The commonly received systems of theology are, it is confessed by their advocates, attended with manifold inconveniences and difficulties. The habit of mind by which, notwithstanding such difficulties, it clings to the great truths of those systems, is worthy of all admiration, and forms one of the best guarantees of the stability and progress of human knowledge. For in every department of science the great truths which dawn upon the mind are usually attended with a cloud of difficulties, and, but for the habit in question, they would soon be permitted to fade away, and be lost in their original obscurity. Copernicus has, therefore, been justly applauded,(219) not only for conceiving, but for firmly grasping the heliocentric theory of the world, notwithstanding the many formidable objections which it had to encounter in his own mind. Even the sublime law of the material universe, before it finally established itself in the mind of Newton, more than once fell, in its struggles for acceptance, beneath the apparently insuperable objections by which it was attended; and, after all, the overpowering evidence which caused it to be embraced, still left it surrounded by an immense penumbra of difficulties. These, together with the sublime truth, he bequeathed to his successors. They have retained the truth, and removed the difficulties. In like manner, admirable though the habit of clinging to every sufficiently accredited truth may be, yet, whether in the physical or in the moral sciences, the effort to disencumber the truth of the difficulties by which its progress is embarrassed should never be remitted. The scientific impulse, by which a great truth is grasped, and established upon its own appropriate evidence, should ever be followed by the subordinate movement, which strives to remove every obstacle out of the way, and cause it to secure a wider and a brighter dominion in the human mind. And in proportion as any scheme, whether in relation to natural or to divine things, shall, without a sacrifice or mutilation of the truth, divest itself of the darkness which must ever accompany all one-sided and partial views, will it possess a decided advantage and superiority over other systems. Since this general principle will not be denied, let us proceed, in conclusion, to take a brief survey of the foregoing scheme of doctrine, and determine, if we can, whether to any truth it has given any such advantage.
It clearly seems free from the stupendous cloud of difficulties that overhang that view of the moral universe which supposes its entire constitution and government to be in accordance with the scheme of necessity. These difficulties pertain, first, to the responsibility of man; secondly, to the purity of God; and, thirdly, to the reality of moral distinctions. These three several branches of the difficulty in question have been respectively considered in the first three chapters of the first part of the present work; and we shall now briefly recapitulate the views therein presented, in the three following sections.
The scheme of necessity denies that man is the responsible author of sin.
If, according to this scheme, all things in heaven and earth, the volitions of the human mind not excepted, be under the dominion of necessitating causes, then may we well ask, How can man be a free and responsible agent? To this inquiry the most illustrious advocates of the scheme in question have not been able to return a coherent or satisfactory reply. After the search of ages, and the joint labour of all their gigantic intellects, they have found no position in their system on which the freedom of the human mind may be securely planted. The position set up for this purpose by one is pulled down by another, who, in his turn, indicates some other position only to be demolished by some other advocate of his own scheme. The more we look into their writings on this subject, the more irreconcilable seems the conflict of opinion in which they are among themselves involved. The more closely we contemplate the labour of their hands, the more clearly we perceive that all their attempts, in opposition to the voice of heaven and earth, to rear the great metaphysical tower of necessity, have only ended in an utter confusion of tongues. So far, indeed, are they from having found and presented any such view of the freedom and responsibility of man, as shall, by the intrinsic and overpowering lustre of its evidence, stand some chance to disarm the enemies of God, that they have not even found one in which they themselves can rest. The school of the necessitarian is, in reality, a house divided against itself; and that, too, in regard to the most vital and fundamental point of its philosophy.
There seems to be one exception to the truth of this general remark: for there is one scheme or definition of liberty, in which many, if not most, of the advocates of necessity have concurred; that is, the definition of Hobbes. As the current of a river, says he, is free to flow down its channel, provided there be no obstruction in the way; so the human will, though compelled to act by causes over which it has no control, is free, provided there be no external impediment to prevent its volition from passing into effect. This idea of the freedom of the will, though much older than Hobbes, is primarily indebted to his influence for its prevalence in modern times; for it descended from Hobbes to Locke, from Locke to Edwards, and from Edwards to the modern school of Calvinistic divines.
