THE FREEDOM OF THE WILL
by Jonathan Edwards
SECT. VIII. Some further objections against the moral Necessity of God's Volitions considered.
The author last cited, as has been observed, owns that God, being perfectly wise, will constantly and certainly choose what appears most fit, where there is a superior fitness and goodness in things; and that it is not possible for him to do otherwise. So that it is in effect confessed, that in those things where there is any real preferableness, it is no dishonour, nothing in any respect unworthy of God, for him to act from Necessity notwithstanding all that can be objected from like agreement of such a Necessity with the fate of the Stoics, and the Necessity maintained by Mr. Hobbes. From which it will follow, that if in all the different things, among which God chooses, there were evermore a superior fitness or preferableness on one side, then it would be no dishonour, or any thing unbecoming, for God's Will to be necessarily determined in every thing. And if this be allowed, it is giving up entirely the argument, from the unsuitableness of such a Necessity to the liberty, supremacy, independence, and glory of the Divine Being; and resting the whole weight of the affair on the decision of another point wholly diverse; viz. Whether it be so indeed, that in all the various possible things, which are in God's view, and may be considered as capable objects of his choice, there is not evermore a preferableness in one thing above another. This is denied by this author; who supposes, that in many instances, between two or more possible things, which come within the view of the Divine Mind there is a perfect indifference and inequality, as to fitness or tendency, to attain any good end which God can have in view, or to answer any of his designs. Now, therefore, I would consider whether this be evident.
The arguments brought to prove this, are of two kinds. (1.) It is urged, that, in many instances, we must suppose there is absolutely no difference between various possible objects which God has in view: and, (2.) that the difference between many things is so inconsiderable, or of such a nature, that it would be unreasonable to suppose it to be of any consequence; or to suppose that any of God's wise designs would not be answered if any one way as well as the other.
1. The first thing to be condered is, whether there are any instances wherein there is a perfect likeness, and absolutely no difference, between different objects of choice, that are proposed to the Divine Understanding?
And here, in the first place, it may be worthy to be considered, whether the contradiction there is in the terms of the question proposed, does not give reason to suspect, that is all inconsistence in the thing supposed. It is inquired whether different objects of choice may not he absolutely without difference? If they are a6solutely without difference, then how are they different objects of choice? If there be absolutely no difference, in any respect, then there is no variety or distinction: for distinction is only by some difference. And if there be no variety among proposed objects of choice, then there is no opportunity for variety of choice, or difference of determination. For that determination of a thing, which is not different in any respect, is not a different determination, but the same. That this is no quibble, may appear more fully in a short time.
The arguments, to prove that life Most flight in some instances, chooses to do one thing rather than another, where the things themselves are perfectly without difference, are two.
1. That the various parts of infinite time and space, absolutely considered, are perfectly alike, and do not differ at all one from another: and that therefore, when God determined to create the world in such a part of infinite duration and space, rather than others, he determined and preferred, among various objects between which there was, no preferableness, and absolutely no difference.
Answ. This objection supposes an infinite length of time before the world was created, distinguished by successive parts, properly and truly so; or a succession of limited and unmeasurable periods of time, following one another, in an infinitely long series : which must needs be a groundless imagination. The eternal duration which was before the world, being only the eternity of God's existence; which is nothing else but his immediate, perfect, and invariable possession of the whole of His unlimited life, together and at once; Vita, interminabilis, tota, simul et perfecta possessio. Which is so generally allowed, that I need not stand to demonstrate it.
So this objection supposes an extent of space beyond the limits of the creation, of an infinite length, breadth, and depth, truly and properly distinguished into different measurable parts, limited at certain stages, one beyond another, in all infinite series. Which notion of absolute and infinite space is doubtless as unreasonable, as that now mentioned, of absolute and infinite duration. It is as improper, to imagine that the immensity and omnipresence of God is distinguished by a series of miles and leagues, one beyond another; as that the infinite duration of God is distinguished by months and years, one after another. A diversity and order of distinct parts, limited by certain periods, is as conceivable, and does as naturally obtrude itself on our imagination, in one case as the other; and there is equal reason in each case, to suppose that our imagination deceives us. It is equally improper to talk of months and years of the Divine Existence, as of square miles of Deity: and we equally deceive ourselves, when we talk of the world being differently fixed, with respect to either of these sorts of measures. I think, we know not what we mean, if we say, the world might have been differently placed from what it is, in the broad expanse of infinity; or, that it might have been differently fixed in the long line of eternity: and all arguments and objections, which are built on the imaginations we are apt to have of infinite extension or duration, are buildings founded on shadows, or castles in the air.
