Page images
PDF
EPUB

ture. All beyond this is the region take not therefore, the statement of of conjecture, uncertainty, and im- this scheme assumes what may well penetrable darkness.

be refused, and which, if refused, The conceptions, which the hu- cannot be extorted. Let the advoman understanding is capable of cates of this theory first prove the forming, concerning infinity, are in preliminary assumption, that the most instances too imperfect and present system was chosen upon a inadequate to enable us to draw comparison of an infinite number of positive conclusions from them. possible systems, and it will be time The most ingenious speculations of enough afterwards to assign the this sort are extremely unsatisface reasons why it was chosen in prefetory, and fail of producing complete rence to every other. conviction. In speaking of Dr. Attentive reflection will satisfy Clarke's celebrated argument, a us, that we know far less respectpriori, for the existence of God, from ing the purposes and plans of Diour conceptions of immensity and vine wisdom, than upon a superfieternity, Dr. Reid remarks, "These cial view we are apt to imagine. are the speculations of men of su. Our knowledge and conceptions are perior genius; but whether they be furnished by real existences. The as solid as they are sublime, or exercise of our external senses first whether they be the wanderings of awakes the powers of the mind, and imagination in a region beyond the serves either directly or indirectly limits of the human understand- to excite the various thoughts of ing, I am at a loss to determine." which the human understanding is « After this candid acknowledg. susceptible. The imagination can ment from Dr. Reid, I need not be make a new disposition and modifiashamed, says Mr. Stewart, to con- cation, within certain limits, of the fess my own doubts and difficulties materials thus furnished by the on the same question." Is it not senses; but it is not in our power then presumptuous for us to pro- to form an idea, or combination of nounce with dogmatical confidence, ideas, totally dissimilar to any thing that from the infinite perfection of which has previously come to our his nature, the Divine Being must knowledge, and of which the ele. necessarily determine in this way ments are not furnished by the or that way, according to our weak works of God. We have no faculty conceptions of fitness and pro- analogous to that by which the conpriety?

ception of created existences was 3. It is by no means certain that originally formed, and consequently the ideas involved in the statement we cannot form any notion of the of this theory are applicable to the manner in which the Divine underpurposes and dispensations of God. standing was exerted, in originating It is taken for granted that the pre- the plan of the created universe, or sent system was chosen upon a of any of its parts. The formation comparison with other possible sys- and the execution of the Divine tems. How this can be proved, I plan in regard to creation, are confess I know not. To represent equally above the capacity and the the Divine Being as deliberating comprehension of man. We have upon the comparative advantages the power of modifying the mateand disadvantages of an infinite rials which creative power has pronumber of different possible sys. duced, but we have no creative tems, and as the result of the com- power, nor can we form any notion parison giving the preference to the how creative power was exerted, in present system, appears to be rather producing all things out of nothing. the work of imagination, than the It will be apparent therefore that dictate of sober reason. If I mis- we cannot, from the manner in

which our imaginations are employ- posed necessity in the nature of ed in relation to actual existences, things, but to the will and operation infer any thing with certainty, in of God, must be evident to every regard to the manner in which the person upon the slightest reflection. Divine understanding was exerted, And it is equally evident that in in forming the conception and plan speaking of different possible sysof things which had no existence. tems as better or best, the mind

The theory of Optimism is found- proceeds on the contrary supposied on an unphilosophical and super- tion;-a supposition which cannot ficial view of the causes of natural without the greatest absurdity be phenomena, and of the nature of the ascribed to Him who ordained the connexions which we observe to constitution of nature, and whose exist between different events. immediate operation secures those This charge I hope to substantiate connexions and tendencies which by the following remarks. From we foolishly attribute to necessity the constancy and uniformity which and the nature of things. we witness in the succession of na- A delusion, somewhat resembling tural events, we are led to consider the preceding, is involved in the certain connexions and tendencies arguments advanced in favour of as necessary in the things them- this scheme from the nature of the selves, independently of the ap- determinations of the human mind. pointment and immediate efficiency The manner in which human choice of God. This erroneous view we is directed and regulated is a legicarry along with us, when in our timate and becoming subject of inimaginations we form conceptions quiry; and it is readily admitted of other worlds and systems. We that in all instances our choice is ascribe to them certain laws, con- founded upon reasons real or supnexions, and tendencies, similar to posed; but that the present system those with which observation bas of the universe was chosen in a supplied us; and to complete the manner perfectly analogous to the delusion, we consider the Divine way in which we choose one object Being as proceeding in the same in preference to others, is by no manner-as forming notions similar means evident. Our determinato our own of different systems, tions proceed upon the supposition having various laws, and connex- of the separate and independent jous, and consequences, inherent existence of those objects to which and necessary, separate from any they relate, and of the stability and determination and efficiency of his permanence of the laws of nature respecting them. When it is sup- which God has ordained; and in posed that God views this as the most instances at least, they are inbest possible system, the supposi- fluenced by events and circumtion implies that he regards certain stances which are independent of connexions and tendencies as ne- us, and over which we bave no concessary in the nature of things, trol. But nothing of all this can apart from any determination of his be said of the determinations of concerning them. If the foregoing God. He was not influenced by statement be correct, which I think any thing extrinsick. Nothing es. no person who reflects attentively isted separate from himself, by upon the operations of his own mind which his purposes could be inwill deny, it will follow that the fluenced or modified. To make the theory we are considering is a mere cases at all analogous, so that the delusion of our imaginations. That laws which belong to the one may the connexions and tendencies be legitimately referred to the other. which, we observe among natural it is necessary to have recourse to events are not owing to any sup- the nature and fitness of things, ac

