SermonIndex Audio Sermons
Image Map : Christian Books : Chapter II. The Scheme Of Necessity Makes God The Author Of Sin.

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

Chapter II. The Scheme Of Necessity Makes God The Author Of Sin.

I told ye then he should prevail, and speed
On his bad errand; man should be seduced,
And flatter'd out of all, believing lies
Against his Maker; no decree of mine
Concurring to necessitate his fall,
Or touch'd with slightest moment of impulse
His free-will, to her own inclining left
In even scale. -- MILTON.

The scheme of necessity, as we have already said, presents two phases in relation to the existence of moral evil; one relating to the agency of man, and the other to the agency of God. In the preceding chapter, we examined the attempts of the most learned and skilful advocates of this scheme to reconcile it with the free-agency and accountability of man. We have seen how ineffectual have been all their endeavours to show that their doctrine does not destroy the responsibility of man for his sins.

It is the design of the present chapter to consider the doctrine of necessity under its other aspect, and to demonstrate that it makes God the author of sin. If this can be shown, it may justly lead us to suspect that the scheme contains within its bosom some dark fallacy, which should be dragged from its hiding-place into the open light of day, and exposed to the abhorrence and detestation of mankind.

In discussing this branch of our subject, we shall pursue the course adopted in relation to the first; for if the doctrine of necessity does not make God the author of sin, we may conclude that this has been shown by some one of its most profound and enlightened advocates. If the attempts of a Calvin, and an Edwards, and a Leibnitz, to maintain such a doctrine, and yet vindicate the purity of God may be shown to be signal failures, we may well doubt whether there is a real agreement between these tenets as maintained by them. Nay, if in order to vindicate their system from so great a reproach, they have been compelled to adopt positions which are clearly inconsistent with the divine holiness, and thus to increase rather than to diminish the reproach; surely their system itself should be more than suspected of error. We shall proceed, then, with this view, to examine their speculations in regard to the agency of God in its connexion with the origin and existence of moral evil.

Section I.

The attempts of Calvin and other reformers to show that the system of necessity does not make God the author of sin.

Most of the advocates of divine providence have endeavoured to soften their views, so as to bring them into a conformity with the common sentiments of mankind, by supposing that God merely permits, without producing the sinful volitions of men. But Calvin rejects this distinction with the most positive disdain. |A question of still greater difficulty arises,| says he, |from other passages, where God is said to incline or draw Satan himself and all the reprobate. For the carnal understanding scarcely comprehends how he, acting by their means, and even in operations common to himself and them, is free from any fault, and yet righteously condemns those whose ministry he uses. Hence was invented the distinction between doing and permitting; because to many persons this has appeared an inexplicable difficulty, that Satan and all the impious are subject to the power and government of God, so that he directs their malice to whatever end he pleases, and uses their crimes for the execution of his judgments. The modesty of those who are alarmed by absurdity, might perhaps be excusable, if they did not attempt to vindicate the divine justice from all accusation by a pretence utterly destitute of any foundation in truth.|(59) Here the distinction between God's permitting and doing in relation to the sins of men, is declared by Calvin to be utterly without foundation in truth, and purely chimerical. So, in various other places, he treats this distinction as |too weak to be supported.| |The will of God,| says he, |is the supreme and first cause of things;| and he quotes Augustine with approbation to the effect, that |He does not remain an idle spectator, determining to permit anything; there is an intervention of an actual volition, if I may be allowed the expression, which otherwise could never be considered a cause.|(60) According to Calvin, then, nothing ever happens in the universe, not even the sinful volitions of men, which is not caused by God, even by |the intervention of an actual volition| of the supreme will.

It is evident that Calvin scorns to have any recourse to a permissive will in God, in order to soften down the stupendous difficulties under which his system seems to labour. On the contrary, he sometimes betrays a little impatience with those who had endeavoured to mitigate the more rugged features of what he conceived to be the truth. |The fathers,| says he, |are sometimes too scrupulous on this subject, and afraid of a simple confession of the truth.|(61) He entertains no such fears. He is even bold and rigid enough in his consistency to say, |that God often actuates the reprobate by the interposition of Satan, but in such a manner that Satan himself acts his part by the divine impulse.|(62) And again, he declares that by means of Satan, |God excites the will and strengthens the efforts| of the reprobate.(63) Indeed, his great work, whenever it touches upon this awful subject, renders it perfectly clear that Calvin despises all weak evasions in the advocacy of his stern doctrine.

It has been truly said, that Calvin never thinks of |deducing the fall of man from the abuse of human freedom.| So far is he from this, indeed, that he seems to lose his patience with those who trace the origin of moral evil to such a source. |They say it is nowhere declared in express terms,| says Calvin, |that God decreed Adam should perish by his defection; as though the same God, whom the Scriptures represent as doing whatever he pleases, created the noblest of his creatures without any determinate end. They maintain, that he was possessed of free choice, that he might be the author of his own fate, but that God decreed nothing more than to treat him according to his desert. If so weak a scheme as this be received, what will become of God's omnipotence, by which he governs all things according to his secret counsel, independently of every person or thing besides.|(64) The fall of man, says Calvin, was decreed from all eternity, and it was brought to pass by the omnipotence of God. To suppose that Adam was the author of his own fate and fall, is to deny the omnipotence of God, and to rob him of his sovereignty.