2. The second argument, to prove that the Most High wills one thing rather than another, without any superior fitness or preferableness in the thing preferred, is God's actually placing in different parts of the world, particles, or atoms of matter, that are perfectly equal and alike. The forementioned author says, (p. 78, &c.) "If one would descend to the minute specific particles, of which different bodies are composed, we should see abundant reason to believe, that there are thousands of such little particles, or atoms of matter, which are perfectly equal and alike, and could give no distinct determination to the Will of God, where to place them." He there instances in particles of water, of which there are such immense numbers, which compose the rivers and oceans of this world; and the infinite myriads of the luminous and fiery particles, which compose the body of the sun ; so many, that it would be very unreasonable to suppose no two of them should be exactly equal and alike.
Answ. (1.) To this I answer: that as we must suppose matter to be infinitely divisible, it is very unlikely, that any two of all these particles are exactly equal and alike; so unlikely, that it is a thousand to one, yea, an infinite number to one, but it is otherwise: and that although we should allow a great similarity between the different particles of water and fire, as to their general nature and figure; and however small we suppose those particles to be, it is infinitely unlikely, that any two of them should be exactly equal in dimensions and quantity of matter. - If we should suppose a great many globes of the same nature with the globe of the earth, it would be very strange, if there were any two of them that had exactly the same number of particles of dust and water in them. But infinitely less strange, than that two particles of light should have just the same quantity of matter. For a particle of light, according to the doctrine of the infinite divisibility of matter, is composed of infinitely more assignable parts, than there are particles of dust and water in the globe of the earth. And as it is infinitely unlikely, that any two of these particles should be equal; so it is, that they should be alike in other respects: to instance in the configuration of their surfaces. If there were very many globes, of the nature of the earth, it would be very unlikely that any two should have exactly the same number of particles of dust, water, and stone, in their surfaces, and all posited exactly alike, one with respect to another, without any difference, in any part discernible either by the naked eye or microscope; but infinitely less strange, than that two particles of light should be perfectly of the same figure. For there are infinitely more assignable real parts on the surface of a particle of light, than there are particles of dust, water, and stone, on the surface of the terrestrial globe.
Answ. (2.) But then, supposing that there are two particles, or atoms of matter, perfectly equal and alike, which God has placed in different parts of the creation ; as I will not deny it to be possible for God to make two bodies perfectly alike, and put them in different places ; yet it will not follow, that two different or distinct acts or effects of the Divine Power have exactly the same fitness for the same ends. For these two different bodies are not different or distinct, in any other respects than those wherein they differ: they are two in no other respects than those wherein there is a difference. If they are perfectly equal and alike in themselves, then they can be distinguished, or be distinct, only in those things which are called circumstances; as place, time, rest, motion, or some other present or past circumstances or relations. For it is difference only that constitutes distinction. If God makes two bodies, in themselves every, way equal and alike, and agreeing perfectly in all other circumstances and relations, but only their place; then in this only is there any distinction or duplicity. The figure is the same, the measure is the same, the solidity and resistance are the same, and every thing the same but only the place. Therefore what the Will of God determines is this, that there should be the same figure, the same extension, the same resistance, &c. in two different places. And for this determination lie has some reason. There is some end, for which such a determination and act has a peculiar fitness, above all other acts. Here is no one thing determined without an end, and no one thing without a fitness for that end, superior to any thing else. If it be the pleasure of God to cause the same resistance, and the same figure, to be in two different places and situations, we can no more justly argue from it, that here must be some determination or act of God's Will that is wholly without motive or end, than we can argue, that whenever, in any case, it is a man's Will to speak the same words, or make the same sounds, at two different times, there must be some determination or act of his Will, without any motive or end. The difference of place, in the former case, proves no more than the difference of time does in the other. If any one should say, with regard to the former case, that there must be something determined without an end; viz. that of those two similar bodies, this in particular should be made in this place, and the other in the other, and should inquire, why the Creator did not make them in a transposition, when both are alike, and each would equally have suited either place? The inquiry supposes something that is not true; namely, that the two bodies differ and are distinct in other respects besides their place. So that with this distinction inherent in them, they might, in their first creation, have been transposed, and each might have begun its existence in the place of the other.
