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Dr. Priestley defines justice, as being “ such a degree of severity, or pains and penalties so inflicted, as will produce the best effect with respect both to those who are exposed to them, and to others who are under the same government : or, in other words, that degree of evil which is calculated to produce the greatest degree of good : and, if the punishment exceed this measure ; ii, in any instance, it be an unnecessary or useless suffering, it is always censured as cruelty and is not even called justice, but real injustice.” To this he adds “ If; in any particular case, the strict execution of the law would do more harm than good, it is universally agreed, that the punishment ought to be remitted."* With an observation or two on the above passage, I shall close this letter.
First, That all punishments are designed for the good of the wbole, and less (or corrective) punishments for the good of the offender, is admitted. Every instance of divine punishment will be not only proportioned to the laws of equity, but adapted to promote the good of the universe at large. God never ipflicts punishment for the sake of punishing. He has no such pleasure in the death of a sinner as to put him to pain, whatever may be his desert, without some great and good end to be answered by it: but that, in the case of the finally-impenitent, this end should necessarily include the good of the offender, is as contrary to reason as it is to scripture, it does not appear, from any thing we know of governments, either human or divine, that the good of the offender is necessarily, and in all cases, the end of punishment. When a murderer is executed, it is necessary for the good of the community : but it would sound very strange to say, it was necessary for his own good; and that, unless his good were promoted by it, as well as that of the community, it must be an act of cruelty ! • Secondly, that there are cases in human government, in which it is right and necessary to relax in the execution of the sentence of the law, is also admitted. But this arises from the imperfection of human laws. Laws are general rules for the conduct of a community, with suitable punishments annexed to the breach of them. But no general rules can be made by men, that will apply
* Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever, Parl I. pp. 100, 101
to every particular case. If legislators were wise and good men, and could foresee every particular case that would arise in the different stages of society, they would so frame their laws as that they need not be relaxed when those cases should .occur. But God is wise and good; and, previous to his giving us the law which requires us to love him with all our hearts, and our neighbour as ourselves, knew every change that could possibly arise, and every case that could occur. The question, therefore, is not, “ If in any particular case the strict execution of the law would do more harm than good, whether it ought not to be remitted ;” but, whether an omniscient, wise and good lawgiver, can be supposed to have made a law, the penalty of which, if put in execution, would do more harm than good ? Would a being of such a character make a law, the penalty of which, according to strict equity, requires to be remitted ; a law by which he could not in justice abide ; and that not only in a few singular cases, but in the case of every individual, in every age, to whom it is given ?
It is possible these considerations may suffice to show that the divine law is not relaxed ; but be that as it inay, the question at issue is, what is the moral tendency of supposing that it is ? To relax a bad law would indeed have a good effect, and to abrogate it would have a better ; but not so respecting a good one. If the divine law be what the scripture says it is, holy, just and good ; to relax it in the precept, or even to mitigate the penalty, without some expedient to secure its honors, must be subversive of good order ; and the scheme which pleads for such relaxation, must be unfavorable to holiness, justice, and goodness.
I am, &c.
THE SYSTEMS COMPARED, AS TO THEIR TENDENCY TO PROMOTE MOR
ALITY IN GENERAL.
What has been advanced in the last Letter on the standard of morality, may serve to fix the meaning of the term in this. The term morality, you know, is sometimes used to express those duties which subsist between men and men, and in this acceptation stands distinguished from religion; but I mean to include under it, the whole of what is contained in the moral law.
