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Nothing can act where it does not exist-nothing can begin to exist without a cause--and nothing but an eternal principle can exist independent of the First Cause.* The several parts form but one great stupendous whole : one part is dependent on another, and all are connected : hence every action must be di. rected by the primum mobile, or the first moving cause, and is therefore certain.
« From Nature's chain whatever link you strike, ..
« Tenth, or ten thousandth, breaks the chain alike.” I shall now quote a few passages of scripture in support of this proposition, and will then pass to consider the second part of this query.
Job xiv. 5, « Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee; thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass. Dan xi.. 36, « For that that is determined shall be done.” Luke xxii. 22, « The Son of man goeth as it was determined.” Acts ii. 23, “ Him being delivered by. the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” Acts iv, 28, « To do what thy hand and thy counsel had determined before to be done." Acts xvii. 26, « And hath determined the times before appointed, and the bound of their habitation."
These, and many other pasages that might be mentioned, clearly evince that God worketh all things after the counsel of his own will ; and that all events both in the natural and moral world are predetermined and overruled by infinite wisdom, power, and goodness.
2. The second part of this query must now be granted of course. For if all events are foreknown and determined by the Deity, the actions of men must be foreknown and determined, whether morally good or bad ; and therefore will certainly take place, and cannot possibly be avoided ; which amounts to every thing that can be understood by fatal, or moral,t necessity.
We find that the evil actions of men are as often foretold, by the prophets, as their good actions : And the destinies of men have been often foretold, to no good effect, unless it be to show us that events are equally certain before they take place, as it is certain that they have taken place after they are accomplished :
*.i. e. Nothing but an eternal principle, GOD), is self-existent.
t I conclude that nothing more is meant, by those who hold to the doctrine of fate, foreordination, predestination, or decrees, ihan the moral certainty of all eVents, from eternity. I object, however, to the word fatal, which signifies, deadly, or destructive, but many of the events of providence, however certain, are neither dearly nor destructive.
For events; however evil, being foretold by the spirit of prophecy, never yet prevented their coming to pass : Witness Ahab, and what was prophesied concerning him, first by Elijah, and secondly by Micaiah, which seemed to be contradictory, but both were fulfilled. See 1 Kings xxi. 19,--xxii. 28, To come directa ly to the point : It was as true from eternity that Judas would betray his Lord and Master, and Peter deny him, as it was when Christ informed them of those painful circumstances ; or is true now that those events did take place. Now, if it had been in the power of either Judas or Peter to have acted contrary to the declaration of Christ, was it not equally in their power to have proved that Christ himself was a false prophet ?
Christ speaks of those events as being certain ; and even if we are at liberty to suppose that Judas and Peter possessed a power by which they might have acted otherwise than they did, yet was it not equally certain that they would not exercise that power ? And a power that is certain not to be exercised never yet did, nor will it ever do either good or hurt. The most venomous and poisonous serpent, if we were sure it never would exercise its power to any one's hurt, would be as harmless a creature as an innocent lamb.
The actions of men are altogether involuntary or else they proceed from motives ; and a man never can act from a less motive in preference to a greater ; that is, he must act from that motive which makes the greatest impression on his mind. And as our motives are altogether produced by the objects presented to our view, together with our circumstances and the state of our mind, at the time those objects present themselves, and as those objects, our circumstances, and the state of our minds, at the time any object presents itself, are things over which we have no control, so it is not in our power to avoid the impressions which they make ; and the action, under those circumstances, follows of course.
When a man can control the blood in his own veins, cause his pulse to beat slow or quick at pleasure ; when he can hear, see, feel, taste, or smell, objects that do not come in contact with those senses ; or when he can avoid those sensations, if objects are presented and brought in contact with the sense ; then he may conclude that he is possessed of equal power over the faculties of his soul.
In reasoning upon this point, I let my mind run freely, without any reserve, where truth appears to lead it, without anticipating any dificulty which it will involve me in under the sec
ond query; for truth is always consistent with itself, and will never lead the understanding into difficulty and then forsake it; but if we adhere to its dictates, and travel on, it will at last land us on the peaceful shores of light and consistency. .
Permit me to return once more to Judas and Peter, whose actions, by the way, may be taken for a specimen of the actions of all mankind. It must be granted that those events were certain, at least, at the time when Christ made those declarations ; which, as it respects Peter, the declaration, « thou shalt deny me thrice," was certainly before Peter had done any thing on his part to make it certain ; neither could he at that time be convinced of its truth; for he said, « Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee.” It therefore makes no difference, in this argument, whether we say this event was made certain at the time Christ made the declaration, or at the birth of Peter, or from eternity. If it were certain that Peter would deny his Lord only one hour, or one moment, before he did it, or before he had resolved in his own mind to do it, he acted as much from fatal necessity, as though it had been certain from eternity. And if there ever were any propriety in saying that this event either might or might not take place, according to the will of Peter, even from eternity unto the time it did take place, that propriety must exist but one moment before, or even at the time, the event took place, as well as at any prior period. That is to say, in so many words, Peter might have answered the damsel differently from what he did, and every other question that might have been put to him, of a similar nature, so as not to have denied his Lord at all. And I do not deny but that this might have been the case, if the circumstances, and the state of Peter's mind, might have been differently situated ; but all things were as they were.
