Sweet Eden was the arbour of delight;
Yet in his lovely flowers our poison blew:
Sad Gethsemane, the bower of baleful night,
Where Christ a health of poison for us drew;
Yet all our honey in that poison grew:
So we from sweetest flowers could suck our bane,
And Christ, from bitter venom, could again
Extract life out of death, and pleasure out of pain. -- GILES FLETCHER.
If, as we have endeavoured to show, a necessary holiness is a contradiction in terms, then the existence of natural evil may be easily reconciled with the divine goodness, in so far as it may be necessary to punish and prevent moral evil. Indeed, the divine goodness itself demands the punishment of moral evil, in order to restrain its prevalence, and shut out the disorders it tends to introduce into the moral universe. Nor is it any impeachment of the infinite wisdom and goodness of God, if the evils inflicted upon the commission of sin be sufficiently great to answer the purpose for which they are intended -- that is, to stay the frightful progress and ravages of moral evil. Hence it was that the sin of one man brought |death into the world, and all our woe.| Thus the good providence of God, no less than his word, speaks this tremendous lesson to his intelligent creatures: |Behold the awful spectacle of a world lying in ruins, and tremble at the very thought of sin! A thousand deaths are not so terrible as one sin!|
All suffering not a punishment for sin.
We should not conclude from this, however, that all suffering or natural evil bears the characteristic of a punishment for moral evil. This seems to be a great mistake of certain theologians, who pay more attention to the coherency of their system than to the light of nature or of revelation. Thus, says Dr. Dick: |If our antagonists will change the meaning of words, they cannot alter the nature of things. Pain and death are evils, and when inflicted by the hand of a just God, must be punishments: for although the innocent may be harassed and destroyed by the arbitrary exercise of human power, none but the guilty suffer under his administration. To pretend that, although death and other temporal evils have come upon us through the sin of Adam, yet these are not to be regarded as a punishment, is neither more nor less than to say, -- they must not be called a punishment, because this would not agree with our system. If we should concede that they are a punishment, we should be compelled to admit that the sin of the first man is imputed to his posterity, and that he was their federal head. We deny, therefore, that the labours and sorrows of the present life, the loss of such joys as are left to us at its close, and the dreadful agonies and terrors with which death is often attended, have the nature of a penalty. In like manner, a man may call black white, and bitter sweet, because it will serve his purpose; but he would be the veriest simpleton who should believe him.|
Now, we do not deny that the agonies and terrors of death are sometimes a punishment for sin: this is the case in regard to all those who actually commit sin, and sink into the grave amid the horrors of a guilty conscience. But the question is, Do suffering and death never fall upon the innocent under the administration of God? We affirm that they do; and also that they may fall upon the innocent, in perfect accordance with the infinite goodness of God. In the first place, we reply to the confident assertions of Dr. Dick, and of the whole school to which he belongs, as follows: To pretend that death and other temporal evils are always punishments, is neither more nor less than to say, |they must be called punishments, because this would agree with our system. If we should concede that they are not a punishment, we should be compelled to admit that the sin of the first man is not imputed to his posterity, and that he was not their federal head. If our antagonists,| &c. Surely it is not very wise to use language which may be so easily retorted.
Secondly, it is true, the change of a word cannot alter the nature of things; but it may alter, and very materially too, our view of the nature of things. Besides, if to refuse to call suffering in certain cases a punishment, be merely to change a word, why should so great an outcry be made about it? Why may we not use that word which sounds the most pleasantly to the ear, and sits the most easily upon the heart?
Thirdly, we do not arbitrarily and blindly reject the term punishment, |because it does not agree with our system.| We not only reject the term, but also the very idea and the thing for which it stands. We mean to affirm, that the innocent do sometimes suffer under the administration of God; and that all suffering is not a punishment for sin. The very idea of punishment, according to Dr. Dick himself, is, that it is suffering inflicted on account of sin in the person upon whom it is inflicted; and hence, wherever pain or death falls under the administration of God, we must there find, says he, either actual or imputed sin. Now, in regard to certain cases, we deny both the name and the thing. And we make this denial, as it will be seen, not because it agrees with our system merely, but because it agrees with the universal voice and reason of mankind, except where that voice has been silenced, and that reason perverted, by dark and blindly-dogmatizing schemes of theology.
Fourthly, there is a vast difference, in reality, between regarding some sufferings as mere calamities, and all suffering as punishment. If we regard all suffering as punishment, then we need look no higher and no further in order to vindicate the character of God in the infliction of them. For, according to this view, they are the infliction of his retributive justice, merited by the person upon whom they fall, and adapted to prevent sin; and consequently here our inquiries may terminate; just as when we see the criminal receive the penalty due to his crimes. On the other hand, if we may not view all suffering as punishment, then must we seek for other grounds and principles on which to vindicate the goodness of God; then must we look for other ends, or final causes, of suffering under the wise economy of divine providence. And this search, as we shall see, will lead us to behold the moral government of the world, not as it is darkly distorted in certain systems of theology, but as it is in itself, replete with light and ineffable beauty.
But before we undertake to show this by direct arguments, let us pause and consider the predicament to which the greatest divines have reduced themselves, by their advocacy of such an imputation of the sin of one man. Dr. Dick affirms, as we have seen, that every evil brought upon man under the good providence of God, must be a punishment for sin; and hence, as infants do not actually sin, they are exposed to divine wrath on account of the sin of Adam, which is imputed to them. But is not this imputation, which draws after itself pain and death, also an evil? How has it happened, then, that in the good providence of God, this tremendous evil, this frightful source of so many evils, has been permitted to fall on the infant world? Must there not be some other sin imputed to justify the infliction of such an evil, and so on ad infinitum? Will Dr. Dick carry out his principle to this consequence? Will he require, as in consistency he is bound to require, that the tremendous evil of the imputation of sin shall not fall upon any part of God's creation, except as a punishment for some antecedent guilt? No, indeed: at the very second step his great principle, so confidently and so dogmatically asserted, completely breaks down under him. The imposition of this evil is justified, not by any antecedent guilt, but by the divine constitution, according to which Adam is the federal head and representative of the human race. Thus, after all, Dr. Dick has found some principle or ground on which to justify the infliction of evil, beside the principle of guilt or ill-desert. Might there not possibly be, then, such a divine constitution of things, as to bring suffering upon the offspring of Adam in consequence of his sin, without resorting to the dark and enigmatical fiction of the imputation of his transgression? If there be a divine constitution, as Dr. Dick contends there is, which justifies the imputation of moral evil, with all its frightful consequences, both temporal and eternal death, may it not be possible, in the nature of things, to suppose a divine constitution to justify suffering without the imputation of sin? How can the one of these things be so utterly repugnant to the divine character, and the other so perfectly agreeable to it? Until this question be answered, we may suspect the author himself of having assumed positions and made confident assertions, |because they agree with his system.|
|We say, then,| says Dr. Dick, |that by his sin his posterity became liable to the punishment denounced against himself. They became guilty through his guilt, which is imputed to them, or placed to their account; so that they are treated as if they had personally broken the covenant.| Thus all the posterity of Adam, not excepting infants, became justly obnoxious to the |penalty of the covenant of works, -- death, temporal, spiritual, and eternal.| Now, we would suppose that this scheme of imputation is attended with at least as great a difficulty as the doctrine that the innocent do sometimes suffer under the good providence of God. Indeed, the author does not deny that it is attended with difficulties, which have never been answered. In regard to the imputation of sin, he says: |Candour requires me to add, that we are not competent fully to assign the reasons of this dispensation. After the most mature consideration of the subject, it appears mysterious that God should have placed our first parent in such circumstances, that while he might insure, he might forfeit, his own happiness and that of millions of beings who were to spring from his loins. We cannot tell why he adopted this plan with us and not with angels, each of whom was left to stand or fall for himself.|(167) Now, when it is affirmed that the innocent may suffer for wise and good purposes, why is all this candour and modesty forgotten? Why is it not admitted, |It may be so;| |We cannot tell?| Why is the fact, of which these writers so often and so eloquently remind us, that the human intellect is a poor, blind, weak thing, quite unfit to pry into mysteries, then sunk in utter oblivion, and a tone of confident dogmatism assumed? Why not act consistently with the character of the sceptic or the dogmatist, and not put on the one or the other by turns, according to the exigencies of a system?
