« PreviousContinue »
door left open, by which it can ever possibly enter into the world.
I suppose the way that men came to entertain this absurd notion-with respect to internal inclinations and volitions themselves, (or notions that imply it,) viz. that the essence of their moral good or evil lies not in their Nature, but their Cause—was, that it is indeed a very plain dictate of common sense, that it is so with respect to all outward actions and sensible motions of the body; that the moral good or evil of them does not lie at all in the motions themselves, which, taken by themselves, are nothing of a moral nature; and the Essence of all the moral good or evil that concerns them lies in those internal dispositions and volitions which are the Cause of them. Now, being always used to determine this, without hesitation or dispute, concerning external Actions, which in the common use of language are signified by such phrases as men's actions or their doings; hence, when they came to speak of volitions, and internal exercises of their inclinations, under the same denominations of their actions, or what they do, they unwarily determined the case must also be the same with these as with external actions; not considering the vast difference in the Nature of the case.
If any shall still object and say, why is it not necessary that the cause should be considered, in order to determine whether any thing be worthy of blame or praise ? is it agreeable to reason and common sense, that a man is to be praised or blamed for that of which he is not the Cause or author ?
I answer, such phrases as being the Cause, being the author, and the like, are ambiguous. They are most vulgarly understood for being the designing voluntary Cause, or Čause by antecedent choice: and it is most certain, that men are not, in this sense, the Causes or authors of the first act of their wills, in any case; as certain as any thing is, or ever can be ; for nothing can be more certain, than that a thing is not before it is, nor a thing of the same kind before the first thing of that kind ; and so no choice before the first choice.- As the phrase, being the author, may be understood, not of being the producer by an antecedent act of will; but as a person may be said to be the author of the act of will itself, by his being the immediate agent, or the being that is acting, or in exercise in that act; if the phrase of being the author, is used to signify this, then doubtless common sense requires men being the authors of their own acts of will, in order to their being esteemed worthy of praise or dispraise on account of them. And common sense teaches that they must be the authors of external actions in the former sense, namely, their being the Causes of them by an act of will or choice, in order to their being justly blamed or praised: but it teaches no such thing with respect
to the acts of the will themselves--But this may appear more manifest by the things which will be observed in the following section.
The Falseness and Inconsistence of that metaphysical Notion
of Action, and Agency, which seems to be generally entertained by the Defenders of the Arminian Doctrine concerning Liberty, moral Agency, foc.
One thing that is made very much a ground of argument and supposed demonstration by Arminians, in defence of the forementioned principles, concerning moral Agency, Virtue, Vice, &c. is their metaphysical notion of Agency and Action. They say, unless the soul has a self-determining power, has no power of Action; if its volitions be not caused by itself, but are excited and determined by some extrinsic cause, they cannot be the soul's own acts; and that the soul cannot be active, but must be wholly passive, in those effects of which it is the subject necessarily, and not from its own free determination.
Mr. CHubb lays the foundation of his scheme of liberty and of his arguments to support it, very much in this position, that man is an Agent and capable of Action. Which doubt. less is true: but self-determination belongs to his notion of Action, and is the very essence of it. Whence he infers, that it is impossible for a man to act and be acted upon, in the same thing, at the same time ; and that no Action can be the effect of the Action of another : and he insists, that a necessary Agent, or an Agent that is necessarily determined to act, is a plain contradiction.*
* Were the liuman mind, indeed, not the subject of either passive power, on the one hand, as the predisposing cause of vice; or of divine holy influence, on the other, as the predisposing cause of real virtue; and were the determining motive what some have represented it to be, the object itself, irrespective of the changeable state of the mind perceiving it; the objection, that a necessary agent is a plain contradiction,” or, in other words, that man is no proper ugeni, would be unanswerable. For the rank and place of man in creation, and his relative circumstances in the arrangement of providence, being the result of docre. tive appointment, if he himself were not liable to any change but by the same ap. pointment, it would follow, that if the objects themselves determined him to choose, and to choose always according to the strongest motive, his very volitions in the acts themselves would be necessitated decretively, to the exclusion of all hypothetical or moral possibility of failure; and therefore could never be erronecus, any more than the first cause could act erron cously. On such principles, moral evil, vice or fault, could have no existence. No effect could be otherwiso than good, amiable, and perfectly innocent; a moral possibility of failure being ex
But those are a precarious sort of demonstrations, which men build on the meaning that they arbitrarily affix to a word;
cluded by natural necessity. For the rolition itself to be so necessitated, and not in a moral or hypothetical manner only, is the same thing as giving it no oppor. tunity of choice or preference, or constraining it to choose one way by a settled purpose, with a natural impossibility of acting otherwise. But if' every act of man be thus the result of settled purpose, why should he be blamed for any one act whatever ? He does nothing but what he is constrained, or decretively necessitated to perform, the contrary being rendered naturally impossible ; and if he deserves no praise, he can incur no blame, any more than a clock for not keeping time. Such a necessary agent would be indeed a plain contradiction. There is much reason to apprehend that some philosophical necessarians have no better notion of agency than that which Mr. CHUBB charges, and justly charges, with "a plain contradiction.” For those who hold the sentiment, that every act, even as to its moral quality, and every event, are of decretive appointment, in subserviency to ultimate good, must allow, in order to be tolerably consistent, that the supreme Being is “ the only proper agent in the universe ;* and thus reduce human agency, and every thing else called agency in a creature, to an appointed necessary choice, however odious in its nature, mischievous in its tendency, or painful in experience. Thus, according to them, God is the only proper agent in all foul crimes and horrid blasphemies, on earth and in hell! They have a right to define their terms, and to say what they mean by agency in God, or in a creature, and to state their hypothesis accordingly; but others also have a right to deduce the genuine consequonces of that hypothesis, and to shew wherein its error lies. The design of these notes is not to excite a spirit of unprofitable controversy, but to assist the serious enquirer in detecting errors and recognizing truths of radical importance in Ethics and Theology; and, it is hoped, that to promote these ends the following observations may conduce.
