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IS SIN THE NECESSARY MEANS OF THE GREATEST GOOD ?
My attention has been called, at this time, to the question above stated, by a paragraph which lately appeared in the New York Evangelist. Speaking of the Doctrinal Tract Society at Boston, a correspondent of the Evangelist says,
“I hope the society will do good; and I have no doubt it will, except so far as it adopts and acts on the principle that sin is the necessary means of the greatest good, and is therefore, in every instance, of its commission, better than holiness in its place. I say except, because I do not believe that it is better to break God's laws than it is to keep them. I think God knows what is hest for himself and his kingdom than any man does. And when he, therefore, requires me to obey him on pain of death eternal, I think it is best to do it, and if God or His government is injured by it, to leave Him to look after the injury. I believe God understands his own interests and the interests of his kingdom too well to require me, on pain of eternal death, to do what will injure them. I am decidedly of the opinion that it is the safest and best on all accounts to mind God, let the consequences be what they may.'
I, Sir, am a member of the Doctrinal Tract Society, and have been so from its commencement. I know the principles on which it was instituted, and am well acquainted with most of its members; and I hesitate not to say that the insinuations contained in the foregoing paragraph are unfounded and injurious. If the writer knew no better than to pen such a paragraph, he is inexcusable for his ignorance. If he knew better, he isi nexcusable for a worse reason.
The phrase, 'Sin is the necessary means of the greatest good,' was first coined and put off upon the Orthodox, I believe, by Dr. Taylor of New Haven. It was adopted-but with such explanations as went to nullify it-by some of those who replied to him. I say, with such explanations as went to nullify it; so that I think I may safely affirm, that there is not a member of the Doctrinal Tract Society, and probably not an Orthodox person in the United States, who holds (using the words in their proper sense) that "sin in the necessary means of the greatest good.” Certainly, there is not one who holds this, as the phrase is understood by the writer in the Evangelist.
We do believe that the system which God is pursuing, and will certainly accomplish, is (notwithstanding the sin involved in it) the best conceivable system. We think it dishonorable to God to represent him as having done the best that he could, and as being sorry that he could do no better. We believe that the plan which he has adopted, and is carrying into effect, embraces the highest amount of good which he can conceive or desire,
so that his whole mind is filled and satisfied with it, and rests in it with entire complacency. We hope none of our brethren entertain a different opinion, in regard to this important subject. But is this holding that “sin is the necessary means of the greatest good ?" Nothing like it. What is “ a necessary means ?" Something more than a mere sine qua non ;-it is that which has a necessary tendency to bring about a particular end. A meuns always implics an end ; and must have some tendency to promote its end. But has sin any necessary, inherent tendency to bring about the greatest good ?' Nobody believes it. So far from this the plan of God, involving the greatest good requires that sin should be over-ruled and counteracted in all its tendencies.
Our Saviour once said, that he “came not to send peace on earth, but a sword. For I am come,” says he, " to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her niother in law.” Matt. x. 34. Suppose now it should be said, that Christ represented his religion as a necessary means of exciting wars among nations, and promoting broils and divisions in families. Would this be a fair interpretation of the Saviour's words? And yet it would be quite as fair, as to represent those who hold that God will over-rule the existence of sin for the greatest good, as believing that sin is “the necessary means of the greatest good." It is one one thing for God to cause the wrath of man to praise him ; and quite another, for the wrath and wickedness of man to have a necessary tendency, as means to an end, to promote his praise. It is one thing to suppose that God will cause sin, in opposition to all its tendencies and in spite of them all, to contribute to the greatest good; and quite another, to suppose necessary means of the greatest good.” The former of these suppositions, the great body of the Orthodox throughout the world adopt. The latter, in its proper signification, I presume no one adopts. And I hope the writer in the Evangelist, before be touches the subject again, will take pains to inform himself respecting it: and also that he will pay some attention to the ninth commandment.
1. LECTURES, on the Literary History of the Bible; by Rev. JOEL Hawks; on the Principle of Issociation, as giving dignity to the Christian Character; by Rev. T. H. GALLAUDET ; and on the Temporal Benefits of the Sabbath ; by Rev. HORACE HOOKER. Originally delivered before the Goodrich Association. Hartford : Cooke & Co. 1833. pp. 111.