Nothing is more common than for the adversaries of the Calvinistic system to charge it with immorality; nay, as if this were self-evident, they seem to think themselves excused from advancing any thing like sober evidence to support the charge. Virulence, rant, and extravagance, are the weapons with which we are not unfrequently combatted in this warfare. “I challenge the whole body and being of moral evil itself,” says a writer of the present day,* “to invent, or inspire, or whisper, any thing blacker, or more wicked: yea, if sin itself had all the wit, the tongues, and pens of all men and angels, to all eternity, I defy the whole to say any thing of God worse than this. O sin, thou hast spent and emptied thyself in the doctrine of John Calvin ! And here I rejoice that I have heard the utmost that malevolence itself shall ever be able to say against infinite benignity! I was myself brought up and tutored in it, and being delivered and brought to see the evil and danger, am bound by my obligations to God, angels, and men, to warn my fellow-sinners ; I therefore, here, before God, and the whole universe, recal and condemn every word I have spoken in favor of it. I thus renounce the doctrine as the rancor of devils ;
a doctrine, the preaching of which is babbling and mocking, its prayers blasphemy, and whose praises are the horrible yellings of sin and hell. And this I do, because I know and believe that God is love ; and therefore his decrees, works and ways, are also love, and cannot be otherwise.” It were ill-spent time to atttempt an answer to such unfounded calumny as this, which certainly partakes much more of the ravings of insanity, than of the words of truth and soberness : yet this, according to the Monthly Review, is "The true coloring of the doctrine of Calvinism."* Had any thing like this been written by a Calvinist against Socianism, the Reviewers would have been the first to have exclaimed against Calvinistic illiberality.
This gentleman professes to have been a Calvinist, and so does Dr. Priestley. The Calvinism of the latter, however, seems to have left an impression upon his mind very different from the above. “Whether it be owing to my Calvinistic education,” says he, “or my considering the principles of Calvinism as generally favorable to that leading virtue, devotion, or to their being something akin to the doctrine of Necessity, I cannot but acknowledge, that, notwithstanding what I have occasionally written against that system, and which I am far from wishing to retract, I feel myself disposed to look upon Calvinists with a kind of respect, and could never join in the contempt and insult with which I have often heard them treated in conversation.”[
But Dr. Priestley, I may be told, whatever good opinion he may have of the piety and virtue of Calvinists, he has a very ill opinion of Calvinism: and this, in a certain degree, is true. Dr. Priestley, however, would not say, that “The preaching of that system was babbling and mocking, its prayers blasphemy, or its praises the horrible yellings of sin and hell :” on the contrary, he acknowl. edges “its principles to be generally favorable to that leading virtue, devotion.”
I confess, Dr. Priestley has advanced some heavy accusations on the immoral tendency of Calvinism ; accusations which seem
* Review for July, 1792, p. 266.
scarcely consistent with the candid concessions just now quoted; and these I shall now proceed to examine. “I do not see,” says he“ what motive a Calvinist can have to give any attention to his moral conduct. So long as he is unregenerate, all his thoughts, words, and actions, are necessarily sinful, and in the act of regeneration he is altogether passive. On this account, the most consistent Calvinists never address any exhortation to sinners ; considering them as dead in trespasses and sins, and, therefore, that .. there would be as much sense and propriety in speaking to the dead, as to them. On the other hand, if a man be in the happy number of the elect, he is sure that God will, some time or other, and at the most proper time, (for which the last moment of his life is not too late,) work upon him bis miraculous work of saving and sanctifying grace. Though he should be ever so wicked immediately before this divine and effectual calling, it makes nothing against him. Nay, some think that this, being a more signal display of the wonders of divine grace, it is rather the more probable that God will take this opportunity to display it. If any system of speculative principles can operate as an axe at the root of all virtue and goodness, it is this."* On this unfavourable account of Calvinism I will offer the following observations.
First, If Calvinism be an axe at the root of virtue and goodness, it is only so with respect to those of the "unregenerate ;" which certainly does not include all the virtue and goodness in the world. As to others, Dr. Priestley acknowledges, as we have seen already, that our principles are “generally favourable to devotion:" and devotion, if it be what he denominates it, "a leading virtue,” will doubtless be followed with other virtues correspondent with it. He acknowledges also, “ There are many (among the Calvinists) whose hearts and lives are, in all respects, truly. Christian, and whose Christian tempers are really promoted by their own views of their system.”+ How is it, then, that Dr. Priestley “cannot see what motive a Calvinist can have to give any attention to his moral conduct;” and why does he represent Calvinism as “an axe at the root of all virtue and goodness ?” By all virtue and goodness
* Doctrine of Neccosity, p. 154.
+ Ibid. pp. 163, 164.