Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
Providence punishes Vice, and mitigates the Punishment
By Joseph Butler (16921752)
AND though the natural miseries which are foreseen to be annexed to a vicious course of life are providentially intended to prevent it, in the same manner as civil penalties are intended to prevent civil crimes; yet those miseries, those natural penalties admit of and receive natural reliefs, no less than any other miseries, which could not have been foreseen or prevented. Charitable providence then, thus manifested in the course of nature, which is the example of our heavenly Father, most evidently leads us to relieve, not only such distresses as were unavoidable, but also such as people by their own faults have brought upon themselves. The case is, that we cannot judge in what degree it was intended they should suffer, by considering what, in the natural course of things, would be the whole bad consequences of their faults, if those consequences were not prevented when nature has provided means to prevent great part of them. We cannot, for instance, estimate what degree of present sufferings God has annexed to drunkenness, by considering the diseases which follow from this vice, as they would be if they admitted of no reliefs or remedies; but by considering the remaining misery of those diseases, after the application of such remedies as nature has provided. For as it is certain on the one side, that those diseases are providential corrections of intemperance, it is as certain on the other, that the remedies are providential mitigations of those corrections; and altogether as much providential, when administered by the good hand of charity in the case of our neighbour, as when administered by self-love in our own. Thus the pain, and danger, and other distresses of sickness and poverty remaining, after all the charitable relief which can be procured; and the many uneasy circumstances which cannot but accompany that relief, though distributed with all supposable humanity; these are the natural corrections of idleness and debauchery, supposing these vices brought on those miseries. And very severe corrections they are: and they ought not to be increased by withholding that relief, or by harshness in the distribution of it. Corrections of all kinds, even the most necessary ones, may easily exceed their proper bound: and when they do so, they become mischievous; and mischievous in the measure they exceed it. And the natural corrections which we have been speaking of would be excessive, if the natural mitigations provided for them were not administered.