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

Chapter III. Scheme Of Necessity Denies The Reality Of Moral Distinctions.

Our voluntary service He requires,
Not our necessitated; such with him
Finds no acceptance, nor can find; for how
Can hearts, not free, be tried whether they serve
Willing or no, who will but what they must
By destiny, and can no other choose? -- MILTON.

In the preceding chapters we have taken it for granted that there is such a thing as moral good and evil, and endeavoured to show, that if the scheme of necessity be true, man is absolved from guilt, and God is the author of sin. But, in point of fact, if the scheme of necessity be true, there is no such thing as moral good or evil in this lower world; all distinction between virtue and vice, moral good and evil, is a mere dream, and we really live in a non-moral world. This has been shown by many of the advocates of necessity.

Section I.

The views of Spinoza in relation to the reality of moral distinctions.

It is shown by Spinoza, that all moral distinctions vanish before the iron scheme of necessity. They are swept away as the dreams of vulgar prejudice by the force of Spinoza's logic; yet little praise is due, we think, on that account, to the superiority of his acumen. The wonder is, not that Spinoza should have drawn such an inference, but that any one should fail to draw it. For if our volitions are necessitated by causes over which we have no control, it seems to follow, as clear as noonday, that they cannot be the objects of praise or blame -- cannot be our virtue or vice. So far is it indeed from requiring any logical acuteness to perceive such an inference, that it demands, as we shall see, the very greatest ingenuity to keep from perceiving it. Hence, in our humble opinion, the praise which has been lavished on the logic of Spinoza is not deserved.

His superior consistency only shows one of two things -- either that he possessed a stronger reasoning faculty than his great master, Descartes, or a weaker moral sense. In our opinion, it shows the latter. If his moral sentiments had been vigorous and active, they would have induced him, no doubt, either to invent sophistical evasions of such an inference, or to reject the doctrine from which it flows. If a Descartes, a Leibnitz, or an Edwards, for example, had seen the consequences of the scheme of necessity as clearly as they were seen by Spinoza, his moral nature would have recoiled from it with such force as to dash the premises to atoms. If any praise, then, be due to Spinoza for such triumphs of the reasoning power, it should be given, not to the superiority of his logic, but to the apathy of his moral sentiments. For our part, greatly as we admire sound reasoning and consistency in speculation, we had rather be guilty of ten thousand acts of logical inconsistency, such as those of Edwards, or Leibnitz, or Descartes, than to be capable of resting in the conclusion to which the logic of Spinoza conducted him -- that every moral distinction is a vulgar prejudice, and that the existence of moral goodness is a dream.(87)

Section II.

The attempt of Edwards to reconcile the scheme of necessity with the reality of moral distinctions.

It would not be difficult to see, perhaps, that a necessary holiness, or a necessary sin, is a contradiction in terms, if we would only allow reason to speak for itself, instead of extorting testimony from it by subjecting it to the torture of a false logic. For what proposition can more clearly carry its own evidence along with it, than that whatever is necessary to us, that whatever we cannot possibly avoid, is neither our virtue nor our fault? What can be more unquestionable, than that we can be neither to praise nor to blame, neither justly rewardable nor punishable for anything over whose existence we have no power or control? Yet this question, apparently so plain and simple in itself, has been enveloped in clouds of metaphysical subtilty, and obscured by huge masses of scholastic jargon. If, on this subject, we have wandered in the dim twilight of uncertain speculation, instead of walking in the clear open day, this has been, it seems to us, because we have neglected the wise admonition of Barrow, that logic, however admirable in its place, was not designed as an instrument |to put out the sight of our eyes.|

It shall be our first object, then, to pull down and destroy |the invented quibbles and sophisms| which have so long darkened and confounded the light of reason and conscience in relation to the nature of moral good and evil, to dispel the clouds which have been so industriously thrown around this subject, in order that the bright and shining light of nature may, free and unobstructed, find its way into our minds and hearts.

