Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

innocent; and on the other, are made to share in the honours and rewards conferred on their parents, for virtues, to which the children contributed nothing.

Since then, by the appointment of men, so many evils befal the innocent, and so many benefits come to the undeserving, on account of actions performed by others, in which they had not the least concern, why should it be thought inconsistent with the justice and goodnes of God, as moral governor of the world, to have subjected Adam's posterity to sin and death on account of his offence, notwithstanding they were in no respect accessary thereto? And having subjected them to these evils, it certainly must appear both proper and just, that he should have provided a remedy for them by the obedience of his Son, although the persons, benefited by it, contributed nothing to his obedience. Wherefore, the account which revelation hath given of the introduction of sin and misery into the world, and of the method in which these evils are remedied, cannot be found fault with, although in either case, no regard was had to the personal demerit of the individuals affected thereby : But in both, God acted agreeably to the sovereignty of his own will.

To prevent any mistake, however, on this head, let it be observed, that from what hath been advanced, it by no means follows, that mankind are not to be rewarded or punished according to the nature of their own deeds. For, as B. Butler hath observed, Analogy, part ii. chap. 5. sect. 7. “ The world's “ being under the righteous government of God, does indeed « imply, that finally and upon the whole, every one shall re“ ceive according to his personal deserts : And the general “ doctrine of the whole scripture is, That this shall be the com“ pletion of the divine government. But during the progress, " and, for ought we know, even in order to the completion of “ this moral scheme, vicarious punishments may be fit and ab“ solutely necessary.” And if so, vicarious rewards may also be necessary for the same end.

Secondly, To the foregoing vindication of the account given in revelation of the ruin and recovery of the human species, it may be objected, that the evils, which, according to the present constitution of things, are brought on the innocent by the vices of the guilty, and the benefits which the undeserving receive through the good deeds of the virtuous, are things merely accidental, owing to the natural relations by which mankind are connected : Consequently, that no argument can be drawn from

tance, in

such a constitution, to prove that it was consistent with the justice and goodness of God, to subject Christ, an innocent person, to sufferings and death, for the sake either of saving the guilty from the penal consequences of their transgressions, or of bestowing favours on the undeserving True. Such an argument does not follow from that part of the constitution of things just now explained : But it follows from another part of the same constitution, equally original and equally evident. For to use Butler's words, immediately following those already quoted : “ Men by their follies run themselves into extreme distress, “ into difficulties which would be absolutely fatal to them, were « it not for the interposition and assistance of others. God com“ mands by the law of nature, that we afford them this assis

many cases where we cannot do it without very great pains and labour and sufferings to ourselves. And we see in “ what variety of ways, one person's sufferings contribute to « the relief of another; and how or by what particular means, “ this comes to pass or follows from the constitution and laws 6 of nature, which come under our notice : and being fami“ liarized to it, men are not shocked with it." For example, many, by their vices and follies, bring on themselves diseases, and a variety of accidents, which would often prove fatal to them, were it not for the timely assistance afforded to them by others, who, in lending them that assistance, sometimes expose themselves to great dangers, and sometimes subject themselves to long and painful sufferings. Having, therefore, in the present constitution of things, instances of innocent persons suffering voluntarily, by the express appointment of God, extreme evils, for the sake of alleviating or removing the temporal penal consequences of the sins of others, it cannot be thought inconsistent with the justice and goodness of God, in his original plan of the government of our world, to have provided that the eternal penal consequences, which he hath connected with sin, shall not in every case and to every person, inevitably follow their transgression : and even that this deliverance should be accomplished by a person, different from the sinner himself, who, for a purpose so benevolent, voluntarily exposed himself to the greatest sufferings for a time. To object against this appointment, is in reality to object against God's original constitution of nature, and against the daily course of his providence in the government of the world. For, as the before mentioned excellent author hath observed, Anal. part ii. ch. 5. sect. 7. “ The « world is a constitution or system, whose parts have a mutual 6 reference to each other: And there is a scheme of things grau dually carrying on, called the course of nature, to the carrying 6 on of which, God has appointed us, in various ways, to contri6 bute. And when in the daily course of natural providence, « it is appointed that innocent people should suffer for the faults « of the guilty, this is liable to the very same objection as the “ instance we are now considering. The infinitely greater im“portance of that appointment of Christianity which is objected “ against, does not hinder but it may be, as it plainly is, an appoint6 ment of the very same kind, with what the world affords us “ daily examples of. Nay, if there were any force at all in the 6 objection, it would be stronger, in one respect, against natural “providence, than against Christianity. Because, under the “ former, we are in many cases commanded, and even necessi. 6 tated, whether we will or no, to suffer for the faults of others. “ Whereas the sufferings of Christ were voluntary."

