« PreviousContinue »
Concerning Sin's first Entrance into the World.
The things which have already been offered, may serve to obviate or clear many of the objections which might be
in some sense, yet he is not the agent, therefore the phrase should be disliked and rejected, that though God wills the event of sin, yet he wills it not as an evil, but for excellent ends—that the events of moral evils are disposed by wisdom-that God may be the orderer and disposer of moral evil, which in the agent is infinitely evil, but in the orderer of it no evil at all—that in order to a thing being morally ovil, it must be unfit and unsuitable, or of a bad tendency, or from an evil disposition; but that in willing the event of sin neither can be attributed to God—that if a wise and good man knew, with absolute certainty, that it would be best, all things considered, there should be moral evil, he might choose that it should be so—that the reason why he might not order it, if he were able, would not be because he might pot desire, but only the ordering of that matter does not belong to him—and that in the language of TURNBULL, " there is no evil in the universe, -no absolute evil; sins are evils only in a partial view, but with respect to the whole system they are not evil or mischievous, but goods, &c.” to say these things and more of a similar cast, is not calculated to satisfy a mind that wants the best evidence which the nature of the case will admit, and we strongly suspect, from his manner of writing, that our author's own mind was not satisfied with the solution which he has attempted.
In former notes we have had occasion only to explain principles adopted, or to point out others either more evident or more radical, on which those of the author were founded, or with which they stood inseparably connected. But at the close of the present section we feel ourselves obliged to attempt, at least, the rectification of his principles; or, perhaps more properly, to point out other principles which we conceive are attended with no such embarrassment, are exposed to no self-contradiction, and which represent the great Supreme in a much more amiable light. The task is indeed arduous; but let it not be thought impossible, nor let the imperfection of language be confounded with the inadequacy of principles. And while we solicit the candour of the reader—whereby he will be prepared to make such allowances as the nature of the subject requires, be prevented from drawing hasty conclusions of the impracticability of bringing the subject of enquiry to a satisfactory issue, or of presumption in attempting it-we no less demand a strictness of examination. The real enquirer after truth, the christian divine, and the moral philosopher, should be solicitous, not to have the “last word” in con. troversy, but to make all possible advances in ascertaining the genuine grounds of acknowledged truths, in discovering radical principles, and in ascertaining their just bearings and tendencies.
1. The true point of enquiry is --- not whether they be moral evil, or whether God be just ? but-how the actual existence of sin, or moral evil, in the universe, is to be reconciled with the moral perfections and character of God? Therefore, the thing wanted is a middle term, or argumentative medium, whereby it may be sheron that this proposition is true, viz There is no real inconsistence between the existence of sin and the moral perfections of God. 2. We may therefore consider the following propositions as first principles :
II. God is infinitely free from injustice, unholiness, and all imperfections.Hence,
COROLLARY. There is no real inconsistence between the existence of moral evil and the mo ral perfections of God.
3. Now the question returns, What is the best evidence that there is no such nçongistency? Those who are satisfied with these plain propositions, the axioms
raised concerning sin's first coming into the world ; as though it would follow from the doctrine maintained, that God must
and corollary, may have the evidence of faith, that there is no inconsistence between the subject and predicate of the last proposition. They may know so much of God as to be assured that the existence of sin in the world is no impeachment of the moral character of the Most High. For such evidence it behoves us to be thankful. Millions are now in heaven, who enjoyed no other evidence while on earth than that of faith. But this is no sufficient reason why those who have opportunity should make no further enquiries into the subject. Some, indeed, suppose that no rational evidence is in the present state attainable by man. But why any should so conclude it is difficult to say, except it be, that they wish to make their own minds the standard of all others, or their own attainments the ne plus ultra of moral philosophy. Such persons are not likely to acknowledge or perceive the real evidence, on supposition that it is laid before them, as their minds will be strongly prejudiced against all reasoning on the subject.
4. One thing however is incontrovertible, as necessarily connected with the axioms, that the existence of moral evil, and the spotless and infinitely excellent moral character of God are perfectly consistent ; and therefore there must be somewhere good evidence of it. And another thing is equally plain, that the brighter the evidence we have of the truth of the proposition which asserts the consistency of the two axioms, the more will be our acquaintance with God's real character, and the real nature of sin, which all must allow to be advantageous. To which we may add ; that increased evidence of such a proposition is far from being injurious, may be further inferred from this consideration, that the higher any beings arise in holiness and happiness, the more clear will be that evidence to their view.