If we ask, why infants are exposed to death, we are told, that it is a punishment for Adam's sin imputed to them. We are told that this must be so; since |none but the guilty ever suffer under the administration of God,| who is not an arbitrary and cruel tyrant to cause the innocent to suffer. Why then, we ask, does he impute sin to them? To this it is replied, |We cannot tell.| No wonder; for if there must always be antecedent guilt to justify God in imposing evil upon his subjects, then there can be no reason for such a dispensation for imposing the tremendous evil of the imputation of sin. The advocates of it themselves have laid down a principle, which shows it to be without a reason. Hence they may well say, |We cannot tell.| Thus suffering is justified by the imputation of guilt; the imputation of guilt by the divine constitution; and the divine constitution, by nothing! If this is all that can be done, would it not have been just as well to have begun, as well as ended, in the divine constitution of things? But, no! even the most humble of men must have some explanation, some little mitigation of their difficulties, if it be only to place the world upon the back of an elephant, the elephant upon the back of a tortoise, and the tortoise upon nothing.
It seems to be inconceivably horrible to Dr. Dick, and others of his school, that the innocent should ever be made to suffer under the providence of God; but yet they earnestly insist that the same good providence plunges the whole human race -- infants and all -- into unavoidable guilt, and then punishes them for it! To say that the innocent may be made to suffer is monstrous injustice -- is horrible; but to say that they are made sinners, and then punished, is all right and proper! To say that the innocent can suffer under the administration of God, is to shock our sense of justice, and put out the light of the divine goodness; but it is all well if we only say that the punishment due to Adam's sin is made, by the same good administration, to fall upon all his posterity in the form of moral evil, and that then they are justly punished for this punishment! Alas, that the minds of the great and the good, born to reflect the light of the glorious gospel of God upon a darkened world, should be so sadly warped, so awfully distorted, by the inexorable necessities of a despotic system!
The imputation of sin not consistent with the goodness of God.
This point has been already indirectly considered, but it is worthy of a more direct and complete examination. It is very remarkable that although Dr. Dick admits he cannot reconcile the scheme of imputation with the character of God, or remove its seeming hardships, not to say cruelty, he yet positively affirms that |it is a proof of the goodness of God.|(168) Surely, if the covenant of works, involving the imputation of sin, as explained by Dr. Dick, be a |proof of the divine goodness,| it cannot but appear to be too severe. But as this point, on which he scarcely dwells at all, is more elaborately and fully discussed by President Edwards, we shall direct our attention to him.
|It is objected,| says Edwards, |that appointing Adam to stand in this great affair as the moral head of his posterity, and so treating them as one with him, is injurious to them.| |To which,| says he, |I answer, it is demonstrably otherwise; that such a constitution was so far from being injurious to Adam's posterity any more than if every one had been appointed to stand for himself personally, that it was, in itself considered, attended with a more eligible probability of a happy issue than the latter would have been; and so is a constitution that truly expresses the goodness of its Author.| Now, let us see how this is demonstrated.
|There is a greater tendency to a happy issue in such an appointment,| says he, |than if every one had been appointed to stand for himself; especially on these accounts: (1.) That Adam had stronger motives to watchfulness than his posterity would have had; in that, not only his own eternal welfare lay at stake, but also that of all his posterity. (2.) Adam was in a state of complete manhood when his trial began.|(169) In the first place, then, the constitution for which Edwards contends is |an expression of the divine goodness,| because it presented stronger motives to obedience than if it had merely suspended the eternal destiny of Adam alone upon his conduct. The eternal welfare of his posterity was staked upon his obedience; and, having this stupendous motive before him, he would be more likely to preserve his allegiance than if the motive had been less powerful. The magnitude of the motive, says Edwards, is the grand circumstance which evinces the goodness of God in the appointment of such a constitution. If this be true, it is very easy to see how the Almighty might have made a vast improvement in his own constitution for the government of the world. He might have made the motive still stronger, and thereby made the appointment or covenant still better: instead of suspending merely the eternal destiny of the human race upon the conduct of Adam, he might have staked the eternal fate of the universe upon it. According to the argument of Edwards, what a vast, what a wonderful improvement would this have been in the divine constitution for the government of the world, and how much more conspicuously would it have displayed the goodness of its Divine Author!
Again, the scheme of Edwards is condemned out of his own mouth. If this scheme be better than another, because its motives are stronger, why did not God render it still more worthy of his goodness, by rendering its motives still more powerful and efficacious? Edwards admits, nay, he insists, that God might easily have rendered the motives of his moral government perfectly efficacious and successful. He repeatedly declares that God could have prevented all sin, |by giving such influences of his Spirit as would have been absolutely effectual to hinder it.| If the goodness of a constitution, then, is to be determined by the strength of its motives, as the argument of Edwards supposes, then we are bound, according to his principles, to pronounce that for which he contends unworthy of the goodness of God, as being radically unsound and defective. This is emphatically the case, as the Governor of the world might have strengthened the motives to obedience indefinitely, not by augmenting the danger, but by increasing the security of his subjects; that is to say, not by making the penalty more terrific, but by giving a greater disposition to obedience.
