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3. He decreed some things unchangeably, and left others to general nature and the events of free agency, which also he never alters or interrupts; or,
4. He sometimes interferes by his particular providence, and sets aside the effects which would otherwise have been produced by any of the above causes.
I shall endeavour to show the first three suppositions to be inconsistent with the common light of reason, and that the fourth is most agreeable to it, and therefore most probably true.
In the first place; if you say he has in the beginning unchangeably decreed all things and left nothing to nature or free agency, these strange conclusions will necessarily follow. 1. That he is now no more a God. It is true, indeed, before he made such unchangeable decree, he was a being of power almighty; but now, having determined every thing, he has divested himself of all further power, he has done and has no more to do, he has tied up his hands and has now no greater power than an idol of wood or stone; nor can there be any more reason for praying to him or worshipping of him than of such an idol, for the worshippers can never be better for such worship. Then, 2. He has decreed some things contrary to the very notion of a wise and good being ; such as, that some of his creatures or children shall do all manner of injury to others, and bring every kind of evil upon them without cause ; that some of them shall even blaspheme him, their Creator, in the most horrible manner; and, which is still more highly absurd, he has decreed, that the greatest part of mankind shall in all ages put up their earnest prayers to him, both in private and publicly in great assemblies, when all the while he had so determined their fate, that he could not possibly grant them any henefits on that account, nor could such prayers be in
any way available. Why then should he ordain them to make such prayers? It cannot be imagined, that they are of any service to him. Surely it is not more difficult to believe the world was made by a god of wood or stone, than that the God who made the world should be such a God as this.
In the second place; if you say he has decreed nothing, but left all things to general nature and the events of free agency, which he never alters or interrupts, then these conclusions will follow ; he must either utterly hide himself from the works of his own hands, and take no notice at all of their proceedings, natural or moral, or he must be, as undoubtedly he is, a spectator of every thing, for there can be no reason or ground to suppose the first. I say there can be no reason to imagine he would make so glorious a universe merely to abandon it. In this case, imagine the Deity looking on and beholding the ways of his creatures. Some heroes in virtue he sees are incessantly endeavouring the good of others; they labor through vast difficulties, they suffer incredible hardships and miseries, to accomplish this end, in hopes to please a good God, and attain his favors, which they earnestly pray for. What answer can he make then, within himself, but this ? Take the reward chance may give you; I do not intermeddle in these affairs. He sees others continually doing all manner of evil, and bringing by their actions misery and destruction among mankind. What can he say here but this? If chance rewards you, 1 shall not punish you; I am not to be concerned. He sees the just, the innocent, and the beneficent in the hands of the wicked and violent oppressor, and when the good are at the brink of destruction, they pray to him, Thou, O God, art mighty and powerful to save; help us, we beseech thee! He answers, I cannot help
you ; it is none of my business, nor do I at all regard these things. How is it possible to believe a wise and an infinitely good being can be delighted in this circumstance, and be utterly unconcerned what becomes of the beings and things he has created ? For thus we must believe him idle and inactive, and that his glorious attributes of power, wisdom, and goodness are no more to be made use of.
In the third place; if you say he has decreed some things, and left others to the events of nature and free agency, which he never alters or interrupts; still you un-God him, if I may be allowed the expression; he has nothing to do; he can cause us neither good nor harm; he is no more to be regarded than a lifeless image, than Dagon or Baal, or Bell and the Dragon ; and, as in both the other suppositions foregoing, that being, which from its power is most able to act, from its wisdom knows best how to act, and from its goodness would always certainly act best, is, in this opinion, supposed to become the most inactive of all beings, and remain everlastingly idle; an absurdity, which, when considered or but barely seen, cannot be swallowed without doing the greatest violence to common reason and all the faculties of the understanding.
We are then necessarily driven to the fourth supposition, that the Deity sometimes interferes by his particular Providence, and sets aside the events, which would otherwise have been produced in the course of nature, or by the free agency of men; and this is
perfectly agreeable with what we know of his attributes and perfections. But, as some may doubt whether it is possible there should be such a thing as free agency in creatures, I shall just offer one short argument on that account, and proceed to show how the duty of religion necessarily follows the belief of a Providence. You acknowledge, that God is infinitely powerful, wise, and good, and also a free agent, and you will not deny that he has communicated to us part of his wisdom, power, and goodness; that is, he has made us, in some degree, wise, potent, and good. And is it, then, impossible for him to communicate any part of his freedom, and make us also in some degree free? Is not even his infinite power sufficient for this? I should be glad to hear what reason any man can give for thinking in that manner. It is sufficient for me to show it is not impossible, and no man, I think, can show it is improbable. Much more might be offered to demonstrate clearly, that men are in some degree free agents and accountable for their actions; however, this I may possibly reserve for another separate discourse hereafter, if I find occasion.
Lastly; if God does not sometimes interfere by his Providence, it is either because he cannot, or because he will not. Which of these positions will you choose ? There is a righteous nation grievously oppressed by a cruel tyrant; they earnestly entreat God to deliver them. If you say he cannot, you deny his infinite power, which you at first acknowledged. If you say he will not, you must directly deny his infinite goodness. You are of necessity obliged to allow, that it is highly reasonable to believe a Providence, because it is highly absurd to believe otherwise.
Now, if it is unreasonable to suppose it out of the power of the Deity to help and favor us particularly, or that we are out of his hearing and notice, or that good actions do not procure more of his favor than ill ones; then I conclude, that, believing a Providence, we have the foundation of all true religion; for we should love and revere that Deity for his goodness, and thank him for his benefits; we should adore him for his wis
dom, fear him for his power, and pray to him for his favor and protection. And this religion will be a powerful regulator of our actions, give us peace and tranquillity within our own minds, and render us benevolent, useful, and beneficial to others.
LETTER FROM ANTHONY AFTERWIT.
FROM THE PENNSYLVANIA GAZETTE, JULY 10TH, 1732.
MR. GAZETTEER, I am an honest tradesman, who never meant harm to anybody. My affairs went on smoothly while a bachelor; but of late I have met with some difficulties, of which I take the freedom to give you an account.
About the time I first addressed my present spouse, her father gave out in speeches, that if she married a man he liked, he would give with her two hundred pounds in cash on the day of marriage. He never said so much to me, it is true; but he always received me very kindly at his house, and openly countenanced my courtship. I formed several fine schemes what to do with this same two hundred pounds, and in some measure neglected my business on that account; but unluckily it came to pass, that, when the old gentleman saw I was pretty well engaged, and that the match was too far gone to be easily broke off, he, without any reason given, grew very angry, forbid me the house, and told his daughter, that, if she married me, he would not give her a farthing. However, as he thought) we , were not to be disappointed in that manner, but, having stole a wedding, I took her home to my house, where we were not in quite so poor a condition as the couple