תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

and vice a tainted constitution or a deformed body, is to the last degree absurd. With the same propriety might a man read a lecture on morality to his watch, to his clock, or to his ship, instead of winding them up, unfurling the sails, or turning the helm. If all the actions of men, whether good or evil, are strictly necessary, and cannot be otherwise than they are, then all murderers, thieves, robbers, &c. are just as good characters as they ought to be ; and there is nothing that can justify the laws of society by which punishments are affixed to murder, theft, and robbery, but this, that legislators themselves are not free agents, but necessarily the sport of fate and destiny. Mr. Pope's celebrated maxim, “Whatever is, is right,” is the sponge that wipes out every stain.

Voltaire, in his Ignorant Philosopher, observes that, “It would be very singular that all nature, and all the planets should obey eternal laws, and that there should be a little animal, five feet high, who in contempt of these laws, should act as he pleased, solely according to his caprice.” To this Dr. Beattie replies, “ Singular! aye, singular indeed. So very singular, that yours, Sir, if I mistake not, is the first human brain that ever conceived such a notion. If man be free, no body ever dreamed that he made himself so, in contempt of the laws of nature ; it is in consequence of a law of nature that he is a free agent. But passing this, let us attend to the reasoning. The planets are not free agents ;—therefore it would be very singular that man should be one. Not a whit more singular, than that the same animal of five feet should perceive, and think, and read, and write, and speak ; attributes which no astronomer of my acquaintance has

ever supposed to belong to the planets, notwithstanding their brilliant appearance, and stupendous magnitude.”*

Fatalism is certainly a proper appendage of Atheism, but the writer, who, believing in a God, introduces him as the moral Governor of the universe, legislating for the intelligent beings he has created, and then represents him as laying those beings under the necessity of breaking his laws, seems, if there be a crime and folly greater than Atheism, to be guilty of that folly and that crime. As, upon the principles of Necessity, there can be no such thing as sin, so there can be no such thing as repentance. We might as well call a man to repentance, because he had been struck down by lightning, or because his head had been broken by a falling tile, as for any action of his life. To settle the controversy between the advocates of Fatalism, and the advocates of the freedom of human actions, to his own satisfaction, every man needs only to retrace the principles of his own conduct. He who is conscious to himself that the motives of his actions spring up in his own mind, that he acted, because he wished to act, and abstained from acting, because he wished to abstain; or, that he preferred acting in one way, to acting in another; chose one line of conduct, and rejected another, because he was influenced by motives, and not impelled by force, has, in his own experience, a demonstration of the freedom of his volitions and actions. When he reviews his actions, and examines them by the rules of moral rectitude, he approves what he perceives to have been right, and condemns what he sees to have been wrong. In this process every reflecting man is able to

Essay on Truth, Part 2, Chap. 11, 3 Note.- The doctrine of Necessity is solidly confuted in the Essay on the Principles of Common Sense. VOL. I.

2 T

[ocr errors]

proceed, to a full discussion, unencumbered or retarded by the sophisms of scepticism.

We shall conclude this article with a quotation from Dr. Witherspoon, who has with great justice, and yet with much good humour, drawn up the system of the Materialists, under the title of the Athenian Creed.

• I believe in the beauty and comely proportions of Dame Nature, and in almighty Fate, her only parent and guardian; for it hath been most graciously obliged, (blessed be its name,) to make us all very good.

“I believe that the universe is a huge machine, wound up from everlasting by necessity, and consisting of an infinite number of links and chains, each in a progressive motion towards the zenith of perfection, and meridian of glory; that I myself am a little glorious piece of clockwork, a wheel within a wheel, or rather a pendulum in this grand machine, swinging hither and thither, by the different impulses of fate and destiny; that my soul (if I have any,) is an imperceptible bundle of exceeding minute corpuscles, much smaller than the finest Holland sand; and that certain persons, in very eminent stations, are nothing else but a huge collection of necessary agents, who can do nothing at all.

66 I believe that there is no ill in the universe, nor any such thing as virtue, absolutely considered; that those things vulgarly called sins, are only errors in the judgment, and foils to set off the beauty of nature, or patches to adorn her face; that the whole race of intelligent beings, even the devils themselves (if there be any,) shall finally be happy; so that Judas Iscariot is by this time a glorified saint, and it is good for him that he hath been born.

“In fine, I believe in the divinity of L. S—, the saint. ship of Marcus Antoninus, the perspicuity and sublimity of A-e, and the perpetual duration of Mr. H-n's works, notwithstanding their present tendency to oblivion. Amen."

The principal writers, who have supported the doctrine of Necessity, are Hobbes, Leibnitz, Hume, Kaimes, Hartley, Priestley, T. and W. Belsham, &c.

Those who have written on the other side, are Clarke, Reid, Butler, Price, Beattie, Horsley, Butterworth, Gre

gory, &c.

ON DEATH, AS THE PUNISHMENT OF SIN.

In the New Testament we are taught, that in Adam all men die. Whatever, then, was the death inflicted on the first parents of the human race, the same unquestion. ably is the condemnation which is come upon all the sons of men. As this is a subject in which every human being, to the end of the world, will have an infinite interest, it is a thing of unspeakable importance that its consequences be clearly understood.

'The Socinians, and those whose tenets approach their system, argue that the death threatened in these words “ in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” was nothing more than natural dissolution, or the loss of existence. The supposition, that the threat suspended over our first parents was nothing more than the forfeiture of existence, agrees perfectly well with the doctrine of Materialism, which has been adopted by almost all Socinians. Upon their principles, the dissolution of the body is the destruction of the man, and, according to such principles, every death beyond this is utterly unknown. It is, however, not so easy to account for the adoption of this mode of interpreting death, by those who believe man to be possessed of an immortal soul.

He who recognises within himself an immortal principle, which the wreck of the body cannot reach, is taught to know that the death of his soul does not consist in the privation of its existence, or in its falling into nothing; but in its exposure to the wrath and terrors of its Creator; in the tortures which a sense of guilt inflicts; and in those agonies which a spirit, stung by the consciousness of its having forfeited the Divine favour, and lost the Divine image, awakens.

Two of the ablest writers in our language, though neither of them distinguished by the uniform orthodoxy of his religious sentiments, have adopted the Socinian exposition of this article, and represented the death threatened to our first parents, as nothing more than the extinction of being Bishop Warburton, in the ninth book of his Divine Legation of Moses, expresses his astonishment that any person should interpret “ Thou shalt surely die,” as a threat of any thing more than mere mortality. He supposes man to have been created naturally mortal, though created innocent; to have had the offer of immortality made him when he was put under a positive law, and, on his disobedience, to have rererted to bis original condition of mortality. But, if mortality was the law of man's creation, then all the miseries of disease, disappointment, and death, which man is doomed to suffer, are necessary parts of the original plan of Providence, and not the con` sequences of his guilt and rebellion. What may not even

« הקודםהמשך »