We say, then, that there never can be virtue or vice in the breast of a moral agent, prior to his own actings and doings. On the contrary, it is insisted by Edwards, that true virtue or holiness was planted in the bosom of the first man by the act of creation. |In a moral agent,| says he, |subject to moral obligations, it is the same thing to be perfectly innocent, as to be perfectly righteous. It must be the same, because there can no more be any medium between sin and righteousness, or between being right and being wrong, in a moral sense, than there can be a medium between straight and crooked in a natural.|(88) This is applied to the first man as he came from the hand of the Creator, and is designed to show that he was created with true holiness or virtue in his heart. According to this doctrine, man was made upright, not merely in the sense that he was free from the least bias to evil, or that he possessed all the powers requisite to moral agency, but in the sense that true virtue or moral goodness was planted in his nature by the act of creation. If this be so, the doctrine of a necessary holiness must be admitted; for surely nothing can be more necessary to us, nothing can take place in which we have less to do, than the act by which we are created.

This then is the question which we intend to examine: whether that which is concreated with a moral agent, can be his virtue or his vice? Whether, in other words, the dispositions or qualities which Adam derived from the hand of God, partook of the nature of true virtue or otherwise? Edwards assumes the affirmative. To establish his position, he relies upon two arguments, which we shall proceed to examine.

The first argument is designed to show, that unless true virtue, or moral goodness, had been planted in the nature of man by the finger of God, it could never have found its way into the world. To give this argument in his own words, he says: |It is agreeable to the sense of men in all nations and ages, not only that the fruit or effect of a good choice is virtuous, but that the good choice itself, from whence that effect proceeds, is so; yea, also, the antecedent good disposition, temper, or affection of mind, from whence proceeds that good choice, is virtuous. This is the general notion -- not that principles derive their goodness from actions, but that actions derive their goodness from the principles whence they proceed; so that the act of choosing what is good is no further virtuous, than it proceeds from a good principle, or virtuous disposition of mind; which supposes that a virtuous disposition of mind may be before a virtuous act of choice; and that, therefore, it is not necessary there should first be thought, reflection, and choice, before there can be any virtuous disposition. If the choice be first, before the existence of a good disposition of heart, what is the character of that choice? There can, according to our natural notions, be no virtue in a choice which proceeds from no virtuous principle, but from mere self-love, ambition, or some animal appetites; therefore, a virtuous temper of mind may be before a good act of choice, as a tree may be before its fruit, and the fountain before the stream which proceeds from it.|(89) Thus, he argues, if there must be choice before a good disposition, or virtue, according to our doctrine, then virtue could not arise at all, or find its way into the world. For all men concede, says he, that every virtuous choice, or act, must proceed from a virtuous disposition; and if this must also proceed from a virtuous act, it is plain there could be no such thing as virtue or moral goodness at all. The scheme which teaches that the act must precede the principle, and the principle the act, reduces the very existence of virtue to a plain impossibility. He shows virtue to be possible, and escapes the difficulty, by referring it to the creative energy of the Divine Being, by which the principle of virtue, he contends, was planted in the mind of the first man.

This argument is plausible; but it will not bear a close examination. It might be made to give way, in various directions, before an analysis of the principle on which it is constructed; but we intend to demolish it by easier and more striking arguments. If we had nothing better to oppose to it, we might indeed neutralize its effect by a counter-argument of Edwards himself, which we find in his celebrated work on the will. He there says, that the virtuousness of every virtuous act or choice depends upon its own nature, and not upon its origin or cause. If we must refer every virtuous act, says he, to something in us that is virtuous as its antecedent, we must likewise refer that antecedent to some other virtuous origin or cause; and so on ad infinitum. Thus we should be compelled to trace virtue back from step to step, until we had quite driven it out of the world, and excluded it from the universality of things.(90)

Now this argument seems just as plausible as that which we have produced from the same author, in his work on Original Sin. Let us lay them together, and contemplate the joint result. According to one, the character of every virtuous act depends upon the virtuousness of the principle or disposition whence it proceeds; according to the other, it depends upon its own nature, and not at all upon anything in its origin, or cause, or antecedent. According to one, we must trace every virtuous act to a virtuous principle, and the virtuous principle itself to the necessitating act of God; according to the other, we must look no higher to determine the character of an act than its own nature; and if we proceed to its origin or cause to determine its character, we shall find no stopping-place. We shall not trace it up to God, as before, but we shall banish all virtue quite out of the world, and exclude it from the universality of things. According to one argument, there can be no virtue in the world, unless it be caused to exist, in the first place, by the necessitating, creative act of the Almighty; and according to the other, the virtuousness of every virtuous act depends upon its own nature, and is wholly independent of the question respecting its origin or cause. The solution of these inconsistencies and contradictions, we shall leave to the followers and admirers of President Edwards.(91)