The same thing may be clearly seen from another point of view. Let us suppose, for instance, that God had established the constitution or covenant, that if Adam had persevered in obedience, then all his posterity should be confirmed in holiness and happiness; and that if he fell, he should fall for himself alone. Would not such an appointment, we ask, have been more likely to have been attended with a happy issue than that for which Edwards contends? Let us suppose again, that after such a constitution had been established, its Divine Author had really secured the obedience of Adam; would not this have made a |happy issue| perfectly certain? Why then was not such a constitution established? It would most assuredly have been an infinitely clearer and more beautiful expression of the divine goodness than that of Edwards. Hence, the philosophy of Edwards easily furnishes an unspeakably better constitution for the government of the world, than that which has been established by the wisdom of God! Is it not evident, that the advocates of such a scheme should never venture before the tribunal of reason at all? Is it not evident, that their only safe policy is to insist, as they sometimes do, that we do not know what is consistent, or inconsistent, with the attributes of God, in his arrangements for the government of the world? Is it not evident, that their truest wisdom is to be found in habitually dwelling on the littleness, weakness, misery, and darkness of the human mind, and in rebuking its arrogance for presuming to pry into the mysteries of their system?
The vindication of the divine goodness by Edwards, is, we think it must be conceded, exceedingly weak. All it amounts to is this, -- that this scheme is an expression of the goodness of God, because, in certain respects, it is better than a scheme which might have been established. So far from showing it to be the best possible scheme, his philosophy shows it might be greatly improved in the very respects in which its excellency is supposed to consist. In other words, he contends that God has displayed his goodness in the appointment of such a constitution, on the ground that he might have made a worse; though, according to his own principles, it is perfectly evident that he might have made a better! Is this to express, or to deny, the absolute, infinite goodness of God? Is it to manifest the glory of that goodness to the eye of man, or to shroud it in clouds and darkness?
Edwards also says, that |the goodness of God in such a constitution with Adam appears in this: that if there had been no sovereign, gracious establishment at all, but God had proceeded on the basis of mere justice, and had gone no farther than this required, he might have demanded of Adam and all his posterity, that they should have performed perfect, perpetual obedience.| The italics are all his own. On this passage, we have to remark, that it is built upon unfounded assumptions. It is frequently said, we are aware, that if it had not been for the redemption of the world by a |sovereign, gracious| dispensation, the whole race of man might have been justly exposed to the torments of hell forever. But where is the proof? Is it found in the word of God? This tells us what is, what has been, and what will be; but it is not given to speculate upon what might be. For aught we know, if there had been no salvation through Christ, as a part of the actual constitution and system of the world, then there would have been no other part of that system whatever. We are not told, and we do not know, what it would have been consistent with the justice of God to do in relation to the world, if there had been no remedy provided for its restoration. Perhaps it might never have been created at all. The work of Christ is the great sun and centre of the system as it is; and if this had never been a part of the original grand design, we do not know that the planets would have been created to wander in eternal darkness. We do not know that even the justice of God would have created man, and permitted him to fall, wandering everlastingly amid the horrors of death, without hope and without remedy. We find nothing of the kind in the word of God; and in our nature it meets with no response, except a wail of unutterable horror. We like not, we confess, those vindications of God's goodness, which consist in drawing hideous, black pictures of his justice, and then telling us that it is not so dark as these. We want not to know whether there might not be darker things in the universe than God's love; we only want to know if there could be anything brighter, or better, or more beautiful.
The most astounding feature of this vindication of the divine goodness still remains to be noticed. We are told that the constitution in question is good, because it was so likely to have had a |happy issue.| And when this constitution was established by the sovereign will and pleasure of God, the conduct of Adam, it is conceded, was perfectly foreseen by him. At the very time this constitution was established, its Divine Author foresaw with perfect absolute certainty what would be the issue. He knew that the great federal head, so appointed by him, would transgress the covenant, and bring down the curse of |death, temporal, spiritual, and eternal,| upon all his posterity. O, wonderful goodness! to promise eternal life to the human race on a condition which he certainly foreknew would not be performed! Amazing grace! to threaten eternal death to all mankind, on a condition which he certainly foreknew would be fulfilled!
This cannot be evaded, by asserting that the same difficulty attaches to the fact, that God created Adam foreseeing he would fall. His foreknowledge did not necessitate the fall of Adam. It left him free as God had created him. Life and death were set before him, and he had the power to stand, as well as the power to fall. He had no right to complain of God, then, if, under such circumstances, he chose to rebel, and incur the penalty. But if the scheme of Edwards be true, the descendants of Adam did not have their fate in their own hands. It did not depend on their own choice. It was necessitated, even prior to their existence, by the divine constitution which had indissolubly connected their awful destiny, their temporal and eternal ruin, with an event already foreseen. And the constitution binding such awful consequences to an event already foreseen, is called an expression of the goodness of God!
Suppose, for example, that a great prince should promise his subjects that on the happening of a certain event, over which they had no control, he would confer unspeakable favours upon them. Suppose also, that at the same time he should declare to them, that if the event should not happen, he would load them with irons, cast them into prison, and inflict the greatest imaginable punishments upon them during the remainder of their lives. Suppose again, that at the very time he thus made known his gracious intentions to them, he knew perfectly well that the event on which his favour was suspended would not happen. Then, according to his certain foreknowledge, the event fails, and the penalty of the covenant or appointment is inflicted upon his subjects: -- they are cast into prison; they are bound in chains, and perpetually tormented with the greatest of all imaginable evils: -- not because they had transgressed the appointment or sovereign constitution, but because an event had taken place over which they had no control. Now, who would call such a ruler a good prince? Who could conceive, indeed, of a more cruel or deceitful tyrant? But we submit it to the candid reader, if he be not more like the prince of predestination, than the great God of heaven and earth?
This scheme of imputation, so far from being an expression of infinite goodness, were indeed an exhibition of the most frightful cruelty and injustice. It would be a useful, as well as a most curious inquiry, to examine the various contrivances of ingenious men, in order to bring the doctrine of imputation into harmony with the justice of God. We shall briefly allude to only two of these wonderful inventions, -- those of Augustine and Edwards. Neither of these celebrated divines supposed that a foreign sin, properly so called, is ever imputed to any one; but that the sin of Adam, which is imputed to his descendants, is their own sin, as well as his.(170) But here the question arises, How could they make Adam's sin to be the sin of his descendants, many of whom were born thousands of years after it was committed?
Augustine, as is well known, maintained the startling paradox, that all mankind were present in Adam, and sinned in him. In this way, he supposed that all men became partakers in the guilt of Adam's sin, and consequently justly liable to the penalty due to his transgression. Augustine was quite too good a logician not to perceive, that if all men are responsible for Adam's sin, because they were in him when he transgressed, then, it follows, that we are also responsible for the sins of all our ancestors, from whom we are more immediately descended. This follows from that maxim of jurisprudence, from that dictate of common-sense, that a rule of law is coextensive with the reason upon which it is based. Hence, as Wiggers remarks: |Augustine thought it not improbable that the sins of ancestors universally are imputed to their descendants.|(171) This conclusion is clearly set forth in the extracts made by the translator of Wiggers.(172) If this scheme be true, we know indeed that we are all guilty of Adam's sin; but who, or how many of the human race, were the perpetrators of Cain's murder beside himself, we cannot determine. Indeed, if this frightful hypothesis be well founded, if it form a part of the moral constitution of the world, no man can possibly tell how many thefts, murders, or treasons, he may have committed in his ancestors. One thing is certain, however, and that is, that the man who is born later in the course of time, will have the more sins to answer for, and the more fearful will be the accumulation of his guilt; as all the transgressions of all his ancestors, from Adam down to his immediate parents, will be laid upon his head.
