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WHEREIN THE CHIEF GROUNDS OF THE REASONINGS OF ARMINIANS, IN SUPPORT AND DEFENCE OF THE FOREMENTIONED NOTIONS OF LIBERTY, MORAL AGENCY, &c. AND AGAINST THE OPPOSITE DOCTRINE, ARE CONSIDERED.
The Essence of the Virtue and Vice of Dispositions of the Heart, and Acts of the Will, lies not in their Cause, but their Nature.*
ONE main foundation of the reasons which are brought to establish the forementioned notions of liberty, virtue, vice,
*This may appear to some to be an identical proposition-" The essence of a thing lies in its nature," but it is not wholly so, and the whole of the proposition is exceedingly important, on account of the negative part, or the incidental proposition it contains, viz. The essence of virtue and vice lies not in their cause. A single consideration may be sufficient to shew the truth and importance of one part of this last proposition. If the essence of virtue lay in its cause, how could the first cause, or the uncaused nature, be virtuous? If therefore the first cause be virtuous, or have the essence of virtue, as all theists will allow, it is plain, that essence must lie in the nature of that cause itself. Hence, as God is the standard of all moral excellence, created natures are morally excellent in proportion as they resemble him. And as virtue is an imitable excellence, and as no good reason can be assigned why the resemblance should not hold in this particular, it is highly probable, a priori, that, in reference to created natures, the essence of their virtue lies not in its cause. To demonstrate this last, is the design of the present section.
Again, as the essence of virtue lies not in its cause, so neither does the essence of vice lie in its cause. But the philosophical ground of this part of the general proposition demands more particular attention. And as this proposition"the essence of vice lies not in its cause," affects the whole system of morals, and indeed of theology, we beg leave to propose a series of remarks which, it is hoped, will cast some light on the subject.
1. Causes are of two kinds, and of two only, either positive or negative. Positive causes produce positive effects, from the first cause through all secondary causes; and these positive secondary causes are nothing else but so many decretive antecedents, which act physically, and their consequences follow from the nature of things; even as number follows the repetition of units, or happiness results from true virtue.
&c. is a supposition, that the virtuousness of the dispositions, or acts of the will, consists not in the nature of these dispo
2. The term "cause" is applied less properly to express a negative idea; for it expresses merely an antecedent of a consequent. For instance, if we say that a man cannot read because he is blind, or cannot walk because he has no legs, or cannot go to heaven because he does not love God, and the like; it is manifest that blindness, want of legs, and want of love to God, are "causes" only as antecedents are causes to their consequents, without positive influence.
3. Negative causes, though they have no positive operation in producing their consequents, are no less the ground of certainty than those causes, properly so called, which exist in physical operations. For the consequent follows the antecedent with equal certainty, whether the connection be formed by decretive will and energy, as in all positive causes, or by the nature of things only, which is essential truth, as in all negative causes.
4. The cause of vicious acts, is a vicious disposition; in other words, it is the want, or the absence of a virtuous disposition. The essence of the vicious act, however, is not in the cause, or disposition. The vice of the disposition is one thing, and the vice of the act is another. For as the nature of the disposition, and the nature of the act, are different; so the vice, or moral badness of the one, is a different badness from that of the other. The one and the other is a bad thing whatever be the cause, and irrespective of any. Hence,
5. Evil dispositions or acts should be denominated such, not from their cause, but from their nature. Were it otherwise, personal fault, or blame, could never exist; for the vicious act would transfer the blame to the disposition, and the disposition to the cause of that; whereby persons would be free from blame, and this would attach to principles only. But to suppose a moral agent incapable of blameworthiness, which on the supposition would be the case, is a gross absurdity. It would be to suppose an accountable being, who at the same time can be accountable for nothing; and it would be to impute blame to principles, or a principle, which is incapable of moral agency.
