The very idea of existence implies certain powers and qualities. Spiritual existence involves spiritual and moral qualities or attributes. God is a Spirit; and his moral attributes, his spiritual perfections, constitute his character, and determine his action.
If he is infinitely good, if the essence of his being is Love, all his actions will partake of this quality. If he is supreme in power, he will act without restraint or hindrance. If he is all-wise, or omniscient, he cannot err in judgment, or make any mistake in his plans, or fail in his purposes through want of knowledge or foresight, as to the results of anything he might do. If he is infinitely just, all his dealings with his creatures will be marked by perfect equity; and he will require nothing but what is right and possible, and will lay no evil or penalty on man but what is consistent with eternal rectitude. If he is above all perturbations, all weakness and passion, above the disturbing influences of evil and sin; then he will never act from anger or revenge, never will do anything to, or with, his creatures, save from the dictates of infinite and unchangeable benevolence.
These general statements necessarily involve the conclusion of triumphant universal good, as the result of the creation and government of the world by God. The very act of creation is virtually a pledge of this; and all his attributes unite in the accomplishment of this great purpose of Infinite Beneficence.
A more particular review of the relations of God as Creator, and as a Father, and of the divine perfections, with specific reference to the act of giving existence to man, will illustrate and establish this position.
It would be to little purpose to inquire whether God could not have created this world without evil or imperfection of any sort; Whether he could not have made man in such a way, physically and morally, as to have secured him against the possibility of sin. The fact that he has not done this meets us on the threshold of our inquiry; and it is with this fact that we have to deal, aided by the light of reason and the authoritive revelations of the Bible.
For aught we know, God may have created somewhere in infinite space a world without evil, peopled by a race of beings morally perfect. But even if this were so, it would remain to be proved that this world and man as we find him here, imperfect and subject to evil, do not constitute a link in the endless chain of being, without which it would be incomplete, without which even heaven itself would lose a measure of its harmony and fulness. The philosophical poet has spoken well on this interesting point:
And then in answer to the question so often started, "Why could not man have been created perfect, without liability to sin? Why was he not placed higher in the scale of being - why not made an angel?" He proceeds as follows:
On Superior Powers
"Were we to press, inferior might on ours;
Or in the full creation leave a void,
Where one step broken, the great scale's destroyed.
From nature's chain whatever link you strike,
Tenth, or ten thousandth, breaks the chain alike."
Admitting, therefore, what, perhaps, no one is prepared to deny, that God CAN create a relatively perfect world, or a world not liable to evil, and people it with a race of perfect beings not liable to sin. THIS world may, nevertheless, hold as important and necessary a place in creation as that. Nay, it may be that without just such a world as this, inhabited by just such beings as men, the whole machinery of the universe, as at present arranged, would be imperfect in its structure and working. Manifestly this earth, with its myriad immortal intelligences, is not formed without a purpose. Without these, the space which they fill in the circle of organic and spiritual existence would be blank, and there would be one link wanting in the golden chain of being which stretches, on either side of us, to the infinite above, and the infinite below.
The fact that man was made relatively imperfect, that is, imperfect in the sense of liability to sin, is proved by the fact that he is a sinner. He was not created a sinner, for sin is the result of a voluntary action. He was not created depraved, but pure and innocent. He yielded to temptation, and so fell away form his primal innocence into transgression. The author of Ecclesiastes states the case very correctly and tersely, when he says, "Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions". (Eccl.. 8:29)
That this constitution of man and its consequences entered into the original plan of the Creator, and is not an after accident, or an unlooked for result, is distinctly stated by the apostle Paul in his epistle to the Romans: "The creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope; because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God." (Rom. 8:20-21) See the whole chapter.
Now here we are certified in the most unqualified terms, that the creature man, or the human race WAS MADE subject to vanity or imperfection, for wise and beneficent reasons, and with express reference to the fact that, when the purposes of this subjection to evil are fully accomplished, then man is to be delivered from the bondage of corruption and death into the glorious liberty of the children of God. Whatever may be thought of this position of Paul, there can be no difference of opinion as to what he meant, or what he intended to say. It is clear enough that he believed and taught that we were subjected to this imperfect condition by the Creator himself. It was designed in the beginning for a special purpose and has not, since then, come to pass contrary to his expectations. Bishop Bloomfield renders the passage in this form: "For the world (i.e. God's creatures) was made subject to imperfection, corruption and misery (not by any will of its own, but by Him who thus subjected it), yet with a hope (on their part) that this very creation(i.e. those creatures) will be delivered from the bondage of corruption, &c. Corruption may perhaps be meant to be taken both in a moral and physical sense, to denote both liability to sin, and to disease and death." Of course, then, "vanity" must be taken to mean the same things, for the words are plainly synonymous, and refer to the same condition; the creature being delivered from the same thing to which it was subjected; in the one case called "vanity", and in the other "corruption."