Clearly as this consequence is involved in the fundamental principle of Augustine's theory, the good father could not but reel and stagger under it. |Respecting the sins of the other parents,| says he, |the progenitors from Adam down to one's own immediate father, it may not improperly be debated, whether the child is implicated in the evil acts and multiplied original faults of all, so that each one is the worse in proportion as he is later; or that, in respect to the sins of their parents, God threatens posterity to the third and fourth generation, because, by the moderation of his compassion, he does not further extend his anger in respect to the faults of progenitors, lest those on whom the grace of regeneration is not conferred, should be pressed with too heavy a burden in their own eternal damnation, if they were compelled to contract by way of origin (originaliter) the sins of all their preceding parents from the commencement of the human race, and to suffer the punishment due to them.(173) Whether, on so great a subject, anything else can or cannot be found, by a more diligent reading and scrutiny of the Scriptures, I dare not hastily affirm.|(174)
Thus does the sturdy logician, notwithstanding his almost indomitable hardihood, seem to stand appalled before the consequences to which his principles would inevitably conduct him. Having followed those principles but a little way, the scene becomes so dark with his representations of the divine justice, that he feels constrained to retrace his steps, and arbitrarily introduce the divine mercy, in order to mitigate the indescribable horrors which continually thicken around him. Such hesitation, such wavering and inconsistency, is the natural result of every scheme which places the decisions of the head in violent conflict with the indestructible feelings of the heart.
In his attempt to reconcile the scheme of imputation with the justice of God, Edwards has met with as little success as Augustine. For this purpose, he supposed that God had constituted an identity between Adam and all his posterity, whereby the latter became partakers of his rebellion. |I think it would go far toward directing us to the more clear conception and right statement of this affair,| says he, in reference to imputation, |were we steadily to bear this in mind, that God, in every step of his proceedings with Adam, in relation to the covenant or constitution established with him, looked on his posterity as being one with him. And though he dealt more immediately with Adam, it yet was as the head of the whole body, and the root of the whole tree; and in his proceedings with him, he dealt with all the branches as if they had been then existing in their root. From which it will follow, that both guilt, or exposedness to punishment, and also depravity of heart, came upon Adam's posterity just as they came upon him, as much as if he and they had all coexisted, like a tree with many branches; allowing only for the difference necessarily resulting from the place Adam stood in as head or root of the whole. Otherwise, it is as if, in every step of proceeding, every alteration in the root had been attended at the same instant with the same alteration throughout the whole tree, in each individual branch. I think this will naturally follow on the supposition of their being a constituted oneness or identity of Adam and his posterity in this affair.|(175) As the sap of a tree, Edwards has said, spreads from the root of a tree to all its branches, so the original sin of Adam descends from him through the generations of men.
In the serious promulgation of such sentiments, it is only forgotten that sin is not the sap of a tree, and that the whole human race is not really one and the same person. Such an idea of personal identity is as utterly unintelligible as the nature of the sin and the responsibility with which it is so intimately associated. Surely these are the dark dreams of men, not the bright and shining lights of eternal truth.
Before we take leave of President Edwards, we would remark, that he proceeds on the same supposition with Calvin,(176) Bates,(177) Dwight,(178) Dick, and a host of others, that suffering is always a punishment of sin, and of |sin in them who suffer.|(179) |The light of nature,| says Edwards, |or tradition from ancient revelation, led the heathen to conceive of death as in a peculiar manner an evidence of divine vengeance. Thus we have an account, that when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on Paul's hand, they said among themselves, 'No doubt, this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the seas, yet vengeance suffereth not to live.' |(180) We think that the barbarians concluded rashly: it is certain that St. Paul was neither a murderer nor a god. Nor, indeed, if the venomous beast had taken his life, would this have proved him to be a murderer, any more than its falling off into the fire proved him to be a god, according to the rash judgment of the barbarians. There is a better source of philosophy, if we mistake not, than the rash, hasty, foolish judgments of barbarians.
The imputation of sin not consistent with human, much less with the divine goodness.
There are few persons whose feelings will allow them to be consistent advocates of the doctrine of the imputation of Adam's sin. |To many other divines,| says Bishop Burnet, |this seems a harsh and inconceivable opinion: it seems repugnant to the justice and goodness of God to reckon men guilty of sin which they never committed, and to punish them in their souls eternally for that which is no act of theirs.|(181) It certainly |seems very hard,| as the author says, |to apprehend how persons who have never sinned, but are only unhappily descended, should be, in consequence of that, under so great a misery.| But how to escape the pressure of this stupendous difficulty is the question. There are many who cannot endure it; or rather, there are very few who can endure it; but, as Bishop Burnet says, they find no difficulty in the idea of temporal punishment on account of Adam's sin. |This, they think, is easily enough reconcilable with the notions of justice and goodness, since this is only a temporary punishment relating to men's persons.|(182) But do they not sacrifice their logic to their feelings? Let us see.
This view of a limited imputation, and a limited punishment, is not confined to the Church of England. It prevails to a greater or less extent in all denominations. But President Edwards has, we think, unanswerably exposed the inconsistency of its advocates. |One of them supposes,| says he, |that this sin, though truly imputed to INFANTS, so that thereby they are exposed to a proper punishment, yet is not imputed to them in such a degree, as that upon this account they should be liable to eternal punishment, as Adam himself was, but only to temporal death, or annihilation; Adam himself, the immediate actor, being made infinitely more guilty of it than his posterity. On which I would observe, that to suppose God imputes, not all the guilt of Adam, but only some little part of it, relieves nothing but his imagination. To think of poor little infants bearing such torments for Adam's sin, as they sometimes do in this world, and these torments ending in death and annihilation, may sit easier on the imagination, than to conceive of their suffering eternal misery for it; but it does not at all relieve one's reason. There is no rule of reason that can be supposed to lie against imputing a sin in the whole of it, which was committed by one, to another who did not personally commit it, but will also lie against its being so imputed and punished in part; for all the reasons (if there be any) lie against the imputation, not the quality or degree of what is imputed. If there be any rule of reason that is strong and good, lying against a proper derivation or communication of guilt from one that acted to another that did not act, then it lies against all that is of that nature.... If these reasons are good, all the difference is this: that to bring a great punishment on infants for Adam's sin, is a great act of injustice, and to bring a comparatively smaller punishment is a smaller act of injustice; but not, that this is not as truly and demonstrably an act of injustice as the other.|(183)
We hold this to be a solid and unanswerable argument; and we hold also, that God can no more commit a small act of injustice than a great one. Hence, in the eye of reason, there is no medium between rejecting the whole of the imputation of Adam's sin, and ceasing to object against the imputation of the whole of it, as inconsistent with the justice and goodness of God. We may arbitrarily wipe out a portion of it in order to relieve our imagination; but this brings no relief to the calm and passionless reason. It may still the wild tumults of emotion, but it cannot silence the voice of the intellect. Why not relieve both the imagination and the reason? Why not wipe out the whole dark film of imputation, and permit the glad eye to open on the bright glory of God's infinite goodness?