Let us, for clearness sake, suppose, that God had, at the beginning, made two globes, each of an inch diameter, both perfect spheres, and perfectly solid, without pores, and perfectly alike in every respect, and placed them near one to another, one towards the right hand, and the other towards the left, without any difference as to time, motion, or rest, past or present, or any circumstance, but only their place; and the question should be asked, why God in their creation placed them so? why that which is made on the right hand, was not made on the left, and vice versa? Let it be well considered, whether there be any sense in such a question ; and whether the inquiry does not suppose something false and absurd. Let it be considered, what the Creator must have done otherwise than he did, what different act of Will or power he must have exerted, in order to the thing proposed. All that could have been done, would have been to have made two spheres, perfectly alike, in the same places where he has made them, without any difference of the things made, either in themselves or in any circumstance ; so that the whole effect would have been without any difference, and, therefore, just the same. By the supposition, the two spheres are different in no other respect but their place and therefore in other respects they are the same. Each has the same roundness; it is not a distinct rotundity, in any other respect but its situation. There are, also, the same dimensions, differing in nothing but their place. And so of their resistance, and every thing else that belongs to them.
Here, if any chooses to say, "that there is a difference in another respect, viz. that they are not numerically the same: that it is thus with all the qualities that belong to them: that it is confessed, they are, in some respects, the same that is, they are both exactly alike; but yet numerically they differ. Thus the roundness of one is not the same numerical, individual roundness with that of the other." Let this be supposed; then the question about the determination of the Divine Will in the affair, is, why did God will, that this individual roundness should be at the right hand, and the other individual roundness at the left? why did not he make them in a contrary position ? Let any rational person consider, whether such questions be not words without a meaning; as much as if God should see fit for some ends, to cause the same sounds to be repeated, or made at two different times ; the sounds being perfectly the same in every other respect, but only one was a minute after the other; and it should be asked, upon it, why God caused these sounds, numerically different, to succeed one the other in such a manner? why he did not make that individual sound, which was in the first minute, to be in the second, and the individual sound of the last minute to be in the first? which inquiries would be even ridiculous; as, I think, every person must see, in the case proposed of two sounds, being only the same repeated, absolutely without any difference, but that one circumstance of time. If the Most High sees it will answer some good end, that the same sound be made thunder at two distinct times, and therefore wills that it should be so, must it needs therefore be, that herein there is some act of God's Will without any motive or end? God saw fit often, at distinct times, and on different occasions, to say the very same words to Moses; namely, those, I am Jehovah. And would it not be unreasonable to infer, as a certain consequence, from this, that here must be some act or acts of the Divine Will, in determining and disposing the words exactly alike, at different times, wholly without aim or inducement? But it would be no more unreasonable than to say, that there must be an act of God without any inducement, if he sees it best, and, for some reasons, determines that there shall be the same resistance, the same dimensions, and the same figure, in several distinct places.
If, in the instance of the two spheres, perfectly alike, it be supposed possible that God might have made them in a contrary position; that which is made at the right hand, being made at the left; then I ask, Whether it is not evidently equally possible, if God had made but one of them, and that in the place of the right hand globe, that he might have made that numerically different from what it is, and numerically different from what he did make it; though perfectly alike, and in the same place; and at the same time, and in every respect, in the same circumstances and relations? Namely, Whether he might not have made it numerically the same with that which he has now made at the left hand; and so have left that which is now created at the right hand, in a state of non-existence? And, if so, whether it would not have been possible to have made one in that place, perfectly like these, and yet numerically differing from both? And let it be considered, whether, from this notion of a numerical difference in bodies, perfectly equal and alike, which numerical difference is something inherent in the bodies themselves, and diverse from the difference of place or time, or any circumstance whatsoever; it will not follow, that there is an infinite number of numerically different possible bodies, perfectly alike, among which God chooses, by a self-determining power, when he goes about to create bodies.