[Note: The Greek word translated as VANITY occurs in only two other passages of the New Testament, Eph. 4:17, "in the vanity of their mind"; where the moral element is manifestly involved, as verses 19 and 22 plainly show -- "lasciviousness and all uncleanness with greediness"; and 2 Peter 2:18, where the same statement applies, as the next words show -- "lusts of the flesh and wantonness". The Greek word translated CORRUPTION is found not only in 1 Cor 15, but also in such passages as these: "having escaped the corruption that is in the world", "servants of corruption", 2 peter 1 & 2, illustrating its use in a moral as well as in a physical sense. Witby and others argue elaborately for the corruption of death as the only meaning of "vanity".]
It is plain, then, that God, as the Creator of mankind, when he determined upon the nature of their physical and moral condition on earth, determined that it should be such as involved the liability to the physical and moral evil and, consequently, as the apostle says, he "MADE man subject to vanity", or imperfection. He "SUBJECTED" him to this condition, with a clear foresight and intention respecting all the trials and sorrows, the spiritual conflicts and temptations, the failures and conquests, as will as the decay and destruction by death of the mortal body, which this constitution of things would naturally bring in its train.
But, of course, all this was with a view to the greater good that is to come of it. This condition was not ordained for its own sake, as a permanent thing, but as a means to a beneficent and glorious end, as a school wherein we are to be taught and trained for a higher sphere of life and action, both in the present and in the future. Dr. Johathan Edwards, who was regarded as the highest authority in theological metaphysics, says, with great good sense, in his famous work on the Will: -- "I believe there is no person of good understanding, who will venture to say he is certain that it is impossible it should be best, taking in the whole compass and extent of existence, and all consequences in the endless series of events, that there should be such a thing as moral evil in the world. And if so, it will certainly follow that an infinitely wise Being, who always chooses what is best, must choose that there be such a thing". Again, he says: -- "It is not of a bad tendency for the Supreme Being thus to order and permit that moral evil to be which it is best should come to pass for that it is of good tendency is the very thing supposed in the point in question, . . . . and good is the actual issue in the final result of things".
Turnbull, in his "Principles of Moral Philosophy", which Edwards quotes approvingly, states that "God intends and pursues THE UNIVERSAL GOOD OF HIS CREATION; and the evil which happens is not permitted for its own sake, but because it is requisite to the greater good pursued".
[Note: And with these agree the following unitarian testimonies: -- "The origin of our liability to sin, we can explain only by referring it to the will of our Maker". Again: -- "We hold that God is master of evil, not merely physical but moral -- master of his creation, and able to overrule all evil for moral good, so that at last, when his work is consummated, the good shall be triumphant and complete".
I think it would be difficult to show that the above premises of Edwards and Turnbull do not involve the conclusion which it is the purpose of this volume to establish. If "good is the actual issue in the final result of things", of moral evil or sin, in one case, why not in all cases? The principle is the same; and it surely is as easy for God to realize a great result as a little one. And if, in the permission of evil, "God intends and pursues the universal good of his creation", there seems an end of the argument; for if he intends and pursues it, he will certainly accomplish it, and the good of the whole can only be accomplished in the good of each particular part. Bishop Warburton, who could not believe in endless punishment, says, very truly: -- "Though the system of the best supposes that the evils themselves will be fully compensated by the good they produce to the whole, yet this is so far from supposing that the particulars shall suffer for a general good, that it is essential to this system, to conclude that at the completion of things, when the whole is arrived to the state of utmost perfection, particular and universal good shall coincide". And commenting on Rev 20:14, "death and hell cast into the lake of fire", he says: -- "The sense of the whole seems to be this, that at the consummation of things (the subject here treated of), all physical and moral evil shall be abolished.
