Front Page Titles (by Subject) Proposition II - The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy
Return to Title Page for The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Proposition II - George Turnbull, The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy 
The Principles of Moral and Christian Philosophy. Vol. 2: Christian Philosophy, ed. and with an Introduction by Alexander Broadie (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The Divine Providence is clearly and expresly asserted in scripture to be infinitely wise and good; so that from hence it may justly be concluded to be a rule strictly observed by it in the government of moral beings; “That upon the whole every one shall reap as he sows.”
The knowledge of the supreme fountain of all power must of necessity be proportional to his power; so that if the latter be boundless and infinite, the former must likewise be so. As God cannot know things, or relations of things, but from consciousness of his own power to produce, so his knowledge must be proportionable to his power. Whatever therefore is possible in respect of infinite power, must be clearly known by the infinite mind possessed of that power. But to say the power of an independent original mind, the one cause of all things, is limited, is certainly to say, it is limited without any thing to limit it, there being nothing beyond or without it to limit it; or there being in reality no source of limitation upon it, beside natural impossibility, if that can properly be called a limitation, or a confining and restricting cause; as it certainly cannot. God’s power therefore is infinite; and his knowledge, which cannot but be proportionable to his power, is also infinite.
Wherefore though the scripture, the design of which is never to enter into philosophical discussions; but merely to give such clear ideas of the perfections of God and of his providence as are necessary, or of importance<143> to the direction of our conduct, doth no where expresly affirm that God knows all possible things and relations of things; yet since it says, that nothing (which does not imply a contradiction) is impossible to God, that he is all powerful and knoweth all things, we may justly say that he fully comprehendeth all possible things, and all possible relations, habitudes, connexions, dependencies, and consequences of things. All power is intelligent power; and infinite intelligent power necessarily implies this in it. So likewise does the free choice of God in choosing what possible system to create, imply it. And from our power of imagining various combinations and distributions of things which never existed to us, we may draw a very probable argument, That the divine mind, from whom we derive this power of conceiving various systems by analogy in our imagination, hath full knowledge of all possible variety of systems or combinations of things.
But though infinite knowledge thus defined be necessary to infinite wisdom and presupposed by it; nay, though infinite wisdom must necessarily belong to such knowledge, yet wisdom in a distinct way of conceiving it, is a different attribute from knowledge. Wisdom, properly speaking, is the right use or exercise of knowledge. And therefore it differs from knowledge, as the use of a power differs from the power itself. ’Tis therefore in the divine nature, possessed of infinite knowledge, the exercise of that knowledge, and the power inseparably connected with it, in the best and properest way, for the best end. Having the infinite knowledge just defined, he must always know the best end, and always clearly see the means that are fittest to produce that end; and knowing both these, he must always be disposed, without any byass to the contrary, to act accordingly. No person will say, that there can be various possible combinations of things, with certain consequences resulting<144> from them, and yet not better and worse, more fit and less fit; more and less perfect combinations of things. To assert that, is to say that all properties are the same, and will turn to the same account, however they are ranged, placed, distributed or combined. And that God can perceive all possible relations and consequences of things, and yet not perceive what is fitter and worse; since we cannot understand and compare different combinations, without clearly seeing it in these cases, is to suppose God void of a capacity of the noblest and usefulest kind which he hath given us. Nay, which is more, it is supposing him to know all combinations of things without understanding that which alone can render such knowledge either useful or pleasant. And which is yet more absurd, if any thing can be so, it is really to suppose God to know and fully understand combinations of things without understanding them. For what is it to understand fully any disposition of parts and properties, but to know its natural consequences, results, effects and tendencies; or, in one word, its aptitudes to certain ends. Now if the first mind must know what is best, he must choose it with full delight and complacency; he must prefer it, and preferring it, he must invariably pursue it. That he must pursue what he unchangeably prefers will be owned, since nothing can alter his views of his things, nor his temper and disposition. And to suppose him not to like what is best, that is, what appears to his perfect understanding such, is to imagine him, without liking and approving the best, capable of giving us a disposition to distinguish the appearances of things, and so to delight in what appears best to us, that however corrupt we may have rendered our minds, yet we cannot choose but approve what is best, while it is perceived by us. Strong passions may quickly obscure our view of it, and hurry us into pursuits very contrary to it; but we cannot reflect upon or view it without approbation.<145> And it is impossible we can be so framed by a being, who, knowing the best, does not like or approve it.
It may very justly be questioned whether any being can be capable of perceiving beauty, order and proportion, whether in material or moral objects, without being pleased with it, and naturally delighting in it. There may be creatures, who have no ideas of beauty. But to assert, that a mind may perceive beauty without being delighted by it, seems to be absurdly to distinguish between an agreeable perception and the pleasure perceived. For whatever qualities we may find, by enquiry into natural connexions, to be united with beauty, order and proportion, in material or moral objects, which, when discovered, may, by associating or blending themselves with the ideas of beauty, order and proportion, greatly heighten our pleasure in contemplating them; yet beauty, order, and proportion, are names for certain agreeable ideas, distinct from any others that may be connected with them, either by nature, or by voluntary association: i.e. they are names for certain pleasures. And surely pleasure of whatever kind cannot be perceived without perceiving pleasure.
There are certain ideas, which we express by the words, harmony, proportion, order, beauty, even in material objects, which give delight to all mankind, quite distinct from their affording any gratification to any of our sensitive appetites; and from quite another view of them, than as being for their interest and further advantage; but merely as such intellectual forms, images or ideas immediately, and by themselves. The faculties from which we receive these pleasures, and the pleasures themselves, are as natural, and as easily to be accounted for, as any sensual appetite whatever, and the pleasures arising from its gratification. There is no question that can be asked about them, as, “How they give us pleasure?” “Whence it comes? And what it is?” that does not<146> likewise belong to all our other pleasures, and the faculties by which they are perceived, and in the same sense; and that may not therefore be resolved in the same way: which will ultimately be in all cases, “That we are so constituted, or such is our nature and frame.” Otherwise we must run into the same absurdity with respect to the causes of our pleasures, as some do in speculation about efficient causes; that is, suppose an infinite series of them.
