« PreviousContinue »
evil volition which constitutes guilt. For when it is asked, why am I to be punished for my volition, since it is independent of myself? the inquirer must pre-suppose that he is to be punished for his volition because it is dependent upon himself, which is assuming as true the very point in dispute, and raising an objection on that assumption. If, however, there be any truth in the account which has been given of the origin of volition, that assumption is totally fallacious.
I am not to be punished for my volition, you say, because it is independent of myself and excited by circumstances over which I have no control. I reply, if your volition be evil, and you obey it, it is that very circumstance which renders you worthy of punishment, and that the dependence or independence of the volition on yourself does not at all affect the question. Your volition is evil : you deserve punishment : why? In order that that evil volition may be corrected. Punishment is not retrospective but prospective. You are to be punished not because you have yielded to an evil volition; but in order that you may yield to an evil volition no more. To inflict pain for the past, any further than the past has reference to the future, is revenge, not punishment : were it perfectly certain that an evil volition which is past would be attended
with no ill consequences in time to come, it would be neither necessary nor just to visit it with suffering ; but because an evil volition is evil, that is, because it tends to produce unhappiness, it is to be punished, in order that the misery it threatens may be prevented. It is the incorrect conception which is formed of the nature and object of punishment, therefore, which lies at the foundation of this objection, and which makes the subject appear so difficult to many persons ; and I cannot but think that all doubt and difficulty respecting it will be removed from the mind of every one who will consider with attention what is said on this subject in the third chapter of this work.
The train of circumstances in which an indi. vidual has been placed has given rise to a disposition, the indulgence of which is incompatible with his own happiness and with that of his fellow-beings. This disposition it is necessary to correct : this correction is accomplished by causing him to pass through another train of circumstances which makes him feel the evil of his conduct ; and this discipline, being attended with suffering, is expressed by the term punishment.
Such, then, being the foundation of praise and blame ; of reward and punishment; it is obvious, that a person is an object of moral
approbation, and is worthy of reward when his volition is good, and when he obeys that volition ; that he is an object of moral disapprobation, and is worthy of punishment when his volition is evil, and when, notwithstanding the voice which speaks within him, and which warns him of its nature, he yields to its impulse. The gold which incites the midnight plunderer to rob, is not blameable, though it is the immediate cause of the volition which induces the evil deed : it is the volition itself which is evil, and which requires to be rectified, and punishment is the process, the moral discipline by which its correction is effected.
Thus, then, we seem to have a clear and just conception of the manner in which the whole train of circumstances which form the character and induce the conduct of moral agents, may
be entirely the appointment of the Deity, while the agents themselves are at the same time the subjects of praise and blame, of reward and punishment.
Were there no evil in the world there could be no possible objection to this view of the subject.* Were every one virtuous and happy,
* Neither would there be the same objection to it in the minds of many persons, did it only attribute to the Deity the production of natural evil. But the misery occasioned by an earthquake or by disease, is often as great as that produced by every heart would rejoice to trace to the Deity its excellences and its pleasures. But how can he who is perfect in benignity, be the author of evil ? It is this which perplexes the mind, and the answer to the question involves the great inquiry about which intelligent and pious persons have in all ages exercised their most anxious thoughts, and leads directly to the consideration of the design of the Deity in the administration of the world. Into the consideration of this subject we shall enter in the next section : but before proceeding to it, it may be proper to notice an objection, of minor importance, which is sometimes urged against the doctrine of providence, and which has been stated and answered in so excellent a manner by Dr. Price, in his admirable Disquisition on Providence, (p. 47,) that it seems a kind of injustice to the subject to employ any language but his own.
“ It has been often objected that it is impairing the beauty of the world, and representing it as a production more imperfect than any work of human art, to maintain that it cannot subsist of itself, or that it requires the hand of its Maker
the bad passions of mankind : and it is altogether as difficult to account for the existence of natural as of moral evil. Indeed, the same account must be given of both.
to be always at it to continue its motions and order.
“ The full answer to this objection is, that to every machine or perpetual movement for answering any particular purpose, there always belongs some first mover, some weight or spring, or other power which is continually acting upon it, and from which all its motions are derived : nor, without such power, is it possible to conceive of any such machine. The machine of the universe then, like all besides analogous to it, of which we have any idea, must have a first mover. Now it has been demonstrated that this first mover cannot be matter itself. It follows, therefore, that this objection is so far from being of any force, that it leads us to the very conclu. sion which it is brought to overthrow.
The excellence of a machine by no means depends on its going properly of itself, for this is impossible ; but on the skill with which its various parts are adjusted to one another, and all its different effects are derived from the constant action of some power.
What would indeed make a machine appear imperfect and deformed is, assigning a separate power to every
distinct part, without allowing any place for mechanism; and, in like manner, what would really make the frame of nature appear imperfect and deformed is, resolving phenomena too soon to the Divine agency, or supposing it the immediate cause of