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Concerning the Necessity of the Divine Will.
Some may, possibly, object against what has been supposed of the absurdity and inconsistency of a self-determining power in the Will, and the impossibility of its being otherwise, than that the Will should be determined in every case by some motive, and by a motive which (as it stands in the view of the understanding) is of superior strength to any appearing on the other side; that if these things are true, it will follow, that not only the Will of created minds, but the Will of God himself, is necessary in all its determinations. Concerning which the author 70 of the Essay on the Freedom of Will in God and in the Creature, (page. 85, 86.) says: “What strange doctrine is this, contrary to all our ideas of the dominion of God? does it not destroy the glory of his liberty of choice, and take away from the Creator and Governor and Benefactor of the world, that most free and Sovereign Agent, all the glory of this sort of freedom? does it not seem to make him a kind of mechanical medium of fate, and introduce Mr. Hobbes’s doctrine of fatality and Necessity, into all things that God hath to do with! Does it not seem to represent the blessed God, as a Being of vast understanding, as well as power, and efficiency, but still to leave him without a Will to choose among all the objects within his view? In short, it seems to make the blessed God a sort of Almighty Minister of Fate, under its universal and supreme influence; as it was the professed sentiment of some of the ancients, that Fate was above the gods.
This is declaiming, rather than arguing; and an application to men’s imaginations and prejudices, rather than to mere reason. I would now calmly endeavour to consider, whether there be any reason in this frightful representation. But, before I enter upon a particular consideration of the matter, I would observe; that it is reasonable to suppose, it should be much more difficult to express or conceive things according to exact metaphysical truth, relating to the nature and manner of the existence of things in the Divine Understanding and Will, and the operation of these faculties (if I may so call them) of the Divine Mind, than in the human mind; which is infinitely more within our view, more proportionate to the measure of our comprehension, and more commensurate to the use and import of human speech. Language is indeed very deficient, in regard of terms to express precise truth concerning our own minds, and their faculties and operations. Words were first formed to express external things; and those that are applied to express things internal and spiritual, are almost all borrowed, and used in a sort of figurative sense. Whence they are, most of them, attended with a great deal of ambiguity and unfixedness in their signification, occasioning innumerable doubts, difficulties, and confusions, in inquiries and controversies about things of this nature. But language is much less adapted to express things existing in the mind of the incomprehensible Deity, precisely as they are.
We find a great deal of difficulty in conceiving exactly of the nature of our own souls. And notwithstanding all the progress which has been made, in past ages, and the present, in this kind of knowledge, whereby our metaphysics, as it relates to these things, is brought to greater perfection than once it was; yet, here is still work enough left for future inquiries and researches, and room for progress still to be made, for many ages and generations. But we had need to be infinitely able metaphysicians, to conceive with clearness, according to strict, proper, and perfect truth, concerning the nature of the Divine Essence, and the modes of action and operation in the powers of the Divine Mind
And it may be noted particularly, that though we are obliged to conceive of some things in God as consequent and dependent on others, and of some things pertaining to the Divine Nature and Will as the foundation of others, and so before others in the order of nature: as, we must conceive of the knowledge and holiness of God as prior, in the order of nature, to his happiness; the perfection of his understanding, as the foundation of his wise purposes and decrees; the holiness of his nature, as the cause and reason of his holy determinations. And yet, when we speak of cause and effect, antecedent and consequent, fundamental and dependent, determining and determined, in the first Being, who is self-existent, independent, of perfect and absolute simplicity and immutability, and the first cause of all things: doubtless there must be less propriety in such representations, than when we speak of derived dependent beings, who are compounded, and liable to perpetual mutation and succession.
