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therefore his moral character is not blemised hereby. As for those questions, namely, why God gave this command, and what were the wife purposes he intended to serve by it? the scripture has given no farther account than that it was by way of trial to Abraham; and therefore whatever is offered, beyond this, is' but conje&ture. Thus, in the supplement to the previous question, I observ'd, that God gave the command to Abraham with an intent to recall it, and thereby to Thew to Abraham, and to all his posterity, the unfitness of all human facrifices. But herein I intended no more than a bare conjecture, viz. that God might give and recall the command, to answer the wise and good purpose aforesaid: to which I here add, that the command might be given in order to convince Abraham, that even his honesty and integrity, when not under the direction of his understanding, might mislead him in the conducting of his actions, of which (to appearance at least) this was an instance. And tho these are mere conjectures, yet I cannot see why they should be given up, before some better reason for the command be offered; seeing they are suitable to that wisdom and goodness, by which God always directs his actions.
I have here but just touched upon the case of miracles, because possibly some time or other I may treat of that subject more at large.
These are the reflections which your query has occasioned: I submit them to your consideration, and beg leave to subscribe myself,
Reverend S IR,
Your most Humble Servant, &c.
The Cause and Origin of Evil, both Natural and Moral. Wherein
the case of Liberty and Necessity is considered, with regard to human Adions. In a Letter to a friend.
To which is added,
| Vindication of God's Moral Character.
Wherein three Objections are examined, two urged against the Wifdom and Goodness of God, and the other against human Liberty.
GOD's Moral Character.
SIR, | Received your kind letter, in which you were pleased to express your dif
satisfaction, with regard to what I have said concerning God's moral cha
ratter. You say you have read my previous question, and the supplement to 1 it; but it still remains to you a doubtful case, and the ground of this doubt, is the evil which takes place in the world : and, accordingly, you reafon thus, If God is all-knowing and almighty, and if he is in reality such a wise and good Being, as I have endeavour'd to prove him to be, then it might reasonably be expected, that he would prevent evil, by preventing the existence of every thing which leads to it, or is any way the cause of it. But, say you, the contrary to this is evident in fact, and that therefore it still remains a doubtful point, whether God is in reality a wise and a good Being, or not. I shall be glad if I can offer any thing which may be effectual to remove this difficulty, and give you satisfaction in the case. The sum of what you have urg'd may, I think, bé fitly expressed in the following question; namely, that if God is, in reality, a wise and a good Being, From whence does this evil proceed? But,
Before I return an answer to this question, I beg leave to observe, that as the proposing my previous question to publick consideration has drawn on me the delightful employment of vindicating the moral character of Almighty God, and as this is a point of the utmost importance; so I thought it proper, in order to compleat that work, and thereby close up this subject; first, to lay before my reader the several kinds of evidence, upon which the truth and certainty of God's moral character may be suppos'd to depend, or by which he may be proved to be a wise and a good Being, &c. Secondly, to vindicate that character, as to the cause and origin of evil, both natural and moral, by answering the question now before me. And, thirdly, to improve the whole, to serve the purposes of virtue and true goodness, by representing to my reader, what it is which will render him truly lovely and valuable in himself, and truly acceptable and well-pleasing to God. But, before I proceed, I shall make one or two previous observations; and accordingly I observe, Kk
First, That a&tions take their denomination of good or evil, from the good or evil they are produ£tive of, from the good or evil intention of the actor, or from the good or evil motive or principle they spring from, and which is the ground or reason of them. So that an action may be good in one respect, and evil in another. As thus, one man may intend to kill another, and that very action, which was design’d to procure the man's death, may be the means of preserving his life. In this case the action is good, with regard to its effect; life is preserv’d by it, but it is evil, with respect to the design of the actor, inasmuch as death was intended. Yea, an action may be good in both these respects, and yet be evil with regard to the motive or principle it springs from. As thus, one man relieves another in distress, with an intent to minister that relief; and he does this, not because it is right and fit, in the nature of things, and out of pity to the distress'd, but only, that he may render himlelf capable of doing some greater mischief, when a proper occasion offers. In this case the action is good, with regard to its effect, the distressed person is reliev'd; and it is good, with respect to what was immediately intended by the actor, viz. he intended to minister that relief; but it is evil, with regard to the motive or principle it fprung from, and which was the ground or reason of it. And, as actions take their denomination of good or evil, upon the different accounts above-mention'd; so it is the latter of thele, in which the niorality or immorality of the action is concern'd. An action may be good, with regard to its effect, and the actor may intend, that that good effect should be produc'd by it (as in the instance above) and yet that action would be evil, in a moral sense, if the motive or principle, it sprung from, was evil and vicious. Again, I observe, . Secondly, That virtue or goodness comes under a two-fold consideration, viz. absolute and relative. By absolute, I mean virtue or goodness consider'd abftractedly, or that which has an intrinsick goodness in it, when consider'd simply in itself, and which does not derive its virtuousness from its relation to any other thing. Virtue or goodness, consider'd as absolute, is reducible into a very narrow compass, consisting only in one single point; namely, in the communicating happiness to the suitable subjects of it, or in the endeavouring to do it, by doing or avoiding what appears to be proper for the attainment of that end, from a sense of the fitness of such a temper and conduct. This is goodness itself, or what is such consider'd abstractedly, it not deriving its virtuousness from its relation to any other thing. By relative virtue, I mean that which derives its virtuousness from its relation to goodness, that is, from its relation to what is absolutely good and virtuous, as above explain'd. Virtue or goodness, under this consideration, is more extensive, and includes in it truth, juftice, temperance, and the like. These, as they derive their virtuousness from their relation to goodness; so there are circumstances which will change their nature, and make them otherwise : that is to say, tho the practice of these, in almost every instance, tends to the common good, yet there may be some pofsible cases, in which it may be otherwise. Having made the above observations, I shall now proceed to what I propos’d; namely,