Now, if to say that God created man, and then left his sin to proceed wholly from himself, be to rob God of his omnipotence, and to affirm that he made man for no determinate end, the same consequences would follow from the position that God created Satan, and then left his sin and rebellion to proceed wholly from himself. But, strange as it may seem, the very thing which Calvin so vehemently denies in regard to man, he asserts in relation to Satan; and he even feels called upon to make this assertion in order to vindicate the divine purity against the calumny of being implicated in the sin of Satan! |But since the devil was created by God,| says he, |we must remark, that this wickedness which we attribute to his nature is not from creation, but from corruption. For whatever evil quality he has, he has acquired by his defection and fall. And of this Scripture apprizes us; but, believing him to have come from God, just as he now is, we shall ascribe to God himself that which is in direct opposition to him. For this reason, Christ declares, that Satan, 'when he speaketh a lie, speaketh of his own;' and adds the reason, 'because he abode not in the truth.' When he says that he abode not in the truth, he certainly implied that he had once been in it; and when he calls him the father of a lie, he precludes his imputing to God the depravity of his nature, which originated wholly from himself. Though these things are delivered in a brief and rather obscure manner, yet they are abundantly sufficient to vindicate the majesty of God from every calumny.|(65) Thus, in order to show that God is not the author of sin, Calvin assumes the very positions in regard to the rebellion of Satan which his opponents have always felt constrained to adopt in regard to the transgression of man. What then, on Calvin's own principles, becomes of the omnipotence of God? Does this extend merely to man and not to Satan? Is it not evident that Calvin's scheme in regard to the sin of the first man, is here most emphatically condemned out of his own mouth? Does he not here endorse the very consequence which his adversaries have been accustomed to deduce from his scheme of predestination, namely, that it makes God the author of sin?

This scheme of doctrine, it must be confessed, is not without its difficulties. It clothes man, as he came from the hand of his Maker, with the glorious attributes of freedom; but to what end? Is this attribute employed to account for the introduction of sin into the world? Is it employed to show that man, and not God, is the author of moral evil? It is sad to reflect that it is not. The fall of man is referred to the direct |omnipotence of God.| The feeble creature yields to the decree and power of the Almighty, who, because he does so, kindles into the most fearful wrath and dooms him and all his posterity to temporal, spiritual, and eternal death. Such is the doctrine which is advanced, in order to secure the omnipotence of God, and to exalt his sovereignty. But is it not a great leading feature of deism itself, that it exalts the power of God at the expense of his infinite moral perfections? So we have understood the matter; and hence, it seems to us, that Christian divines should be more guarded in handling the attribute of omnipotence. |The rigid theologians,| says Leibnitz, |have held the greatness of God in higher estimation than his goodness, the latitudinarians have done the contrary; true orthodoxy has these two perfections equally at heart. The error which abases the greatness of God should be called anthropomorphism, and despotism that which divests him of his goodness.|(66)

If Calvin's doctrine be true, God is not the author of sin, inasmuch as he made man pure and upright; but yet, by the same power which created him, has he plunged him into sin and misery. Now, if the creation of man with a sinful nature be inconsistent with the infinite purity of God, will it not be difficult to reconcile with that purity the production of sin in man, after his creation, by an act of the divine omnipotence?

If we ask, How can God be just in causing man to sin, and then punishing him for it? Calvin replies, That all his dealings with us |are guided by equity.|(67) We know, indeed, that all his ways are guided by the most absolute and perfect justice; and this is the very circumstance which creates the difficulty. The more clearly we perceive, and the more vividly we realize, the perfection of the divine equity, the more heavily does the difficulty press upon our minds. This assurance brings us no relief; we still demand, if God be just, as in truth he is, how can he deal with us after such a manner? The answer we obtain is, that God is just. And if this does not satisfy us, we are reminded that |it is impossible ever wholly to prevent the petulance and murmurs of impiety.|(68) We seek for light, and, instead of light, we are turned off with reproaches for the want of piety. We have not that faith, we humbly confess, which |from its exaltation looks down on these mists with contempt;|(69) but we have a reason, it may be |a carnal understanding,| which longs to be enlarged and enlightened by faith. Hence, it cannot but murmur when, instead of being enlarged and enlightened by faith, it is utterly overwhelmed and confounded by it. And these murmurings of reason, which we can no more prevent than we could stop the heavings of the mighty ocean from its depths, are met and sought to be quelled with the rebuke, |Who art thou, O man, that repliest against God?| We reply not against God, but against man's interpretation of God's word; and who art thou, O man, that puttest thyself in the place of God? |Men,| saith Bacon, |are ever ready to usurp the style, 'Non ego, sed Dominus;' and not only so, but to bind it with the thunder and denunciation of curses and anathemas, to the terror of those who have not sufficiently learned out of Solomon, that the 'causeless curse shall not come.' |

In relation to the subject under consideration, the amiable and philosophic mind of Melanchthon seems to have been more consistent, at one time, than that of most of the reformers. |He laid down,| says D'Aubigne, |a sort of fatalism, which might lead his readers to think of God as the author of evil, and which consequently has no foundation in Scripture: 'since whatever happens,' said he, 'happens by necessity, agreeably to divine foreknowledge, it is plain our will hath no liberty whatever.' | It is certainly a very mild expression to say, that the doctrine of Melanchthon might lead his readers to think of God as the author of evil. This is a consequence which the logical mind of Melanchthon did not fail to draw from his own scheme of necessity. In his commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, in the edition of 1525, he asserted |that God wrought all things, evil as well as good; that he was the author of David's adultery, and the treason of Judas, as well as of Paul's conversion.|

This doctrine was maintained by Melanchthon on practical as well as on speculative grounds. It is useful, says he, in its tendency to subdue human arrogance; it represses the wisdom and cunning of human reason. We have generally observed, that whenever a learned divine denounces the arrogancy of reason, and insists on an humble submission to his own doctrines, that he has some absurdity which he wishes us to embrace; he feels a sort of internal consciousness that human reason is arrayed against him, and hence he abuses and vilifies it. But reason is not to be kept in due subordination by any such means. If sovereigns would maintain a legitimate authority over their subjects, they should bind them with wise and wholesome laws, and not with arbitrary and despotic enactments, which are so well calculated to engender hatred and rebellion. In like manner, the best possible way to tame the refractory reason of man, and hold it in subjection, is to bind it with the silken cords of divine truth, and not fetter it with the harsh and galling absurdities of man's invention. Melanchthon himself furnished a striking illustration of the justness of this remark; for although, like other reformers, he taught the doctrine of a divine fatality of all events, in order to humble the pride of the human intellect, his own reason afterward rebelled against it. He not only recanted the monstrous doctrine which made God the author of sin, but he openly combatted it.

In the writings of Beza and Zwingle there are passages, in relation to the origin of evil, more offensive, if possible, than any we have adduced from Calvin and Melanchthon. The mode in which the reformers defended their common doctrine was, with some few exceptions, the same in substance. They have said nothing which can serve to dispel, or even materially lessen, the stupendous cloud of difficulties which their scheme spreads over the moral government of God.

