That God is infinitely good in the eternal displays of his providence, has been argued in the third section of the second chapter, from which we infer that there cannot be an infinite evil in the universe, inasmuch as it would be incompatible with infinite good; yet there are many who imbibe the doctrine of the infinite evil of sin, and the maxim on which they predicate their arguments in its support, are, that the greatness of sin, or adequateness of its punishment, is not to be measured, or its viciousness ascertained by the capacity and circumstances of the offender, but by the capacity and dignity of the being against whom the offence is committed; and as every transgression is against the authority and law of God, it is therefore against God; and as God is infinite, therefore, sin is an infinite evil, and from hence infer the infinite and vindictive wrath of God against sinners, and of his justice in dooming them, as some say to infinite, and others say to eternal misery; the one without degree or measure, and the other without end or duration.
Admitting this maxim for truth, that the transgressions or sins of mankind are to be estimated by their heinousness, by the dignity and infinity of the divine nature, then it will follow that all sins would be equal, which would confound all our notions of the degrees or aggravations of sin; so that the sin would be the same to kill my neighbor as it would be to kill his horse. For the divine nature, by this maxim, being the rule by which man’s sin is to be estimated, and always the same, there could therefore be no degrees in sin or guilt, any more than there are degrees of perfection in God, whom we all admit to be infinite, and who for that reason only cannot admit of any degrees or enlargement. Therefore as certain as there are degrees in sin, the infinity of the divine nature cannot be the standard whereby it is to be ascertained, which single consideration is a sufficient confutation of the doctrine of the infinite evil of sin, as predicated on that maxim, inasmuch as none are so stupid as not to discern that there are degrees and aggravations in sin.
I recollect a discourse of a learned Ecclesiastic, who was laboring in support of this doctrine. His first proposition was, “That moral rectitude was infinitely pleasing to God;” from which he deduced this inference, viz., “That a contrariety to moral rectitude was consequently infinitely displeasing to God and infinitely evil.” That the absolute moral rectitude of the divine nature is infinitely well pleasing to God, will not be disputed; for this is none other but perfect and infinite rectitude; but there cannot in nature be an infinite contrariety thereto, or any being infinitely evil, or infinite in any respect whatever, except we admit a self-existent and infinite diabolical nature, which is too absurd to deserve argumentative confutation. Therefore, as all possible moral evil must result from the agency of finite beings, consisting in their sinful deviations from the rules of eternal unerring order and reason, which is moral rectitude in the abstract, we infer that, provided all finite beings in the universe had not done anything else but sin and rebel against God, reason and moral rectitude in general; all possible moral evil would fall as much short of being infinite, as all finite capacities, complexly considered, would fail of being infinite, which will bear no proportion at all. For though finite minds, as has been before argued, bear a resemblance to God, yet they bear no proportion to his infinity; and therefore there is not and cannot be any being, beings or agency of being or beings, complexly considered or otherwise, which are infinite in capacity, or which are infinitely evil and detestable in the sight of God, in that unlimited sense; for the actions or agency of limited beings, are also limited, which is the same as finite: so that both the virtues and vices of man are finite; they are not virtuous or vicious but in degree; therefore moral evil is finite and bounded.
Though there is one, and but one infinite good, which is God, and there can be no dispute, but that God judges, and approves or disapproves of all things and beings, and agencies of beings, as in truth they are, or in other words judges of every thing as being what it is; but to judge a finite evil to be infinite, would be infinitely erroneous and disproportionate; for so certain as there is a distinction between, infinity and infinitude, so certain finite sinful agency cannot be infinitely evil; or in other words finite offences cannot be infinite. Nor is it possible that the greatest of sinners should in justice deserve infinite punishment, or their nature sustain it; finite beings may as well be supposed to be capable of infinite happiness as of infinite misery, but the rank which they hold in the universe exempts them from either; it nevertheless admits them to a state of agency, probation or trial, consequently to interchangeable progressions in moral good and evil, and of course to alternate happiness or misery. We will dismiss the doctrine of the infinite evil of sin with this observation, that as no mere creature can suffer an infinitude of misery or of punishment, it is therefore incompatible with the wisdom of God, so far to capacitate creatures to sin, as in his constitution of things to foreclose himself from adequately punishing them for it.
