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on a faithful examination of Rom. vi. 19, 1 Cor. xv. and Gal. iii. 15, which are the only places where the phrase alluded to is used in the sacred writings, at all events, where it is so translated, that the Apostle actually employed the phrase, not because the subjects on which he was speaking were confessedly mysterious, but, on the contrary, because they were notorious, and well understood.
Necessity and certainty.
IT has commonly been assumed, that there is a real and an important difference, and, by consequence, an eternal difference between necessity and certainty; that certainties and necessities belong to two distinct classes of ideas, which have no affinity or connection with each other; and therefore that things may be infallibly certain, which are by no means unavoidably necessary.
There may indeed be a philological difference in the terms, and a philosophical difference in their application; but the ideas to which they are respectively applied are cognate, and coexistent, and absolutely inseparable: for although certainty, in strict propriety of speech, is not the same thing as necessity, yet they must always meet in the same object; their coincidence must be uniformly inseparable; and the existence of the one, in any given case, must always imply the coexistence of the other.
We apply the term necessity to any thing which cannot be avoided; and we apply the term certainty to any thing that will infallibly take place: we regard necessity as being applicable to causation, and we regard certainty as being applicable to issue: we say of any thing which is necessary, that it must be; and we say of any thing which is certain, that it will be: we regard the one, as implying something that must of necessity take place, and the other, as implying something that will infallibly transpire.
The illusion, in this case, arises entirely from the following inadvertency: when we say that we regard the term necessity as being applied to something that must of consequence take place, and the term certainty as being applied to something that will infallibly transpire, we are apt to forget that we are not distinguishing between two
different kinds of objects, but are only identifying two different properties of the same thing. Different properties, unless they are incompatible, can never demonstrate the existence of different substances; and we might just as well maintain that the two properties of light and heat in the sun would demonstrate the actual existence of two unconnected solar orbs, as that the two different properties of certainty and necessity belong to two different classes of
If certainties and necessities were, in reality, two different and unconnected species of facts, it would then be possible to distinguish between the one and the other, by identifying their respective and dissimilar properties; but this, I humbly conceive, is an analytical problem, which no casuist has hitherto had the temerity to undertake.
Necessity in the order of nature must always take the precedence of certainty, just as causation must always take the precedence of issue; because necessity alone is able to produce a certainty: and therefore, in the order of speech, and in force of expression, the term necessary must be always more significant and decisive than the term certain. But I would ask my reader, whether he is able to produce any case of absolute certainty, that will not, by consequence, involve an equal necessity? Or whether he is able to produce any case of infallible certainty, that has not been indebted for that infallible certainty, to an infallible and unavoidable necessity? And I would also ask, if it be possible for the limits of certainty to outstep those of the necessity by which it is produced?" and for the issue to exceed the causation from which it proceeded? and whether an effect without a cause, be not as gross and palpable contradiction as any thing with which the human understanding can be possibly insulted? According to the old Italian proverb, (Che sara, sara)" What will be, will be" and it is equally clear, that what will be, must be; because it is impossible for an infallible issue to be separated from an invincible causation. As far as my own observations have extended, I have always found that necessity has given existence to certainty, and that certainty has been uniformly supported by an equal necessity; for whereever I have been able to predicate the one, I have been always obliged to infer the other.
A mathematical certainty, for instance, must always imply a mathematical necessity: and thus it is certain that the whole of any thing is equal to all the parts of which it is composed; and that the three angles of an equilateral triangle are equal to two right angles; because it is not possible for the whole of any thing to be unequal to all the parts of which it is composed, or for the three angles of an equilateral triangle to be unequal to two right angles. Again, a physical certainty must always imply a physical necessity; and therefore it is certain that the perfect organization of the human body is conducive to health; because it is not possible for the perfect organization of the human body to be otherwise than conducive to health. In like manner, a moral certainty must always imply a moral necessity; and therefore it is certain that rectitude of principle will always tend to rectitude of conduct; because it is not possible for rectitude of principle to have any other tendency than to rectitude of conduct. Now if certainty and necessity be indeed dissimilar from each other, in their origin, in their nature, and in their properties, it can be no very difficult undertaking to produce examples in proof, and it can be no unreasonable demand to insist upon their actual production. If the reader will only produce a single example in nature, or science, or morals, in which it will plainly appear, either that certainty does actually exist, or that it even may possibly exist without involving therein an equal necessity, then I pledge my character to him, that I will immediately renounce my hypothesis, as being untenable: but until such a case be discovered, and actually produced, I must, as a rational man, continue to regard the foregoing argument as being founded in truth. If the separation of certainty and necessity be indeed so obvious and orthodox, as it is generally supposed, there cannot be any very great hardship in being obliged to produce one solitary example in its confirmation: but, if I am not greatly mistaken, it would defy the ingenuity of the most expert casuist on earth, to produce a single example of absolute certainty, that would not involve an equal necessity.
It has, I am fully aware, been often asserted, that although neither nature nor science should be able to furnish a single example of certainty, separate from necessity, yet the volume of Divine Revelation contains examples without
number. In answer to an assertion so obviously the production of ignorance and error, I would only remark, that if the philosophy of the Bible should be found to contradict the philosophy of nature, it would of necessity follow, that the material world and the volume of revelation do not proceed from the same being: and such a concession would contain every thing that infidelity itself could desire; because it would be totally incompatible with the Divine inspiration of the Scriptures.
It has often been maintained, that the ancient prophets do represent the events which they predict as being the objects of an absolute certainty, and as being, at the same time, entirely unconnected with any absolute or fatal necessity. Now this is mere assertion without proof; and I defy the objector to produce a single example that will substantiate the fact. A prophetical certainty must be supported by a prophetical necessity. If the resurrection of the dead, for instance, be a prophetical certainty, it must be supported by a causation amounting to absolute necessity. Hence we read that "This Scripture must needs be fulfilled." If the necessity be only that of verifying the prediction, the necessity, even in such a case, must be equal to the certainty of the issue. The truth of the foregoing assertion, must be supported by the production of a case in point: but notwithstanding the boldness and frequency with which it has been repeated, it would, I presume, be found to be no very feasible undertaking, to produce a single example of Scripture prophecy that would either literally express, or legitimately imply, the two opposite propositions in the foregoing assertion.
But passing over the fact of the case, for the present, I would only beg leave to remark, that if the Holy Scriptures should be found to contain axioms of faith, that would be at irreconcilable and eternal hostility with scientific fact and common observation, and utterly repugnant to the plainest and strongest dictates of the human understanding, such a discovery would, in my opinion, go a long way towards overturning the authority of the word of God. The Holy Scriptures were written under the inspiration of the Eternal Spirit of truth and rectitude; they are addressed to the human understanding, as well as to the human conscience, and they are given to us to direct our