Considering the condition of the Church, the state of human knowledge, and, in short, all the circumstances of the times in which the reformers lived and acted, it is not very surprising that they should have fallen into such errors. The corruptions of human nature, manifesting themselves in the Romish Church, had so extravagantly exalted the powers of man, and especially of the priesthood, and so greatly depressed or obscured the sovereignty of God, that the reformers, in fighting against those abuses, were naturally forced into the opposite extreme. It is not at all wonderful, we say, that a reaction, which shook the very foundations of the earth, should have carried the authors of it beyond the bounds of moderation and truth. They would have been more than human if they had not fallen into some such errors as these which we have ascribed to them. But the great misfortune is, that these errors should have been stereotyped and fixed in the symbolical books of the Protestant Churches, and made to descend from the reformers to their children's children, as though they were of the very essence of the faith once delivered to the saints. This is the misfortune, the lamentable evil, which has furnished the Romish Church with its most powerful weapons of attack;(70) which has fortified the strongholds of atheism and infidelity; and which has, beyond all question, fearfully retarded the great and glorious cause of true religion.

If we would examine the most elaborate efforts to defend these doctrines, or rather the great central dogma of necessity from which they all radiate, we must descend to later times; we must turn our attention to the immortal writings of a Leibnitz and an Edwards.

Section II.

The attempt of Leibnitz to show that the scheme of necessity does not make God the author of sin.

This philosopher employed all the resources of a sublime genius, and all the stores of a vast erudition, in order to maintain the scheme of necessity, and at the same time vindicate the purity of the Divine Being. That subtle and adroit sceptic, M. Bayle, had drawn out all the consequences of the doctrine of necessity in opposition to the free-agency of man, and to the holiness of God. Leibnitz wrote his great |Essais de Theodicee,| for the purpose of refuting these conclusions of Bayle, as well as those of all other sceptics, and of reconciling his system with the divine attributes. In the preface to his work he says, |We show that evil has another source than the will of God; and that we have reason to say of moral evil, that God only permits it, and that he does not will it. But what is more important, we show that God can not only permit sin, but even concur therein, and contribute to it, without prejudice to his holiness; although, absolutely speaking, he might have prevented it.| Such is the task which Leibnitz has undertaken to perform; let us see how he has accomplished it.

|The ancients,| says he, |attributed the cause of evil to matter; but where shall we, who derive all things from God, find the source of evil?|(71) He has more than once answered this question, by saying that the source of evil is to be found in the ideas of the divine mind. |Chrysippus,| says he, |has reason to allege that vice comes from the original constitution of some spirits. It is objected to him that God has formed them; and he can only reply, that the imperfection of matter does not permit him to do better. This reply is good for nothing; for matter itself is indifferent to all forms, and besides God has made it. Evil comes rather from forms themselves, but abstract; that is to say, from ideas that God has not produced by an act of his will, no more than he has produced number and figures; and no more, in one word, than all those possible essences which we regard as eternal and necessary; for they find themselves in the ideal region of possibles; that is to say, in the divine understanding. God is then not the author of those essences, in so far as they are only possibilities; but there is nothing actual, but what he discerned and called into existence; and he has permitted evil, because it is enveloped in the best plan which is found in the region of possibles; that plan the supreme wisdom could not fail to choose. It is this notion which at once satisfies the wisdom, the power, and the goodness of God, and yet leaves room for the entrance of evil.|(72)

In reading the lofty speculations of Leibnitz, we have been often led to wonder how one, whose genius was so great, could have permitted himself to rest in conceptions which appear so vague and indistinct. In the above passage we have both light and obscurity; and we find it difficult to determine which predominates over the other. We are clearly told that God is not the author of evil, because this proceeds from abstract forms which were from all eternity enveloped in his understanding, and not from any operation of his will. But how does evil proceed from abstract forms; from the ideal region of the possible? Leibnitz does not mean that evil proceeds from abstract ideas, before they are embodied in the creation of real moral agents. Why then did God create beings which he knew from all eternity would commit sin? and why, having created them, did he contribute to their sins by a divine concourse? This is coming down from the ideal region of the possible, into the world of real difficulties.

According to the philosophy of Leibnitz, God created every intelligent being in the universe with a perfect knowledge of its whole destiny; and there is, moreover, a concourse of the divine will with all their volitions. Now, here we are in the very midst of the concrete world, and here is a difficulty which cannot be avoided by a flight into the ideal region of the possible. How can there be a concourse of the divine will with the human will in one and the same sinful volition, without a stain upon the immaculate purity of God? How can the Father of Lights, by an operation of his will, contribute to our sinful volitions, without prejudice to his holiness? This is the problem which Leibnitz has promised to solve; and we shall, with all patience, listen to his solution.

The solution of this problem, says he, is effected by means of the |privative nature of evil.| We shall state this part of his system in his own words: |As to the physical concourse,| says he, |it is here that it is necessary to consider that truth which has made so much noise in the schools, since St. Augustine has shown its importance, that evil is a privation, whereas the action of God produces only the positive. This reply passes for a defective one, and even for something chimerical in the minds of many men; but here is an example sufficiently analogous, which may undeceive them.|

|The celebrated Kepler, and after him M. Descartes, have spoken of the natural inertia of bodies, and that we can consider it as a perfect image, and even as a pattern of the original limitation of creatures, in order to make us see that privation is the formal cause of the imperfections and inconveniences which are found in substance as well as in actions. Suppose that the current of a river carries along with it many vessels which have different cargoes, some of wood, and others of stone; some more, and some less. It will happen that the vessels which are more heavily laden will move more slowly than the others, provided there is nothing to aid their progress.... Let us compare the force which the current exercises over the vessels and what it communicates to them, with the action of God, who produces and preserves whatever is positive in the creature, and imparts to them perfection, being, and force; let us compare, I say, the inertia of matter with the natural imperfection of creatures, and the slowness of the more heavily laden vessel with the defect which is found in the qualities and in the actions of the creature, and we shall perceive that there is nothing so just as this comparison. The current is the cause of the movement of the vessel, but not of its retardation; God is the cause of the perfection in the nature and the actions of the creature, but the limitation of the receptivity of the creature is the cause of the defect in its actions. Thus the Platonists, St. Augustine, and the schoolmen, have reason to say that God is the material cause of evil, which consists in what is positive, and not the formal cause of it, which consists in privation, as we can say that the current is the material cause of the retardation, without being its formal cause; that is to say, is the cause of the swiftness of the vessel, without being the cause of the bounds of that swiftness. God is as little the cause of sin, as the current of the river is the cause of the retardation of the vessel.|(73) Or as Leibnitz elsewhere says, God is the author of all that is positive in our volitions, and the pravity of them arises from the necessary imperfection of the creature.