6. The cause of virtuous acts, or, if we may so speak, the soil in which they grow, is a previous inclination or disposition to good, before any actual choice takes place. This may be called a virtuous inclination, or disposition. But the original and predisposing cause of that, is divine energy, influx, or influence; in other words, an assimilating emanation from the holy nature and decretive will of God.
7. Nevertheless, this is not a good, or a virtue, attributable to man, until he is actually possessed of it, or it becomes his, as a quality of his nature. God, the Father of lights, from whom every good and perfect gift proceedeth, is the cause of that virtuous disposition; but while the virtue remained in the cause, and not in the man, it was no human virtue. Nor does the essence of human virtue lie in the communication itself, for this was the effect of divine will; but no will can alter the nature of virtue: therefore, the essence of virtue consists not in the cause, whether we understand by "cause," the will that communicates the virtuous disposition, or the communication itself. Consequently, the absence of virtue is so completely confined to the disposition of the agent, and the consequent acts, as to exclude every thing else that may be termed its cause.
8. The cause of vicious acts, whatever it be, is opposite to the cause of virtuous acts; for these acts have diametrically opposite effects. That vicious acts have a cause, as well as virtuous ones, cannot be denied by any reflecting person, for this plain reason, that there is nothing in the universality of things, beings, qualities, &c. but has a cause, either positive or negative, as before explained. Neither agency, liberty, nor any thing else, considered as an effect or a consequent, can exist without a cause, or antecedent. The denial of this, and universal scepticism, are the same thing. Then all reasoning, and all common sense, vanish. Then body and spirit, cause and effects, good and evil, &c. are huddled up in endless confusion, without either first or last, great or small, order or proportion.
9. The original predisposing cause of a vicious disposition, is the very opposite of the original, predisposing cause of a virtuous disposition. This last, it has been shewn, is divine energy, which is a positive cause; the other, the opposite of this, is a negative cause. The cause of good, as before observed, is a cause
sitions, or acts of the will, but wholly in the Origin or Cause of them so that if the disposition of the mind, or acts of the will, be
properly so called, in the way of physical influence; but the cause of evil is called "a cause" improperly, as it implies no physical influence, but only stands as an antecedent to a consequent; from which however the consequent may be inferred with as much certainty as if the influence were physical and mechanical. Whether you suppose positive quantities, or negative quantities, consequences are equally certain, it is no less true that 5-2-3, than 3+3=6. Whether you say, If the sun were not, it would cause darkness; or say, If the sun shine, it will cause light; the difference is only in the nature of the cause, as either positive or negative, not in the certainty of the consequence.
10. It would be very absurd and contradictory to say that the cause of vice is vicious. For that would be the same as to say, that a thing was before it existed. To be vicious is to have vice; and for this to be the cause of vice, is for it to be the cause of itself, or self-caused, which is absurd. It is therefore impossible that the cause of vice should be vicious; consequently the essence of vice is no where but in its own proper nature, to the exclusion of every cause whatever. And yet, as it is an effect, it must have a cause.
11. The principal question to be determined in this investigation is, What is precisely the original, predisposing, negative cause of a vicious disposition? The answer is plain and short; it is that property of a creature which renders it absolutety dependent for its being and well-being. Or, it is that property which is the very opposite to independence, self-sufficiency, and immutability: and therefore is a property peculiar to a creature, and cannot belong to God.
12. Nor can this be said to be an actually existing property from eternity: since it cannot belong to God, and nothing, the only alternative, has no property. It is not therefore the Manichean eternal evil principle, if by this be meant any thing actually existing, as coeval with a good principle. Good is a principle positively eternal; but what we speak of is a mere negative principle, and owes its existence as a property to a created nature; and were every creature annihilated, this property would also cease to be.