For the quotations, see Edwards on the Will, Part iv., Sec. ix, or Works, vol. ii., p. 254, Edit. 1829. Turnbull's Philosophy, vol. ii., pp. 42, 35, 37. Christian Examiner, numbers for Nov., 1853, and March, 1861. Warburton's Works, vols. xi., 26-30; v. 407.]
And if we give a little attention to the details of the question, it will not be very difficult to discover how the conflict with the imperfections and evils of our lot serves to develop the faculties of body and mind, to strengthen and build up the character; how, in fact, all evil finally takes on some shape of good, and thus vindicates the divine wisdom in subjecting man to "vanity". To begin with the lowest form of the subject: --
I. PHYSICAL EVILS. -- We may safely say that our usefulness and happiness are largely dependant on the development of all our powers and gifts, physical, mental, and spiritual. For accomplishing this, there must, of course, be occasion for that action of which this development is the legitimate result. But, if there were no evil connected with our present condition and estate, how could this be? Where the occasion for activity or exertion, if man were free from evil, and already as perfect as he is capable of being? And if you leave him one step this side of perfection, you involve him in the necessary evil of imperfection. But if perfect in all respects, what moving cause would there be for action? He has no wants to gratify; no enjoyment to obtain; no inconvenience to be rid of; no work to perform; no end to seek or gain; no occasion, whatever, for the slightest exertion of body or mind. The propelling power would be gone to a great degree, and life would become as a still and stagnant pool, covered over with its green and slimy coating, unbroken by the winds of heaven, or the dip of a passing wing.
Take one example only. If there were no hunger, if man had been so constituted as never to want food, then there would have been no room for the activity, both of mind and body, which is now devoted to procuring this. The noble science of agriculture, which is so rapidly unfolding the powers of the earth and the elements, and bringing us so constantly into the presence of infinite wisdom and benevolence, would have no being. The constant hum of business and enterprise heard all over the earth, and the wonderful and complicated movements connected with the supply of this universal want, would cease at once. The far stretching fields of grain, rich and ripe, waving in the wind, and adding such beauty to the landscape, and giving such joy to the heart of the beholder -- the mill, with the noise of its grinding, and the wild merriment of its whirling wheels and rushing waters -- the pleasant garden spot, with its various vegetable productions, and the satisfaction of cultivating and watching over it -- the groves of delicious fruit, planted by the had of man in every clime -- the proud ship, that bears its freight of blessings from shore to shore -- the canal, the railroad, the steamship, the magnetic telegraph, -- all these would be struck out of existence; and the thousands who are engaged in these manifold employments, and find a life and joy in the activity they afford, would fall back into a dead silence and listlessness, and all would become a complete and thorough blank in the place of that quick life and cheerful industry, which are born of this want or evil, and those kindred to it.
II. INTELLECTUAL EVILS, OR THE EVILS OF IGNORANCE. -- That ignorance of the government and works of God, Ignorance of the truths of science, of the laws of organized life, and of the physical universe, Is the source of much evil, of accident and suffering, no one can, or is disposed to, deny. But suppose there were no ignorance in regard to these things. Suppose God had, when he created man, thoroughly instructed him in all the sciences and imparted to him, by direct miracle or revelation, a complete knowledge of all the laws of the physical world. It is true, you might in this way, get quit of all the suffering, of all the evil consequent upon ignorance, but would you not also annihilate all the mental action and effort consequent upon it?
If the Creator had given to man in the beginning, by inspiration or revelation, a knowledge of all the sublime and beautiful truths of astronomy, chemistry, geology, physiology, political science, natural philosophy, and all other departments of human knowledge -- then all the labor of mind, the splendid intellectual triumphs by which these truths have been unfolded, and which have thrilled all souls that have witnessed their success, with admiration and joy -- all this activity and consequent happiness had never been. And we had not know, as now, how glorious a creature the human mind is; how manifold its powers and resources; how heroically it will struggle against difficulties, till it rise up into the heavens, victorious over all, and reverently, yet without trembling, stand at last in the presence of the Eternal One!
But not only this. With the loss of these efforts and triumphs, must be numbered also the countless books written on these subjects; the glorious printing press, giving wings to knowledge and truth; the beautiful and exquisite instruments with which science has wrought out her discoveries; and all the study and industry consequent upon them -- all these must perish with the evils of ignorance; or rather, but for the evils of ignorance they could have had no existence. All the truths of science and art know to us, there would be no use for them -- no call for mental effort to invent, or mechanical labor to execute.
