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AN ESSAY, WRITTEN UPON
LIBERTY AND NECESSITY,
BY AN ANONYMOUS AUTHOR.
The writer of this Essay on Liberty and Necessity, maintains, that in every passible situation in which a human or thinking being can be placed, bis volitions must be determinate and certain ; that the volitions of all mankind are so; and, finally, that as every event comes to pass in consequence of causes previously existing, “ the whole series of events is under the influence of an absolute and uncontrolable necessity." If this be true, free agency is not only, not existent in man, or angel, but has no existence at all, not even in God himself, If "every event,” yea, “ the whole series of events" from first to last, is “ under the influence of an absolute and uncontrolable necessity," then God neither now can, nor eder could interfere, control, or order any, even the minutest circumstance or thing, any otherwise than just as every thing has been, and is,
If in “every possible situation, in which a human or thinking being can be placed, his volitions must be determinate and certain," and absolutely governed by this "uncontrolable necessity;" then it never was, from all eternity, possible for God to place a “human or thinking being," in any " possible situation" in which that being could have acted any otherwise than it has acted and does act. For if this "uncontrolable necessity" comprehends, and has absolute influence over “ the whole series of events," God could not possibly have placed any being whatever, in any “possible situation,” but precisely in that, in which he has placed it. And if so, it follows, that there does not exist, and that there never bas existed, such a thing, power, or faculty, as free agency, not even in God; unless he acts as a free agent in producing a concatenation of events, every particular, and the whole series" whereof, are under the absolute influence of "uncontrolable necessity”-a necessity which he has never been able, in a single instance, nor in the smallest circumstance, to violate, supersede, or control; but, a necessity by which all his actions and proceedings are, and ever have been absolutely bound, limited, and controled. If in the most trivial circumstance or event, God could have ordered it otherwise than it is, or has been, in fact, then, " the whole series of events,” has not been under the absolute influence of this “ uncontrolable necessity.” If he could have placed any thinking being, either human or angelic, in any other “possible situation,” than that in which it has been placed, then this supposed universal and "uncontrolable necessity" has not existed.
After arguing for some time, upon the divine prescience, the author concludes his essay thus : “ If the absolute foreknowledge of God is admitted, every one must see, that contingency is excluded, and consequently, the whole fabric reared upon the shallow and visionary basis of man's free agency, must instantly dissolve, "and, like an unsubstantial pageant faded, leave not a wreck behind."
But did he not perceive that this doctrine tends as much to the total wreck or min, or to the proof of the non-existence of God's free agency, as of man's ? If free agency in man, or a power to act differently from what he does act, is inconsistent with the divine prescience, surely free agency in God, or a power in him, to act differently in any respect from what he does, is just as inconsistent with his foreknowledge. And is it not truly mournful, that poor, purblind man, who sees and knows but in part, should take upon himself to determine that God's foreknowledge is such as prevents all choice, interposition, or power of control, in the Most High? Shall a mole in the dust, presume he secs and knows so clearly, as that he can determine exactly how God sees and knows? Or shall the mole, because he cannot see how God can foresee future contingencies, make himself the standard of all penetration, and determine magisterially that God cannot possibly foresee them; and that therefore, contingency is, and has been, an eternal impossibility; that even Omnipotence itself could not possibly have rendered the minutest event contingent? What a God does this make of bim! Why, a God bound down by the eternal chains, and indissoluble fetters of an uncontrolable necessity!!--A God who never knew any liberty, but that of unavoidable necessity !--A God whose very wisdom and omniscience render him a slave to fate; and who, because he knows all things, must for that very reason, be limited both in thought and act, to the exact prescriptions of all-controling necessity, and never allowed to possess or exert, from everlasting to everlasting, the least degree of real free agency, lest it should introduce
ontingency, and destroy his own foreknowledge! I should rather incline to think a creature of man's small size, low stature, and scant modicum of knowledge, ought to bow low in humble reverence before his Creator, and not presume that because he (worm of the dust) cannot certainly foresee an event that is contingent, nor, indeed, how it can be foreseen, that therefore there exists not, in “the unlimited expanse of infinite ability," any possible way or manner of foreknowing events, unless at one dash, all possibility of contingency is renounced, and God himself reduced to the rules, measures, and limitations of an omnipotent and all-controling necessity.
