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As blindly groped they for a future state,
As rashly judged of providence and fate;
But least of all could their endeavours find
What most concerned the good of human kind;
For happiness was never to be found,
But vanished from them like enchanted ground.*
One thought content the good to be enjoyed;
This every little accident destroyed:
The wiser madmen did for virtue toil,
A thorny, or, at best, a barren soil:
In pleasure some their glutton souls would steep;
But found their line too short, the well too deep,
And leaky vessels which no bliss could keep.
Thus anxious thoughts in endless circles roll,
Without a centre where to fix the soul:
In this wild maze their vain endeavours end :-
How can the less the greater comprehend?
Or finite reason reach infinity?
For what could fathom God were more than he.
The Deist thinks he stands on firmer ground;
Cries upena! the mighty secret's found:
God is that spring of good, supreme and best,
We made to serve, and in that service blest;
If so, some rules of worship must be given,
Distributed alike to all by heaven;
Else God were partial, and to some denied
The means his justice should for all provide.
This general worship is to praise and pray;
One part to borrow blessings, one to pay;
And when frail nature slides into offence,
The sacrifice for crimes is penitence.
*The author applies the same simile to the use of rhyme in tragedy;
Passion's too fierce to be in fetters bound,
And nature flies him like enchanted ground.
Prologue to Aureng-Zebe.
Yet since the effects of providence, we find,
Are variously dispensed to human kind;
That vice triumphs, and virtue suffers here,
A brand that sovereign justice cannot bear;
Our reason prompts us to a future state,
The last appeal from fortune and from fate,
Where God's all righteous ways will be declared;
The bad meet punishment, the good reward.
Thus man by his own strength to heaven would soar,
And would not be obliged to God for more.
Vain wretched creature, how art thou misled,
To think thy wit these god-like notions bred!
These truths are not the product of thy mind,
But dropt from heaven, and of a nobler kind.
Revealed religion first informed thy sight,
And reason saw not till faith sprung the light.
Hence all thy natural worship takes the source;
'Tis revelation what thou think'st discourse.
Else how com'st thou to see these truths so clear,
Which so obscure to heathens did appear?
Not Plato these, nor Aristotle found,
Nor he whose wisdom oracles renowned.
Hast thou a wit so deep. or so sublime,
Or canst thou lower dive, or higher climb ?
Canst thou by reason more of godhead know
Than Plutarch, Seneca, or Cicero ?
Those giant wits, in happier ages born,
When arms and arts did Greece and Rome adorn,
Knew no such system; no such piles could raise
Of natural worship, built on prayer and praise
To one sole God;
Nor did remorse to expiate sin prescribe,
But slew their fellow-creatures for a bribe:
The guiltless victim groaned for their offence,
And cruelty and blood was penitence.
If sheep and oxen could atone for men,
Ah! at how cheap a rate the rich might sin!
And great oppressors might heaven's wrath beguile,
By offering his own creatures for a spoil!
Darest thou, poor worm, offend Infinity?
And must the terms of peace be given by thee?
Then thou art justice in the last appeal;
Thy easy God instructs thee to rebel;
And, like a king remote and weak, must take
What satisfaction thou art pleased to make.
But if there be a Power too just and strong,
To wink at crimes, and bear unpunished wrong;
Look humbly upward, see his will disclose
The forfeit first, and then the fine impose;
A mulct thy poverty could never pay,
Had not Eternal Wisdom found the way,
And with celestial wealth supplied thy store;
His justice makes the fine, his mercy quits the score.
See God descending in thy human frame;
The offended suffering in the offender's name;
All thy misdeeds to him imputed see,
And all his righteousness devolved on thee.
For, granting we have sinned, and that the offence Of man is made against Omnipotence,
Some price that bears proportion must be paid,
And infinite with infinite be weighed.
See then the Deist lost: remorse for vice
Not paid, or paid inadequate in price:
What farther means can reason now direct,
Or what relief from human wit expect?
That shews us sick; and sadly are we sure
Still to be sick, till heaven reveal the cure :
If then heaven's will must needs be understood,
Which must, if we want cure, and heaven be good,
Let all records of will revealed be shown;
With scripture all in equal balance thrown,
And our one sacred Book will be that one.
Proof needs not here; for, whether we compare That impious, idle, superstitious ware
Of rites, lustrations, offerings, which before,
In various ages, various countries bore,
With christian faith and virtues, we shall find
None answering the great ends of human kind,
But this one rule of life; that shews us best
How God may be appeased, and mortals blest,
Whether from length of time its worth we draw,
The word is scarce more ancient than the law:
Heaven's early care prescribed for every age;
First, in the soul, and after, in the page.
Or, whether more abstractedly we look,
Or on the writers, or the written book,
Whence, but from heaven, could men unskilled in arts,
In several ages born, in several parts,
Weave such agreeing truths? or how, or why
Should all conspire to cheat us with a lie?
Unasked their pains, ungrateful their advice,
Starving their gain, and martyrdom their price.
If on the book itself we cast our view,
Concurrent heathens prove the story true:
The doctrine, miracles; which must convince,
For heaven in them appeals to human sense;
And, though they prove not, they confirm the cause,
When what is taught agrees with nature's laws.
Then for the style, majestic and divine,
It speaks no less than God in every line;
Commanding words, whose force is still the same
As the first fiat that produced our frame.
All faiths, beside, or did by arms ascend,
Or sense indulged has made mankind their friend;
This only doctrine does our lusts oppose,
Unfed by nature's soil, in which it grows;
Cross to our interests, curbing sense, and sin;
Oppressed without, and undermined within,
It thrives through pain; it's own tormentors tires,
And with a stubborn patience still aspires.
To what can reason such effects assign,
Transcending nature, but to laws divine?
Which in that sacred volume are contained,
Sufficient, clear, and for that use ordained.
But stay the Deist here will urge anew,
No supernatural worship can be true;
Because a general law is that alone
Which must to all, and every where, be known;
A style so large as not this book can claim,
Nor aught that bears revealed religion's name.
"Tis said, the sound of a Messiah's birth
Is gone through all the habitable earth;
But still that text must be confined alone
To what was then inhabited, and known:
And what provision could from thence accrue
To Indian souls, and worlds discovered new?
In other parts it helps, that, ages past,
The scriptures there were known, and were embraced,
Till sin spread once again the shades of night :
What's that to these who never saw the light?
Of all objections this indeed is chief,
To startle reason, stagger frail belief:
We grant, 'tis true, that heaven from human sense
Has hid the secrets paths of providence;
But boundless wisdom, boundless mercy, may
Find even for those bewildered souls a way.
If from his nature foes may pity claim,
Much more may strangers, who ne'er heard his name;
And, though no name be for salvation known,
But that of his eternal sons * alone;
*All the editions read Sons, which seems to make a double genitive, unless we construe the line to mean, "the name of his Eternal Son's salvation." I own I should have been glad to have found an authority for reading Son.