« PreviousContinue »
the decree and will of God. When pressed further on the subject, how it can be worthy of an infinitely good and benevolent being to permit sin by a decree, they have been found to confess, that what is evil in the perpetrator is good in the decreer. His end in so doing, they have pleaded, is to promote the highest ultimate good; but the sinner's end is self gratification. This mode of reasoning, however, can never remove the odium cast upon the decreer of evil, by whatever words, or in whatever shape, the idea of decree
be represented. Much ingenuity and subtlety may be shewn in attempting, on that assumption, to clear the divine character: but after all, the cloud remains; and on such principles ever will remain : and if we are acquainted with none better, a modest retractation, and a humble acknowledgement of our ignorance, is the most pious and becoming conduct.
§ 12. But, it will be said by those who endeavour to satisfy themselves with the notion, that every event, the sinfulness of an act not excepted, requires a decree--if we reject this principle, we shall be obliged to adopt an acknowledged absurdity, i.e. that there may be an effect without an adequate
Or must we, it may be asked, admit two eternal principles, one good and the other
bad? Certainly not; for this would lead us to endless contradictions. The idea of eternal evil, is the most senseless of all others; for what is evil but a deviation from or a contrast to good? Were there not a first absolute good, evil would be an utter impossibility. To every mind that duly reflects, the notion of eternal evil must appear to overturn itself. Is there then, it may be further asked, any medium between this delirium of the Persians aud Manichees, and the admission of God's decree or fixed purpose as the cause of every effect? Is it the human will when human actions which God disapproves are in question ? It is conceded, that there is certainly no human action displeasing to God, where the human will is not employed: but what disposes that will to act in opposition to the will of its Maker and preserver?
§ 13. If there be not some other cause to which this may be ascribed, we are reduced to one of these considerations, - that a cause opposes itself, or,--that there is an effect without a cause. But where shall we find an ade. quate cause?
Is it contingence? What is contingence? It will be probably answered,
, that a contingent being or event, is what may or may not happen according to free will, Granted; but it also follows, that in this sense,
every being is contingent except the first, who does notowe his existence to free-will--as every other being may be or may not be, according to the free-will of the Creator. And as to events, there is not one which is not, in this respect, contingent; for, antecedently, it might not have been. Either the interposing will of God might have prevented it by a miracle, or the secondary agent might have been annihilated. If by a contingent event be meant, that which is not known until it takes place; then it follows, that what is foreknown is not contingent to him who does foreknow it, though it may be so to others.
§ 14. Can any thing, in this respect, be contingent to God? Is he not infinite intelligence itself? Some indeed have strangely fancied, that though he might foreknow
foreknow every event before it takes place, if he pleased; yet that he does not choose to know it. But is not his knowledge of all things, both in himself and out of himself, an infinite perfection? What can be more fanciful, than the notion of an infinite perfection being abridged, or limited by an act of choice? If so, any other perfection may be limited. And if limited in some degree, why not in a still further degree, until nothing of it be left! Absolute infinity limited by will! Yet, it may be said, that God can do all things, if he
pleased to exert his omnipotence; but he does not choose to exert it to the utmost. That he can do all things which do not involve a contradiction, is very true; but to suppose that he can limit an essential perfection of his nature, is surely the grossest contradiction. The idea of omnipotence is one thing, but the exertion of
power is another. The former, like intelligence, is an infinite perfection of the divine nature, and therefore cannot be limited by will, any more than the divine existence. The idea of power exerted ad extra, stands related to a limited object; and as the idea of a limited object' excludes infinity, the exertion of power cannot be infinite; for it implies a power to produce infinite effects,--that is, effects equal to the first cause, and as numerous as there are objects of power! Still, it may be said, that the attribute of knowledge is not limited, but its exercise. But is there any conceivable medium between knowledge and ignorance?-and a voluntary ignorance, if in this case it were possible, is of all others the worst,
§ 15. Knowledge is essential to wisdom, and to be voluntarily ignorant is a voluntary limitation of wisdom, Is it then conceivable that the all-wise God either would or could be voluntarily unwise? Besides, the right exercise of power implies knowledge; and if that exercise
be infinitely right, how can this consist with a voluntary ignorance? If the divine knowledge do not include all beings and events, his designs (if on the supposition he could have any) may be continually frustrated, and if it do not in clude all possibles, how could any design bę infinitely wise, since it possibly might be wiser? In short, the fallacy lies in this false assumption, --that knowledge is an active principle; which is in fact to identify it with power. The moment we conceive a possible change in divine knowledge, were it indeed compatible, we must borrow the idea of power to effect it: that is, we must borrow one attribute in order to lessen another! In short, there is no end to the absurd consequences of a sentiment which now struggles for popularity as an instrument to oppose Calvinism. I must, however, do justice to the Bishop of Lincoln by observing, that this does not appear to be his avowed opinion; and an apology might be made to the reader for detaining him in making an exposure of it, were it not that it contributes to my design to expose false principles which are levelled against modern Calvinism.
§ 16. We know from the most unequivocal testimonies of scripture, as well as from the nature of infinite perfections, that God does foreknow future events which are to us contingent,