cording to which it is supposed that seems to be left in some measure the Divine determinations are in- to our own choice, but that, somefluenced and regulated. As this how or other, we feel ourselves to appears to be nothing better than a be in a peculiar manner tied, bound, groundless imagination, it unavoid- and obliged, to the observation of ably follows that no conclusion can justice." be fairly drawn from the nature of The theory of Optimism conhuman choice, to prove the neces- founds these obvious and university, or the reasons of the Divine sally recognised distinctions, and determinations.

attributes to the exercise of pure 4. An unanswerable objection beneficence the language and maxagainst the theory of Optimism is, ims which apply only to justice. that by ascribing to goodness or be- That the creation of the world and nevolence the peculiar characteris- the communication of happiness to ticks of justice, it confounds all our created beings were acts of benefinatural conceptions and language, cence, of mere goodness, as disin relation to these different attri- tinguished from justice, no perbutes. The most accurate and en- son perhaps will directly deny; lightened moralists have, with great yet they are not unfrequently clearness, distinguished between spoken of as acts of justice, in the them, and pointed out the remark- confused and shuffling phraseology able peculiarities of each. The ex- which is used by some writers on ercise of justice is necessary and the subject. “Publick or general indispensable. That is not pro- justice," says Dr. Maxcy, "respects perly speaking an act of justice, what is fit or right, as to the chawbich inay be omitted without in- racter of God, and the good of the justice. Hence it is that the rules universe. In this sense, justice of justice among men may be laid comprises all moral goodness, and down with precision, and enforced properly means the righteousness by compulsion. On the contrary, or rectitude of God, by which all acts of pure beneficence are left his actions are guided, with a in some measure to our own will, supreme regard to the greatest and when they are not enforced by good.Accordingly, this the claims of justice, gratitude, thor does not scruple to apply to fidelity, nor enjoined by the com- justice, when thus used as synonymands of a superior, they are al- mous with benevolence, the lanways free. “The rules of justice," guage and ideas which belong to says Dr. Adam Smith, “may be justice, in its ordinary and legiticompared to the rules of grammar: mate acceptation. Justice, consithe rules of the other virtues, to the dered in this view, he says, forbids, rules which criticks lay down for requires, is satisfied, is done to the the attainment of what is sublime universe, &c. 'To assert directly and elegant in composition. The that benevolence requires that God one, are precise, accurate, and in- should promote the greatest good dispensable. The other, are loose, of the whole system, would be an vague, and indeterminate.” “And inconsistency too gross to escape upon this is founded, says the same detection. To keep out of view writer, that remarkable distinction the incompatibility of their notions between justice and all the other with the common judgment and social virtues; that we feel our language of mankind, it is found selves to be under a stricter obliga- necessary to substitute justice in tion to act according to justice, some shape or another, in the room than agreeably to friendship, cha: of benevolence; and by this dexterity, or generosity; that the prac- rous management it is possible to tice of these last mentioned virtues give some degree of plausibility to

au

any kind.

statements, the absurdity of which ed without confounding those things would be perfectly manifest, if which are so accurately distinguishstated in precise and ordinary ed by the common language and terms. From the same cause pro- understanding of all men, and by ceeds the frequent use of the words the infallible declarations of Scrip. fitness, suitableness, propriety, with ture. others of a like nature, in reference 5. A great and obvious objection to acts of Divine goodness. It is to this scheme is, that it is hardly possible to connect these terms, reconcileable with a belief in the without palpable absurdity, with the omnipotence of God. It has been supposed necessity of the Divine the common belief of Christians, in determination to that which is best. conformity, as they thought, with This cannot be done with benevo. Scripture, that the power of God lence. According to the universal can accomplish any thing which notions of mankind, its exercise, does not in its very statement inwhen not enjoined by a superior, is volve a contradiction. But it cerperfectly free, directed by sove- tainly involves no contradiction to reign pleasure, not by necessity of say that the number, the perfec

