Images de page
PDF
ePub

may say, God cannot always prevent men's sins, unless he acts contrary to the free nature of the subject, or without destroying men's liberty. But will they deny, that an omnipotent and

[ocr errors]

perplexed. They neglected, or did not sufficiently perceive, the only principle by which the greatest difficulties in moral science may be satisfactorily explain. ed, and by the aid of which some of the most important truths of revealed religion, which appeared to clash, may assume a beautifui consistency, and may be shown to be founded in eternal truth. Faith indeed may live, and even triumph, without a scientific knowledge of his objects; but it may grow stronger, and triumph still more (cæteris paribus) in the front of daring opposition, or when insidiously attacked by the opposition of science, falsely so called," when possessed of demonstrative evidence of the harmony of divine perfections, and of truths which depend on that harmony. But, before we come to state and illustrate more particularly the principle in question, we must not lose sight of the other idea, included in the term “permit.” If the phrase “ to will to permit

cannot mean " to will to will,or “to will to decree,” an act of the will is not included in the term “permit.” And this exclusion of an act of will, undoubtelly, enters into its only justifiable acceptation in reference to the present subject. To permit, is not to hinder what has, or appears to have, a tendency to take place. To will to binder, lo prevent, to oppose, to counteract, or to efect any thing, is strictly proper, when a contrary effect or tendency of any kind is implied But to will to hinder a dead man from walking is nonsense. When a person has an inclination, or a tendency of any kind, and when it is in the power of another to hinder its operation, but does not hinder, it is proper to say that he permits it; that is, he does not will the contrary. An exercise of will is both useless and unmeaning, when only to permit is intended; for the event is supposed to take place if not prevented. For one man to permil another to do a good or a bad action, when it is in his power to prevent it, is good sense; because it implies an inclination in the person permitted. But why is it improper to say, that God permits a man to do his duty? It is because he neither would nor could do it by mere permission. If permission implied an act of will, there would be no impropriety in a language which yet all allow to be absurd, vis. that God permits a man to be good! But to permit evil is good sense, and approved language. Why? Because no exercise of will, on the part of the permitter, is required; or, because it is implied that it would take place if not prevented. To decree the continued existence of the world in its present form for a given time, expresses a clear and consistent idea ; but to say thatGod has decreed that he will not do the contrary during the same period, is unmeaning language. When a declaration is made, that God will not do a thing, as drowning the earth with another deluge, &c. the plain meaning is, that it expresses the non-existence of an imagined event. But the non-existence of an imagined event, no more implies a decree concerning it, than does the nonexistence of other imagined worlds, or another fancied first cause. To preveni implies will, in counteracting the intended effect, but to permit is not to will the counteraction. Therefore, "to will to permit” is the same thing as “to will not to will," which, both in meaning and in language is alike indefensible. And when we say, that God permits moral evil, if we have any consistent meaning, it must intend, that he does not will to hinder it-except in a legislative sense and if so, what possible room is there left for any exercise of will in permission ? Infinite perfection forbids it. Man, indeed, may determine not to do a thing; but this must refer either to a former intention of doing that thing, which now is altered, or to some expectation of the contrary. But nothing of this kind can belong to God, who " is one mind."

Can any sin then take place without God's will and concurrence? It is replied; if by "sin" be meant the act of the sinner in its concrete form, the divine will and concurrence are implied. But we should remember that in every act, how. ever morally evil, there is, and necessarily must be, a natural good included. The natural powers and energy of the mind are of that quality, proceeding from the divine will, and without which there could be no moral act either good or bad.

infinitely wise God could not possibly have influenced all mankind to continue in their obedience, as the elect angels have done, without destroying their liberty ? God will order it so,

But the sinfulness of the act (which is often expressed by the shorter word sin) cannot possibly proceerd except from some defect, which tberefore must be a negative cause, and which no more needs the divine will for its production, than does mere nihility need it. The idea of perfection and of will, is positive; but thai of imperfection and of permission is negative. And as perfection admits of degrees, considered as existing in creatures, so does the want of perfection. The former is the effect of divine will, but the latter needs no will, nor can admit any. Nay, for a creature to exist without any want of perfection, is the same as a self-sufficient creature, (for then alone could he be without imperfection) which is infinitely absurd.