But we have something better, we trust, to oppose to President Edwards than his own arguments. If his logic be good for anything, it will prove that God is the author of sin as well as of virtue. For it is as much the common notion of mankind that every sinful act must proceed from a sinful disposition or principle, as it is that every virtuous act must proceed from a virtuous disposition or principle; and hence, according to the logic of Edwards, a sinful disposition or principle must have preceded the first sinful act; that an antecedent sinful disposition or principle could not have been introduced by the act of the creature, and consequently it must have been planted in the bosom of the first man by the act of the Creator. This argument, we say, just as clearly shows that sin is impossible, or that it must have been concreated with man, as it shows the same thing in relation to virtue. If we maintain his argument, then, we must either deny the possibility of moral evil or make God the author of it.

After having laid down principles from which the impossibility of moral evil may be demonstrated, it was too late for Edwards to undertake to account for the origin of sin. According to his philosophy, it can have no existence; and hence we are not to look into that philosophy for any very clear account of how it took its rise in the world. Indeed, this point is hurried over by Edwards in a most hasty and superficial manner, in which he seems conscious of no little embarrassment. In his great work on the will he devotes one page and a half to this subject; and the greater part of this small space is filled up with the retort upon the Arminians, that their scheme is encumbered with as great difficulties as his own! He lets the truth drop in one place, however, that |the abiding principle and habit of sin| was |first introduced by an evil act of the creature.|(92) Is it possible? How could there be an evil act which did not proceed from an antecedent evil principle or disposition? What becomes of the great common notion of mankind, on which his demonstration is erected? But we must allow the author to contradict himself, since he has now come around to the truth, that an evil act of the creature may and must have preceded the existence of moral evil in the world. If an intelligent creature, however, as it came from the hand of God, can introduce a |principle of sin by a sinful act,| why should it be thought impossible for such a creature to introduce a principle of virtue by a virtuous act?

The truth is, that a virtuous act does not require an antecedent virtuous disposition or principle to account for its existence; nor does a vicious act require an antecedent vicious principle to account for its existence. In relation to the rise of good and evil in the world, the philosophy of Edwards is radically defective; and no one can discuss that subject on the principles of his philosophy without finding himself involved in contradictions and absurdities. If his psychology had not been false, he might have seen a clear and steady light where he has only beheld difficulties and confusion. As we have already seen, and as we shall still more fully see, Edwards confounds the power by which we act with the susceptibility through which we feel: the will with the emotive part of our nature. Every one knows that we may feel without acting; and yet feeling and acting, suffering and doing, are expressly and repeatedly identified in his writings. Having merged the will in sensibility, he regarded virtue and vice as phenomena of the latter, and as evolved from its bosom by the operation of necessitating causes. Hence his views in relation to the nature of moral good and evil, as well as in relation to their origin, became unavoidably dark and confused.