No matter how we come by our volitions, says Edwards, yet are we perfectly free when there is no external impediment to hinder our volitions from passing into effect: that is to say, though our volitions be absolutely produced by the divine omnipotence itself, or in any other way; yet is the will free, provided no external cause interpose to prevent its volition from moving the body. According to this definition of the liberty of the will, it is not a property of the soul at all, but only an accidental circumstance or condition of the body. In the significant language of Leibnitz, it is not the freedom of the mind; it is merely |elbow-room.| It consists not in an attribute, or property, or power of the soul, but only in the external opportunity which its necessitated volitions may have to necessitate an effect. We ask, How can the mind be free? and they tell us, When the body may be so! We inquire about an attribute of the spiritual principle within, and they turn us off with an answer respecting an accident of the material principle without! An ignoratio elenchi more flagrant -- a mistaking of the question more palpable -- it is surely not possible to conceive. Yet this definition of the freedom of the will, though so superficially false, is precisely that which has found the most general acceptance among necessitarians. Though vehemently condemned by Calvin himself, unanswerably refuted by Leibnitz, sneered at by Edwards the younger, and pronounced utterly inadequate by Dr. John Dick; yet, as we have seen, is it now held up as |the Calvinistic idea of the freedom of the will.|
We do not wonder that such a definition of free-will should have been adopted by atheizing philosophers, such as Hume and Hobbes, for example; because we cannot suppose them to have been penetrated with any very profound design to uphold the cause of human responsibility, or to vindicate the immaculate purity of the divine glory. But that it should have been accepted with such unquestioning simplicity by a large body of Christian divines, having the great interests of the moral world at heart, is, we cannot but think, a sufficient ground for the most profound astonishment and regret; for, surely, to plant the great cause of human responsibility on a foundation so slender, on a fallacy so palpable, on a position so utterly untenable, is to expose it to the victorious assaults of its weakest enemy and invader.
The scheme of necessity makes God the author of sin.
The necessitarian, in his attempts to vindicate the purity of God, has not been more successful than in his endeavours to establish the freedom and accountability of man. If, according to his scheme, the Supreme Ruler of the world be the primal cause of all things, the volitions of men included; it certainly seems exceedingly difficult to conceive, that he is not implicated in the sin of the world. And this difficulty, so appalling at first view, remains just as great after all that the most enlightened advocates of that scheme have advanced as it was before.
We have witnessed the efforts of a Leibnitz, an Edwards, and a Chalmers, to repel this objection to the scheme of necessity; and if we mistake not, we have seen how utterly ineffectual they have proved to break its force, or resist its influence. The sum and substance of that defence is, as we have seen, that God may do evil that good may come; a defence which, instead of vindicating the purity of the divine proceeding, represents it as having been governed by the most corrupt maxim of the most corrupt system of casuistry the world has ever seen. It darkens, rather than illuminates, that profound and portentous obscurity of the system of the world, arising from the origin and existence of moral evil. So far from removing the difficulty from their scheme, they have only illustrated its force by the ineffable weakness of the means and methods which that scheme has necessitated them to employ for its destruction.
The scheme of necessity denies the reality of moral distinctions.
For, if all things in the world, the acts of the will not excepted, be produced by an extraneous agency, it seems clear that it is absurd to attach praise or blame to men on account of their volitions. Nothing appears more self-evident than the position, that whatever is thus produced in us can neither be our virtue nor our vice. The advocates of necessity, at least those of them who do not admit the inference in question, invoke the aid of logic to extinguish the light of the principle on which it is based. But where have they found, or where can they find, a principle more clear, more simple, or more unquestionable on which to ground their arguments? Where, in the whole armory of logic, can be found a principle more unquestionable than this, that no man can be to praise or to blame for that which is produced in him, by causes over which he had no control?