tions, and the enjoyments of created These remarks are, I think, con- beings might be greater than they firmed by the declarations of Scrip- are; and "as far as human eyes ture. in the communication of can judge," says Dr. Johnson, “ the gifts and benefits to his creatures, degree of evil might have been less God is uniformly represented as without any impediment to good." being influenced and directed, not "Surely a man should have by necessity, but according to the spoken more cautiously of Omnipogood pleasure of his will. "Having tence, nor have presumed to say predestinated us unto the adoption what it could perforın, or what it of children by Jesus Christ to him. could prevent. I am in doubt wheself, according to the good pleasure ther those who stand highest in the of his will. I'aving made known scale of being, speak thus confiunto us the mystery of his will, ac- dently of the dispensations of their cording to his good pleasure which Maker. I will venture to admohe hath purposed in himself. Being nish him to spend his time, not in predestinated according to the pur: presumptuous decisions, but in mopose of him who worketh all things dest inquiries, not in dogmatical after the counsel of his own will.” limitations of Omnipotence, but in Such passages have commonly been humble acquiescence and fervent understood to teach that the exer- devotion." It grates upon the ear cise of goodness and grace does not of piety to be told that the existproceed from any necessity in the ence of evil is unavoidable in the Divine nature, and also, that it is best possible system, and that the directed and regulated by his mere present system includes the greatgood pleasure. This interpretation est amount of good which the power seems to be justified by the consi- of God can effect. deration that similar language is It has been said that if the aenever applied to justice. These different attributes are thus uni.

• I have great pleasure in referring

the reader to Dr. Johnson's Review of formly distinguished according to Jenyn's Origin of Evil, a work exhibiting their peculiar nature, and in a man- his usual strength of thought and splen. ner perfectly agreeable to the es. dour of language, and containing one of sential judgments of the human un- the best specimens to be found, perhaps, derstanding. It is a peculiar infe- which may be made of ridicule and irony,

in any language, of the legitimate use licity, then, under which this theory in exposing the rashness and presumption labours, that it cannot be maintain of gratuitous specalations.

[ocr errors]

cessity of the Divine determina- wisdom and power, there is one tions to what is best be denied, best? Have we comprehension there can be no wisdom in his pur- sufficient to see this, and therefore poses and works. Happily we to say it? It seems to me that a have much better evidence of the demonstration might be given to the wisdom of God, than any which can contrary. The whole system of

be supposed to be afforded by this creation is either finite and tempo· baseless fabrick. The works of ral, or infinite and eternal. If it

creation, and the dispensations of be finite, it seems absurd to say his providence, furnish incompara- that it would not be made better bly stronger proof, and more une- by being made larger and similar; quivocal illustrations of this per- and if it was not from eternity, it fection, than any theory which the might have been made many thouhuman imagination can devise. sands of years sooner. If on the

The reader, I am persuaded, will contrary, it be infinite and eternal, be gratified with the following quo- the possible combinations of an infi

tation from a writer, whose works, nite system are truly infinite, and : on a great variety of subjects, uni- there cannot be a best. The pa

formly discover an understanding trons of this scheme, when pressed the most comprehensive and discri- with these difficulties, have recourse minating, and whose sound and to what they should have begun cautious judgment effectually pre. with, the incomprehensibleness of served him from those fanciful spe- time and space, and say that we culations, which unfortunately are cannot apply any of the ideas of too often looked upon as the infal- sooner or later to eternity, or larger Jible marks of a great and original or less to space. The impossibility genius. The excellence of the quo- of uniting infinite to definite qualitation will be the best apology for ties, should have prevented them its length. “Of this scheme," says from saying, that of all possible Dr. Witherspoon, “it is the leading systems infinite wisdom must part, or rather the foundation of the choose the best.” whole, to say that God infinitely wise and good must necessarily choose the best in every thing. That, therefore, of all possible systems, this which he has chosen, because it has taken place, must ne- We have very recently received cessarily be the best, and he could the subjoined letter from Professor not choose any other; so that from Hodge, of the Theological Semithe unalterable rectitude of his na- nary at Princeton. We are not ture, he is as invariably determined able to account for the length of by necessity as any of his creatures. time which elapsed after this letter This boasted demonstration would was written, before it came to our be defensible perhaps, were it not hands. Still, we think it will af. that its very foundations are good ford a better general view of the for nothing. Its ideas are not ap- state of religion in France, at the plicable to the Divine Being; bet- present time, than has hitherto, so ter and best are definite terms, and far as we know, been given to the actual comparisons. We say a publick-It is on this account that thing is better when it is preferable we publish it. We are persuaded to some others, and best when that the information it contains will it is a thing absolutely prefer- be gratifying to many of our readable to all others. Now, with what ers; and we regret that we cannot propriety can it be said that in the make room, in our present number, plans that were possible to infinite for the whole of the communication. Vol. V. Ch. Adv.

SL

STATE OF RELIGION IN FRANCE.

« PreviousContinue »