13. But what shall we call this principle, property, or predisposing cause of vice? Shall we call it defectibility, defect, limitation, or imperfection of existence? Not the first: for the question would return, What makes a creature defectible? Not the second; for the term is ambiguous, as there are several kinds of defect, natural and moral, and therefore, as the word is of common use, and of frequent occurrence, it would require perpetual explanations. Not the third, or the fourth; for the same reason. A term therefore not ambiguous, and sufficiently expressive should be employed; as we employ technical terms to express a specific object. For this purpose, no term, perhaps, is less exceptionable or more suitable than PASSIVE POWER; for it is free from ambiguity, and is sufficiently expressive of the idea already explained. The idea of passivity is clearly implied in the name, as in the thing; and the term power seems preferable to property, or quality, because less ambiguous, and yet more expressive to convey the intended idea of metaphysical influence of cause and effect.
14. To which we may add, That "passive power" is by no means a newcoined expression; but has often been used to express the very idea to which it is here applied. Thus, above a century and a half ago, that eminently pious and profoundly learned divine, THEOPHILUS GALE, in his "Court of the Gentiles," says: "The root and origin of all creatural dependence, is the creature's passive power and God's absolute doininion over it.-Now all limits as to nature and essence speak a mixture of nihility, passive power, and dependence resulting therefrom; whence DAMASCENE adds, Morove To Buy Tabs T, The deity only is impassible,' namely, because exempt from nihility, passive power, and dependence. This nihility, or nothingness of the creature, is the same with its passive power either physic or metaphysic, natural or obediental: whereby it is limited, and confined to such or such a degree of entity, existence, and operation. (Court of Gent. Part IV. b. ii. ch. xi. 4.)
15. Now that the essence of vice consisteth not in this property is plain, in that passive power is essential to a creature, which vice neither is nor can be. It is the soil in which vice grows, and without which it could not grow, or have existence, butis not itself vicious; otherwise we should be forced to seek the cause
never so good, yet if the Cause of the disposition or act be not our virtue, there is nothing virtuous or praiseworthy in it;
of that cause in perpetual retrogradation, and move from one difficulty to another into endless absurdity. The predisposing cause of vice, therefore, is passive power, which in itself is not vicious, or morally evil. But how moral evil came to exist, and what is its true origin, will be more conveniently considered in a subsequent part of this work.
16. As the essence of the virtue and vice of dispositions and acts lies not in their cause, so neither does it lie in their effects: that is, dispositions and acts are not to be denominated virtuous or vicious on account of their effects or consequences, such as their being productive of happiness or misery. For as the properties of any thing must be different from those of its cause, however similar, so must those properties differ from their effects. The immediate effect of virtue isnot happiness to the individual, for instance, but-that the agent is approvable, or praiseworthy. But were the essence of virtue to consist in its tendency to ultimate happiness," as some have affirmed, immediate approbation and praise could not be safely given to any individual act or disposition, as its relation to ultimate happiness could not be ascertained but by the final event. If the essence of the virtue or vice were not in the act or disposition, but to be denominated from its effects, many other absurdities would follow. For instance,
17. On that supposition, the supreme excellence of Jehovah would not be approvable and praiseworthy on its own account, or its intrinsic excellency, but only because of its effects and consequences. On that principle, to hate God would be nothing bad, it would have no intrinsic demerit; or to love God would be nothing good, nothing in itself praiseworthy, were it not for consequences. Which is not only absurd, but blasphemous also and shocking.