We have read each of these Lectures with more than ordinary interest,
and can cheerfully recommend them to our readers as well worthy a perusal. It does not always take three men to make a book, especially in these bookmaking days, but when each of them might make a good one by himself, and two of them have done it, once and again, we may expect the better book, as the result of their joint labors.
These Lectures, however, have no relation to each other, except that they are bound together in the same volume. The subject of each is common and familiar, unless perhaps there is a slight air of novelty in the respective titles of the first and second. In the treatment of their subjects, the authors have all been happy; and many things are better said by them, than they have been wont to be said, by every one and on every occasion,
The most striking parts of Dr. Hawes' lecture are his quotations from Grimke, and his remarks on the friendliness of the Bible to civil liberty, on its power to awaken and cultivate the intellect, on its adaptedness to the wants and necessities of man, on its power of subduing all things to itself, and on the prospect and probability of its final universal reign. What he says on the history and literature of the Bible, though learned and adapted to be useful by enlightening the common reader, is well known and familiar to most persons acquainted with Biblical studies. But on the topics above mentioned, his thoughts, if not altogether new, are yet so fresh in form and manner, and so earnest in application, that they must, we think, necessarily lead to an enlarged estimation of the value of the Bible, and to a quickened sense of obligation, on the part of all its friends, to spread it abroad as fast as possible, till all of every land are supplied with the inestimable treasure. The lecture is a valuable one, and contains as succinct and lucid a view of the copious subject of which it treats, as could well be given.
In the lecture of Mr. Gallaudet, the author states the law of association both as to thought (which is all perhaps that is more commonly observed) and as to feeling, which, however, is no less important. He then goes on to point out some of the circumstances which go to modify this law; such as the progress of time, repetition, the perception of sensible objects, and the interest we feel in the objects associated, at the time when they are thus connected in the mind. In all this, though the general subject is trite, what is said, is said strikingly, often with much taste and beauty, as well as strength and force, in a way, too, not unfrequently, to make many common things appear in a new light.
The general result to which he comes in this part of his lecture he sums “But if these objects of pursuit, and of hope, are low, degrading, vicious, the mind that directs its desires and purposes towards them, must of necessity have similar associations of thought and feeling, and enjoyments, if, in. deed, they can be called by that name, of the most base and unworthy kind.
“ It seems, then, to be an important truth, that go far as we aim to have our happiness, in this world, derived from other sources than those of mere animal enjoyment, we are dependent, for a great amount of it, on our associations of thought and feeling; that these associations, generally, take place in accordance with the prevailing desires and purposes of the soul, and of course, derive their character from the objects of pursuit, and of hope, to which these purposes and desires are directed. If these objects are worthy of the affections of a virtuous and elevated mind, such will be the character of the associations of that mind, and such the kind of happiness which it enjoys.
“ It follows, also, from what has been said, that those objects of time and sense with which we are daily conversant; those occupations in which we are engaged; those duties which we are called upon to perform ; those innocent pleasures in which we are permitted to indulge ; those sufferings, difficulties, and trials, which we have to endure, become to us sources of happi. ness, on the one hand, or of wretchedness upon the other, not so much from the immediate and direct effects which they produce upon us, as from the associations of thought and feeling with which they are connected. So far, then, as we aspire to enjoyments, not of an animal, but of an intellectual and moral kind, we have it in our power, (by the control that our desires and purposes have over our associations of thought and feeling) to shed the freshness and brightness of some kind of mental imagery, (as onr peculiar taste may be,) upon all the objects and pursuits which interest us, and to see reflected from all that is around us, as in the mirror of Nature itself, the splendid illusions of a poetical fancy, or the fairer and phrophetic visions of heaven-born Hope."
In the remaining part of the lecture, his object is, to exemplify the truths contained in this result, in relation to Christian character, or to use his own language, 'in relation to that kind and degree of happiness, and to that elevation and dignity of character, which the objects of the Christian's faith and hope, have a direct and natural tendency to produce in him, in strict accord. ance with the known laws of the human mind, and more especially with this law of association.'
