THE FREEDOM OF THE WILL
by Jonathan Edwards
Section XII. Of a supposed tendency of these principles to Atheism and Licentiousness.
If any object against what has been maintained, that it tends to Atheism; I know not on what grounds such an objection can he raised, unless it be, that some Atheists have held a doctrine of necessity which they suppose to be like this. But if it be so, I am persuaded the Arminians would not look upon it just, that their notion of freedom and contingence should be charged with a tendency to all the errors that ever any embraced, who have held such opinions. The Stoic philosophers, whom the Calvinists are charged with agreeing with, were no Atheists, but the greatest Theists, and nearest akin to Christians in their opinions concerning the unity and the perfections of the Godhead, of all the heathen philosophers. And Epicurus, that chief father of Atheism, maintained no such doctrine of necessity, but was the greatest maintainer of contingence.
The doctrine of necessity, which supposes a necessary connexion of all events, on some antecedent ground and reason of their existence, is the only medium we have to prove the being of God. And the contrary doctrine of contingence, even as maintained by Arminians, (which certainly implies or infers that events may come into existence, or begin to be, without dependence on any thing foregoing, as their cause, ground, or reason,) takes away all proof of the being of God; which proof is summarily expressed by the apostle, in Rom. i. 20. And this is a tendency to Atheism with a witness. So that, indeed, it is the doctrine of Arminians, and not of the Calvinists, that is justly charged with a tendency to Atheism; it being built on a foundation that is the utter subversion of every demonstrative argument for the proof of a Deity; as has been shown, Part II. Sect. III.
And whereas it has often been said, that the Calvinistic doctrine of necessity saps the foundations of all religion and virtue, and tends to the greatest licentiousness of practice: this objection is built on the pretence, that our doctrine renders vain all means and endeavours, in order to be virtuous and religious. Which pretence has been already particularly considered in the 5th Section of this Part; where it has been demonstrated, that this doctrine has no such tendency; but that such a tendency is truly to be charged on the contrary doctrine: inasmuch as the notion of contingence, which their doctrine implies, in its certain consequences, overthrows all connexion in every degree, between endeavour and event, means and end.
And besides, if many other things, which have been observed to belong to the Arminian doctrine, or to be plain consequences of it, be considered, there will appear just reason to suppose, that it is that which must rather tend to licentiousness. Their doctrine excuses all evil inclinations, which men find to be natural; because, in such inclinations, they are not self-determined, as such inclinations are not owing to any choice or determination of their own Wills. Which leads men wholly to justify themselves in all their wicked actions, so far as natural inclination has bad a hand in determining their Wills to the commission of them. Yea, these notions, which suppose moral necessity and inability to be inconsistent with blame or moral obligation, will directly lead men to justify the vilest acts and practices, from the strength of their wicked inclinations of all sorts; strong inclinations inducing a moral necessity; yea, to excuse every degree of evil inclination, so far as this has evidently prevailed, and been the thing which has determined their Wills: because, so far as antecedent inclination determined the Will, so far the Will was without liberty of indifference and self-determination. Which, at last, will come to this, that men will justify themselves in all the wickedness they commit. It has been observed already, that this scheme of things exceedingly diminishes the guilt of sin, and the difference between the greatest and smallest offences; and if it be pursued in its real consequences, it leaves room for no such thing, as either virtue or vice, blame or praise in the world. And again. how naturally does this notion of the sovereign self-determining power of the Will, in all things virtuous or vicious, and whatsoever deserves either reward or punishment, tend to encourage men to put off the work of religion and virtue, and turning from sin to God ; since they have a sovereign power to determine themselves, just when they please; or if not, they are wholly excusable in going on in sin, because of their in ability to do any other.
If it should be said, that the tendency of this doctrine of necessity to licentiousness, appears by the improvement many at this day actually make of it, to justify themselves in their dissolute courses; I will not deny that some men do unreasonably abuse this doctrine, as they do many other things, which are true and excellent in their own nature: but I deny, that this proves the doctrine itself has any tendency to licentiousness. I think, the tendency of doctrines, by what now appears in the world, and in our nation in particular, may much more justly be argued, from the general effect which has been seen to attend the prevailing of the principles of Arminians, and the contrary principles; as both have had their turn of general prevalence in our nation. If it be indeed, as is pretended, that Calvinistic doctrines undermine the very foundation of all religion and morality, and enervate and disannul all rational motives to holy and virtuous practice ; and that the contrary doctrines give the inducements to virtue and goodness their proper force, and exhibit religion in a rational light, tending to recommend it to the reason of mankind, and enforce it in a manner that is agreeable to their natural notions of things: I say, if it be thus, it is remarkable, that virtue and religious practice should prevail most, when the former doctrines, so inconsistent with it, prevailed almost universally: and that ever since the latter doctrines, so happily agreeing with it, and of so proper and excellent. a tendency to promote it, have been gradually prevailing, vice, profaneness, luxury, and wickedness of all sorts, and contempt of all religion, and
of every kind of seriousness and strictness of conversation, should proportionably prevail ; and that these things should thus accompany one another, and rise and prevail one with another, now for a whole age together! It is remarkable, that this happy remedy (discovered by the free inquiries and superior sense and wisdom of this age) against the pernicious effects of Calvinism, so inconsistent with religion, and tending so much to banish all virtue from the earth, should, on so long a trial, be attended with no good effect ; but that the consequence should be the reverse of amendment; that in proportion as the remedy takes place, and is thoroughly applied, so the disease should prevail; and the very same dismal effect take place, to the highest degree, which Calvinistic doctrines are supposed to have so great a tendency to; even the banishing of religion and virtue, and the prevailing of unbounded licentiousness of manners! If these things are truly so, they are very remarkable, and matter of very curious speculation.