« PreviousContinue »
might be brought out to them, that they might know him; and, on their request not being granted, abused and murdered his companion.; all Israel, as one man, not only condemned the action, but called upon the Benjamites to deliver up the criminals to jus. tice. Had the Benjamites complied with their request, and had those sons of Belial been put to death, not for their own good, but for the good of the community, where had been the unloveliness of the procedure ? On the contrary, such a conduct must have recommended itself to the heart of every friend of righteousness in the universe, as well as have prevented the shocking effusion of blood, which followed their refusal. Now, if vindictive justice may be glorious in a human government, there is no reason to be drawn from the nature and fitness of things, why it would not be the same in the divine administration.
But the idea on which our opponents love principally to dwell, is that of a father. Hence, the charge, that we “ represent God in such a light that no earthly parent could imitate him, without sustaining a character shocking to mankind.” This objection comes with an ill grace from Dr. Priestley, who teaches," that “God is the author of sin ; and may do evil, provided it be with a view that good may come."* Is not this representing God in such a light, that no one could imitate him, without sustaining a character shocking to mankind ? Whether Dr. Priestley's notions on this subject be true, or not, it is true that God's ways are so much above ours, that it is unjust, in many cases, to measure his concluct to a rebellious world, by that of a father to his chil. dren.
In this matter, however, God is imitable. We have seen already, that a good magistrate, who may justly be called the father of his people, ought not to be under the influence of blind affection, so as, in any case, to show mercy at the expense of the public good. Nor is this all : There are cases in which a parent has been obliged, in benevolence to bis family, and from a concern for the general good, to give up a stubborn and rebellious son, to bring him forth with his own hands to the elders of his city, and
* Doctrine of Necessity, pp. 117--121,
there with his own lips bear witness against him ; such witness, too, as would subject him not to a mere salutary correction, but to be stoned to death by the men of his city. We know, such a law was made in Israel ;* and, as a late writer observed upon it, such a law 6 was wise and good:”! it was calculated to enforce in par. ents an early and careful education of their children ; and if, in any instance, it was executed, it was that all Israel might hear and fear! And how do we know, but that it may be consistent with the good of the whole system, yea necessary to it, that some of the rebellious sons of men should, in company with apostate angels, be made examples of divine vengeance ; that they should stand, like Lot’s wife, as pillars of salt, or as everlasting monuments of God's displeasure against sin ; and that, while their smoke riseth up for ever and ever, all the intelligent universe should hear, and fear, and do no more so wickedly! Indeed, we must not only know, that this may be the case, but, if we pay any regard to the authority of scripture, that it is so. If words have any meaning, this is the idea given us of the angels which kept not their first estate, and of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrha ; who are said to be set forth FOR AN EXAMPLE, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. I
It belongs to the character of an all perfect being, who is the moral governor of the universe, to promote the good of the whole ! but there may be cases, as in human governments, wherein the general good may be inconsistent with the happiness of particular parts. The case of robbers, of murderers, or of traitors, whose lives are sacrificed for the good of society, that the example of terror, afforded by their death, may counteract the example of immorality exhibited by their life, is no detraction from the benevolence of a government; but, rather, essential to it.
But how, after all, can we love such a tremendous being ? I answer, A capacity to resent an injury is not always considered as a blemish, even in a private character: if it be governed by justice,
* Deut. xxi. 18—21.
† Mr. Robinson in his Sermon to the Young People at Willingham.
I Jude 6, 7.
and aimed at the correction of evil, it is generally allowed to be commendable. We do not esteem the favour of a man, if we consider him as incapable, on all occasions, of resentment. We should call him an easy soul, who is kind, merely because he has not sense enough to feel an insult. But, shall we allow it right and fit for a puny mortal thus far to know his own worth, and assert it; and, at the same time, deny it to the great Supreme, and plead for his being insulted with impunity ?
God, however, in the punishment of sin, is not to be considered as acting in a merely private capacity, but as the universal moral governor; not as separate from the great system of being, but as connected with it; or as head and guardian of it. Now, in this relation, vindictive justice is not only consistent with the loveliness of his character, but essential to it. Capacity and inclination to punish a disorder in a state, are never thought to render an earthly prince less lovely in the eyes of his loyal and faithful subjects ; but more so. That temper of mind, on the contrary which should induce him to connive at rebellion, however it might go by the name of benevolence and mercy, would be accounted by all the friends of good government, injustice to the public ; and those who, in such cases, side with the disaffected and plead their cause, are generally supposed to be tainted with disaffection themselves.