We have many objections to this mode of explaining the origin of moral evil, some few of which we shall proceed to state.1. It is a hopeless attempt to illustrate the processes of the mind by the analogies of matter. All such illustrations are better adapted to darken and confound the subject, than to throw light upon it. If we would know anything about the nature of moral evil, or its origin, we must study the subject in the light of consciousness, and in the light of consciousness alone. Dugald Stewart has conferred on Descartes the proud distinction of having been the first philosopher to teach the true method according to which the science of mind should be studied. |He laid it down as a first principle,| says Stewart, |that nothing comprehensible by the imagination can be at all subservient to the knowledge of mind; and that the sensible images involved in all our common forms of speaking concerning its operations, are to be guarded against with the most anxious care, as tending to confound in our apprehensions, two classes of phenomena, which it is of the last importance to distinguish accurately from each other.|(74) 2. The privative nature of evil, as it is called, is purely a figment of the brain; it is an invention of the schoolmen, which has no corresponding reality in nature. When Adam put forth his hand to pluck the forbidden fruit, and ate it, he committed a sinful act. But why was it sinful? Because he knew it was wrong; because his act was a voluntary and known transgression of the command of God. Now, if God had caused all that was positive in this sinful act, that is, if he had caused Adam to will to put forth his hand and eat the fruit, it is plain that he would have been the cause of his transgression. Nothing can be more chimerical, it seems to us, than this distinction between being the author of the substance of an act, and the author of its pravity. If Adam had obeyed, that is, if he had refused to eat the forbidden fruit, such an act would not have been more positive than the actual series of volitions by which he transgressed.3. If what we call sin, arises from the necessary imperfection of the creature, as the slowness of a vessel in descending a stream arises from its cargo, how can he be to blame for it; or, in other words, how can it be moral evil at all? And, 4. Leibnitz has certainly committed a very great oversight in this attempt to account for the origin of evil. He explains it, by saying that it arises from the necessary imperfection of the creature which limits its receptivity; but does he mean that God cannot communicate holiness to the creature? Does he mean that God endeavours to communicate holiness, and fails in consequence of the necessary imperfection of the creature? If so, what becomes of the doctrine which he everywhere advances, that God can very easily cause virtue or holiness to exist if he should choose to do so? If God can very easily cause this to exist, as Leibnitz contends he can, notwithstanding the necessary imperfection of the creature, why has he not done so? Is it not evident, that the philosophy of Leibnitz merely plays over the surface of this great difficulty, and decks it out with the ornaments of fancy, instead of reaching down to the bottom of it, and casting the illuminations of his genius into its depths?

Section III.

The maxims adopted and employed by Edwards to show that the scheme of necessity does not make God the author of sin.

|This remarkable man,| says Sir James Mackintosh, |the metaphysician of America, was formed among the Calvinists of New-England, when their stern doctrine retained its vigorous authority. His power of subtle argument, perhaps unmatched, certainly unsurpassed among men, was joined, as in some of the ancient mystics, with a character which raised his piety to fervour.| It is in his great work on the will, as well as in some of his miscellaneous observations, that Edwards has put forth the powers of his mind, in order to show that the scheme of necessity does not obscure the lustre of the divine perfections. With the exception of the Essais de Theodicee of Leibnitz, it is perhaps the greatest effort the human mind has ever made to get rid of the seeming antagonism between the scheme of necessity and the holiness of God.

According to the system of Edwards, as well as that of his opponents, sin would not have been committed unless it were permitted by God. But in the scheme of Edwards, the agency of God bears a more intimate relation to the origin and existence of sin than is implied by a bare permission of it. |God,| says he, disposes |the state of events in such a manner, for wise, holy, and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin, if it be permitted or not hindered, will most certainly and infallibly follow.|(75) And this occurrence of sin, in consequence of his disposing and ordering events, enters into his design. For Edwards truly says, that |If God disposes all events, so that the infallible existence of the events is decided by his providence, then, doubtless, he thus orders and decides things knowingly and on design. God does not do what he does, nor order what he orders, accidentally and unawares, either without or beside his intention.| Thus, we are told, that God so arranges and disposes the events of his providence as to bring sin to pass, and that he does so designedly. This broad proposition is laid down, not merely with reference to sin in general, but to certain great sins in particular. |So that,| says Edwards, |what these murderers of Christ did, is spoken of as what God brought to pass or ordered, and that by which he fulfilled his own word.| According to Edwards, then, the events of God's providence are arranged with a view to bring all the sinful deeds of men |certainly and infallibly| to pass, as well as their holy acts.

Now, here the question arises, Is this doctrine consistent with the character of God? Is it not repugnant to his infinite holiness? We affirm that it is; Edwards declares that it is not. Let us see, then, if his position does not involve him in insuperable difficulties, and in irreconcilable contradictions.

