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OF THE EVIL OF DEFECT AND OF NATURAL AND
THE origin of evil has occupied the attention of the most profound and pious minds from the earliest periods of which we have any record, and the investigation of it still continues to exercise the highest faculties of the most intelligent and enlightened men. It must be confessed that we do not comprehend it. Perhaps our present faculties are not capacious enough to take in that vast extent and that various kind of knowledge which are necessary to a full understanding of the subject: it is at least certain that we do not possess this knowledge, and probable that we shall never attain to it in the present state. Much however is known : abundantly sufficient to remove all reasonable doubt and apprehension, and to afford peace to the mind.
That this difficulty was perceived by the ancient philosophers, and by the primitive believers and defenders of the Christian religion is certain, for it is stated by them in its full force. The supposed maker of the world, it was long ago said, was either willing to abolish all evils, but not able, or was able and not willing; or he was neither willing nor able; or, lastly, he was both able and willing. This latter is the only thing that answers fully to the notion of a God. Now, that the supposed Creator of all things was not thus both able and willing to abolish all evils, is plain, because then there would have been no evils at all left. Wherefore since there is such a deluge of evils overflowing all, it must needs be that either he was willing and not able to remove them, and then he was impotent; or else he was able and not willing, and then he was envious; or, lastly, he was neither able nor willing, and then he was both impotent and envious.* If, it was argued, there be but one author of all things, the origin of all evil must be referred to him. But how can Infinite Goodness become the origin of Evil If God could not hinder it, he is not powerful : if he could and would not, he is not good: if it be said that evil necessarily adheres to some particular natures, since these too must owe their being to God, it would
* This is the famous objection of Epicurus, quoted and answered by Lactantius—De Ira Dei, Sect. xii. p. 435. See also Cudworth's True Intellectual System, pp. 78, 79; and Dean Clarke's Inquiry into the Cause and Origin of Evil.
surely have been better not to have given them existence, than to have debased his workmanship with these concomitant evils. A full and complete answer to these objections it is not in the power of the human faculties, with their present knowledge, perhaps, with their present means of knowledge, to give; but an answer sufficient to produce in the considerate and candid mind an undoubting conviction of the perfect benevolence of the Creator can be rendered. All the kinds of evil of which we can conceive may be comprehended under three, namely, the evil of imperfection, natural and moral evil. The evil of imperfection is the absence of perfection; natural evil is pain produced by natural causes; moral evil is pain produced by wrong volitions. In regard to the evil of imperfection, it is impossible that it should have been avoided ; it is the necessary property of created being. Omnipotence itself could not have removed it, because Omnipotence could not effect that which in the nature of things is impossible to be effected; could not produce a contradiction. But a creature possessed of absolute perfection is a contradiction: for self-existence is essential to absolute perfection, but a self-existent creature is a plain contradiction; since it supposes a creature to exist of itself and not of itself at the same time. It is implied in the very notion of a creature, that it is dependent,-dependent for its existence and all its properties on the being who created it. However exalted may be the qualities imparted to it, it must always be inferior to its creator: an effect must be inferior to its cause. Absolute perfection therefore is peculiar to that Being who is selfexistent and independent. Whatever powers and excellencies it may please him to communicate, it is impossible that he should communicate, in their original perfection, his own attributes. These are incommunicable. We cannot indeed but conceive of such a Being as almighty, that is, as able to do all that is possible to be done: but to communicate his own attributes in their original perfection is a thing impossible to be done, since to render a creature self-existent, or absolutely independent, implies a direct contradiction. The evil of imperfection must therefore of necessity exist, supposing there is a creation: it follows, that it is not incompatible with Almighty Power and Infinite Goodness to produce imperfect creatures: or, rather, that it is not compatible with these attributes, that it is not possible in the nature of things to produce perfect creatures. God might indeed have refrained from creating, and had it been wiser and better to produce no creatures than imperfect creatures, he would have remained eternally alone, without witnesses and without participators of his happiness. But if there be a creation, there must be imperfection: and all the other evils necessarily resulting from this great and original evil, are absolutely unavoidable.
Nor in strictness does this evil of imperfection arise from the Creator, but from the original nonentity of the creature. Every created thing was a negation or non-entity before it had a primitive being, and when it had a primitive being communicated to it, it had just so much of its primitive negation taken away from it. So far then as it is, its being is to be attributed to the Sovereign Cause that produced it; so far as it is not, its not being is to be attributed to the original non-entity out of which it was produced. That which was once nothing would still have been nothing, had it not been for the cause that gave being to it, and therefore that it is so far nothing still, that is, limited and defective, is only to be attributed to its own primitive nothingness.”
* Scott's Christian Life, Part ii. Vol. I. Ch. vi. Sect. ii. pp. 446, 447, 1st ed.