« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
a mixed nature. Much, certainly, may be said on the side of his goodness : but then, unfortunately, much also may be said on the other side of the question. If God be good, we may ask the deist, why does he so often stamp the impress of his seeming approbation upon vice, by suffering it to be prosperous and triumphant? If God be good, why does he so often stamp the impress of his seeming disapprobation upon virtue, by suffering it to be afflicted and depressed and trampled under foot ? If God be good, why has he created man with such a strange tendency to evil, that, in despite of his better judgment, he is ever prone to choose the bad and to reject the good ? If God be good, why has he made the road of virtue even proverbially rough and difficult and disagreeable, while the road of vice is pleasant and smooth and easy and inviting * ? If God be good, why are populous cities with all their inhabitants swallowed up by earthquakes ; why are the tremendous devastations of volcanos permitted ; why does the tempestuous ocean yearly ingulph thousands : in one word, why is death, with all its horrors, permitted ; why, if the existence of man be designedly finite, is he not quietly dismissed: at the appointed time, without any cir
Την μεντου κακοτητα και ιλαδον εστιν έλεσθαι
cumstances of pain and sickness to himself, without any circumstances of anxious terror and secret misgivings to the survivors ? It is not enough to say, that it is as natural for man to fall sick and to die, as it is for him to be born. A palpable truism, framed upon his present condition, is no answer to a difficulty. The question will still recur, if God be good, why did he make it natural for man to sicken and to die : why did he send him into the world, circumstanced as we all know by mournful experience that he is circumstanced: why did he form him with a propensity to evil, rather than to good ? We want not to be told, that such things are: we rather want to be told, if God be indeed a God of goodness, why such things are.
All these difficulties are solved by revelation : but, as the deist rejects revelation, he stands pledged, either to account for them satisfactorily by the unassisted light of human reason, or else to acknowledge himself incapable of proving that God possesses the moral attribute of goodness. By what process he will seek to establish his point, I pretend not to say : on deistical principles, I see not how we can reach higher than the probability that God is a being of a mixed nature, not very unlike to man himself (as in truth the old pagans feigned their deities to be), partly good and partly bad. ; III. Thus wholly unable to ascertain the moral attributes of the Godhead, the deist cannot but be utterly in the dark, as to what service will be most acceptable to him: for, if he be ignorant of the nature of those attributes, he must plainly be ignorant also, as to what actions will be pleasing or displeasing to the Divinity.
The bare difference indeed between virtue and vice, justice and injustice, mercy and cruelty, he can readily discern ; just as he can perceive the difference between hot and cold, wet and dry, hard and soft. He can likewise discern the social utility of virtue and virtuous actions : whence he will be led to praise those human laws, which encourage rectitude and which punish crimes. But I see not, how, upon his principles, he can ever be a virtuous man in reference to the Deity : in other words, I see not, how, upon his principles, it is possible for him to have any religion properly so called. The reason is obvious. He cannot be certain, that he will please God by acting justly; until he first knows, that God is a God of justice. He cannot be certain, that he will please God by acting mercifully; until he first knows, that God is merciful and that he delights in mercy. He cannot be certain, that he will please God by labouring after goodness ; until he first knows, that God is a God of goodness. Without a previous certain knowledge, in short, of the moral attributes of the Deity, it is wholly impossible for him to determine, what line of conduct will be most pleasing to his Creator. Doubtless, if God be just and good and merciful, then justice and goodness and mercy will be acceptable to him : for like ever delights in like. But here is the difficulty. The deist has no means of ascertaining, whether God be just and good and merciful, or whether he be unjust and bad and unmerciful. Nay, he cannot so much as tell, whether there may not be many Gods, concurring indeed in the creation of the world, but widely differing in their moral attributes : he cannot tell, whether there may not be two independent principles of good and evil. Under these circumstances of total ignorance, how is he to frame a religion for himself ? He may fondly imagine, that, by cultivating virtue, he is rendering an acceptable service to the Deity: when, all the while, he is doing what is most abhorrent from the divine nature and therefore most displeasing. He can have no certainty, that the very actions, which gratify one God, may not offend another,
Perhaps he will say, that, as it is much more simple and much more probable, that there should be one God rather than many Gods ; so it is much more probable, that that one God should be a lover of virtue than a lover of vice. Consequently, since for want of better evidence a wise man will act upon the greater probability, a prudent deist will prefer and cultivate virtue.
Now what is this but a confession, that the sole religion, which Deism can produce, is a re
[sect. 11. ligion of mere probabilities ? Such being the case, the matter of probability may be very differently estimated by different persons. One may deem it by far the most probable conjecture, that there is only one God, and that that God is a God of justice and mercy and goodness. Another, perplexed by the prevalence of evil and yet discerning a considerable mixture of good, may, not unreasonably, while under the tuition of no better guide than the light of nature, incline to think, that the old doctrine of two independent principles bids fairest for the truth, inasmuch as it solves with the greatest shew of plausibility that enigmatical contrariety which on every side presents itself. Of these two systems, when viewed abstractedly from revelation and with a sole reference to what meets the unassisted eye, it is perhaps not very easy to determine, which is the most probable. What then is to be done, and how is the religion of the deist to be arranged? If the former system be the nearest to the truth, he will act wisely in cultivating virtue : but, if all the while the latter be the reality, it behoves him then to take heed to his ways; for what is pleasing to the good God will infallibly be displeasing to the bad God, and what delights the bad God will assuredly offend the good God. Which of the systems is true and which is false, or whether each of them be not alike unfounded, the deist, so far as I can comprehend, has no means of determining. Hence, however he may