Imatges de pÓgina
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THE most difficult question in metaphysics is, whether man is a necessary agent; that is, whether all his thoughts and actions are of necessity what they are, being parts of a chain, not one link of which he can break. This question has in all ages perplexed the human understanding, and it is probably one, which man cannot answer; for the wisest and most learned philosophers, who have written on it, have not been able to render it clear, or to remove the principal difficulties and contradictions, in which it is involved. When, by their aid, we have pushed our inquiries as far as possible into the subject, and have been both puzzled and vexed with the doctrine, we are obliged at last to stop, with the conviction that the mind of man is dark, and his faculties extremely limited; that we know very little, and that we see objects, only as they are reflected from an obscure mirror. The doctrine of necessity not only transcends the human understanding; but some suppose that it is above the comprehension of any finite being. This is the bold thought of Milton, who introduces the devils as tormenting their souls with this abstruse inquiry:

Others apart sat on a hill retired,

In thoughts more elevate, and reasoned high
Of providence, foreknowledge, will, and fate,
Fix'd fate, free-will, foreknowledge absolute,
And found no end, in wandering mazes lost.
No. 1. Vol. III.


Those who, notwithstanding the opinion of Milton, still think it possible to obtain clear ideas on the subject, I would refer to the works of Edwards, Hartley, Priestley, and Crombie, on the side of necessity; and of Butler, Clarke, Reid, and Price, on the side of freedom. It is not my intention to enter deeply into the question, or to undertake to decide a controversy, which has puzzled, not only the princes of philosophy, but the princes of Pandæmonium. All that I purpose to do in this essay is, to make a few observations, which must be allowed to be true, whatever becomes of the question of necessity, and which are designed to guard against the abuses, which are frequently made of the doctrine.

In the first place, those, who plead for the doctrine of necessity, mean by it, not natural, but moral, necessity. This distinction is readily understood; and it is made by the best writers on the subject. Men are not confined in chains, nor restrained by bolts and bars; but they are controlled by motives only. They have power to do what they will; but what is under the dominion of necessity is the will itself.

Secondly, if the will of man is not free, or if man himself is not free, it is because freedom is absolutely impossible in the nature of things; it is because a free being cannot be created by Omnipotence itself. The arguments for necessity impel us to this conclusion. We admit them, if we admit them at all, for the same reason that we allow, that not even divine power can make two and two equal to five, or cause a circle continuing a circle to become a square. On the other hand, if the freedom of the will is a possibility, then man possesses, and has always possessed it. None of the reasoning, which is employed in this question, tends to demonstrate, that man was once free, but that he has been deprived of his freedom. The doctrine is not connected with that of original sin; but to prove that man comes into the world a depraved being, if it can be proved, recourse must be had to other arguments, and not to necessity. In a word, the main argument for necessity would be exactly the same, if there was no such effect as sin in the universe.

'Thirdly, if man is not a free agent, the same arguments,

which establish this point, go very far in demonstrating, that the Supreme Being is a necessary agent. For if the human mind is not free, because it is governed by motives, can any other mind be free, if it is influenced by similar causes? To destroy the force of this reasoning, shall we say, that the wisest of beings acts without motives? This I This I presume no person of reflection and piety can for a moment suppose. The conclusion therefore is unavoidable, that there is no freedom on earth, and none in heaven. This daring proposition is maintained by Cooper, and several other necessarians; and it must be confessed that, in this respect, they have the merit of consistency.

Fourthly, the doctrine of necessity, whether true or not, is not taught in the sacred scriptures. Without entering into any metaphysical disquisitions, they take it for granted, and frequently assert in plain terms, that man is a free agent. The scriptures, it is true, maintain the providence and foreknowledge of God; and from these truths metaphysical divines have inferred the doctrine of necessity: but as the scriptures themselves do not make the inference, the argument stands on the same ground, as those which are derived from the reason and nature of things. There are, it is confessed, several obscurities and difficulties in the subject; but as one doctrine is not more clearly and positively asserted than the other, we must endeavour to reconcile them together as well as we can; remembering always, that we have no more right to give up the doctrine of free agency, because it appears inconsistent with the providence and foreknowledge of God, than we have to give up the providence and foreknowledge of God, because they appear inconsistent with the doctrine of free agency.

Fifthly, necessity, if the doctrine is true, must extend to every thing; not only to actions, but to motives; not only to consequences, but to causes: every link of the chain must be indissoluble. There cannot be but one agent in the universe: God must be the author of every thing which exists, of evil, as well as good, of sin, as well as holiness. The timid necessarian startles at these conclusions. As he allows, that God hates nothing which he has made, he is afraid to say, that God is the author of moral evil, lest he should be found to assert,

that God does not hate sin. But this consequence, whether absurd or not, whether pernicious or harmless, is justly chargeable to the doctrine of necessity. It is boldly admitted by the consistent necessarian; and he endeavours to divest it of its horrors, by maintaining that the moral evil, which exists in the universe, is absolutely necessary to the production of good, and is created for the sake of displaying the boundless majesty of the eternal God.

Sixthly, if necessity extends to every effect, it must be so complete, that it is the same thing to us, as if it did not exist. One part of our nature being moved by external power, as well as another, the appearance is exactly the same, as if there was no motion whatever. The globe, which we inhabit, is impelled round the sun; but as we and all the objects on it revolve with it, it seems to us to be at rest: so our minds may be impelled; but as every thing within us and around us is subject to the same law, the impulse is not felt. This I say on the supposition, that the doctrine of necessity is true: but if, on the other hand, the doctrine of freedom is a truth, that also must be complete; it must extend to all the motions, which are called voluntary. Man must possess the same freedom in religion, as in the common actions of life; and as no person of a sound mind suffers the doctrine of necessity to influence him in his temporal concerns, he ought not to suffer it to have any influence in the great business of piety and virtue.

Lastly, we are conscious that we are free; we feel exactly as we should feel, if the doctrine of necessity was false. For every practical purpose therefore it must be false to us. When we are virtuous, necessity does not prevent us from enjoying self approbation. On the other hand, when we do wrong, necessity does not disarm remorse of its sting: conscience still retains its dominion; it whispers peace to our souls, or sounds in our ears the alarm of death and misery. Thus it is in this world; and will it not be so in the other? Will it be of any bar of God; but if

avail to plead the doctrine of necessity at the

we have done good, shall we not be rewarded; if we have done evil, shall we not be punished?

It may be concluded from the observations, which have

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