Edwards supposes that some one may object: |All that these things amount to is, that God may do evil that good may come; which is justly esteemed immoral and sinful in men, and therefore may be justly esteemed inconsistent with the perfections of God.| This is a fair and honest statement of the objection; now let us hear the reply. |I answer,| says Edwards, |that for God to dispose and permit evil in the manner that has been spoken of, is not to do evil that good may come; for it is not to do evil at all.| It is not to do evil at all, says he, for the Supreme Ruler of the world to arrange events around one of his creatures in such a manner that they will certainly and infallibly induce him to commit sin. Why is not this to do evil? At first view, it certainly looks very much like doing evil; and it is not at once distinguishable from the temptations ascribed to Satanic agency. Why is it not to do evil, then, when it is done by the Almighty? It is not to do evil, says Edwards, because when God brings sin certainly and infallibly to pass, he does so |for wise and holy purposes.| This is his answer: |In order to a thing's being morally evil, there must be one of these two things belonging to it: either it must be a thing unfit and unsuitable in its own nature, or it must have a bad tendency, or it must be done for an evil end. But neither of these things can be attributed to God's ordering and permitting such events as the immoral acts of creatures for good ends.|(76) Let us examine this logic.

We are gravely told, that God designedly brings the sinful acts of men to pass by the use of most certain and infallible means; but this is not to do evil, because he has a good end in view. His intention is right; he brings sin to pass for |wise and holy purposes.| Let us come a little closer to this doctrine, and see what it is. It will not be denied, that if any being should bring sin to pass without any end at all, except to secure its existence, this would be a sinful agency. If any being should, knowingly and designedly, bring sin to pass in another, without any |wise and holy purposes,| all mankind will agree in pronouncing the deed to be morally wrong. But precisely the same deed is not wrong in God, says Edwards, because in his case it proceeds from |a wise and holy purpose,| and he has |a good end in view.| That is to say, the means, in themselves considered, are morally wrong; but being employed for a wise and holy purpose, for the attainment of a good end, they are sanctified! This is precisely the doctrine, that the end sanctifies the means. Is it not wonderful, that any system should be so dark and despotic in its power as to induce the mind of an Edwards, ordinarily so amazing for its acuteness and so exalted in its piety, to vindicate the character of God upon such grounds?

The defence of Edwards is neither more nor less than a play on the term evil. When it is said, that |we may do evil that good may come;| the meaning of the maxim is, that the means in such a case and under such circumstances ceases to be evil. The maxim teaches that |we may do evil,| that it is lawful to do evil, with a view to the grand and glorious end to be attained by it. Or, in other words, that it is right to do what would otherwise be morally evil, in order to accomplish a good end. If Edwards had considered the other form of the same odious maxim, namely, that |the end sanctifies the means,| he would have found it impossible to evade the force of its application to his doctrine. He could not have escaped from the difficulty of his position by a play upon the word evil. He would have seen that he had undertaken to justify the conduct of the Father of Lights, by supposing it to be governed by the most corrupt maxim of the most corrupt system of casuistry the world has ever seen.

What God does, says Edwards, is not evil at all; because his purpose is holy, because his object is good, his intention is right. In like manner, the maxim says, that when the end is good and holy, |it sanctifies the means.| The means may be impure in themselves considered, but they are rendered pure by the cause in which they are employed. This doctrine has been immortalized by Pascal, in his |Provincial Letters;| and we cannot better dismiss the subject than with an extract from the |Provincial Letters.| |I showed you,| says the jesuitical father, |how servants might, with a safe conscience, manage certain troublesome messages; did you not observe that it is simply taking off their intention from the sin itself, and fixing it on the advantage to be gained.|(77) On this principle, stealing, and lying, and murder, may all be vindicated. |Caramuel, our illustrious defender,| says the Jesuit, |in his Fundamental Theology,| ... enters into the examination of many new questions resulting from this principle, (of directing the intention,) as, for example, whether the Jesuits may kill the Jansenists? |Alas, father!| exclaimed Pascal, |this is a most surprising point in theology! I hold the Jansenists already no better than dead men by the doctrine of Father Launy.| |Aha, sir, you are caught; for Caramuel deduces the very opposite conclusion from the same principles.| |How so?| said Pascal. |Observe his words, n.1146 and 1147, p.547 and 548. The Jansenists call the Jesuits Pelagians; may they be killed for so doing? No -- for this plain reason, that the Jansenists are no more able to obscure the glory of our society, than an owl can hide the sun; in fact, they promote it, though certainly against their intention -- occidi non possunt, quia nocere non potuerunt.| |Alas, father,| says Pascal, |and does the existence of the Jansenists depend solely upon their capacity of injuring your reputation? If that be the case, I am afraid they are not in a very good predicament; for if the slightest probability should arise of their doing you any hurt, they may be despatched at once. You can perform the deed logically and in form; for it is only to direct your intention right, and you insure a quiet conscience. What a blessedness for those who can endure injuries to know this charming doctrine! But, on the other hand, how miserable is the condition of the offending party! Really, father, it would be better to have to do with people totally devoid of all religion, than with those who have received instructions so far only as to this point, relative to directing the intention. I am afraid the intention of the murderer is no consolation to the wounded person. He can have no perception of this secret direction -- poor man! he is conscious only of the blow he receives; and I am not certain whether he would not be less indignant to be cruelly massacred by people in a violent transport of rage, than to be devoutly killed for conscience' sake.| Now, we submit it to the candid reader, whether the reasoning here ascribed to the Jesuit by Pascal, is not exactly parallel with that on which Edwards justifies the procedure of the Almighty? If God may choose sin and bring it to pass, without contracting the least impurity, because his intention is directed aright, to a wise and good end, may we not be permitted to imitate his example? And again, if God thus employs the creature as an instrument to accomplish his wise and holy purposes, why should he pour out the vials of his wrath upon him for having yielded to the dispensations of his almighty power? In order to save his doctrine from reproach, Edwards has invented a distinction, which next demands our attention. |There is no inconsistence,| says he, |in supposing that God may hate a thing as it is in itself, and considered simply as evil, and yet that it may be his will it should come to pass, considering all consequences. I believe there is no person of good understanding who will venture to say, he is certain that it is impossible it should be best, taking in the whole compass and extent of existence, and all consequences in the endless series of events, that there should be such a thing as moral evil in the world. And if so, it will certainly follow, that an infinitely wise Being, who always chooses what is best, must choose that there should be such a thing. And if so, then such a choice is not evil, but a wise and holy choice. And if so, then that Providence which is agreeable to such a choice, is a wise and holy Providence. Men do will sin as sin, and so are the authors and actors of it; they love it as sin, and for evil ends and purposes. God does not will sin as sin, or for the sake of anything evil; though it be his pleasure so to order things that, he permitting, sin will come to pass, for the sake of the great good that by his disposal shall be the consequence. His willing to order things so that evil should come to pass for the sake of the contrary good, is no argument that he does not hate evil as evil; and if so, then it is no reason why he may not reasonably forbid evil as evil, and punish it as such.|(78) Here we are plainly told, that although God hates sin as sin, yet, all things considered, he prefers that it should come to pass, and even helps it into existence. But man loves and commits evil as such, and is therefore justly punishable for it.

