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pronounced the latter to be excellent and praise-worthy, and the former to be unjust, base, and deserving alike of their contempt and abhorrence.
5thly. The doctrine, which I am opposing, if true, renders both virtue and vice, at least in a great proportion of instances, impossible.
All virtue is nothing else, but voluntary obedience to truth; and all sin is nothing else, but voluntary disobedience to truth, or voluntary obedience to error. Accordingly, God has required nothing of mankind, but that they should obey truth; particularly THE TRUTH; or Evangelical truth. Voluntary conformity to truth, is, therefore, virtue in every possible instance. But we cannot voluntarily conform to truth, unless we believe it. faith, then, is wholly involuntary, and necessary ; it follows of course, that we are never faulty, nor punishable, for not believing; since our faith in every case, where we do not believe, is physically impossible. For not believing, therefore, we are not, and cannot be, blameable ; and as we cannot conform to truth, when we do not believe it to be truth; it follows, that, whenever we do not believe, we are innocent in not obeying.
For the same reason, whenever we believe error to be truth, our belief, according to this scheme, is compelled by the same physical necessity; and we are guiltless in every such instance of faith. All our future conformity to such error is of course guiltless also. Thus he, who believes in the existence and perfections of Jehovah, in the rectitude of his law and Government, and in the duty of obeying him, and he, who believes in the Deity of Beelzebub, or a calf, or a stock, or a stone; while they rer spectively worship, and serve, these infinitely different gods; are in the same degree virtuous, or in the same degree sinful. In other words, they are neither sinful, nor virtuous. The faith of both is alike physically necessary; and the conformity of both to their respective tenets follows their faith, of course.
Should it be said, that, although faith is thus necessary, our conformity, or non-conformity to what we believe, is still voluntary ; and therefore is virtuous : I answer, that were I to allow this, as I am not very unwilling to do, to be true; still, the objector must acknowledge. that a yast proportion of those human actions, which have universally been esteemed the most horrid crimes, are, according to his own plan, completely justified. He cannot deny, that the heathen have almost universally believed their idols to be gods, and their idolatry the true religion. He cannot deny, that a great part of the wars, which have existed in the world, have by those, who have carried them on, been believed to be just; that the persecutions of the Christians were by the heathen, who were the authors of them, thought highly meritorious ; that the horrid cruelties of the Popish Inquisition were, to a great extent, considered by the Catholics as doing God service; and that all the Mohammedan butcheries were regarded by the disciples of the Koran as directly required by God himself. Nay, it cannot be denied by the Objector, nor by any man who has considered the subject, that the Jews, in very great numbers, believed themselves warranted in rejecting, persecuting, and crucifying Christ. This is undoubtedly indicated by that terrible prediction of the Saviour, If ye believe not, that I am he, ye shall die in your sins. Let the Objector, then, and all who hold his opinions on this subjeci, henceforth be for ever silent concerning the guilt, usually attributed to these several classes of men ; and acknowledge them to have been compelled by a physical necessity to all these actions ; lamentable indeed, but wholly unstained with any criminality.
At the same time, let it be observed, that the determination of the Will is always as the dictate of the Understanding, which precedes it. If, then, this dictate of the Understanding is produced by a physical necessity; how can the decision of the Will, which follows it of course, be in any sense free? If faith be necessary in the physical sense; every other dictate of the Understanding must be equally necessary; and, of course, that, which precedes every determination of the will. In what manner, then, can the determination of the will fail of being the mere result of the same necessity ?
But if the determinations of the will are physically necessary; they cannot be either virtuous or sinful. If, therefore, these things are true, there can be, according to this scheme, neither virtue, nor vice, in man.
6thly. This doctrine charges God with a great part, if not with all the evil conduct of mankind.
Whatever the systein of things in this world is, it was contriv. ed, and created, and is continually ordered, by God. If mankind believe, only under the coercion of physical necessity; then God has so constituted them, as to render their faith, in this sense, necessary and unavoidable.
Whenever they err, therefore, they err thus necessarily by the ordinance, and irresistible power, of God. Of course, as the state of things in this, as well as all other respects, is the result of his choice ; he has chosen, that they should err, and compelled them to err hy the irresistible impulse of almighty power. In this case, we will suppose them to design faithfully to do their duty; or, in other words, lo conform their conduct to the doctrines, which they actually believe, and suppose to be truth. In thus acting, they either sin ; or they do not. If they sin; God compels them to sin. If they do not ; still, all their conduct is productive of evil only : for conformity to error, is, of course, productive only of evil. By this scheme therefore, this mass of evil, immensely great and dreadful, is charged to God alone.