We have examined those arguments in detail, and exhibited the principles on which they proceed. Those principles, instead of being of such a nature as to subserve the purposes of valid argument, are either insignificant truisms which prove nothing, or else they reach the point in dispute only by means of an ambiguity of words. Of the first description is the celebrated maxim of Edwards, that the essence of virtue and vice consists in their nature, and not in their cause. By which he means, that no matter how we come by our virtue and vice, though they be produced in us according to the scheme of necessity, yet are they our virtue and vice. If a horse should fall from the moon, it would be a horse: for no matter where it comes from, a horse is a horse; or, more scientifically expressed, the essence of a horse consists in the nature of a horse, and not in its origin or cause. All this is very true. But then, we no more believe that horses fall from the moon, than we do that virtue and vice are produced according to the scheme of necessity.
Of the last description is that other maxim of Edwards, that men are adjudged virtuous or vicious on account of actions proceeding from the will, without considering how they come by their volition. True, we may judge of external actions according as their origin is in the will or otherwise, without considering how its volitions come to pass; but then this is because we proceed on the tacit assumption that the will is free, and not under the dominion of necessitating causes. But the question relates, not to external actions or movements of the body, but to the volitions of the mind itself. And this being the case, it does make a vast difference in our estimate, whether we consider those volitions as coming to pass freely; or whether, according to the scheme of necessity, we regard them as being produced by the operation of causes over which we have no control. In this case, it is impossible for the human mind to attach praise or blame to them, or view them as constituting either virtue or vice. For nothing can be plainer than the position, that if anything in us be produced by the mighty and irresistible operation of an extraneous agency, it can neither be our virtue nor vice. This principle is so clear, that logic can neither add to nor detract from the intrinsic lustre of its evidence. And all the cloudy sophistications of an Edwards, ingenious as they are, can obscure it only to the minds of those who have not sufficient penetration to see through the nature of his arguments.
At this point, then, as well as at others, the scheme of necessity, instead of clearing up the old, has introduced new difficulties into the system of the world. Instead of diffusing light, it has actually extended the empire of darkness, by investing in the clouds and mists of its own raising, some of the brightest elements which enter into its organization. By scholastic refinements and sophistical devices, it has sought to overturn and destroy, not the elements of error and confusion, but some of the clearest and most indestructible intuitional convictions of the human head and heart.
But great as these difficulties are, we may still be asked to embrace the scheme from which they flow, on the ground that it is true. Indeed, this is the course pursued by some of the most enlightened Calvinistic necessitarians of the present day. Freely admitting that all the attempts of Leibnitz, of Edwards, and others, to bring the scheme of necessity into an agreement with the dictates of reason, have left its stupendous difficulties pretty much where they found them -- wrapped in impenetrable gloom; they nevertheless maintain this scheme, and propose it to our acceptance, on the sole and sufficient ground of its evidence. If we may judge from those of their writings which we have seen, this course of proceeding is getting to be very much the fashion among the Calvinists of the present day; and they have a great deal to say in praise of simply adhering to the truth, without being over-solicitous about its difficulties, or paying too much attention to them. That man, say they, is in imminent danger of heresy who, instead of receiving the truth with the simplicity of a little child, goes about to worry himself with its difficulties. He walks in dark and slippery places. We agree with them in this, and commend their wisdom: for it presents the only chance which their system has of retaining its hold on the human mind. But before accepting this scheme on the ground of its evidence, we have deemed it prudent to look into the very interior of the scheme itself, and weigh the evidence on which it is so confidently recommended.
The moral world not constituted according to the scheme of necessity.