If we only bear in mind the distinction between the will and the sensibility, we may easily see how either holiness or sin might have taken its rise in the bosom of the first man, without supposing that either a holy or a sinful principle was planted there by the hand of the Creator. If we will only carry the light of this distinction along with us, it will be no more difficult to account for the rise of the first sin in the bosom of a spotless creature of God, than to account for any other volition of the human mind. The first man, by means of his intelligence, could contemplate the perfection of his Creator, and, doing so, he could not but feel an emotion of admiration and delight. But this feeling was not his virtue. It was the natural and the necessary result of the organization which God had given him. He was also so constituted, that certain earthly objects were agreeable to him, and excited his natural appetites and desires. These appetites and desires were not sinful, nor was the sensibility from whose bosom they were evolved: they were the spontaneous workings of the nature which God had bestowed upon him. But his will was free. He could turn his mind to God, or he could turn it to earth. He did the latter, and there was no harm in this. But he listened to the voice of the tempter; he fixed his mind on the forbidden fruit; he saw it was pleasant to the eye; he imagined it was good for food, and greatly to be desired to make one wise. Neither the possession of the intellect by which he perceived the beauty of the fruit, nor of the sensibility in which it excited so many pleasurable emotions, was the sin of Adam. They were given to him by the Author of every good and perfect gift. His will was free. It was not necessitated to act by his desires. But yet, in direct opposition to the known will of God, he put forth an act of his own free mind, his own unnecessitated will, and plucked the forbidden fruit to gratify his desires. This was his sin -- this voluntary transgression of the known will of God. On the other hand, if he had resisted the temptation, and instead of voluntarily gratifying his appetite and desire, had preserved his allegiance to God by acting in conformity with his will, this would have been his virtue. He would have acted in conformity with the rule of duty, and thereby gratified a feeling of love to God, instead of the lower feelings of his nature.

Thus, by observing the distinction between the will and the sensitive part of our nature, we may easily see how either holiness or sin might have arisen in the bosom of the first man, though he had neither a holy nor a sinful principle planted in his nature by the hand of the Creator. We may easily see that he had all the powers requisite to moral agency, and that he was really capable of either a holy or a sinful act, without any antecedent principle of holiness or sin in his nature.

We have now said enough, we think, to show the fallacy of Edwards's first great argument in favour of a necessary holiness. We have seen, that we need not suppose the existence of a virtuous principle in the first man, in order to account for his first virtuous act, or to render virtue possible. We might point out many other errors and inconsistencies in which that argument is involved; but to avoid, as far as possible, becoming prolix and tiresome, we shall proceed to consider his second argument in favour of a necessary or concreated holiness.

His second argument is this: |Human nature must have been created with some dispositions -- a disposition to relish some things as good and amiable, and to be averse to others as odious and disagreeable; otherwise it must be without any such thing as inclination or will; perfectly indifferent, without preference, without choice, or aversion, towards anything as agreeable or disagreeable. But if it had any concreated dispositions at all, they must be either right or wrong, either agreeable or disagreeable to the nature of things. If man had at first the highest relish of things excellent and beautiful, a disposition to have the quickest and highest delight in those things which were most worthy of it, then his dispositions were morally right and amiable, and never can be excellent in a higher sense. But if he had a disposition to love most those things that were inferior and less worthy, then his dispositions were vicious. And it is evident there can be no medium between these.|

It is thus that Edwards seeks and finds virtue in the emotion, and not in the voluntary element of man's nature. The natural concreated disposition of Adam, he supposes, was morally right in the highest sense of the word, because he was so made as to relish and delight in the glorious perfections of the divine nature. Our first answer to this is, that it is contradicted by the reason and moral judgment of mankind in general, and, in particular, by the reason and moral judgment of Edwards himself.

It is agreeable to the voice of human reason, that nothing can be our virtue, in the true sense of the word, which was planted in us by the act of creation, and in regard to the production of which we possessed no knowledge, exercised no agency, and gave no consent. And if we listen to the language of Edwards, when the peculiarities of his system are out of the question, we shall find that this moral judgment was as agreeable to him as it is to the rest of mankind. For example: human nature is created with a disposition to be grateful for favours; and this disposition, according to Edwards, must either be agreeable or disagreeable to the nature of things, that is, it must be either morally right or wrong in the highest sense of the word. There can be no medium between these two -- it must partake of the nature of virtue or of vice. Now, which of the terms of this alternative does Edwards adopt? Does he pronounce this natural disposition our virtue or our vice? We do not know what Edwards would have said, if this question had been propounded to him in connexion with the argument now under consideration; but we do know what he has said of it in other portions of his works. This natural concreated disposition is, says he, neither our virtue nor our vice! |That ingratitude, or the want of natural affection,| says he, |shows a high degree of depravity, does not prove that all gratitude and natural affection possesses the nature of true virtue or saving grace.|(93) |We see, in innumerable instances, that mere nature is sufficient to excite gratitude in men, or to affect their hearts with thankfulness to others for favours received.|(94) |Gratitude being thus a natural principle, ingratitude is so much the more vile and heinous; because it shows a dreadful prevalence of wickedness, which even overbears and suppresses the better principles of human nature. It is mentioned as a high degree of wickedness in many of the heathen, that they were without natural affection. Rom. ii, 31. But that the want of gratitude, or natural affection, is evidence of a great degree of vice, is no argument that all gratitude and natural affection has the nature of virtue or saving grace.|

