John Macculloch.

Proofs and illustrations of the attributes of God : from the facts and laws of the physical universe : being the foundation of natural and revealed religion (Volume 3) online

. (page 1 of 43)
Online LibraryJohn MaccullochProofs and illustrations of the attributes of God : from the facts and laws of the physical universe : being the foundation of natural and revealed religion (Volume 3) → online text (page 1 of 43)
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F.K.S., F.L.S., F.G.S., &c. &c.

Tlic invisible thinss of Him from the creation of tlie world are clearly seen,
being understood by the things that are made, even liis eternal power and
Godhead."— Romans, i. 20.


Vol. III.







Of the Goodness of the Deity,
chapteu page

XL. Of the Goodness of the Deity. On Final Causes . 3
XLI. On the Feeding of Animals, and the Replenishment

of the Earth by them ..... 37

XLIT. On the Replenishment of the Earth by Plants . . 89
XLIII. On the Uses of Animals to Man .... 126

XLIV. On the Uses of Vegetable Substances to Man . .153
XLV. On the Uses of Inorganic Substances to Man . .174
XLVI. On the Pleasures provided through the Senses of

Odour and Taste ...... 206

XLVII. On the Pleasures provided through the Sense of See-
ing. Beauty .... ... 238

XLVI II. On the Pleasure provided through the Sense of Hear-
ing. Music . . . . . .301

XLIX. On Sensibility. Insensibility to Pain, in the Lower

Animals. Question of Pain. System of Prey . 320

L. On the Defences of Animals ..... 376

LI. On tile Sensibility and Enjoyment of the Vegetable

Creation ....... 392


Of the Government of the Deity.

LII. Of the Government of the Deity. Providence. On

General Laws, and on Secondary Causes . .41!*
JJII. On the Limitations of Animals .... 441


LIV. On the Balances of Animals 471

LV. On the Revolutions of the Earth . . . .491
LVI. On the Production of Animal and Vegetable Lives . 503
LVIL General view of some preceding facts, in proof of the
continued action of the Deity in the Government
of the Universe ...... 553


Page 1 7, line 4, /or " are evils," read " is an evil."

,, 22, last line but one,yb>' "of," read " if."

„ 35, line 19, /or " underfire," read " under fire."

„ 105, „ 27,/or "verua,"rea£/"verna."

„ 143, „ 2, /or " Tetras," read " Tetrao."

„ 282, „ 26, /or "cissiod,"rrarf"cissoid."

„ 283, „ 22,/or"Naulitus," rem/ "Nautilus."

„ 383, „ 28, /or "juniperinous," reaf/ "juniperinus."

„ 394, „ 1 3, /or "Medusae," reat/" Medusa."

„ 428, „ 30, after " follow," insert " the."

„ 546, „ 9, /or "redivivus," reae/" rediviva."

,, 508, „ 13,/or" asymptous," reorc/ "asymptotes."



8fc, Sfc.

VOL. Ill,




8fC. Sfr.



The goodness of God is that attribute which the
philosophical inquiries of Natural Religion have in-
vestigated with least success, and on which it is not
possible to Avrite with precision and satisfaction, from
observation and reasoning alone. It is here, therefore,
above all, that theological writers have recourse to
Revelation ; where it is repeatedly declared, as it is also
especially shown in the Gospel dispensation. We do
not want Scripture, to prove His power or His wisdom,
declare it as tliey may : because we can do this
from His works ; as we can, by reasoning, infer His
omniscience and omnipresence. But it is necessary to
inquire where the difficulty lies.

Our natural proofs of the existence, knowledge, wis-
dom, and extended presence of the Deity, are such, that
metaphysics easily infer their absoluteness or univer-
sality ; or, as it is termed, their infinitude. Having
shown this formerly, I have also shown that there is a
difficulty respecting the equal extent of the attribute of



power. In the case of His goodness, we possess similar
evidences^ and can also use the same a priori reasonings;
yet the result is not the same as in the first cases : it
is not even so satisfactory as in that of His poAver, We
can prove that He must be good, or beneficent, because
He invents or adopts contrivances for the purpose of
imparting pure, or superfluous good, being, to His crea-
tures, enjoyment or happiness, independently of utility.
We can also argue, as before, that a perfect being, if
good at all, must be entirely or perfectly good, yet in
His conduct there are facts which are opposed to this
wide metaphysical inference: to our imperfect judg-
ment it appears that there are exceptions to His good-
ness : though we can find none to His other attributes,
or none at least which we are not willing to think
arising from our own ignorance.