At the same time, if in the same manner they embrace truth ; their reception of it is equally compelled. Their conformity to it is, of course, no more commendable, than their conformity to error: and God has so constituted things, that they cannot conform to it of choice, or from love to truth, as such ; but only from physical necessity. Or, if this should be questioned, they cannot conform to it from the apprehension that it is truth; because they have embraced it under the force of this necessity; and must conform to every thing, which they have embraced, in one manner only.
There are many other modes of disproving this doctrine, on which I cannot now dwell; and which cannot be necessary for the present purpose, if the arguments, already advanced, have the decisive influence, which they appear to me to possess. I will only observe further, that the scheme, which I am opposing, is directly at war with all the commands and exhortations, given us to search the Scriptures, to receive the truth, to seek for wisdom, to know God, to believe in Christ, and to believe his word; and with the commendations and promises, given to those who do, and the censures and threatenings, denounced against those who do not, these things. Equally inconsistent are they with all our own mutual exhortations to candour, to investigation, to impartial decisions, and to all other conduct of the like nature; our commendation of those who pursue it, and our condemnation of those who do not. Both the Scriptures and common sense, ought, if this scheme is well founded, to assume totally new language, if they would accord with truth.
Should any person suppose, that I have annexed too much im. portance to truth, in asserting, that virtue, in all instances, is nothing else, but a voluntary conformity to truth; and imagined, that it ought to be defined, a voluntary conformity to the divine precepts : he may gain complete satisfaction, on this point, by merely changing a precept into a proposition. For example ; the precepts, Thou shalt have no other Gods before me, and Thou shalt honour thy father and thy mother, become truths, when written in this manner. It is right, or it is thy duty, to have no other Gods before me ; or to honour thy father and thy mother.
I have now, if I mistake not, clearly evinced the falsehood of the doctrine, which I have opposed ; and shown it to be equally contrary to the Scriptures, and to the Common sense of mankind.
Whenever this doctrine has been honestly imbibed, it has, I presume, been imbibed from a misapprehension of the influence of that acknowledged principle of philosophy ; that in receiving impressions from all objects the mind is passive only; and, therefore, is necessilated to receive just such impressions, as the objects, presented to its view, are fitted to make. No man, acquainted with the state of the human mind, will call this principle in question. But no man, of this character, can rationally imagine, that it can at all affect the subject of this discourse ; so as to furnish any support to the scheme, which I am opposing.
The amount of this principle is exactly this ; that God has so constituted the mind, and has formed objects in such a manner, that they uniformly present to the mind their real state and nature, and not another. Were this not the structure of the mind, and the proper efficacy of the objects, with which it is conversant; it would nither he never able to see truly, or would never know when it saw in this manner. This constitution of things, then, is indispensable to our discernment of their true nature ; and without it we could never be able, satisfactorily, to distinguish truth from falsehood.
But nothing is more evident, than that this constitution of things in no degree affects the subject in debate. In no sense is it that, because we have such optics; and the things, with which we are conversant, such a nature ; we are, therefore, obliged to turn our eyes to any given object; to view it on any given side ; to examine it in any given manner; or to connect it, in our investigation, with any other particular set of objects. Truth is the real agreement or disagreement of ideas, asserted in propositions. The relations of these ideas are its basis. Now we can compare, and connect, what ideas we please, in what manner we please, and by the aid of any other intervening ideas which we choose. In this manner, we can unite, and separate, them at pleasure ; and thus either come to the knowledge of truth, or the admission of falsehood, according to our inclinations. All these things, also, we can refuse to do; and in both cases we act in a manner perfectly voluntary. Were we not passive in the mere reception of ideas, we should see, to no purpose. Were we not active in comparing and connecting them, we should see only under the influence of physical necessity.
From these considerations it is evident, unless I am deceived, that this principle, so much relied on by those, with whom I am contending, has not the least influence towards the support of their scheme.
From these observations we learn,
1st. Why men in exactly the same circumstances, judge, and beliede, very differently concerning the same objects.
When a question, or doctrine, is proposed to the consideration of several men, in the same terms, with the same arguments, and at the same time; we, almost of course, find them judging, and deciding, concerning it in different manners. Were our judgment, or, what is here the same thing, our faith, the result of mera