5. The terms of the question are so plain, and so generally understood, that it is scarcely necessary to notice them; we may however briefly observe, that moral evil is what stands in direct opposition to the moral character of God; and that this latter includes universal rectitude or holiness and perfect benevolence, Therefore,
POSTULATE. Whatever is perfectly consistent with universal rectitude, and perfect benevolence, is consistent with the moral perfections of God. The reader will observe, that what is asserted of rectitude and benevolence is different; the one is said to be universal and the other perfect only. Every attribute of Jehovah is in ITSELF both perfect and universal ; but not RELATIVely so. Thus his rectitude is both perfeci in itself, and universal with respect to its object; but his benevolence however infinitely perfect, is restricted as to its objects, both in extent and in degree.
And this restriction is necessary two ways : 6. First, the objects of benevolence, at least in this world, compose a system; and every system, whether natural or moral implies a subordination and comparative superiority of parts; therefore the very idea of a systematic whole implies a restriction of benevolence as to extent and degree.
7. Secondly, the exercise of benevolence is an exercise of will; and the exercise of will implies diversity of objects, and a preference of some rather than others, to occupy the more excellent parts of the whole system; so that perfect universality or a strict equality of benevolence, without a distinguishing preference, is necessarily excluded by the very nature of benevolence in exercise.
8. Divine benevolence, therefore, admits of gradations, from the smallest degree conceivable to the utmost extent of the system ; while rectitude admits
of no such degree. Were we to attempt an illustration of so abstract a subject by mental images, we might say, that rectitude in its exercise towards the creatures, may be compared to a plain surface as widely extended as the universe, of infinitely perfect polish, and without a flaw in any part. Hence, in its exercise, it is universal as its objects; and can no more admit of degrees, than a perfect polish can admit of flaws. On the contrary, benevolence may be compared to a cone, in an inverted form, the vertex of which is in contact with a point of that plane, and which, from the least possible degree, is capable of rising at sovereign pleasure, in its exercise towards the universe, to such a height, as that the base of it may be, or may not be, of equal extent with the plane below.
9. From just views of benevolence we may infer, that its exercise is purely free, and undeserved by the creature ; being the fruit of will, choice, and sove
be the author of the first sin, through his so disposing things, that it should necessarily follow from his permission, that the
reign pleasure. The absence of it, with respect to creatures, implies no flaw in perfect rectitude. Every degree of benevolence, from the least to the greatest, inust be altogether optional. Perfect rectitude, with respect to created beings and each individual creature, may subsist, without any more benevolence than what is necessarily included in mere existence.
10. This being the case, the state of the universe in reference to perfect rectitude, and irrespective of benevolence, may be further compared to a balance in perfect equilibrium. The least weight of benevolence makes it preponderate, proportionally, in favour of virtue and happiness ; but without which weight neither could take place.
11. But, according to what has been said in a former note, every created being is the subject of passive power; which, with respect to its influence on the creature, is, in some respect, the opposite of benevolence. In some, not in all respects. Benevolence is an exercise of will, and implies an agent ; but passive power is a quality or principle inseparable from every creature, and from the universe at large. In reference to a former illustration, this may be compared to another cone exactly opposite, the vertex of which, from below, meets that of the other in the same plane. The intermediate point, and indeed every point in the same plane, may represent the perfect rectitude of God towards every individual ; the inverted cone above, divine benevolence; the cone below, passive power, with its base necessarily equal to the whole plane, as it respects the created universe,
12. Hence we may say that the neutral state of any being is placed in the plane ; his degree of influence from passive power, the predisposing cause of vice, is represented by a corresponding given part of the cone below ; and his degree of predisposition to virtue from divine benevolence, is represented by a corresponding given part of the cone above. Or, to change the comparison, if a perfecily poised balance be made to represent perfect rectitude, then we may suppose weights at each end in all possible proportions, from the smallest to the greatest. Passive power not being the effect of will, but of the relative nature of things, and inseparably connected with one end of the balance, it is evident, that it can be counteracted in its tendency only by the weight of benevolence, or sovereign pleasure. Thercfore, whoever on earth or in heaven, rises to, and is confirmed in virtue, his attainment must be the effect of mere benevolence. And whoever on earth or in hell, falls into, and is confirmed in vice, his deterioration must be the effect of passive power, as the predisposing cause of vice, which nothing in the universe can counteract but sovereign, free, unmerited, benevolence.