The same argument will apply respecting each and every aca tion of mankind.
If mankind are what people mean by free-agents, I say that they are under a moral necessity of being free-agents ! which seems to be a contradiction in terms, but nothing can be more evident ! and it is not in their power to be any thing else but free-agents ? yet they are as much dependent on God for their free-agency, which empowers them to act, as the existence of their acts are dependent on that agency! And if God gave them power which constitutes them free-agents, he gave that power, undoubtedly, to answer certain purposes ; it is therefore reasonable to suppose that he keeps that power continually under his own control ;
and it will eventually answer his own design, both in the whole, and in each particular. Therefore, should I grant that mankind are free moral agents, under God, that is, free to follow the dictates of their own understanding, yet it does not amount to any thing more than what I understand, or would wish to be understood by moral necessity-which has been erroneously taken for fatalism !
I shall now quote two or three passages to this point, and then pass to the second query.
2 Cor. iii. 5, “ Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves ; but our suficiency is of God.” Rom. xiii. 1, “ For there is no power but of God ; the powers that be are ordained of God." John xix. 11, “ Thou couldst have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above."
The foregoing are sufficient for my purpose. If Pilate could have no power against Jesus, except it were given him from above, I would ask whether any body else could have had that power ? In a word, if all power be of God, has any man power even to do what we consider to be an evil action, except it be giver. him from above ? - Is there evil in the city and the Lord hath not done it ?” Which brings me to consider the second query.
2. If man has no power to avoid doing as he does, nor to do that which he does not,'wherein is he to be blamed for any of his actions ? Or with what propriety may he be called upon to seek, or strive, for this, that, or the other good ; or to avoid this, that, or the other evil ?
I am well aware that, at the first sight, the premises laid down under the first query naturally suggest an idea to the understanding that a man cannot be blameable for doing an action which it was not possible for him to avoid ; and that this principle takes away all distinction between virtue and vice, sin and holiness.-And by looking to such consequences, which are supposed necessarily to follow, many reject the principles, as dangerous, without a thorough examination.
To obviate this difficulty, let us enquire first wherein the blame of an action consists ; whether in the action itself, abstract from the motive that led to it, or in the motive of the actor ? And I apprehend that a very little attention to this subject will enable us to discover that there can be neither virtue nor vice in any action abstractly considered ; that is, separate from the motive of the actor.
A man may be killed by the fall of a tree ; yet as the tree cap have no motive, there can be neither virtue nor vice in the tree. And if there be any good or evil in this action, in a moral sense, it must be in him who directed the course of the tree. And the action must be called good or evil, in a moral sense, according to the good or evil intention of the author of that action. And so far, and in every sense, in which it may be said that God is the author of the action, no one will dare presume that it is not designed for good.
Again. One man may take the life of another by an instru. ment which he holds in his hand. It is the instrument, in one sense, that kills the man (for we may suppose that the other man did not touch him, except with the instrument) yet no blame can be attached to the instrument, because it could have no motive. Hence you will see that the blame must be altogether in the motives or evil design of the man. And even if we should be under the necessity of granting thaat this man was under a moral necessity of possessing this evil motive, this so far from clearing him from guilt which is the fatal consequence of an evil design's being put into execution, it only proves him to be guilty ; for, no man can be under a moral necessity of being guilty, and at at the same time not be guilty! But I shall further consider this point in another place.
I shall now consider this man as an instrument in the hand of God, just as the instrument by which this man killed the other was in the hand of the man; and, as an instrument, he must be as ignorant of the design of God as the instrument in the hand of the man was of the design of the man ; and in that sense, there is no more blame to be attached to the man, which was used as an instrument, than there was to the instrument which was used by the man ; for both are instruments in the hand of God, the same as the tree, spoken of before, that fell arid killed a man. And who is prepared to say that it is altogether inconsistent with the wisdom and goodness of God to make use of men as instruments in his hand to take the lives of men ? I presume none. And while we view men wholly as instruments in the hand, of God, i. e. without considering, them as being conscious of their own actions, we must view them as innocent, in all things, whatever they do as any of the dispensations of the providence of God ; as earthquakes, inundations, fire, famine, or pestilence, which often destroy the lives of men. " And shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith ? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it?" even then may man