Having premised this, I proceed to observe concerning the forementioned author’s exclamation, about the necessary determination of God’s Will, in all things, by what he sees to be fittest and best;
That all the seeming force of such objections and exclamations must arise from an imagination, that there is some sort of privilege or dignity in being without such a moral Necessity, as will make it impossible to do any other, than always choose what is wisest and best; as though there were some disadvantage, meanness, and subjection, in such a Necessity; a thing by which the Will was confined, kept under, and held in servitude by something, which, as it were, maintained a strong and invincible power and dominion over it, by bonds that held him fast, and from which he could, by no means, deliver himself. Whereas, this must be all mere imagination and delusion. It is no disadvantage or dishonour to a being, necessarily to act in the most excellent and happy manner, from the necessary perfection of his own nature. This argues no imperfection, inferiority, or dependence, nor any want of dignity, privilege, or ascendency. 143143 “It might have been objected, with more plausibleness, that the Supreme Cause cannot be free, because he must needs do always what is best in the whole. But this would not at all serve Spinoza’s purpose; for this is a necessity, not of nature and of fate, but of fitness and wisdom: a necessity consistent with the greatest freedom, and most perfect choice. For the only foundation of this necessity is such an unalterable rectitude of will, and perfection of wisdom, as makes it impossible for a wise being to act foolishly.” dark’s Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God. Edit. 6. p. 64. “Though God is a most perfect free Agent, yet he cannot but do always what is best and wisest in the whole. The reason is evident; because perfect wisdom and goodness are as steady and certain principles of action, as necessity itself; and an infinitely wise and good Being, indued with the most perfect liberty, can no more choose to act in contradiction to wisdom and goodness, than a necessary agent can act contrary to the necessity by which it is acted; It being as great an absurdity and impossibility in choice, for Infinite Wisdom to choose to act unwisely, or Infinite Goodness to choose what is not good, as it would be in nature, for absolute necessity to fail of producing its necessary effect. There was, indeed, no necessity in nature, that God should at first create such beings as he has created, or indeed any being at all; because he is. in himself, infinitely happy and all-sufficient. There was, also, no necessity in nature, that he should preserve and continue things in being, after they were created; because he would be self-sufficient without their continuance, as he was before their creation. But it was fit and wise and good, that Infinite Wisdom should manifest, and Infinite Goodness communicate itself: and therefore it was necessary, in the sense of necessity I am now speaking of, that things should be made at such a time, and continued to long, and indeed with various perfections in such degrees, as Infinite Wisdom and Goodness saw it wisest and best that they should.” Ibid. p. 112, 113. “It is not a fault, but a perfection of our nature, to desire, will, and act, according to the last result of a fair examination.—This is so far from being a restraint or diminution of freedom, that it is the very improvement and benefit of it: it is not an abridgment, it is the end and use of our liberty; and the further we are removed from such a determination, the nearer we are to misery and slavery. A perfect indifference in the mind, not determinable by its last judgment, of the good or evil that is thought to attend its choice, would be so far from being an advantage and excellency of any intellectual nature, that it would be as great an imperfection, as the want of indifferency to act, or not to act, till determined by the will, would be an imperfection on the other side.—It is as much a perfection, that desire or the power of preferring should be determined by good, as that the power of acting should be determined by the will: and the certainer such determination is, the greater the perfection. Nay, were we determined by any thing but the last result of our own minds, judging of the good or evil of any action, we were not free. This very end of our freedom being, that we might attain the good we choose; and, therefore, every man is brought under a necessity by his constitution, as an intelligent being, to be determined in willing by his own thought and judgment, what is best for him to do; else he would be under the determination of some other than himself, which is want of liberty. And to deny that a man’s will, in every determination, follows his own judgment, is to say, that a man wills and acts for an end that he would not have, at the same time that he wills and acts for it. For if he prefers it in his present thoughts, before any other, it is plain he then thinks better of it, and would have it before any other; unless he can have and not have it, will and not will it, at the same time; a contradiction too manifest to be admitted.—If we look upon those superior beings above us, who enjoy perfect happiness, we shall have reason to judge, that they are more steadily determined in their choice of good than we; and yet we have no reason to think they are less happy, or less free, than we are. And if it were fit for such poor finite creatures as we are, to pronounce what Infinite Wisdom and Goodness could do, I think we might say, that God himself cannot choose what is not good. The freedom of the Almighty hinders not his being determined by what is best.—But to give a right view of this mistaken part of liberty, let me ask. Would any one be a changeling, because he is less determined by wise determination, than a wise man? Is it worth the name of freedom, to be at liberty to play the fool, and draw shame and misery upon a man’s self? If to break loose from the conduct of reason, and to want that restraint of examination and judgment, that keeps us from doing or choosing the worse, be liberty, true liberty, mad men and fools are the only free men. Yet, I think, nobody would choose to be mad, for the sake of such liberty, but he that is mad already.” Locke Hum. Und. Vol. I. Edit 7. p. 215. 