13. Consequently, all the good and happiness in the universe is the effect of benevolence, or sovereign pleasure, and exists above the plane of perfect rectitude; but all the evil and misery in the world is the effect of passive power, in union with free agency, and exists below the plane of rectitude. The one generates virtue, and raises to happiness and heaven; the other generates vice, and sinks to misery and hell.
14. Every thing in the universe planned, decreed, and effected by Jehovah, is a structure of benevolence. All He effects is good, and only good. The eril that exists is not his work. Benevolence has decreed an endless chain of antecedents, including the natural and moral worlds; and the consequents peculiar to them result therefrom with infallible certainty. But other antecedents, in this world and in hell, are constantly interposed by free agents under the influence of passive power, whose consequences also follow with equal infallible certainty. To the eye of created intelligence these counter positions, and opposite consequents appear blended in an inextricable manner, like the different rays of light in the same pencil, different gases in a given space, and different subtle Auids in the same body. But to the eye of omniscience they appear perfectly distinct, in their proper nature, in all their directions and bearings, in all their tendencies and effects.
15. Instead, therefore, of saying, " There is no evil in the universe,” we should say, There is much evil in the universe ; there is much on earth, and more in hell; but none of God's appointment. It is demonstrable, that passive
sinful act should be committed, &c. I need not, therefore, stand to repeat what has been said already, about such a ne
power can no more be an object of appointment, than the most direct contradictions; and yet it is equally demonstrable that such a principle is the inseparable concomitant of every creature. It is of prior consideration to moral agency; for whatever is a property of a created nature as such, is of prior consideration to the agency of that creature. Consequently it is a property neither divinely appointed, nor yet a moral evil.
16. Liberty, in one sense, bears the same relation to good and evil, as rectitude does to benevolence and passive power. Liberty in itself is equally a medium between good and evil, as rectitude is between benevolence and passive power ; and the medium is of a nature perfectly distinct from both extremes. To which we may add, that Liberty united to, or under the influence of sovereign benevolence, generates virtue; but Liberty united to, or under the influence of passive power, generates vice.
17. From the premises it may be seen, that the existence of all evil, and es. pecially moral evil, in the universe, is not inconsistent with the moral perfections of God. It is evident also that in no sense whatever, except by a total misapplication of terms, can God be said to be “the author of sin." Nor can it be said that God “wills the event of sin ;" but the contrary is plain, that he does not will it, either in a decretive, a legislative, or any other sense.
18. The great source of confusion into which many authors have plunged themselves, is, that they draw too hasty an inference in attempting to make not hindering an event to be ultimately the same as willing it. Upon their data, indeed, it may be true, while they regard every event alike to be the effect of divine energy, and even the worst, in order to answer a good end. And this will always be the case, for self-consistency requires it, until we see and acknowledge a metaphysical negative cause of moral evil, and an eternal nature of things antecedent to all will, with their infallible effects, when not counteracted by sovereign benevolence.
19. Let us now view the subject in the light of terms a little different. Much error often arises through the defect of language ; and where there is danger of migapprehension, it may be of use to change expressions. Hereby a difficult subject may be taken by different handles, or a reader may apprehend it by one han. dle, which he could not by another. Let us then substitute the word Equity instead of Rectitude, and undeserved favour instead of benevolence.
POSTULATE. Whatever is perfectly consistent with equity is also perfectly consistent witha the moral character of God.
20. Whatever is the pure effect of equity and the nature of things, or essential truth, united, cannot be inconsistent with the moral perfections of God: the ex. istence of moral evil in the universe is the pure effect of these : therefore the existence of moral evil in the universe cannot be inconsistent with the moral perfections of God.