1. It is granted, that in reference to natural acts, the supreme Being is the "only proper agent in the universe,” as they all spring from his energy. In this respect he is the first cause of all causes, efficiently; and the description of the poet is philosophically just : Ho
“Warms in the sun, refreshes in the breeze,
Spreads undivided, operates unspent."-POPE. 2. It is also granted, that, in all acts morally good, the created agent is the subject of necessity several ways. He has an active nature from decretive necessity, which it is not in his power to alter. He is also, accordingly, compelled to some act of choice, from the activity of his nature. He is, moreover, the subject of physical influence of a holy and purifying nature, whereby the goodness of his choice is infallibly secured, and without which there could be no assignable ground of certainly that any action would be morally good. There is also a necessity of connection, arising from the nature of things, or the essence of truth, first, between the disposition and the act, or that the act will be of the same nature, morally considered, with the disposition from which it proceeds ; and, secondly, between the act and the end or consequent, which is happiness.
3. It is morcover allowed, that in all acts morally eril, the soul is passive in reference to that necessity of dependence which is inseparable from a created nature, which may be called passive power; without which the existence of moral evii would be impossible. This necessity also arises from the nature of things, not from decree; for no decree can alter its existence, (though it may, and actually does counteract it) any more than it can alter the state of a creature from dependence into independence on the first cause. A creature without passive power involves the most palpable absurdities. For its very definition is a chal property in a creature whereby it differs essentially from the independence, self-sufficience, and indefectibility of the Creator ;” and to deny it, is to suppose that a creature may he independent, self-sufficient, and indefectiblethat in these respects tbe
* Belsham's Elements of the Philosophy of the Mind, p. 254.
especially when that meaning is abstruse, inconsistent, and entirely diverse from the original sense of the word in common speech.
creature and the Creator are on a par-that a necessary and a contingent being are the same, in those very things which constitute their essential difference! Were it not for this property in an agent, he could never sin ; for all his acts would be physically necessary, without any hypothetical medium, or moral alternative.
4. He is a moral agent, whose volitions might have been otherwise than they are,if the motives, and consequently the state of his mind, had been otherwise. But to suppose that his volitions might have been otherwise than they are, the motives and state of the mind being the same, would be to make him in his volitions the sport of chance, or a mere nonentity.
5. He then is a moral agent who has, in reference to volition, a moral alternative, or a hypothetical possibility of a different choice. Where this alternative, or this possibility, is not, there the agent (if he may be so called) is not morally obliged, and therefore is not accountable.
6. But if so, where does the ground of such an alternative lie ? It lies in the agent's mind or the disposition whence the volition springs, and whence its character is derived. If God influence the mind so as to make it, in a given degree, to resemble his own moral nature ; in that degree would the choice made be morally good. But if passive power be not counteracted by such influence, (which being gracious, God is not bound in equity to do) in any given degree, the nature of things, the essence of truth, connects, in a corresponding degree, the state of mind with the volition.
7. Hence it is plain that moral influence, as such, effects nothing certain; but always requires a previous state of mind, in order to ensure a certainty of good effect; and that previous state of mind is effected by no other possible means but a physical energy or agency, producing assimilation. There must be a virtuous mind before a virtuous choice; the quality of the act is derived from the agent.