If, then, there is any happiness in the discovery of truth, and the increase of knowledge, if any measure of our blessedness lies in the development and perfection of the intellect, all which necessarily involve the existence of previous ignorance and imperfection -- then, just to this extent, we are furnished with a solution of the great problem of evil; or, at least, we see some of the important uses which evil may subserve. And now let us turn to --
III. MORAL EVIL. If there had been no error or sin in the world, we should have known nothing of Jesus the Christ, that loftiest exhibition of perfected humanity, that single bright star in the mingled firmament of earth and heaven, whose light was never dimmed. We should have known nothing of his deeds of love and mercy in return for hate and cruelty; nothing of that life of his, always so serene and beautiful amid the storms of temptation and bigotry and persecution, and closed at last with that sublime prayer of forgiveness and blessing, the very record of which even now thrills the souls of the millions with unutterable emotions of reverence and joy. And so one of the most instructive pages in the history of humanity would have been left totally blank, with not a single bright word of heaven's language to catch the eye, or quicken the thought. And of God, also -- if there were no sin, we should lose sight of half the glory of his character, and of the beautiful and tender relations which he sustains to us. We should know him as a God of almighty power, of infinite wisdom, of perfect holiness, but of his saving grace, of his mercy, of his patient and watchful care for his wayward children, of his long-suffering and pardoning love, of his blessed promises of redemption -- if there were no moral evil, no error nor sin, what should we know of these glorious exhibitions of the divine character? How could they have been at all? How could we have loved and adored, in spirit and understanding, the affectionate Father and the perfect God, as we love and adore him now?
[Note: Johathan Edwards says "God does not will sin as sin, or for the sake of any thing evil; though it be his pleasure so to order things, that, he permitting, sin will come to pass, for the sake of the great good that by his disposal shall be the consequence". Works, vol.ii., 254. Edition 1829]
But there is another phase to this question of moral evil, which deserves a thought. It will be allowed very readily, that the virtues of charity, forgiveness, generosity, self-sacrifice, faith, fidelity, are of great worth, and give the highest grace and beauty to the character. All will agree that without these noble virtues, it would become tame and spiritless, with scarcely a single trait to waken our admiration, or call forth our reverence and love. The lively and animated picture of the soul's struggles and triumphs, would lose its richest coloring and finish, and life itself would be without point, without any useful or elevating aim.
But if man had been created perfect, and never had fallen into any kind of sin, how could these virtues have birth or being? If there were nothing to try our patience or our love, how could the worth and truth of them be proved? If none offended against us, how could we forgive? If none did us evil, how could we obey the greatest of the divine requisitions, "Return good for evil"? If there were no want nor sorrow, if there were no injustice nor wrong, where would be the noble examples of charity and mercy, of generosity and self-forgetfulness, which have adorned the history of the world, and moved multitudes of souls with admiring joy, and sent them forth with inspiration for the same blessed work? If there were no sorrow nor pain, where had been those heavenly lessons of patient love, of affectionate devotion, under sternest trials? Where had been that sweet submission to God, that serene peace, that divine strength, which the frailest child of suffering has at times manifested, leaving a witness, before which the strongest and most unwilling have bowed, and, through the power of which, the humblest and weakest have felt themselves lifted up to new courage and faith.
If then, these virtues are of any worth, if charity, forgiveness, resignation, faith, self-sacrifice, have any value in themselves, or as examples to the world, if they adorn the human character, and are necessary to the perfect development of the human heart, then here again is a reason why the Creator did not make man perfect in the beginning, but determined rather to leave him to perfect himself through toil and struggle, through defeat and victory, through obedience, and self-conquest, and faith, and love, aided and blessed by the Holy Spirit -- another reason why he subjected him to temporal evil, that he might, through this, work out for himself an abiding, everlasting good. And Paul alludes to this view of the subject, in immediate connection with the passage already quoted, saying, with exultant emphasis: -- "I reckon that the sufferings of this present time, are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us". (Rom. 8:18) And he repeats the thought in his second letter to the Corinthians, in yet more definite and nervous phrase: -- "For which cause we faint not; but though our outward men perish, the inward man is renewed day by day; for our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory". (2 Cor. 4:16-17)
And doubtless one purpose of our present condition of mingled evil and good, is to lead us up to the thought of and desire for this "eternal weight of glory, which shall be revealed in us". If there were no evil here, no vanity or imperfection, no drawback of any sort connected with the things of this life, we should cling to them always, and never look higher, nor desire anything better. Earth would become our heaven, the world our god, and our life the life merely of the animal.
