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He will be quite sure, that God is a very powerful being; because, otherwise, he plainly could not be the creator and governor of the universe: and he will perhaps guess that he is omnipotent, though he may find it difficult absolutely to prove that point. He will also not unreasonably infer, that God must be eternal: for, unless he be eternal retrospectively, his existence will have commenced without a cause; and, unless he be eternal prospectively, his existence must needs cease through the instrumentality of some cause brought by himself into being and therefore weaker than himself, which is a palpable contradiction. But in the present enigmatical state of the world, enigmatical to all who reject revelation, how will the deist establish, what I presume he holds, the moral attributes of the Divinity?
1. The deist and the Christian, unless I wholly mistake, alike contend, that God is a God of perfect justice. Here the Christian, taking his stand upon revelation, feels himself to be planted upon sure ground: but how does the deist make good this position?
If we look around us into the world, we shall find nothing more proverbially common than the triumph of successful worthlessness and the depression of unsuccessful worthiness. The worst of mankind perpetually enjoy the largest share of the good things of life, while they seem to receive them as if for the sole purpose of abusing them and the best of mankind are often destitute even of bare necessaries, though they of all others would plainly make the best use of riches. Nor yet is this the whole that may be remarked in the perplexing world which we inhabit. If there be any such thing as the moral sense, and if we can form any clear idea of an impartial moral governor, we must be compelled to anticipate a priori, that rewards will uniformly follow virtue, and that punishment will uniformly follow vice. But, if we look out into the world, no arrangement of this description
actually takes place. The whole is one mass of inextricable confusion. Bodily pain and sickness, bodily comfort and health, are indifferently distributed with little or no regard to moral character. Some vices, it is true, are apt to bring after them their own punishment: but this is by no means the case invariably. So far from it, in very many instances, the vicious are almost wholly free from pain and sickness, while the virtuous never know what it is to be exempt from them. Now, if God be a God of perfect justice, how will the deist account for these notorious facts? He may say, indeed, that worldly prosperity and adversity, depending as they do in a good measure upon the exertions either of men themselves or of their ancestors, cannot be described as so directly proceeding from the Deity, and therefore cannot be alleged as so directly affecting our estimate of his justice. But this solution will by no means hold good in the case of pain and sickness and (what are styled) casualties, together with the opposites of each: because they are wholly out of the reach of man, and depend altogether upon the will of God the moral governor of the universe. How then does the deist reconcile such a dispo sition of things with God's attribute of perfect justice ? Or rather, to put the question in a more correct form, by what process of reasoning does he prove, that the attribute of perfect justice belongs to God?
Can he prove the point by any thing which passes under his eyes in this present world? I think not: for it is obvious, that the mere occasional good health and prosperity of the virtuous, and the mere occasional sickness and adversity of the vicious, will be very far from proving that God is a perfectly just being. To bring out the result of perfect justice, their proper moral consequences, in the way of reward and punishment, ought uniformly to follow virtue and vice. But, that such is actually the case in the present constitution of things, no one will pretend to assert.
Therefore it is but lost labour for the deist to attempt to demonstrate the perfect justice of God from the present constitution of the world.
Will he seek then to prove the point, by calling in a future state of retribution, when all the moral irregularities of this world, for whatever cause permitted by its governor, will be rectified and compensated?
With respect to such a solution, when propounded on deistical principles, it lies open to two very palpable objections.
In the first place, if we concede to the deist that God will administer a future world with perfect justice, this circumstance will not do away the previous circumstance, that (on deistical principles) he has confessedly administered this present world with injustice. Would the deist prove that the attribute of perfect justice belongs to God, he must establish his justice not only in the next world but in this present world also. Yet, by the very turn of the argument, he quite gives the matter up, so far as this present world is concerned. Therefore, allowing his premises, we must still contend, that he has wholly failed of establishing the perfect justice God.
But, in the second place, we cannot allow to the deist, on his principles, the validity of his premises. His premises are the existence of a future state of retribution. But how does the deist establish these premises themselves without the aid of revelation? How does he know, that there is a future state of retribution ? Before he can be allowed to argue from it, he must prove its existence. How then does he prove, that any such state exists at all? On his principles, it is clearly incapable of proof: unless we admit the circulating syllogism to be sound reasoning. The deist may indeed prove a future state of retribution from the perfect justice of God: but then he cannot be allowed also to prove the perfect justice of God from a future state of retribution. What he is at present called upon
to demonstrate is the perfect justice of God. But this he can only do through the medium of a future state of retribution. And it is utterly impossible for him to demonstrate a future state of retribution except through the medium of the perfect justice of God. Therefore he is quite unable to prove, that God is a perfectly just being. He may indeed choose to assert the perfect justice of God: but, in his case, it is bare assertion and nothing else. His reasoning, in short, when thrown into a scholastic form, will run as follows: Unless there be a future state 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 business will 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