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generally adopted, and which Scripture clearly supports by asserting, that God proves his people, whether they will walk in his law or no; (Exod. xvi. 4;) that man may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. (Isaiah vii. 15.)
A moment's reflection must show us, that a state adapted for this purpose could not possibly be constituted without the existence of difficulties; and some further consideration may, perhaps, discover to us the necessity of our passing through a probationary state. For does not the perfection of virtue, and even its very existence, entirely consist in the love of virtue, which love can alone be produced by its being brought in contact with its opponent vice? And is not a free agency of the will an essential ingredient in the composition of all rational beings, who without it would be mere machines, scarce worthy of the name, or of their great Creator's favour; and could that free agency be exercised without good and evil being placed before it for its choice? Our love of virtue, therefore, and adherence to it must be proved by the degree of vigilance with which we endeavour to combat with frailties that attack our nature, which, if not opposed, would insensibly lead us into error; by the diligence with which we cultivate every amiable disposition in our hearts, which, if neglected, would soon become productive of thorns and briars; by enjoying the innocent pleasures of life within the bound of reason and moderation, which, if not restrained within these limits, would betray us into vice; and by our disregarding the frowns of the world when they would affright us out of the path of duty. But superadded to these obstacles, which often impede our progress in virtue, we sometimes, nay frequently, observe in the human kind malignant inclinations, for the existence of which it appears difficult to account; such as a malicious desire to teaze, afflict, distress, and torment their fellow creatures by various methods, and sometimes when no possible advantage could accrue to themselves : and some persons have been known to exemplify so strong a thirst for dire revenge, as to sacrifice, for the gratification of this fell passion, every desirable or important object in life, and even life itself, with other detestable dispositions that could be mentioned; but we will not stain these pages by inserting the black catalogue of evil desires, demonstrated by the committal of atrocious crimes, which might be extracted from the annals of mankind.
That we inherit a considerable portion of moral turpitude from our progenitors, is a received opinion which Scripture fully confirms. For a corrupt tree cannot bring forth uncorrupted fruit, (Matt. vii. 17 ;) and that the frailty and corruption interwoven in our nature, might, if not resolutely opposed by virtue, engender these monsters, is a probable conjecture. But it is not very compatible with the sentiments entertained respecting the goodness of God, to imagine that He would permit any intelligent creature to enter into its primeval state of existence with minds completely under the dominion of such malign inclinations. If we, therefore, never observed these
malignant passions discovering themselves by overt acts of wickedness, till it might be supposed that the frailty and corruption incidental to our nature was strengthened and ripened by time, so as to render it capable of committing great and flagrant enormities, we might ascribe these baneful consequences to our having pampered and nurtured our own evil desires; but the occasional instances which history and experience both
present to our view of early depravity, sometimes even when youth has been favoured with every possible advantage that could be derived from education and example, prevent our uniformly attributing the existence of these malign passions, and the monstrous crimes committed in consequence of them, to this origin. Another cause for perplexity likewise exhibits itself, by our occasionally observing persons, the general bent of whose inclinations is decidedly virtuous, and who take the greatest pains in endeavouring to extirpate all moral evil from their hearts, and to cherish every amiable affection in their minds, yet on some accidental abatement in their watchfulness, insensibly led, or hastily betrayed, into the commission of crimes at the recollection of which they shudder, and which fill them with the keenest remorse and most poignant regret.
We will only mention one more circumstance that gives birth to inquiry; which is the instances that sometimes occur of most beneficial effects being manifestly produced through the agency of wicked persons, from the inversion of whose malicious schemes and evil actions have often resulted the happiest consequences to mankind. It is, however, utterly repugnant with our ideas of an infinitely good Being to imagine, that He would himself be the suggestor of evil thoughts and the abettor of evil actions, even though He knew that the highest advantages to his creatures would ultimately be derived from them. 6 no man therefore say when he is tempted, that he is tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man.” (James i. 13.) Now we find the researches of the heathen philosophers ascribing the origin of what we denominate natural evil to the anger of enraged deities: the uninformed savage imputing its existence to “ some invisible, malicious powers, prone to inflict evil, whom they regard as the enemies of mankind, and who are reputed by them as the authors of every calamity that afflicts the humanrace:** “Zoroastres, the great reformer of the Magian religion, attributing its introduction on our globe to the inalevolent interference of an evil angel, whom he describes as the author and director of all evil.”+ And may not the rational inquirer, from the causes for perplexity just mentioned, (and many more might be adduced,) and from the nature of those malignant passions, whose sole gratification appears to consist in the perpetration of mischief, a disposition which we often hear denominated, perhaps without reflection, though probably with much truth, as purely diabolical; may he not also
• Robertson's History of America.
+ Prideaux. We shall, in a future page, take occasion to remark on what ground Zoroastres formed this opinion.
be led to conjecture that those various evils which we distinguish by the epithets of moral and natural, are permitted to assail the human race through the medium of an invisible, malicious agent.*
We have just remarked, that probably without reflection the appellation of purely diabolical is often annexed to certain evil inclinations of the mind; but supposing the conjecture at which our reason has glanced to be founded in truth, we may certainly, from the justest arguments,
deduce the same conclusion. For the manner in which we discover the moral perfections of God, is from observations on the nature of those qualities which we esteem most excellent in ourselves, or our fellow-creatures; and we rationally conclude, that in the Deity must be concentrated every virtue in full perfection, (virtue being, as Mr. Addison remarks, “ of an eternal nature,”) which, in an imperfect degree, we so highly estimate in created beings. From parity of reasoning, therefore, we can, with equal justice, form an opinion respecting the nature of an evil being, as of a good one; and may with as much certainty impute to him all those malign passions which we most abhor when met with in human creatures.
It might be asked, what degree of difference exists between a malicious evil agent being allowed to molest us, and to take every advantage of our natural frailty and imbibed corruption; and our being originally sent into this world with minds completely under the dominion of wicked dispositions. Some reflection
* This work will contain an inquiry into the origin of evil.