[This is taken from Leslie Stephens' Hours in a Library.]
Two of the ablest thinkers whom America has yet produced were born in New England at the beginning of the eighteenth century. The theorists who would trace all our characteristics to inheritance from some remote ancestor might see in Jonathan Edwards and Benjamin Franklin normal representatives of the two types from which the genuine Yankee is derived. Though blended in various proportions, and though one may exist almost to the exclusion of the other, an element of shrewd mother-wit and an element of transcendental enthusiasm are to be detected in all who boast a descent from the pilgrim fathers. Franklin, born in 1706, represents in its fullest development the more earthly side of this compound. A thoroughbred utilitarian, full of sagacity, and carrying into all regions of thought that strange ingenuity which makes an American the handiest of all human beings, Franklin is best embodied in his own poor Richard. Honesty is the best policy: many a little makes a mickle: the second vice is lying, the first is running in debt; and—
'Get what you can, and what you get hold;
'Tis the stone that will turn all your lead into gold.'
These and a string of similar maxims are the pith of Franklin's message to the world. Franklin, however, was not merely a man in whom the practical intelligence was developed in a very remarkable degree, but was fortunate in coming upon a crisis admirably suited to his abilities, and in being generally in harmony with the spirit of his age. He succeeded, as we know, in snatching lightning from the heavens, and the sceptre from tyrants; and had his reward in the shape of much contemporary homage from French philosophers, and lasting renown amongst his countrymen. Meanwhile, Jonathan Edwards, his senior by three years, had the fate common to men who are unfitted for the struggles of daily life, and whose philosophy does not harmonise with the dominant current of the time. A speculative recluse, with little faculty of literary expression, and given to utter opinions shocking to the popular mind, he excited little attention during his lifetime, except amongst the sharers of his own religious persuasions; and, when noticed after his death, the praise of his intellectual acuteness has generally been accompanied with an expression of abhorrence for his supposed moral obtuseness. Mr. Lecky, for example, whilst speaking of Edwards as 'probably the ablest defender of Calvinism,' mentions his treatise on Original Sin as 'one of the most revolting books that have ever proceeded from the pen of man' ('Rationalism,' i. 404).
That intense dislike, which is far from uncommon, for severe reasoning has even made a kind of reproach to Edwards of what is called his 'inexorable logic.' To condemn a man for being honestly in the wrong is generally admitted to be unreasonable; but people are even more unforgiving to the sin of being honestly in the right. The frankness with which Edwards avowed opinions, not by any means peculiar to himself, has left a certain stain upon his reputation. He has also suffered in general repute from a cause which should really increase our interest in his writings. Metaphysicians, whilst admiring his acuteness, have been disgusted by his adherence to an outworn theology; and theologians have cared little for a man who was primarily a philosophical speculator, and has used his philosophy to bring into painful relief the most terrible dogmas of the ancient creeds. Edwards, however, is interesting just because he is a connecting link between two widely different phases of thought. He connects the expiring Calvinism of the old Puritan theocracy with what is called the transcendentalism embodied in the writings of Emerson and other leaders of young America. He is remarkable, too, as illustrating, at the central point of the eighteenth century, those speculative tendencies which were most vitally opposed to the then dominant philosophy of Locke and Hume.
And, finally, there is a still more permanent interest in the man himself, as exhibiting in high relief the weak and the strong points of the teaching of which Calvinism represents only one embodiment. His life, in striking contrast to that of his more celebrated contemporary, ran its course far away from the main elements of European activity. With the exception of a brief stay at New York, he lived almost exclusively in the interior of what was then the thinly-settled colony of Massachusetts. His father was for nearly sixty years minister of a church in Connecticut, and his mother's father, the 'celebrated Solomon Stoddard,' for about an equal time minister of a church at Northampton, Massachusetts. Young Jonathan, brought up at the feet of these venerable men, after the strictest sect of the Puritans, was sent to Yale at the age of twelve, took his B.A. degree at the age of seventeen, and two years afterwards became a preacher at New York. Thence he returned to a tutorship at Yale, but in his twenty-fourth year was ordained as colleague of his grandfather Stoddard, and spent at Northampton the next twenty-three years of his life. It may be added that he married early a wife of congenial temper, and had eleven children. One of his daughters,—it is an odd combination,—was the mother of Aaron Burr, the duellist who killed Hamilton, and afterwards became the prototype of all Southern secessionists.
The external facts, however, of Edwards' life are of little interest, except as indicating the influences to which he was exposed. Puritanism, though growing faint, was still powerful in New England; it was bred in his bones, and he was drilled from his earliest years into its sternest dogmas. Some curious fragments of his early life and letters indicate the nature of his spiritual development. Whilst still almost a boy, he writes down solemn resolutions, and practises himself in severe self-inspection. He resolves 'never to do, be, or suffer anything in soul or body, more or less, but what tends to the glory of God;' to 'live with all my might while I do live;' 'never to speak anything that is ridiculous or matter of laughter on the Lord's Day' (a resolution which we might think rather superfluous, even though extended to other days); and, 'frequently to renew the dedication of myself to God, which was made at my baptism, which I solemnly renewed when I was received into the communion of the Church, and which I have solemnly ratified this 12th day of January 1723' (i. 18). He pledges himself, in short, to a life of strict self-examination and absolute devotion to what he takes for the will of God. Similar resolutions have doubtless been made by countless young men, brought up under the same conditions, and diaries of equal value have been published by the authors of innumerable saintly biographies. In Edwards' mouth, however, they really had a meaning, and bore corresponding results.
An interesting paper gives an account of those religious 'experiences' to which his sect attaches so tremendous an importance. From his childhood, he tells us, his mind had been full of objections to the doctrine of God's sovereignty. It appeared to him to be a 'horrible doctrine' that God should choose whom He would, and reject whom He pleased, 'leaving them eternally to perish and be tormented eternally in hell.' The whole history of his intellectual development is involved in the process by which he became gradually reconciled to this appalling dogma. In the second year of his collegiate course, we are told, which would be about the fourteenth of his age, he read Locke's Essay with inexpressible delight. The first glimpse of metaphysical inquiry, it would seem, revealed to him the natural bent of his mind, and opened to him the path of speculation in which he ever afterwards delighted. Locke, though Edwards always mentions him with deep respect, was indeed a thinker of a very different school.
The disciple owed to his master, not a body of doctrine, but the impulse to intellectual activity. He succeeded in working out for himself a satisfactory answer to the problem by which he had been perplexed. His cavils ceased as his reason strengthened. 'God's absolute sovereignty and justice' seemed to him to be as clear as anything he saw with his eyes; 'at least,' he adds, 'it is so at times.' Nay, he even came to rejoice in the doctrine and regard it as 'infinitely pleasant, bright, and sweet' (i. 33). The Puritan assumptions were so ingrained in his nature that the agony of mind which they caused never led him to question their truth, though it animated him to discover a means of reconciling them to reason; and the reconciliation is the whole burden of his ablest works. The effect upon his mind is described in terms which savour of a less stern school of faith. God's glory was revealed to him throughout the whole creation, and often threw him into ecstasies of devotion (i. 33). 'God's excellency, His wisdom, His purity, and love seemed to appear in everything: in the sun, moon, and stars: in the clouds and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, and trees; in the water and all nature, which used greatly to fix my mind. I often used to sit and view the moon for continuance, and in the day spent much time in viewing the clouds and sky, to behold the sweet glory of God in these things; in the meantime singing forth, with a low voice, my contemplations of the Creator and Redeemer.' Thunder, he adds, had once been terrible to him; 'now scarce anything in all the works of nature' was so sweet (i. 36). It seemed as if the 'majestic and awful voice of God's thunder' was in fact the voice of its Creator. Thunder and lightning, we know, suggested characteristically different contemplations to Franklin. Edwards' utterances are as remarkable for their amiability as for their non-scientific character.