We may further observe, that if there were nothing good in an act concretive. ly sinful, no evil could attach to such act ; for what is moral evil, if not the perversion of that which is naturally good? If the natural powers and their acts, abstractedly considered, were not in themselves good, moral evil would be impossible. And were there no negative cause, or some kind of defect in the agent, all his acts would be morally as well as physically good, and that infallibly, as those of the absolutely perfect Being in the Deity there is no defect of any kind, nor any negative cause of any effects or consequences; and therefore no liability to moral evil.

But how can we conceive of a negative cause, affording a demonstration of an ineffable consequence? Is there any thing analogous to it in the nature of things ? And if there be, what importance can be attached to it? Let us coolly endeavour to furnish a reply to these questions. We can easily conceive of a mathematical point, and it is universally allowed that it has no dimensions--it has neil her length, breadth, nor thickness—and therefore is a negative idea. It implies a negation of every thing that has positive existence It is therefore pure nihility under a relative consideration. But though in itself it is nothing positive, yet that nothing, when it stands related to a line which has positive length, becomes a source of innumerable demoustrations. For, if we take into the account, together with a point, a circumference of equal radii, we have the positive idea of a circle, composed of a centre and circumference. And without this relation subsisting between a relative nothing and a positive something, the idea of a circle is not possible ; and consequently the ideas of the properties of a circle (which are innumerable) are absolute impossibilities. So nearly allied and so perfectly similar, are the very first principles of geometrical and metaphysical science. For, as without the negative idea of a mathematical point, (for points are the boundaries of lines,) constituting an adequate reason of an infallible consequence, not a single demonstration in geometry can be effected ; so without the negative idea of passive power, as the opposite to that power which is active and positive, not one demonstration properly so called, can be effected in metaphysical and moral science. This may appear to some a bold assertion; but it is not more bold than true. He wbo would dispute the fact, may just as wel) dispute the truth of the very first definition in geometrical science, viz. that of a point. He may indeed raise objec. tions, and plead that we can see a point, therefore it must have some dimensions; or, if it be nothing, it can be no cause, no adequate reason of any thin as a consequence, &c. but if he attempts seriously to vindicate his objec. tion by argument, he cannot avoid showing himself perfectiy ridiculous to those who understand the subject. And equally ridiculous must he appear who would attempt to disprove the fact of negative causation in moral science.

But how can we admit that there may be two co-existent causes in the same subject, one positive and the other negative? We are obliged to admit it from a due consideration of stubborn facts. For what fact can be more plain, than that from the same agent may, and actually do proceed, effects, virtue and vice, vhich are diametrically opposite to each other? And surely such effects must roceed from opposite causes, If therefore virtue proceeds from a positiro

that the saints and angels in heaven never will sin; and does it therefore follow, that their liberty is destroyed, and that they

a

cause, as all must allow, vice must proceed from a negative causality. This evidence is demonstrative. Yet, the inquisitive may ask, is there any phenomenon in the nature of things analogous to this? Though an answer to this question is not necessary to the end of establishing the fact, it may serve, ex abundanti, for illustration. For this purpose, then, we may appeal to a matheYa utical line, which has positive length, with a negation of breadıb; and without this negative causalily no geometrical demonstraiion can be established. And the same may be said of a plane superficies, the boundaries of which are lines. Thus a negative causality enters into every geometrical demonstration, in conjunction with what is positive. But the reader should keep in mind that these instances are aduced for illustration, not professed proofs of the doctrine. The latter is founded ou direct evidence from the very nature of God and that ol a creature.

That a comparative defect is a negative cause, in the sense before explained, is evident, when we consider (as before intimated) that in po creature can it be found without a comparative good, conjoined with it; and that in free agents this good, which consists chiefly in the natural intellect and will, is capable of opposite directions, one conformable to rectitude and another opposed to it. Now, it is clearly impossible that these directions, one for the chief good, and the other against it, should proceed from the same cause, whether good or bad. The direction of the will towards rectitude cannot be caused by defect, any moro than something positive can proceed from vihility. Nor can the directions of the will against rectitude be caused by perfection of any kind or degree. But intellect and will in all beings, whether original or derived, are perfections, and therefore cannot be the cause of a direction against perfection ; for then there would be a cause repugnant to itself, which is impossible. The wrong choice, therefore, which is a wrong direction of the will, must proceed from a negative cause ; for in causes there is no medium between positive and negative.

