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THE CHRISTIAN VIEW OF MORAL EVIL.
BY REV. JAMES MARTINEAU.
"WOE UNTO THEM THAT SAY,.... LET THE COUNSEL OF THE HOLY ONE OF
ISRAEL DRAW NIGH AND COME, THAT WE MAY KNOW IT; WOE UNTO
The Divine sentiments towards right and wrong every man naturally believes to be a reflexion of whatever is most pure and solemn in his own. We cannot be sincerely persuaded, that God looks with aversion on dispositions which we revere as good and noble; or that he regards with lax indifference the selfish and criminal passions which awaken our own disgust. We may well suppose, indeed, his scrutiny more searching, his estimate more severely true, his rebuking look more awful, than our self-examination and remorse can fitly represent; but we cannot doubt that our moral emotions, as far as they go, are in sympathy with his ; that we know, by our own consciousness, the general direction of his approval and displeasure ; and that, in proportion as our perceptions of Duty are rendered clear, our judgment more nearly approaches the precision of the Omniscient award. Our own conscience is the window of heaven through which we gaze on God: and, as its colours perpetually change, his aspect changes too; if they are bright and fair, he dwells as in the warm light of a rejoicing love ; if they are dark and turbid, he
hides himself in robes of cloud and storm. When you have lost your self-respect, you have never thought yourself an object of divine complacency. In moments fresh from sin, flushed with the shame of an insulted mind, when you have broken another resolve, or turned your back upon a noble toil, or succumbed to a mean passion, or lapsed into the sickness of self-indulgence, could you ever turn a clear and open face to God, nor think it terrible to meet his eye? Could you imagine yourself in congeniality with him, when you gave yourself up to the voluble sophistry of self-excuse, and the loose hurry of forgetfulness? Or did you not discern him rather in your own accusing heart, and meet him in the silent anguish of full confession, and find in the recognition of your alienation the first hope of return? To all unperverted minds, the verdict of conscience sounds with a preternatural voice; it is not the homely talk of their own poor judgment, but an oracle of the sanctuary. There is something of anticipation in our remorse, as well as of retrospect; and we feel that it is not the mere survey of a gloomy past with the slow lamp of our understanding, but a momentary piercing of the future with the vivid lightning of the skies. Our moral nature, left to itself, intuitively believes that guilt is an estrangement from God,-an unqualified opposition to his will,-a literal service of the enemy; that he abhors it, and will give it no rest till it is driven from his presence, that is, into annihilation : that no part of our mind belongs to him but the pure, and just, and disinterested affections which he fosters ; mo faithful will which he strengthens; the virtue, often dampel, whose smoaking flax he will not quench, and the good te. solves, ever frail, whose bruised reed he will not break: and that he has no relation but of displeasure, no contact bu resistance, with our selfishness and sin. In the simple faith the conscience it is no figure of speech to say, that God angry with the wicked every day,” and is “of purer eyes t to behold iniquity.” So long as the natural religion of
heart is undisturbed, to sin is, in the plainest and most positive sense, to set up against Heaven, and frustate its will.
Soon, however, the understanding disturbs the tranquillity of this belief, and constructs a rival creed. The primitive conception of God is acquired, I believe, without reasoning, and emerges from the affections ; it is a transcript of our own emotions,-an investiture of them with external personality and infinite magnitude. But a secondary idea of Deity arises in the intellect, from its reasonings about causation. Curiosity is felt respecting the origin of things; and the order, beauty, and mechanism of external nature, are too conspicuous not to force upon the observation the conviction of a great architect of the universe, from whose designing reason its forces and its laws mysteriously sprung. Hence the intellectual conception of God the Creator, which comes into inevitable collision with the moral notion of God the holy watch of virtue. For if the system of creation is the production of his Omniscience; if he has constituted human nature as it is, and placed it in the scene whereon it acts; if the arrangements by which happiness is allotted, and character is formed, are the contrivance of his thought and the work of his hand, then the sufferings and the guilt of every being were objects of his original contemplation, and the productions of his own design. The deed of crime must, in this case, be as much an integral part of his Providence as the efforts and sacrifices of virtue; and the monsters of licentiousness and tyranny, whose images deform the scenery of history, are no less truly his appointed instruments than the martyr and the sage. And though we remain convinced that he does not make choice of evil in his government, for its own sake, but only for ultimate ends worthy of his perfections, still we can no longer see how he can truly hate that which he employs for the production of good. That which is his chosen instrument cannot be sincerely regarded as his everlasting enemy; and only figuratively can he be said to
repudiate a power which he continually wields. There must be some sense in which it appears, in the eye of Omniscience, to be eligible ; some point of view at which its horrors vanish; and where the moral distinctions, which we feel ourselves impelled to venerate, disappear from the regards of God.
Here, then, is a fearful contradiction between the religion of conscience and the religion of the understanding: the one pronouncing evil to be the antagonist, the other to be the agent, of the divine will. In every age has this difficulty laid a heavy weight upon the human heart; in every age has it pointed the sarcasm of the blasphemer; mingled an occasional sadness with the hopes of benevolence; and tinged the devotion of the thoughtful with a somewhat melancholy trust. The whole history of speculative religion is one prolonged effort of the human mind to destroy this contrariety; system after system has been born in the struggle to cast the oppression off; with what result, it will be my object at present to explain. The question which we have to consider is this: “ How should a Christian think of the origin and existence of evil ?” I propose to advert, first, to the speculative; secondly, to the scriptural; thirdly, to the moral relations of the subject; to inquire what relief we can obtain from philosophical schemes, from biblical doctrine, and from practical Chr tianity.
I. Notwithstanding the ingenuity of philosophers in vao rying the form and language of their systems, there can be b two solutions offered to the great problem respecting evil. ? benevolence of the Creator may be vindicated, by denying that he is the author of evil; or, by pronouncing it his mer tool, unavoidably introduced for the production of great good.
(1.) In Greece, the genius of whose people anticipate most of the great ideas which have since occupied the wori we find the first clear trace of the doctrine of two origin
causes, one good, the other evil, of the order and disorder of the universe.* Amid the almost universal pantheism, which gave the sanction of philosophy to a corrupting mythology, one or two great thinkers seized on the true conception of an intelligent, eternal, infinite Mind; not mixed up in indissoluble oneness with the universe, like the principle of life with an animal or vegetable organism, but wholly external to matter, capable of acting objectively upon it, of moulding it into form, of assigning to it laws, of disposing it into uniform arrangements, and subordinating it to the production of beauty, the reception of life and soul, and the ends of benevolence. With the absolute perfection, intellectual and moral, of the creative spirit, there was nothing to interfere ; he called into existence only what is good, light, life, happiness, wisdom, harmony, virtue. All else was to be ascribed to the imperfect materials from which the universe was constructed. Of these he was not supposed to be the author ; no conception was entertained of creation out of nothing by the volition of the divine and solitary Spirit. Co-eternally with him, matter was thought to have existed, inert, and dark and formless,—the boundless and unworked quarry, whence the great Artist of earth and skies moulded the orbs of heaven, and furnished his mansions of space with magnificence and beauty. The materials thus provided to his hand, did not afford unlimited facilities for the execution of his good designs; they had the inherent and obstinate properties of all matter, of which skill might variously avail itself, but which Omnipotence could not utterly subdue. They for ever dragged down every being towards the passiveness and chaos of the primeval state, and established a universal gravitation towards nonentity. Hence a ceaseless tendency in all things to descend from the higher to the lower states of existence, and to slip from the divine into the inert: on the soul of man were forces impelling it into the grosser animal life ; in
• See Note A.