Soame Jenyns.

A free inquiry into the nature and origin of evil. In six letters to -- online

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TR'E EX N Qjrt R ^^



,0 F ■ - /

E V I L.

\\ In SIX LETTERS to —i



R. D E BIT I ON, aimgfled. . y ■

I .Oii






Printed for R. and J. Donttsr, in Paii.-Mail.


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> - -

,y Google





L E T T F R I.

On Evil in general. /

On Evils of Imperfeftion.


'On Natural Evils.

On Moral Evils. ^

j On Political Evils.

On Religious Evils.








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L E T T E R I.


On Evil in general;


HAVING cnjoy'd the pfeafore of
many accidental conferences with
you on metaphyfical, moral, political,
and religious fobjeSs ; on which you eve^
feemed to converfe i^rkh tnort fagaatfi
4s well as mort cahdor, than is ufual on
the like occafions ; 1 ima^'d it might
hot be unentertaining either to y<!yu, ot
myfelfi to put together ifly Ifentfttlftnte
6n thdfe impOrtmit t^pics^ and cbniifeu-
hicate them to you from time to time as
the abfence of bufinefi, or of rfiore agftt-
B able

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2 T^Q NATURE and

able amufements may afford me oppqr'- '
tunity. This I propofe to do under the
general title of an lAquiry intcf the Na-
ture, and Origin of Evil -, an Inquiry,
. which will comprehend them all, and
. \vtiich, I think, has never been attended
to with that diligence it deferves, nor
with that fuccefs, which might hzvc
been hx>ped for from that litde that -ha&
been beftow'd upon it. The right un-
derftanding of this abftrufe {peculation^
I look upon to be the only folid foun-
dation, on which any rational fyftem of
Ethicks can be built ^r for it feems in>'
^pOffible, that men (hould ever arrive at
any juft ideas of their Creator, or his
Attributes, any proper - rations of their
relation ;tD : hifP,: or^ their duty fo. each
other, without firft fettling in their raju^
fome; faUs^ory Ibluifen oi this impor-
. ., taat

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ORldtN of EVIL. 3

lant queftion, Whence came Evil?
Whilft we find ourfelves liable to innu-
merable miferies in this life; apprehcn-
(Iviebf ftill greater in another, and can
givfc no prdbable accdurit of this bUr
wretched fituatibn, what fentiments muft
we entertain of the juftice and benevo-
lence of our Creator, who placed us int
it, without our foUicitations, or conlent ?
The works of the Creation fufficiently
dcmonftratc his exiftence, tlieir beauty,
perfeftion, and magnifience* his infinite
power, and wifdom ; but it is the Hap-
pinefs only, which we enjoy, or hope
for, which can convince us of hi$ Good^

•* *

It is the folution therefore of this im-
portant queftion alone, that can afcertain
the moral Charafteriftic of God, and
B 2 upon

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4 The NATURE and

lipon that only muft all human Virtue

eternally depend.

If there^s a Power above us^,
(And that there is all Nature cries aloud'
Thro* all her works) he muft delight in

And that, which he delights in, muft be


iSut fhou*d this divine reafoning of the
philofopher be at laft inconclufive ; cou'd
we once entertain fuch blafphemous no-
tions of the Supreme Being, as that He
might not delight in Virtue, neither
adhere to it himfelf, nor reward it in
others •, that He could make any part of
his creation miferable, or fufFcr them
to make themfelve^ fo without a juft
caufe, and a benevolent end; all moral
confideratiorts muft be vain, and ufelefs ;


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^e can have no rule by which to direft
our aftions, nor, if we hs^d, any kind
of obligation to purfue it : nor in this
cafe can any Revelation in the leaft affift
us, the belief of all Revelation being in
in its Qwn nature fubfequent, not only to
the belief of God's exiftence, but of his
juffice and veracity ; for if God can in-
jure Us, he may alfa ddceive us; and
then there is an end of all diftinftions be-
tween good and evil, truth and falfe-
hood, and of all confidence in God or
. Man.