But though infinite perfection cannot be the cause of imperfection of any kind or degree, for reasons which have been already adduced, yet perfection affords occasion, an innocent occasion, for imperfection to show itself, by way of contrast. Thus, if absolute perfection were to produce no creature, no occasion would be afforded for comparative imperfection to show itself; and without the latter, moral evil would be impossible. The inference, therefore, is irrefragable, that moral evil originates from a negalwe causality, or that defect in the agent, which is the want of ulterior perfection. Yet here it may be proper to add, as of the utmost importance to be takeu into the account, that though effects may proceed from negative causes, as well as from positive, and with equal certainty, yet there is this important difference; the former is only hypothetical, the latter absolute, originally considered. The first cause is positive existence independent of will, and unconditional, and every other positive cause must emanate from the first will; but a negative cause, consisting in defect, cannot possibly take place, with respect to causality, but on condition, viz. the condition of a created nature, and that of permission in the explained sense of the word. A positive cause may counteract the tendency of a negative one, but not vice versa.

Hence is derived the proper notion of permilling moral evil to take place ; the negative cause is not hindered from taking effect, for reasons infinitely good and wise. But to represent this permission, or sufferance, as willing or decreeing the negative as well as the positive part of sin, is an infinite absurdity; for the sinfulness of an act being the direct opposite to infinite perfection, such representation makes infinite perfection to oppose itself. Thus all good, in every degree-every quantum of created nature, from the greatest to the least, together with all positive and active causality-are from God. “He is light,” knowledge, and purity, “and with him there is no darkness at all,” no ignorance, no waat of holiness. And thus also all moral evil proceeds from the offender, who is the subject at once of a quantum of derived, and therefore li

Vol. VII.

a

are not free, but forced in their actions ? does it follow, that they are turned into blocks as the Arminians say the Calvinists?

mited perfection, and of comparative defect. And these two things (perfection and defect) enter into the very notion of a created nature,

Is it necessary to say any thing more in confirmation of the general theorem, that there is in the human mind a negative causality, from whence may flow a certainty of consequence? It may tend to the further satisfaction of the reader, if we advert to another argument founded on the nature of free will. The term " will” designates a power of the mind which is positive and active; but the terin "free,” connected with it, expresses a negative idea. For it expresses, when properly used, the absence of coercion and restraint, but in different rea spects. The complex iilea of " free will" is resolved into this plain proposition, the will is free; that is, the will is not constrained in one respect, and is not restrained in another. It is neither decretively constrained to evil, nor decretive. ly restrained from good. No other freedom can be predicated of the will as the cause of moral effects. And it is as much a relative nothing as a mathematical point. We may therefore safely affirm, that among the countless millions of moral effects, which take place, not only among men but also in the created universe of free agents, there is not one but what is beholden to a negative causality for its existence, in connexion with what is positive. For, if freedom be excluded, no act can have a moral quality,

To conclude this note, which has already exceeded the limits at first intended, we must observe once more, and it cannot be too strongly inculcated, that there is no case or circumstance in which moral evil might not be prevented by the supreme will, were it employed for that purpose. For as God is all sufficient, and as his control over his creatures, for their good, is absolute; his power to effect a prevention of moral evil is undoubted. Nor can there be any question that this power, in pursuance of divine decrees, does in fact, and in instances which to us are inconceivably numerous, counteract the tendencies of negative causes to prevent moral evil. But if it be required), why in any instances it is permitted lo take place, when God might with infinite ease prevent it? It is sufficient here to say that God is infinitely wise, as well as powerful, and equitable as well as benevolent. But a further answer to this inquiry would lead us to consider the ultimate reasons of moral government, or why a moral system is at all established ; and the question has been already discussed in the first volume of this work, to which the reader is referred.

