« PreviousContinue »
PROP, after they were created ; because he would be as XII. self-sufficient without their continuance, as he was
before their creation. But it was fit, and wise, and good, that infinite wisdom should manifest, and infinite goodness communicate itself. And therefore it was necessary in the sense of necessity I am now speaking of,) that things should be made at such time, and continued so long, and indued with various perfections in such degrees, as infinite wisdom and goodness saw it wisest and best that they should. And when and whilst things are in being, the same moral perfections make it necessary that they should be disposed and governed according to the exactest and most unchangeable laws of eternal justice, goodness, and truth; because, while things and their several relations are, they cannot but be what they are; and an infinitely wise being cannot but know them to be what they are, and judge always rightly concerning the several fitnesses or unfitnesses of them; and an infinitely good being cannot but choose to act always according to this knowledge of the respective fitness of things; it being as truly impossible for such a free agent, who is absolutely in. capable of being deceived or depraved, to choose by acting contrary to these laws, to destroy its own perfections, as for necessary existence to be able to de stroy its own being.
3dly. From hence it follows, that, though God is possibility both perfectly free, and also infinitely powerful, yet ing evil. he cannot possibly do any thing that is evil. The
reason of this also is evident. Because, as it is manifest infinite power cannot extend to natural contradictions, which imply a destruction of that very power by which they must be supposed to be effected ; so neither can it extend to moral contradictions, which imply a destruction of some other attributes as necessarily belonging to the divine nature as power. I have already shown that justice, goodness, and truth, are necessarily in God; even as necessarily as power, and understanding, and knowledge of the nature of
Of the im.
of his do
in itself an
things. It is therefore as impossible and contradictory PROP. to suppose his will should choose to do any thing_XII. contrary to justice, goodness, or truth, as that his power should be able to do any thing inconsistent with power. It is no diminution of power not to be able to do things which are no object of power : and it is in like manner no diminution either of power or liberty to have such a perfect and unalterable rectitude of will as never possibly to choose to do any thing inconsistent with that rectitude.
4thly. From hence it follows, that liberty, properly That liberspeaking, is not in itself an imperfection but a per- ty is not fection. For it is, in the highest and completest de
imperfec. gree, in God himself : every act, wherein he exercises tion, but a any moral attribute, as goodness, justice, or truth, perfection. proceeding from the most perfect liberty and freest choice; without which, goodness would not be goodness, nor justice and truth any excellencies ; these things, in the very idea and formal notion of them, utterly excluding all necessity. It has indeed been sometimes taught, that liberty is a great imperfection ; because it is the occasion of all sin and misery : But, if we will speak properly, it is not liberty that exposes us to misery, but only the abuse of liberty. It is true, liberty makes men capable of sin, and consequently liable to misery; neither of which they could possibly be, without liberty. But he that will say every thing is an imperfection, by the abuse whereof a creature may become more unhappy than if God had never given it that power at all, must say that a stone is a more excellent and perfect creature than man, because it is not capable of making itself miserable, as man is. And, by the same argument, reason and knowledge, and every other perfection, nay even existence itself, will be proved to be an imperfection ; because it is that without which a creature could not be miserable. The truth therefore is ; the abuse of liberty, that is, the corrnption anddepravation of that without which no
PROP. creatures could be happy, is the alone cause of their XII.
misery : but as for liberty itself, it is a great perfection; and the more perfect any creature is, the more perfect is its liberty; and the perfectest liberty of all is such liberty as can never, by any ignorance, deceit, or corruption, be biassed or diverted from choosing what is the proper object of free choice, the greatest good.
5thly. From hence it follows, that though probably highest no rational creature can be, in a strict philosophical fections of sense, impeccable, yet we may easily conceive how
God can place such creatures, as he judges worthy of do not ex. so excellent a gift, in such a state of knowledge and clude na. near communion with himself, where goodness and ty.
holiness shall appear so amiable, and where they shall be exempt from all means of temptation and corruption; that it shall never be possible for them, not, withstanding the natural liberty of their will, to be seduced from their unchangeable happiness in the everlasting choice and enjoyment of their greatest good : Which is the state of good angels and of the saints in heaven.
Lastly; From what hath been said upon this grounds of head, it follows that the true ground and foundation obligations of all eternal moral obligations, is this; that the are eternal same reasons, (viz. the fore-mentioned necessary
and eternal different relations which different things and depend bear one to another : and the consequent fitness or not on any unfitness of the application of different things, or
different relations, one to another, unavoidably arising from that difference of the things themselves ;) these very same reasons, I say, which always and necessarily do determine the will of God, as hath been before shown, ought also constantly to determine the will of all subordinate intelligent beings. And when they do not, then such beings, setting up their own unreasonable self-will in opposition to the nature and reason of things, endeavour (as much as in them lies) to make things be what they are not, and
cannot be ; which is the highest presumption and PROP: greatest insolence imaginable : It is acting contrary to their own reason and knowledge; it is an attempting to destroy that order by which the universe subsists, and it is also, by consequence, offering the highest affront imaginable to the creator of all things, who himself governs all his actions by these rules, and cannot but require the same of all his reasonable creatures. They who found all moral obligations ultimately in the will of God must recur at length to the same thing ; only with this difference, that they do not clearly explain how the nature and will of God himself must be necessarily good and just, as I have endeavoured to do. They who found all moral obligations only upon laws made for the good of societies, hold an opinion which, (besides that it is fully confuted by what has been already said concerning the eternal and necessary difference of things,) is moreover so directly and manifestly contradictory and inconsistent with itself, that it seems strange it should not have been more commonly taken notice of. For, if there be no difference between good and evil, antecedent to all laws, there can be no reason why any laws should be made at all, when all things are naturally indifferent. To say that laws are necessary to be made for the good of mankind, is confessing that certain things tend to the good of mankind, that is, to the preserving and perfecting of their nature; which wise men therefore think necessary to be established by laws. And if the reason why certain things are established by wise and good laws is, because those things tend to the good of mankind, it is manifest they were good antecedent to their being confirmed by laws: Otherwise, if they were not good antece-, dent to all laws, it is evident there could be no reason why such laws should be made, rather than the contrary ; which is the greatest absurdity in the world.
CONCL. : And now from what has been said upon this ar
gument, I hope it is in the whole sufficiently clear that the being and attributes of God are, to attentive and considering minds, abundantly capable of just proof and demonstration, and that the adversaries of God and religion have no reason on their side, (to which they would pretend to be strict adherers,) but merely vain confidence, and great blindness and prejudice, when they desire it should be thought, that, in the fabric of the world, God has left himself wholly without witness, and that all the arguments of nature are on the side of atheism and irreligion. Some men, I know, there are, who, having never turned their thoughts to matters of this nature, think that these things are all absolutely above our comprehension ; and that we talk about we know not what, when we dispute about these questions. But since the most considerable atheists that ever appeared in the world, and the pleaders for universal fatality, have all thought fit to argue in this way, in their attempts to remove the first foundations of religion, it is reasonable and necessary that they should be opposed in their own way, it being most certain, that no argumentation, of what kind soever, can possibly be made use of on the side of error, but may also be used with inuch greater advantage on the behalf of truth.
2. From what has been said upon this argument, we may see how it comes to pass, that though nothing is so certain and undeniable as the necessary existence of God, and the consequent deduction of all his attributes, yet men, who have never attended to the evidence of reason, and to the notices that God hath given us of himself, may easily be in great measure ignorant of both. That the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right ones is so certain and evident, that whoever affirms the contrary affirms what may very easily be reduced to an express contradiction; yet whoever turns not his mind to consider it at all, may easily be ignorant of this and