« PreviousContinue »
benevolence; regarding the partial instances of evil as, in fact, only apparent and not real exceptions as merely seeming to be such from the imperfection of our apprehensions. And this assumption has been traced to the inherent moral sense of human nature, which naturally perceives the perfection of moral good, and thus cannot but suppose it in an infinite degree in the Deity*.
I will merely remark,- 1st. When we abstract from this moral sense, it seems on all hands admitted, that bare reasoning on the facts of the natural world can conduct us no further than to the inference of good mixed with evil, or to the idea of a mixed attribute of beneficence not absolutely infinite.
2dly. Bare reasoning (without the moral consideration,) might nevertheless lead us to allow that the evil was only apparent in consequence of our limited apprehensions. Thus, without referring to the moral sense, mere natural theology might leave us with an idea, extremely defective, no doubt, but still not contradictory to any more worthy views of the Divine nature afterwards to be inculcated; but, on the contrary, from the manifest deficiency, we should be rather anxiously predisposed to receive such better intimation.
3dly. The question as to the operation and origin of this moral sense, is one which is itself properly
* On this subject see Archbishop King's Discourse on Predestination, with notes by Archbishop Whately, Appendix, open to investigation as a branch of metaphysics of great importance to natural theology and moral philosophy: the question whether such a sense is really inherent in human nature or acquired? Or, if universal and natural, whether it may not be analyzed into simpler elements? Or, again, admitting that man is prone to entertain such ideas, whether this be grounded in reason ?-are all points claiming most serious examination.
My object in these remarks is merely to direct attention to such important topics of inquiry, without pretending to enter into the full discussion of them, much less to propose a solution of the difficulties. The preceding observation refers particularly to the single instance of the attribute of beneficence; but similar remarks must apply to the natural evidence of the other Divine perfections.
The attribute of omnipotence, for example, is evinced by our reasoning upon the inconceivably vast indications of power displayed in the visible creation. We discover everywhere the marks of such power exerted to a degree beyond all possibility of conception in its intensity and magnitude. Yet we observe it only exercised in particular ways. We infer directly its infinity in degrée, but we cannot strictly conclude its extension to all kinds of operation. We recognise its effects in constituting and originating, in adjusting and upholding, the order of physical causes; we perceive its operation in regulating the existing state of the universe, and in the gradual evolution of the existing frame of the world out of previous orders of existence; we trace its mighty manifestations, stamped with the same unchanging attributes of immensity, through countless ages of duration, and through the boundless expanse of space; but it cannot be said that mere reason can therefore infer any other kind of exercise
of this power.
Let it be distinctly borne in mind that the object of these remarks is solely that of caution as to the proper limits of the mere reasoning upon physical order, which is the strict province of the science of natural theology.
There is, however, another point of view in which this subject is often regarded, to which I must allude, though, as not strictly belonging to our present subject, it can be but cursorily noticed, however important in itself. The Deity is proposed as the object not merely of our belief, but of our practical adoration and love, in the imitation, limited and imperfect as it must be, of His moral perfections. Hence the vital practical importance of the most unimpeachable conception of those attributes, and of removing every thing like a limitation on their infinite moral excellence. With the object of maintaining this practical view, many excellent writers have gone into a variety of speculations, directly imposing limits on our ideas of some of the Divine perfections, lest they should be at variance with the infinite excellence of others. Thus it has been distinctly argued, in order to vindi
cate the Divine benevolence, that we must suppose the Deity unable to prevent evil; or, in other words, deny his omnipotence*.
Of such reasonings I will here say no more than this: they are maintained and highly approved as propounded by the very able writer just referred to, by parties of the most unquestionable piety and religious zeal. Those, therefore, who allow and admire these views, can have no right to object to other speculations, which, in like manner, tend to limit our conclusions as to the same attributes. “ The truth is, the only rational conclusion which we can arrive at in the matter, is, that in the nature of things, no such attribute” (i. e. as omnipotence) “can exist t." These are the words of Mr. Woodward. I very much question whether expressions infinitely less bold from other quarters, would not be set down as absolute atheism, by the same religious party who admire Mr. Woodward. Such, however, is too often the inconsistency with which cavils are urged against the freedom of inquiry, which we must of necessity claim, in any profitable discussion of the truths of natural theology.
In like manner, writers of the Calvinistic school have anxiously insisted on the want of any proofs of the infinite benevolence of the Deity; thus fortifying their system against the most obvious and forcible
* See Essays and Sermons, &c., by the Rev. H. Woodward, London, 1836; especially Essay XV.
+ Essays, &c., p. 177.
objection drawn from the inconsistency with that attribute, in supposing a condemnation to eternal misery without moral criminality in the irresponsible victim of reprobation, or the possibility of effecting any ulterior good, when the punishment is endless. Yet such persons would be the first to exclaim against putting any limitation on our notions of the Divine power or wisdom, as impious and atheistical.
Limits of Natural Theology.
The general question as to the extent to which the conclusions of natural theology strictly and legitimately reach, has been the subject of much difference of opinion. One class of reasoners have been prone to invest their inferences with a systematic completeness, which is but illusory: while the perception of this has afforded some colour to the opinion of others, who have as strenuously denied that mere reasoning on these subjects can teach any substantial or satisfactory truths.
And those who do not go these lengths have contended, that what we certainly learn from the admitted facts of order and adjustment in the material world, is in truth very little. That we can advance only to the inference of the mere existence of some powerful intelligent cause; that we can rise only to a vague apprehension of some superior power displayed in the adaptation of created things: but