« PreviousContinue »
Christians, that, in defiance of the character and commands of its Founder, amity and general condescension have yet made but little progress among mankind. Difference of age, abilities, and education, ever have, and ever will produce disparity of opinion in all subjects of human cognizance; as well may we hope that every seed shall produce a tree of equal vigour, as that all men shall judge alike in all matters; yet, instead of applying that gentleness, which the consciousness of our own imperfections might recommend, to rectify the errors of our fellow creatures, or heal the wounds they have occasioned; we aggravate the first by our prejudices, and irritate the latter by. our ill-judged violence. What! are we not all Brethren? are we not all bought with a price? are we not all depraved? This at least is evident, that they most need Charity for themselves, who are least willing to bestow it on others. [The conclusion is unhappily lost.]
Esse aliquos Manes, et Subterranea Regna-
No circumstance has so much disturbed the philosophy of the ancients, and the impatience of the moderns, as the existence of natural and moral evil. To the former it was unaccountable on any reasonable principles, and embarrassed their fairest theories; and though it has been rendered less mysterious to the latter by the revelations of God, yet to all it is involved in darkness, and is peculiarly perplexing to those who value too highly their own ideas of the Divinity. By the Christian Gospel the certainty of future rewards and punishments is clearly established; and as the eternal duration of the latter involves in it the excess of evil in both its kinds, this doctrine has met with a proportionate difficulty in its reception.' That an allmerciful God should create an human being, well knowing at his birth that he will purchase for himself endless misery, has appeared so repugnant to the received notions of Divine Goodness, that many have presumed to doubt, and some boldly to deny the truth of so alarming a proposition; and as few difficulties can resist a favourite theory, it has
been discovered that the Holy Scriptures contain no conclusive evidence of this doctrine. But as “ the terrors of the Lord,” are among the great instruments of salvation, we should needs be cautious how we diminish their efficacy; and I fear it may be shewn, that the infinite duration of future torments, is rather rendered probable than contradicted by our limited knowledge of divine dispensations, and (which is more conclusive) that the testimony of Revelation is very direct and convincing.
The idea generally entertained of the goodness of God, to which this doctrine is supposed so repugnant, has been
an unlimited disposition to promote the happiness of all his creatures.” With this extensive attribute, thus unqualified, not only the eternity of future punishments, but the smallest degree of existing evil, is to our limited understandings irreconcileable; but then they are each equally so: infinite benevolence cannot admit of “majus or minus,” it is one and immutable. The most transient head-ach, and the damnation of all mankind, are in this view involved in the same mystery. Actual evil does exist, and cannot be inconsistent with the moral perfection of God: it is evident, therefore, either that we are mistaken in supposing such an attribute inherent in the Almighty, or, that being utterly in the dark upon the subject, we can neither affirm or deny any thing concern
To maintain then that such must be the nature of Divine Benevolence, and thence infer the impossibility of infinite vengeance, is to talk ignorantly and at random. ..
But, perhaps, on a more thoughtful consideration of the subject, we may suspect that we are a little too hasty in thus investing our Creator with those attributes* which
* I have often been struck with our presumption in defining the ato
we think fit to assign him; and may see that this idea of perfect love, is but the fiction of our fancy, which imagines that a virtuous disposition, amiable in human beings, would
tributes of the Deity; a subject with which, like most of which we are ignorant, we make rather too free. The usual ideas entertained of our Maker amount to little more than this; we take all those qualities which we find in ourselves contributing, as we think, to our perfection, and adding infinity to them, fancy we have an adequate idea of the “ Ens Entium.” Whereas it is not clear that there is the least similitude between the nature of the creature and his Creator: and it is morally certain, that an infinite variety of perfections must dwell in Him, of which no seeds are yet sown in us. The more direct path appears to be the same which we adopt in common life: to draw our inferences concerning His nature and character from the manifestations of it in the affairs of this world, and in express revelation, remembering only the humility with which we should enter on a subject so awful and incom. prehensible. Were the mysteries of the Eleusinian Ceres enveloped in darkness, and shall JEHOVAH be the subject of our petulant speculations ?
Methinks the contradictions into which we so often fall, might teach us more humility: we can only consider the attributes of our Maker singly, and in exalting one, we perpetually degrade another; yet it is curious, that the attribute which we most frequently disallow, is that which is most fully evidenced—his Omnipotence. Pope says,
Of systems possible, if 'tis confest,
That Wisdom infinite must form the best. laying down this truth as the foundation of his system. Cannot God then be at once All-wise and Almighty? Yet if this postulate be granted, his powers are limited indeed ; for then it is impossible for him to create above one system, supreme excellence being one. Even Lord Bacon, in his celebrated confession of faith, supposes it to have been impossible for God to have created any thing which would have seemed good in his eyes, unless washed by the blood of the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. Cannot God then be at once All-pure and Almighty? Like flatterers ignorant of their trade, we debase where we mean to exalt.
suit also the perfection of their Maker. In considering the moral attributes of God, the best guides we can possess are the dispensations of his natural and moral government, which, as far as our weak intellects can comprehend them, afford direct evidences of his character. From an examination of these, it should seem, that we much mistake the nature of Divine Benevolence, which appears to be identified with justice, and to consist, not in an infinite affection towards all his works, but in an infinite affection only towards the virtuous part of them; and to be balanced at the same time by a detestation equally infinite, of that part which is vicious.
The attributes of the Almighty being thus considered, punishment is a consequence of sin, as necessary, and resulting as directly from his moral nature, as the rewards of virtue: and the eternal torments of the wicked, their crimes being supposed to be proportionate, would follow as a natural emanation from the same system. If such then be the establishment of God's moral government, endless misery is of course possible; and those who deny it can deny it only sub modo, by asserting that no crimes committed on earth can deserve such a retribution. This would be daring, if not impious; and perhaps it is sufficient to reply, that if sin be in itself so odious as to admit of no atonement but the sufferings of God himself, they can have little room to hope for mercy, who aggravate crimes inexpiable without such a miracle, by the defiance of those sufferings which might have purchased their safety. It is of little import whether we can or cannot reconcile these awful dispensations with our notions of the Creator; they speak to us with a voice sufficiently intelligent, and declare, that such is the conduct of the Almighty, whether we may please to approve of it or not.