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On Moral Evil.
I Must now leave that plain and easy road thro' which I have hitherto conducted you, and carry you thro' unfrequented paths, and ways untrodden by philosophic feet. Already, I think, the existence of Natural Evil has been sufficiently accounted for, without any derogation from the power, wisdom, or goodness of God. What next remains to be cleared up, is the Origin of Moral Evil; which, consistently with the same Divine Attributes, I have never ken accounted for by any Author, 110ancient or modern, in a manner that could give tolerable satisfaction to a rational Inquirer. Nor indeed can this be ever effectually performed, without at the same time taking into consideration all those most abstruse speculations concerning the nature of Virtue, Free-will, Fate, Grace, and Predestination, the debates of ages, and matter of innumerable folio's. To attempt this, therefore, in the compass of a Letter, would be the highest presumption, did not I well know the clear and ready comprehension or the person to whom it is addressed; and also, that the most difficult of these kinds of disquisitions are usually better explained in a few lines, than by a thousand pages.
In order therefore to find out the true Origin of Moral Evil, it will be necessary, in the first place, to inquire into its nature 111and essence; or what it is that constitutes one action Evil, and another Good. Various have been the opinions of various Authors on this Criterion of Virtue; and this variety has rendered that doubtful, which must otherwise have been clear and manifest to the meanest capacity. Some indeed have denied that there is any such thing, because different ages and nations have entertained different sentiments concerning it: but this is just as reasonable as to assert, that there are neither Sun, Moon, nor Stars, because Astronomers have supported different systems of the motions and magnitudes of these celestial bodies. Some have placed it in conformity to truth, some to the fitness of things, and others to the will of God. But all this is merely superficial: they resolve us not why truth, or the fitness of things, are either eligible or obligatory, or 112why God should require us to act in one manner rather than another. The true reason of which can possibly be no other than this, because some actions produce Happiness, and others Misery: so that all Moral Good and Evil are nothing more than the production of Natural. This alone it is that makes truth preferable to falsehood, this that determines the fitness of things; and this that induces God to command some actions and forbid others. They who extoll the truth, beauty, and harmony of Virtue, exclusive of its consequences, deal but in pompous nonsense; and they who would persuade us, that Good and Evil are things indifferent, depending wholly on the will of God, do but confound the nature of things, as well as all our notions of God himself, by representing him capable of willing contradictions; that is, that we 113should be, and be happy, and at the same time that we should torment and destroy each other; for injuries cannot be made benefits, pain cannot be made pleasure, and consequently vice cannot be made virtue by any power whatever. It is the consequences therefore of all human actions that must stamp their value. So far as the general practice of any action tends to produce Good, and introduce happiness into the world, so far we may pronounce it virtuous; so much Evil as it occasions, such is the degree of vice it contains. I say, the general practice, because we must always remember in judging by this rule, to apply it only to the general species of actions, and not to particular actions; for the infinite wisdom of God, desirous to set bounds to the destructive consequences which must otherwise have followed from the universal 114depravity of mankind, has so wonderfully contrived the nature of things, that our most vitious actions may sometimes accidentally and collaterally, produce Good. Thus, for instance, robbery may dirperse useless hoards to the benefit of the publick. Adultery may bring heirs, and good humour too, into many families, where there would otherwise have been wanting; and Murder free the world from tyrants and oppressors. Luxury maintains its thousands, and Vanity its ten thousands. Superstition and Arbitrary Power contribute to the grandeur of many nations, and the liberties of others are preserved by the perpetual contentions of avarice, knavery, selfishness and ambition: and thus the worst of vices and the worst of Men are often compelled by Providence to serve the most beneficial purposes, contrary to their own 115malevolent tendencies and inclinations; and thus private vices become public benefits by the force only of accidental circumstances. But this impeaches not the truth of the Criterion of Virtue before mentioned, the only solid foundation on which any true system of ethics can be built, the only plain, simple, and uniform rule by which we can pass any judgment on our actions, but by this we may be enabled, not only to determine which are good, and which are Evil, but almost mathematically to demonstrate the proportion of Virtue or Vice which belongs to each, by comparing them with the degrees of happiness or misery which they occasion. But tho' the production of happiness is the Essence of virtue, it is by no means the End: the great End is the probation of Mankind, or the giving them an opportunity of exalting or degrading 116themselves in another state by their behaviour in the present. And thus indeed it answers two most important purposes; those are, the conservation of our happiness, and the test of our obedience: for had not such a test seemed necessary to God's infinite wisdom, and productive of universal Good, he would never have permitted the happiness of Men, even in this life, to have depended on so precarious a tenure, as their mutual good behaviour to each other. For