« PreviousContinue »
he can only mean the virtue and goodness of wicked men. Indeed, this appears plainly to have been his meaning : for, after acknowledging, that Calvinism has something in it favourable to “ an habitual and animated devotion,” he adds, “ But, where a disposition to vice has pre-occupied the mind, I am very well satisfied, and but too many facts might be alleged in proof of it, that the doctrines of Calvinism bave been actually fatal to the remains of virtue, and have driven men into the most desperate and abandoned course of wickedness ; whereas the doctrine of necessity, properly understood, cannot possibly bave any such effect, but the contrary."* Now, suppose all these were true, it can never justify Dr. Priestley in the use of such unlimited terms as those before mentioned. Nor is it any disgrace to the Calvinistic system, that men whose minds are pre-occupied with vice should misunderstand and abuse it. The purest liquor, if put into a musty cask, will become unpalatable. It is no more than is said of some who professed to embrace Christianity in the times of the apostles, that they turned the grace of God into lasciviousness. Is it any wonder that the wicked will do wickedly ; or that they will extract poison from that which, rightly understood, is the food of the righteous ? It is enough, if our sentiments, like God's words, do good to the upright. Wisdom does not expect to be justified, but of her children. The scriptures themselves make no pretence of having been useful to those who have still lived in sin ; but allow the gospel to be a savour of death unto death in them that perish. The doctrine of necessity is as liable to produce this effect, as any of the doctrines of Calvinism. It is true, as Dr. Priestley observes, “it cannot do so, if it be properly understood :” but this is allowing that it may do so, if it be misunderstood; and we have as good reason for ascribing the want of a proper understanding of the suhject to those who abuse predestination, and other Calvinistic doctrines, as he has for ascribing it to those who abuse the doctrine of necessity. Dr. Priestley speaks of the remains of virtue, where a disposition to viee bas pre-occupied the mind; and of the Calvinistic system being as an axe at the root of these remains : but some people
* Doctrine of Necessity, p. 162.
will question, whether virtue of this description have any root - belonging to it, so as to require an axe to cut it up; and whether,
it be not owing to this circumstance that such characters, like the 'stony-ground hearers, in time of temptation fall away.
Secondly, The Calvinistic system is misrepresented by Dr. Priestley, even as to its influence on the unregenerate. In the passage before quoted, he represents those persons, “who are of the happy number of the elect, as being sure that God will, some time or other, work upon them his work of sanctifying grace.” But how are they to come to this assurance ? Not by any thing contained in the Calvinistic system. All the writers in that scheme have constantly insisted, that no man has any warrant to conclude himself of the happy number of the elect, till the work of sanctify. ing grace is actually wrought. With what colour of truth or ingen vousness, then, could Dr. Priestley represent our system as afford. ing a ground of assurance, previous to that event? This is not a matter of small account in the present controversy ; it is the point on which the immoral tendency of the doctrive wholly depends.
As to the certainty of any man's being sanctified and saved at some future time, this can have no ill influence upon him, while it exists merely in the divine mind. If it have any such influence, it must be owing to his knowledge of it at a time when, his heart being set on evil, he would be disposed to abuse it : but this, as we have seen, upon the Calvinistic system, is utterly impossible ; because nothing short of a sanctified temper of mind affords any just grounds to draw the favourable conclusion. Dr. Priestley has also represented it as a part of the Calvinistic system, or, however, " as the opinion of some,” that, the more wicked a man is, previous to God's work of sanctifying grace upon him, the more probable it is that he will, some time, be sanctified and saved. But, though it be allowed, that God frequently takes occasion from the degree of human wickedness to magnify his grace in delivering from it; yet it is no part of the Calvinistic system, that the former affords any grounds of probability to expect the latter : and whoever they be that Dr. Priestley alludes to, as entertaining such an opinion, I am inclined to think they are not among the respectable
writers of the party, and probably not among those who have written at all.
