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when they do ill, though we charitably believe their hearts are no better than our own? What father is there that doth not condemn an undutiful son? what master is there that doth not blame a disobedient servant? what man is there that doth not cry out against a neighbor who hath slandered him, or defrauded him, or robbed and wounded him? And yet the undutiful son, the disobedient servant, the slanderer, the defrauder, the robber, or murderer, may all plead not guilty on this ground, as well as any sinner against God. They have all wicked hearts : they were born with them; and cannot alter them, nor try to alter them. Men will for ever condemn others, when injured or abused, notwithstanding such an excuse as this: if therefore we justify ourselves on this ground, our own mouths condemn us: if we say that we are perfect, because we do as well as can be expected from imperfect creatures, it proves us perverse.
2. Some excuse themselves, as if they had no sin, under a notion that they are not free agents.
Our wills, say they, are governed by motives, as constantly, as invariably, as necessarily, as the heavenly bodies are moved by attraction; or as the rivers run, and a stone falls, by gravitation. Besides, God hath fore-ordained whatsoever comes to pass. All the volitions and actions of men are according to his fixed eternal purpose; and are under the perfect guidance of his uncontrolable Providence. Consequently, we never could have done, or said, or thought, otherwise than exactly as we have. How then can we have any more moral agency than inanimate matter? or how can we be any more to blame than the winds or waves, for any irregularities?
To this formidable argument, which bids fair for excluding all possibility of praise or blameworthiness out of the whole universe I answer,
(1.) It is not the instability, the contingence, the randomness, with which a being acts, that constitutes him a free agent; nor is it the regularity, constancy, or necessity, of the motions of inanimate bodies, that makes them not free. Were all the revolving planets and comets at full liberty from all the laws of nature, they would not be free agents, any more than they now are. Nor are intelligent crea tures less free, because they are actuated regularly, and with a kind of necessity, by certain laws or principles of action; than if they had nothing, either in or out of themselves, to stimulate or restrain them. If all bodies in the material world were to be let loose from all the laws of nature, and from the governing Providence of God; and could they be supposed to move at perfect random, having nothing to direct them; still their motions would not be voluntary; and therefore, they would not be free agents. On the contrary, angels and men, though acting necessarily according to their own dispositions; though influenced always by motives; and though under the entire government of an over-ruling Providence, may yet act altogether voluntarily; and, of consequence, with the fullest conceivable freedom of moral agency. I answer,
(2.) That kind of necessity which implies an impossibility of acting otherwise than agreeably to one's own mind, is essential to the liberty of a moral agent.
If the actions of rational beings, were not necessarily according to their own dispositions, they would not be free. Such actions would not be their actions. They could have no government over them, and would deserve no praise or blame for them. If a man could act entirely contrary to his own will, or could will entirely contrary to his own disposition, what a strange kind of freedom would he have! Would any one wish for such freedom? would any one fault him
self, or even his neighbor, for volitions and actions which were thus free? Were it possible for God to act contrary to the infinite holiness of his nature; or were it possible for him to change his nature, and become disposed to cruelty, falsehood and unrighteousness; would he be a more free agent, a more glorious Being, or more worthy of our confidence, adoration and praise ?
That liberty to act either way, in all cases, contrary to the inclination of the agent, as well as according to it, for which some contend, is a kind of liberty inconsistent with all moral agency. Such necessity as implies an impossibility of acting, or willing to act, otherwise than agreeably to one's own disposition, is essential to that freedom of a moral agent, which alone can render him deserving of praise or blame, for any actions. And this is all the necessity which need be supposed, in the spontaneous actions of men. I answer,
(3.) To say that we have no sin, because we have no freedom of will, is most plainly contrary to scripture, and to all common sense.
The whole Bible evidently goes upon the supposition that man is a free agent; and so do all mankind, in their treatment of one another. If we imagine that men have not that freedom which is necessary to constitute them moral agents, and to render them capable of moral evil, what must we think of all laws, exhortations, counsels and reproofs, human and divine, which are given to mankind; and of all punishments inflicted upon or threatened them. If men were mere machines-if, like the heathen gods of wood and stone, they could not do evil, neither were it in them to do good, to give them any commands would be palpably absurd; to counsel or admonish them would be perfect nonsense; to reprehend or punish them, would be most unreasonable and unjust. And on this supposition what must
we think of the plainest dictates and feelings of our own minds? Do we not resent the injuries done us by our fellow-men, in a very different manner from what we do any hurts received from inanimate things? Are we not angry with the instruments of our suffering pain or damage, in the one case, as we are not in the other? Do we not all of us feel that law written on our hearts, of which the apostle speaks the law of conscience, accusing, or else excusing one another? We must disbelieve the whole word of God; we must contradict the most evident belief of all mankind, and we must give up, as illusory and false, the plainest feelings of our own minds, before we can suppose ourselves such necessary agents, as to be incapable of blameworthiness. But,
3. Some may say, that they are chargeable with no sin, because they have never done that which will eventually be any damage. They have never hurt God, nor the creation of God. All will end well; therefore, “Whatever is, is right." Right, not only in Him who eternally planned it, and providentially orders it; but right in the actors of it. God will not appear less glorious in the end, nor will there be less happiness in the universe, for us, or for any of our actions. On the contrary, whatever we have been, or whatever we have done, was designed and ordered by infinite wisdom, as necessary for the greatest universal good. Why then should we be sorry for it, or condemn ourselves, or be condemned?
This imagination, like the forementioned ones, at first appearance, exalteth itself as an impregnable fortress for the defence of sinners: but when judg ment is laid to the line and righteousness to the plummet, it must be swept away, with other refuges of lies and hiding places of falsehood. Reason and conscience, if only attended to, will tell every
man, that when he has acted wickedly, and with a wicked mind, he is not at all the less to blame, because the intended mischief is prevented by another; or because the evil action is made the occasion of good. And the holy scriptures abundantly inform us, that God views the matter in this light. He used Nebuchadnezzar as his battle-axe, to cut down his enemies; and as his rod for the chastisement of his revolted chosen people. Howbeit, since he meant not so, neither did his heart think so; but it was in his heart only to enrich and aggrandize himself, by destroying nations not a few; God says, "When I shall have performed my whole work upon mount Zion, and on Jerusalem, I will punish the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks."
How is it that the actual damage arising from the iniquities of men is prevented, and that they are made the means of good? It is generally and principally by the punishment of them. Thus God made the oppressions and obstinacy of Pharaoh and the Eyptians, the occasion of his name's being declared throughout all the earth, by overthrowing and drowning them in the Red Sea. And thus will he get glory to himself, and, in displaying his holiness, will exceedingly increase the happiness of the good part of the intellectual creation, from the sins of all finally impenitent workers of iniquity, by the terrible punishment of them in that lake of fire, whence the smoke of their torment shall ascend up for ever and ever.
Who can say that God would not actually be hurt, in his glory and happiness; or that eternal damage would not be done to the universe, by every sin, were it not that he can thus ease himself of his adversaries, and be avenged on his enemies? Were it not that he will shew his wrath, and make his power known, in their exemplary punishment; except they make their peace with him, in the wonderful way provided? Were it not that those who walk in pride, he is able to abase,