To explain this subject a little more fully, because the argument, I think, is not very common; let it be considered what is meant when visible beauty is said to be connected with regularity in objects, and with utility; that regularity and utility are the foundation of visible beauty, or the qualities whence it results: or, in other words, that it is regular objects composed of various parts, conspiring by their mutual respects, and close union, to some proper or good end in the simplest manner, which alone excite the perception of beauty in us. For what is the meaning of this, but that where we perceive beauty, we shall always find, by proper enquiry, that there is regularity, unity of design, simplicity and utility? Perhaps it must be so in the nature of things. But whether it must be so or not in the nature of things, we constantly find by observation, that it is so in fact with regard to us. Yet the perception of beauty is distinct from the regularity and utility with which it is connected. So distinct, that beauty may, and frequently is perceived, where there is no notion of regularity, or of unity of design. Nay, beauty is so distinct from regularity, that the latter is discovered by proper rules and measures, which we are excited to apply to a beautiful object, by the agreeable perception of beauty with which it immediately strikes us. And as for utility, in many cases, where beauty is perceived and admired, it is not easily discovered. They are therefore said to be connected together, because they are found to be so in fact; or because we learn from experience,<147> that beauty being always connected with regularity and utility, in order to produce it in human workmanship, we must study regularity and utility, and take the proper methods to produce them. They are therefore connected together, as other ideas of different senses are, which by their connexion or co-existence make the same object. And consequently, to confound visible beauty with any other perception, is the same absurdity as to confound smell with any other sensation. And as it would be absurd to distinguish the agreeableness or disagreeableness of a smell from the smell itself; so it is the same absurdity to distinguish the agreeableness of beauty from the beauty perceived.
If therefore we suppose the Author of our nature to have any conception of proportion, order and beauty, in natural or moral objects, he must necessarily have pleasure and delight in perceiving them; for not to suppose it, is to suppose him to have pleasant conceptions and not to have them. But if he have not conceptions of proportion, order and beauty, then hath he produced, and made us capable of perceiving what he knows not, or has no idea of.
If we pursue this argument but a little farther, since we not only perceive beauty and order, moral and natural, with immediate delight; but are capable of making such perceptions the objects of our reflexion, and thereby of receiving new delight from them, as objects worthy of our approbation and pursuit; and thus are capable of determining to set ourselves to improve such a capacity with all diligence, by our reason, into what is called, with respect to natural beauty, a good taste of nature, and of the arts which imitate nature; and what is called, with respect to moral beauty, a good taste of the harmony and consistency of life and manners; or, in one word, of virtue, and a good moral temper. This being our constitution, for the very same reasons just mentioned, the Author of our nature must have in him a perfect love and approbation of natural and moral beauty, he must delight in<148> it with a delight of approbation, and therefore must steadily pursue it in all his operations and works. I thought it not improper to shew, that the Author of our frame must have delight in beauty and order, natural and moral, analogous to ours, in the same way that any of our other powers or perfections are analogous to his. And what hath been said, may very easily be applied to the perception of the greater good in a system, and delight in it, or approbation of it, if these two be not really co-incident. For that perception must be a beautiful and agreeable one to every mind who can form it; and must be approved as the best pursuit by every mind who can reflect upon it: it is so at least with regard to us. And God, who hath so constituted us, must himself have the perception of best, and having it, he must have delight in it, and approve it, as the best, the worthiest end. He who hath implanted in us our capacity of discerning the best in certain cases, and our determination to like and approve it, must have, analogous to it, a perfect conception of best and worthiest in every possible case, in all circumstances, in the whole of his creation, and full delight in it, and approbation of it as such. It cannot but be so in the nature of things, unless ideas of beauty and order, and love of them, and delight in them, can be blindly, i.e. fortuitously produced.
Now it is remarkable, that God is said, in scripture, to delight in the beauty of his visible creation; to rejoice in it; to review it with full complacency and satisfaction. And indeed, it is as certain, that God cannot give, or render capable of any one faculty, without a distinct adequate conception of it; as that he cannot give any other without a distinct adequate idea of it. If he can blindly produce any thing, every thing may be blindly produced: chance may be the author of every thing: nay, with regard to what is supposed to be produced, without a clear and distinct understanding of it by the supreme cause, the supreme cause and chance are the same thing.<149>
“Tho’ we could not possibly have any glimpse of the way and manner how God can have clear conceptions of all the pleasures and pains of which he hath rendered his creatures capable, and which are the effects of his laws; yet it is not in this case alone, that we cannot fully account for the divine manner of knowing or perceiving things: that is often the case, and must necessarily be so, even with regard to minds far superior to ours, because they are not infinite.” But for the sake of what is obscure and unknown, we must not give up with clear and certain truths.
Such as this, “that what is not perceived or known, cannot be intended, aimed at, designed; or, in one word, produced with intelligence: and what is not so produced is really produced without a producer, which is absurd.”
We are indeed sufficiently warned by the holy scripture, as well as by reason, not to ascribe any imperfection to God; yet we are sufficiently authorized by the sacred writers to ascribe eyes, ears, hands, and all our senses, and all kinds of affections to God, so far as these ways of speaking only serve, or are only employed (as they are in scripture) to denote that God must have clear adequate conceptions of all his works, and cannot be the blind Author of any thing. For to ascribe blind production to him, is not only to attribute imperfection to him, but it is to assert an impossible thing, or a down-right contradiction. With regard to the affection we are now speaking of, it is ascribed to God in direct terms. He is said to delight in moral beauty, the beauty of holiness; nay, in all beauty and order, even that of the inanimate material creation, for he pronounced it good; and he is said to abhor all deformity, moral deformitya in a more special manner. The argument we have been now using to establish the holiness,<150> the goodness, the purity of God, or his supreme love of order, beauty, proportion, publick good; and, in one word, what his infinite knowledge perceives to be best, is Job’s: “Shall mortal man be more just than God? Shall a man be more pure than his Maker?”19 The angels are higher than men, yet even the most perfect of them must be infinitely inferior to God, in purity, sanctity, and every perfection; for from him is all derived that they possess or are capable of. And another inspired writer reasons, as hath been observed, to the same purpose: Heb that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see? This emphatical solid reasoning is ushered in by a most awakening solemn preface, “Understand ye brutish”; to give us to understand, how absurd it is to imagine any capacity or perfection we possess, must not be derived from one who possesses it, and all perfection in the most compleat degree and manner; since were any thing so produced, it would be produced without intelligence, than which there cannot be a greater absurdity supposed.