I mean not by this to infinuate the
Jeaft poffibility of a doubt concerning
the Juftice or Goodncfe of our Creator,
but only to ftiew the importance of this
Inquiry and the utility of it towards
ifettling our notions of his Attributes,
B 3 and

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6 Thq ?SI;A.TURE and

and the reguli^tipn of our own behavioviy
in conformity to them, 1 intend not by
it to prove the benevolence of God buc
to reconcile the miferies we fee and fufFer,
with that , uncontrovertable benevolence ;
I defign not to fhew that Gqd approver
Virtue, hut that the admiflion of mor4
Evil is not inconfiftent with that un-
doubofed approbation : nor wou*d . I_ be
underftood to aflert, that our obligation
to be vir^uovS) depends on this abftrufe
Spcpulation, but only that our right unr
derftanding it will remove all doubti^.conr
cerning the nature of Virtue^ and our
obligation to pqrfue it, and fix them on
the moft firm, and immoveable Bafw,

T9 find out therefore how Evil of aay
kind can b? the production of infinite
Goodnefs, joined with infinite Powef,


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lliduia be the firft ftep in all our reli^^ '^
gious inquiries 5 the fexamiiiation into
which wonderful paradox will le^ us '■
into. many uleful and fublime truths;^
and its perfedt cbmpreherifiort, was that
poffible for our narrow capacities, would, '
I doubt not, make as furprifing difcove-^
jies m the Moral World, as mathemati- '
cal'and phyfical' knowledge have in the



To clear up this difficulty, fome an-
cient Philofophers have had rccourfc to
the fuppofition of two firft Caufes, on?
Good, and the other Evil, perpetually
counterafting each others defigns. Tikis'
fyftem was afterwards adopted by the
Manlchkan Herely, and has fince been
defettded by the uigenious Monf. Bayle :[
but as the fupjiofition of two firft Caufes
' B 4 is

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»; The NATURE and

is even in itfcif a contradiftion, and as the
whole fcheme has been demonftrated by
the beft metaphyfical Writers to be as
felfe as it is impious,' all further ar-
guments to difprove it would be need-.

Others have endeavoured to account
for this by the introdu<5tion of a Golden
Age, or Paradifaical State, in which all
was innocence and happinefs.

y^ana metufque aberantj nee verba metuh

MreMgehintur^ nee fuppkx turba iime^^

^icis or a fui j fed erant fim mndki


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Whwi Mia yet new, T
No rule biit wcorrupted Re^^ knew, I
And with a n^ve hent did Good pur^ j

fue; J

Unfprc'd hy pujwfluncnt, unaw'd by fe?r^
His words were fimple, and his foul fin-

Ncedlefs was written law, when qoh^ op-

The law of Man was ^written in his

bread }
Nq fyK^iam efowd^ bef<ye the Ji?dgf

No court cre^d yet, nor qawfe w^

But all was ikfe» ior Coufcience W4s tbi^

Guard. ' .

y^ eraf \e$ernumy placi^que t^f$H^is

Mukehnt Zephyri natosftnefemineflores 5


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lo The N A TUR E^ Wa '

M^ eHdm fhigis Mus imrdtafirei^afj' ■*
Flumiria jdfh' idlSfts^ jam ftuminJ^ n^£farii

' iBanf, '\ ^ " '"''^ •

I^avaqtte'de't^SfiiBabafaiUcem^a. ' '"

The ' flowers unfown in fidds md niea- •

dows reign'd.
And Weftern Winds immortal Spring

In following years the beaixkd cortt cnfu*d
From Barth unaflc'd, nor was that Earth

FfOnf ^ins of vaUeys milk and nc6ter

And honey fwdited fiom the pores of

Oak. - ^

Amofing <iw;artsf aS ahTiird in {AHo-
fo^jj as in poetry ddig^btfiil ! For tho'