In the prosecution of this inquiry, we have appeared to ourselves to find, that this boasted scheme of necessity is neither more nor less than one grand tissue of sophisms. We have found, we believe, that this huge imposition on the reason of man is a vile congregation of pestilential errors, through which, if the glory of God and his marvellous ways be contemplated, they must appear most horribly distorted. We have found that this scheme is as weak and crazy in the mechanism of its internal structure as it is frightful in its consequences. Instead of that closely articulated body of thought, which we were led to expect therein, we have found little more than a jumble of incoherences, a semi-chaotic mass of plausible blunders. We have seen and shown, we trust, that this grand and imposing scheme of necessity is, in reality, based on a false psychology, -- directed against a false issue, -- supported by false logic, -- fortified by false conceptions, -- recommended by false analogies, -- and rendered plausible by a false phraseology. And, besides, we have ascertained that it originates in a false method, and terminates in a false religion. As such, we deem it far better adapted to represent the little, narrow, dark, crooked, and perverted world within, than the great and all-glorious world of God without. So have we not spared its deformities.
The relation between the human agency and the divine.
Having got rid of the scheme of necessity, which opposed so many obstacles to the prosecution of our design, we were then prepared to investigate the great problem of evil: but, before entering on this subject, we paused to consider the difficulty which, in all ages, the human mind has found in attempting to reconcile the influence of the Divine Spirit with the freedom of the will. In regard to this difficulty, it has been made to appear, we trust, that we need not understand how the Spirit of God acts, in order to reconcile his influence with the free-agency of man. We need to know, not how the one Spirit acts on the other, but only what is done by each, in order to see a perfect agreement and harmony in their cooeperation. The inquiry relates, then, to the precise thing done by each, and not to the modus operandi. Having, in opposition to the commonly received notion, ascertained this to be the difficulty, we have found it comparatively easy of solution.
For the improved psychology of the present day, which gives so clear and steady a view of the simple facts of consciousness, has enabled us to see what may, and what may not, be produced by an extraneous agency. This again has enabled us to make out and define the sphere of the divine power, as well as that of the human; and to determine the point at which they come into contact, without interfering with or intersecting each other.
The same means have also shown us, that the opposite errors of Pelagianism and Augustinism have a common root in a false psychology. The psychology of the past, which identifies the passive states of the sensibility with the active states of the will, is common to both of these schemes. From this common root the two doctrines branch out in opposite directions; the one on the side of the mind's activity, and the other on that of its passivity. Each perceives only one phase of the complex whole, and denies the reality of the other. With one, the active phase is the whole; with the other, the passive impression is the whole. Hence the one recognises the human power alone; while the other causes this power entirely to disappear beneath the overshadowing influence of the divine.
Now the foregoing system, by availing itself of the psychology of the present day, not only does not cause the one of these great facts to exclude the other, but, by showing their logical coherency and agreement, it removes the temptation that the speculative reason has ever felt to do such violence to the cause of truth. It embraces the half views of both schemes, and moulds them into one great and full-orbed truth. In the great theandric work of regeneration, in particular, it neither causes the human element to exclude the divine, nor the divine to swallow up the human; but preserves each in its integrity, and both in their harmonious union and cooeperation. The mutual inter-dependency, and the undisturbed inter-working, of these all-important elements of the moral world, it aims to place on a firm basis, and exhibit in a clear light. If this object has been accomplished, though but in part, or by way of a first approximation only, it will be conceded to be no small gain, or advantage, to the cause of truth.
The existence of moral evil consistent with the infinite purity of God.
The relation of the foregoing treatise to the great problem of the spiritual world, concerning the origin and existence of evil, may be easily indicated, and the solution it proposes distinguished from that of others. This may be best done, perhaps, with the aid of logical forms.