Here, as well as in various other places, Edwards speaks of gratitude and other natural affections as the better principles of our nature; to be destitute of which he considers a horrible deformity. But, however amiable and lovely, he denies to these natural affections, or dispositions, the character of virtue; because they are merely natural or concreated dispositions. They are innocent; that is, they are neither our virtue nor our vice, but a medium between moral good and evil. Nothing can be more reasonable than this, and nothing more inconsistent with the logic of the author. Such is the testimony of Edwards himself, when he escapes from the shadows of a dark system, and the trammels of a false logic, and permits his own individual mind, in the clear open light of nature, to work in full unison with the universal mind of man.

According to the author's own definition of |true virtue,| it |is the beauty of those qualities and acts of the mind that are of a moral nature, i. e., such as are attended with desert of praise or blame.| Surely, Adam could have deserved no praise for the qualities bestowed on him by the act of creation; and hence, according to the author's own definition, they could not have been his virtue. In regard to the |new creation| of the soul, Edwards contends that all the praise is due to God, and no part of it to man; because the whole work is performed by divine grace, without human cooeperation. Now, we admit that if the whole work of regeneration is performed by God, then man is not to be praised for it; that is to say, it is not his virtue. Here again the author sets forth the true principle; but how does it agree with his logic in relation to the first man? Was not his creation wholly and exclusively the work of God? If so, then all the praise is due to God, and no part of it to man. But, according to the author's own definition, when there is no praiseworthiness there is no virtue; and hence, as Adam deserved no praise on account of what he received at his creation, so such endowments partook not of the nature of true virtue.

But we have a still more fundamental objection to the argument in question. It proceeds on the supposition that true virtue consists in mere feeling. This view of the nature of virtue is admirably adapted to make it agree and harmonize with the scheme of necessity; but it is not a sound view. If an object is calculated to excite a certain feeling or emotion in the mind, that feeling or emotion will necessarily arise in view of such object. If the glorious perfections of the divine nature, for example, had been presented to the mind of Adam, no doubt he would have been necessarily compelled to |love, relish, and delight in them.| But this feeling of love and delight, thus necessarily evolved out of the bosom of his natural disposition, however exquisite and enrapturing, would not have been his virtue or holiness. It would have been the spontaneous and irresistible development of the nature which God had given him. We may admire it as the most beautiful unfolding of that nature, but we cannot applaud it as the virtue or moral goodness of Adam. We look upon it merely as the excellency and glory of the divine work of creation. We could regard the glory of the heavens, or the beauty of the earth, with a sentiment of moral approbation, as easily as we could ascribe the character of moral goodness to the noble qualities with which the Almighty had been pleased to adorn the nature of the first man.

The beautiful feeling or emotion of love is merely the blossom which precedes the formation of true virtue in the heart. This consists, not in holy feelings, as they are called, but in holy exercises of the will. It is only when the will, in its workings, coalesces with a sense of right and a feeling of love to God, that the blossom gives place to the fruit of virtue. A virtuous act is not a spontaneous and irresistible emotion of the sensibility; it is a voluntary exercise and going forth of the will in obedience to God.

It is a strange error which makes virtue consist in |the spontaneous affections, emotions, and desires that arise in the mind in view of its appropriate objects.| If these necessarily arise in us, |and do not wait for the bidding of the will,|(95) how can they possibly be our virtue? how can they form the objects of moral approbation in us? Yet is it confidently asserted, that the denial of such a doctrine |stands in direct and palpable opposition to the authority of God's word.|(96) The word of God, we admit, says that holiness consists in love; but does it assert that it consists in the feeling of love merely? or in any feeling which spontaneously and irresistibly arises in the mind? If the Scripture had been written expressly to refute such a moral heresy, it could not have been more pointed or explicit.

