Inventions of Poets, they may e'en as well suppose that Eating and Drinking had the same Original, and that Men had never thought of it but for the fine Feasts and Entertainments which are described in such Writers. The Poets were the Papists of Antiquity, who corrupted the genuine Sentiments of Nature, and obscured the Light of Reason, by introducing the wild Conceits of Folly and Superstition: And, when once
they had grafted the Slips of Superstition upon the Stock of Nature, they throve so fast, and grew so rank, that the natural Branches were even starved by the Luxuriancy of this wild Olive. But still the Root was natural, though the Fruit was wild. All that Nature teaches is, That there is a future Life, distinguished into different States of Happiness and Misery, in which Men will be rewarded or punished, according as they have pursued or neglected the Rules of Virtue and Honour. And this Notion prevailed where the Fables of Greece had never been heard of; and wicked Men felt in themselves the Fear of the Wrath which is to come, though they had never so much as learnt the Name of Tantalus or Sisyphus, or any other Sufferer in the Poets' Scene of Hell.
The natural Evidence then of Life and Immortality stands equally clear of the Inventions of Poetry, and the Subtilties and Refinements of Philofophy; and, though it be allied to both, yet it arose from neither. The Truth of the Case with regard to both is this : The Poets found Men in possession of the Doctrine of a future State with Rewards and Punishments for good and bad Men: Upon this Foundation they went to
work; and the plain Draught of Nature was almost hid under the Shades and Colours with which they endeavoured to beautify and adorn it. The Philofophers found the fame Perfuasion in themselves and others, and, as their Profeffion led them, fought out for physical Reasons to support the Cause. This Inquiry has furnished us with the various Opinions of Antiquity concerning the Nature and Operation of the Soul, its Manner of acting in the Body and out of it, its Eternity and Immortality, and many other curious Pieces of Learning. How far any or all of these Inquirers into Nature fucceeded in their Attempt to prove the Immortality of the Soul from physical Caufes, is another Question. As to the present Point, 'tis plain the natural Evidence is not concerned in their Success, whatever it is; for the natural Evidence is prior to their Inquiries; and stands upon
another Foot, upon the common Sense and Apprehension of Mankind : And the Schools may determine the Soul to be Fire, or Air, or Harmony, or what else they please ; yet still Nature will make every Man feel that the Grave will not fecure him from appearing before the great Tribunal to which he is accountable.