The wonder is, that when Edwards had carried out his logic to such a conclusion, he did not regard his argument as a perfect reductio ad absurdum. The wonder is, that when he had carried out his logic to the position, that it might well consist with the justice of God to impute the whole of Adam's sin to |poor little infants,| as he calls them, and then cause them to endure |eternal torments for it,| his whole nature did not recoil from such a conclusion with indescribable horror. For our part, highly as we value logical consistency, we should prefer a little incoherency in our reasoning, a little flexibility in our logic, rather than bear even one |poor little infant| on the hard, unyielding point of it into the torments of hell forever.
St. Augustine was the great founder of the doctrine of the imputation of sin. But although he did more than any other person to give this doctrine a hold upon the mind of the Christian world, it never had a perfect hold upon his own mind. So far from being able to reconcile it with the divine goodness, he could not reconcile it with his own goodness. For this purpose, he employed the theory that all the posterity of Adam were, in the most literal sense, already in him, and sinned in him -- in his person; and that Adam's sin is therefore justly imputed to all his posterity.(184) He also appeals to revelation. |St. Augustine,| as Father Almeyda truly says, |and the fathers who follow him, take the fundamental principle of their doctrine (which affirms that infants without baptism will endure eternal pain) from the sentence which the Supreme Judge is to pronounce at the last day. We know that the Lord, dividing the human race into two portions, will put the elect on the right hand, and the reprobate on the left; and he will say to those on the left, Depart into eternal fire. St. Augustine then argues, that infants will not be on the right, because Jesus Christ has positively excluded all those who shall not be born again of water and of the Holy Spirit: then they will be on the left; and thus they will be comprehended in the damnation of eternal fire, which the Lord will pronounce against those who shall be on the left side: for having no more than two hands, and only two places and two sentences, since, then, there are infants which God does not favour, it follows that they will be comprehended in the sentence of the reprobate, which is not only a privation of the sight of God, but also the pain of fire.|(185) Such is the ground, and such the logic, on which St. Augustine and his followers erected that portentous scheme, that awful speculation, which has so long cast a dark cloud over the glory of the Christian world, and prevented it from reflecting the bright, cheering beams of the divine goodness.
But, what! could St. Augustine find rest in his own views, -- in his own logic? Did he really banish all non-elect infants into the region of penal fire and everlasting woe? If he adhered to the literal meaning of the words of revelation, as he understood them, he was certainly bound to do so; but did he really and consistently do it? Did he really bind the |poor little| reprobate, because it had sinned in Adam, in chains of adamant, and leave it to writhe beneath the fierce inquisitorial fury of the everlasting flames? Did he really extract the vials of such exquisite and unprovoked wrath from the essence of infinite goodness itself? No: this was reserved for the superior logic and the sterner consistency of an iron age. But since it has been extracted, we may devoutly thank Almighty God, that it is now excluded from the hearts of men calling themselves Christians, and kept safely bottled up in their creeds and confessions.
St. Augustine could not endure the insufferable consequences of his own doctrine. Hence, in writing to his great friend, St. Jerome, he said, |in all sincerity: when I come to treat of the punishment of infants, believe that I find myself in great embarrassment, and I absolutely know not what to reply.| Writing against Julian, he adds: |I do not say that those who die without baptism will be punished with a torment such that it would be better for them if they had never been born.| And again: |Those who, besides original sin which they have contracted, have not committed any other, will be subjected to a pain the most mild of all.|(186) Thus by adopting a wrong interpretation, the principles of which were but little understood in his time, St. Augustine banished all unbaptized infants from the kingdom of light; but yet he could hardly find it in his heart to condemn them to the outer darkness. He had too great a regard for the word of God, as he understood it, to permit non-elect infants to reign with Christ in heaven; and, on the other hand, he was too severely pressed by the generous impulses of his nature, nay, by the eternal dictates of truth and goodness, to permit him to consign them really to the |fire prepared for the devil and his angels.| Hence, although Christ knew of |but two places,| he fitted up a third, to see them in which, was, as Edwards would say, |more agreeable to his imagination.|
It was the sublime but unsteady genius of St. Augustine that caused this doctrine of the damnation of infants to be received into the Christian world, and find its way into the council of Trent. That celebrated council not only adopted the views of St. Augustine on this subject, but also most perfectly reflected all his hesitation and inconsistency. Widely as its members differed on other points, they all agreed that unbaptized infants should be excluded from the kingdom of heaven. There was but little unanimity however, as to the best method of disposing of them. The Dominicans fitted up a dark, subterraneous cavern for them, in which there is no fire, at least none such as that of the infernal regions, and in which they might be at least as happy as monks. This place was called Limbo -- which, we suppose, is to Purgatory, about what the varioloid is to the smallpox. The Franciscans, more humane in their doctrine, determined that |dear little infants,| though they had never felt the sanctifying influences of holy water, should yet reside, not in dark caverns and holes of the earth, but in the sweet light and pure air of the upper world. Well done, noble Franciscan! we honour thee for thy sweet fancy! Surely thou wert not, like other monks, made so altogether fierce by dark keeping, that thou couldest not delight to see in God's blessed, beautiful world, a smiling infant!
Others insisted, that unbaptized infants would be condemned to become philosophers, and turn out the authors of great discoveries. This may seem a terrible damnation to some persons; but, for our part, if we had been of that famous council, it is likely we should have been in favour of this decree. As the most agreeable punishment we could imagine, we should have been for condemning them, like the fallen angels of Paradise Lost, to torment themselves with reasonings high, --
|Of providence, foreknowledge, will, and fate,
Fix'd fate, free-will, foreknowledge absolute.|
And if any of them had been found to possess no very great aptitude for such speculations, then, rather than they should find |no end in wandering mazes lost,| we should have condemned them to turn poets and |build the lofty rhyme.|
So completely did the spirit of a blind exegesis triumph over the light of reason in the time of Augustine, that even Pelagius and his followers excluded unbaptized infants from the kingdom of heaven, because our Saviour had declared that a man could not enter therein, except he be born of water and of the Spirit. It is true, they did not banish them into |the fire prepared for the devil and his angels,| nor into Limbo, nor into dark holes of the earth; on the contrary, they admitted them to the joys of eternal life, but not into the kingdom of heaven.(187) Thus, the Pelagians brought |poor little infants| as near to the kingdom of heaven as possible, without doing too great violence to the universal orthodoxy of their time.