We see in him the gentle mystic rather than the stern divine who consigned helpless infants to eternal torture without a question of the goodness of their Creator. This vein of meditation, however, continued to be familiar to him. He spent most of his time reflecting on Divine things, and often walking in solitary places and woods to enjoy uninterrupted soliloquies and converse with God. At New York he often retired to a quiet spot—now, one presumes, seldom used for such purposes—on the banks of the Hudson river, to abandon himself to his quiet reveries, or to 'converse on the things of God' with one Mr. John Smith. To the end of his life he indulged in the same habit. His custom was to rise at four o'clock in the morning, to spend thirteen hours daily in his study, and to ride out after dinner to some lonely grove, where he dismounted and walked by himself, with a notebook ready at hand for the arrest of stray thoughts. Evidently he possessed one of those rare temperaments to which the severest intellectual exercise is a source of the keenest enjoyment; and though he must often have strayed in to the comparatively dreary labyrinths of metaphysical puzzles, his speculations had always an immediate reference to what he calls 'Divine things.' Once, he tells us, as he rode into the woods, in 1737, and alighted according to custom 'to walk in Divine contemplation and prayer,' he had so extraordinary a view of the glory of the Son of God, and His wonderful grace, that he remained for about an hour 'in a flood of tears and weeping aloud.'
This intensity of spiritual vision was frequently combined with a harrowing sense of his own corruption. 'My wickedness,' he says, 'as I am in myself has long appeared to me perfectly ineffable; like an infinite deluge or mountains over my head.' Often, for many years, he has had in his mind and his mouth the words 'Infinite upon infinite!' His heart looks to him like 'an abyss infinitely deeper than hell;' and yet, he adds, it seems to him that 'his conviction of sin is exceedingly small.' Whilst weeping and crying for his sins, he seemed to know that 'his repentance was nothing to his sin' (i. 41). Extravagant expressions of this kind are naturally rather shocking to the outsider; and, to those who are incapable of sympathising, they may even appear to be indications of hypocrisy. Nobody was more alive than Edwards himself to the danger of using such phrases mechanically. When you call yourself the worst of men, he says, be careful that you do not think highly of yourself just because you think so meanly. And if you reply, 'No, I have not a high opinion of my humility; it seems to me I am as proud as the devil;' ask again, 'whether on this very account that you think yourself as proud as the devil, you do not think yourself to be very humble' (iv. 282). That is a characteristic bit of subtilising, and it indicates the danger of all this excessive introspection. Edwards would not have accepted the moral that the best plan is to think about yourself as little as possible; for from his point of view this constant cross-examination of all your feelings, this dissection of emotion down to its finest and most intricate convolutions, was of the very essence of religion. No one, however, can read his account of his own feelings, even when he runs into the accustomed phraseology, without perceiving the ring of genuine feeling. He is morbid, it may be, but he is not insincere; and even his strained hyperboles are scarcely unintelligible when considered as the expression of the sentiment produced by the effort of a human being to live constantly in presence of the absolute and the infinite.
The event which most powerfully influenced Edwards' mind during his life at Northampton was one of those strange spiritual storms which then, as now, swept periodically across the Churches. Protestants generally call them revivals; in Catholic countries they impel pilgrims to some devotional shrine; Edwards and his contemporaries described such a phenomenon as 'a remarkable outpouring of God's Holy Spirit.' He has carefully described the symptoms of one such commotion, in which he was a main agent; and two or three later treatises, discussing some of the problems suggested by the scenes he witnessed, testify to the profoundness of the impression upon his mind. In fact, as we shall presently see, Edwards' whole philosophical system was being put to a practical test by these events. Was the excitement, as modern observers would say, due to a mere moral epidemic, or was it actually produced by the direct interposition in human affairs of the Almighty Ruler? Unhesitatingly recognising the hand of the God the very thought of whom crushed him into self-annihilation, Edwards is unconsciously troubled by the strange contrast between the effect and the stupendous cause assigned for it.
When the angel of the Lord comes down to trouble the waters, one would expect rather to see oceans upheaved than a trifling ripple in an insignificant pond. There is something almost pathetic in his eagerness to magnify the proportions of the event. He boasts that in six months 'more than three hundred souls were savingly brought home to Christ in this town' (iii. 23). The town itself, it may be observed, though then one of the most populous in the country, was only of eighty-two years' standing, and reckoned about two hundred families, the era of Chicagos not having yet dawned upon the world. The conversion, however, of this village appeared to some 'divines and others' to herald the approach of the 'conflagration' (iii. 59); and though Edwards disavows this rash conjecture, he anticipates with some confidence the approach of the millennium. The 'isles and ships of Tarshish,' mentioned in Isaiah, are plainly meant for America, which is to be 'the firstfruits of that glorious day' (iii. 154); and he collects enough accounts of various revivals of an analogous kind which had taken place in Salzburg, Holland, and several of the British Colonies, to justify the anticipation 'that these universal commotions are the forerunners of something exceeding glorious approaching' (iii. 414). The limited area of the disturbance perhaps raised less difficulty than the equivocal nature of many of the manifestations. In Edwards' imagination, Satan was always on the watch to produce an imitation, and, it would seem, a curiously accurate imitation, of the Divine impulses. As De Foe says, in a different sense—
Wherever God erects a house of prayer,
The devil always builds a chapel there.
And some people were unkind enough to trace in the diseases and other questionable products of the revival a distinct proof of the 'operation of the evil spirit' (iii. 96). Edwards felt the vital importance of distinguishing between the two classes of supernatural agency, so different in their source, and yet so thoroughly similar in their effects. There is something rather touching, though at times our sympathy is not quite unequivocal, in the simplicity with which he traces distinct proofs of the Divine hand in the familiar phenomena of religious conversions. The stories seem stale and profitless to us which he accepted with awe-stricken reverence as a demonstrative testimony to the Divinity of the work. He gives, for example, an anecdote of a young woman, who, being jealous of another conversion, resolved to bring about her own by the rather naïf expedient of reading the Bible straight through.
Having begun her task on Monday, the desired effect was produced on Thursday, and she felt it possible to skip at once to the New Testament. The crisis ran through its usual course, ending in a state of rapture, during which she enjoyed for days 'a kind of beatific vision of God.' The poor girl was very ill, and expressed 'great longings to die.' When her brother read in Job about worms feeding on the dead body, she 'appeared with a pleasant smile, and said it was sweet to her to think of her being in such circumstances' (iii. 69). The longing was speedily gratified, and she departed, perhaps not to find in another world that the universe had been laid out precisely in accordance with the theories of Mr. Jonathan Edwards, but at least leaving behind her—so we are assured—memories of touching humility and spirituality. If Abigail Hutchinson strikes us as representing, on the whole, rather a morbid type of human excellence, what are we to say to Phebe Bartlet, who had just passed her fourth birthday in April 1735? (iii. 70). This infant of more than Yankee precocity was converted by her brother, who had just gone through the same process at the age of eleven. She took to 'secret prayer,' five or six times a day, and would never suffer herself to be interrupted. Her experiences are given at great length, including a refusal to eat plums, 'because it was sin;' her extreme interest in a thought suggested to her by a text from the Revelation, about 'supping with God;' and her request to her father to replace a cow which a poor man had lost. She took great delight in 'private religious meetings,' and was specially edified by the sermons of Mr. Edwards, for whom she professed, as he records, with perhaps some pardonable complacency, the warmest affection.