Thirdly, To the efficacy of the sufferings and death of Christ in preventing the future penal consequences of sin, it hath been objected, That we do not understand how they can have any such efficacy. True; we do not understand this, because revelation hath only discovered to us the fact, without explaining the manner in which it is brought to pass. Nevertheless from the silence of scripture, and from our ignorance of the manner in which Christ's sufferings and death operate, in preventing the future penal consequences of sin, it doth not follow, that his sufferings and death have that efficacy by an arbitrary and tyrannical appointment. They may have it in the way of natural consequence. For, to use B. Butler's words, Anal. part ii. c. 5. sect. 7. “ What “ has been often alleged in justification of this doctrine, even “ from the apparent natural tendency of this method of our re“ demption ; its tendency to vindicate the authority of God's “ laws, and deter his creatures from sin; this has never yet been “ answered, and is, I think, plainly unanswerable; though I am “ far from thinking it an account of the whole of the case. But, “ without taking this into consideration, it abundantly appears “ from the observations above made, that this objection, is not “ an objection against Christianity, but against the whole gene

ral constitution of nature. And if it were to be considered “ as an objection against Christianity, or considering it as it is, “ an objection against the constitution of nature; it amounts to “ no more in conclusion than this, That a divine appointment “ cannot be necessary or expedient, because the Objector does “ not discern it to be so: though he must own that the nature “ of the case is such, as renders him incapable of judging whe“ther it be so or not, or of seeing it to be necessary, though it “ were so.”-Farther, as the same excellent reasoner observes in the same page, “ Though it is highly right, and the most “ pious exercise of our understanding, to inquire with due re“ verence into the ends and reasons of God's dispensations : 6 Yet when those reasons are concealed, to argue from our ig

norance, That such dispensations cannot be from God, is infi“ nitely absurd. The presumption of this kind of objections, s seems almost lost in the folly of them: And the folly of them “ is yet greater, when they are urged, as they usually are, “ against things in Christianity, analogous or like to those natu"" ral dispensations of providence, which are matter of experi

cnce. Let reason be kept to, and if any part of the scripture “ account of the redemption of the world by Christ, can be “shewn to be really contrary to it, let the scripture, in the # name of God, be given up. But let not such poor creatures

as we, go on in objecting against an infinite scheme, that we “ do not see the necessity or usefulness of all its parts, and call “ this reasoning."

Fourthly, To the efficacy of the sufferings and death of Christ in preventing the future penal consequences of sin, it hath been objected, that it is unnecessary; because sinners being rendered capable of pardon by repentance, God, whose goodness is infinite, will pardon them without any atonement: that is, he will in consequence of the sinner's repentance, prevent the future penal consequences of his sins from befalling him. But, before an objection of this kind is urged, the objector ought to know, whether there are any reasons, which make the punishment of sin necessary under the moral government of God. And if there are such reasons, whether they may be dispensed with in .every case where repentance takes place. And what effect the dispensing with these reasons, and the pardoning of the sinner - simply on his repentance, would have on the other subjects of God. To the determining of these questions, such a knowledge -of the whole plan of God's moral government, and of the relation of its various parts to each other, and of the purposes for which, and the means by which he carries on his government, is necessary, as doth not fall within the comprehension of human reason. In such a state of ignorance, for any onc to determine, in opposition to the scheme of salvation made known in revelation, that God may, and will pardon sinners simply on their repentance, seems not a little presumptuous.

Were we to judge of this matter by what happens in the present life, we should be led to believe, that repentance will not, by itself, prevent the penal consequences of sin in the life to come. For when men ruin their fortunes by extravagance, or their health by excess in sensual indulgencies, it is well known, that repentance alone doth not remove these evil consequences. of their follies and excesses. In like manner, when individuals incur the penalties of human laws, no wise governor finds it either reasonable in itself, or expedient for the good of the community, to free the criminal from the punishment which the wholesome laws of the state have annexed to such crimes, merely because he hath repented of them. The punishment of criminals is necessary to deter others from committing the like offences. Wherefore, if in the present life, repentance is never found of itself to remove the temporal evil consequences, which God hath connected with vice; also if, men themselves being judges, repentance ought not to prevent the punishment of crimes injurious to society, what reason hath any person, from the present constitution of things, to expect that repentance of itself will prevent those penal consequences which God may have thought fit to annex to vice in the life to come ? Much more, what reason hath any one, from the present constitution of things, to expect that repentance and reformation will put the sinner into the condition he would have been in, if he had always preserved his innocence? The prevalence of propitiatory sacrifices in every age and country of the world, certainly sheweth it to be the general sense of mankind, that repentance is not of itself sufficient to procure the pardon of sin; but that something besides is necessary to induce the Deity to be propitious, even to the penitent sinner.

I acknowledge, indeed, that the prevention of the bad consequences of vice, and the removal of these consequences when they happen, which in the present constitution of things, sometimes takes place through the timely assistance of others, affords a presumption, that the connection between sin and punishment is not so rigid, but that in certain cases it may be broken. This presumption, however, goeth o farther than to afford a slight hope, that punishment, even in the life to come, may possibly be avoided through some foreign assistance. But

« AnteriorContinuar »