But as we cannot, like the Church of Rome, determine the fate of infants by a decree, we must take some little pains to ascertain how it has been determined by the Supreme Ruler of the world. For this purpose we shall first show, that there is suffering in the world which is not a punishment for sin, and then declare the great ends, or final causes, of all natural evil.
The true ends, or final causes, of natural evil.
We have often wondered that grave divines should declare that there could be no natural evil, or suffering, under the administration of God, except such as is a punishment for sin in the person upon whom it is inflicted. We have wondered, that in declaring none but a tyrant could ever permit the innocent to suffer, they have entertained no fears lest they might strengthen the cause of atheism. For if it be impossible to justify the character of God, except on the principle that all suffering is merited on account of sin in the object of it, then it is easy to see, that the atheistical argument against the goodness of God is unanswerable. The atheist might well say: |Do we not see and know that the whole animal creation suffers? Now for what sin are they punished? The inferior animals, you will admit, are not capable of committing actual sin, any more than infants are; and Adam was not their federal head and representative. Hence, unless you can show for what sin they are punished, you must admit that, according to your own principles, God is a tyrant.| How Dr. Dick, or Dr. Dwight, or President Edwards, or Calvin, would have answered such an argument, we cannot determine. For although they all assume that there can be no suffering under the good providence of God, except it be a punishment for sin in the object of it, yet, so far as we know, they have not made the most distant allusion to the suffering of the inferior animals. Indeed, they seem to be so intently bent on maintaining the doctrine of the imputation of sin to infants, that they pay no attention, in the assumption of the above position, either to the word of God, or to the great volume of nature spread out before them.
But we find the difficulty noticed in a prize essay of three hundred pages, on the subject of native depravity, by Dr. Woods. The author assumes the same ground with Edwards, that all suffering must be justified on the ground of justice; and hence he finds a real and proper sin in infants, in order to reconcile their sufferings with the character of God. This is the only ground, according to Dr. Woods, on which suffering can be vindicated under the administration of a perfect God. Where, then, is the real and proper sin in the inferior animals to justify their sufferings? This difficulty occurs to the distinguished author, and he endeavours to meet it. Let us see his reply. It is a reply which we have long been solicitous to see, and we now have it from one of the most celebrated theologians of the present day.
|Some suppose,| says he, |that infants suffer as irrational animals do, without reference to a moral law or the principles of a moral government. A strange supposition indeed, that human beings should for a time be ranked with beings which are not human, that is, mere animals.| He is evidently shocked at such an insult offered to poor little infants. He will not allow us, for one moment, to take the whole race of man, |during the interesting period of infancy, cut them off from their relation to Adam, degrade them from the dignity of human beings, and put them in the rank of brute animals, -- and then say, they suffer as the brutes do.... This would be the worst of all theories, -- the farthest off from Scripture and reason, and the most revolting to all the noble sensibilities of man.|
Now, it is really refreshing to find these allusions to |the dignity of human beings| in a writer of this school; and especially in Dr. Woods, who has so often rebuked others for their pride, when they have imagined that they were only engaged in the laudable enterprise of asserting this very dignity, by raising men from the rank of mere machines. It is so refreshing, indeed, to find such allusions in Dr. Woods, that we could almost forgive a little special pleading and bad logic in his attempt to vindicate the |dignity of human beings,| which should have been an attempt to vindicate the goodness of God.
We do not place human beings and brutes in the same rank, except in so far as both are sensitive creatures, and consequently susceptible of pleasure and pain. In this particular, the Creator himself has, to a certain extent, placed them in the same rank, and it is useless to cry out against his appointment. He will not listen to our talk about |the dignity of human beings.| He will still leave us, in so far as bodily pain and death are concerned, in the same rank with mere animals. This single point of resemblance between animals and human beings is all that our argument requires; and the fact that animals do suffer pain and death cannot be denied, or swept away by declamation. Let this fact be fairly and openly met, and not merely evaded. Let it be shown how the suffering of mere animals may be reconciled with the infinite goodness of God, and we will undertake to show how the suffering of guiltless |human beings| may be reconciled with it. Nay, we will undertake to show that the suffering of infants may be reconciled with the divine goodness, on the same, and also on still higher, grounds. We will place their sufferings on a more solid and a more definite foundation, than upon such vague and misty assertions as that they |suffer with reference to a moral law.|
We do not cut off infants from their relation to Adam; nor could we, if we desired to do so, cut them off from their relation to the animal nature which God has given them. It may be a very humiliating thought, it is true, that human beings should ever eat like mere animals, or sleep like mere animals, or suffer like mere animals; but yet we cannot see how any rebellion against so humiliating a thought can possibly alter the fact. We do not deny, indeed, that a theologian may eat, and sleep, and suffer on higher principles than mere animals do; but we seriously doubt if infants ever eat, or sleep, or suffer on any higher principles. It may shock the |noble sensibilities| of man that dear little infants should suffer as brutes do, especially when the term brutes is so strongly emphasized; but how it can relieve the case to have the poor little creatures arraigned at the bar of divine justice, and condemned to suffer as malefactors and criminals do, is more than we can possibly comprehend. To have them thus arraigned, condemned, and punished as criminals, may dignify their sufferings, and render them more worthy of the rank of human beings; but this is a dignity to which, we trust, they will never aspire.
If we are not mistaken, then, the theory for which we contend is |not the worst of all theories,| nor |the most revolting to the noblest sensibilities of man.| It is a worse theory to suppose, with Edwards, that they may be arraigned and banished into |eternal misery| for a sin they have not committed, or the possession of a nature they could not possibly have avoided possessing. It is better, we say, to rank the human race |for a time,| |during the interesting period of infancy,| even with mere animals, than to rank them with the devil and his angels. But, in truth, we rank them with neither; we simply leave them where God hath placed them, as a connecting link between the animal and the angelic natures.
But we may produce many instances of suffering among human beings, which are not a punishment for sin. We might refer to the feeling of compassion, which is always painful, and sometimes wrings the heart with the most exquisite agony; and yet this was not planted in our bosom as a punishment for sin, but, as Bishop Butler has shown,(188) it was ordained by a God of mercy, to teach us a lesson of mercy, and lead us to mitigate the manifold miseries of man's estate. We might also refer to an indignation against crime, which, as the same profound thinker has shown in his sermon on resentment, was planted in our natures, not to punish the subject of it, but to insure the punishment of others, that is, of criminals; and thereby to preserve the good order and well-being of the world. This sense of wrong, of injustice, of outrage, by which the soul is so often tortured, is not designed to punish the subject of it, but to promote the happiness and virtue of mankind. We might refer to these, and many other things of the same kind, but it is not necessary to dwell upon particular instances; for the principle against which we contend may be more directly refuted by an appeal to reason, and to the very authors by whom it is advocated; for, although it is adopted by them, and seems plausible at first view, it is often lost sight of when they lose sight of their system, and they give utterance to another principle more in accordance with the voice of nature.