There are several serious objections to this extraordinary distinction. It is not true that men love and commit sin as sin. Sin is committed, not for its own sake, but for the pleasure which attends it. If sin did not gratify the appetites, or the passions, or the desires of men, it would not be committed at all; there would be no temptation to it, and it would be seen as it is in its own loathsome nature. Indeed, to speak with philosophical accuracy, sin is never a direct object of our affections or choice; we simply desire certain things, as Adam did the forbidden fruit, and we seek our gratification in them contrary to the will of God. This constitutes our sin. The direct object of our choice is, not disobedience, not sin, but the forbidden thing, the prohibited gratification. We do not love and choose the disobedience, but the thing which leads us to disobey. This is so very plain and simple a matter, that we cannot but wonder that honest men should have lost sight of it in a mist of words, and built up their theories in the dark.

Secondly, the above position, into which Edwards has been forced by the exigencies of his doctrine concerning evil, is directly at war with the great fundamental principle on which his whole system rests, namely, that the will is always determined by the greatest apparent good. For how is it possible that men should commit sin as sin, and for its own sake, if they never do anything except what is the most agreeable to them? How is it possible that they pursue moral evil merely as moral evil, and yet pursue it as the greatest apparent good? If it should be said that men love sin merely as sin, and therefore it pleases them to choose it for its own sake, this reply would be without foundation. For, as we have already seen, there is no such principle in human nature as the love of sin as such, or for its own sake; and consequently sin can never delight or please the human mind as it is in itself. And, besides, it is self-contradictory; for the question is, How can a man commit sin for its own sake on account of the pleasure it affords him? It would be an attempt to explain an hypothesis which denies the very fact to be explained by it.

In the third place, if the philosophy of Edwards be true, no good reason can be assigned why men should restrain themselves from the commission of sin: for, all things considered, God prefers the sin which actually exists, and infallibly brings it to pass. He prefers it on account of the great good he intends to educe from it. Why then should we not also prefer its existence? God is sovereign; he will permit no more sin than he can and will render subservient to the highest good of the universe; and so much as is for the highest good he will bring into existence. Why, then, should we give ourselves any concern about the matter? Why should we fear that there may be too much sin in the world, or why should we blame other men for their crimes and offences?

The inference which we have just mentioned as necessarily flowing from the doctrine of Edwards, has actually been drawn by some of the most illustrious advocates of that doctrine. Thus says Hartley, as we have already seen, |since all men do against us is by the appointment of God, it is rebellion against him to be offended with them.| This is so clearly the logical inference from the doctrine in question, that it is truly wonderful how any one can possibly fail to perceive it.

We are told by Leibnitz and Edwards, that we should not presume to act on the principle of permitting sin in others, or of bringing it to pass, on account of the good that we may educe from it; because such an affair is too high for us. But, surely, we need have no weak fears on this ground; for although it may be too high for us, they do not pretend that it is too high for God. He will allow no more sin to make its appearance in the world, say they, than he will cause to redound to the good of the universe. He prefers it for that reason, and why should we not respond, amen! to his preference? Why should we give ourselves any concern about sin? May we not follow our own inclinations, leaving sin to take its course, and rest quietly in Providence? To this question it will be replied, as Calvin and Edwards repeatedly reply, that the revealed, and not the secret, will of God is the rule of our duty. We do not object to this doctrine; we acknowledge its perfect propriety and correctness: but it is no reply to the consequence we have deduced from the philosophy of Edwards. It only shows that his philosophy leads to a conclusion which is in direct opposition to revelation. So far from objecting that any should turn from the philosophy of Edwards to revelation, in order to find reasons why evil should not be committed by us, we sincerely regret that such a departure from a false philosophy, and return to a true religion, is not more permanent and universal.

The doctrine of Edwards on this subject destroys the harmony of the divine attributes. It represents God as having two wills; or, to speak more correctly, it represents him as having published a holy law for the government of his creatures, which he does not, in all cases, wish them to obey. On the contrary, he prefers that some of them should violate his holy law; and not only so, but he adopts certain and infallible means to lead them to violate and trample it under foot. It is admitted by Edwards, that in this sense God really possesses two wills; but he still denies that this shows any inconsistency in the nature of God.

Edwards says, that the will of God does not oppose sin in the same sense in which it prefers sin, and that, therefore, there is no inconsistency in the case. But let us not deceive ourselves by words. Is it true, that sin is opposed by what is called the revealed will of God, by his command; and yet that it is, all things considered, chosen by his secret and working will? He commands one thing, and yet works to bring another to pass! He prohibits all sin, under the awful penalty of eternal death, and yet secretly arranges and plans things in such a manner as to secure the commission of it!

We have already seen one of these defences. God |hates sin as it is in itself;| and hence he prohibits it by his command. |Yet it may be his will it should come to pass, considering all its consequences;| and hence his secret will is bent on bringing it into existence. There is no inconsistency here, says Edwards, because the divine will relates to two different objects; namely, to |sin considered simply as sin,| and to |sin considered in all its consequences.| We do not care whether the two propositions contradict each other or not; it is abundantly evident, as we have seen, that it makes God choose that which he hates, even sin itself, as the means of good. It makes the end sanctify the means, even in the eye of the holy God. This doctrine we utterly reject and infinitely abhor. We had rather have |our sight, hearing, and motive power, and what not besides, disputed, and even torn away from us, than suffer ourselves to be disputed into a belief,| that the holy God can choose moral evil as a means of good. We had rather believe all the fables in the Talmud and the Koran, than that the ever-blessed God should, by his providence and his power, plunge his feeble creatures into sin, and then punish them with everlasting torments for their transgression. We know of nothing in the Pantheism of Spinoza, or in the atheism of Hobbes, more revolting than this hideous dogma.