it is observable, that he who best knows our formation, has trusted no one thing of importance to our reason or virtue: he trusts only to our appetites for the support of the individual, and the continuance of our species; to our vanity, or companion, for our bounty to others; and to our fears, for the preservation of ourselves; often to our vices for the support of Government, 117and sometimes to our follies for the preservation of our Religion. But since some test of our obedience was necessary, nothing sure could have been commanded for that end so fit and proper; and at the same time so useful, as the practice of virtue; nothing have been so justly rewarded with happiness, as the production of happiness in conformity to the will of God. It is this conformity alone which adds merit to virtue, and constitutes the essential difference between Morality and Religion. Morality obliges Men to live honestly and soberly, because such behaviour is most conducive to publick happiness, and consequently to their own; Religion, to pursue the same course, because conformable to the will of their Creator. Morality induces them to embrace virtue from prudential considerations; 118Religion, from those of gratitude and obedience. Morality, therefore, entirely abstracted from Religion can have nothing meritorious in it; it being but wisdom, prudence, or good œconomy, which, like health, beauty, or riches, are rather obligations conferred upon us by God, than merits in us towards him; for tho' we may be justly punished for injuring ourselves, we can claim no reward for self-preservation; as suicide deserves punishment and infamy, but a Man deserves no reward or honours for not being guilty of it. This I take to be the meaning of all those passages in our Scriptures in which Works are represented to have no merit without Faith; that is not without believing in historical facts, in creeds, and articles; but without being done in pursuance of our belief in 119God, and in obedience to his commands.11What was that Faith, which the Author of the Christian Religion indispensably required in all his disciples? It could not be a literal, and implicit belief of the divine inspiration of all the Books of the Old Testament; and consequently of all the History, Chronology, Geography, and Philosophy contained in them; because to these he Jews, who rejected it, adhered with the most superstitious exactness: it could not be the same kind of belief in the writings of the New Testament, because these in his life-time had no existence: much less could it consist in a blind assent to the numberless explanations of these books, and least of all in the Belief of Creeds, Articles, and theological Systems founded on such explanations, for all these were the productions of later Ages. It must therefore have been this, and this alone; a sincere Belief in the divine Authority of his mission, and a constant practice of all Moral duties from a sense of their being agreeable to his commands. And now, having mentioned Scripture, I cannot omit observing, that the Christian is the only religious or moral institution 120in the world that ever set in a right light these two material points, the Essence and the End of virtue; that ever founded the one in the production of happiness, that is in universal benevolence, or, in their language, Charity to all men; the other, in the probation of man, and his obedience to his Creator. Sublime and magnificent as was the philosophy of the Ancients, all their moral systems Were deficient in these two important articles. They were all built on the sandy foundations of the innate beauty of virtue, or enthusiastick patriotism; and their great point in view was the contemptible reward of human glory; foundations 121which were by no means able to support the magnificent structures which they erected upon them; for the beauty of virtue, independent of its effects, is unmeaning nonsense: patriotism which injures mankind in general for the sake of a particular country, is but a more extended selfishness, and really criminal; and all human glory but a mean and ridiculous delusion. The whole affair then of Religion and Morality, the subject of so many thousand volumes, is in short no more than this: The Supreme Being, infinitely good, as well as powerful, desirous to diffuse happiness by all possible means, has created innumerable ranks and orders of Beings, all subservient to each other by proper subordination. One of these is occupied by Man, a creature endued with such a certain degree of knowledge, reason, and free-will, 122as is suitable to his situation, and placed for a time on this globe as in a school of probation and education. Here he has an opportunity given him of improving or debasing his nature, in such a manner, as to render himself fit for a rank of higher perfection and happiness, or to degrade himself to a state of greater imperfection and misery; necessary indeed towards carrying on the business of the Universe, but very grievous and burthensome to those individuals, who, by their own misconduct, are obliged to submit to it. The test of this his behaviour, is doing good, that is, cooperating with his Creator, as far as his narrow sphere of action will permit, in the production of happiness. And thus the happiness and misery of a future state will be the just reward or punishment of promoting or preventing happiness in this. So 123artificially by this means is the nature of all human virtue and vice contrived, that their rewards and punishments are woven as it were into their very essence; their immediate effects give us a foretaste of their future; and their fruits in the present life are the proper samples of what they must unavoidably produce in another. We have Reason given us to distinguish these consequences, and regulate our conduct; and lest that should neglect its post, Conscience also is appointed as an instinctive kind of monitor, perpetually to remind us both of our interest and our duty.