It is evident, that if the government of God requires that no suffering should be inflicted, except as a punishment for sin, then his perfect moral government requires that the punishment should, in all cases, be exactly proportioned to the demerit of those upon whom it falls.
For, as Butler truly says, |Moral government consists in rewarding the righteous and punishing the wicked; in rendering to men according to their actions, considered as good or evil. And the perfection of moral government consists in doing this, with regard to all intelligent creatures, in exact proportion to their personal merits and demerits.|(189) This will not be denied. Hence, if suffering is distributed by God as a punishment for sin in all cases, as Calvin and his followers assert, then it must, on the same principle, be distributed according to the demerit of men. But is this the case? Does this necessary consequence of this principle agree with fact? If so, then every vile deed, every wicked outrage, committed by man, should be regarded as an instrument of divine justice, and deserved by those upon whom they fall. The inquisition itself, with all its unuttered and unutterable horrors, should be regarded, not merely as an exhibition of human wickedness and wrath, but also as an engine of divine justice, to crush the martyr on its wheels, because he refuses to lie to his own soul and to his God? Nature itself recoils from such a conclusion. Not one of the writers in question would adopt it. Hence, they should not advocate a principle from which it necessarily flows.
Indeed, they all argue the necessity of a future state of retribution, from the unequal distribution of natural good and evil in this life. But Lord Bolingbroke has refuted this argument by reasoning from their own principles. He insists that such is the justice of God, that there can be no suffering or natural evil in this life, except such as is proportioned to the demerits of men; and hence he rejects the argument from the apparent unequal distribution of pleasure and pain in this world in favour of the reality of a future judgment. He resents the imputation that God could ever permit any suffering which is not deserved, as warmly as it is resented by Dr. Dick himself, and proclaims it to be dishonourable to God. All rewards and punishments, says he, are equal and just in this life; and to say otherwise, is to take an atheistical view of the divine character. Learned divines proceed on the same principle, as we have seen, when they contend for the imputation of sin; but they forget and overlook it, when they come to prove the future judgment to the infidel. Thus, in their zeal to establish their own peculiar dogmas, they place themselves and their cause in the power of the infidel.
But if suffering be not always inflicted, under the administration of God, as a punishment for sin, for what other end is it inflicted? We answer, it is inflicted for these ends: 1. Even when it is inflicted as a punishment for sin, this is not the only end, or final cause of its infliction. It is also intended to deter others from the commission of evil, and preserve the order of the world.2. In some instances, nay, in very many instances, it is intended to discipline and form the mind to virtue. As Bishop Butler well says, even while vindicating the moral government of the world: |It is not pretended but that, in the natural course of things, happiness and misery appear to be distributed by other rules, than only the personal merit and demerit of character. They may sometimes be distributed by way of mere discipline.| And in his profound chapter on a |State of probation, as intended for moral discipline and improvement,| he shows that they are actually distributed for this purpose.3. The unavoidable evils of this life, which are not brought upon us by our faults, are intended to serve as a foil to set off the blessedness of eternity. Our present light afflictions are intended, not merely to work out for us an exceeding and eternal weight of glory, but also to heighten our sense and enjoyment of it by a recollection of the miseries experienced in this life. They are intended to form but a short and discordant prelude to an everlasting harmony. If they should not prove so in fact, the fault will be our own, without the least impeachment of the beneficent design of the great Author and Ruler of the universe.
On these grounds, especially on the first two, we must justify all the natural evil in the world. In regard to the second, Bishop Butler says: |Allurements to what is wrong; difficulties in the discharge of our duties; our not being able to act a uniform right part without some thought and care; and the opportunities we have, or imagine we have, of avoiding what we dislike, or obtaining what we desire, by unlawful means, when we either cannot do it at all, or at least not so easily, by lawful ones; these things, that is, the snares and temptations of vice, are what render the present world peculiarly fit to be a state of discipline to those who will preserve their integrity; because they render being upon our guard, resolution, and the denial of our passions, necessary to that end.| Thus, the temptations by which we are surrounded, the allurements of those passions by which vice is rendered so bewitching, are the appointed means of moral discipline and improvement in virtue.
The habit of virtue thus formed, he truly observes, will be firm and fixed in proportion to the amount of temptation we have gradually overcome in its formation. |Though actions materially virtuous,| says he, |which have no sort of difficulty, but are perfectly agreeable to our particular inclinations, may possibly be done only from those particular inclinations, and so may not be any exercise of the principle of virtue, i. e., not be virtuous actions at all; yet, on the contrary, they may be an exercise of that principle, and, when they are, they have a tendency to form and fix the habit of virtue. But when the exercise of the virtuous principle is more continued, oftener repeated, and more intense, as it must be in circumstances of danger, temptation, and difficulty of any kind, and in any degree, this tendency is increased proportionably, and a more confirmed habit is the consequence.|(190) The greater the temptation, then, the more fixed will be the habit of virtue, by which it is gradually overcome and subdued.
This habit may become so fixed, by a struggle with temptations and difficulties, as to raise the soul above the dangers to which moral agents are exposed. |Virtuous self-government is not only right in itself, but also improves the inward constitution or character; and may improve it to such a degree, that though we should suppose it impossible for particular affections to be absolutely co-incident with the moral principle, and consequently should allow, that such creatures as have been above supposed would forever remain defectible; yet their danger of actually deviating from right may be almost infinitely lessened, and they fully fortified against what remains of it; if that may be called danger, against which there is an adequate effectual security.|(191)
|These several observations,| says he, |concerning the active principle of virtue and obedience to God's commands are applicable to passive submission or resignation to his will, which is another essential part of a right character, connected with the former, and very much in our power to form ourselves to.| This, then, is the view which we think should be entertained with respect to the natural evils of this life: they are intended by the infinitely wise and good Ruler of the world to detach us from the fleeting things of time and sense, by the gradual formation of a habit of moral goodness, arising from a resistance against the influence of such things and firm adherence to the will of God, and to form our character for a state of fixed eternal blessedness. Such is the beneficent design of God in relation to the human race itself. His design in relation to the more magnificent scheme of the moral universe, in thus planting the human race and striving to train it up to virtue and happiness, we have already considered.(192)
We say, then, that it is a principle of the divine government of the world to impose natural evil or suffering as a means of good. It is objected against this principle, that it is to do evil that good may come. |To say that Christ was subjected to sufferings,| says Dr. Dick, |for the benevolent purpose of conferring important benefits upon mankind, is to give the highest sanction to the principle which is so strongly reprobated in the Scriptures, that evil may be done that good may come.| The theology of Dr. Dick, and of his school, does not sufficiently distinguish between natural and moral evil. We are nowhere told in Scripture, that it is wrong to do natural evil, or inflict suffering, that good may come. Every good man acts upon this principle every day of his life. Every act of self-denial, and every infliction of parental discipline, are proofs of the justness of this remark. The surgeon who amputates a limb, in order to save the life of his patient, acts upon the same principle. But who ever thought of condemning such conduct? Who ever reminded him that he should not do evil that good may come? It is plain, that neither |the sufferings| of Christ, nor any other sufferings imposed for the real good of the world, are liable to any such objection, or come under the condemnation of any such maxim. This objection lies, as we have seen,(193) against the doctrine of Edwards and his followers, that moral evil, that sin, may be chosen as the means of good. The high and holy God never commits, or causes others to commit, moral evil that good may come; but he not only may, but actually does, inflict natural evil in order to promote the good of his creatures. Thus, by applying the language of Scripture to natural evil instead of to moral, Dr. Dick has just exactly inverted the order of things as they actually exist in the constitution and government of the moral world.