The great metaphysician of New-England has made a still further attempt to vindicate the dogma in question. |The Arminians,| says he, |ridicule the distinction between the secret and revealed will of God, or, more properly expressed, the distinction between the decree and law of God; because we say he may decree one thing and command another. And so, they argue, we hold a contrariety in God, as if one will of his contradicted another. However, if they will call this a contradiction of wills, we know that there is such a thing; so that it is the greatest absurdity to dispute about it. We and they know it was God's secret will, that Abraham should not sacrifice his son Isaac; but yet his command was, that he should do it.|(79) Such is the instance produced by this acute divine, to show that the secret will of God may prefer the very thing which is condemned by his revealed will or law; and on the strength of it, he is bold to say, |We know it, so that it is the greatest absurdity to dispute about it.|

We have often seen this passage of Scripture produced by infidels, to show that the Old Testament contains unworthy representations of God. If Edwards had undertaken to refute the infidel ground in relation to this passage, he might have done so with very great ease: but then he would at the same time have refuted himself. The Scriptural account of God's commanding Abraham to offer up his son Isaac, was long ago employed by the famous infidel Hobbes to show that there are two wills in God. This argument of Hobbes has been refuted by Leibnitz. |Hobbes contends,| says Leibnitz, |that God wills not always what he commands, as when he commands Abraham to sacrifice his son;| and he replies, that |God, in commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son, willed the obedience, and not the action, which he prevented after having the obedience; for that was not an action which merited in itself to be willed: but such is not the case with those actions which he positively wills, and which are indeed worthy of being the objects of his will; such as piety, charity, and every virtuous action which God commands, and such as the avoidance of sin, more repugnant to the divine perfections than any other thing. It is incomparably better, therefore, to explain the will of God, as we have done it in this work.|(80) It is evident that Leibnitz did not relish the idea of two wills in God; and perhaps few pious minds would do so, if it were presented to them by an atheist. But there was too close an affinity between the philosophy of Leibnitz and that of Hobbes, to permit the former to furnish the most satisfactory refutation of the argument of the latter.

This command to Abraham does not show that there ever was any such contrariety between the revealed and the decretal wills of God, as is contended for by Hobbes and Edwards. God intended, as we are told, to prove the faith of Abraham, in order that it might shine forth and become a bright example to all succeeding ages. For this purpose he commanded him to take his only son, whom he loved, and go into the land of Moriah, and there offer him up as a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains. Abraham obeyed without a murmur. After several days travelling and preparation, Abraham has reached the appointed place, and is ready for the sacrifice. His son Isaac is bound, and laid upon the altar; the father stretches forth his hand to take the knife and slay him. But a voice is heard, saying, |Lay not thine hand on the lad; neither do thou anything unto him.| Now, the conduct of Abraham on this memorable occasion, is one of the most remarkable exhibitions of confidence in the wisdom and goodness of God, which the history of the world has furnished. It deserves to be held up to the admiration of mankind, and to be celebrated in all ages of the world. We sincerely pity the man, who is so taken up with superficial appearances, or who is so destitute of sympathy with the moral greatness and beauty of soul manifested in this simple narrative, that he can approach it in a little, captious, sneering spirit, rather than in an attitude of profound admiration. But our business, at present, is not so much with the laughing sceptic as with the grave divine.

What evidence, then, does this story furnish that the secret will of God had anything to do with the simple but sublime transaction which it records? God commanded Abraham to repair to the land of Moriah with his son Isaac; but are we informed that his secret will was opposed to the patriarch's going thither, or that it opposed any obstacle to his obedience? Are we told that God so arranged the events of his providence as to render the disobedience of Abraham, in any one particular, certain and infallible? We cannot find the shadow of any such information in the sacred story. And is there the least intimation, that when Abraham was commanded to stay the uplifted knife, the secret will of God was in favour of its being plunged into the bosom of his son? Clearly there is not. Where, then, is the discrepancy between the revealed and the secret wills of God in this case, which we are required to see? Where is this discrepancy so plainly manifested, that we absolutely know its existence, so that it is the height of absurdity to dispute against it?

If there is any contrariety at all in this case, it is between the revealed will of God in commanding Abraham to offer up his son, and his subsequently revealed will to desist from the sacrifice. It does not present even a seeming inconsistency between his secret will and his command, but between two portions of his revealed will. This seeming inconsistency between the command of God and his countermand, in relation to the same external action, has been fully removed by Leibnitz; and if it had not been, it is just as incumbent on the abettors of Edwards's scheme to explain it, as it is upon his opponents. If God had commanded Abraham to do a thing, and yet exerted his secret will to make him violate the injunction, this would have been a case in point: but there is no such case to be found in the word of God.

It may not be improper, in this connexion, to quote the following judicious admonition of Howe: |Take heed,| says he, |that we do not oppose the secret and revealed will of God to one another, or allow ourselves so much as to imagine an opposition or contrariety between them. And that ground being once firmly laid and stuck to, as it is impossible that there can be a will against a will in God, or that he can be divided from himself, or against himself, or that he should reveal anything to us as his will that is not his will, (it being a thing inconsistent with his nature, and impossible to him to lie,) that being, I say, firmly laid, (as nothing can be firmer or surer than that,) then measure all your conceptions of the secret will of God by his revealed will, about which you may be sure. But never measure your conceptions of his revealed by his secret will; that is, by what you may imagine concerning that. For you can but imagine while it is secret, and so far as it is unrevealed.|(81)

|It properly belongs,| says Edwards, |to the supreme absolute Governor of the universe, to order all important events within his dominions by wisdom; but the events in the moral world are of the most important kind, such as the moral actions of intelligent creatures, and the consequences. These events will be ordered by something. They will either be disposed by wisdom, or they will be disposed by chance; that is, they will be disposed by blind and undesigning causes, if that were possible, and could be called a disposal. Is it not better that the good and evil which happen in God's world should be ordered, regulated, bounded, and determined by the good pleasure of an infinitely wise being, than to leave these things to fall out by chance, and to be determined by those causes which have no understanding and aim?... It is in its own nature fit, that wisdom, and not chance, should order these things.|(82)