When we consider how wonderfully the practice of Virtue is thus inforced by our Great Creator, and that all which he requires of us under that title is only to be happy, that is, to make each other so; and 124when at the same time we look round us, and see the whole race of mankind thro' every successive generation tormenting, injuring and destroying each other, and perpetually counteracting the gracious designs of their Maker, it is a most astonishing paradox how all this comes to pass; why God should suffer himself to be thus defeated in his best purposes by creatures of his own making; or why man should be made with dispositions to defeat them at the expence of his own present and future happiness; why infinite Goodness should form creatures inclined to oppose its own benevolent designs, or why infinite Power should thus suffer itself to be opposed.
There are some, I know, who extricate themselves from this difficulty very concisely by asserting, that there is in fact no 125such original depravity, no such innate propensity to vice in human nature; but as this assertion is directly contrary to the express declaration of the Scriptures, to the opinion of the Philosophers and Moralists of all ages, and to the most constant, and invariable experience of every hour; I think they no more deserve an answer, than they who would affirm, that a stone has no tendency to the Center by its natural gravity, or that flame has no inclination to ascend.
.But the usual solution applied to this difficulty by the ablest Philosophers and Divines, with which they themselves, and most of their readers, seem perfectly satisfied, is comprehended in the following reasoning: that Man came perfect out of the hands of his Creator, both in virtue and 126happiness, but it being more eligible that he should be a free-agent, than a mere machine, God endued him with Freedom of will; from the abuse of which Freedom, all Misery and Sin, that is, all natural and moral Evils, derive their existence: from all such therefore the Divine Goodness is sufficiently justified, by reason they could not be prevented without the loss of superior Good: for to create Men free, and at the same time compel them to be virtuous, is utterly impossible.
But whatever air of demonstration this argument may assume, by whatever fam'd Preachers it may have been used, or by whatever learned Audiences it may have been approved, I will venture to affirm, that it is false in all its Principles, and in its Conclusion also; and I think it may be 127clearly shewn, that God did not make Man absolutely perfect, nor absolutely Free: nor, if he had, would this in the least` have justified the introduction of wickedness and misery.
That Man came perfect, that is endued with all possible perfections, out of the hands of his Creator, is evidently a false notion derived from the Philosophers of the first ages, founded on their ignorance of the Origin of Evil, and inability to account for it on any other hypothesis: they understood not that the universal System required Subordination, and consequently comparative Imperfections; nor that in the Scale of Beings there must be somewhere such a creature as Man with all his infirmities about him: that the total removal of these would be altering his very nature; 128and that as soon as he became Perfect he must cease to be Man. The truth of this, I think, has been sufficiently proved; and besides, the very supposition of a Being originally perfect, and yet capable of rendering itself wicked and miserable, is undoubtedly a Contradiction, that very power being the highest imperfection imaginable.
