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ON HUMAN FREE WILL.
HAVING discussed these questions as far as it seemed necessary to our purpose, we now come to offer a few remarks on the doctrine of what has been termed the freedom of the will. We shall not stop here to discuss the propriety or impropriety of the terms, freedom of the will, free will, &c. it being sufficiently manifest that they involve an absurdity; because, whether right or wrong, our inquiry would gain nothing by doing so. In considering this question, then, we shall proceed rather with reference to things than to words: because it is from these alone that any good conclusion can be expected.
The first question, then, will be: Is the human mind perfectly at liberty to think and determine, without reference to any other consideration, or is it only partially so? My answer is: I know of no absolute restraint placed on the operations of the human mind: neither Scripture, reason, nor experience, speaks of any such restraint; and so far we may conclude that there is none. Man may, as far as we can see, will, purpose, plan, &c., the wildest things imaginable: and, from the vast abundance of such phenomena in the intellectual world, we may, perhaps, rest assured that no restraint, either natural or supernatural, has been imposed in these respects.
There is, however, another faculty implanted in man, called Reason, the business of which is carefully to consider the nature both of thoughts and of things, and then to determine (which is named judging), whether such thoughts or things ought or ought not to be entertained; and then to act as counsellor in directing the conduct of the individual. Now, so far as this faculty interferes with the will, its liberty must be curtailed;* that is to say, whenever reason deter
And in the degree to which a man lays claim to the character of a rational agent, in the same will the freedom of his will be controlled. He, therefore, who approximates nearest to perfection, must in the same proportion be regulated in his thoughts, words, and deeds, by principles which he has found to be good. He will, consequently, be less than any other man the subject of caprice; more than any other, actuated by those laws which he knows to be most advantageous to human society, and best calculated to honour its Author: in other words, he will be the best Christian; the
mines that a thought, action, or project, is such as ought not to be entertained, the individual is bound, unless he give up the claim of being considered a rational creature, no longer to entertain such thought, action, or project. For example, I am at liberty to suppose that two and two will make six; or, that a telescope may be made so powerful as to enable me to discover of what specific form the particles composing the disk of the moon, or of any one of the planets, are; and in either or both of these positions I may persevere but when I have been shewn that the one is absolutely, and the other physically impossible, I am no longer at liberty (unless I claim the privilege of a fool or a madman) to entertain those opinions. A motive now has been proposed, if not a violent one, as Paley would term it, yet one so potent as to insure the conclusion, that I can no longer continue to hold those positions. In cases such as these, therefore, although the power of volition may be possessed to an indefinite extent theoretically, yet no such power can exist in practice; at least in those who lay claim to reason in any degree. Where the reason is, indeed, weak, ill-informed, or perverted, the decision may be wrong, but it must always be made; and when this is done, the liberty of the will is limited.
Now, if we trace cases downwards, from those presenting the highest to those presenting the lowest degrees of probability, we shall at last arrive at those in which we may either have no knowledge, or probabilities may be so nearly balanced as to leave nothing on which the judgment can fix : in these cases, then, the Will will remain entirely unfettered. If, for example, two friends were to propose to me for decision the question, whether the language of the Old or New Testament will be the medium of intercourse among the blest; my answer must be: You are at perfect liberty to adopt which side
best citizen of the world; and the person best prepared to be translated to a more perfect state of being. Nor will this entire subjection to principle in any way diminish the power of refusing the evil and choosing the good; on the contrary, this will strengthen it in the greatest possible degree. Where another man will doubt and hesitate eternally, the man of principle will act at once, and he will act rightly. His law provides for consequences; hesitation is with him out of place. Such an one, therefore, will be the best example of a decided character; a distinction to which all think it creditable at least to lay claim.
of the question you please, because I know of nothing whatever likely to influence the judgment of either of you. And again, if two persons, in every respect equally well qualified and recommended, should solicit an office which I may have to dispose of; I conceive, reason and judgment would have nothing to do in the case, and that I should be left perfectly at liberty to exercise my Will. The number or the different shades of cases which will fall between these extremes, will be exceedingly great, while those which occupy the extreme places very small; and consequently, those cases which will be so cogent as to carry conviction with them to every mind; as also those left entirely to the Will, or what is generally termed the caprice, will be few. In the great mass, reason and judgment must predominate; but this rarely to such a degree as to preclude all possibility of doubt; because we are not possessed of experience sufficient to see and judge clearly of all the bearings of every question.