The grotesque side of the story of this detestable infant is, however, blended with something more shocking. The poor little wretch was tormented by the fear of hell-fire; and her relations and pastor appear to have done their best to stimulate this, as well as other religious sentiments. Edwards boasts at a subsequent period that 'hundreds of little children' had testified to the glory of God's work (iii. 146). He afterwards remarks incidentally that many people had considered as 'intolerable' the conduct of the ministers in 'frightening poor innocent little children with talk of hell-fire and eternal damnation' (iii. 200). And indeed we cannot deny that when reading some of the sermons to which poor Phebe Bartlet must have listened, and remembering the nature of the audience, the fingers of an unregenerate person clench themselves involuntarily as grasping an imaginary horsewhip. The answer given by Edwards does not diminish the impression. Innocent as children may seem to be, he replies, 'yet if they are out of Christ, they are not so in God's sight, but are young vipers, and are infinitely more hateful than vipers, and are in a most miserable condition as well as grown persons; and they are naturally very senseless and stupid, being born as the wild ass's colt, and need much to awaken them' (iii. 200). Doubtless they got it, and if we will take Edwards' word for it, the awakening process never did harm in any one instance. Here we are touching the doctrines which naturally excite a fierce revolt of the conscience against the most repulsive of all theological dogmas, though unfortunately a revolt which is apt to generate an indiscriminating hostility.
The revival gradually spent its force; and, as usual, the more unpleasant symptoms began to assume greater prominence as the more spiritual impulse decayed. In Edwards' phraseology, 'it began to be very sensible that the Spirit of God was gradually withdrawing from us, and after this time Satan seemed to be set more loose, and raged in a dreadful manner' (iii. 77). From the beginning of the excitement, the usual physical manifestation, leapings, and roarings and convulsions (iii. 131, 205), had shown themselves; and Edwards labours to show that in this case they were genuine marks of a Divine impulse, and not of mere enthusiasm, as in the externally similar cases of the Quakers, the French prophets, and others (iii. 109). Now, however, more startling phenomena presented themselves. Satan persuaded a highly respectable citizen to cut his throat. Others saw visions, and had fancied inspirations; whilst from some hints it would seem probable that grosser outrages on morality resulted from indiscriminate gatherings of frenzied enthusiasts (iii. 284). Finally, people's minds were diverted by the approach of his Excellency the Governor to settle an Indian treaty, and the building of a new meeting-house altered the channel of enthusiasm (iii. 79). Northampton settled down into its normal tranquillity.
Some years passed, and, as religious zeal cooled, Edwards became involved in characteristic difficulties. The pastor, it may easily be supposed, was not popular with the rising generation. He had, as he confesses with his usual candour, 'a constitution in many respects peculiarly unhappy, attended with flaccid solids; vapid, sizy, and scarce fluids; and a low tide of spirits; often occasioning a kind of childish weakness and contemptibleness of speech, presence and demeanour; with a disagreeable dulness and stiffness, much unfitting me for conversation, but more especially for the government of a college,' which he was requested to undertake (i. 86). He was, says his admiring biographer, 'thorough in the government of his children,' who consequently 'reverenced, esteemed, and loved him.' He adopted the plan, less popular now than then, and even more decayed in America than in England, of 'thoroughly subduing' his children as soon as they showed any tendency to self-will. He was a 'great enemy' to all 'vain amusements;' and even after his children had grown up, he enforced their abstinence from such 'pernicious practice,' and never allowed them to be out after nine at night. Any gentleman, we are happy to add, was given proper opportunities for courting his daughters after consulting their parents, but on condition of conforming strictly to the family regulations (i. 52, 53). This Puritan discipline appears to have succeeded with Edwards' own family; but a gentleman with flaccid solids, vapid fluids, and a fervent belief in hell-fire is seldom appreciated by the youth even of a Puritan village.
Accordingly, Edwards got into trouble by endeavouring to force his own notions of discipline amongst certain young people, belonging to 'considerable families,' who were said to indulge in loose conversation and equivocal books. They possibly preferred 'Pamela,' which had then just revealed a new source of amusement to the world, to awakening sermons; and Edwards' well-meant efforts to suppress the evil set the town 'in a blaze' (i. 64). A more serious quarrel followed. Edwards maintained the doctrine, which had been gradually dying out amongst the descendants of the Puritans, that converted persons alone should be admitted to the Lord's Supper. The practice had been different at Northampton; and when Edwards announced his intention of enforcing the test of professed conversion, a vigorous controversy ensued. The dispute lasted for some years, with much mutual recrimination. A kind of ecclesiastical council, formed from the neighbouring churches, decided by a majority of one that he should be dismissed if his people desired it; and the people voted for his dismissal by a majority of more than 200 to 20 (i. 69).
Edwards was thus a martyr to his severe sense of discipline. His admirers have lamented over the sentence by which the ablest of American thinkers was banished in a kind of disgrace. Impartial readers will be inclined to suspect that those who suffered under so rigorous a spiritual ruler had perhaps some reason on their side. However that may be, and I do not presume to have any opinion upon a question involving such complex ecclesiastical disputes, the result to literature was fortunate. In 1751 Edwards was appointed to a mission for Indians, founded at Stockbridge, in the remotest corner of Massachusetts, where a few remnants of the aborigines were settled on a township granted by the colony. There were great hopes, we are told, of the probable influence of the mission, which were destined to frustration from accidental causes. The hopes can hardly have rested on the character of the preacher. It is difficult to imagine a more grotesque relation between a minister and his congregation than that which must have subsisted between Edwards and his barbarous flock. He had remarked pathetically in one of his writings on the very poor prospect open to the Houssatunnuck Indians, if their salvation depended on the study of the evidences of Christianity (iv. 245). And if Edwards preached upon the topics of which his mind was fullest, their case would have been still harder. For it was in the remote solitudes of this retired corner that he gave himself up to those abstruse meditations on free-will and original sin which form the substance of his chief writings.
A sermon in the Houssatunnuck language, if Edwards ever acquired that tongue, upon predestination, the differences between the Arminian and the Calvinist schemes, Liberty of Indifference, and other such doctrines, would hardly be an improving performance. If, however, his labours in this department 'were attended with no remarkable visible success' (i. 83), he thought deeply and wrote much. The publication of his treatise on the Freedom of the Will followed in 1754, and upon the strength of the reputation which it won for him, he was appointed President of New Jersey College in the end of 1757, only to die of small-pox in the following March. His death cut short some considerable literary schemes, not, however, of a kind calculated to add to his reputation. Various remains were published after his death, and we have ample materials for forming a comprehensive judgment of his theories. In one shape or another he succeeded in giving utterance to his theory upon the great problems of life; and there is little cause for regret that he did not succeed in completing that 'History of the Work of Redemption' which was to have been his opus magnum. He had neither the knowledge nor the faculties for making much of a Puritan view of universal history, and he has left a sufficient indication of his general conception of such a book.
The book upon the Freedom of the Will, which is his main title to philosophical fame, bears marks of the conditions under which it was composed, and which certainly did not tend to confer upon an abstruse treatise any additional charm. Edwards' style is heavy and languid; he seldom indulges in an illustration, and those which he gives are far from lively; it is only at rare intervals that his logical ingenuity in stating some intricate argument clothes his thought in language of corresponding neatness. He has, in fact, the faults natural to an isolated thinker. He gives his readers credit for being familiar with the details of the labyrinth in which he had wandered till every intricacy was plainly mapped out in his own mind, and frequently dwells at tiresome length upon some refinement which probably never occurred to anyone but himself. A writer who, like Hume, is at once an acute thinker and a great literary artist, is content to aim a decisive blow at the vital points of the theory which he is opposing, and leaves to his readers the task of following out more remote consequences; Edwards, after winning the decisive victory, insists upon attacking his adversary in every position in which he might conceivably endeavour to entrench himself. It seems to be his aim to answer every objection which could possibly be suggested, and, of course, he answers many objections which no one would raise, whilst probably omitting others of which no forethought could warn him. The book reads like a verbatim report of those elaborate dialogues which he was in the habit of holding with himself in his solitary ramblings.