How knowest thou, O man, the precise standard of omniscience? Canst thou infallibly determine that he, who is unlimited in knowledge, cannot know what a free agent will do, acting altogether freely, because thou canst not know it? Whom makest thou thyself? Hast thou never considered that it is a much greater mark of infinite wisdom and knowledge, to be able to know certainly what a being chosing freely, will choose to do; than only to know wbat one will choose, who cannot possibly choose other than the thing unavoidably imposed upon him by absolute necessity ? And wilt thou deny this kind of knowledge to him whom thou acknowledgest omniscient? But why deny it to him? Is it to reduce his knowledge to the standard of thy own? or to raise thine own, to absolute omniscience? If thou art omniscient, thou mayst determine whether God can or cannot foreknow contingent events. But, until thou art omniscient, I maintain it, thou canst not pronounce with any degree of certainty against God's absolute prescience, in regard to events that are actually contingent; much less hast thou any right to deny the existence or possibility of contingency. For though to thee, poor frail (yet too wise) man, it may seem impossible, yet it may be possible with God; and, if possible, then not inconsistent with free agency, nor free agency with foreknowledge. But if it could be granted, that both free agency and contingency were really inconsistent with prescience, and that therefore, and for other reasons, an universal and uncontrolable necessity governs the whole series of events" in sucb wise that no agency of God or man, can alter the least circumstance; how can this doctrine be freed from the imputation of a tendency, and a very strong one too, to produce downright atheism? Is it easier to believe in such a God, acting all he does under the influence of an uncontrolable necessity, under this necessity constraining men to acts of desperation, violence, and murder, and under the influence of the same absolute necessity punishing them severely for so doing, than with the atheist to conclude " there is no God"--all things jumble on by chance, nor wisdom nor direction is seen or known at all. For my part, I can see little difference, between all things being left to chance, or their being left to absolute necessity; except that the necessitarian represents the God whom he calls all-wise, and infinite in goodness and in power, as exerting his omnipotence in producing creatures, and inflicting sore pains and punishments upon them, as the just reward and desert of their criminal actions, for things which it was absolutely and eternally impossible for them to avoid the commission
This is the necessary result of the doctrine of necessity. A result which the atheist is clear of, and perhaps would shudder at, and view with abhorrence. But, once more, let us suppose for a moment, that this doctrine wére truth. Then it follows by irresistible necessity, I am constrained to disbelieve the truth, and write against it. It follows, that "uncontrolable necessity," or God by uncontrolable necessity, makes and obliges men to think, speak, and write, diametrically contrary one to another; to be angry and outrageous with one another for not thinking exactly as themselves do; to burn, torture, and behead one another, for thinking, writing, and worshipping, as God, or necessity,constrains them to do,--and then punishes these murderers for tormenting and destroying their fellows for doing God's will.
At this rate God or necessity obliges one to believe in transubstantiation, and another to disbelieve it, each to be angry with, and one to crucify the other, for not believing contrary to what he is constrained to believe: and then it seems God justly punishes the murderer, for his zeal for that very notion, which God himself obliged him to believe essential to salvation; justly punishes him for feeling just so much zeal, and acting just so far in the heat of it, as himself constrained him to, by the presentation of irresistible motives to his mind! How a man, whose doctrine unavoidably involves all this, can consistently maintain the ercellency of virtue, and the turpitude of vice, as this writer pretends to do, there are no instruments in my understanding fine enough to perceive, or take hold of. I must be allowed to *think, nay, uncontrolable necessity obliges me to think, every action of life must be equally innocent, holy, and acceptable to God, which proceeds from an equal influence of his own power, and equal submission to it. If I lift the dagger to my brother's heart, in all the frenzy of malice, rage, or revenge, by direction and control of God's will, or of an unavoidable necessity, which is agreeable to his will,- I maintain it, and maintain it in his presence, that I cannot help thinking, I am as worthy his blessing and favour therefor, as I can possibly be for any thing else which he can possibly make me do. And if he will punish me for this, and reward me for an action which he, or a man calls "virtuous, he acts either altogether capriciously, and rewards and punishes without any reason and justice, that is at all comprehensible by man, or merely because he cannot avoid doing it.
If this is the God of the rational Christian; if such is the character of the most high, most holy, perfectly benevolent, and all-wise God; then let poor subjugated, distressed, necessitated, and sighing man, drop a tear over his own calamitous, and inexpressibly deplorable situation ; and, yielding to his hard and dismal fate, either “curse God and die," or else calmly say, Well,