That God made Man perfectly free is no less false: Men have certainly such a degree of Free-will as to make them accountable, and justly punishable for the abuse of it; but absolute and independent Free-will is what, I believe, no created Being can be possessed of. Our actions proceed from our Wills, but our wills must be derived from the natural dispositions implanted in us by the Author of our Being: wrong elections proceed from wrong 129apprehensions, or unruly passions; and these from our original Frame or accidental Education: these must determine all our actions, for we have no power to act differently, these previous circumstances continuing exactly the same. Had God thought proper to have made all Men with the same heads, and the same hearts, which he has given to the most virtuous of the species, they would all have excelled in the same virtues: or had the Bias implanted in Human Nature drawn as strongly towards the good side, as it now apparently does towards the bad, it would have operated as successfully, and with as little infringement on human Liberty. Men, as well as all other animals, are exactly fitted for the purposes they are designed for; and have inclinations and dispositions given them accordingly: He, who implanted patience 130in the Lamb, obedience in the Horse, fidelity in the Dog, and innocence in the Dove, might as easily have inspired the breast of Man with these and all other virtues; and then his actions would have certainly corresponded with his Formation: therefore, in the strict philosophical sense, we have certainly no Free-will; that is, none independent of our Frame, our Natures, and the Author of them.
But were both these propositions true, were Men originally created both perfect and free, yet this would by no means justify the introduction of moral Evil; because, if his perfection was immediately to be destroyed by his Free-will, he might as well never have been possest of the one, and much better have been prevented from making use of the other: let us dispute therefore 131as long as we please, it must eternally be the same thing, whether a Creator of infinite power and knowledge created Beings originally wicked and miserable, or gave them a power to make themselves so, foreknowing they would employ that power to their own destruction.
If moral Evil therefore cannot be derived from the Abuse of Free-will in Man, from whence can we trace its origin? Can it proceed from a just, a wise, and a benevolent God? Can such a God form Creatures with dispositions to do Evil, and then punish them for acting in conformity to those evil dispositions? Strange and astonishing indeed must this appear to us, who know so little of the universal Plan! but it is far, I think, from being irreconcileable with the justice of the Supreme Disposer of all 132things: for let us but once acknowledge the truth of our first great proposition, (and most certainly true it is) that natural Evils exist from some necessity in the nature of things, which no power can dispense with or prevent, the expediency of moral Evil will perhaps follow on course: for if misery could not be excluded from the works of a benevolent Creator by infinite power, these miseries must be endured by some creatures or other for the good of the whole: and if there were none capable of wickedness, then they must fall to the share of those who are perfectly innocent. Here again we see our difficulties arise from our wrong notions of Omnipotence, and forgetting how many difficulties it has to contend with: in the present instance it is obliged either to afflict Innocence or be the cause of Wickedness; it has plainly 133no other Option: what then could infinite Wisdom, Justice, and Goodness do in this situation, more consistent with itself, than to call into being Creatures formed with such depravity, in their dispositions, as to induce many of them to act in such a manner as to render themselves proper subjects for such necessary sufferings, and yet at the same time indued with such a degree22Some have asserted that there can be no degrees of Free-will, but that every Being must be absolutely free, or possessed of no Freedom at all: and this seems to have been the principal error that has led those who have supported both sides of this Question into so many absurdities; as it well might, since they were both equally wrong in espousing a proposition, which contradicts both reason, and experience, Brutes have a certain degree of Free-will; else why do we correct them for their misbehaviour, or why do they amend upon correction? yet certainly they have not so great a degree as ourselves. A man raving mad is not, nor is considered as a Free-agent; a man less mad has a greater portion of Freedom; and a man not mad at all has the greatest; but still the degree of his Freedom must bear a proportion to the weakness of his understanding, and the strength of his passions, and prejudices; all which are a perversion of reason, and madness as far as they extend, and operate on Free-will in the very same manner: so that it is so far from being true, that all men are equally free, that probably there are no two men, who are possessed of exactly the same degree of Freedom. of Reason and Free-will as to put it 134in the power of every individual to escape them by their good behaviour: such a Creature is Man; so corrupt, base, cruel and wicked as to convert these unavoidable 135miseries into just punishments, and at the same time so sensible of his own depravity and the fatal consequences of guilt, as to be well able to correct the one, and to avoid the other. Here we see a substantial Reason for the depravity of Man, and the admittance of Moral Evil in these circumstances seems not only compatible with the justice of God, but one of the highest instances of his consummate wisdom in ordering and disposing all things in the best manner their imperfect natures will admit.