Therefore let us put the case thus: Supposing that God, in the beginning, had created but one perfectly solid sphere, in a certain place: and it should be inquired, Why God created that individual sphere, in that place, at that time? and why he did not create another sphere perfectly like it, but numerically different, in the same place, at the same time'! Or why he chose to bring into being there, that very body' rather than any of the infinite number of other bodies, perfectly like it; either of which he could have made there as well, and would have answered his end as well? Why he caused to exist, at that place and time, that individual roundness, rather than any other of the infinite number of individual rotundities, just like it ? Why that individual resistance, rather than any other of the infinite number of possible resistances, just like it? And it might as reasonably be asked, Why, when God first caused it to thunder, he caused that individual sound then to be made, and not another just like it? Why did he make choice of this very sound, and reject all the infinite number of other possible sounds Just like it, but numerically differing from it, and all differing one from another? I think, every body must be sensible of the absurdity and nonsense of what is supposed in such inquiries. And, if we calmly attend to the matter, we shall be convinced, that all such kind of objections as I am answering, are founded on nothing but the imperfection of our manner of conceiving things, and the obscureness of language, and great want of clearness and precision in the signification of terms.
If any should find fault with this reasoning, that it is going a great length into metaphysical niceties and subtilties; I answer, the objection to which they are a reply, is a metaphysical subtilty, and must be treated according to the nature of it.
II. Another thing alleged is, that innumerable things which are determined by the Divine Will, and chosen and done by God rather than others, differ from those that are not chosen in so inconsiderable a manner, that it would be unreasonable to suppose the difference to be of any consequence, or that there is any superior fitness or goodness, that God can have respect to in the determination.
To which I answer; it is impossible for us to determine, with any certainty or evidence, that because the difference is very small, and appears to us of no consideration, therefore there is absolutely no superior goodness, and no valuable end, which can proposed by the Creator and Governor of the world, in ordering such a difference. The forementioned author mentions many instances. One is, there being one atom in the whole universe more, or less. But, I think, it would be unreasonable to suppose, that God made one atom in vain, or without any end or motive. He made not one atom, but what was a work of his Almighty Power, as much as the whole globe of the earth, and requires as much of a constant exertion of Almighty Power to uphold it; and was made and is upheld with understanding and design, as much as if no other had been made but that. And it would be as unreasonable to suppose, that he made it without any thing really aimed at in so doing, as much as to suppose, that he made the planet Jupiter without aim or design.
It is possible, that the most minute effects of the Creator's power, the smallest assignable difference between the things which God has made, may be attended, in the whole series of events, and the whole compass and extent of their influence, with very great and important consequences. If the laws of motion, and gravitation, laid down by Sir Isaac Newton, hold universally, there is not one atom, nor the least assignable part of an atom, but what has influence, every moment, throughout the whole material universe, to cause every part to be otherwise than it would be, if it were not for that particular corporeal existence. And however the effect is insensible for the present, yet it may, in length of time, become great and important.
To illustrate this, let us suppose two bodies moving the same way, in straight lines, perfectly parallel one to another; but to be diverted from this parallel course, and drawn one from another, as much as might be, by the attraction of an atom, at the distance of one of the furthest of the fixed stars from the earth; these bodies being turned out of the lines of their parallel motion, will, by degrees, further and further distant, one from the other; and though the distance may be imperceptible for a long time, yet at length it may become very great. So the revolution of a planet round the sun being retarded or accelerated, and the orbit of its revolution made greater or less, and more or less elliptical, and so its periodical time longer or shorter, no more than may be by the influence of the least atom, might, in length of time, perform a whole revolution sooner or later than otherwise it would have done; which might make a vast alteration with regard to millions of important events. So the influence of the least particle may, for ought we know, have such effect on something in the constitution of some human body, as to cause another thought to arise in the mind at a certain time, than otherwise would have been ; which, in length of time, (yea, and that not very great,) might occasion a vast alteration through the whole world of mankind. And so innumerable other ways might be mentioned, wherein the least assignable alteration may possibly be attended with great consequences.
Another argument, which the fore-mentioned author brings against a necessary determination of the Divine Will, by a superior fitness, is, that such doctrine derogates from the freeness of God's grace and goodness, in choosing the objects of his favour and bounty, and from the obligation upon men to thankfulness for special benefits. (p. 89, &c.) In answer to this objection , I would observe,
1. That it derogates no more from the goodness of God, to suppose the exercise of the benevolence of his nature to be determined by wisdom, than to suppose it determined by chance, and that his favours are bestowed altogether at random, his Will being determined by nothing but perfect accident, without any end or design whatsoever; which must be the case, as has been demonstrated, if Volition be not determined by a prevailing motive. That which is owing to perfect contingence, wherein neither previous inducement nor antecedent choice has any hand, is not owing more to goodness or benevolence, than that which is owing to the influence of a wise end.