These exceptions are, experienced facts in creation,
both physical and moral ; producing evil, or unhappi-
ness, and thus the opposite to good : while, having pre-
viously inferred that He causes everything, we are
compelled to view this conduct as detracting from the
absoluteness, or perfection of His goodness. We may
believe otherwise indeed : and we do believe thus,
through revelation, or by faith : but this is an inference
a priori, and also on very peculiar grounds, as it is
also an inference against facts, and therefore an un-
philosophical one ; as far at least as our philosophy
can now reach. It is indeed easy to say, that the
defect is in our own knowledge and judgment, and
not in His conduct ; as it is also easy to believe this, on
the foregoing grounds : but as long as there is evil, to
our own experience and reasonings, it is the same thing,
as far as the proof of His unlimited goodness which we
are here seeking, is concerned. And this has ever been


a difficulty : remaining such, even under revelation, as
it has done to the metaphysicians and theologians of all
ages and all religions. It is, the existence of physical
evil, and still more of moral evil : of wickedness, vice,
sin, with the consequent injuries and miseries, opposed
to good, or happiness.

If this constitutes the great and everduring difficulty,
there is another, of no small magnitude, arising out of
the reasonings of metaphysical theology, or natural
religion. We are called on to reconcile two qualities,
Avhich we are compelled to view as in some opposition
to each other : while if the perfection of God, as it is
usually argued by these metaphysics, implies perfection
in every one of His attributes, or each part of His
character and conduct, we are especially unable to
reconcile the perfectness of one of these with the same
perfectness in the other. I allude to the goodness of
God, and to His justice, or to that which has also been
termed His purity or holiness. The nature of the first
ig, to give what is not merited, or more than is deserved ;
it is pure, unmixed, beneficence. The latter is rigid, in-
exorable, unalterable : it is to give good and evil accord-
ing to merit and demerit. Who, by the unassisted ar-
guments of natural religion, has ever surmounted this
difficulty, and reconciled these two attributes ?

Hence the connected difficulty of comprehending the
nature of " mercy in justice : " this forms a contradic-
tion in terms, if God's justice is perfect, as He is perfect.
Should we not do better to admit that we do not under-
stand His justice, than even to measure it by our own
definition of this term ? or rather, should not wisdom
and piety equally command us to avoid measuring any
portion of His character or conduct by the imperfect
notions which we derive from our own ? But if this


one of His attributes is especially unintelligible, it
requires little discernment to see wliy it has been so
strenuously urged, and by what peculiar opinions, under
Christianity. Renouncing these, as I trust we safely
may, and if we are also willing to grant that this ])or-
tion of God's character is beyond our comprehension,
we shall lay the easier foundation for proving, very ex-
tensively, if not absolutely, that goodness, of which the
partial proofs are so abundant. Others must deter-
mine as to this very delicate and difficult question : yet
the general fact of our ignorance respecting this attri-
bute, seems borne out by our experience. It must have
been goodness Avhich gave us good, before merit or
trial : it is goodness which gives to wickedness or de-
merit what it also gives to merit : and when good is
even declared to descend indifferently on the just and
the unjust, this is a proceeding assuredly not reconcile-
able to our notions of abstract justice ; of that perfect
justice which has been presumed and maintained.

I must leave this difficulty to be explained by those
who have argued, as metaphysicians, for the perfection
of all the attributes of the Deity, as they themselves de-
fine those : Avhile it is not within my limits to pursue it
on religious grounds. But I must yet notice some cir-
cumstances, of minor importance, which interfere with a
due contemplation of the goodness of the Deity. These
do not indeed nullify the proofs : but they are such as
often to make us find some deficiency in those, or to
prevent us from receiving them to the conviction of our
feelings as Avell as of our reason.

