« PreviousContinue »
of the brothel, and all the miseries and abominations of the damned.
But, respecting the truth of this notorious apothegm, the Mosaic history does evidently admit the possibility of the fall of our first parents; and the provision which was made to guard them against temptation, implies that the Deity was well aware of their perilous condition; and the possibility of their maintaining their integrity, is, at the same time, and by the very same means, as clearly and necessarily implied. These opposite possibilities were perfectly compatible; but the certainty of either of them could never be compatible with the possibility of the other. And it is sufficiently evident on the face of the Mosaic history, that after guarding the happy pair with penal sanctions and paternal admonitions, the Deity himself did by no means expect that fatal issue which afterwards transpired.
It is evident, from the holy Scriptures, that the present fallen state of human beings is what the infinite mind of God had not with certainty anticipated; and, indeed, it would have been a moral impossibility for a Being of infinite benevolence to have created the human race under such an anticipation. It is indelibly inscribed on the pages of the Bible,—“God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth : and it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” Gen. vi. 5, 6. And it is a notorious and awful fact, that the Deity acted
the dictates of this repentance, and destroyed all the inhabitants of this earth, excepting only Noah and his family, who, on account of the uncorrupted piety of that ancient patriarch, found favour with God, and were saved from the waters of the deluge.
Now if we are to understand this notable passage of holy writ according to its obvious meaning and its unconstrained import, we must regard it as implying in the Deity an earnest wish that he had not created the human race. The inference, that if our Almighty Creator could have foreseen with absolute certainty that such would be the infallible and fatal issue of his six days' work, he would not have actually made mankind, is, I conceive, a legitimate conclusion from the foregoing declaration of the Almighty. For to suppose that God would create any being under a certain prescience of misery, and especially of eternal misery,
would be utterly repugnant to reason, and a gross outrage on the character of the great Author of our being.
An objector will probably argue, that the repentance of the Deity on the subject of the creation of the human race, would seem to imply, that creation must have been a blunder in the Divine economy. To this I reply, that final impenitence, wherever it may occur, must of necessity render existence an evil, is clearly implied in the words of our Lord concerning his betrayer: “İt had been good for that man if he had not been born.” Matt. xxvi. 24. Apd how much more truly might the same be said of any being who should be born under a certain prescience of eternal misery? But of a being whose final misery is only possible, and whose final happiness, to say the least of it, is equally possible, it can never be truly affirmed of him, while under such circumstances, and faithful to his trust, that he had better not to have been created. And to infer that the creation of such a being could have been a blunder in the Divine economy, although he should be unfaithful to his trust, would be about as correct an inference, as that the abuse of our mercies by our own voluntary wickedness, would imply any just reflection upon the character of that gracious Being by whom they had been bestowed.
On the subject of opposite possibilities, it ought always to be kept in mind, that although two opposite propositions may both be abstractedly possible, they may not always be equally feasible. Thus, it is possible for any human being to perish, and it is possible for any human being to be saved; but these two possibilities are not equally feasible. The motives on one side are infinitely greater than those on the other; the agency on the one side is infinitely more efficient than that on the other; the chances, or rather the possibilities on the one side, outnumber those on the other, as far as may consist with moral liberty, and a single possibility of ultimate failure. Human salvation, in relation to every individual of the species, is abstractedly possible; and the final misery of every human being is abstractedly possible; but there is a large overbalauce of motive and agency and practicability on the side of salvation. But even an infinite agency on the side of salvation, if that agency be only suasive, and not compulsory, it cannot render the happiness of any human being infallible ; inasmuch
as any incorrigible sinner may possibly remain finally impenitent. And it must be evident to the reason of every man, that as long as there may remain a single possibility of final impenitence in any person, the final and eternal salvation of that person cannot possibly be the subject of an infallible certainty. As long as it is possible he may be finally saved, it cannot be certain that he will be finally lost; and as long as it is really possible he may be finally lost, it cannot be certain that he will be finally saved.