There is some truth in Goldsmith's remark upon the ease of gaining an argumentative victory when you are at once opponent and respondent. It must be added, however, that any man who is at all fond of speculation finds in his second self the most obstinate and perplexing of antagonists. No one else raises such a variety of empty and vexatious quibbles, and splits hairs with such surprising versatility. It is true that your double often shows a certain discretion, and whilst obstinately defending certain untenable positions contrives to glide over some weak places, which come to light with provoking unexpectedness when you are encountered by an external enemy. Edwards, indeed, guards himself with extreme care by an elaborate system of logical divisions and subdivisions against the possibility of so unpleasant a surprise; but no man can dispense with the aid of a living antagonist, free from all suspicion of being a man of straw. The opponents against whom he labours most strenuously were unfortunately very feeble creatures for the most part; such as poor Chubb, the Deist, and the once well-known Dr. Whitby, who had changed sides in more than one controversy with more credit to his candour than to his force of mind. Certain difficulties may, therefore, have evaded the logical network in which he tried to enclose them; but, on the whole, he is rather over than under anxious to stop every conceivable loophole. Condensation, with a view to placing the vital points of his doctrine in more salient relief, would have greatly improved his treatise. But the fault is natural in a philosophical recluse, more intent upon thorough investigation than upon lucid exposition.
Without following his intricate reasonings, the main position may be indicated in a few words. The doctrine, in fact, which Edwards asserted may be said to be simply that everything has a cause, and that human volitions are no more an exception to this universal law than any other class of phenomena. This belief in the universality of causation rests with him upon a primary intuition (v. 55), and not upon experience; and his whole argument pursues the metaphysical method instead of appealing, as a modern school would appeal, to the results of observation. The Arminian opponent of necessity must, as he argues, either deny this self-evident principle, or be confined to statements purely irrelevant to the really important question. The book is occupied in hunting down all the evasions by which these conclusions may be escaped, and in showing that the true theory, when rightly understood, is obnoxious to no objections on the score of morality. The ordinary mode of meeting the argument is by appealing to consciousness. We know that we are free, as Dr. Johnson said, and there's an end on't. Edwards argues at great length, and in many forms, that this summary reply involves a confusion between the two very different propositions: 'We can do what we will,' and 'We can will what we will.' Consciousness really testifies that, if we desire to raise our right hand, our right hand will rise in the absence of external compulsion. It does not show that the desire itself may either exist or not exist, independently of any preceding causes either external or internal. The ordinary definition of free-will assumes an infinite series of volitions, each determining all that has gone before; or, to let Edwards speak for himself, and it will be a sufficient specimen of his style, he says in a passage which sums up the whole argument, that the assertion of free-will either amounts to the merely verbal proposition that you have power to will what you have power to will; 'or the meaning must be that a man has power to will as he pleases or chooses to will; that is, he has power by one act of choice to choose another; by an antecedent act of will to choose a consequent act, and therein to execute his own choice. And if this be their meaning, it is nothing but shuffling with those they dispute with, and baffling their own reason. For still the question returns, wherein lies man's liberty in that antecedent act of will which chose the consequent act? The answer, according to the same principle, must be, that his liberty lies also in his willing as he would, or as he chose, or agreeably to another act of choice preceding that. And so the question returns in infinitum and again in infinitum. In order to support their opinion there must be no beginning, but free acts of the will must have been chosen by foregoing acts of will in the soul of every man without beginning, and so before he had a beginning.'
The heads of most people begin to swim when they have proceeded but a short way into such argumentation; but Edwards delights in applying similar logical puzzles over and over again to confute the notions of a 'self-determining power in the will,' or of a 'liberty of indifferency;' of the power of suspending the action even if the judgment has pronounced its verdict; of Archbishop King's ingenious device of putting the cart before the horse, and declaring that our delight is not the cause but the consequence of our will; or Clarke's theory of liberty, as consisting in agency which seems to erect an infinite number of subsidiary first causes in the wills of all created beings. A short cut to the same conclusions consists in simply denying the objective reality of chance or contingency; but Edwards has no love of short cuts in such matters, or rather cannot refuse himself the pleasure of following the circuitous route as well as explaining the more direct method.
This main principle established, Edwards has of course no difficulty in showing that the supposed injury to morality rests on a misconception of the real doctrine. If volitions, instead of being caused, are the products of arbitrary chance, morality becomes meaningless. We approve or disapprove of an action precisely because it implies the existence of motives, good or bad. Punishment and reward would be useless if actions were after all a matter of chance; and if merit implied the existence of free-will, the formation of virtuous habits would detract from a man's merit in so far as they tend to make virtue necessary. So far, in short, as you admit the existence of an element of pure chance, you restrict the sphere of law; and therefore morality, so far from excluding, necessarily involves an invariable connection between motives and actions.
Arguments of this kind, sufficiently familiar to all students of the subject, are combined with others of a more doubtful character. Edwards has no hesitation about dealing with the absolute and the infinite. He dwells, for example, with great ingenuity upon the difficulty of reconciling the Divine prescience with the contingency of human actions, and has no scruple in inferring the possibility of reconciling virtue with necessity from the fact that God is at once the type of all perfection, and is under a necessity to be perfect. If such arguments would be rejected as transcending the limits of human intelligence by many who agree with his conclusions, others, equally characteristic, are as much below the dignity of a metaphysician. Edwards draws his proofs with the same equanimity from the most abstruse speculations as from a child-like belief in the literal inspiration of the Scriptures. He 'proves,' for example, God's foreknowledge of human actions from such facts as Micaiah's prophecy of Ahab's sin, and Daniel's acquaintance with the 'horrid wickedness' about to be committed by Antiochus Epiphanes. It is a pleasant supposition that a man who did not believe that God could foretell events, would be awed by the authority of a text; but Edwards' polemic is almost exclusively directed against the hated Arminians, and he appears to be unconscious of the existence of a genuine sceptic. He observes that he has never read Hobbes (v. 260); and though in another work he makes a brief allusion to Hume, he never refers to him in these speculations, whilst covering the same ground as one of the admirable Essays.
This simplicity is significant of Edwards' unique position. The doctrine of Calvinism, by whatever name it may be called, is a mental tonic of tremendous potency. Whether in its theological dress, as attributing all events to the absolute decrees of the Almighty, or in its metaphysical dress, as declaring that some abstract necessity governs the world, or in the shape more familiar to modern thinkers, in which it proclaims the universality of what has been called the reign of law, it conquers or revolts the imagination. It forces us to conceive of all phenomena as so many links
In the eternal chain
Which none can break, nor slip, nor overreach;
and can, therefore, be accepted only by men who possess the rare power of combining their beliefs into a logical whole. Most people contrive to shirk the consequences, either by some of those evasions which, as Edwards showed, amount to asserting the objective existence of chance, or more commonly by forbidding their reason to follow the chain of inferences through more than a few links. The axiom that the cause of a cause is also the cause of the thing caused, though verbally admitted, is beyond the reach of most intellects. People are willing to admit that A is irrevocably joined to B, B to C, and so on to the end of the alphabet, but they refuse to realise the connection between A and Z. The annoyance excited by Mr. Buckle's enunciation of some very familiar propositions, is a measure of the reluctance of the popular imagination to accept a logical conclusion. When the dogma is associated with a belief in eternal damnation, the consequences are indeed terrible; and therefore it was natural that Calvinism should have become an almost extinct creed, and the dogma have been left to the freethinkers who had not that awful vision before their eyes. Hobbes, Collins, and Hume, the three writers with whom the opinion was chiefly associated in English literature, were also the three men who were regarded as most emphatically the devil's advocates. In the latter part of the eighteenth century, it was indeed adopted by Hartley, by his disciple Priestley, and by Abraham Tucker, all of whom were Christians after a fashion. But they reconciled themselves to the belief by peculiar forms of optimism. Tucker maintained the odd fancy that every man would ultimately receive a precisely equal share of happiness, and thought that a few thousand years of damnation would be enough for all practical purposes. If I remember rightly, he roughly calculated the amount of misery to be endured by human beings at about two minutes' suffering in a century. Hartley maintained the still more remarkable thesis that, in some non-natural sense, 'all individuals are always and actually infinitely happy.' But Edwards, though an optimist in a very different sense, was alone amongst contemporary writers of any speculative power in asserting at once the doctrine that all events are the result of the Divine will, and the doctrine of eternal damnation. His mind, acute as it was, yet worked entirely in the groove provided for it. The revolting consequences to which he was led by not running away from his premisses, never for an instant suggested to him that the premisses might conceivably be false. He accepts a belief in hell-fire, interpreted after the popular fashion, without a murmur, and deduces from it all those consequences which most theologians have evaded or covered with a judicious veil.