Thus then, tho’ whatever imperfection attends or may attend any affections in us, or in any order of created beings, cannot belong to God; yet not to ascribe to him delight in beauty and order, moral and natural, is to ascribe to him the greatest of all imperfections, want of capacity of discerning order and beauty; or, which is yet worse, if it be at all conceiveable, ill affection towards what he perceives to be orderly, beautiful and best. This proposition is therefore true in general, that God knows what he has made, and knowing beauty, natural and moral, and the best in every possible case, is naturally and immutably well affected towards it, and steadily and unerringly pursues it.<151>
But, in order to infer the wisdom of God, as it hath been above defined, no more is necessary than merely to reflect, that every unwise action, or circumstance of action, must necessarily proceed, either from shortness of understanding, from defect of power, or from faultiness of will. It is either because the agent knows not, or that he cannot, or that he will not do what is best. But from each of these defects and imperfections, the divine nature is infinitely removed. Therefore, every action of God, must of necessity, (in the moral sense of the word necessity) be what is absolutely in itself, and upon the whole most wise. “By wisdom therefore, as the scripture speaks, hath the Lord founded the earth, by understanding hath he established the heavens; by his knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down dew.”20 Or, as the prophet expresses it, “He made the earth by his power, he established the world by his wisdom, and stretched out the heavens by his understanding.”21 Who can express the mighty acts of the Lord, or shew forth all his praise? How manifold, O Lord, are thy works; in wisdom hast thou made them all. This wisdom of God do all his visible works speak aloud, says St. Paul.
The providence of God, if it be infinitely wise, must also be infinitely good; for an infinitely wise being cannot be maliciously disposed, but must be of the most beneficent disposition, or be disposed to extend happiness as far as his omnipotence can: Goodness being nothing but a fixed disposition to do always what in the whole is best; and, so far as is consistent with right and justice, what is most beneficial to all. It is evident, that the supreme, universal, original mind, having all knowledge, his understanding can never mistake or err in judging what is best; and having no want of any thing to complete his own happiness, no private good distinct from the exertion of his power to communicate happiness, his will can never be influenced by any wrong affection, or have any allurement, temptation, or provocation<152> laid before it to act otherwise than according to what he knows to be best. But hence it is very obvious to reason, that he could not possibly have any other motive to create, but only that he might create all the various capacities of perfection and happiness, which it was fit for infinite wisdom to produce, in order to display its riches and fullness; and for infinite goodness to produce, in order to give existence to the greatest quantity of good that could possibly exist; and that he might dispense happiness to moral beings in proportion to their different improvements and deserts. In proportion, I say, to their different improvements and deserts: For it is necessary to equal or just administration, that happiness should be approportioned to goodness or merit; depend upon it, or result from it, in consequence of the constitution and administration of things. Goodness does not mean profusion without rule, but according to the best rule and measure; but proportion to merit, or good desert, must be the best rule in dispensing happiness, or a measure and rule or proportion in dispensing it, must be words without a meaning; which cannot be said, while an essential difference between moral good and evil is allowed.
In truth, an independent, all-powerful evil mind, is a complication of absolutely incompatible and repugnant qualities. It is a complication of infinite power and infinite knowledge, which are in the nature of things inseparable, and of infinite blindness, darkness and ignorance: it is a compound of independence and self-sufficiency and happiness, and of insufficiency to happiness, absolute discontent and uneasiness. For what else are envy, hatred and malice, but absolute misery? And to perfect the absurdity, it is a combination of freedom from all provocation, want, distress or injury, implied in independence, and of envy, resentment and cruelty, which ever suppose dependence, distress and injury, or provocation.
To be satisfied of the truth of these reasonings, we need only reflect, that our nature (and every moral being<153> must be by its constitution the image of its Creator) is no less a stranger to self-hatred than it is to ill-will, emulation and resentment being away; but, on the contrary, there is deeply inlaid into it, benevolence or good-will. There is no such thing as love of injustice or oppression for their own sake: there is no such thing as delight in mischief as such: no such thing as disinterested malice. As corrupt and irregular as men sometimes become; we perceive nothing in the world that is vicious or hurtful, but what is really the fruit of eager desire safter external goods, which all observers of human nature have acknowledged there is reason to think the most abandoned would choose to obtain by innocent means, if they were as easy and as effectual to their end. Emulation and resentment, by any one who will take a right view of human nature, as we shall see afterwards, will not be found to be arguments of any thing like pure malice in our frame. And indeed all the principles and passions in the mind, which are equally distinct from self-love and benevolence, (of which there are very many) do primarily and most directly lead us to right behaviour with regard to others, as well as ourselves, and but accidentally to what is evil. Now can such a nature be the production of a being of pure malice. As well may we suppose benevolence to aim at nothing but evil, as disinterested malice to have carefully and designedly thus produced a very complicated frame, so evidently calculated for the generous pursuit of the good of its kind, in many different respects, all concurring to the same good end, and mutually strengthening and exciting one another for that effect.
Nor need I stay to prove, that the scriptures assert the infinite goodness of God in the strongest and clearest terms. It is the universal language of the Bible. And indeed it would be in vain to recommend to us the love of God, without representing him as such. For it is this perfection alone that can render him the object of love. And this is the character given of God in the scriptures, that he is love.<154>
I shall therefore upon this head only make two very important remarks, and then proceed to enquire into a particular character given of God in scripture as merciful, which seems to imply something distinct from the general notion of goodness.
