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no solid ground for maintaining, either the unity of the Godhead on the one hand, or a plurality of Gods on the other hand. For aught he knows to the contrary, there may be only one God: and, for aught he knows to the contrary, there may be many Gods. He thinks fit indeed to worship only one God; and, from that circumstance, he chooses to borrow his title : but, whether he be right or wrong in so doing, and whether his title be properly or improperly adopted, he is of necessity, on his principles, wholly and irremediably ignorant.
II. Let us however suppose, that, by some powerful argument hitherto unproduced, the deist has satisfactorily proved the existence of one only God: we shall then have next to inquire, what certain information he possesses respecting the divine attributes.
He will be quite sure, that God is a very powerful being; because, otherwise, he plainly could not be the creator and governor of the universe: and he will perhaps guess that he is omnipotent, though he may find it difficult absolutely to prove that point. He will also not unreasonably infer, that God must be eternal: for, unless he be eternal retrospectively, his existence will have commenced without a cause; and, unless he be eternal prospectively, his existence must needs cease through the instrumentality of some cause brought by himself into being and therefore weaker than himself, which is a palpable contradiction.
But, in the present enigmatical state of the world, enigmatical to all who reject revelation, how will the deist establish, what I presume he holds, the moral attributes of the Divinity ?
1. The deist and the Christian, unless I wholly mistake, alike contend, that God is a God of perfect justice. Here the Christian, taking his stand upon revelation, feels himself to be planted upon sure ground : but how does the deist make good this position?
If we look around us into the world, we shall find nothing more proverbially common than the triumph of successful worthlessness and the depression of unsuccessful worthiness. The worst of mankind perpetually enjoy the largest share of the good things of life, while they seem to receive them as if for the sole purpose of abusing them : and the best of mankind are often destitute even of bare necessaries, though they of all others would plainly make the best use of riches. Nor yet is this the whole that
be remarked in the perplexing world, which we inhabit. If there be any such thing as the moral sense, and if we can form any clear idea of an impartial moral governor, we must be compelled to anticipate a priori, that rewards will uniformly follow virtue, and that punishment will uniformly follow vice. But, if we look out into the world, no arrangement of this description actually takes place. The whole is one mass of inextricable confusion. Bodily pain and sickness, bodily com
fort and health, are indifferently distributed with little or no regard to moral character. Some vices, it is true, are apt to bring after them their own punishment: but this is by no means the case invariably. So far from it, in very many instances, the vicious are almost wholly free from pain and sickness, while the virtuous never know what it is to be exempt from them. Now, if God be a God of perfect justice, how will the deist account for these notorious facts? He may say indeed, that worldly prosperity and adversity, depending as they do in a good measure upon the exertions either of men themselves or of their ancestors, cannot be described as so directly proceeding from the Deity, and therefore cannot be alleged as so directly affecting our estimate of his justice. But this solution will by no means hold good in the case of pain and sickness and (what are styled) casualties, together with the opposites of each : because they are wholly out of the reach of man, and depend altogether upon the will of God the moral governor of the universe. How then does the deist reconcile such a disposition of things with God's attribute of perfect justice? Or rather, to put the question in a more correct form, by what process of reasoning does he prove, that the attribute of perfect justice belongs to God?
Can he prove the point by any thing, which passes under his eyes in this present world? think not: for it is obvious, that the mere occasional good health and prosperity of the virtuous, and the mere occasional sickness and adversity of the vicious, will be very far from proving that God is a perfectly just being. To bring out the result of perfect justice, their proper moral consequences, in the
of reward and punishment, ought uniformly to follow virtue and vice. But, that such is actually the case in the present constitution of things, no one will pretend to assert. Therefore it is but lost labour for the deist to attempt to demonstrate the perfect justice of God from the present constitution of the world.
Will he seek then to prove the point, by calling in a future state of retribution, when all the moral irregularities of this world, for whatever cause permitted by its governor, will be rectified and compensated?
With respect to such a solution, when propounded on deistical principles, it lies open to two very palpable objections.
In the first place, if we concede to the deist that God will administer a future world with perfect justice, this circumstance will not do away the previous circumstance, that (on deistical principles) he has confessedly administered this present world with injustice. Would the deist prove that the attribute of perfect justice belongs to God, he must establish his justice not only in the next world but in this present world also. Yet, by the very turn of the argument, he quite gives the matter up, so far as this present world is concerned. Therefore, allowing his prémises, we must still contend, that he has wholly failed of establishing the perfect justice of God.
But, in the second place, we cannot allow to the deist, on his principles, the validity of his premises. His premises are the existence of a future state of retribution. But how does the deist establish these premises themselves without the aid of revelation? How does he know, that there is a future state of retribution ? Before he can be allowed to argue from it, he must prove its existence. How then does he prove, that any such state exists at all? On his principles, it is clearly incapable of proof: unless we admit the circulating syllogism to be sound reasoning. The deist may indeed prove a future state of retribution from the perfect justice of God: but then he cannot be allowed also to prove the perfect justice of God from a future state of retribution. What he is at present called upon to demonstrate is the perfect justice of God. But this he can only do through the medium of a future state of retribution: And it is utterly impossible for him to demonstrate a future state of retribution except through the medium of the perfect justice of God. Therefore he is quite unable to prove, that God is a perfectly just being. He may indeed choose to assert the perfect justice of God: but, in his case, it is bare assertion and nothing else. His reasoning, in short, when thrown into a scholastic form, will run as follows. Unless there be a future state