I presume not by what has been here said to determine on the councils of the Almighty, to triumph in the compleat discovery of the Origin of Moral Evil, or to assert that this is the certain or sole cause of its 136existence; I propose it only as a Guess concerning the reason of its admission, more probable, and less derogatory from the divine wisdom, and justice, than any, that has hitherto been offered for that purpose.
There is undoubtedly something farther in the general Depravity of Mankind than we are aware of, and probably many great and wise ends are answered by it to us totally incomprehensible. God, as has been shewn, would never have permitted the existence of Natural Evil, but from the impossibility of preventing it without the lots of superior Good: and on the same principle the admission of Moral Evil is equally consistent with the divine Goodness: and who is he so knowing in the whole stupendous system of Nature as to assert, that 137the Wickedness of some Beings may not, by means inconceivable to us, be beneficial to innumerable unknown Orders of others? or that the Punishment of some may not contribute to the Felicity of numbers infinitely superior?
To this purpose the learned Hugenius says with great sagacity, Præterea credibile est, ipsa illa animi vitia magnæ hominum parti, non sine summo concilio data esse: Cum enim Dei providentiâ talis sit Tellus, ejusque incolæ, quales cernimus, absurdum enim foret existimare omnia hæc alia facta esse, quam ille voluerit, sciveritque futura.33Cosmotheoros, Lib, I. p. 34.
But let us not forget that this necessity of Vice and Punishment, and its subserviency to publick Good, makes no alteration in their natures with regard to Man; for, 138tho' the wisdom of God may extract from the wickedness of Men some remote benefits to the Universe; yet that alters not the case with regard to them, nor in the least extenuates their Guilt. He has given them reason sufficient to inform them, that their injuries to each other are displeasing to him, and Free-will sufficient to refrain from such actions, and may therefore punish their disobedience without any infringement of justice: He knows indeed, that though none are under any compulsion to do Evil, yet that they are all so framed, that many will certainly do it; and He knows also that incomprehensible secret why it is necessary that many should: but his knowledge having no relation to their determinations renders not their vices less criminal, nor the punishment of them less equitable: for, tho' with regard to God, Vice may be perhaps 139the consequence of Misery; that is, Men may be inclined to Vice in order to render them proper objects of such a degree of Misery as was unavoidably necessary, and previously determined for the sake of publick Good, yet, in regard to Man, Misery is the consequence of Vice; that is, all human Vices produce Misery, and are justly punished by its infliction.
If it be objected that this makes God the Author of Sin, I answer, God is and must be the Author of every thing; and to say that any thing is, or happens, independent of the first Cause, is to say that something exists, or happens, without any Cause at all. God is the Author, if it may be so expressed, of all the natural Evils, in the Universe; that is, of the fewest possible in the nature of things; and why 140may he not be the Author of all moral Evil in the same manner and on the same principle? If natural Evil owes its existence to necessity, why may not moral? If Misery brings with it its Utility, why may not Wickedness?
"If storms and earthquakes break not Heav'n's design,
"Why then a Borgia or a Catiline!"