21. The only ground of hesitation here is, How moral evil is the effect of equity and the nature of things ? Liberty itself is a natural good, and therefore is the fruit of divine favour; and the mere exercise of liberty must be ascribed to the same cause. But he who is hypothetically free to good, must be in like man. ner free to evil. For this hypothetical freedom either 10 good or to evil is what constitutes the morality of his acts of choice. Take away this hypothetical freedom, and you take away the essence of moral agency It is plain, then, that to possess this freedom and consequent moral agency, is not inconsistent with the equity, rectitude, or moral perfections of God. Yet it is demonstrable that frecdom cannot be influenced in its choice, so as to constitute it virtuous or vicious, holy or sinful, morally right or wrong, good or evil, bu: from two causes radically ; divine favour and passive power. If the agent be under the influence of divine favour, a happy result, in the same proportion, is secured by the same es. sential truth as renders the choice of the great i am infallibly good; which no one will say is inconsistent with the divine perfections. For though savour raisas the agent above what rigid or pure equity can do, there is no inconsistence between them, any more than between paying å just debt and bestowing also a free gift
cessity not proving God to be the Author of Sin, in any ill sense, or in any such sense as to infringe any liberty of man, concerned in his moral agency, or capacity of blame, guilt, and punishment.
in addition. But if the agent be not under the influence of undeserved favour, the only alternative is, that he must necessarily be under the influence of jassive power. And as nothing can possibly secure a happy result but uodeserved lavour, or benevolent influence, a negative cause becomes an infallible ground of certainty of an opposite result. Again,
22. When God gives to creatures what is their due, he deals with them in equity ; but when God gives them less grace than is actually sufficient to secure from sin, or will in fact do so, he gives them their due. Were it otherwise, it would be impossible for any to sin. If to give them so much favour or benevolent influence as would actually preserve them from sin, were their due, it is plain that the God of equity would give them their due, and preserve them from sin accordingly. But the fact is widely otherwise. They are not all preserved from sin, though all might be, through the interposition of sovereign favour ; therefore it is no
their due, or equity does not require it. 23. If it be said, it is owing to their own fault ; it is very true. But how came any creatures to be faulty ? God made angels and men upright : and he has always dealt with every creature, however debased by sin, in equity. He has also given to every creature, capable of sinning; liberty unconstrained. He often influences the disposition by benevolence; and the goodness of God, by providential and gracious dispensations, leadeth to repentance But never has he dealt with any unjustly, or given them less than their due Not a fallen spirit, however deeply sunk, can verify such a charge. Assuredly, they have destroyed themselves : but in God is the only help. A principle of which God is not the author, as before explainea, in union with the abuse of their liberty, satisfactorily accounts for the fact. Our evil is of our selves ; but all our good is from God.
24. From what has been said we may safely draw this inference, that the existence of moral evil in the universe is not incousistent with the moral perfections of God. And the proposition would be equally true nad the proportion of moral evil been greater ihan it is Bui some will continue to cavil, ii is probable, because every objection is not professedly answered : and some difficulties, or divine arcana, will always remain.' They will still be asking, why benevolence is not more universal, and thereby moral evil altog ther prevented? Why the cone (to which benevolence has been compared) is not a cylinder, whose base is commensurate with the plane of creatural existence, and whose top rises ad infinitum? Tbey might as well enquire, Why is not every atom a sun ? Why not every drop an ocean? Why not every moment an age ? Why not every worm an angel ? Why not the solar system as arge as all material systems united ? Why the pumber of angels and men not a thousand times greater? And to complete the absurdity of demanding evidence for every thing, as an objection against demonstrable truth, Why is not any given part on the surface of a cone, a cylinder, or a globe, not in the centre? To all such inquiries--and if advanced as objections, impertinent enquiries—it is sufficient to reply, Infinite Wisdom has planned a universe, in which divine benevolence appears wonderfully conspicu. ous and even the evils--whether natural or inoral, wbich are intermixed, and which in their origin are equally remore from divine causation and from chance —are overruled, lo answer purposes the most benevolent and the most wonderfully sublime.
COROLLARIES. 1. The only possible way of avoiding the most ruinous consequences-mo. ral evil and misery-is to direct (be will, through the instiumenialty of its freedom, to a state of union to God, subinission to his will, and an imitation of his moral perfections, according to his most merciful appointment.
2 'To creatures fallen below the line of rectitude, and yut the subjects of hope, prayer to God for grace, undeserved favour, or benevolent influence, is an exercise the most becoming, a duty the most necessary and important, and a privilege of the first magnitude.-W.