216. “This Being, having all things always necessarily in view, must always and eternally will, according to his infinite comprehension of things; that is. must will all things that are wisest and best to be done. There is no getting free of this consequence. If it can will at all, it must will this way. To be capable of knowing, and not capable of willing, is not to be understood. And to be capable of willing otherwise than what is wisest and best, contradicts that knowledge which is infinite. Infinite Knowledge must direct the will without error. Here, then, is the origin of moral Necessity; and that is, really, of freedom.—Perhaps it may be said, when the Divine Will is determined, from the consideration of the eternal aptitudes of things, it is as necessarily determined, as if it were physically impelled, if that were possible. But it is unskilfulness, to suppose this an objection. The great principle is once established, viz. That the Divine Will is determined by the eternal reason and aptitudes of things, instead of being physically impelled; and after that, the more strong and necessary this determination is, the more perfect the Deity must be allowed to be: it is this that makes him an amiable and adorable Being, whose will and power are constantly, immutably determined, by the consideration of what is wisest and best; instead of a surd Being, with power, but without discerning and reason. It is the beauty of this Necessity, that it is strong as fate itself, with all the advantage of reason and goodness.—It is strange, to see men contend, that the Deity is not free, because he is necessarily rational, immutably good and wise; when a man is allowed still the perfecter being, the more fixedly and constantly his Will is determined by reason and truth.” Inquiry into the Nature of the Hum. Soul Edit. 3. Vol. II. p. 408, 404. It is not inconsistent with the absolute and most perfect sovereignty of God. 71 The sovereignty of God is his ability and authority to do whatever pleases him; whereby “he doth according to his will in the armies of heaven, and amongst the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, what dost thou?—The following things belong to the sovereignty of God; viz. (1.) Supreme, universal, and infinite Power; whereby he is able to do what he pleases, without control, without any confinement of that power, without any subjection, in the least measure, to any other power; and so without any hinderance or restraint, that it should be either impossible, or at all difficult, for him to accomplish his Will; and without any dependence of his power on any other power, from whence it should be derived, or of which it should stand in any need: so far from this, that all other power is derived from him, and is absolutely dependent on him. (2.) That he has supreme authority; absolute and most perfect right to do what he wills, without subjection to any superior authority, or any derivation of authority from any other, or limitation by any distinct independent authority, either superior, equal, or inferior; he being the head of all dominion, and fountain of all authority; and also without restraint by any obligation, implying either subjection, derivation, or dependence, or proper limitation. (3.) That his Will is supreme, underived, and independent on any thing without himself; being in every thing determined by his own counsel, having no other rule but his own wisdom; his Will not being subject to or restrained by the Will of any other, and other Wills being perfectly subject to his. (4.) That his Wisdom, which determines his Will, is supreme, perfect, underived, self-sufficient, and independent; so that it may be said, as in Isa. xl. 14. “With whom took he counsel? And who instructed him and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?” There is no other Divine Sovereignty but this; and this is properly absolute sovereignty: no other is desirable; nor would any other be honourable, or happy: and indeed, there is no other conceivable or possible. It is the glory and greatness of the Divine Sovereign, that his Will is determined by his own infinite, all-sufficient wisdom in every thing; and is in nothing at all directed either by inferior wisdom, or by no wisdom; whereby it would become senseless arbitrariness, determining and acting without reason, design, or end.
If God’s Will is steadily and surely determined in every thing by supreme wisdom, then it is in every thing necessarily determined to that which is most wise. And, certainly, it would be a disadvantage and indignity, to be otherwise. For if the Divine Will was not necessarily determined to what in every case is wisest and best, it must be subject to some degree of undesigning contingence; and so in the same degree liable to evil. To suppose the Divine Will liable to be carried hither and thither at random, by the uncertain wind of blind contingence, which is guided by no wisdom, no motive, no intelligent dictate whatsoever, (if any such thing were possible,) would certainly argue a great degree of imperfection and meanness, infinitely unworthy of the Deity. If it be a disadvantage, for the Divine Will to be attended with this moral Necessity, then the more free from it, and the more left at random, the greater dignity and advantage. And, consequently, to be perfectly free from the direction of understanding, and universally and entirely left to senseless unmeaning continence, to act absolutely at random, would be the supreme glory!
It no more argues any dependence of God’s Will, that his supremely wise volition is necessary, than it argues a dependence of his being, that his existence is necessary. If it be something too low, for the Supreme Being to have his Will determined by moral Necessity, so as necessarily, in every case, to Will in the highest degree holily and happily; then why is it not also something top low, for him to have his existence, and the infinite perfection of his nature, and his infinite happiness, determined by Necessity? It is no more to God’s dishonour, to be necessarily wise, than to be necessarily holy. And, if neither of them be is the beauty of this Necessity, that it is strong as faith itself, with all the advantage of reason and goodness.—It is strange, to see men contend, that the Deity is not free, because he is necessarily rational, immutably good to his dishonour, then it is not to his dishonour necessarily to act holily and wisely. And if it be not dishonourable to be necessarily holy and wise, in the highest possible degree, no more is it mean and dishonourable, necessarily to act holily and wisely in the highest possible degree; or which is the same thing, to do that, in every case, which, above all other things, is wisest and best.