18. That sentiment is evidently founded on the supposition that every thing, property, quality and event, is the fruit of divine will; and therefore that every thing must be equally good in itself, though relatively good or bad to the individual: even as matter and motion, and their laws, are equally good in themselves, but not relatively so to the individuals who suffer from them. But this is a great mistake, as it confounds things totally distinct in their nature, such as positive and negative causes, natural necessity and moral certainty. Decretive positions and their consequences are one ground of certainty; negative causes and their consequences are another; therefore, from the certainty of result in the divine view we cannot rightly infer that all results are decreed. Decretive positions comprehend neither negative causes, nor the nature of things. For an intelligent being to love God, is agreeable to the nature of things; it is what ought to be independent of any decretive position or legal demand in reference to the case. In like manner, for an intelligent being to hate God, is a voluntary contradiction to the nature of things-or the essence of eternal truth, which is above all will, or is not founded in will—as well as to constituted law. Again,
19. To deny the "intrinsic merit and demerit of voluntary actions independent on their consequences," as some do, is to deny the nature of things; and this is nothing less than an attempt to divide eternal unity, to give the lie direct to essential truth, and to convert the first uncaused essence into contradictory contingencies. The nature of things is nothing else, radically, but the nature of God, which is essential truth as well as essential goodness. Decretive positions, or an arbitrary constitution of these things by divine will, therefore can no more alter the intrinsic merit or demerit of actions, affections, habits, or characters, than divine will can alter the character of essential truth, or choose real contradictions. Moreover,
20. Ultimate happiness is the effect or consequence of virtue as a reward. Now to make the merit or excellence of virtue to depend on ultimate happiness, while happiness is the reward of virtue, is most inconsistent; it is to reward for nothing rewardable. If virtue be not of intrinsic worth, it must be a mere moral nothing as to rewardableness, and therefore ultimate happiness would be a reward for a mere moral nothing; that is, happiness would be no reward, which is contradictory.
BELSHAM'S Elements, p. 309.
and, on the contrary, if the will, in its inclinations or acts, be never so bad, yet, unless it arises from something that is our vice or fault, there is nothing vicious or blameworthy in it. Hence their grand objection and pretended demonstration, or self-evidence, against any virtue or commendableness, or vice and blame-worthiness, of those habits or acts of the will, which are not from some virtuous or vicious determination of the will itself.
Now, if this matter be well considered, it will appear to be altogether a mistake, yea, a gross absurdity; and that it is most certain, that if there be any such thing as a virtuous or vicious disposition, or volition of mind, the virtuousness or viciousness of them consists not in the Origin or Cause of these things, but in the Nature of them.
If the Essence of virtuousness or commendableness, and of viciousness or fault, does not lie in the Nature of the dispo sitions or acts of mind, which are said to be our virtue or our fault, but in their Cause, then it is certain it lies no where at all. Thus, for instance, if the vice of a vicious act of will, lies not in the Nature of the act, but the Cause; so that its being of a bad Nature will not make it at all our fault, unless it arises from some faulty determination of ours as its Cause, or something in us that is our fault; then, for the same reason, neither can the viciousness of that Cause lie in the Nature of the thing itself, but in its Cause: that evil determination of ours is not our fault, merely because it is of a bad Nature, unless it arises. from some Cause in us that is our fault. And when we are come to this higher Cause, still the reason of the thing holds good; though this Cause be of a bad Nature, yet we are not at all to blame on that account, unless it arises from something faulty in us. Nor yet can blameworthiness lie in the Nature of this Cause, but in the Cause of that. And thus we must drive faultiness back from step to step, from a lower Cause to a higher, in infinitum: and that is thoroughly to banish it from the
21. As to vice, its consequence is punishment. If indeed this consequence were the mere effect of arbitrary positions, or sovereign appointment; if it were the plan of God first to cause the existence of vice, and then to punish the subject of it, as what the good of the whole required, there would be great plausibility in the sentiment we oppose. But the assumption itself is fundamentally erroneous. It confounds hypothetical antecedents, as the whole of decretive plans may be termed, with that eternal truth which connects them with their consequences. To suppose the hatred of God, for instance, to have no intrinsic demerit in it, or that it is bad only as dependent on its consequences; is the same as to say, it is agreeable to the nature of things, conformable to eternal truth, that God should be hated, and therefore that he must approve of it-only to the agent it is attended with bad consequences. That is, on the supposition, God has appointed misery as the consequent, for doing nothing that is in itself bad; yea for doing what is perfectly innocent, agreeable to the nature of things, conformable to eternal truth, and acceptable to God, as every thing which he appoints must be. Whether such a sentiment be nearest a-kin to "profound philosophy," or to something else, let the competent reader judge.-W.