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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : Section II. The failure of Leibnitz not a ground of despair.

A Theodicy Or Vindication Of The Divine Glory by Albert Taylor Bledsoe

Section II. The failure of Leibnitz not a ground of despair.

It is alleged, that since Leibnitz exhausted the resources of his vast erudition, and exerted the powers of his mighty intellect without success, to solve the problem in question, it is in vain for any one else to attempt its solution. Leibnitz, himself, was too much of a philosopher to approve of such a judgment in relation to any human being. He could never have wished, or expected to see |the empire of man, which is founded in the sciences,| permanently confined to the boundaries of a single mind, however exalted its powers, or comprehensive its attainments. He finely rebuked the false humility and the disguised arrogance of Descartes, in affirming that the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man could never be reconciled. |If Descartes,| says he, |had confessed such an inability for himself alone, this might have savoured of humility; but it is otherwise, when, because he could not find the means of solving this difficulty, he declares it an impossibility for all ages and for all minds.| We have, at least, the authority and example of Leibnitz, in favour of the propriety of cultivating this department of knowledge, with a view to shed light on the great problem of the intellectual world.

His failure, if rightly considered, is not a ground for despondency. He approached the problem in question in a wrong spirit. The pride of conquering difficulties is the unfortunate disposition with which he undertook to solve it. His well-known boast, that with him all difficult things are easy, and all easy things difficult, is a proof that his spirit was not perfectly adapted to carry him forward in a contest with the dark enigmas of the universe. Indeed, if we consider what Leibnitz has actually done, we shall perceive, that notwithstanding his wonderful powers, he has rendered many easy things difficult, as well as many difficult things easy. The best way to conquer difficulties is, if we may judge from his example, not to attack them directly, and with the pride of a conqueror, but simply to seek after the truth. If we make a conquest of all the truth, this will make a conquest of all the difficulties within our reach. It is wonderful with what ease a difficulty, which may have resisted the direct siege of centuries, will sometimes fall before a single inquirer after truth, who had not dreamed of aiming at its solution, until this seemed, as if by accident, to offer itself to his mind. If we pursue difficulties, they will be apt to fly from us and elude our grasp; whereas, if we give up our minds to an honest and earnest search after truth, they will come in with their own solutions.

The truth is, that the difficulty in question has been increased rather than diminished by the speculations of Leibnitz. This has resulted from a premature and extreme devotion to system -- a source of miscarriage and failure common to Leibnitz, and to most others who have devoted their attention to the origin of evil. On the one hand, exaggerated views concerning the divine agency, or equally extravagant notions on the other, respecting the agency of man, have frequently converted a seeming into a real contradiction. In general, the work of God has been conceived in such a relation to the powers of man, as to make the latter entirely disappear; or else the power of man has been represented as occupying so exalted and independent a position, as to exclude the Almighty from his rightful dominion over the moral world. Thus, the Supreme Being has generally been shut out from the affairs and government of the world by one side, and his energy rendered so all-pervading by the other, as really to make him the author of evil. In this way, the difficulties concerning the origin and existence of evil have been greatly augmented by the very speculations designed to solve them. For if God takes little or no concern in the affairs and destiny of the moral world, this clearly seems to render him responsible for the evil which he might easily have prevented; and, on the other hand, if he pervades the moral world with his power in such a manner as to bring all things to pass, this as clearly seems to implicate him in the turpitude of sin.

After having converted the seeming discrepancy between the divine power and human agency into a real contradiction, it is too late to endeavour to reconcile them. Yet such has been the case with most of the giant intellects that have laboured to reconcile the sovereignty of God and the moral agency of man. It will hereafter be clearly seen, we trust, that it is not possible for any one, holding the scheme of a Calvin, or a Leibnitz, or a Descartes, or an Edwards, to show an agreement between the power of God and the freedom of man; since according to these systems there is an eternal opposition and conflict between them. It is no ground of despair, then, that the mighty minds of the past have failed to solve the problem in question, if the cause of their failure may be traced to the errors of their own systems, and not to the inherent difficulties of the subject.

Those who have endeavoured to solve the problem in question have, for the most part, been necessitated to fail in consequence of having adopted a wrong method. Instead of beginning with observation, and carefully dissecting the world which God has made, so as to rise, by a clear analysis of things, to the general principles on which they have been actually framed and put together, they have set out from the lofty region of universal abstractions, and proceeded to reconstruct the world for themselves. Instead of beginning with the actual, as best befits the feebleness of the human intellect, and working their way up into the great system of things, they have taken their position at once in the high and boundless realm of the ideal, and thence endeavoured to deduce the nature of the laws and phenomena of the real world. This is the course pursued by Plato, Leibnitz, Hobbes, Descartes, Edwards, and, indeed, most of those great thinkers who have endeavoured to shed light on the problem in question. Hence each has necessarily become |a sublime architect of words,| whose grand and imposing system of shadows and abstractions has but a slight foundation in the real constitution and laws of the spiritual world. Their writings furnish the most striking illustration of the profound aphorism of Bacon, that |the usual method of discovery and proof, by first establishing the most general propositions, then applying and proving the intermediate axioms according to these, is the parent of error and the calamity of every science.| He who would frame a real model of the world in the understanding, such as it is found to be, not such as man's reason has distorted, must pursue the opposite course. Surely it cannot be deemed unreasonable, that this course should be most diligently applied to the study of the intellectual world; especially as it has wrought such wonders in the province of natural knowledge, and that too, after so many ages had, according to the former method, laboured upon it comparatively in vain. Because the human mind has not been able to bridge over the impassable gulf between the ideal and the concrete, so as to effect a passage from the former to the latter, it certainly does not follow, that it should forever despair of so far penetrating the apparent obscurity and confusion of real things, as to see that nothing which God has created is inconsistent with the eternal, immutable glory of the ideal: or, in other words, because the real world and the ideal cannot be shown to be connected by a logical dependency, it does not follow, that the actual creation and providence of God, that all his works and ways cannot be made to appear consistent with the idea of an absolutely perfect being and of the eternal laws according to which his power acts: that is to say, because the high a priori method, which so magisterially proceeds to pronounce what must be, has failed to solve the problem of the moral world, it does not follow, that the inductive method, or that which cautiously begins with an examination of what is, may not finally rise to the sublime contemplation of what ought to be; and, in the light of God's own creation, behold the magnificent model of the actual universe perfectly conformed to the transcendent and unutterable glory of the ideal.

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