I. In opposition to reasonings to prove the goodness of God from his works, to which the holy scriptures are ever appealing as manifest evidences of it, it hath, or may be said, that he who knows not the whole, and cannot see the final issue and tendency of all things, can pronounce no certain judgment of it.
Let it therefore be observed, first of all, that the issue of such an objection is not atheism, but mere doubt or scepticism: for it goes no further than this; what tho’ we can count many goods, yet because we cannot number all, we cannot positively say whether the ballance lies upon the side of cruelty or benevolence; for may not all the goods we can count be finally conducive to evil, which, upon the whole, is perhaps far superior in quantity to good, as it must be, if the goods that are in it be but subservient means to evil.
Now, it seems sufficient to take off this scepticism, that we can easily imagine to ourselves a system in which there is nothing but pain; and a system in which there is nothing but pain, and no pleasure, must be a worse system than one, in which there are many pleasures. But a being delighting absolutely in ill, would produce the worst system that could be. But if it is said, in pursuing the objection, that we can also conceive a system in which there is nothing but pleasure, and therefore, if a good being must choose the best, the author of a system, in which there is any mixture of pain, must be at best but a very imperfect being, or cannot be absolutely good. The question being thus reduced to its ultimate terms, it may be answered, in the first place, by appealing to any one, “what a spectator of any complex piece of work, ignorant in a great measure of the various parts, and<155> references of parts by which it is constituted, and consequently of its general end, whatever that end be; but who, upon the first sight, and partial view of it, plainly saw several things to be just and beautiful, while others appeared to his eye disproportionate and wrong; what such a spectator would infer from these appearances to his eye in this imperfect view of the whole?” Would he not immediately conclude there was a probability, that a full sight and knowledge of the whole frame would wholly destroy the appearances of wrongness and disproportion? But that there is no probability, that a complete view of the whole, that is, of all the parts, and all their mutual respects constituting the whole, would destroy the particular, just, beautiful, and right appearances? Would he not conclude, that such a view might shew the parts already appearing good and just, to be so likewise in another manner, and higher degree, by subserviency to greater goods or nobler ends? He would not certainly conclude that the right appearances perceived were not intended? And as for irregularity and disorder do we ever suspect it to be designed? He would therefore infer, that the wrong appearances are not really such, but appearances which even good and just parts must have to a spectator who has not a full view of the whole.
Thus are we necessarily led or determined by our make and frame to reason concerning men, human actions, human inventions; and every thing we see and are determined to act by in the way of probability: and which of our affairs in life admits of any other evidence or manner of determination and choice? And if it be so, we are made to reason so likewise concerning the whole of nature; that is, we are made to conclude well of the works of our Author, the Author of all things, from the samples of beauty and good we see. But would an evil being have so made us? There are many evident reasons why a good<156> being should make us so, of which this is principal, even that we may thus be naturally led to conclude his goodness, and to love and imitate it. But no reason can be assigned that could move pure malice to make us so, unless it be merely to disappoint us terribly at last, which if it be the aim of the Author of nature, its accomplishment is reserved for a future state, in such a way that the further we are able to advance in the search of his works at present, the more and clearer evidences we see of good order, and wise and beautiful administration in it; and the more appearances of evil are destroyed. For this is known by all philosophers to be the truth of the case with regard to this system of which we are a part. The only thing that can be disputed in this reasoning is a fact, for the truth of which we must appeal to experience: which is, the determination in our nature to reason, or rather to choose and act in the way mentioned. But let every man try himself fairly whether this is not the way here a sons and is naturally disposed to reason about men and things, as well as the government of the world. For who does not naturally judge of men in this manner, never presuming they are evil, unless there be very evident instances in their conduct, which clearly demonstrate they must be bad; but, on the contrary, ever presuming with great assurance, that the good things they do come from a good heart, and are not snares to deceive? Thus do all men reason, till they have quite corrupted their minds, and have studied and struggled themselves in opposition to nature, under the specious shew of acquiring prudence, into a resolution to suspect all men, and to treat them as if they were knaves: and even then they must sometimes judge contrary to this unnatural, affected rule, and very frequently do so. ’Tis in vain to say, that beings of another make will judge differently; for the question is, how we are formed to judge, and what must be the final cause, and consequently the motive<157> for implanting such a disposition in our nature; or so constituting us. We have no reason to imagine there are any such beings in nature as have not the like disposition: we know none such. And if we are really so made, we must either own that we are designedly so made, in order to judge well of our Creator, and in order to have a benevolent idea of our fellow creatures, and a kind disposition towards them, which design can only be the design of a very generous creator; or we must say that we cannot know the final cause of any thing, or conclude any thing from it when known; not of the eye or ear, for example; for their final causes are not more evident than the final ends now mentioned of our natural determination to assent to or be satisfied with probability, in the manner described, in judging of complicated works, and of all appearances in men or things.