The world, created by an infinitely perfect Being, says the sceptic, must needs be the best of all possible worlds: but the actual world is not the best of all possible worlds: therefore it was not created by an infinitely perfect Being. Now, in replying to this argument, no theist denies the major premiss. All have conceded, that the idea of an infinitely perfect Being necessarily implies the existence and preservation of the greatest possible perfection in the created universe. In the two celebrated works of M. Leibnitz and Archbishop King, both put forth in reply to Bayle, this admission is repeatedly and distinctly made. This seems to have been rightly done; for, in the language of Cudworth, |To believe a God, is to believe the existence of all possible good and perfection in the universe.|(220)
In this, says Leibnitz, is embosomed all possible good. But how is this point established? |We judge from the event itself,| says he; |since God has made it, it was not possible to have made a better.|(221) But this is the language of faith, and not of reason. As an argument addressed to the sceptic, it is radically unsound; for as a medium of proof, it employs the very thing in dispute, namely, that God is infinitely perfect. Hence this is a petitio principii, a begging of the question. If this were all that M. Leibnitz had to offer, he might as well have believed, and remained silent.
But this was not all. He endeavours to show, that the world is absolutely perfect, without inferring its perfection from the assumed infinite perfection of its Author. At first view, this does not appear to be so; for the sin and misery which overflow this lower part of the world seem to detract from the perfection and beauty of the whole. Not so, says Leibnitz: |there are some disorders in the parts, which marvellously heighten the beauty of the whole; as certain discords, skilfully employed, render the harmony more exquisite.|(222) Considered as an argument, this is likewise quite unsatisfactory. It is, in fact, merely the light of the imagination, playing over the bosom of the cloud; not the concentrated blaze of the intelligence, dispelling its gloom. And besides, this analogy proceeds on a false principle; inasmuch as it supposes that God has himself introduced sin into the world, with a view to its happy effects. We could sooner believe, indeed, that the principle of evil had introduced harmony into the world in order to heighten the frightful effects of its discord, than that the principle of all good had produced the frightful discord of the world, in order to enhance the effects of its harmony. But we shall let all such fine sayings pass. Perhaps they were intended as the ornaments of faith, rather than as the radiant armour and the invincible weapons of reason.
Though Leibnitz frequently insists, that |the permission of evil tends to the good of the universe,|(223) he does not always seem to mean that evil would be better than holiness in its stead; but that the permission of sin is not so great an inconvenience as would be its universal prevention. |We ought to say,| says he, |that God permits sin, because otherwise he would himself do a worse action (une action pire) than all the sin of his creatures.|(224) But what is this worse, this more unreasonable action of which God would be guilty, if he should prevent all sin? One bad feature thereof would be, according to Leibnitz, that it would interfere with the freedom of the will. In his |Abrege de la Controverse,| he says: |We have added, after many good authors, that it is in conformity with the general order and good, for God to leave to certain creatures an occasion for the exercise of their liberty.| This argument comes with a bad grace from one who has already denied the liberty of the will; and, indeed, from the very form of his expression, Leibnitz seems to have adopted it from authority, rather than from a perception of any support it derives from his own principles. He asserts the freedom of the will, it is true, but he does this, as we have seen, only in opposition to the |absolute necessity| of Hobbes and Spinoza; according to whom nothing in the universe could possibly have been otherwise than it is. In his |Reflexions sur le Livre de Hobbes,| he says, that although the will is determined in all cases by the divine omnipotence, yet is it free from an absolute or mathematical necessity, |because the contrary volition might happen without implying a contradiction.| True, the contrary volition might happen without implying a contradiction; for God himself might cause it to exist. And if, by his almighty and irresistible power, he should cause it to exist, the will would still be free in Leibnitz's sense of the word; since its contrary might have happened. Hence, according to this definition of liberty, if God should, in all cases, determine the will to good, it would nevertheless be free; since the contrary determination might have been produced by his power. In other words, if such be the liberty of the will, no operation of the Almighty could possibly interfere therewith; as no volition produced by him would have rendered it impossible for him to have caused the opposite volition, if he had so chosen and exerted his omnipotence for that purpose. This defence of the divine procedure, then, has no foundation in the scheme of Leibnitz; and the only thing he can say in its favour is, that after the authority |of many good authors,| we have added it to our own views.