But now the temptations, and sins, and failures, and sorrows, the unsatisfying character of our pursuits and pleasures, the perishable nature of earthly possessions -- in a word, "the vanity and vexation of spirit" which wait on all worldly things reveal to us that this is not our home, that these are not all God has in store for us. They lead us when sick at heart and dissatisfied, even though our highest ambitions are gratified, when weary with our struggles against evil, and disheartened with the ills of life -- these very ills and disappointments call up within us irrepressible longings and yearnings for, and point us forward to, something nobler and better than anything this world can give, something that will not betray our trust, nor defeat our hopes, something imperishable and eternal.
[Note: "And their longing for a future perfection is shared by all created beings, whose discontent at present imperfection points to another state freed from evil". -- Conybeare & Howson's Life and Epistles of St. Paul, vol. ii. 175. Marginal notes to Rom. viii. 17.]
[Akenside's "Pleasures of Imagination."]
But then of course this disciplinary result of evil depends entirely upon the fact that all SHALL end well, "and infinite perfection close the scene". It all turns on the truth that evil IS temporal, as Paul says, and that these light afflictions ARE comparatively but for a moment. Deliberately to plan, purpose, ordain and perpetuate this "vanity", or evil of any kind, as an end, for its own sake, is too monstrous to admit of defense. The only possible method of vindicating the existing order of things, is on the Bible ground, viz: that it is a means and not an end; that it is a course of training, education and growth, preparatory to something higher; that the battle is to terminate in victory, and present imperfection, sin and suffering, to give place to future perfection, holiness, and joy.
[Note: William law, who was a Universalist, and the author of the "Serious Call" and "Christian Perfection", works greatly prized by the orthodox sects, says on this point: "As for the purification of all human nature, I fully believe it, either in this world, or some after ages. And as to that of angels, if it is possible, I am glad of it, and also sure enough that it will then come to pass". Letters, Letter xii, London edition, 1762. Southey, in his life of Wesley, states Law's theological views in detail, including his belief that "all beings will finally be happy". Vol. i. p. 216, Harper's edit.]
And the argument applies equally to all; for if all were "MADE" subject to "vanity", then all have an equal claim to deliverance from bondage. And this is the position of the inspired Apostle; for he distinctly asserts that the same "creature" subjected, viz. the human creature, the entire race of mankind, shall be delivered. [see note below] And the accomplishment of this grand result is the purpose, and prophesied completion, of the Savior's mission, as revealed in the apocalyptic vision touching the New Jerusalem: "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away". (Rev. 21)
[Note: Whitby says, "the creature" means "the whole race of men", "all the world". Macknight says, "every human creature", "all mankind", &c. Bloomfield, "the human race". Laspis, "the universal world". The universality of meaning in both members of the proposition, is admitted on all hands.]
Thus do we see that the "vanity" and "bondage" of the present state, are prophetic of "the glorious liberty" of the future. The temporal evil is but the herald of everlasting good; and the very imperfection, physical and moral, of the earthly constitution of things, is suggestive of change; the pledge, in fact, of that final beatified condition which is "without variableness" or shadow of change. This infant school of our being, where with much effort, with many failures and repetitions, we slowly learn the A,B,C, of live's lessons, points with unerring finger to the University of Heaven, where, our spiritual education completed, we enter upon the glories and the delights of the life immortal.
To this result the character of God as a wise and beneficent Creator, and all the divine attributes of Power, Wisdom, Goodness and Justice, stand committed. It is the only solution of the vexed problem of evil. It is the only satisfactory exposition of the purpose of God's creation. And, finally, it is the only doctrine which equally vindicates his perfection, honors his government, and challenges the admiration, the worship, the confidence and affection of all his intelligent creatures.
That this statement rests on a sure foundation, with abundant evidence in its support, will be verified by the arguments of the following sections, shewing that the attributes of Deity, in their active relation to the work of creation, do by their very nature involve and pledge this ultimate result.