Edwards was luckily not an eloquent man, for his sermons would in that case have been amongst the most terrible of human compositions. But if ever he warms into something like eloquence, it is when he is endeavouring to force upon the imaginations of his hearers the horrors of their position. Perhaps the best specimen of his powers in this department is a sermon which we are told produced a great effect at the time of revivals, and to which, we may as well remember, Phebe Bartlet may probably have listened. Read that sermon (vol. vii., sermon xv.) and endeavour to picture the scene of its original delivery. Imagine the congregation of rigid Calvinists, prepared by previous scenes of frenzy and convulsion, and longing for the fierce excitement which was the only break in the monotony of their laborious lives. And then imagine Edwards ascending the pulpit, with his flaccid solids and vapid fluids, and the pale drawn face, in which we can trace an equal resemblance to the stern Puritan forefathers and to the keen sallow New Englander of modern times. He gives out as his text, 'Sinners shall slide in due time,' and the title of his sermon is, 'Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.' For a full hour he dwells with unusual vehemence on the wrath of the Creator and the sufferings of the creature. His sentences, generally languid and complex, condense themselves into short, almost gasping asseverations. God is angry with the wicked; as angry with the living wicked as 'with many of those miserable creatures that He is now tormenting in hell.' The devil is waiting: the fire is ready; the furnace is hot; the 'glittering sword is whet and held over them, and the pit hath opened her mouth to receive them.' The unconverted are walking on a rotten covering, where there are innumerable weak places, and those places not distinguishable. The flames are 'gathering and lashing about' the sinner, and all that preserves him for a moment is 'the mere arbitrary will and uncovenanted unobliged forbearance of an incensed God.' But does not God love sinners? Hardly in a comforting sense. 'The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some other loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; He looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire;... you are ten thousand times as abominable in His eyes as the most hateful and venomous serpent is in ours.' The comparison of man to a loathsome viper is one of the metaphors to which Edwards most habitually recurs (e.g. vii. 167, 179, 182, 198, 344, 496). No relief is possible; Edwards will have no attempt to explain away the eternity of which he speaks; there will be no end to the 'exquisite horrible misery' of the damned. You, when damned, 'will know certainly that you must wear out long ages, millions of millions of ages, in wrestling and conflicting with this Almighty merciless vengeance: and then when you have so done, when so many ages have actually been spent by you in this manner, you will know that all is but a point to what remains.' Nor might his hearers fancy that, as respectable New England Puritans, they had no personal interest in the question. It would be awful, he says, if we could point to one definite person in this congregation as certain to endure such torments. 'But, alas! instead of one, how many is it likely will remember this discourse in hell? It would be a wonder if some that are now present should not be in hell in a very short time, before this year is out. And it would be no wonder if some persons that now sit here in some seats of this meeting-house in health, and quiet and secure, should be there before to-morrow morning.'
With which blessing he dismissed the congregation to their dinners, with such appetites as might be left to them. The strained excitement which marks this pleasing production could not be maintained; but Edwards never shrank in cold blood from the most appalling consequences of his theories. He tells us, with superlative coolness, that the 'bulk of mankind do throng' to hell (vii. 226). He sentences infants to hell remorselessly. The imagination, he admits, may be relieved by the hypothesis that infants suffer only in this world, instead of being doomed to eternal misery. 'But it does not at all relieve one's reason;' and that is the only faculty which he will obey (vi. 461). Historically the doctrine is supported by the remark that God did not save the children in Sodom, and that He actually commanded the slaughter of the Midianitish infants. 'Happy shall he be,' it is written of Edom, 'that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones' (vi. 255). Philosophically he remarks that 'a young viper has a malignant nature, though incapable of doing a malignant action' (vi. 471), and quotes with approval the statement of a Jewish Rabbi, that a child is wicked as soon as born, 'for at the same time that he sucks the breasts he follows his lust' (vi. 482), which is perhaps the superlative expression of the theory that all natural instincts are corrupt. Finally, he enforces the only doctrine which can equal this in horror, namely, that the saints rejoice in the damnation of the wicked. In a sermon called 'Wicked Men useful in their Destruction only' (vol. viii., sermon xxi.), he declares that 'the view of the doleful condition of the damned will make them (the saints in heaven) more prize their own blessedness.' They will realise the wonderful grace of God, who has made so great a difference between them and others of the same species, 'who are no worse by nature than they, and have deserved no worse of God than they.' 'When they shall look upon the damned,' he exclaims, 'and see their misery, how will heaven ring with the praises of God's justice towards the wicked, and His grace towards the saints! And with how much greater enlargement of heart will they praise Jesus Christ their Redeemer, that ever He was pleased to set His love upon them, His dying love!'
Was the man who could utter such blasphemous sentiments—for so they undoubtedly appear to us—a being of ordinary flesh and blood? One would rather have supposed his solids to be of bronze, and his fluids of vitriol, than have attributed to them the character which he describes. That he should have been a gentle, meditative creature, around whose knees had clung eleven 'young vipers' of his own begetting, is certainly an astonishing reflection. And yet, to do Edwards justice, we must remember two things. In the first place, the responsibility for such ghastly beliefs cannot be repudiated by anyone who believes in the torments of hell. Catholics and Protestants must share the opprobrium due to the assertion of this tremendous doctrine. Nor does Arminianism really provide more than a merely verbal escape from the difficulty. Jeremy Taylor, for example, draws a picture of hell quite as fearful and as material as Edwards', and, if animated by a less fanatical spirit, adorned by an incomparably more vivid fancy. He specially improves upon Edwards' description by introducing the sense of smell. The tyrant who fastened the dead to the living invented an exquisite torment; 'but what is this in respect of hell, when each body of the damned is more loathsome and unsavoury than a million of dead dogs, and all those pressed and crowded together in so strait a compass? Bonaventure goes so far as to say that if one only of the damned were brought into this world, it were sufficient to infect the whole earth. Neither shall the devils send forth a better smell; for, although they are spirits, yet those fiery bodies unto which they are fastened and confined shall be of a more pestilential flavour.' It is vain to attempt an extenuation of the horror, by relieving the Almighty from the responsibility of this fearful prison-house. The dogma of free-will is a transparent mockery. It simply enables the believer to retain the hideous side of his creed by abandoning the rational side. To pass over the objection that by admitting the existence of chance it really destroys all intelligible measures of merit and of justice, the really awful dogma remains. You still believe that God has made man too weak to stand alone, that He has placed him amidst temptations where his fall, if not rigidly certain in a given case, is still inevitable for the mass, and then torments him eternally for his wickedness. Whether a man is slain outright, or merely placed without help to wander at random through innumerable pitfalls, makes no real difference in the character of the action. Theologians profess horror at the doctrine of infantile damnation, though they cannot always make up their minds to disavow it explicitly, but they will find it easier to condemn the doctrine than effectually to repudiate all responsibility. To the statement that it follows logically from the dogma of original sin, they reply that logic is out of place in such questions. But, if this be granted, do they not maintain doctrines as hideous, when calmly examined? It is blasphemous, we are told, to say with Edwards, that God holds the 'little vipers,' whom we call 'helpless innocents,' suspended over the pit of hell, and drops millions of them into ruthless torments. Certainly it is blasphemous. But is an infant really more helpless than the poor savage of Australia or St. Giles, surrounded from his birth with cruel and brutal natures, and never catching one glimpse of celestial light? Nay, when the question is between God and man, does not the difference between the infant and the philosopher or the statesman vanish into nothing? All, whatever figment of free-will may be set up, are equally helpless in face of the surrounding influences which mould their characters and their fate. Young children, the heterodox declare, are innocent. But the theologian replies with unanswerable truth, that God looks at the heart and not at the actions, and that science and theology are at one in declaring that in the child are the germs of the adult man. If human nature is corrupt and therefore hateful to God, Edwards is quite right in declaring that the bursting bud must be as hateful as the full-grown tree. To beings of a loftier order, to say nothing of a Being of infinite power and wisdom, the petty race of man would appear as helpless as insects appear to us, and the distinction between the children or the ignorant, and the wise and full-grown, an irrelevant refinement.