Archbishop King, too, as is well known, assumes the ground that God permits sin, on account of the greater inconvenience that would result to the world from an interference with the freedom of the will. But so extravagant are his views respecting this freedom, that the position in question is one of the weakest parts of his system. The mind chooses objects, says he, not because they please it; but they are agreeable and pleasant to the mind, because it chooses them. Surely, such a liberty as this, consisting in a mere arbitrary or capricious movement of the soul, that owns not the guidance of reason, or wisdom, or anything apparently good, cannot possess so great a value that the moral good of the universe should be permitted to suffer, rather than that it should be interfered with or restrained.
But these are merely argumenta ad hominem. There are |many good authors| who, although they maintain neither of the above views of liberty, insist that it is better for God to permit sin, than to interfere with the freedom of his creatures. But is it clear, that greater inconveniences would have arisen from such an interference, than from the frightful reign of all the sin and misery that have afflicted the world? If God can so easily prevent all sin, and secure all holiness, by restraining the liberty of his creatures, is it clear, that in preferring their unrestrained freedom to the highest moral good of the universe, he makes a choice worthy of his infinite wisdom? In other words, is it not more desirable that moral evil should everywhere disappear, and the beauty of holiness everywhere shine forth, than that the creature should be left to abuse his liberty by the introduction of sin and death into the world? Besides, it is admitted by all the authors in question, that God sometimes interposes the arm of his omnipotence, in order to the production of holiness. Now, in such an exertion of his power, he either interferes with the freedom of the creature, or he does not. If he does not interfere with that freedom, why may he not produce holiness in other cases also, without any such interference? And if, in some cases, he does interfere therewith, in order to secure the holiness of his creatures, why should he not, in all cases, prefer their highest moral good to so fatal an abuse of their prerogatives? Is his proceeding therein merely arbitrary and capricious, or is it governed by the best of reasons? Undoubtedly by the best of reasons, say all the authors in question: but then, when we come to this point of the inquiry, they always tell us, that those reasons are profoundly concealed in the unsearchable depths of the divine wisdom; that is to say, they believe them to be the best, not because they have seen and considered them, but because they are the reasons of an infinitely perfect mind. Now, all this is very well; but it is not to the purpose. It is to retire from the arena of logic, and fall back on the very point in dispute for support. It is not to argue; it is simply to drop the weapons of our warfare, and oppose the shield of faith to the shafts of the adversary.
It is also contended by Leibnitz and King, as well as many other good authors, that there is an established order, or system of laws, in the government of the world; into which so great a confusion would be introduced by the interposition of divine power to prevent all sin, that some had better be permitted. This, which Leibnitz so positively asserts, is thrown out as a conjecture by Bishop Butler.(225) But in the present controversy, it is not to the point. For here the question is concerning the order and government of the moral world itself. And this being the question, it is not admissible for one of the parties to say, that the proposed plan for the government of the world is not the best, because it would interfere with and disturb the arrangements of that which is established. This is clearly to beg the question. It is to assume that the established method is the best, and therefore should not have been superseded by another; but this is the very point in dispute.
