« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
of retribution, God is not a God of perfect justice. But God is a God of perfect justice. Therefore there is a future state of retribution. Here a future state of retribution is demonstrated through the medium of God's perfect justice : but, unfortunately, the deist has to demonstrate God's perfect justice itself also. What then is to be done in this emergency? Invert the terms of the syllogism, or, in other words, reason in a circle; and the busiwill be accomplished. If there be no future state of retribution, then God is not a God of perfect justice. But there is a future state of retribution. Therefore God is a God of perfect justice. Here God's perfect justice is demonstrated through the medium of a future state of retribution.
2. The deist alike and the Christian, I believe, further maintain, that God is a God of mercy no less than a God of justice. But how, upon his own principles, can the deist vindicate his belief?
If he beheld a fellow-mortal, racking and torturing another fellow-mortal by every refinement of the most ingenious cruelty; not forthwith bringing his misery to a termination, but industriously prolonging it through days and through weeks and through months and through years : he would certainly, without hesitation, pronounce the disposition of that man to be strongly and indisputably characterized by cruelty. Now he need not cast his eyes very far abroad, in order to behold precisely the same deeds performed by God :
and that too, not once merely and as it were accidentally, but repeatedly and perpetually. Let him consider the case of a man, labouring for years under the torment of the stone, or gradually devoured by a cancer, or wasting away inch by inch under the baleful influence of the scrophula. The bitter sufferings of such a man are plainly both caused and prolonged by the immediate hand of God. Did it suit his good pleasure, he might either have never caused them at all, or he might bring them to a speedy termination through the agency of death, or he might grant instantaneous relief to the sufferer. Not one of these, however, is the line of conduct, which he thinks fit to adopt. On the contrary, he places a miserable being upon the rack, and there he retains him. It is true indeed, that bodily sufferings inflicted by the hand of God and bodily sufferings inflicted by the hand of man do not with equal force strike upon our imagination : because, on the scaffold, we actually behold the executioner straining and tearing the sinews of his victim; while, in the chamber of languishing pain and sickness, the mysterious Being, who inflicts the torment, is to mortal eyes invisible. But the agent of misery is not more real, because he is seen; neither is he less real, because he is unseen. Many men have been found, who appear to delight both in the infliction and in the view of the most horrid corporeal sufferings : these the deist pronounces to be palpably merciless. The Supreme Being perpetually condemns his creatures to bodily torment, no less severe and much more prolonged than any tortures of human invention : him the deist pronounces to be doubtless a God of mercy. Now why does he come to two such directly opposite conclusions from the very same premises ? Upon his own principles, he can know nothing of the moral attributes of God, save what he can collect from the divine operations. Why then does he call him a God of mercy, when yet he is observed to perform the identical actions which procure for a human being the undisputed character of the most revolting cruelty ?
Probably the deist may reply, that the cruelty of an action depends upon its intent: for the very same deed, which under some circumstances is horribly cruel, under other circumstances will present an aspect wholly the reverse. Thus the tyrant, who delights wantonly to torture his victims and to feast upon their groans, we denominate cruel : but the skilful practitioner, who inflicts even the most acute pain upon a diseased patient, we respect as a man both of science and humanity. On this principle, we are not to suppose that God sends bodily suffering upon his creatures because he has any abstract delight in their misery: but he sends it, as a powerful instrument of moral discipline, to reclaim them from error and to draw them more closely to himself.
Such an answer (and, I think, we may safely assert it to be the only possible answer to the present difficulty) is perfectly valid and conclusive in the mouth of a Christian *: but it is not quite so easy to conceive the propriety of its appearance in the mouth of a deist, who systematically discards revelation.
If the life of man be confined to his present state of existence, we may well doubt the moral utility of a protracted and painful sickness which terminates only with the death of the subject. We may readily indeed comprehend the beneficial effects of such a malady, provided it occurs in youth or in middle age, and provided the sufferer be finally restored to sound health: but we shall not very readily comprehend them, if the malady end only with death, and if death be followed by annihilation. Allow a future state : and then, no doubt, every difficulty will vanish: for pain and sickness will then appear under their proper aspect of a merciful moral discipline, by which the aspirant is weaned from this world and gradually fitted for the glories of a better world; just as, analogically, boys are fitted, by the severe and irksome discipline of school, honourably to play their parts in the future state of manhood. But I see not, how a deist can consistently avail himself of this solution. Before he can be allowed to argue from a future state of retribution, he must prove its existence.
* Heb. xï. 5–11. The same answer, when given by a Christian, is perfectly conclusive also in regard to the absolute justice of God both in this world and in the next, as discussed under the last head : for, when the doctrine of moral discipline is introduced (a doctrine, taught explicitly in Scripture, but incapable of any legitimate proof on deistical principles); we readily perceive, that the trials of the good, and the prosperity of the bad, during the present state of things, are no impeachment of the divine justice.
But its existence he never can prove upon his principles. For he will encounter precisely the same difficulty in vindicating the mercy of God, as he encountered in vindicating his justice. He cannot demonstrate the mercy of God, save through the medium of a future state of retribution: and he cannot prove the existence of a future state of retribution, save by the vicious and inconclusive expedient of reasoning in a circle; that is to say, by alternately demonstrating a future retributory state from the moral attributes of God and the moral attributes of God from a future retributory state.
3. The deist, again, and the Christian equally maintain, that God is a God of goodness : but still, as before, the arguments of the deist will be found, I fear, to labour.
In the prosecution of this topic, he may indeed expatiate largely upon the beneficence so conspicuous in the works of the creation, and he may urge that moral arrangement by which virtue is its own best reward : but we may doubt, whether, with his scanty materials, he can effect more than the probability that God is a being of