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surely ought to be excused, if he means right, and does all he can, though not all he would be glad to do. Now your language would seem to imply, that you intend to offer something like this, as a justification of the conduct of God; and of course it would seem to imply, that the inability ascribed to God was meant to be understood in the first, or literal sense. If this was not your meaning, and if you intended to advance nothing different from the common theory, then why should you deny the positions which exhibit that theory, and use language which would be likely to make an impression so different from your wishes ? I hold in common with others, that God would have for ever excluded moral evil from the created universe, if he had seen that such a measure would on the whole be most conducive to the object of His benevolence. But it would be very strange, and contrary to all good usage, to express this by saying, “ God could not prevent his creatures from sinning ; this is what he wished, but was unable to accomplish.” No one uses phraseology like this, except to denote the want of power in the literal sense.' p. 28.
But, when a statement of this kind in naked terms is presented to Dr. Taylor, he rejects the imputation of its being his own opinion; nevertheless, he returns to it, in the general bearing of his argument: for, while he repudiates the common theory, that God might, but did not see fit to exclude evil from his creation, and therefore will not allow the impossibility to be resolved into one of a moral kind, he still goes on to say, — God could not • have done better than he has'; that is, could not consistently with the nature of things. What this ‘nature of things' means, Dr. Woods proceeds to inquire in his third letter.
Not the nature of God, or his attributes, natural and moral, comprehensively; for Dr. Taylor affirms, that these would have inclined him to exclude evil,-if it could have been done. Is it then the nature of man? But this nature is God's work.- No: but the nature of moral agency made it impossible wholly to prevent the occurrence of sin, or indeed to lessen the actual amount of it. This position stands in need of proof; and in shewing the fallacy of his Opponent's method of establishing his doctrine, Dr. Woods very fairly retorts upon him the charge of assuming to • know, and of endeavouring to explain, far more than man ac'tually knows, or is competent to explain ’:—which same charge is for ever on the lips of Dr. Taylor, and his coadjutors, the Editors of the Christian Spectator.
The Christian Spectator, in reviewing Dr. Taylor's work, says: -So far is Dr. Taylor from opening a new career of rash and • fruitless speculation, that his object is, to recal past speculations
to greater truth and soberness. Again :-'We pretend not to 'assert what was, or was not possible with God. Our object has 'been to inquire, whether men know as much respecting it as some have assumed to know.' • Now my impression', says Dr. Woods, ' bas been widely different from this. It has seemed to me, that, on this subject, you and those agreeing with you, instead of being less presuming, less forward to assert and decide, than orthodox ministers and writers generally, have gone far beyond them. The orthodox generally regard the existence of sin under the Divine government as a profound mystery. They resolve it into the unsearchable wisdom of God; and pretend not to be able to obviate the difficulties which attend the subject, in any other way than by saying, that the incomprehensible God, for reasons which lie beyond human intelligence, taking a perfect view of His own attributes, and of the whole system of created beings, saw it to be best not to prevent the existence of moral evil ; that, in His inscrutable counsels, He chose to admit it into the universe ; that, in ways known only to Himself, and by a power which He only possesses, He will make it the means of glory to His name, and good to His kingdom ; that, when He converts some sinners, and leaves others in impenitence, He acts according to His own sovereign will;--implying that the reasons for this conduct, which He has in His own mind, and which are perfectly satisfactory to His infinite wisdom, He has not made known to us, nor made us, in our present state, capable of discovering ;-SO that we can only bow down in humble submission and adoration, and say,- Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight. When we say, God saw the existence of moral evil to be on the whole for the best, we say it because we believe that all things depend ultimately on His will, and because we are confident that the system which He has seen fit to adopt, must be, in the highest degree, wise and benevolent. If we consider sin as the means of promoting the glory of God's character, and the good of His kingdom, it is because we learn from His word and providence, that He uses it as such. Thus we resolve it all into the infinite perfection and the holy government of that Being, “ of whom, and through whom, and