The truth is, that the theist has assailed the sceptic in his strong and impregnable point, and left the vulnerable part of his system untouched. This may be easily seen. The objection of the sceptic is thus stated by Leibnitz: Whoever can prevent the sin of another, and does not, but rather contributes to it by his concourse and by the occasions he gives rise to, though he possesses a perfect knowledge, is an accomplice. God can prevent the sin of his intelligent creatures: but he does it not, though his knowledge be perfect, and contributes to it by his concourse and the occasions to which he gives rise: therefore he is an accomplice. Now Leibnitz admits the minor, and denies the major, premiss of this argument. He should have done the contrary. For, admitting that God might easily prevent sin, and cause holiness to reign universally, what had he left to oppose to the attacks of the sceptic but the shield of faith? He might say, indeed, as he often does, that God voluntarily permits sin, because it is a part and parcel of the best possible universe. But how easy for the sceptic to demand, What good purpose does it answer? Can it add to the holiness or happiness of the universe? Cannot these high ends, these glorious purposes of the Divine Being, be as well attained by the universal rectitude and purity of his creatures, as by any other means? Cannot the Supreme Ruler of the world, in the resources of his infinite mind, bring as much good out of holiness as can be brought out of sin? And if so, why permit sin in order to the good of the creation? Are not the perfect holiness and happiness of each and every part of the moral world better for each and every part thereof than are their contraries? And if so, are they not better for the whole? By this reply, the theist is, in our opinion, disarmed, and the sceptic victorious. Hence we say, that the former should have conceded the major, and denied the minor, premiss of the above argument; that is, he should have admitted, that whoever can prevent the sin of another, but, instead of so doing, contributes to it by his concourse, is an accomplice: and he should have denied that God, being able to produce holiness in the place of sin, both permits and contributes to the reign of the latter in his dominions. The theist should have denied this, we say, if he would have raised the ever-blessed God above all contact with sin, and placed his cause upon high and impregnable ground, far above the attacks of the sceptic. But as it is, he has placed that cause upon false grounds, and thereby exposed it to the successful shafts of the adversary.
Another reason assigned by Leibnitz(226) and King(227) for the permission of moral evil is, that if God should interpose to prevent it, this would be to work a constant and universal miracle. But if such a thing were possible, why should he not work such a miracle? By these authors themselves it is conceded, that the Almighty often works a miracle for the production of moral good; and, this being the case, why should he not exhibit this miracle on the most grand and magnificent scale of which it is possible to conceive? In other words, why should he not render it worthy of his infinite wisdom, and power, and goodness? Is it not by a like miracle, by a like universal interposition of his power, that the majestic fabric of the material globe is upheld, and the sublime movement of all its countless orbs continually carried on? And if so, are not the order and harmony of the moral universe as worthy such an exercise of his omnipotence as are the regularity and beauty of the material? We defend the Divine Author and Preserver of all things on no such grounds. We say that a universal holiness is not produced by the omnipresent energy of his power, not because this would be to work a miracle, but because it would be to work a contradiction.
But we are becoming weary of such replies. The very question is, Why is there not a universal interposition of the divine power? and the reply, Because this would be a universal interposition of the divine power! What is all this but a grand attempt to solve the awful mystery of the world, which ends in the assurance that God does not universally interpose to prevent sin, because he does not universally interpose to prevent it? Or, in fewer words, that he does not, because he does not?
Since sin exists, says the sceptic, it follows that God is either unable or unwilling to prevent it. |Able, but unwilling,| replies the theist. Such is the answer which has come down to us from the earliest times; from a Lactantius to a Leibnitz, and from a Leibnitz to a M'Cosh. No wonder that in all this time they have not been able to find the reason why God is unwilling to prevent sin; since, in truth and reality, he is infinitely more than willing to do so.
But, saying that he is willing, shall we concede that he is unable? By no means: for such language implies that the power of God is limited, and he is omnipotent. We choose to impale ourselves upon neither horn of the dilemma. We are content to leave M. Bayle upon the one, and M. Voltaire upon the other, while we bestow our company elsewhere. In plain English, we neither reply unwilling nor unable.
We do say, however, that although God is infinitely willing to secure the existence of universal holiness, to the exclusion of all sin, yet such a thing is not an object of power, and therefore cannot be produced by omnipotence itself. The production of holiness by the application of power is, as we have seen, an absurd and impossible conceit, which may exist in the brain of man, but which can never be embodied in the fair and orderly creation of God. It can no more be realized by the Divine Omnipotence than a mathematical absurdity can be caused to be true.