8. One thing, which has been a source of much obscurity and confusion in reference to moral agency, is the supposition that the mind is equally free in all respects, when choosing good and when choosing evil ; in other words, that the one volition and the other become morally certain, from the same sort of necessity. But this is: not the real case. Indeed the necessity of connection between the previous state of the mind and the corresponding volition, is the same ; for it is in each case nothing else but the nature of things; but that necessity which effects a state of mind previous to good volitions, is as different from the other necessity which effects a state of mind previous to volitions morally evil, as light is from darkness. They proceed from opposite quarters, and operate in contrary directions. A holy disposition is generated by decretive holy influence; the other dis. position (which ought not however to be called unholy) proceeds from the hypothetical nature of things. Such a disposition, though not morally vicious, yet generates vice in union with free agency.
9. It is highly worthy of remark, that though a good volition must proceed from a good heart, morally considered ; yet a bad volition does not, originally and necessarily, proceed from a morally bad heart. The reason is, that the one state of heart proceeds from God, from his decretive holy will ; the other proceeds from passive power, which is only a natural evil, and not a moral.
Besides were the disposition which immediately precedes a bad volition necessarily, or in every case, evil, in a moral sense, either moral evil could have no place at all in the universe, no origin whatever, or else it must be the same as passive power. But passive power is a contrast, not to the moral perfections of God, vui his natural; and has, when alone, no moral quality. And seeing it belongs as a property to every creature, as such, were it any thing merally evil
, moral evil would be essential to the very being of every creature; which is absurd.
10. Hence it is plain, that freedom is experienced in a higher sense, or a greater degree, in bad volitions, than in good ones ; in such a sense, and to such a degree, as to justify this mode of expression that man is necessitated to good, but free to evil. This however may need some explanatory qualification ; for
That the meaning of the word Action, as Mr. CHubB and many others use it, is utterly unintelligible and inconsistent, is manifest, because it belongs to their notion of an Action, that it is something wherein is no passion or passiveness ; that is (according to their sense of passiveness) it is under the power, influence, or Action of no cause. And this implies that Action has no cause, and is no effect ; for to be an effect implies passiveness, or the being subject to the power and Action of its cause.
And yet they hold that the mind's Action is the effect of its own determination, yea, the mind's free and voluntary determination ; which is the same with free choice. So that Action is the effect of something preceding, even a preceding act of choice: and consequently, in this effect the mind is passive, subject to the power and Action of the preceding cause, which is the foregoing choice, and therefore cannot be active. So that here we have this contradiction, that Action is always the effect of foregoing choice; and therefore cannot be action; because it is passive to the power of that preceding causal choice; and the mind cannot be active and
he is not so necessitated to good, as not to be morally, or hypothetically free; nor so free to evil as not to be subject to a necessity of consequence. He who acts or chooses amiss without constraint, compulsion, or interfering voluntary force in that act, notwithstanding his passive power, is properly a free agent ; for in the moral quality of the act, there is properly and strictly no will concerned but his
But he who acts or chooses aright, is subject to a physical, decretive necessity as to his disposition, and a physical concourse of divine energy in the natural act of the will. He is indeed morally free, in as much as his volition might have been of a different, yea, of an opposite moral quality, if the state of his mind had been different. Hence it is evident, that in a good will, choice, or act, man is an agent in a less proper or secondary sense; but in a bad will, choice, or act, man is an agent, a moral agent, a free agent, in the most proper and strict sense. And in the production of an act morall good two wills are concerned that of the agent, and the decretive will of God; in that of evil, only one, the agent's own will,
11. If the Supreme Being is the only proper agent in the universe, either moral agency is no proper agency; or else, man is not a moral agent ; and if so, he is not accountable, and has no concern in religion or morals. Besides, if God be the only proper agent in the universe, how come there to exist evil deeds ? God's agency is good, else we have no evidence that he is a good being; but there are in the world evil deeds proceeding from evil minds, which common sense and universal consent allow, and the nature of the thing proves, to be properly evil agencies ; consequently man is an agent, a moral agent, properly so called.
12. If there be no proper agent in the universe but the Supreme Being, there is no evil in the nature of bad volitions, but on y in their effects. Sin, on that supposition, is not bad in its own nature, but only injurious in its effects on the sin
Sin is not to be hated, it seems, on its own account, as odious, but only shunned as dangerous. But as this must arise, according to the system of its abettors, from a sovereign appointment, it follows, that millions of beings are by this very appointment doomed to the greatest sufferings in the universe, for that in which they had no proper agency-no possible alternative! Where is equity, or benevolence ?
13. The only clue out of this labyrinth, and out of many others formed by writers on human agency, is, we are fully persuaded, a right view of passive power, in its nature, origin, and tendency, in conjunction with a morally or hypothetically free choice.-W.