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is contradictory, since it seems to assume that things which are abstractedly possible are not capable of actual existence; which appears to be the same with saying that they must be both possible and impossible at the same time. In reply, I need only to remind the reader, that in relation to opposite possibilities, the argument did not go to shew that opposite possibilities are not capable of actual existence, but only that they are not capable of coexistence: and in relation to the coexistence of all things which are abstractedly possible, the argument had precisely the same bearing. Every thing which is abstractedly possible may be brought into actual existence: but all things which are abstractedly possible are not capable of coexistence, at any single point of duration : neither can all the abstract possibilities of an infinite duration be ever brought within the limits of any finite portion of duration however extended.
All abstract possibilities are hypothetically eternal; since what is abstractedly possible at any point of duration, must, under the same circumstances, be equally possible at every point of duration: but although all abstract possibilities are hypothetically immutable, they are actually subject to perpetual mutation. Many things that were possible yesterday, may have been rendered absolutely impossible at the present moment, and that which is possible to-day may be rendered absolutely impossible by to-morrow: and so on ad infinitum: and therefore, although all things which will ever be possible, may be utterly incapable of coexistence, yet every possible thing may have an actual existence in its own legitimate place of succession on the boundless range of an unlimited duration. The present existence of all abstract possibilities, would imply a compression of an unlimited duration within the indivisible limits of the present moment; which would be as incompatible with the infinite duration of the Deity, as with the inexhaustible fecundity of Almighty power. All things which are at present possible, may either, negatively or positively, have a present existence: but the possibilities of an infinite duration will require an infinite duration to bring them into actual being.
The sophism which would argue an actual certainty from an abstract possibility, may claim a moment's notice in this place. It has been speciously argued, that since the reader
is now actually perusing what my mind has indited and my pen has written, it was therefore certain, from all eternity, that at the present moment he would be so employed. It does not much excite our wonder when we hear illiterate people talking away in such a random manner; but it is, I confess, more than marvellous, to hear grave and learned doctors propound such a sophistical proposition in the name of argument. If a person would only distinguish between abstract possibility and actual existence, the case would be perfectly intelligible. It would then stand as follows: Since my reader is now actually perusing what my mind has indited and my pen has written, it was always possible that at the present moment he might be so employed; but it was, prior to the present moment, equally possible that at this time he might not be so employed up to the present time, both alternatives of the possibility were equally possible; but since my reader is now actually perusing the production of my pen, it is now no longer possible that at the present moment he may not be so employed; for by the actual transpiration of the positive possibility, the negation thereof has been actually annihilated.
Arguing from the mere abstract possibility of things, up to their real and actual existence, is I conceive, the great fallacy of the Berkleyan theory; which is so far from being in accordance with the legitimate deductions of human reason, that it would justify every conceit of a Bedlamite, and would clothe the wildest vagaries of the human fancy, with the sober garb of truth; and would embody every phantasm of a disordered intellect, in the forms of real existence.
These obvious and numerous discrepancies, between abstract possibilities and actual existence, open the door for the admission of an innumerable swarm of contingencies of every species, which flit through every postern of the human intellect, buzz along all the avenues to the heart, crowd the great thoroughfare of human life, and darken the whole hemisphere of the moral world in their ceaseless and portentous flight. See them stretch themselves out into all their immeasurable amplitude, and pursue their aerial way along an infinite continuity of beings; as wide as from the margin of absolute certainty
and actual existence, quite to the verge of absolute impossibility; and commencing their flight with the duration of the Divine existence, and continuing their course from everlasting to everlasting.
Possibility, in the way of accommodation, may be improperly predicated of all certainties and of all things in actual existence, since their certainty, or their actual existence, demonstrates that they are possible; but possibility, in its strict and proper application, belongs exclusively to things which are only abstractedly possible, and have no actual or real existence: still it must always be kept in mind, that every abstract possibility may be predicated both negatively and positively.