It is of course true that the patient reception of this and similar doctrines would indicate at the present day a callous heart or a perverted intellect. Though, in the sphere of abstract speculation, we cannot draw any satisfactory line between the man and the infant, there is a wide gap to the practical imagination. A man ought to be shocked when confronted with this fearfully concrete corollary to his theories. But the blame should be given where it is due. The Calvinist is not to blame for the theory of universal law which he shares with the philosopher, but for the theory of damnation which he shares with the Arminian. The hideous dogma is the existence of the prison-house, not the belief that its inmates are sent there by God's inscrutable decree, instead of being drafted into it by lot. And here we come to the second fact which must be remembered in Edwards' favour. The living truths in his theory are chained to dead fancies, and the fancies have an odour as repulsive as Taylor's 'million of dead dogs.' But on the truths is founded a religious and moral system which, however erroneous it may appear to some thinkers, is conspicuous for its vigour and loftiness. Edwards often shows himself a worthy successor of the great men who led the moral revolt of the Reformation. Amongst some very questionable metaphysics and much outworn—sometimes repulsive—superstition, he grasps the central truths on which all really noble morality must be based. The mode in which they presented themselves to his mind may be easily traced. Calvinism, logically developed, leads to Pantheism. The absolute sovereignty of God, the doctrine to which Edwards constantly returns, must be extended over all nature as well as over the fate of the individual human soul. The peculiarity of Edwards' mind was, that the doctrine had thus expanded along particular lines of thought, without equally affecting others. He is a kind of Spinoza-Mather; he combines, that is, the logical keenness of the great metaphysician with the puerile superstitions of the New England divine; he sees God in all nature, and yet believes in the degrading supernaturalism of the Salem witches. The object of his faith, in short, is the 'infinite Jehovah' (vi. 170), the God to whose all-pervading power none can set a limit, and who is yet the tutelary deity of a petty clan; and there is something almost bewildering in the facility with which he passes from one conception to the other without the smallest consciousness of any discontinuity. Of his coincidence in the popular theories, and especially in the doctrine of damnation, I have already given instances. His utterances derived from a loftier source are given with equal emphasis. At the age of fifteen or sixteen he had said 'God and real existence are the same; God is, and there is none else.' The same doctrine is the foundation of the theories expounded in his treatises on Virtue and on the End of God in Creation. In the last of these, for example, he uses the argument (depending upon a conception familiar to the metaphysicians of the previous age), that benevolence, consisting in regard to 'Being in general,' must be due to any being in proportion to the degree of existence (ii. 401). Now 'all other being is as nothing in comparison of the Divine Being.' God is 'the foundation and fountain of all being and all perfection, from whom all is perfectly derived, and on whom all is most absolutely and perfectly dependent; whose being and beauty is, as it were, the sum and comprehension of all existence and excellence, much more than the sun is the fountain and summary comprehension of all the light and brightness of the day' (ii. 405). As he says in the companion treatise, 'the eternal and infinite Being is, in effect, being in general, and comprehends universal existence' (vi. 59). The only end worthy of God must, therefore, be his own glory. This is not to attribute selfishness to God, for 'in God, the love of Himself and the love of the public are not to be distinguished as in man, because God's being, as it were, comprehends all' (vi. 53). In communicating His fulness to His creatures, He is of necessity the ultimate end; but it is a fallacy to make God and the creature in this affair of the emanation of the Divine fulness, 'the opposite parts of a disjunction' (vi. 55). The creature's love of God and complacence in the Divine perfections are the same thing as the manifestation of the Divine glory. 'They are all but the emanations of God's glory, or the excellent brightness and fulness of the Divinity diffused, overflowing, and, as it were, enlarged; or, in one word, existing ad extra' (vi. 117). In more familiar dialect, our love to God is but God's goodness making itself objective. The only knowledge which deserves the name is the knowledge of God, and virtue is but the knowledge of God under a different name.
Without dwelling upon the relations of this doctrine to modern forms of Pantheism, I must consider this last proposition, which is of vital importance in Edwards' system, and of which the theological and the metaphysical element is curiously blended. God is to the universe—to use Edwards' own metaphor—what the sun is to our planet; and the metaphor would have been more adequate if he had been acquainted with modern science. The sun's action is the primary cause of all the infinitely complex play of forces which manifest themselves in the fall of a raindrop or in the operations of a human brain. But as some bodies may seem to resist the action of the sun's rays, so may some created beings set themselves in opposition to the Divine Will. To a thoroughgoing Pantheist, indeed, such an opposition must appear to be impossible if we look deep enough, and sin, in this sense, be merely an illusion, caused by our incapacity of taking in the whole design of the Almighty. Edwards, however, though dimly aware of the difficulty, is not so consistent in his Pantheism as to be much troubled with it. He admits that, by some mysterious process, corruption has intruded itself into the Divine universe. The all-pervading harmony is marred by a discord due, in his phraseology, to the fall of man. Over the ultimate cause of this discord lies a veil which can never be withdrawn to mortal intelligence. Assuming its existence, however, virtue consists, if one may so speak, in that quality which fits a man to be a conducting medium, and vice in that which makes him a non-conducting medium to the solar forces. This proposition is confounded in Edwards' mind, as in that of most metaphysicians, with the very different proposition that virtue consists in recognising the Divine origin of those forces. It is characteristic, in fact, of his metaphysical school, to identify the logical with the causal connection, and to assume that the definition of a thing necessarily constitutes its essence. 'Virtue,' says Edwards, 'is the union of heart to being in general, or to God, the Being of beings' (ii. 421), and thus consists in the intellectual apprehension of Deity, and in the emotion founded upon and necessarily involving the apprehension. The doctrine that whatever is done so as to promote the glory of God is virtuous, is with him identified with the doctrine that whatever is done consciously in order to promote the glory of God is virtuous. The major premiss of the syllogism which proves an action to be virtuous must be actually present to the mind of the agent. This, in utilitarian phraseology, is to confound between the criterion and the motive. If it is, as Edwards says, the test of a virtuous action that it should tend to 'the highest good of being in general,' it does not follow that an action is only virtuous when done with a conscious reference to that end. But Edwards overlooks or denies the distinction, and assumes, for example, as an evident corollary, that a love of children or friends is only virtuous in so far as it is founded on a desire for the general good, which, in his sense, is a desire for the glory of God (ii. 428). He judges actions, that is, not by their tendency, but by their nature; and their nature is equivalent to their logic.
His metaphysical theory coincides precisely with his theological view, and is generally expressed in theological language. The love of 'Being in general' is the love of God. The intellectual intuition is the reflection of the inward light, and the recognition of a mathematical truth is but a different phase of the process which elsewhere produces conversion. Intuition is a kind of revelation and revelation is a special intuition.
