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It is, indeed, a wearisome employment to pursue the vermine of error through all the doublings and sinuous intricacies of theological sophistry, and logical evasions. Nothing but an ardent love of truth, a fearless intrepidity of spirit, and a vigorous feeling of christian charity, can urge forward the labour of investigation and keep the pen alive and active. The progress of rational conviction will of consequence be slow; a superstitious reverence of ancient things, however erroneous, an unwillingness to light the torch of intellect at an opposing fire;-education, and habit, and a thousand other hinderances, stand in the way. Where error forms the prominent feature of any religious system, few of its advocates will ever be brought to a full conviction of its fallacy, and an open renunciation of the system. The gangrene of error and superstition may be checked and arrested, but few of the corroded parts will ever be restored to perfect soundness; they must be either lopped off from the trunk, or only left to wither away but new shoots will put forth their foliage, and spread themselves out into all their amplitude of growth, and they will shake the abundance of their fruit on the ground beneath. The copious showers of knowledge and righteousness are now descending from the skies; the river of religious truth begins to swell and quicken its lazy course; ignorance and error, and superstitions of every description which have been sleeping upon its stagnant surface for ages, may refuse to float with the stream; and may cling to every trembling osier, and to every tangled root of forms, and systems, and usages, and establishments; but the tide of knowledge will roll on, and carry the waters of life to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.
Superstition and implicit credence have laid as heavy burdens upon the christian world as ever the traditions of the elders laid upon the Jewish people. And the language of the gospel, to the one as well as to the other, is, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." To me it is more than evident, that if the leaven of fatalism be not entirely purged from the christian creed, it well never cease to pursue its secret and insidious fermentation until it have leavened the whole lump. If Christianity do not disown fatalism, fatalism will exterminate
Christianity. The creed of a Christian ought to be swept and purged from every particle of fatalism, as a man would cleanse and fumigate a house after the plague. For in sober reason, there is no more affinity between Christianity and fatalism in any of its forms, whether of necessity or certainty, or prescience, than there is between light and darkness, or between error and truth.
An infinite and eternal prescience, not included in the Divine existence, nor requisite for the government of the world, nor implied in the knowledge of the human heart, nor compatible with the moral probation of human beings.
We have already endeavoured to show, precisely in what sense the knowledge of the Deity must be absolutely infinite; but the subject may require some farther elucidation.
The most fruitful source of obscurity and error in our speculations on the knowledge of God, is that of our not distinguishing between existence and actions, between latent energy and power in active operation. Nothing but what is absolutely necessary can be Divine, and every thing which is absolutely necessary, must be necessary every where and at every point of duration. God is a Spirit, and therefore he must be an infinite mind. The intellect of the Deity must be an infinite understanding, because it is unoriginated universal and eternal; but it is not possible for any part of the garniture of his infinite mind to be either unoriginated, universal or eternal.
That we may be fully aware of the difference between existence and action, and between latent energy and power in actual operation, it will be necessary to pursue the following chain of argumentation. Existence is absolutely necessary, because absolute nonexistence is impossible; but creation is not necessary, because there was a period in duration when creation did not exist. Existence is universally and eternally necessary, but creation is neither universally nor eternally necessary; neither is it universally or eternally possible. Intellect, or mind is necessary, but the actual knowledge of things beyond itself, is not necessary: intellect is universally and eternally necessary; but the
actual knowledge of things beyond itself is neither necessary, nor universal, nor eternal. The attribute of an infinite moral integrity is absolutely necessary to the Divine existence; but the active exercise of that integrity beyond the limits of his own person is not necessary to the Divine existence: an infinite moral integrity is universally and eternally necessary to the Divine existence; but the active operation of that infinite integrity is neither universally or eternally necessary to the Divine existence. An infinite benevolence is absolutely necessary to the Divine existence; but an infinite beneficence is not necessary to the Divine existence: a universal and eternal benevolence is necessary to the existence of the Deity; but a universal and eternal beneficence is not necessary to the existence of the Deity. A creative energy is absolutely necessary; but actual creation is not necessary: a creative energy is universally and eternally necessary; but a universal and eternal creation is neither necessary nor possible.
The most elevated and amplified conception, which it is possible for the human understanding to form of the infinite mind of the Deity, is that which would imply an entire comprehension of his own being; an entire comprehension of his own existence, his nature, and his powers; an entire comprehension of his own hypostasis. But then it should always be kept in mind, that such a knowledge, if indeed the term knowledge be strictly applicable, to his infinite comprehension, is not any part of the garniture or acquirement of the Divine mind; but it is truly and properly the Deity himself. Such a comprehension of the Divine hypostasis is necessary, universally and eternally necessary; and therefore it must be, de facto, God himself.
But every active operation of the infinite energy, must be subsequent to the Divine existence; and every act of the Deity must be voluntary and unconstrained; and therefore if every active operation of the universal and eternal mind, must be subsequent to his own existence, then every volition of the Deity must be subsequent to his existence, and then every act of the Deity must be subsequent to his own existence, and then, by consequence, all consciousness, perception, and knowledge of those volitions and actions, must be, of necessity, posterior to his own actual being.
But although the volitions and actions of the Deity must
be uniformly free; yet, the knowledge of those volitions and actions cannot be separated from the actual performance of them. Existence, and a knowledge of that existence by the Deity, cannot possibly be separated from each other, whether that existence be created or uncreated, finite or infinite, human or Divine.
Knowledge, whether it be that of a finite or that of an infinite being, must uniformly and of necessity be founded upon fact; and therefore, in relation to both the one and the other, knowledge must of consequence be a personal acquirement, and in the order of existence, it must be posterior to the objects of its cognizance. In the Deity, however, although knowledge be a personal acquirement, and in the order of existence must be posterior to the objects of its cognizance, yet in the order of duration, they must be uniformly, and of necessity coeval. And although knowledge in the Deity, like that of created beings, be a personal acquisition, yet it cannot, like knowledge in created beings, be voluntary and precarious in its acquirement; but it must be necessary in its acquirement, and inseparable from all created and uncreated existence, which is the object of his universal and eternal perception.
In relation to the mind of the Deity, knowledge and fact must be co-existent and inseparable, and his knowledge must of necessity embrace all finite and infinite existence, and must be cognizant of all hypostasis, capability, and character, as well as of all volition and action, both in himself, and in every other being. These are the utmost limits of possibility, and beyond these limits it is not possible for any intellect to travel. Imagination, it is true, and credulity, it is equally true, can easily step over the limits of actual existence; but it is not possible for actual knowledge, in either a finite or an infinite mind, to get over the limits of actual existence.
It may indeed be asked, whether the limits of possibility are not wider than those of actual existence, and whether the knowledge of God does not embrace the whole empire of possible existence; and whether it does not therefore of consequence extend farther than the limits of actual existence? I answer, it is undoubtedly possible for many things to exist which are not at present in actual being; and that the future and actual existence of such things may be,