The whole of this momentous argument might be included within the limits of a single question, and a single reply. It is indeed a question which few persons have sufficient resolution to look fairly in the face; although every person who should have the courage to bring it to the bar of his own reason, would find it to be capable of an easy and satisfactory solution. “Can the Deity righteously create a moral agent, and place him under probation for an eternal condition, and suspend the tremendous alternative of eternal happiness and everlasting misery upon the voluntary fidelity or infidelity of such a creature ?" I answer, Supposing eternal happiness and eternal misery to be the exact converse of each other, and supposing them to be pressed upon the attention by equal motives, and supported by an equal agency; or, in other words, supposing the liability on both sides of the question to be exactly balanced, no man in the world could make it appear, that under such circumstances, the gift of human existence would be a positive blessing. An equal possibility on the side of salvation, could not possibly amount to more than an 'equitable recompense for the risk which would be attendant on an equal liability to eternal misery. But, on the contrary, even supposing eternal happiness and eternal misery to be objects of equal magnitude; yet all preponderance of motive, all superiority of agency, and all excess in the number of possibilities on the side of salvation, over those on the side of destruction, would clearly demonstrate the blessing of existence, and prove both the justice and the goodness of the great Author of our being.
To return to the subject of Divine omniscience. The phrase all things, in its popular acceptation, is exceedingly equivocal; for it will by no means express any stationary idea. All actual things are very far from being stationary,
and all possible things are equally as far from presenting a perpetual uniformity. Two opposite possibilities may exist abstractedly together, but the actual transpiring of the one must always annihilate the possibility of the other; and in this manner, both abstract possibility and actual existence must be under constant mutation, and must be altered both in quality and in quantity by every succeeding event, and by every fleeting hour. The all things of to-day present a very different object to the mind from the all things of yesterday, and one that is equally dissimilar from what the all things of to-morrow will be ; but under all this mutation, and at every period and every date, omniscience must imply a perfect knowledge of every abstract possibility, and every thing in actual existence; which is, indeed, all that is possible for an infinite intelligence to know. But if every subsequent act of Omnipotence must enlarge the exercise of the Divine power, then must it equally enlarge the limits of his knowledge. We never regard it as being any degradation to the character of Omnipotence, to affirm, that the Deity has not already done all that is possible to be effected; and therefore, we ought not to regard it as any degradation to the character of Omniscience to maintain that the Deity does not already know every thing which will hereafter be known. We might as well assert that the Divine benevolence cannot possibly assume any other form, or be extended to any object besides those to whom it has already been manifested, as to affirm that the Divine omniscience cannot possibly enlarge the bounds of its actual knowledge. Even those persons who advocate the doce trine of prescience will readily allow, only under another form, the very point for which I contend. They will allow, that although the Deity should foreknow what persons will eventually be saved, yet that he cannot be acquainted with the fact of their final salvation until they shall be actually saved. If, therefore, the knowledge of any future event may depend upon the actual transpiration of that fact, the point in dispute must be fairly and fully conceded.
It is, indeed, marvellous to observe what a heterogeneous collection of images are associated by the voracious credulity, and unclassified imaginations of certain wayward intellects, whenever they employ the phrase, “all things." Indeed, the popular exclamation of “God knows," gene
rally savours as strongly of ignorance as it does of impiety. Such persons commonly include in their crude conception of all things, not only all possible things, and all actual things, and all conceivable things, and all knowable things ; but they include all impossible things, and all inconceivable things, and all unknowable things, besides a great many more all things which they are not able either to explain or comprehend. And when a person's credulity has been glutted with such a multitudinous and multifarious aggregation of images, it is no wonder that his powers of mental digestion should be utterly incapable of reducing them to order, or of giving them any rational form, or of classifying them under any logical or scientifical arrangement. In many imaginations, things possible and things impossible, things actual and things scarcely imaginable, are all confounded in one universal confusion. Indeed, speculative error, both in science and religion, would be generally found to originate, not in the absence of ideas, but in a want of classification and order in the garniture of the human mind.
The creative powers of the human imagination can easily outstep the limits of all actual, and even of all possible existence; nor would it be in the power of Omnipotence to keep pace with the productions and associations of the human fancy. A depraved or unbridled imagination, can separate holiness and happiness, disobedience and misery; it can anticipate eternal felicity after a life of incorrigible disobedience, and final impenitence; it can associate necessity and liberty, contingency and certainty, and eternal prescience with the moral government of the world. It is able to confound liberty and licentiousness, the performance of absolute impossibilities, with the exercise of Omnipotence, and universal connivance at iniquity with the exercise of infinite benevolence. It can believe that things are actually performed, which all the perfections of Deity could never effect: it can propose a thousand schemes which even infinite wisdom would never be able to excogitate; it can start innumerable speculations which the Divine omniscience can not possibly know; and it can propose amities without number, which an infinite charity could never embrace. And an unbridled imagination can propose all these things as matters of implicit faith; as the