One of his earliest published sermons is devoted to prove the existence of 'a Divine and supernatural light, immediately imparted to the soul by the Spirit of God' (vol. viii., sermon xxvii.). On that fundamental doctrine his whole theological system is based; as his metaphysical system rests on the existence of absolute à priori truths. The knowledge of God sums up all true beliefs, and justifies all virtuous emotions, as the power of God supports all creation at every instant. 'It is by a Divine influence that the laws of nature are upheld, and a constant concurrence of Divine power is necessary in order to our being, moving, or having a being' (v. 419). To be constantly drawing sustenance from the eternal power which everywhere underlies the phenomena of the world is the necessary condition of spiritual life, as to breathe the air is the condition of physical life. The force which this conception, whether true or false, exercises over the imagination, and the depth which it gives to Edwards' moral views, are manifest at every turn. Edwards rises far above those theories, recurring in so many different forms, which place the essence of religion in some outward observances, or in a set of propositions not vitally connected with the spiritual constitution. Edwards' contemporaries, such as Lardner or Sherlock, thought that to be a Christian was to accept certain results of antiquarian research. With a curious naïveté they sometimes say that a ploughman or a cobbler could summarily answer the problems which have puzzled generations of critics. Edwards sees the absurdity of hoping that a genuine faith can ever be based on such balancing of historical probabilities. The cobbler was to be awed by the learned man; but how could he implicitly trust a learned man when his soul was at stake, and when learned men differed? To convince the ignorant or the Houssatunnuck Indian, God's voice must speak through a less devious channel. The transcendent glory of Divine things proves their Divinity intuitively; the mind does not indeed discard argument, but it does not want any 'long chain of argument; the argument is but one and the evidence direct; the mind ascends to the truth of the Gospel but by one step, and that is its Divine glory.' The moral theory of the contemporary rationalists was correlative to their religious theory. To be religious was to believe that certain facts had once happened; to be moral was to believe that under certain circumstances you would at some future time go to hell. Virtue of that kind was not to Edwards' taste, though few men have been less sparing in using the appeal to damnation. But threats of hell-fire were only meant to startle the sinner from his repose. His morality could be framed from no baser material than love to the Divine perfections. 'What thanks are due to you for not loving your own misery, and for being willing to take some pains to escape burning in hell to all eternity? There is ne'er a devil in hell but would gladly do the same' (viii. 145).
The strength, however, and the weakness of Edwards as a moralist are best illustrated from the two treatises on the Religious Affections and on Original Sin. The first, which was the fruit of his experiences at Northampton, may be described as a system of religious diagnostics. By what symptoms are you to distinguish—that was the problem which forced itself upon him—the spiritual state produced by the Divine action from that which is but a hollow mockery? After his mode of judging in concrete cases, as already indicated, we are rather surprised by the calm and sensible tone of his argument. The deep sense of the vast importance of the events to which he was a witness makes him the more scrupulous in testing their real character. He resists the temptation to dwell upon those noisy and questionable manifestations in which the vulgar thirst for the wonderful found the most appropriate testimony to the work. Roman Catholic archbishops at the present day can exhort their hearers to put their faith in a silly story of a vision, on the express ground that the popularity of the belief amongst Catholics proves its Divine origin. That is wonderfully like saying that a successful lie should be patronised so long as it is on the side of the Church. Edwards, brought up in a manlier school, deals with such phenomena in a different spirit. Suppose, he says, that a person terrified by threats of hell-fire has a vision 'of a person with a beautiful countenance, smiling on him with arms open and with blood dropping down,' whom he supposes to be Christ come to promise him eternal life, are we to assume that this vision and the consequent transports infallibly indicate supernatural agency? No, he replies, with equal sense and honesty; 'he must have but slightly considered human nature who thinks such things cannot arise in this manner without any supernatural excitement of Divine power' (iv. 72). Many mischievous delusions have their origin in this error. 'It is a low, miserable notion of spiritual sense' to suppose that these 'external ideas' (ideas, that is, such as enter by the senses) are proofs of Divine interference. Ample experience has shown that they are proofs not of the spiritual health which comes from communion with God, but of 'weakness of body and mind and distempers of body' (iv. 143). Experience has supplied exemplary confirmations of Edwards' wisdom. Neither bodily convulsions, nor vehement excitement of mind, nor even revelations of things to come (iv. 158), are sufficient proofs of that mysterious change of soul which is called conversion. No external test, in fact, can be given. Man cannot judge decisively, but the best symptoms are such proofs as increased humility, a love of Christ for His own sake, without reference to heaven or hell, a sense of the infinite beauty of Divine things, a certain 'symmetry and proportion' between the affections themselves (iv. 314), a desire for higher perfection, and a rich harvest of the fruit of Christian practice.
So far, Edwards is unassailable from his own point of view. Our theory of religion may differ from his; but at least he fully realises how profound is the meaning of the word, and aims at conquering all human faculties, not at controlling a few external manifestations. But his further applications of the theory lead him into more doubtful speculations. That Being, a union with whom constitutes true holiness, is not only to be the ideal of perfect goodness, but He must be the God of the Calvinists, who fulfils the stipulations of a strange legal bargain, and the God of the Jews, who sentences whole nations to massacre for the crimes of their ancestors. Edwards has hitherto been really protesting against that lower conception of God which is latent in at least the popular versions of Catholic or Arminian theology, and to which Calvinism opposes a loftier view. God, on this theory, is not really almighty, for the doctrine of free-will places human actions and their results beyond His control. He is scarcely omniscient, for, like human rulers, He judges by actions, not by the intrinsic nature of the soul, and therefore distributes His rewards and punishments on a system comparable to that of mere earthly jurisprudence. He is at most the infallible judge of actions, not the universal ordainer of events and distributor of life and happiness. Edwards' profound conviction of the absolute sovereignty of God leads him to reject all such feeble conceptions. But he has now to tell us where the Divine influence has actually displayed itself; and his view becomes strangely narrowed. Instead of confessing that all good gifts come from God, he infers that those which do not come from his own God must be radically vicious. Already, as we have seen, in virtue of his leading principle, he has denied to all natural affections the right to be truly virtuous. Unless they involve a conscious reference to God, they are but delusive resemblances of the reality. He admits that the natural man can in various ways produce very fair imitations of true virtue. By help of association of ideas, for example, or by the force of sympathy, it is possible that benevolence may become pleasing and malevolence displeasing, even when our own interest is not involved (ii. 436). Nay, there is a kind of moral sense natural to man, which consists in a certain preception of the harmony between sin and punishment, and which therefore does not properly spring from self-love. This moral sense may even go so far as to recognise the propriety of yielding all to the God from whom we receive everything (ii. 443), and the justice of the punishment of sinners. And yet this natural conscience does not imply the existence of a 'truly virtuous taste or determination of the mind to relish and delight in the essential beauty of true virtue, arising from a virtuous benevolence of the heart' (ii. 445). God has bestowed such instincts upon men for their preservation here; but they will disappear in the next world, where no such need for them exists. He is driven, indeed, to make some vague concessions (against which his enlightened commentators protest), to the effect that 'these things [the natural affections] have something of the general nature of virtue, which is love' (ii. 456); but no such uncertain affinity can make them worthy to be reckoned with that union with God which is the effect of the Divine intervention alone.