It is not always very easy for us to view the qualities
of gentleness and good-nature and kindness, or of love
and benevolence, in man, as compatible, or combined, with
the higher and more energetic character of great power


and wisdom and knowledge ; still less, when to those
are added great superiority and distance of rank. If
we love goodness, it is also accompanied by a feeling of
familiarity, or of equality ; occasionally, even of supe-
riority in ourselves, as if we might despise, or even
injure, the beneficent man ; while this actually happens
in the cases of practical ingratitude, though the more
common, and less offensive feeling is, to consider extreme
benevolence as the property of a feeble mind or a weak
character. Thence, ever forming our notions of the
Deity from ourselves, in spite of all our reasonings to
the contrary, it becomes difficult to contemplate His
goodness as combined with that power and wisdom,
which, in Him, are venerable, awful ; or with that
omnipresence and eternity which are fearful subjects
of contemplation. It requires deep thought and ab-
straction to look on the goodness of God as a source
of love towards Him, and on Himself as an object of
reverence and fear also : it is easier not to think so
deeply ; and thence do the proofs of His beneficence
seldom operate with sufficient force on our minds.

A similar effect is produced by certain religious
systems ; or even, apart from the well-known peculi-
arities to which t allude, by careless and unjust views
of religion, and an evil mode of early education. In
the first case, and too often in the latter also, as I
remarked in the first chapter, sin, denunciation, ven-
geance, punishment, are the first, or even the only impres-
sions that are acquired, as they are, by some, indulged :
and thus a terrific God becomes that leading idea,
scarcely to be eradicated, with which we attempt in
vain to associate the notion of goodness or the feeling
of love. We may use the phraseology, and even con-
vince ourselves by reflection, that He is good, and to


be loved for His goodness ; but we rarely feel this long,
or truly, or deeply and habitually.

Such appear to be the causes which interfere with
the proofs of the goodness of the Deity: yet I must
still try to show why it ought to exist, ci priori, and
that it actually does so, by facts. The a jmuri argument
is of the usual nature : the facts are physical, in con-
formity to my plan, and they form the present section
of this book ; but it is previously necessary to inquire
Avhat goodness is, or shoukl be, in the Deity, because
there is here a fundamental difficulty, which has pro-
duced some metaphysical disputation,

It has been said that goodness in God is different
from goodness in man ; and chiefly, for the purpose of
obviating the difficulties which I have stated respecting
the existence of evil, and also as to the union of this
quality with His justice and purity. But the obvious
answer seems to be, that we cannot then know what
Divine goodness is, or means ; since in nothing can we
judge but through our own knowledge of ourselves.
And we ought to be right in thus judging; because
He has given us this ground of judgment, and no other :
which must be presumed as equivalent to an order so to
judge. Hence then are we compelled to estimate the
goodness of God by what we call goodness in man :
and to those whom Scripture may persuade when
reason cannot (as if Scripture were not reason), I may
(|uote the proof from the highest authority in it. " If
ye, being evil, give good gifts to your children, how
much more shall your Father which is in Heaven give
good things to them that ask him." It is true that this
was not said to prove the point in question ; but it is
plain that He who said it, has deflned the goodness of
God as I here do, and no otherwise. And if an addi-


tioiial argument from the same source were needful, it
is, that Avhen we are commanded to imitate Him in
goodness, that order woukl be worse than nugatory, if
His goodness were not imitable : while if it be so, our
own must be of the same kind ; however widely dilBfer-
ing in degree.

We may therefore conclude, that goodness in God is
of the same quality as in man : or, that it implies bene-
volence with beneficence ; the doing of kind actions, or
the conferring of benefits ; the giving of pleasure, or
happiness, without desert or the expectation of a return,
from pure will, uninfluenced by aught but the desire
of communicating good. And the only very obvious
difference, as far as we can perceive, between the quality
of His goodness and our own, is its absolute purity and
perfection in His case ; because, in us, there is a plea-
sure, and therefore a reward, attached to its exertion.