Wherefore, it ought always to be considered, that, tho' Sin in Us, who see no farther than the Evils it produces, is Evil, and justly punishable; yet in God, who sees the causes and connections of all things, and the necessity of its admission, that admission may be no Evil at all, and that necessity a sufficient vindication of his Goodness.141
But it may be alledged that this principle totally changes the Nature of Vice, destroys the Criterion before affixed to it, and encourages the universal practice of wickedness: for if Moral Evil, and the punishment of it, are necessary towards promoting universal Good, then the more wicked men are, the more they promote that Good; and the more they co-operate with their Creator in compleating his great and benevolent plan of universal happiness. But this reasoning is extremely fallacious: because no collateral, remote, unknown and undesigned Good resulting from Vice can alter the Nature of it, or divest it of criminality; and moreover if that Good arises only from its punishment, so far is it from an encouragement to wickedness, that it proves only that the punishment of it is necessary, and unpreventable; 142nay in its nature incapable of remission, without a penal satisfaction from some Being or other, nor does its co-operation with the designs of Providence render it less criminal, or less worthy of his just indignation: all Histories are filled with instances of the wickedness of Men conspiring to bring about the Councils of the Almighty; such were the ambition and ferocity of the Romans, the obstinacy of the Jews, the cruelty of Herod, and the treachery of Judas, yet were these never esteemed for that reason meritorious, or innocent.
From this important proposition, that all Natural Evil derives its existence from necessity, and all Moral from expediency arising from that necessity; I say, from this important proposition, well considered and pursued, such new lights might be 143struck out as could not fail, if directed by the hands of Learning and Impartiality, to lead the human Mind thro' the unknown regions of speculation, and to produce the most surprising and useful discoveries in Ethicks, Metaphysicks, and in Christianity too: I add Christianity, because it is a Master-key, which will, I am certain, at once unlock all the mysterious and perplexing doctrines of that amazing Institution, and explain fairly, without the least assistance from theological artifice, all those abstruse speculations of Original Sin, Grace and Predestination, and vicarious punishments, which the most learned, for want of this Clue, have never yet been able to make consistent with Reason or Common-sense.144
In the first place, for instance, the Doctrine44Original Sin is a contradiction in terms; Original signifying innate, and Sin the act of an accountable Being: by this expression therefore of Original Sin cannot be meant original or innate Guilt, for that is absolute nonsense, but only an original depravity, or an innate disposition to Sin. of Original Sin is really nothing more than the very System here laid down, into which we have been led by closely pursuing Reason, and without which the Origin of Moral Evil cannot be accounted for on any principle whatever. Indeed, according to the common notions of the absolute Omnipotence of God, and the absolute Free-will in Man, it is most absurd and impious, as it represents the Deity voluntarily bringing Men into Being with depraved Dispositions, tending to no good purposes, and then arbitrarily 145punishing them for the sins which they occasion with torments which answer no ends, either of their reformation or utility to the Universe: but when we see, by the foregoing explanation, the difficulties with which Omnipotence was environed, and that it was obliged by the necessity of Natural Evils to admit Moral, all these absurdities at once vanish, and the Original Depravity of Man appears fairly consistent with the Justice, and even Goodness of his Creator.
The Doctrines of Predestination and Grace as set forth in the Scriptures, on the most impartial Interpretation, I take to be these: that some men come into the world with dispositions so extremely bad, that God foreknows that they will certainly be guilty of many crimes, and in consequence 146be punished for them; that to others He has given better dispositions, and moreover protects them from vice by a powerful but invisible influence, in the language of those writings called Grace: this Scheme has appeared to many so partial and unjust that they have totally rejected it, and endeavoured, by forced interpretations, to explain it quite out of the Bible, in contradiction to all the sense of language and the whole tenour of those writings: and indeed, on the old plan of God's absolute Omnipotence, uncontrouled by any previous necessity, in the nature of things, to admit both Natural and Moral Evil, it is highly derogatory from His wisdom and goodness: but, on the supposition of that previous necessity, there appears nothing incredible in it, nor the least inconsistent with divine; because if God was 147obliged by the nature of things, and for the good of the whole, to suffer some to be wicked, and consequently miserable, he certainly might protect others both from guilt and punishment. He in this light may be compared to the commander of a numerous army, who, tho' he is obliged to expose many to danger, and some to destruction, yet protects others with ramparts and covert-ways; but so long as he exercises this power for the good of the whole, these distinctions amongst individuals ought never to be imputed to Partiality or Injustice.