The reason why it is not dishonourable to be necessarily most holy is, because holiness in itself is an excellent and honourable thing. For the same reason, it is no dishonour to be necessarily most wise, and, in every case, to act most wisely, or do the thing which is the wisest of all; for wisdom is also in itself excellent and honourable.
The forementioned author of the Essay on the Freedom of Will, &c. as has been observed, represents that doctrine of the Divine Will being in every thing necessarily determined by superior fitness, as making the blessed God a kind of Almighty Minister and mechanical medium of fate: he insists, (p. 93, 94.) that this moral Necessity and impossibility is, in effect, the same thing with physical and natural Necessity, and impossibility: and says, (p. 54, 55.) “The scheme which determines the Will always and certainly by the understanding, and the understanding by the appearance of things, seems to take away the true nature of vice and virtue. For the sublimest of virtues, and the vilest of vices, seem rather to be matters of fate and Necessity, flowing naturally and necessarily from the existence, the circumstances, and present situation of persons and things; for this existence and situation necessarily makes such an appearance to the mind; from this appearance flows a necessary perception and judgment, concerning these things; this judgment necessarily determines the Will; and thus, by this chain of necessary causes, virtue and vice would lose their nature, and become natural ideas, and necessary things, instead of moral and free actions.”
And yet this same author allows, (p. 30, 31.) That a perfectly wise being will constantly and certainly choose what is most fit; and says, (p. 102, 103.) “I grant, and always have granted, that wheresoever there is such antecedent superior fitness of things, God acts according to it, so as never to contradict it; and, particularly, in all his judicial proceedings as a Governor and Distributer of rewards and punishments.” Yea, he says expressly, (p. 42.) “That it is not possible for God to act otherwise, than according to this fitness and goodness in things.”
So that, according to this author, putting these several passages of his Essay together, there is no virtue, nor any thing of a moral nature, in the most sublime and glorious acts and exercises of God’s holiness, justice, and faithfulness; and he never does any thing which is in itself supremely worthy, and, above all other things, fit and excellent, but only as a kind of mechanical medium of fate; and in what he does as the Judge, and moral Governor of the world, he exercises no moral excellency; exercising no freedom in these things, because he acts by moral Necessity, which is, in effect, the same with physical or natural Necessity; and therefore, he only acts by an Hobbistical fatality; “as a Being indeed of vast understanding, as well as power and efficiency, (as he said before,) but without a will to choose, being a kind of Almighty Minister of fate, acting under its supreme influence. “For he allows, that in all these things, God’s Will is determined constantly and certainly by a superior fitness, and that it is not possible for him to act otherwise. And if these things are so, what glory or praise belongs to God for doing holily and justly, or taking the most fit, holy, wise, and excellent course, in any one instance? Whereas, according to the Scriptures, and also the common sense of mankind, it does not, in the least, derogate from the honour of any being, that through the moral perfection of his nature, he necessarily acts with supreme wisdom and holiness; but on the contrary, his praise is the greater: herein consists the height of his glory.
The same author (p. 56.) supposes, that herein appears the excellent “character of a wise and good man, that though he can choose contrary to the fitness of things, yet he does not; but suffers himself to be directed by fitness;” 72 and that, in this conduct, “he imitates the blessed God.” And yet, he supposes it is contrary wise with the blessed God; not that he suffers himself to be directed by fitness, when “he can choose, contrary to the .fitness of things;” but that “he cannot choose contrary to the fitness of things;” as he says, p. 42. “That it is not possible for God to act otherwise than according to this fitness, where there is any fitness or goodness in things:” Yea, he supposes, (p. 31.) That if a man “were perfectly wise and good, he could not do otherwise than be constantly and certainly determined by the fitness of things.”
One thing more I would observe, before I conclude this section; and that is, that if it derogate nothing from the glory of God, to be necessarily determined by superior fitness in some things, then neither does it to he thus determined in all things; from any thing in the nature of such Necessity, as at all detracting from (God’s freedom, independence, absolute supremacy, or any dignity or glory of his nature, state, or manner of acting; or as implying any infirmity, restraint, or subjection. And it the thing be such as well consists with God’s glory, and has nothing tending at all to detract from it; then we need not be afraid of ascribing it to God in too many things, lest thereby we should detract from God’s glory too much.
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