The importance of harmonizing reason and revelation.
For these reasons, we refuse to justify the sufferings of infants, on the ground that the sin of Adam was imputed to them. A sentiment so dark and appalling but ill accords with the sublime and beautiful spirit of the gospel. It partakes more of the weakness and infirmity of human nature than of the divine nature of Him who |spake as never man spake.| The best account which Plato could give of the sufferings of infants was that they had sinned in some former state of existence, for which they are punished in this. St. Augustine and his followers, rejecting such a view, and relying on the literal sense of the words of revelation, advanced the hypothesis that infants sinned, not in a preexistent state, but in Adam; for which they are justly exposed to pain and death. Others again, not being able to conceive how infants could be really and personally in Adam many thousand years before they were born, so as to sin with him, adopted the hypothesis, that if they had been in his place they would have sinned, and are therefore justly exposed to the penalty due to his transgression; according to which theory each soul might be made liable to the guilt of infinitely more sin than any finite being could possibly commit. Another age, rising above such dark notions respecting the nature of sin and the justice of God, maintained the hypothesis that Adam's sin was imputed to all his posterity, by which the fearful penalty due to his sin might be justly inflicted upon them. According to a fifth theory, it is clear that |nothing under the empire of Jehovah| can be sin, except a known transgression of the law; and infants are punished, because, as soon as they come into the world, they knowingly transgress the law of God. They cannot knowingly sin, says a sixth theory; but still they really transgress the law of God by those little bubbling emotions of anger, and so forth, as soon as they come into existence; and hence, the penalty of sin is inflicted upon them. Such are some of the hypotheses which have been adopted by Christian theologians to reconcile the suffering of infants with the justice and goodness of God. The more we look into them, the more we are amazed that the great lights of the world should have indulged in reveries so wild and so wonderful; and the more are we convinced, that the speculations of men on these subjects, and the whole theological literature of the world in relation to it, form one of the darkest chapters in the history of the human mind.
How unlike are such views respecting the origin and existence of natural evil to the divine simplicity and beauty of the gospel! |Who did sin, this man or his parents,| said the disciples to our Saviour, |that he was born blind?| They made no doubt but that the great evil of natural blindness must have been the punishment of some sin; and merely wished to know whether it were his own sin, committed in some former state of existence, or the sin of his parents. Their minds seem to have hung in a state of vacillation between the theory of Plato and that of imputation. But our Saviour replied: |Neither did this man sin, nor his parents,| that he was born blind; but |that the work of God might be made manifest in him.| We thank thee, O blessed Master, for that sweet word! How delightful is it, after passing through the dark labyrinths of human folly to sit at thy feet and drink in the lessons of heavenly wisdom! How pleasant to the soul -- how inexpressibly cheering is it -- to turn from the harsh and revolting systems of men, and listen to the sweet accents of mercy as they fall from thy lips!
The great law of suffering, then, is that it is intended for the benefit of intelligent creatures. This is the case, even when it assumes the character of punishment; for then it is designed to prevent moral evil. Such a view of natural evil, or suffering, does not give that horrid picture of the world which arises from the sentiment that all pain and death must be a punishment for sin. This causes us to see the black scourge of retributive justice everywhere, and the hand of fatherly correction nowhere. It places us, not in a school or state of probation, to train us up for a better and brighter world, but in the midst of inquisitorial fires and penal woe. It teaches that all mankind became guilty by the act of one man; and that for one deed, millions upon millions of human beings are justly obnoxious, not only to temporal and spiritual, but also to eternal death.
We are perfectly aware of all the arguments which have been drawn from Scripture in support of such a doctrine; and we are also perfectly satisfied that they may be most easily and triumphantly refuted. But at present we do not mean to touch this argument; we shall reserve it for another work. In the mean time, we must be permitted to express the sentiment, that a system of theology, so profoundly unphilosophical, so utterly repugnant to the moral sentiments of mankind, can never fulfil the sublime mission of true religion on earth. It may possess the principle of life within, but it is destitute of the form of life without. It may convert the individual soul, and lead it up to heaven; but it has not the radiant form and power of truth, to command the admiration and conquer the intellect of the world. It may elevate and purify the affections, even while it depresses and confounds the understanding; but it cannot transfigure the whole mind, and change it into its own divine image. Nothing but the most fixed and rooted faith, or the most blind and unquestioning submission, can withstand the fearful blasts and dark impulses of such a system.
No wonder, then, that under a system so deplorably deficient in some of the most sublime features of Christianity, infidelity and Pelagianism should so often have sprung up. If we write libels on the divine government, we must expect rebellions and insurrections. This is the natural consequence of the great fundamental heresy which places reason and revelation in opposition to each other. Orthodoxy, as she proudly styles herself, may denounce such rebellions; but she herself is partly responsible for the fatal consequences of them. Reason and revelation can never be dissevered, can never be placed in violent conflict, without a frightful injury to both, and to the best interests of mankind. Reason must find its own internal power and life in revelation, and revelation must find its own external form and beauty in reason. The perfection and glory of each consists in the living union and consentaneous development of both.
If we teach absurdity, it is worse than idle to enforce submission by arrogant and lordly denunciations of human pride, or of |carnal reason.| And we shall always find, indeed, that when a theologian or a philosopher begins by abusing and vilifying human reason, he either has some absurdity which he wishes us to swallow, or he wishes to be excused from believing anything in particular. Thus, the dogmatism of the one and the scepticism of the other unite in trampling human reason under foot; the one, to erect an empire of absurdity, and the other, to erect an empire of darkness upon its ruins. It should be the great object of all our labours to effect a reunion and harmony between revelation and reason, whose |inauspicious repudiations and divorces| have so long |disturbed everything in the great family of mankind.|(194)