Hence, we no longer ask why God permits sin. This were to seek a ground and reason of that which has no existence, except in the imagination of man. God does not permit sin. He chooses it not, and he permits it not, as an essential part of the best possible universe. Sin is that which his soul abhors, and which all the perfections of his nature, his infinite power and wisdom, no less than his holiness, are pledged to wipe out from the face of his creation. He does not cause, he does not tolerate sin, on account of its happy effects, or on account of the uses to which it may be turned. The only word he has for such a thing is woe; and the only attitude he bears toward it is one of eternal and inexorable vengeance. All the schemes of men make light of sin; but God is in earnest, infinitely and immutably in earnest, in the purpose to root out and destroy the odious thing, that it may have no place amid the glory of his dominions.
As sin did not originate by his permission, so it does not continue by his sufferance. He permits it, indeed, in that he permits the existence of beings capable of sinning; and he permits the existence of such beings in the very act of permitting the existence of those who are capable of knowing, and loving, and serving him. An infinitely good Being, says M. Bayle, would not have conferred on his creature the fatal power to do evil. But he did not reflect that a power to do good is, ex necessitate rei, a power to do evil. Surely, a good Being would bestow on his creature the power to do good -- the power to become like himself, and to partake of the incommunicable blessedness of a holy will. But if he would bestow this, he would certainly confer power to do evil; for the one is identical with the other. And sin has arisen, not from any power conferred for that purpose, but from that which constitutes the brightest element in the sublime structure and glory of the moral world. It arises, not from any imperfection in the work of God, but from that without which it would have been infinitely less than perfect.
|All divines admit,| says Bayle, |that God can infallibly produce a good act of the will in a human soul without depriving it of the use of liberty.|(228) This is no longer admitted. We call it in question. We deny that such an act can be produced, either with or without depriving the soul of liberty. We deny that it can be produced at all: for whatever God may produce in the human soul, this is not, this cannot be, the moral goodness or virtue of the soul in which it is produced. In other words, it is not, and it cannot be, an object of praise or of moral approbation in him in whom it is thus caused to exist. His virtue or moral goodness can exist only by reason, and in case of an exercise of his own will. It can no more be the effect of an extraneous force than two and two can be made equal to five.
In conclusion, the plain truth is, that the actual universe is not in the best of all possible conditions; for we might conceive it to be better than it is. If there were no sin and no suffering, but everywhere a purity and bliss as great as it is possible to conceive, this would be a vast improvement in the actual state of the universe. Such is the magnificent dream of the sceptic; and, as we have seen, it is not without truth and justice that he thus dreams. But with this dream of his, magnificent as it is, there is connected another which is infinitely false: for he imagines that the sublime spectacle of a world without sin, that the beatific vision of a universe robed in stainless splendour might have been realized by the Divine Omnipotence; whereas, this could have been realized only by the universal and continued cooeperation of the whole intelligent creation with the grand design of God. On the other hand, the theist, by conceding the error and contesting the truth of the sceptic, has inextricably entangled himself in the toils of the adversary.
The only remaining question which the sceptic has to ask is, that since God might have prevented moral evil by the creation of no beings who he foresaw would sin, why did he create such beings? Why did he not leave all such uncreated, and call into existence only such as he foreknew would obey his law, and become like himself in purity and bliss? This question has been fully answered both from reason and revelation. We have shown that the highest good of the universe required the creation of such beings. We have shown that it is by his dealings with the sinner that the foundation of his spiritual empire is secured, and its boundaries enlarged. In particular, we have shown, from revelation, that it is by the redemption of a fallen world that all unfallen worlds are preserved in their allegiance to his throne, and kept warm in the bosom of his blessedness.
If the sceptic should complain that this is to meet him, not with weapons drawn from the armory of reason, but from that of revelation, our reply is at hand: he has no longer anything left to be met. His argument, which assumes that a Being of infinite power could easily cause holiness to exist, has been shown to be false. This very assumption, this major premiss, which has been so long conceded to him, has been taken out of his hands, and demolished. Hence, we do not oppose the shield of faith to his argument; we hold it in triumph over his exploded sophism. We merely recall our faith, and exult in the divine glory which it so magnificently brings to view, and against which his once blind and blundering reason has now no more to say.