The Doctrine55If the punishments of the wicked serve not some ends with which we are unacquainted, the sufferings of the innocent can possibly bear no manner of relation to them; and consequently the words Sacrifice, Attonement, Propitiation, and Vicarious Punishments can no more have any ideas affixed to them than the ringing of a bell, or the blowing of a trumpet, but are mere Sounds without any meaning at all. of Sacrifice, or Vicarious punishment, is the most universal, and yet 148exclusive of this plan the most absurd, of all religious Tenets that ever entered into the Mind of Man: so absurd is it, that how it came to be so universal is not easy to be accounted for: Pagans, Jews and Christians, have all agreed in this one point, tho' differing in all others; and have all treated it as a self-evident principle, that the Sins of one Creature might be attoned for by the Sufferings of another: but from whence they derived this strange opinion, none of them have pretended to give any account, or to produce in its defence the least shadow of a Reason: for that there 149should be any manner of connection between the Miseries of one Being and the Guilt of another; or, that the punishing the Innocent, and excusing the Guilty, should be a mark of God's Detestation of Sin; or, that two acts of the highest Injustice should make one of Justice, is so fundamentally wrong, so diametrically opposite to common-sense, and all our ideas of justice, that it is equally astonishing that so many should believe it themselves, or impose it upon others. But on the foregoing theory this also may be a little cleared up, and will by no means appear so very inconsistent with Reason: for if a certain quantity of Misery in some part of the Universal System is necessary to the Happiness and Well-being of the Whole; and if this necessity arises from its answering some purposes incomprehensible to the human Understanding; I will 150ask any impartial Reasoner, Why the Sufferings of one Being may not answer the same Ends, or be as effectual towards promoting Universal Good as the Sufferings of another? If the Miseries of Individuals are to be looked upon as taxes which they are obliged to pay towards the support of the Publick, why may not the sufferings of one Creature serve the same purposes, or absolve as much of that necessary tax as the Sufferings of another, and on that account be accepted as a payment or satisfaction for their Sufferings; that is, for the Sufferings due to the Publick Utility from the punishment of their crimes, without which the happiness of the whole could not subsist, unless they should be replaced by the Sufferings of others? As we are entirely ignorant why Misery has any existence at all, or what interest 151it serves in the general System of things, this may possibly be the case for any thing we know; and that it is not, I am certain no one can affirm; with Reason: Reason indeed cannot inform us that it is so, but that it may be, is undoubtedly no contradiction to Reason.
If I mistake not it might be shewn, that this principle of the necessity of Moral Evil, and its punishment, is the foundation on which the whole fabrick of the Christian Dispensation is erected; the principle itself is avowed by the Author of that Dispensation in clear, and express words: It must needs be, says he, that offences come; but woe unto that man by whom the Offence cometh. That is, it is necessary towards compleating the designs of Providence, that some men 152should commit crimes; but as no Individual is compelled by necessity to commit them, Woe unto all, who are thus guilty. He came by his excellent precepts, and example, to diminish the quantity of Moral Evil in the World, and of Misery consequential from its punishment, but found it necessary to replace that Misery in some degree by his own voluntary, and unmerited Sufferings: and perhaps the unparallel'd tortures inflicted on his disciples and followers might be also necessary, and subservient to the same purposes.
From what has been here said, I think, it is evident that the Origin of Evil is by no means so difficult to account for as at first sight it appears; for it has been plainly shewn that most of those we usually 153complain of are Evils of Imperfection, which are rather the absence of comparative Advantages than positive Evils, and therefore, properly speaking, no Evils at all; and as such, ought to be intirely struck out of the Catalogue. It has likewise been made appear, that of natural Evils, which are the sufferings of sensitive Beings, many are but the consequences naturally resulting from the particular circumstances of particular ranks in the scale of Existence, which could not have been omitted without the destruction of the Whole; and that many more are in all probability necessary, by means to us incomprehensible, to the production of Universal Good. Lastly, it has been suggested, that from this necessity of Natural Evils may arise the expediency of Moral, without which those necessary Sufferings154
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more, I am sure, of all it would require) encouraged by your Favour, and assisted by your Sagacity, would undertake it, and condescend to fill up these out-lines so inaccurately sketched out by,
S I R, &c.156157
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