What renders the answer to the preceeding objection compleat is, that though we can conceive a variety of beings perpetually entertained by agreeable sensations in a passive manner, yet we can only conceive it to be in a passive way, and in a way not reducible to general laws; and we cannot possibly conceive a regular system of great moral happiness, in which certain choices and actions are not attended with evil or hurtful consequences; because moral agency supposes capacity of prudence and folly, virtue and vice, good and ill desert, and such agency cannot take place, as hath been often said, but in a state where if certain methods be chosen and pursued, certain pains will be the consequence. Moral agents justly treated, are agents so placed that they shall upon the whole reap as they sow; reap the fruits of their doings; that is, beings of good desert shall have proportional happiness, and beings of bad desert shall have proportional misery. But such a system does ours, as has been proved, plainly appear to be even at present; whence it is highly reasonable to conclude, that<158> as revelation teaches us, it shall more fully be found to be such the farther it advances, that is, in an afterlife, to which this is as spring to harvest in the natural world. But let it be observed, that when abstracting from the arguments which demonstratively prove the moral perfections of God, and consequently a future state, or in other probable reasonings we say, it is highly reasonable to conclude so and so; or it is natural, it is likely; if in such cases we ask what that means: the only answer that can be given to the question is, that we are, because our circumstances require such a frame, so adjusted or constituted that when we perceive no necessary connexion, but mere likelihood, we are determined to acquiesce in such perceptions according to the various degrees of likelihood. It does not follow from hence that rules may not be laid down by careful observers of the course of things, and of the different consequences of venturing to act upon different degrees of probability, for assisting and directing us in judging of degrees of likelihood, and of satisfaction or acquiescence proportioned to them, in the same manner as it is necessary, to try and examine the real values of objects, in respect of any good or advantage they are fitted to afford, least we should imagine more in them than there is, and so act with affection not proportioned to their real, but to a false imaginary value. That by no means follows. For in effect it is but observing how appearances of likelihood, which in fact do influence the mind, all of them in some degree, turn out in the ordinary course of judging and acting upon such appearances. But if the mind had no disposition to confide in certain degrees of likelihood, nothing but demonstration could satisfy us: that is, nothing but clear perception of necessary agreement or disagreement of ideas could determine us to act: nothing else indeed can produce what is properly called assent of the understanding: it really means that perception: likelihood or probability<159> produces properly a disposition to act with more or less hope or assurance; with more or less diffidence about the event; which, to treat accurately of it, will be best measured by the quantity of interest one would stake or risk upon acting on hope or assurance so produced.
Our being so made is necessary to our situation, and it is therefore an argument of the care of our Maker about us; and being so made, not to be satisfied about the wisdom and goodness of the Author and Ruler of the world, in the manner it teaches and prompts us to reason and acquiesce, is really doing violence to our nature; and accordingly we feel it to be so. For no fact is more certain, than that whatever pains men may take to think ill of the Author of nature, or even to doubt of his moral perfection, in opposition to the plain evidence we see every where of wisdom and goodness, they can never attain to their end. Nature will often tell them, by making them feel the violence they do to a very proper determination in their nature, that they act a most unaccountable, unnatural part. Were this determination merely given us to satisfy us in enquiries after the character of our Maker and Ruler, it might perhaps, by opposition, be at last quite overpowered. But being by our circumstances necessitated often to yield to it, and act conformably to it, and frequently feeling the advantages of it in these respects, opposition to it in that single instance is too bare-faced partiality, or dissonancy and inconsistency to be palliated to ourselves with any specious shew by all the cunning artfulness of the most deceitful heart, ever so much practised in cheating itself by giving things false colours; the most dangerous of all wicked dispositions to ones self, as hypocrisy is the most dangerous of all vices in respect of society.
II. A second observation I would make is, that though wisdom and goodness may properly be said to constitute the moral character of the Deity, which renders<160> him the proper object of religion, love, esteem, hope, gratitude, and confidence; yet there are several other attributes ascribed to the Deity in holy writ, which we have good reason, from the contemplation of ourselves and our situation, to conclude really to belong to him: attributes that may be deduced from wisdom and goodness, being really included in them; but which however we can consider distinctly from them; and must so consider, in order to have a clear conception of them. These attributes are truth, or faithfulness and veracity, purity or holiness, and equity and justice.
Sure I need not stay to prove that the scriptures frequently ascribe these perfections to the Deity, and that reason leads us to ascribe them to the Deity will be evident, if we attend to our own make. For it is as manifest as that we are made to approve benevolence in ourselves and others, that our moral understanding or moral sense is not indifferent to every thing but the degrees in which the benevolent disposition seems to prevail, and in which it seems to be wanting. For were we so constituted, we should neither approve of benevolence to some persons preferable to others, nor disapprove injustice and falshood upon any other account than merely as a greater share of happiness was observed likely to be produced by the first, and of misery by the last. Both of which suppositions are contrary to manifest experience in our situation. There are numberless cases in which, notwithstanding appearances, we are not competent judges whether a particular action will upon the whole do good or harm; this will in all very complex cases be a very difficult enquiry, for which the bulk of mankind at least are not qualified. And therefore it is fit that in a system where the greater good of the creation is the end of its Author, we should not only be indued with benevolence, and reason to guide it in its properest exercise; but likewise be immediately determined by our nature<161> to certain methods of acting which upon the whole will produce the greatest good, by a sense of fitness in them, and unfitness in their contraries, quite distinct from a perception, that the observation or transgression of them is for the happiness or misery of our fellow-creatures; but as directly and immediately, and by the same approving and disapproving faculty, as we are determined to approve benevolence, and disapprove its opposite, or all departures from it. And as this is fit, so in fact, this is the case with respect to us, for there are several dispositions of mind and several actions which we cannot but approve or disapprove, abstracted from the consideration of their conduciveness to the happiness or misery of the world: several dispositions and conformable actions which are naturally and necessarily approved or disapproved by conscience, by that power within us, which is the judge of right and wrong, without any reflection on their consequences with regard to publick or private interest. Numberless instances of this kind will occur to every thinking person. All pieces of falshood, deceit, and treachery do thus appear base and detestable to our approving and disapproving sense: some to every person, even those whose sense of right and wrong hath been most industriously perverted. Nay, there are even certain actions which we can hardly give any other name to, than the general one of indecencies, which yet are odious and shocking to human nature.