to whom, are all things”; and the positions we maintain, result directly from our implicit confidence in His wisdom and goodness. We should naturally be inclined to think that God would prevent the existence of sin ; but He has not done it. Now we content ourselves with saying, He has not done it, because, in His unsearchable wisdom, He judged it best not to do it. This I consider to be the sober theory of the orthodox. But you undertake to assign the specific reason why God has not prevented the existence of sin. You are not satisfied with saying-He did what He saw on the whole to be for the best :-He did not exclude moral evil, because He judged it best not to exclude it ;-. He chose and adopted the present system, which includes sin, because, all things considered, He regarded it as adapted in the highest degree to promote the glory of His perfections, and the sum of created happiness. You are not satisfied with this view. But you undertake to go to the bottom of the subject, and to shew particularly why God did not prevent the existence or the present degree of sin. You hold, that He did not do it, because He could not ;– that if He created a system of moral beings at all, it must be a system in which moral evil should exist. You undertake to affirm that there were only two things which a God of infinite wisdom and power could do;- that there was no possibility of His taking any course, except one of these, --either not to create a moral system, or to create one which should include sin :- that He had no élection between different systems, but only between this sts. tem, and no system. You hold, that such is the nature of moral agency. that it was utterly impossible for God to prevent its perversion; that if moral beings existed, it was unavoidable that some of them should sin, and that Omnipotence itself could not exert an influence upon them sufficient to prevent this. Let God create moral beings in any way He pleases, let Him place them in the most favourable circumstances, exert upon them the highest possible influence, and extend over them the most constant and most powerful protection, let Him watch them with His omniscient eye, and shield them with His omnipotent arm; still, according to your theory, they will—at least some of them fall into sin. You think, there is in moral agency itself a power so resistless, that it is impossible for God Himself, however strong may be His desire, to prevent the existence, or even the present degree of sin.
I have thus given a somewhat dilated view of what I understand to be your theory, in distinction from the common theory ; and if I have understood you right, I think it must appear, that you have gone beyond the limits of sober judgement. You have undertaken to determine, that God had no choice, and could have no choice, between different systems of different degrees of excellence ; and that there was nothing for His wisdom to consider, but the single question, whether He should have a system including sin, or no system at all. Instead of leaving the reason why God chose the present system, as an inscrutable mystery, you have boldly undertaken to remove all the difficulty and all the mystery attending the subject, and to assign the par. ticular and only reason of the Divine choice. So that it is evident that you do not hesitate at all to assert on this subject what was, or was not possible with God.' pp. 37, 38.
This is certainly a fair retort. Dr. Woods then proceeds to press against his Opponent's theory, the capital objections to which it is open ; and they are such as these :—That it supposes moral agents to be otherwise than wholly dependent upon God;—That God can only in a limited degree either secure their well-being, or control their agency ;-That the alleged impossibility, if it belongs indeed to the inseparable condition of moral agency, must be a universal impossibility, and must forbid the preservation of holiness and happiness in any part of the moral world. But the contrary is the fact:-Moral agents have been, and shall be preserved sinless. There may be freedom of will without sin: in other words, God can hold up his creatures in their integrity. The universal conditions of moral agency not meeting the necessity of the argument, there must be supposed an impossibility arising from particular circumstances, in single instances. But again, the providence and power of God to arrange all circumstances must be denied, if the existence of evil, in single instances, is to be accounted for by supposing the presence of some circumstances which God could not overrule. In opposition to
such a supposition, Dr. Woods maintains, that, in all the cir• cumstances in which moral agents exist, God has power to make,
and to preserve them holy. And in attestation, he appeals to facts; shewing that, under the most unfavourable circumstances, and in the face of all imaginable obstacles, men have been actually restored to goodness, and upheld in it. While on the other hand, where all means and all circumstances are the most favourable, many remain in their impenitence.