We may for certain conclude, that such a punishment will never have the divine approbation, or be inflicted on any intelligent being or beings in the infinitude of the government of God. For an endless punishment defeats the very end of its institution, which in all wise and good governments is as well to reclaim offenders, as to be examples to others; but a government which does not admit of reformation and repentance, must unavoidably involve its subjects in misery; for the weakness of creatures will always be a source of error and inconstancy, and a wise Governor, as we must admit God to be, would suit his government to the capacity and all other circumstances of the governed; and instead of inflicting eternal damnation on his offending children, would rather interchangeably extend his beneficence with his vindictive punishments, so as to alienate them from sin and wickedness, and incline them to morality; convincing them from experimental suffering, that sin and vanity are their greatest enemies, and that in God and moral rectitude their dependence and true happiness consists, and by reclaiming them from wickedness and error, to the truth, and to the love and practice of virtue, give them occasion to glorify God for the wisdom and goodness of his government, and to be ultimately happy under it. But we are told that the eternal damnation of a part of mankind greatly augments the happiness of the elect, who are represented as being vastly the less numerous, (a diabolical temper of mind in the elect:) besides, how narrow and contractive must such notions of infinite justice and goodness be? Who would imagine that the Deity conducts his providence similar to the detestable despots of this world? Oh horrible? most horrible impeachment of Divine Goodness! Rather let us exaltedly suppose that God eternally had the ultimate best good of beings generally and individually in his view, with the reward of the virtuous and the punishment of the vicious, and that no other punishment will ever be inflicted, merely by the divine administration, but that will finally terminate in the best good of the punished, and thereby subserve the great and important ends of the divine government, and be productive of the restoration and felicity of all finite rational nature.
The most weighty arguments deducible from the divine nature have been already offered, to wit, ultimate end of God, in creation and providence, to do the greatest possible good and benignity to beings in general, and consequently, that the great end and design of punishment, in the divine government, must be to reclaim, restore, and bring revolters from original rectitude back to embrace it and to be ultimately happy; as also, that an eternal punishment, would defeat the very end and design of punishment itself; and that no good consequences to the punished could arise out of a never ending destruction; but that a total, everlasting, and irreparable evil would take place on such part of the moral creation, as may be thus sentenced to eternal and remediless perdition; which would argue imperfection either in the creation, or moral government of God, or in both.
From what has been argued in the foregoing section, it appears that mankind in this life are not agents of trial for eternity, but that they will eternally remain agents of trial! To suppose that our eternal circumstances will be unalterably fixed in happiness or misery, in consequence of the agency or transactions of this temporary life, is inconsistent with the moral government of God, and the progressive and retrospective knowledge of the human mind. God has not put it into our power to plunge ourselves into eternal woe and perdition; human liberty is not so extensive, for the term of human life bears no proportion to eternity succeeding it; so that there could be no proportion between a momentary agency, (which is liberty of action,) or probation, and any supposed eternal consequences of happiness or misery resulting from it. Our liberty consists in our power of agency, and cannot fall short of, or exceed it, for liberty is agency itself, or is that by which agency or action is exerted; it may be that the curious would define it, that agency is the effect of liberty, and that liberty is the cause which produces it; making a distinction between action and the power of action; be it so, yet agency cannot surpass its liberty; to suppose otherwise, would be the same as to suppose agency without the power of agency, or an effect without a cause; therefore, as our agency does not extend to consequences of eternal happiness or misery, the power of that agency, which is liberty, does not. Sufficient it is for virtuous minds, while in this life, that they keep “Consciences void of offence towards God and towards man.” And that in their commencement in the succeeding state, they have a retrospective knowledge of their agency in this, and retain a consciousness of a well spent life. Beings thus possessed of a habit of virtue, would enjoy a rational felicity beyond the reach of physical evils which terminate with life; and in all rational probability would be advanced in the order of nature, to a more exalted and sublime manner of being, knowledge and action, than at present we can conceive of, where no joys or pains can approach, but of the mental kind; in which elevated state virtuous minds will be able, in a clearer and more copious manner in this life, to contemplate the superlative beauties of moral fitness; and with ecstatic satisfaction enjoy it, notwithstanding imperfection and consequently agency, proficiency and trial, of some kind or other, must everlastingly continue with finite minds.