In our opinion, if there be no other alternative, it is better that sin should be left to chance, than ascribed to the high and holy One. But why must sin be ordered and determined by the supreme Ruler of the world, or else be left to chance? Has the great metaphysician forgotten, that there may be such things as men and angels in the universe; or does he mean, with Spinoza, to blot out all created agents, and all subordinate agency, from existence? If not, then certainly God may refuse to be the author of sin, without leaving it to blind chance, which is incapable of such a thing. He may leave it, as we conceive he has done, to the determination of finite created intelligences. If sin is to come into the world, as come it evidently does, it is infinitely better, we say, that it should be left to proceed from the creature, and not be made to emanate from God himself, the fountain of light, and the great object of all adoration. It is infinitely better that the high and holy One should do nothing either by his wisdom or by his decree, by his providence or his power, to help this hideous thing to raise its head amid the inconceivable splendours of his dominion.

Such speculations as those of Edwards and Leibnitz, in our opinion, only reflect dishonour and disgrace upon the cause they are intended to subserve. It is better, ten thousand times better, simply to plant ourselves upon the moral nature of man, and the irreversible dictates of common sense, and annihilate the speculations of the atheist, than to endeavour to parry them off by such invented quibbles and sophisms. They give point, and pungency, and power to the shafts of the sceptic. If we meet him on the common ground of necessity, he will snap all such quibbles like threads of tow, and overwhelm us with the floods of irony and scorn. For, in the memorable words of Sir William Hamilton, |It can easily be proved by those who are able and not afraid to reason, that the doctrine of necessity is subversive of religion, natural and revealed.| To perceive this, it requires neither a Bayle, nor a Hobbes, nor a Hume; it only requires a man who is neither unable nor afraid to reason.

Section IV.

The attempts of Dr. Emmons and Dr. Chalmers to reconcile the scheme of necessity with the purity of God.

As we have dwelt so long on the speculations of President Edwards concerning the objections in question, we need add but a few remarks in relation to the views of the above-mentioned authors on the same subject. The sentiments of Dr. Emmons on the relation between the divine agency and the sinful actions of men, are even more clearly defined and boldly expressed than those of President Edwards. The disciple is more open and decided than the master. |Since mind cannot act,| says he, |any more than matter can move, without a divine agency, it is absurd to suppose that men can be left to the freedom of their own will, to act, or not to act, independently of a divine influence. There must be, therefore, the exercise of a divine agency in every human action, without which it is impossible to conceive that God should govern moral agents, and make mankind act in perfect conformity to his designs.|(83) |He is now exercising his powerful and irresistible agency upon the heart of every one of the human race, and producing either holy or unholy exercises in it.|(84) |It is often thought and said, that nothing more was necessary on God's part, in order to fit Pharaoh for destruction, than barely to leave him to himself. But God knew that no external means and motives would be sufficient of themselves to form his moral character. He determined therefore to operate on his heart itself, and cause him to put forth certain evil exercises in view of certain external motives. When Moses called upon him to let the people go, God stood by him, and moved him to refuse. When the people departed from his kingdom, God stood by him and moved him to pursue after them with increased malice and revenge. And what God did on such particular occasions, he did at all times.|(85) It is useless to multiply extracts to the same effect. Could language be more explicit, or more revolting to the moral sentiments of mankind?

If God is alike the author of all our volitions, sinful as well as holy, one wonders by what sort of legerdemain the authors of the doctrine have contrived to ascribe all the glory and all the praise of our holy actions to God, and at the same time all the shame and condemnation of our evil actions to ourselves. In relation to the holy actions of men, all the praise is due to God, say they, because they were produced by his power. Why is not the moral turpitude of their evil actions, then, also ascribed to God, inasmuch as he is said to produce them by his irresistible and almighty agency? We are accountable for our evil acts, say Dr. Emmons and Calvin, because they are voluntary. Are not our moral acts, our virtuous acts, also voluntary? Certainly they are; this is not denied; and yet we are not allowed to impute the moral quality of the acts to the agent in such cases. This whole school of metaphysicians, indeed, from Calvin down to Emmons, can make God the author of our evil acts, by an exertion of his omnipotence, and yet assert that because they are voluntary we are justly blameworthy and punishable for them; but though our virtuous acts are also voluntary, they still insist the praiseworthiness of them is to be ascribed exclusively to Him by whom they were produced. The plain truth is, that as the scheme originated in a particular set purpose and design, so it is one-sided in its views, arbitrary in its distinctions, and full of self-contradictions.

The simple fact seems to be, that if any effect be produced in our minds by the power of God, it is a passive impression, and is very absurdly called a voluntary state of the will. And even if such an impression could be a voluntary state, or a volition, properly so called, we should not be responsible for it, because it is produced by the omnipotence of God. This, we doubt not, is in perfect accordance with the universal consciousness and voice of mankind, and cannot be resisted by the sophistical evasions of particular men, how great soever may be their genius, or exalted their piety.

We shall, in conclusion, add one more great name to the list of those who, from their zeal for the glory of the divine omnipotence, have really and clearly made God the author of sin. The denial of his scheme of |a rigid and absolute predestination,| as he calls it, Dr. Chalmers deems equivalent to the assertion, that |things grow up from the dark womb of non-entity, which omnipotence did not summon into being, and which omniscience could not foretell.| And again, |At this rate, events would come forth uncaused from the womb of non-entity, to which omnipotence did not give birth, and which omniscience could not foresee.|(86) Now all this is spoken, be it remembered, in relation to the volitions or acts of men. But if there are no such events, except such as omnipotence gives birth to, or summons into being, how clear and how irresistible is the conclusion that God is the author of the sinful acts of the creature? It were better, we say, ten thousand times better, that sin, that monstrous birth of night and darkness, should grow up out of the womb of nonentity, if such were the only alternative, than that it should proceed from the bosom of God.

<<  Contents  >>

Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival.
Affiliate Disclosure | Privacy Policy