"I pray you, Brother,' says Dr. W., 'to inquire, whether your scheme of thought does not tend towards a denial of all Divine power and Divine influence in the conversion of sinners, except merely such a kind of power and influence as we have over the minds of our fellow men. And it ought to be a subject of serious consideration, whether such a denial would not stand in direct opposition to the declarations of Scripture. If I do not entirely misunderstand the Word of God, He claims a power which is, in its nature, peculiar to Himself, which entirely distinguishes the Creator from His creatures:-a power which is infinite, and which extends to all the faculties and acts of the human mind and heart, as well as to outward circumstances. And this power of God over the intellectual, and especially over the moral acts of men, and over every thing which goes to constitute their character, is, in its operations, subject to no restrictions, except from the dictates of His holy will; and it is directed and regulated wholly and exclusively by His unerring wisdom. The opinion, by whomsoever advanced, that because we can have no direct access to the hearts of our fellow men, and no influence over them, except merely by presenting motives to their view, therefore God cannot, I consider to be an error of the most dangerous tendency. And although that peculiar efficacious power which God claims and exercises directly over the inmost soul of every one whom He converts, creating the heart anew, and influencing every thought and affection, as His infinite wisdom dictates; although this direct and perfect power over the heart, which God claims as one of His prerogatives, is at the present day often, but very erroneously called physical power ; still, it is none the less a reality for being misnamed, and none the less important to the glory of God and the salvation of men.
"I add one thought more. If God is unable to direct and control moral agency, as he pleases, it plainly follows, that He is unable to direct and control those events which depend upon it, or are involved in it. Now nothing is more evident, than that the general course of events in the moral and civil world are inseparably connected with the dispositions and characters of men, and result from them. To assert, then, that God cannot govern the dispositions, and form the characters of men, according to His will, is to assert that He cannot order events according to His will. And it will be easy for any one to perceive, that to assert this, is to set aside the truth of the Bible.' pp. 47, 48.
The undefined notion, that there may be a something—an abstract necessity—a conditional impossibility, which controls the Divine benevolence, or limits its exercise, and which therefore may be loaded with all the blame of moral and natural evil, has manifestly seduced Dr. Taylor, as it has seduced many others, under different forms, to entertain an opinion which is full of inconsistencies. The same impulse was anciently parent of Manichæism; and it has re-appeared from time to time in the Church, under many names. Arminian Free-will has, in modern times, been exhibited as the dire mistress of the moral world, of which the Divine Power itself. stood in awe. The American Professor denominates the same lawless authority by a periphrasis which conceals from himself the true purport of his own doctrine. This *Nature of things ', which was at first the mother of sin, and is in each particular instance the reason of sin, can in no direction be brought out to view, so that we might know its form and qualities, or seat. It appears, however, sometimes to be the inevitable condition of the continued holiness of any moral agents, that the defection of others, and its fatal consequences, should be witnessed.--How can it be shewn from facts, that God could • secure any of His moral creatures in holiness, without this in• fluence ? Or to what purpose is it to allege instances of the pre' vention of sin under this influence, to prove that God could • prevent it without this influence ?' This is, indeed, a bold assumption,-that there could be no such thing as virtue in the world, if there were no spectacle of punishment! Whatever may be thought of its soundness, its Author, assuredly, is not the person who should be heard to inculpate his brethren on the ground of their assuming to know much more than man can know.' Dr. W. alleges, in contradiction of such a presumption, the fact, implied or asserted in the Scriptures, that sin was an event subsequent to a primeval state of absolute purity and loyalty in the heavenly world. If this theory be worth any thing, it implies, that sin and its punishment must have been at hand, ready to meet the view of the first created intelligences, at the very first moment of their awaking to the consciousness of moral life ;-or, in other words, that sinners must have sprung into existence in the same moment that gave birth to those who were to be preserved in holiness!
In support of his hypothesis, Dr. Taylor is driven upon the old sophism,that the effective influence of conservatory grace upon the mind, impairs or destroys moral agency. On this point, the conclusive reasonings of Edwards might, one would think, have sufficed to prevent the recurrence of so slender an illusion. A distorted notion, altogether, of spiritual influence,-a notion that is parent of enthusiasm, lies at the bottom of this error. That Divine Influence which is the cause of virtue, wherever virtue exists, may as well be deemed incompatible with moral agency, as the constant efflux of creative energy, in the physical world, is incompatible with the exercise of the voluntary prin