Here then we come to the final conclusion; which is, that between the alternatives of abstract possibilities, there is always to be found a mental, or a moral, or a physical contingency; since both the negative and positive alternations, are equally capable of being brought into actual existence, and each of them is just as capable as the other of being completely destroyed, by the actual transpiration of the opposite alternative. It is possible I may be eternally saved, such are the advantages of my probationary state; and such are its awful responsibilities, that it is equally possible I may be eternally lost: and between this appalling alternative, there lies a momentous contingency; which will continue hanging in fearful suspension over the issue of my life, until my final happiness or misery shall render one of these possibilities an everlasting reality, and annihilate the other possibility for ever and ever. But until one of those events shall actually transpire, the issue of my life will be as much a contingency to the infinite mind of God, as to the narrow intelligence of my own finite understanding.
It has, indeed, been frequently argued, that some things may be certain to an infinite intelligence, which are contingent to us; an argument that is perfectly tenable, and is as perfectly irrelevant. That some things may be certain to an infinite mind, which are not so to any finite intelligence, is intuitively evident; but that an infinite mind can anticipate, with certainty, an issue, which he himself has made to be contingent, is the very point in dispute; a point which has been roundly and repeatedly asserted,
but which no person has hitherto even pretended to prove. It is a strange thing that our opponents will imagine, that assertions on their side, are evidence the most plenary and decisive, while they will regard even arguments on our side, as being little less than blasphemy. Why should they be so confident of infallibility, when they are not able to produce a single argument in support of such a point as the one before alluded to? And why will they continue to shield their ignorance under the pretended mystery of the subject?
The question, as we have already argued, is not now a question of evidence but of fact. Certainty, in knowledge, is a very different thing from certainty in fact; the former cannot possibly exist without the latter; but the latter, very frequently exists without the former, as far as the knowledge of created beings is concerned. Certainty in the event, must be antecedent to, and quite independent of, all knowledge or mental certainty of the fact; but although mental certainty should have no influence whatever upon certainty in re, yet certainty in evidence, must always demonstrate the existence of certainty in re, and must for ever be incompatible with all contingency.
Contingencies are identified with all moral agency, whether created or uncreated, and every attempt to subject them to the rules of a rigid certainty, or reduce them to the regular proportions of physical causes and effects, would be nothing better than an outrage on human liberty, and a libel on the moral government of God. They refuse to submit themselves to the authority of a rule, or the process of measurement:-they shrink from the touch, and vanish from the sight;-they are ever changing in their forms; they are ever flitting on the wing;-they ride on the fiery pegasus of a lawless will;-they are created by every excitement of our passions, and are flung in myriads from every scintillation of the human fancy. Contingency scorns the mechanical rules of mathematical demonstration, and the rigid laws of mental and physical certainty; she soars into a loftier region, and as she spreads her ample wings and wheels her eccentric way, she describes a track as unlike the regular concatenation of physical causes and effects, as the course of the royal eagle is from the flight of an automaton or the sailing of a balloon...
The notion of a certain prescience in relation to moral actions, and the final issue of human life, inconsistent with human responsibility, and repugnant to all moral feeling.
As the great question of necessity and certainty is so intimately connected with that of an eternal prescience, and will be likely to interweave itself with every part of our discussion, it will be necessary to give an accurate definition of those terms, that they may not hereafter be employed or understood according to any vague or equivocal meaning.
If my notion of their meaning be correct, we apply the term necessity to causation, and that of certainty to consequence or issue. An event is necessary which has an effectual and infallible causation, and certain when the issue is not capable of miscarriage. Now, although it is not philologically correct to say that the terms convey precisely the same idea, inasmuch as the one is indicative of causation, and the other of issue; yet, in popular speech, the terms are perfectly convertible, and the ideas which they convey are uniformly coexistent. Necessity and certainty are cognate ideas, and the evidence of the one must always demonstrate the coexistence of the other. Prove an event to be certain, and you will prove it to be necessary: prove an event to be necessary, and you will prove it to be certain: prove an infallible causation, and you will prove a certain catastrophe: prove a certain catastrophe, and you will prove an infallible causation. An infallible causation cannot possibly exist without involving a certain issue; neither is it possible to secure a certain issue except by an infallible causation. The disunion of issue from causation is the sole work of an unbridled imagination, of which we have no precedent in either nature or science, and for which we