Upon the supposition that strict observance of truth, veracity, decency, and other such rules of conduct, which we are naturally determined to approve, quite distinct from all consideration of their conduciveness to the greater good or ill of our kind, be really contributive to such ends, it plainly follows, that there is a good reason for so constituting us, with regard to them, who really are not in all cases able to judge of the tendency of actions, in respect of the over-ballance of happiness or misery they may produce: nay, upon that supposition there is a very good reason for so constituting<162> us, even though we were always able to judge easily and readily of the tendency of every action; viz. in order to strengthen the benevolent principle, and to be, if not directors and guides to it, yet assistants and corroboratives of it. And if the world be the contrivance and production of an infinitely good being, as we have found it to be, as the principle of benevolence, so these other dispositions, and the approving sense of them, cannot be implanted in us, but for the greater good; or for their amiableness and usefulness. Whatever be the reason of implanting them in us, they are to us a natural rule of action. But they cannot be given us to be such by an infinitely wise and good being, unless they be really worthy of the approbation with which we are determined by him to contemplate and reflect upon them. And nothing can have amiableness or approveable worthiness to such a being, but what is really in itself by its observance conducive to the greater good, his only end of creation and government. Now though we could not determine whether those rules of veracity, truth, and justice we are made to approve, be rules that God himself observes, and must observe in the government of the world: yet if we cannot prove the contrary; since we are so made, the presumption will naturally lie that they are such, even to him. And that it is so revelation expressly declares. But that the observance of those rules must be necessary to government, whose end is the greater good of moral beings, is almost certain. For what is truth and veracity but acting according to the truth, the reason, the real fitnesses and proportions of things? And whence else can the greater good of a system result? What is purity and holiness, but moral rectitude, or a disposition of mind conformable to the truth and reason of things; from which if the greater good in the whole do not necessarily ensue, there is and must be a contrariety between the disposition of things most conformable to reason and<163> truth, and the disposition of things most conducive to good, happiness, and perfection, which is absurd. Though we are not competent judges in every case of the necessary means to the greater good of a system of which we know so small a part; yet we are sure in general that no conceivable transgression of truth and veracity can be such; as for instance, “giving the marks of a revelation to what is not”; and far less, “deceiving hopes implanted in moral beings by nature,” and yet far less, “punishing or making them miserable for pursuing what is evidently the end of their natural frame when justly considered”: the not rendering upon the whole to every rational agent according to his good or ill desert: the inflicting any evil or misery for the sake of plaguing the innocent. Now if by induction we find that every instance we can imagine of violation of truth and veracity is contrary to the pursuit of greater good, we may justly conclude, that the universal observance of them is necessary to the greater good. And to all these reasonings we have yet this other to add, that God our Author, who hath given us such a moral understanding, by which we are not indifferent to veracity and truth, and other moral qualities, and their contraries, must have clear conceptions of them, and of their appearances to our moral understanding, as he hath constituted it. He therefore so formed our understanding, either because he perceives a real absolute amiableness in these qualities, which, if it be owned, they are then allowed to be really, absolutely, and immutably amiable in themselves to all moral understandings; and therefore they must be so to the Deity, and of consequence they must be a rule of action with regard to him: or because they have, though not an absolute amiableness in themselves, yet a relative fitness with regard to mankind in their situation, in order to direct them in their conduct for the greater good of their kind: upon which last supposition, at the same time that it must<164> be owned, that great goodness alone could have so constituted us, we must needs be very much puzzled to explain, how an appearance of amiableness and approveableness can be given to intelligible objects or images, not essentially belonging to them, or what that means. If it be not co-incident with the absurdity already mentioned of separating an object or quality perceived from the perception; it is at least, but a puzzling, perplexing hypothesis; whereas the other is a simple and consistent one, liable to no difficulties: since it goes upon no other supposition but this self-evident principle or fact, that all intelligible forms or images have essentially some appearance to the moral understanding, capable of reflecting on them, which necessarily excites either approbation or disapprobation as such, abstracted from all other considerations, as visible forms do of beauty or deformity, regularity or irregularity. All appearances to the eye produce either the one or the other of these sensations, though ’tis only more remarkable or striking ones that are very much attended to, others being in comparison of them comparatively as nothing. And all moral appearances must in like manner affect the mind, when they are reflected upon, and so made objects to it, either with a perception of beauty or of deformity; though ’tis in like manner only the principal kinds of such appearances in respect of which others are comparatively as nothing, that are much attended to.
Now truth and simplicity are in all instances so inseparable, that we may safely always prefer the more simple hypothesis to all others. And indeed we are naturally framed so to do; and while we are influenced by this disposition to look out for the simplest hypotheses, where looking out for any is either necessary to assist and direct in our choice with regard to action; or to quiet our minds, by taking off uneasy and perplexing difficulties and doubts, we never have in the event reason to repent so doing. The physician, the naturalist,<165> will always before experiment presume the truth of the simplest hypothesis; for experiments always turn out in its favours; and thus shew, that our determination by nature to embrace the most simple hypotheses, is by no means a deceit: But this, as it is a very strong argument of the care of nature about us, so it is an instance of that strict regard to truth or veracity, which is one of the divine perfections we are now enquiring about. For to give an instinct or determination which deceives us, is falshood; and to give one that does not, is veracity. And thus again we have another argument to prove what we are contending for. For all our determinations being right guides, or guides which do not deceive, or lead astray from our proper pursuits to disappointment, they are really so many samples of the adherence of the Author of our frame, and of all things, to truth and veracity in his government of mankind; from which, according to all the rules of analogy, it is reasonable to conclude the rule to be universal in the divine government.
III. But what hath been said of the truth and faithfulness of God, naturally leads me to take particular notice of what is taught in holy writ of the mercy, the compassion, the patience and long-suffering of God, attributes under which he is peculiarly represented to us by the inspired writers. Whatever evils befal men in this life, yet the holy scripture declares, that God always affords men sufficient provision for their eternal happiness, if by their own perverseness they neglect not the means which he gives them for that end. Nay, the sacred books often tell us, that one great end of temporal evils is the advantage that may be reaped from them, with regard to advancement in virtue, and thereby laying a foundation for great future felicity. God has endowed men with reason and natural conscience, to distinguish between good and evil, and to forwarn them, as it were, by an inward and perpetual<166> instinct of the certainty of a future state, in which it shall be rendered to every one according to his desert. And revelation confirms this by declaring expresly, that according to the several degrees of men’s knowledge in these matters, he will require of them a severer or less severe account in such a manner as becomes the judge of the whole earth, to do right. And that in the mean time, in order to bring sinners, if possible, to repentance, and a just sense of their duty; he with much patience, long-suffering, and forbearance frequently, nay, generally defers their punishment or misery; and if they do repent, he forgives and pardons them, as a father receives a returning child; or a shepherd rejoices over one of his flock that had been lost: for so the scripture speaks.a And this is that part of goodness which is strictly and properly distinguished in the holy scriptures by the name of Mercy. The character or description there given of the divine mercy, patience, and long-suffering consists in this, “That God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should repent and live; or be restored to his favour by returning to the ways of truth and holiness, without which it is impossible in the nature of things to be happy in a future life; that he is ready to forgive the penitent sinner; and that sentence against an evil work is not speedily executed,b that the sinner may have space, opportunity, and inducement to repent.”