And as to the vicious, who have violated the laws of reason and morality, lived a life of sin and wickedness, and are at as great a remove from a rational happiness as from moral rectitude; such incorrigible sinners, at their commencing existence in the world of spirits, will undoubtedly have opened to them a tremendous scene of horror, self-condemnation and guilt, with an anguish of mind; the more so, as no sensual delights can there, (as in this world,) divert the mind from its conscious guilt; the clear sense of which will be the more pungent, as the mind in that state will be greatly enlarged, and consequently more capaciously susceptible of sorrow, grief, and conscious woe, from a retrospective reflection of a wicked life.
Physical evils are in nature inseparable from animal life, they commenced existence with it, and are its concomitants through life; so that the same nature which gives being to the one, gives birth to the other also; the one is not before or after the other, but they are coexistent together, and cotemporaries; and as they began existence in a necessary dependence on each other, so they terminate together in death and dissolution. This is the original order to which animal nature is subjected, as applied to every species of it. The beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, the fishes of the sea, with reptiles, and all manner of beings, which are possessed with animal life; nor is pain, sickness, or mortality any part of God’s punishment for sin. On the other hand sensual happiness is no part of the reward of virtue: to reward moral actions with a glass of wine or a shoulder of mutton, would be as inadequate, as to measure a triangle with sound, for virtue and vice pertain to the mind, and their merits or demerits have their just effects on the conscience, as has been before evinced: but animal gratifications are common to the human race indiscriminately, and also, to the beasts of the field: and physical evils as promiscuously and universally extend to the whole, so “That there is no knowing good or evil by all that is before us, for all is vanity.” It was not among the number of possibles, that animal life should be exempted from mortality: omnipotence itself could not have made it capable of eternalization and indissolubility; for the self same nature which constitutes animal life, subjects it to decay and dissolution; so that the one cannot be without the other, any more than there could be a compact number of mountains without vallies, or that I could exist and not exist at the same time, or that God should effect any other contradiction in nature; all contradictions being equally impossible, inasmuch as they imply an absolute incompatibility with nature and truth; for nature is predicated on truth, and the same truth which constitutes mountains, made the vallies at the same time; nor is it possible that they could have a separate existence. And the same truth which affirms my existence, denies its negative; so also the same law of nature, which in truth produceth an animal life and supports it for a season, wears it out, and in its natural course reduces it to its original elements again. The vegetable world also presents us with a constant aspect of productions and dissolutions; and the bustle of elements is beyond all conception; but the dissolution of forms is not the dissolution of matter, or the annihilation of it, nor of the creation, which exists in all possible forms and fluxilities; and it is from such physical alterations of the particles of matter, that animal or vegetable life is produced and destroyed. Elements afford them nutrition, and time brings them to maturity, decay and dissolution; and in all the prolific production of animal life, or the productions of those of a vegetative nature, throughout all their growth, decay and dissolution, make no addition or diminution of creation; but eternal nature continues its never ceasing operations, (which in most respects are mysterious to us) under the unerring guidance of the providence of God.
Animal nature consists of a regular constitution of a variety of organic parts, which have a particular and necessary dependance on each other, by the mutual assistance whereof the whole are animated. Blood seems to be the source of life, and it is requisite that it have a proper circulation from the heart to the extreme parts of the body, and from thence to the heart again, that it may repeat its temporary rounds through certain arteries and veins, which replenish every minutia part with blood and vital heat; but the brain is evidently the seat of sensation, which through the nervous system conveys the animal spirits to every part of the body, imparting to it sensation and motion, constituting it a living machine-, which could never have been produced, or exercised its respective functions in any other sort of world but this; which is in a constant series of fluxilities, and which causeth it to produce food for its inhabitants. An unchangeable world could not admit of production or dissolution, but would be identically the same, which would preclude the existence and nutriment of such sensitive creatures as we are. The nutrition extracted from food by the secret aptitudes of the digesting powers (by which mysterious operation it becomes incorporated with the circulating juices, supplying the animal functions with vital heat, strength and vigor) demands a constant flux and reflux of the particles of matter, which is perpetually incorporating with the body, and supplying the place of the superfluous particles that are constantly discharging themselves by insensible perspiration; supporting, and at the same time, in its ultimate tendency, destroying animal life. Thus it manifestly appears, that the laws of the world in which we live, and the constitution of the animal nature of man, are all but one uniform arrangement of cause and effect; and as by the course of those laws, animal life is propagated and sustained for a season, so by the operation of the same laws, decay and mortality are the necessary consequences.
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