2. It is acknowledged, that if the motive that deter mines the Will of God, in the choice of the objects of his favours, be any moral quality in the object, recommending that object to his benevolence above others, his choosing that object is not so great a manifestation of the freeness and sovereignty of his grace, as if it were otherwise. But there is no necessity for supposing this, in order to our supposing that he has some wise end in view, in determining to bestow his favours on one person rather than another. We are to distinguish between the merit of the object of God's favour, or a moral qualification of the object attracting that favour and recommending to it, and the natural fitness of such a determination of the act of God's goodness, to answer some wise design of his own, some end in the view of God's omniscience. - It is God's own act, that is the proper and immediate object of his Volition.
3. I suppose that none will deny, but that, in some instances, God acts from wise design in determining the particular subjects of his favours : none will say, I presume, that when God distinguishes, by his bounty, particular societies or persons, he never, in any instance, exercises any wisdom in so doing, aiming at some happy consequence. And, if it be not denied to be so in some instances, then I would inquire, whether in these instances God's goodness is less manifested, than in those wherein God has no aim or end at all? And whether the subjects have less cause of thankfulness? And if so, who shall be thankful for the bestowment of distinguishing mercy, with that enhancing circumstance of the distinction being made without an end? How shall it be known when God is influenced by some wise aim, and when not? It is very manifest, with respect to the apostle Paul, that God had wise ends in choosing him to be a Christian and an apostle, who bad been a persecutor, &c. The apostle himself mentions one end. (1 Tim. i. 15, 16.) "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. Howbeit, for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first, Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them who should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting." But yet the Apostle never looked on it as a diminution of the freedom and riches of divine grace in his election, which he so often and so greatly magnifies. This brings me to observe,
4. Our supposing such a moral Necessity in the acts of God's Will, as has been "ken of, is so far from necessarily derogating from the riches of God's grace to such as are the chosen objects of his favour, that, in many instances, this moral necessity may arise from goodness, and from the great degree of it. God may choose this object rather than another, as having a superior fitness to answer the ends, designs, and inclinations of his goodness; being more sinful, and so more miserable and necessitous than others, the inclinations of infinite mercy and benevolence may be more gratified, and the gracious design of God in sending his Son into the world, may be more abundantly answer I in the exercises of mercy towards such an object, rather than another.
One thing more I would observe, before I finish what I have to say on the head of the Necessity of the acts of God's Will; and that is, that something much more like a servile subjection of the Divine Being to fatal Necessity, will follow from Arminian principles, than from the doctrines which they oppose. For they (at least most of them) suppose, with respect to all events that happen in the moral world, depending on the Volitions of moral agents, which are the Most important events of the universe, to which all others are subordinate; I say, they suppose, with respect to these, that God has a certain foreknowledge of them, antecedent to any purposes or decrees of his about them. And if so, they have a fixed certain futurity, prior to any designs or Volitions of his, and independent on them, and to which his Volitions must be subject, as he would wisely accommodate his affairs to this fixed futurity of the state of things in the moral world. So that here, instead of a moral Necessity of God's Will, arising from, or consisting in, the infinite perfection and blessedness of the Divine Being, we have a fixed unalterable state of things properly distinct from the perfect nature of the Divine Mind, and the state of the Divine Will and Design, and entirely independent on these things, and which they have no hand in, because they are prior to them; and to which God's Will is truly subject, being obliged to conform or accommodate himself to it, in all his purposes and decrees, and in every thing he does in his disposals and government of the world ; the moral world being the end of the natural; so that all is in vain, that is not accommodated to that state of the moral world, which consists in, or depends upon, the acts and state of the Wills of moral agents, which had a fixed futurition from eternity. Such a subjection to Necessity as this, would truly argue an inferiority and servitude, that would be unworthy of the Supreme Being; and is much more agreeable to the notion which many of the heathen had of Fate, as above the gods, than that moral Necessity of fitness and wisdom which has been spoken of; and is truly repugnant to the absolute sovereignty of God, and inconsistent with the supremacy of his Will; and really subjects the Will of the Most High to the Will of his creatures, and brings him into dependence upon them.