How emphatical are the words of the Psalmist to this purpose,c “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, long-suffering, and of great goodness—He<167> hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities and wickednesses—Like as a father pitieth his own children, even so the Lord is merciful unto them that fear him; for he knoweth whereof we are made, he remembereth that we are but dust.” And the particular instances given us in scripture of this patience and forbearance of God toward sinners, shew us that this is the meaning of it.
And indeed the general conduct of providence towards sinful and corrupted men and nations, shew that the mercy and patience, ascribed to God in scripture, do really belong to him. A very wise Heathend in his enquiry “Why the wicked, whose ways God must abominate, are not immediately destroyed,” among many other reasons gives these. 1. That in general, this world is the state of our probation, and the next the state of rewards and punishments; that many vitious men are led to repentance at last, and become exceeding good; remarkably virtuous and useful. [Upon which head I can’t but remark, that the Jews had a proverb, that no man could equal the zeal of a sincere penitent: And St. Paul ’s description of such a person is very well worth our attention.a “Behold this selfsame thing, that ye have sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness is wrought in you; yea what clearing of yourselves; yea what indignation; yea what fear; yea what vehement desire; yea what zeal; yea what revenge?”] The other reason, he adds, 2. is, That very wicked men are fathers of good and worthy children; that by the bad the virtuous are exercised and tried; and other wicked persons are punished. 3. That they themselves, far from being happy, are really miserable, however dazzling to unthinking eyes their outward prosperity may appear. 4. That the world being governed by general laws, or in a regular manner, and not by partial wills, God brings about the punishment<168> of wicked men and nations very often in such a manner, as must be more instructive to all thinking men, than positive interpositions can be, by shewing wickedness to be in the general and natural course of things the ruin of individuals and of states. And 5. That such are the natural connexions and dependencies of mankind, that no wicked man can be destroyed without involving others, perhaps good, or at least not so bad, in his ruin. An excellent author gives these reasons for God’s forbearance, in not suddenly destroying, or very visibly punishing wicked men as their sins deserve, from the consideration of the general conduct of providence; all of which are justified by revelation. 6. But another remarkable reason he gives is directly the language of scripture, which is,b That Men in general are qualified and fitted to contemplate and understand the government of God in the world, as the divine behaviour and conduct, in order to make it the model or pattern of their own. And this patient, merciful, tender, compassionate conduct of God in the course of his providence towards sinners, shews us how compassionate, how tender, how forgiving, we ought to be; we, who after our best endeavours are liable to so many weaknesses, which require mutual indulgence from one another; and fall so far short of our duty to God, that we greatly need pardon and mercy from him who must hate iniquity. A patient, meek, compassionate, forgiving spirit, so necessary to happiness in human life, is frequently urged upon us in the new testament, from the consideration of the mercy of God, and his readiness to pardon us; his tender compassion for all our weaknesses; and his not exacting rigidly of us all that duty requires at our hands, and we are really qualified to perform, would we but set ourselves with all our might to do it. And how can the cruel, unforgiving man presume to ask pardon<169> of God? The natural notion of equity must first be forgot by us, before we can choose, but yield to that remarkable reasoning of the son of Sirach,a “He that wrongeth shall find vengeance from the Lord, and he will surely keep his iniquities in remembrance. Forgive thy neighbour the hurt he hath done to thee, so shall thy sins also be forgiven when thou prayest. One man beareth hatred against another, and doth he seek pardon from the Lord? He sheweth no mercy to a man which is like himself, and doth he ask forgiveness of his own sins?” I have mentioned this emphatical reasoning, because not a few thro’ very imperfect notions of natural religion, imagine a forgiving, meek, patient temper is no part of it.
But to prevent mistakes upon this head, let it be observed, 1. That in the administration of a God of infinite purity and holiness, or of absolute moral rectitude, the only road to true happiness must be virtue, or purity and sanctity of manners. Nay, in the nature of things, rational happiness cannot arise but from well improved rational faculties: virtuous enjoyment virtue alone can give: none can possibly partake of a happiness bearing any likeness to the happiness of the divine mind, but by becoming partakers of that divine nature, or like to God in that moral rectitude from which his felicity results. 2. Whence it follows, in the second place, that till the sinner repents, he is naturally, and according to the essential differences of things to which the divine government is and must be consonant, quite out of the road to true happiness, and in the direct natural way to misery, the proper, natural and necessary misery of a rational moral being; a mind confirmed in depravity and vice. 3. But then, thirdly, When a penitent sincerely reforms, and returns to virtue, he puts himself into the natural and the appointed way to rational happiness, the result of rational<170> perfection. 4. And yet, in the fourth place, God’s sparing very wicked sinners, and putting means in their way for their reclamation from vice; and his freely pardoning them, are in a proper and strict sense, acts of grace, of patience, mercy, and forgiveness; in the same manner that a man’s not merely forgiving his enemy, but restoring him to his favour and confidence upon his sincere repentance, and taking proper methods to bring him back to a sense of his vice, and a better mind, are what a man is not strictly obliged to do in justice, and could not be blamed for not doing; but is truly and properly not mere lenity but benignity; the highest generosity. And indeed, such goodness is called among men, God-like, from a natural sense of the divine compassion and forbearance, of which we are all monuments. 5. In the last place, as such compassionate administration is not inconsistent with government by general laws; but supposes compassion and mercy to have moved God in the choice of his conduct towards men, and to have determined him to the methods by which he is really found to govern the world; so, on the other hand, it is plain, that to a generous mind, continuance in sin will be highly aggravated by the consideration of such tender and merciful government. Sinful conduct, in proportion as wicked men have less or more shared of it, according to different circumstances, all of which were the choice of infinite mercy in order to greater good in the whole, does certainly heighten in proportion their guilt, and render their wickedness more inexcusable, if ingratitude be a sin: And the truly good, or all who ever come to take a just view of things, will look upon it as doing so; and therefore far from having any disposition to indulge vicious appetites in hopes of forgiveness, they will be more unwilling to offend. This goodness will lead them to repentance; it will engage them to double watchfulness and diligence, not to offend God, whose laws are really but so many rules for our<171> attainment to true and unchanging happiness; and to recommend themselves to his favour by duly grateful behaviour. This is the meaning of the Psalmist, when he says, “There is forgiveness with God,a that he may be feared.” To whom among men is one who hath any sense of honour most desirous to be acceptable; whom does he most fear, most reverence, and most love; the person who tho’ he exacteth nothing but what is just, yet hath no compassion, no lenity; or he who, tho’ he be strictly good and virtuous, and cannot be reconciled to vice, is however of a kindly generous disposition, and taking all pains to reform the bad, is willing to accept of them when they sincerely reform? This patience of God is a truly amiable quality; and among the many good ends it evidently serves in order to promote the greater good, this one is none of the least, that this patience, duly considered, exciteth toward God such a filial reverence, as is indeed an excellent virtue even with respect to society by its natural fruits: for it naturally produces a generous regard to those who are wisely merciful; and a compassionate forgiving temper toward our fellow-creatures when they hurt or wrong us.
