Page images

and therefore could not evince any wisdom either in the discernment or in the option of the means. Assuming it then as a settled point, that wisdom is employed here in its genuine appropriate sense, and that the first question before us must be answered in the affirmative, we may now pass on to the discussion of the second, which, after what has been already observed, does not appear of difficult solution. If wisdom cannot be ascribed to an agent on account of the production of an effect brought about without the intervention of means, or else by means that have not with the effect any connection independent on his will; and if wisdom be an attribute of the great Former of the universe, conspicuously displayed in his works, it then follows, it should seem by undeniable inference, that there exists, independently on his will, a connection between means and ends. That in the maintenance of the existence and order of nature, in the production and preservation of life, in the government of the material, animal, and moral worlds, he acts by means or (which is but another word expressive of the same idea) by laws, is surely too manifest to require proof; and in these laws and contrivances do we not adınire his wisdom, because we consider these to be in themselves well adapted to bring about the ends which we believe bim to have in view) Let us suppose that these ends might be accomplished by a mere volition. In that case will not the means cease to be means? Will they not be superfluous ? Will they not be beheld rather with the contempt excited by idle parade, than with the admiration called forth by the display of skill and intelligence? If in an Eastern fiction one of the genii, though said to be able to raise a palace by a single word, were represented as forming materials and workmen, in order to erect some stately structure, who would not deride this as an absurd conceit' Alphonso the Wise, king of Spain, who lived in an age when Ptolemy's system of astronomy was generally received, and who had the sagacity of perceiving it had not the stamp of divine wisdom, is reported to have said he could have given some good advice to the Maker of the universe, had he been consulted with respect to the motions of the heavenly bodies. In like manner, with respect to the notion entertained by numbers, that the Supreme Being can by a mere fiat produce any effect he pleases, obvious is the remark. that, were this true, a simpler method of executing his will than that adopted by him might easily be suggested. Should any be of opinion, that in the construction of the universe the divine Architect has employed means, not as necessary instruments to work with, but in order that his intelligent creatures might by the contemplation of these means, and of their seeming effects, exercise and improve their understandings, be taught to reverence and imitate the marks of design conspicuous throughout nature, and be led to find out and adore the invisible Author of the vast fabric, I am certainly not disposed to deny this, nor does this at all militate against what I am endeavouring to prove. On the contrary, the objection takes it for granted, that this apparatus of means and ends has been contrived by the God of Wisdom as the most effectual method of instructing us and making us wise--a method, therefore, without which this purpose could not have been answered equally well. Between this method and this purpose the conncction must then be acknowledged to be independent on the divine will; and for this very reason is it, that the choice of this method, with this purpose in view, evinces the divine wisdom.

But if this representation be conformable to truth, will it not follow, that onnipotence belongs not to the Deity? This does not appear to me a just conclusion. The fair inference is only this, that the notion usually formed of Almighty Power is erroneous. Indeed it must be so, if it be not compatible with a rational belief that God is wise. Omnipotence is conceived by most to be the power of producing any effect whatever by mere volition. But surely this is not affixing to the term its proper signification. The being who can do whatever he pleases, though not at once, nor without the intervention of means, may be said, in strictness of speech, to be omnipotent. The Crue definition of omnipotence is not the power of doing whatever may be deemed possible by creatures of limited knowledge, but the power of doing whatever in its own nature is possible. This, indeed, implies that there is a nature of things independent on the Divine will; but that it is in any instance contrary to this will is not, however, to be thence inferred. He, whose is all-comprehensive knowledge, is perfectly acquainted with that nature of things, and therefore never wills that which lies not within its verge. He is truly almighty; for he, even he alone, can do whatever can be done; and a power greater than this cannot exist, since the very supposition of it is absurd, All possibilities are known to him ; impossibilities are never the objects of his choice; and whatever be the end which he chooses, he is acquainted with the best means of bringing it about. He therefore never experiences the slightest disappointment, and every event happens in the place, at the time and in the manner fixed upon by his will.

Here it appears to me, I might, and it may seem fittest I should, conclude; for I have laid before you the argument

your attention."

which leads me to believe, that there exists a connection between means and ends, independent on the Divine will; which argument is plainly this. Were it not so, wisdom, which is so evidently an attribute of the Deity, could not be ascribed to him: and I have further attempted to shew, by way of answer to an obvious and plausible objection, that the belief of such a necessary connection between means and ends is not inconsistent with our entertaining just and rational sentiments of the Divine omnipotence. Nevertheless, relying on your indulgence, I yield to the desire of presenting to your view some observations, suggested to my mind by the foregoing train of reasoning. I trust you have excused my having chosen a subject closely connected with thoughts that frequently engage my hours of musing, and that have long appeared to me far more interesting than the discussion of any question, literary, philosophic, or political. I trust you will forgive me, if, impelled by the wish of inviting you to drink at those springs which I have found to be the most pleasant, exhilarating, and salubrious, I call upon you to favour me sometime longer with