Holiness consists in love. But what is the meaning of the term love, as set forth in Scripture? We answer, |This is the love of God,| that we |keep his commandments.| |Let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth.| |Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man who built his house upon a rock.| |He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me.| Here, as well as in innumerable other places, are we told that true love is not a mere evanescent feeling of the heart, but an inwrought and abiding habit of the will. It is not a suffering, it is a doing. The most lively emotions, the most ecstatic feelings, if they lead not the will to action, can avail us nothing; for the tree will be judged, not by its blossoms, but by its fruits.

If we see our brother in distress, we cannot but sympathize with him, unless our hearts have been hardened by crime. The feeling of compassion will spontaneously arise in our minds, in view of his distress; but let us not too hastily imagine therefore that we are virtuous, or even humane. We may possess a tender feeling of compassion, and yet the feeling may have no corresponding act. The opening fountain of compassion may be shut up, or turned aside from its natural course, by a wrong habit of the will; and hence, with all our weeping tenderness of feeling, we may be destitute of any true humanity. We may be merely as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. |Whoso hath this world's goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?| It is this loving in work, and not in feeling merely, which the word of God requires of us; and when, at the last day, all nations, and kindreds, and tongues, shall stand before the throne of heaven, we shall be judged, not according to the feelings we have experienced, but according to the deeds done in the body. Hence, the doctrine which makes true virtue or moral goodness consist in the spontaneous and irresistible feelings of the heart, |stands in direct and palpable opposition to the authority of God's word.|

Feeling is one thing; obedience is another. This counterfeit virtue or moral goodness, which begins and terminates in feeling, is far more common than true virtue or holiness. Who can reflect, for instance, on the infinite goodness of God, without an emotion or feeling of love? That man must indeed be uncommonly hard-hearted and sullen, who can walk out on a fine day and behold the wonderful exhibitions of divine goodness on all sides around him, without being warmed into a feeling of admiration and love. When all nature is music to the ear and beauty to the eye, it requires nothing more than a freedom from the darker stains and clouds of guilt within, to lead a sympathizing heart to the sunshine of external nature, as it seems to rejoice in the smile of Infinite Beneficence. The heart may swell with rapture as it looks abroad on a happy universe, replenished with so many evidences of the divine goodness; nay, the story of a Saviour's love, set forth in eloquent and touching language, may draw tears from our eyes, and the soul may rise in gratitude to the Author of such boundless compassion; and yet, after all, we may be mere sentimentalists in religion, whose wills and whose lives are in direct opposition to all laws, both human and divine. Infidelity itself, in such moments of deep but transitory feeling, may exclaim with an emotion known but to few Christian minds, |Socrates died like a philosopher, but Jesus Christ like a God,| and its iron nature still retain |the unconquerable will.|

We may now safely conclude, we think, that the mists raised by the philosophy and logic of Edwards have not been able to obscure the lustre of the simple truth, that true virtue or holiness cannot be produced in us by external necessitating causes. Whatsoever is thus produced in us, we say, cannot be our virtue, nor can we deserve any praise for its existence. This seems to be a clear dictate of the reason of man; and it would so seem, we have no doubt, to all men, but for certain devices which to some have obscured the light of nature. The principal of these devices we shall now proceed to examine.

Section III.

Of the proposition that |The essence of the virtue and vice of dispositions of the heart and acts of the will, lies not in their cause, but in their nature.|(97)

For the sake of greater distinctness, we shall confine our attention to a single branch of this complex proposition; namely, that the essence of virtuous acts of the will lies not in their cause, but their nature. Our reasoning in relation to this point, may be easily applied to the other branches of the proposition.

We admit, then, that the essence of a virtuous act lies in its nature. If this means that the nature of a virtuous act lies in its nature, or its essence lies in its essence, it is certainly true; and even if the author attached different ideas to the terms essence and nature, we do not care to search out his meaning; as we may very safely admit his proposition, whatever may be its signification. We are told by the editor, that the whole proposition is very important on account of |the negative part,| namely, that |the essence of virtue and vice lies not in their cause.| We are also willing to admit, that the essence of everything lies in its own nature, and not in its cause. But why is this proposition brought forward? What purpose is it designed to serve in the philosophy of the author?