But granting this, a great difficulty yet remains.
The goodness of God is, essentially, obscure to us,
because it is but one of many united attributes, and
because of our own limited knowledge and discernment.
In man, goodness may, and does, produce evil, from
the want of knowledge, wisdom, or power. Such good-
ness as this would not therefore be goodness in Him :
even in an abstract and metaphysical view, and apart
from any consequences, it would be to make Him un-
knowing, or unwise, or deficient in power, which cannot
be ; or, if we contemplate consequences also, the Author
of nullity or evil, which is equally inadmissible.

Another difficulty in judging of the goodness of God
consists in this. It is a beneficent conduct, not to man
only, but to all creatures, throughout the universe, and
also, not at one time alone, but for ever. And being
guided by wisdom, so as to exclude Avhatever is im-


proper or inexpedient, in any manner or at any time,
as being productive of evil, or opposing good, the entire
plan and results become so extensive and complicated
as to exceed our comprehension.

But while the necessary limitation of this goodness
produces the larger portion of our apparent difficulties,
so does it offer the best solution of them. It is neces-
sarily limited as to man, because he is a limited being,
ajid still more so as to otlier creatures, in proportion to
their relative natures. Perfect good could only be
given to perfect natures ; for, to be imperfect is to want
the means of receiving absolute good, or, is to suffer
direct evil. If man, therefore, for example, were
rendered competent to this end, he must first rise to
the perfection of angels, and lastly to that of God, who
alone is perfect, and therefore, alone capable of perfect
happiness. Or, if we imagine a scale of beings descend-
ina- from Him, the next inferior nmst receive less from
Him than He possesses, and thus successively, m pro-
portion to the less perfection of its nature ; whence His
goodness is limited in act, without detracting from that
goodness Avhich forms one among His attributes. Or,
for him to give perfect good to an imperfection appointed
by Himself, in His own wisdom, is a self-contradiction,
and even a contradiction in terms, or a null conclusion.
Such then appears to be the just metaphysical view
of the nature of God's goodness, and such the best
solution that can be offered, by this reasoning, of the
difficulties which relate to the imperfect experienced
goodness beneath His government, under the admission
of His absolute goodness. It is plain, therefore, that
no deficiency in His acts of goodness will imply the
wantof it in Him; because it proceeds in union with a
peculiar and a wise design, and because, under that


design, the wished-for goed is impossible : impossible
to us, unless we could be equal, or more nearly equal,
to Him. And the same metaphysical reasonings urge,
lastly, that even this imperfectness of good, or this
evil, is, in itself, good and right, because the plan must
■ be such, under united wisdom and goodness : but this
is a mode of reasoning, I fear, which makes as little
impression as generally follows from these verbal

It seems more satisfactory to state the general infer-
ence in a more broad, and therefore in a less repulsive
manner : and the question resolves itself into the con-
sequences that ought to follow from united wisdom and
goodness. He is perfectly good ; but as goodness
without wisdom would not always produce good results,
and as His wisdom is also perfect, His goodness, in
conduct, must be judged of as being compounded of
pure benevolence and pure wisdom.

Yet, when metaphysics reason thus, they ever forget
that this is precisely what we cannot do, from insuffi-
cient wisdom of our own : so that after all these cir-
cuitous statements and briefer inferences, though our
reasonings are silenced, the want of conviction too often
remains. And if I still think that our confidence and
belief in God's goodness must be founded on something-
more than the metaphysical reasonings of natural religion,
I nuiy nevertheless add what they have done on this sub-
ject. This goodness cannot err from imperfection, because
He is perfect ; nor can it fail, where there is no induce-
ment to do wrong, or evil. To do good and evil both,
is a character of contradictions, or opposition, or it is
one of mutability or caprice, or of passion, which cannot
be in God : or else it must result from influence,


Avhereas there can be none to influence ; or from defect
of power, whereas His power is absolute.

But after all these usual and sufficiently obvious
reasonings, which represent therefore the existence of
evil, such as we know and believe it, as the result of a
necessity derived from His own appointment in wisdom,
and from the relative natures of created beings, the
practical question ever recurs. Men will inquire ; and
other answers than those will be attempted. And the
endless question of the origin, existence, or permission
of evil, is assuredly not yet at rest, in spite of the mass
of writing, under the highest ability, Avhich has been
offered in explanation. The briefest possible sketch of
this question is however all that I can attempt, or ought
to give, in this place.