Edwards is thus in the singular position of a Pantheist who yet regards all nature as alienated from God; and in the treatise on Original Sin he brings out the more revolting consequences of that view by help of the theological dogma of corruption. He there maintains in its fullest sense the terrible thesis, that all men are naturally in a state of which the inevitable issue is their 'utter eternal perdition, as being finally accursed of God and the subjects of His remediless wrath through sin' (vi. 137). The evidence of this appalling statement is made up, with a simplicity which would be amusing if employed in a less fearful cause, of various texts from Scripture, quoted, of course, after the most profoundly unhistorical fashion; of inferences from the universality of death, regarded as the penalty incurred by Adam; of general reflections upon the heathen world and the idolatry of the Jews; and of the sentences pronounced by Jehovah against the Canaanites. In one of his sermons, of portentous length and ferocity (vol. vii., sermon iii.), he expands the doctrine that natural men—which includes all men who have not gone through the mysterious process of conversion—are God's enemies. Their heart, he says, 'is like a viper, hissing and spitting poison at God;' and God requites their ill-will with undying enmity and never-ceasing torments. Their unconsciousness of that enmity, and even their belief that they are rightly affected towards God, is no proof that the enmity does not exist. The consequences may be conceived. 'God who made you has given you a capacity to bear torment; and He has that capacity in His hands; and He can enlarge it and make you capable of more misery, as much as He will. If God hates anyone and sets Himself against him as His enemy, what cannot He do with him? How dreadful it must be to fall into the hands of such an enemy!' (vii. 201). How dreadful, we add, is the conception of the universe which implies that God is such an enemy of the bulk of His creatures; and how strangely it combines with the mild Pantheism which traces and adores the hand of God in all natural objects! The doctrine, it is to be observed, which is expanded through many pages of the book on Original Sin, is not merely that men are legally guilty, as being devoid of 'true virtue,' though possessed of a certain factitious moral sense, but that they are actually for the most part detestably wicked. One illustration of his method may be sufficient. The vileness of man is proved by the remark (not peculiar to Edwards), that men who used to live 1,000 years now live only 70; whilst throughout Christendom their life does not average more than 40 or 50 years; so that 'sensuality and debauchery' have shortened our days to a twentieth part of our former allowance.
Thus the Divine power, which is in one sense the sole moving force of the universe, is limited, so far as its operation upon men's hearts is concerned, to that small minority who have gone through the process of conversion as recognised by Edwards' sect. All others, heathens, infants, and the great mass of professed Christians, are sentenced to irretrievable perdition. The simplicity with which he condemns all other forms even of his own religion is almost touching. He incidentally remarks, for example, that external exercises may not show true virtue, because they have frequently proceeded from false religion. Members of the Romish Church and many ancient 'hermits and anchorites' have been most energetic in such exercises, and Edwards once lived next to a Jew who appeared to him 'the devoutest person that he ever saw in his life' (iv. 90); but, as he quietly assumes, all such appearances must of course be delusive.
Once more, then, we are brought back to the question, How could any man hold such doctrines without going mad? or, as experience has reconciled us to that phenomenon, How could a man with so many elevated conceptions of the truth reconcile these ghastly conclusions to the nobler part of his creed? Edwards' own explanations of the difficulty—such as they are—do not help us very far. The argument by which he habitually defends the justice of the Almighty sounds very much like a poor quibble in his mouth, though it is not peculiar to him. Our obligation towards God, he says, must be in proportion to His merits; therefore it is infinite. Now there is no merit in paying a debt which we owe; and hence the fullest discharge of our duty deserves no reward. On the other hand, there is demerit in refusing to pay a debt; and therefore any short-coming deserves an infinite penalty (vi. 155). Without examining whether our duty is proportional to the perfection of its object, and is irrespective of our capacities, there is one vital objection to this doctrine, which Edwards had adopted from less coherent reasoners. His theory, as I have said, so far from destroying virtue, gives it the fullest possible meaning. There can be no more profound distinction than between the affections which harmonise with the Divine will and those which are discordant, though it might puzzle a more consistent Pantheist to account for the existence of the latter. That, however, is a primary doctrine with Edwards. But if virtue remains, it is certain that his theory seems to be destructive both of merit and demerit as between man and God. If we are but clay in the hands of the potter, there is no intelligible meaning in our deserving from him either good or evil. We are as He has made us. Edwards explains, indeed, that the sense of desert implies a certain natural congruity between evil-doing and punishment (ii. 430). But the question recurs, how in such a case the congruity arises? It is one of the illusions which should disappear when we rise to the sphere of the absolute and infinite. The metaphor about a debt and its payment, though common in vulgar Calvinism, is quite below Edwards' usual level of thought. And, if we try to restate the argument in a more congenial form, its force disappears. The love of God, even though imperfect, should surely imply some conformity to His nature; and even an imperfect love should hardly be confounded, one might fancy, with an absolute enmity to the Creator. Though the argument, which is several times repeated, appears to have satisfied Edwards, it would have been more in harmony with his principles to declare that, as between man and his God, there could be no question of justice. The absolute sovereignty of the Creator is the only, and to him it should be the conclusive, answer to such complaints. But, whatever may be the fate of this apology, the one irremovable difficulty remains behind. If God be the one universal cause of all things, is He not the cause of evil as well as good? Do you not make God, in short, the author of sin?
With this final difficulty, which, indeed, besets all such theories, Edwards struggles long and with less than his usual vigour. He tries to show, and perhaps successfully, that the difficulty concerns his opponents as much as himself. They can, at least, escape only by creating a new kind of necessity, under the name of contingency; for God is, on this theory, like a mariner who has constantly to shape his course to meet unforeseen and uncontrollable gusts of wind (v. 298); and to make the best of it. He insists upon the difference, not very congenial to his scheme, between ordering and permitting evil. The sun, he says (v. 293), causes light, but is only the occasion of darkness. If, however, the sun voluntarily retired from the world, it could scarcely evade the responsibility of its absence. And, finally, he makes the ordinary distinction, and that which is perhaps the best answer to be made to an unanswerable difficulty. Christ's crucifixion, he says, was so far bad as it was brought about by malignant murderers: but as considered by God, with a view to all its glorious consequences, it was not evil, but good (v. 297). And thus any action may have two aspects; and that which appears to us, whose view is necessarily limited, as simply evil, may, when considered by an infinite intelligence, as part of the general order of things, be absolutely good. God does not will sin as sin, but as a necessary part of a generally perfect system.
Here, however, in front of that ultimate mystery which occurs in all speculation, I must take leave of this singular thinker. In a frequently-quoted passage, Mackintosh speaks of his 'power of subtle argument, perhaps unmatched, certainly unsurpassed amongst men.' The eulogy seems to be rather overstrained, unless we measure subtlety of thought rather by the complexity and elaboration of its embodiment than by the keenness of the thought itself. But that Edwards possessed extraordinary acuteness is as clear as it is singular that so acute a man should have suffered his intellectual activity to be restrained within such narrow fetters. Placed in a different medium, under the same circumstances, for example, as Hume or Kant, he might have developed a system of metaphysics comparable in its effect upon the history of thought to the doctrines of either of those thinkers. He was, one might fancy, formed by nature to be a German professor, and accidentally dropped into the American forests. Far away from the main currents of speculation, ignorant of the conclusions reached by his most cultivated contemporaries, and deriving his intellectual sustenance chiefly from an obsolete theology, with some vague knowledge of the English followers of Locke, his mind never expanded itself freely. Yet, even after making allowance for his secluded life, we are astonished at the powerful grasp which Calvinism, in its expiring age, had laid upon so penetrating an intellect. The framework of dogma was so powerful, that the explosive force of Edwards' speculations, instead of destroying his early principles by its recoil, expended its whole energy along the line in which orthodox opinion was not injured. Most bold speculators, indeed, suffer from a kind of colour-blindness, which conceals from them a whole order of ideas, sufficiently familiar to very inferior minds. Edwards' utter unconsciousness of the aspect which his doctrines would present to anyone who should have passed beyond the charmed circle of orthodox sentiment is, however, more surprising than the similar defect in any thinker of nearly equal acuteness. In the middle of the eighteenth century, he is still in bondage to the dogmas of the Pilgrim Fathers; he is as indifferent to the audacious revolt of the deists and Hume as if the old theological dynasty were still in full vigour; and the fact, whatever else it may prove, proves something for the enduring vitality of the ideas which had found an imperfect expression in Calvinism. Clearing away the crust of ancient superstition, we may still find in Edwards' writings a system of morality as ennobling, and a theory of the universe as elevated, as can be discovered in any theology. That the crust was thick and hard, and often revolting in its composition, is, indeed, undeniable; but the genuine metal is there, no less unmistakably than the refuse.
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