Thirdly, Let it be considered, Whether Dr. Priestley's own views of Philosophical Necessity do not amount to the same thing: as those which he alleges to the discredit of Calvinism ; or, if he will insist upon the contrary, whether he must not contradict bimself, and maintain a system, which, by his own confession, is less friendly to piety and humility than that which he opposes. A state of unregeneracy is considered by Calvinists as the same thing which Dr. Priestley describes as “ the state of a person who sins with a full consent of will, and who, disposed as he is, is under an impossibility of acting otherwise ; but who,” as he justly maintains, “is nevertheless accountable, even though that consent be produced by the efficacy and unconquerable influence of motives. It is only,” continues he, “where the necessity of sinning arises from some other cause than a man's own disposition of mind, that we ever say, there is an impropriety in punishing a man for his conduct. If the impossibility of acting well bas arisen from a bad disposition, or habit, its having been impossible, with that disposition or habit, to act virtuously, is never any reason for our forbearing punishment; because we know that punishment is proper to correct that disposition and that habit.”* Now, if it be consistent to punish a man for necessary evil, as Dr. Priestley abundantly maintains, why should it be inconsistent to exhort, persuade, reason, or expostulate with him; and why does he call those Calvinists “the most consistent,” who avoid such addresses to their auditors ? If “ the thoughts, words, and actions of unregenerate men, being necessarily sinful,” be a just reason why they should not have exhortations addressed to them, the whole doctrine of Necessity must be inconsistent with the use of means, than which nothing can be more contrary to truth, and to Dr. Priestley's own views of things.
As to our being passive in regeneration, if Dr. Priestley would only admit, that any one character could be found that is so depraved as to be destitute of all true virtue, the same thing would fol
* Doctrine of Necessity, pp. 63–65.
low from his own Necessarian principles. According to those principles, every man who is under the dominion of a vicious habit of mind, will continue to choose vice, till such time as that habit be changed, and that, by some influence without himself. “If,” says he, “I make any particular choice to-day, I should have done the same yesterday, and should do the same to-morrow, provided there be no change in the state of my mind respecting the object of the choice.”* Now, can any person in such a state of mind be supposed to be active in the changing of it ; for such activity must imply an inclination to have it changed; which is a contradiction, as it supposes him at the same time under the dominion of evil, and inclined to goodness?
But, possibly, Dr. Priestley will not admit that any one character can be found, who is utterly destitute of true virtue. Be it so: he must admit that, in some characters, vice has an habitual ascendancy: but the habitual ascendancy of vice as certainly determines the choice, as even a total depravity. A decided majority in parliament carry every measure with as much certainty as if there were no minority. Wherever vice is predominant, (and in no other case is regeneration needed,) the party must necessarily be passive in the first change of his mind in favor of virtue.
But there are seasons in the life of the most vicious men, in which their evil propensities are at a lower ebb than usual'; in which conscience is alive, and thoughts of a serious nature arrest their attentior. At these favorable moments, it may be thought that virtue has the advantage of its opposite, and that this is the time for a person to become active in effecting a change upon his own mind. Without inquiring whether there be any real virtue in all this, it is sufficient to observe, that, if we allow the whole of what is pleaded for, the objection destroys itself. For it supposes that, in order to a voluntary activity in favor of virtue, the mind must first be virtuously disposed, and that by something in which it was passive; which is giving up the point in dispute.
Dr. Priestly often represents “a change of disposition and character as being effected only by a change of conduct, and that of
* Doctrine of Necessity, p. 7.
long continuance.”* But, whatever influence a course of virtuous actions may bave upon the disposions, and however it may tend to establish us in the habit of doing good, all goodness of disposition cannot arise from this quarter. There must have been a disposisition to good, and one too that was sufficiently strong to ontweigh its opposite, ere a course of virtuous actions could be commenced; for virtuous action is nothing but the effect, or expression, of virtuous disposition. To say that this previous disposition was also produced by other previous actions, is only carrying the matter a little farther out of sight; for, unless it can be proved, that virtuous action may exist prior to, and without all virtuous disposition, let the one be carried back as far as it may, it must still have been preceded by the other, and, in obtaining the preceding disposition, the soul must necessarily have been passive.f
Dr. Priestley labours hard to overthrow the doctrine of immedi. ate divine agency, and contends that all divine influence upon the human mind is through the medium of second causes, or according to the established laws of nature. “If moral impressions were made upon men’s minds by immediate divine agency, to what end,” he asks, “ has been the whole apparatus of revealed religion?" This, in effect, is saying, that if there be laws for such an operation upon the human mind, every kind of influence upon it must be through the medium of those laws ; and that, if it be otherwise, there is no need of the use of means. But might be not as well allege, that, if there be laws by which the planets move, every kind of influence upon them must have been through the medium
* Doctrine of Necessity, p. 156.
+ Since the publication of the second edition of these Letters, it has been suggested by a friend, that there is no necessity for confining these observa. tions to the case of a man totally depraved, or of one under the habitual as. cendancy of vice: for that, according to Dr. Priestley's Necessarian principles, all volitions are the effects of motives : therefore every man, in every volition, as he is the subject of the influence of motive, operating as a cause, is passive ; equally so, as he is supposed to be, according to the Calvinistic system, in regeneration.
| Discourses on Various Subjects, p. 221.