I shall conclude this article with observing, that as to think of abusing goodness and mercy, is the worst, the most irreclaimable of vitious tempers; so there cannot be a falser or more pernicious mistake in speculation, than to imagine, that there is no reason to fear the goodness, the mercy of a pure and holy being, who must have the strictest regard to moral rectitude in his conduct. For, on the contrary, such goodness, such mercy, is the natural and just object of the greatest fear to an ill man.
A humourous, capricious being may change. And a being, who is rather malicious than good, may be appeased by cringing and flattery. But such a goodness<172> or mercy as hath been defined, is a fixt, steady, unmoveable principle of action; which, tho’ it may bear long with sinners, in order to give them space to reform, and in order to excite them to it, by a sense of the gratitude and respect naturally due to such forbearance, which is the good principle in our natures that is last corrupted or quite defaced; yet it cannot alter the nature of virtue and vice, or of moral perfection and happiness; A connexion, which, if God could alter, yet he would not change on any consideration; far less to gratify vitious men who are unwilling to forsake their wicked pleasures. Every one may observe how much greater chance of impunity an ill man has in a partial administration, than in a just and upright one. And no attribute of God which we can consider, does not prove to us, that virtue alone can recommend to his favour, or put us into the road to true and lasting happiness under his administration.
Now having thus briefly considered the scripture doctrine concerning the principal attributes of God, to which his government of mankind, and all moral beings must be agreeable, it is evident, that whether they are considered as parts of the divine goodness; as belonging to the idea of it, or necessarily resulting from it; or separately, as distinct perfections; they all shew us, that this must be an unalterable rule in it. “That whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he reap.” Denying it to be such, is ultimately to deny every one of his moral perfections.
If he hath a strict regard to moral rectitude, then must the serious pursuit of it be the only way under his administration to happiness; and by consequence its opposite must have an opposite effect. If he be good, he must pursue the general good of moral beings; that is, he must conduct all things so, as may best serve to promote the greatest quantity of moral happiness, resulting in the nature of things only from moral perfection. If he be true and faithful, his administration must be<173> correspondent to what the nature and frame of man, as a moral being, shews to be his end, even to attain to happiness by attaining to moral perfection: for this is plainly the natural language of our whole frame with regard to our end; that man is here, in order to lay a foundation for future unchangeable happiness resulting from a well-improved mind, suitably placed, by the sedulous pursuit of virtue: this his frame and make duly considered, as clearly points out, as any other constitution whatsoever indicates its end by the disposition and combination of the parts which constitute it. If God be pure, holy, just and good, then will he certainly upon the whole render to every moral being, suitably to the use he makes of the stock put into his hand for improvement in his circumstances. And if God be patient and forbearing toward sinners, it is to lead them to repentance,a and there by into the road to happiness; because he is not willing that any should be miserable, but that all should, by acting agreeably to their nature, at last find the reward, the advantage of so doing, which cannot be obtained any other way.
The apostle had therefore good reason to say, it is a gross deceit, because it is mocking God to imagine, “That whatever a man soweth, that shall he not also reap.”
[a. ]Habak. i. 13. Job iv. 17, xv. 15, 16.
[19. ]Job 4.17.
[b. ]Psal. xciv. 9. Prov. v. 21. Jer. xxiii. 23, &c.
[20. ]Prov. 3.19–20.
[21. ]Jer. 51.15.
[a. ]Luke xv. 7.
[b. ]Rom. ii. 4. Eccles. viii. 11. 2 Peter ii. 15. Rom. ix. 22.
[c. ]Ps. ciii. 8. The Book of Wisdom says (Chap. x.) Thou, Lord, hast mercy upon all; and winkest at the sins of men, that they should amend. This is the way of his merciful providence. He chastises by little and little them that offend, and warnest them, by putting them in remembrance wherein they offend, that leaving their wickedness, they may believe in thee, O Lord.
[d. ]Plutarch. [Plutarch, De his qui sero a numine puniuntur, 550D-551C, 552D, 554B.]
[a. ]2 Cor. vii. 11.
[b. ]2 Peter iii. 9, 10.
[a. ]Eccles. xxiii.
[a. ]Psal. cxxx. 4.
[a. ]Rom. ii. 4. Ezek. xviii. 21, &c. xxxiii. 11. Acts xxvi. 20. xvii. 10. 2 Tim. ii. 25, 26. 2 Pet. iii. 9.