A third objection is taken from the consideration of the glory of God, rather than the happiness of creatures, being his last end in creation. “ Those who assume to themselves the distinguishing title of orthodox,” says Dr. Priestley, “consider the Supreme Being as having created all things for his glory, and by no means for the general happiness of all his creatures."* If by the general happiness of all his creatures, Dr. Priestley means the general good of the universe, nothing can be more unfair than this representation. Those who are called orthodox never consider the glory of God as being at variance with the happiness of creation in general, nor with that of any part of it, except those who have revolted from the divine government: nor, if we regard the
* Considerations on Difference of Opinion. $ III.
intervention of a mediator, with theirs, unless they prove finally impenitent, or, as Dr. Priestley calls them, “ wilful and obstinate transgressors.” The glory of God consists, with reference to the present case, in doing that which is best upon the whole. But if, by the general happiness of all his creatures, he means to include the happiness of those angels who kept not their first estate, and of those men who die impenitent; it is acknowledged, that what is called the orthodox system, does by no means consider this as an end in creation, either supreme or subordinate. To suppose that the bappiness of all creatures, whatever might be their future conduct, was God's ultimate end in creation, (unless we could imagine him to be disappointed with respect to the grand end he had in view) is to suppose what is contrary to fact. All creatures, we are certain, are not bappy in this world; and, if any regard is to be paid to revelation, all will not be happy in the next.
If it be alleged, that a portion of misery is necessary in order to relish happiness ; that therefore, the miseries of the present lite, upon the whole, are blessings ; and that the miseries threatened in the life to come may be of the same nature, designed as a purgation, by means of which, sinners will at length escape the second death ;– It is replied, All the miseries of this world are not represented as blessings to the parties, nor even all the good things of it. The drowning of Pharaoh, for instance, is never described as a blessing to him; and God declared that he had cursed the blessings of the wicked priests, in the days of the prophet Malachi. All things, we are assured, work together for good; but this is confined to those who love God, and are called according to his purpose. As to the life to come, if the miseries belonging to that state be merely temporary and purgative, there must be all along a mixture of love and mercy in them; whereas the language of scripture is, He that hath showed no mercy, shall have judgment WITHOUT MERCY.—The wine of the wrath of God will be poured out WITHOUT MIXTURE. Nay, such miseries must not only contain a mixture of love and mercy, but they themselves must be the effects and expressions of love ; and then it will follow, that the foregoing language of limitation and distinction (which is found indeed throughout the bible) is of no account; and that blessings and curses are the same things. Dr. Priestley himself speaks of “the laws of God as being guarded with awful sanctions ;” and says, “that God will inflexibly punish all wilful and obstinate transgressors."* But how can that be called an awful sanction which only subjects a man to such misery as is necessary for his good ? How, at least, can that be accounted inflexible punishment, in which the Divine Being all along aims at the sinner's happiness? We might as well call the operation of a surgeon in amputating a mortified limb, in order to save the patient's life, by the name of inflexible punishment, as those miseries which are intended for the good of the sinner. If that be their end, they are, strictly speaking, blessings, though blessings in disguise : and, in that case, as Dr. Edwards in his answer to Dr. Chauncy has fully proved, blessings and curses are in effect the same things.
As to our considering the Supreme Being as having created all things for his own glory, I hope it will be allowed that the scriptures seem, at least, to countenance such an idea. They teach us that God made all things FOR HIMSELF-that all things are created by him, and FOR HIM. He is expressly said to have created Israel (and if Israel, why not others ?) FOR HIS GLORY.' Not only of him. and through him, but TO HIM are all things. Glory, and honour, and power, are ascribed to him, by the elders and the living creatures ; for, say they, Thou hast created all things; and for Thy PLEASURE they are and were created.t
But farther, and what is more immediately to the point, I hope this sentiment will not be alleged as a proof of our want of love to God; for it is only assigning him the supreme place in the system of being; and Dr. Priestley himself elsewhere speaks of “the love of God, and a regard to his glory," as the same thing. One should think, those, on the other hand, who assign the happiness of creatures as God's ultimate end, thereby giving him only a subordinate place in the system, could not allege this as an evidence of their love
* Considerations on Difference of Opinion, o III · + Prov. xvi. 4, Col. i. 16. Isa. xliii. 7. Heb. ii. 10. Rom. xi. 36. .
Ref. iv. 11.