The powers of the mind, in this respect, seem to be very much on a par with those of the body. Any man not fettered, or otherwise not deprived of the use of his limbs, may use them in any way he pleases, as far as nature and circumstances will allow him. He may, for example, knock down, maim, or stab, the first person he meets: he may dance, sing, lie down, stand on his head, or put himself into any position whatsoever, provided no common law of society control him. But if this be the case, he will find it to be most conducive to his own happiness to do no such things; which will, perhaps, be a motive sufficiently potent to make a good member of society of him. But here, as before, innumerable cases (usually termed cases of conscience) may occur, in which it may be extremely difficult to say what it is best to do. In such, analogy is the safest guide, and this involves an operation of reason; and therefore, where the line of duty is clear, the prudent man will not hesitate to submit; where it is not so, the safe side, if this be apparent, must be taken : but where no such thing is discernible, the Will alone must determine what is to be done; and, indeed, from the moment prudence suggests caution, reason, where it has materials to work upon, can alone be relied on in directing the conduct of the individual.
It may now be asked: How do the doctrines of our Scrip
ture fall in with these properties of the human mind? I answer: In the most suitable way possible. The judgment, which must control the will, is called upon in the most forcible manner, and urged to determine on a question the most momentous. The person appealing is no less than the Author of our nature, and our future Judge; and the appeal is made in terms the most rational, kind, and affectionate. On a question so far exceeding human powers, instruction the best adapted to the case is proposed; and, what is most remarkable, while this professes to come from a world of spirits, and is, what it professes to be, clearly beyond the human intellect to fabricate, it, nevertheless, introduces nothing beyond our faculties to comprehend (as far as comprehension is necessary), or our natural powers to accept. What it recommends too, may be shewn, not only to be the most advantageous to us as men, but, what must stamp an incalculable value upon it, it has never been found to fail in its application to practice. Like the best philosophy, its truth in theory has been confirmed by experiment, and this through a period of nearly six thousand years. Of the external evidences for its truth I will now say no more, than that they are scarcely short of miraculous. No other book can cite in its favour the testimony of both friends and foes, nor can any be found receiving so much confirmation from the sciences both of ancient and modern times. Its morality is not only good, but authoritative its promises and threats are not merely probable, but certain. Its property is to impart the most useful knowledge in the most effectual way; and to afford hope, consolation, safety, prosperity, health, and happiness, where every thing else has failed.
Now, I will ask, if such a document be placed before a being possessed with the powers of volition and of reason, such as man confessedly is, What must be his situation? Is he, as a rational being, at liberty to withhold his assent and obedience to the requirements of such a book? I think not; but that he is bound to submit. But if he choose (and this he may do, no violent restraint being laid upon his will) to withhold both assent and obedience, this will be done at his peril. Like the fool or the madman, he may in any case rush on his own ruin; and eminently so in this. To expect to be restrained from the possibility of error in the matter of
religion,* would be to expect something unlike the phenomena of both the natural and moral world, and manifestly repugnant to the question of fact. To wait, therefore, for impulses great and overpowering, such as indeed our Scriptures no where promise, but which are held out only by a philosophy meagre and wretched in the extreme, must in every case tend to annihilate the beamings of hope, and to reduce faith to a mere phantom. The dreary wilderness through which the pilgrim has to wind his way, with a light, strong indeed, and steady in its horizon, must, in such cases, increase in darkness and perplexity at every step. The rod and staff, which, under other circumstances, might have proved a permanent means of comfort and of support, will now become those of the oppressor, heavy and insupportable; and that dawning of hope which was once wont to be the traveller's benison, now end only in despair and ruin. In the faithfulness, mercy, and compassions of a kind Creator, however, we have that which suits our capacities, such as they are, provides for our wants, and will stimulate our best endeavours. The penny afforded to the last labourer, while it forbids any to delay, holds out grounds of hope to the longest-lost prodigal: and the most wretched and destitute both in life and godliness can, with such encouragements before him, still aspire to the acquisition of the best robe, and to feast on the bounties of a forgiving and kind Parent: in these the energies of hope will meet him in every day's life, and the helps of grace make him more than a conqueror : earth present an arena whereon he can contend successfully for a crown, and heaven the kingdom where he shall for ever wear it.
DIGRESSION, ON THE PERMANENCY OF THE MORAL LAW, IN REPLY TO A WORK BY THE REV. Dr. WHATELY, IN WHICH SOME STATEMENTS CONTAINED IN THE TWO FOREGOING SECTIONS SEEM TO BE CONTROVERTED.
THE ablest writer, in modern times perhaps, who has contended that the abolition of the whole law of Moses is incul
*This question is thus admirably touched by Arnobius: "Vis ergo ista, non gratia, nec Dei liberalitas principis." Lib. ii. p. 85.