This question is easily answered. He contends that true virtue may be, and is, necessitated to exist by powers and causes over which we have no control. If we raise our eyes to such a source of virtue, its intrinsic lustre and beauty seem to fade from our view. The author, indeed, endeavours to explain why it is, that the scheme of necessity seems to be inconsistent with the nature of true virtue. The main reason is, says he, because we imagine that the essence of virtue and vice consists, not in their nature, but in their origin and cause. Hence this persuasion not to busy ourselves about the origin or cause of virtue and vice, but to estimate them according to their nature.

We are fully persuaded. If any can be found who will assert |that the virtuousness of the dispositions or acts of the will, consists not in the nature of these dispositions or acts of the will, but wholly in the origin or cause of them,| we must deliver them up to the tender mercies of President Edwards. Or if any shall talk so absurdly as to say, |that if the dispositions of the mind, or acts of the will, be never so good, yet if the cause of the disposition or act be not our virtue, there is nothing virtuous or praiseworthy in it,| we have not one word to say in his defence; nor shall we ever raise our voice in favour of any one, who shall maintain, that |if the will, in its inclinations or acts, be never so bad, yet, unless it arises from something that is our vice or fault, there is nothing vicious or blameworthy in it.| For we are firmly persuaded, that if the acts of the will be good, then they are good; and if they be bad, then they are bad; whatever may have been their origin or cause. We shall have no dispute about such truisms as these.

We insist, indeed, that the first virtuous act of the first man was so, because it partook of the nature of virtue, and not because it had a virtuous origin or cause in a preceding virtuous disposition of the mind. But, in his work on Original Sin, Edwards contends otherwise. He there contends, that no act of Adam could have been virtuous, unless it had proceeded from a virtuous origin or cause in the disposition of his heart; and that this could have had no existence in the world, unless it had proceeded from the power of the Creator. Thus he looked beyond the nature of the act itself, even to its origin and cause, in order to show upon what its moral nature depended; but now he insists that we should simply look at its own nature, and not to its origin or cause, in order to determine this point. He ascends from acts of the will to their origin or cause, in order to show that virtue can only consist with the scheme of necessity; and yet he denies to us the privilege of ascending with him, in order to show that the nature of virtue cannot at all consist with the scheme of necessity!

We admit that the virtuousness of every virtuous act lies, not in its origin or cause, but in itself. But still we insist that a virtuous act, as well as everything else, may be traced to a false origin or cause that is utterly inconsistent with its very nature. A horse is undoubtedly a horse, come from whence it may; but yet if any one should tell us that horses grow up out of the earth, or drop down out of the clouds, we should certainly understand him to speak of mere phantoms, and no real horses, or we should think him very greatly mistaken. In like manner, when we are told that virtue may be, and is, necessitated to exist in us by causes over which we have no control; that we may be to praise for any gift bestowed upon us by the divine power; we are constrained to believe that he has given a false genealogy of moral goodness, and one that is utterly inconsistent with its nature. Nor can we be made to blink this truth, which so perfectly accords, as we have seen, with the universal sentiment of mankind, by being reminded that moral goodness consists, not in its origin or cause, but in its own nature. Virtue is always virtue, we freely admit, proceed from what quarter of the universe it may; yet do we insist that it can no more be produced in us by an extraneous agency than it can grow up out of the earth, or drop down out of the clouds of heaven. That which is produced in us by such an agency, be it what it may, is not our virtue, nor is any praise therefor due to us. To mistake such effects or passive impressions for virtue, is to mistake phantoms for things, shadows for substances, and dreams for realities.

Section IV.

The scheme of necessity seems to be inconsistent with the reality of moral distinctions, not because we confound natural and moral necessity, but because it is really inconsistent therewith.