COROLLARIES.

1. Negative causality, in connexion with what is positive, is an essential principle of moral science. If either be excluded, we can have no clear and adequate idea of any moral act, much less a demonstration of its cause.

2. These two principles relatively connected, furnish us with sufficient data, and the only sufficient ones, for a demonstrative solution of this problem, What is the origin of moral evil?

3. In these principles we have the means of demonstrating the origin of all evil whatever, as well as of all good.

4. We may further infer, that Mr. LOCKE was not mistaken, when he said, "I am bold to think, that morality is capable of demonstration, as well as mathematics." Essay B. III. chap. xi. & 16. And again, "The idea of a Supreme Being, infinite in power, goodness, and wisdom, whose workmanship we are, and on whom we depend; and the idea of ourselves, as understanding. rational beings, being such as are clear in us, would, I suppose, if duly consilered and pursued, afford such foundations—as might place morality amongst the sciences capable of demonstration : wherein I doubt not but from seli-evident propositions, by necessary consequences, as incontestable as those in mathematics, the measures of right and wrong might be made out to any one who will apply himself with the same indifferency and attention to the one, as he does to the other of these ojenceng." B. IV. chap. iii. $ 18. Once more, " This gave me the confidence

doctrines turn men? God decrees all the good that ever comes to pass; and then there certainly will come to pass no more good, than he has absolutely decreed to cause; and there certainly and infallibly will no more believe, no more be godly, no more be saved, than God has decreed that he will cause to believe, and cause to be godly, and will save. If God, from all eternity, knew that such and such things were future, then they were future; and consequently the proposition was from all eternity true, that such a thing, at such a time, would be. And it is as much impossible that a thing should be future, without some reason of its being future, as that it should actually be, without some reason why it is. It is as perfectly unreasonable to suppose, that this proposition should be true, viz. such a thing will be, or is to be, without a reason why it is true; as it is that this proposition should be true, such a thing actually is, or has been, without some reason why that is true, or why that thing exists. My meaning is, that it does not remain a question; but the matter is decided, whether the proposition shall be true or not.—The thing, in its own nature, is not necessary, but only possible ; and therefore it is not of itself that it is future ; it is not of itself in a state of futurition, if I may so speak,

to advance that conjecture, which I suggested, chap. 3. vis. That morality is ca. pable of demonstration, as well as mathematics. And I doubt not but if a right method were taken a great part of morality might be made out with that clear. Dess, that could leave to a considering man, no more reason to doubt, than he could have to doubt of the truth of propositions in mathematics which have been demonstrated to him.” B. IV. chap. xii $ 8.

5. As geometrical evidence proceeds upon the supposition of points, lines, angles, &c. and the province of the demonstration is to show the consequence resulting from the supposition; so, the above stated principles afford the means of demonstrating moral consequences, on the supposition of effects being given to show their necessary causes, or of causes being given to show their necessary effects. If the quantum of inoral good, or of moral evil, in any given act, be sup. posed, the business of a demonstration is to show the relative proportion it bears io ils appropriate cause or causes : Or, on the other hand, if the quantum of causal influence be supposed, to show as a demonstrative consequence, the nature and relative proportion of moral good or evil in the act. This is the true province of moral science, as contradistinguished from conjectural observations and a set of rules. These, in their proper place, huve an important use for the purpose of moral conduct; but they can by no means furnish dala for scientific knowledge.

6. There is one inference more that must not be omitted, viz. that the true prieci ples and demonstrative consequences of moral science are incomparably more important in themselves, and ought to be more interesting to all mankind, than any others: because they lead us in a more direct manner than any others to the knowledge of God and ourselves. They point out to us at once the sources of good and evil, happiness and misery ; they afford motives for devout affections of the noblest kind; and in proportion as they are properly applied, they stimulate to the practice of the sublimest virtues, and the most circumspect conduct. Without a divine revelation, indeed, it is highly probable, that the true principles and relations of moral science could never have been discovered by maokind; but that circumstance, while it has no tendency tu depreciate the evidence, demands our gratitude to him who is the only source of every good, aod every perfect gist.”_W.

a

« PrécédentContinuer »