He then proceeds to speak of the body as a medium of pain or pleasure also of the contemplations of the works of nature, and finally of the occu pations, duties, pleasures, sufferings, difficulties and trials of life.
Whether it is because we apprehend him less perfectly in his exemplifica. tions than in the statement of his principles, or because we have a fondness for principle rather than illustration, we cannot say, (though we think it is not want of understanding our author,) but for some reason we have not been so much interested in the latter part of the lecture as we were in the first part of it. However, the whole is full of elevated and pure thought, expressed in the author's usual happy style ; and a perusal of the lecture can hardly fail to awaken greater watchfulness over the operations of a principle, which, though lamentably overlooked, affects materially our happiness and our usefulness. We wish he had illustrated the subject in relation to the duty of parents and others in the education of the young, and the formation in them of intellectual and moral character; a subject which we have thought much of, and which, we doubt not, Mr. Gallaudet would do ample justice to, he should engage in it.
But of the three lectures, we have been most interested, in the last, by Mr. Hooker. He is less known as an author (except as editor of the Conn. Observer) than either of the other gentlemen : but this lecture we think will give him a favorable introduction to the community, and lead the intelligent and reflecting who are favorable to good order and the welfare of society, to wish him to come forward more at length, and on such other topics, besides the subject of this lecture, as he may feel interested to take up.
It does not belong to us to give him a subject; and yet his happy and successful treatment of the temporal benefits of the Sabbath, has suggested, as we have read, a subject which we will venture to suggest, as one to the discussion of which we should think Mr. Hooker particularly well adapted. George Combe has written an instructive and useful book on the constitu. tion of man in relation to external things; and what we have thought of for Mr. H., is, the constitution of man in relation to internal things : or, the adaptedness of the Law and the Gospel of God to the physical, intellectual and moral necessities of man. The subject may have been touched upon slightly in one or two of its bearings by Erskine, but otherwise we do not recollect at present of anything on any part of it, answering to what we conceive of as here suggested. We wish, therefore, Mr. Hooker would take it up, and we doubt not if he will, and will give us such a philosophico-religious discussion of the whole subject, as he has of that part of it contained in this lecture, that he will bring home to a large class of thinking men, an evidence of the truth, reality and infinite desirableness of true religion, which they have not been accustomed to feel, and which has never per haps been fully presented for consideration. In relation further to the lecture, after glancing at the simplicity and benevolence of the Sabbath as a proof of its divine origin, apart from revelation, the proof from which is also briefly noticed, Mr. Hooker proceeds with his main subject, the temporal benefits of the Sabbath, considering them as either Physical, Intel lectual, or Civil. These topics he illustrates at length, showing that the Sabs bath is just such an institution as meets the necessities of man in relation to each of these particulars. He is neat and classical, as well just and forcible, and we do not remember one among all the authors who have given us treat; ises or discourses on the general subject of the Sabbath, who has presented it in the view which Mr. H. takes of it, with more weight of seriousness, or force of conviction, than he does in this lecture. We do not know how it may strike other minds, but the thought has several times occurred in reading it, that it would make, with some little alteration perhaps, a good tract for distribution; especially among magistratee and legislators. And if the members of our national government and of our respective state governments, could have a copy of it put into their hands, with a polite and respectful request that they would consider it, might we not hope that something would yet he done, to save so sacred an institution from utter desecration, and even to bring back its primitive blessedness and glory?
We know nothing in particular of the Goodrich Association, whose meetings, it seems, occasioned the delivery of these lectures; but we are glad to see men of eminence, turning the incidents of life into occasions of usefulness ; and we hope their example may be followed, more and more, till the utile shall come to be all in all, in every department of business and of relaxation.
2. WAR UNREASONABLE AND UNSCRIPTURAL. An Address before the Hartford [Conn.) County Peace Society. By CYRUS YALE, Pastor of the First Church in New Hariford. Published by the Society, Hartford , Printed by Philemon Canfield. 1833.
We have been gratified with the apparent increase of interest in the cause