If it should be true, that to the Supreme Being belongs almighty power, in that sense which seems, for the reasons adduced above, to forbid its alliance with wisdom; if any effect whatever may be produced by his fiat alone; we should then be obliged to renounce as ungrounded the most delightful idea the mind can form, and as delusive the most cheering hope the heart can cherish. This idea is, that God wills every sentient creature to be happy: this hope is, that there is a future state, where that which he wills, is to be, with respect to all of the human race, sooner or later fully accomplished. Now this idea, this hope, must be given up, if the Almighty can do whatever he wills, by merely willing it, at once and without the use of means ; for, if it be so, then it is plain from actual stubborn fact, that it is not his will every sentient being should be happy; nor yet is there any room to imagine, that he wills any thing to be hereafter otherwise than it is at present. From the supposition now reasoned upon, it further follow's, that, however strong, however striking is the evidence arising from the works of creation and providence, or from any other quarter, to attest the benevolence of the Maker and Governor of the universe, it is still more evident, that benevolence is not his ruling principle, or that something there is which he wills in preference to the happiness of those whom he has called into existence. But if the hypothesis, to combat which is the purport of this essay, he really contrary to truth; if omnipoience be not of such a nature as to exclude the assistance of

[blocks in formation]

wisdom ; if it cannot attain the end it chooses but by the in, strumentality of suitable means; then there exists nothing in what we see or experience that can invalidate any clear, posis tive evidence that God is good—that can set aside any sound argument to prove that he is supremely good—or, in other words, that well-grounded as well as delightful is the idea, that he wills every sentient creature to be happy. Then too, or rather therefore, there is nothing to forbid—there is much to countenance—the cheering hope of a future state, wherein, sooner or later, we shall ali be raised to happiness. It is to be particularly observed here, that wherever wisdom is adınitted, there is a plan that has a beginning, middle, and end—a system, of which the parts bear a relation, but are not alike to each other, and together combine to forin one whole-a design, the symmetry of which may perhaps be conjectured, but cannot be clearly discerned by one to whose eye a portion only is exposed. Wherever means are used, there is contrivance to bring about some remote end; there is a process that requires time, and a succession of operations to carry it to perfection; there is, in short, a progressive state of improvement, concerning which, if under the direction of wisdom, it may justly be remarked, that if, when beheld at any given moment, it strikes us as de fective, we may safely argue, from that very defect, that it is not yet brought to its conclusion. To ascertain, if possible, *what is the great ultimate end of tủe adıninistration of the Supreme Ruler, what will be the result of the laws of bis

government with regard to every one of us, must surely be deemed by all who bdieve that he is and presides over the universe, of all objects of inquiry the most important and interesting. Now that this end is the production of individual and universal happiness, that this result will be our being made, each of us, to rejoice with well-grounded gladness in the gift of existence, must be manifest, if we can obtain satisfactory proof of God's benevolence, of his being truly, essentially, perfectly good. If with this vicir the general laws by which this world is governed be all, one by one, duly examined, the direct tendency, the final cause of each of them will be found to be the production of happiness. To this let it be added, that the highest excellence that can be conceived of is goodness, or sincere active love towards every thing that has feeling ; that man is capable of acquiring this excellence in a liigh degree, and that no creature can be more excellent than the Creator; and, further still, that he who has all things within himself cannot be imagined to be actuated by any other motive than the desire of doing that which is in itself most excellent. · Now these considerations seem to me to amount to satisfactory proof that God is perfectly good, provided it be not opposed by some positive evidence, that he does not actually produce all the happiness that can be produced, and that his creatures here will never be made truly happy. But such evidence cannot be adduced, unless it be true that the omnipotence he is possessed of can give existence to any effect by a mere fiat, without the use of means connected necessarily, or independently on his will, with the end they are to accomplish ; but this cannot be true, unless his omnipotence excludes the exorcise of wisdom, which, without such a connection between means and ends, can have no existence, and yet which all his works compel us to ascribe to him. Again, as the exercise of wisdom implies the carrying on of a process consisting of several steps, it is reasonable, with respect to any process under the management of a wise being, to conclude, so long as it does not produce the effect seemingly intended by the agent, that it is not completed. And as this is actually the case with respect to the present state of things, where we discern unequivocal marks of a design to produce happiness, and yet where happiness is plainly produced but in a very imperfect degree, it is highly rational to believe, that the process so clearly carried on and so clearly unfinished here, will, in some future period, by Him who has instituted it, and of whose perfect goodness we possess, within our own moral frame, such strong presumptive evidence, be terminated, in regard to every one of us, and to the entire satisfaction of all intelligent and benevolent beings. If it should be objected that this blessed consummation may, for aught we know to the contrary, be impossible in the nature of ihings, and therefore not lie even within the sphere of omnipotence, it scems sufficient to observe that, so far from our seeing any reason to render this supposition at all probable, the very circumstance of our discerning the existence of a noble, extensive plan, bearing evident signs of its not being completed, affords strong presumption, considering the manifest wisdom of Him who formed the plan, of the possibility of its being perfected, especially when we reflect that all the means or instruments of operation are at the disposal of the Supreme Artist--that he knows the precise force and tendency of each of them -and that he has no less a length of time to subdue every difficulty, and remove every obstacle, than the infinite duration of eternity.

Permit me to add one word more. In order to keep within proper limits the discussion to which the thoughts here laid before you may give rise, I would beg leave to obserie, that both the existence and the courrnment of God are in this essay

« PreviousContinue »