Let us then look at this matter, and see if we are really so deplorably blinded by the ambiguity of a word, that we cannot contemplate the glory of the scheme of moral necessity as it is in itself. The distinction between these two things, natural and moral necessity, is certainly a clear and a broad one. Let us see, then, if we may not find our way along the line of this distinction, without that darkness and confusion by which our judgment is supposed to be so sadly misled and perverted.

It is on all sides conceded, that natural necessity is inconsistent with the good or ill desert of human actions. If a man were commanded, for example, to leap over a mountain, or to lift the earth from its centre, he would be justly excusable for the non-performance of such things, because they lie beyond the range of his natural power. |There is here a limit to our power,| as Dr. Chalmers says, |beyond which we cannot do that which we please to do; and there are many thousand such limits.|(98) This is natural necessity, in one of its branches. It circumscribes and binds our natural power. It limits the external sphere beyond which the effects or consequences of our volitions cannot be projected. It reaches not to the interior sphere of the will itself, and has no more to do with its freedom than has the influence of the stars. We may please to do a thing, nay, we may freely will it, and yet a natural necessity may cut off and prevent the external consequence of the act.

Again, if by a superior force, a man's limbs or external bodily organs should be used as instruments of good or evil, without his concurrence or consent, he would be excusable for the consequences of such use. This is the other branch of natural necessity. It is evident that it has no relation to the freedom or to the acts of the will, but only to the external movements of the body. It interferes merely with that external freedom of bodily motion, about which we heard so much in the first chapter of this work, and which the advocates of necessity have, for the most part, so industriously laboured to pass off upon the world for the liberty of the will itself. As this natural necessity, then, trenches not upon the interior sphere of the will, so it merely excuses for the performance or non-performance of external actions. It leaves the great question with respect to man's accountability for the acts of the will itself, from which his external actions proceed, wholly untouched and undetermined.

Far different is the case with respect to moral necessity. This acts directly upon the will itself, and absolutely controls all its movements. Within its own sphere it is conceded to be |as absolute as natural necessity,|(99) and |as sure as fatalism.|(100) It absolutely and unconditionally determines the will at all times, and in all cases. Yet we are told that we are accountable for all the acts thus produced in us, because they are the acts of our own wills! Nothing is done against our wills, as in the case of natural necessity; (they should rather say, against the external effects of our wills;) but our wills always follow, and we are accountable therefor, though they cannot but follow. Moral necessity is not irresistible, because this implies resistance, and our wills never resist that which makes us willing. It is only invincible; and invincible it is indeed, since with the mighty, sovereign power of the Almighty it controls all the thoughts, and feelings, and volitions of the human mind. Now we see this scheme as it is in itself, in all its nakedness, just as it is presented to us by its own most able and enlightened defenders. And seeing it thus removed from all contact with the scheme of natural necessity, we ask, whether agents can be justly held accountable for acts thus determined and controlled by the power of God, or by those invincible causes which his omnipotence marshalleth?

We speak not of external acts; and hence we lay aside the whole scheme of natural necessity. We speak of the acts of the will; and we ask, if these be not free from the dominion of moral necessity, from necessitating causes over which we have no control, can we be accountable for them? Can we be to praise or to blame for them? Can they be our virtue or our vice? These questions, we think, we may safely submit to the impartial decision of every unbiassed mind. And to such minds we shall leave it to determine, whether the scheme of moral necessity has owed its hold upon the reason of man to a dark confusion of words and things, or whether its glory has been obscured by the misconception of its opponents?

In conclusion, we shall simply lay down, in a few brief propositions, what we trust has now been seen in relation to the nature of virtue and vice: -- 1. No necessitated act of the mind can be its virtue or its vice.2. In order that any act of the will should partake of a moral nature, it must be free from the dominion of causes over which it has no control, or from whose influence it cannot depart.3. Virtue and vice lie not in the passive state of the sensibility, nor in any other necessitated states of the mind, but in acts of the will, and in habits formed by a repetition of such free voluntary acts. Whatever else may be said in relation to the nature of virtue and of vice, and to the distinction between them, these things appear to be clearly true; and if so, then the scheme of moral necessity is utterly inconsistent with their existence, and saps the very foundation of all moral distinctions.

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