It is not within my plan to detail the fanciful or
false hypotheses which undertake to account for the
existence of evil, on grounds different from that which
has been proved, namely, the existence of a sole, Avise,
powerful and beneficent Creator. It is sufficient to name
the system of Manicheism and that of Demonism : the
reader can easily find more than is needed, on those
two contrivances They who have sought the solution
in a pre-existing state of man, have forgotten, from be-
fore Pythagoras down to Holw^ell, that there could be
no punishment, inasmuch as punishment is justice,
without consciousness : and they who have attempted
an explanation, by supposing the world to be the pro-
duction of a delegated being, deficient in wdsdom and
power, have forgotten that this does not remove the
essential difficulty, though it may explain the existence
of evil ; since He who permits what he might have
prevented, is still its cause.


I need make no remark on the system of absolute
and uncompromising optimism, or on the consequences
deducible from an hypothesis, which even they who
have adopted it in words cannot beheve. This is the
optimism of the fatalists : and if some writers have ridi-
culed everything under this term, it has been by negli-
gently or purposely overlooking a more reasonable view
of this subject, or confounding both under a common
name. A rational one concludes that general laws for
good, in physics, lead to particular evils, and that moral
wrong is an inevitable consequence of that free-will
which is, on the whole, good, and necessary. But thus
granting the perfect wisdom and goodness of the Deity,
it follows that we must limit His power ; unless every
instance of such presumed failure were reducible to
physical and moral impossibility ; to that self-contra-
diction or nullity already noticed in the chapter on
Power. And this atteiiipt at a solution is therefore
imperfect. To say, under this modified optimism, that
partial evil is universal good, is to surrender the ques-
tion, even in terms ; since the evil is thus acknow-

It has been said also, in defence or explanation, that
the evils of this life will be compensated in another, by
overpowering good. To offer this as a solution, is the
most manifest of all these oversights. Though there
were this future good, the evil has still been suffered :
and what if, instead of this good, there be future evil
also? And thus Ave arrive at that most insuperable
of all difficulties, the question of future punishment :
while, if it is also to be eternal, it becomes quite fruit-
less to examine this question any further. But, to
avoid this subject, as beyond my bounds, it is also plain


that this hypothesis fails in that case of evil which con-
cerns the inferior animals.

It is not a solution of this difficulty to say, that a
good end is gained through an evil ; the illustrative
case of a man's limb, amputated to save his life, admits
the evil. And though, in any other cases, there is uti-
lity, or good, produced by pain, or by diseases, this
leaves the question just where it was before. The
inquirer, and w ithout impiety, naturally asks, why the
all-wise and good and powerful Governor of the world
could not gain these good ends in some other manner,
and without such evil as no experience or argumenta-
tion can prevent him from thinking unnecessary or

Some of these hypotheses have proceeded on the
general assumption, and in all cases, that every evil is
contingent ; yet without venturing to encounter specific
facts. It required no small boldness to do this ; as has
also been done, for one class of evils at least. I have
had occasion to notice this in one of the succeeding
chapters (c. 49) so as to supersede any specific remarks
in this general one. But it is abundantly plain, that
direct physical evil, at least, has been appointed, and
even under special preparations for that end. It is in
vain to deny the fact. Nor can I see that there is any
piety in attempting to maintain the character of the
Deity tlu-ough conscious mis-statements of the truth ;
as it is also a worse than hazardous proceeding, Avhen
detection must follow. There is moreover but little
wisdom in doing this, when the least reflection should
satisfy us, that the character thus aw^kwardly vindicated
is one of our own assumption, and that we neither
understand His nature, nor the system of His govern-


nient. A sound piety and an informed prudence should
equally induce writers to yield the question. And he
who says, that under the government of God, evil is not
acknowledged, l)ut further, that it is not even declared
as being designed, ought not to say, or even insinuate
this, while he professes to read and believe the Scrip-
tures. On every ground we are bound to admit the
fact of the existence of direct evil, and under the absolute

Online LibraryJohn MaccullochProofs and illustrations of the attributes of God : from the facts and laws of the physical universe : being the foundation of natural and revealed religion (Volume 3) → online text (page 1 of 43)