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It is probable, from the moil Aocient Jitf* •
tories, as well as from analogy drawn
from, the r^ft of Nature's produdioos,
that the VVoild might be more happy
and more innocent in its Infancy^ than.^^
in more advanced Ages -, yet that it cou*d
ever, be totally free from Vice^d Mi-f ;
Yry, mayeafily, 1 think, be proved im-
poflible, both from the nature qf this
terreftrial Glob, and the nature of its
Inhabitants. So tliat thefe inchantlc^
Scenes can in fad never have exifled :
but, if they had, the fhort duration cf *
this perfedion is equally inconfifknc with
infinite Power, joined to infinite Wif-
d9^i aiwJ. Goodnefs, as any originalini-'
perfedion whatever. Fables then of this
kind can never in the leaft account for
the Origin of Evil : th^y aj?e all b»t mcftii -
expsdieniB, which will sever be^ able^to *


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tt The NATURE and
take away the difficulty, and can at moft
but obfcure it, by (bifting it a littk back*
wards into a Icfs clear light j like that
Indian philofophy, accounting for the
fupport of the World, which informs
\js, that it is fuftained by a vaft Ele-
phant, that Elephant by a Tortoife, and
>then prudently drops any further in-

The Divines and Moralifts of lat^
Ages leem perfcdly fatisfied that they
i»ave looied this Gordian knot, by im-
puting the fource of all Evil to the abufe
^ Free-will in Created Beings. God,
4hcy fay, never deligned any fuch thing
, jBboa'd exift as Evil, moral or natural ;
liut that^ving to fome Beings, for good
;^ wife purpofes, a power of Frce-
^ncyi they perverted this power to


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dRlClN of EVIL, ij

bad endsj contrary to his intentions atld
commands; and thus their accidental
wickednefs produced confequehtial Mi-
&vy\ But to fuppofe in this manner^
that God intended all things to be good
and happy, and at the fame time gav*
being to creatures able and willing to ob^
ftruft his benevolent defigns, is a notio*
fo inconfiftent with his wifdom, good-
nefs, omnifciencc, and omnipotence^ that
k feems . equally unphilofophica), and
more evidently abfurd, than the other,
'i'hey have been led into this error by ri-
diculoufly judging of tht dilpenfation of
a Creator to his Creatures, by the fame
iiiles which they apply to the dealings df
Men towards each other ; between which
tliere is not the leaft proportion br fimi-
litude. A Man who endeavours, to thtf
utmoft of his power, to make others vir-

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14 The NATliRE and^

tuoiis and happy, however unfuccefsfiil^
is foffictently juftified ; but in a Being
omnipotent and omnifcient, the Caufe
of all caufes, the Origin of all thought^
will, and aftion ; who fees all things paft,
prelent, and to come, in one inftantaneous
view, the cafe is widely different; bis
a&ive and permiflive will mufl: be exadly
the fame; and, in regard to him, all con-
fcquential and future Eyi!s, thro* every
moment of time, are aftually prefcnt.

Since therefore none of thefe pretended
folutions can, I am certain, give fuch fa-
tisfaftion to your comprehthfive under-
flanding, let tis aow try to find out
one more rational, and -more' confident
with the analogy of- ever^->-i?hing a^

• *. . That

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, That tbcrc. , is a Supreme B^ig infi-
.Xiitejy |]pwerful, wife, and benevolqit,
.the gfesit Creator ^nd Prefenrer of a^\l
t^ipg5^^, is ia tni^h fo clearly demw-
ftraifedt ^ tl?^ it fliall be ^ fi^e tafeeq for
gran^^^/rhat there is ^Ifp ia the uni-
verl^ fyft^ o^ things, the works Cjf his
almight]^ Jiand, iftuch mifciy aixd wlck-
ednefs^, t|^t is, much natural and^nq-
ral EvjJp »is another truth, of. which
jcvery hcHir's fatal experience cannot fail
to CQnyiace. v^ Jioiy t^le tWQ un-
doubted,, jet ^ecmipgqontradido^ truths
can .be ^qconciled) tl^at; i$, l)iOW Eyil^ of
any Jort could hzvcjk jj»x in thci woite
of an.,omoipQtQqt;,,a^d good JBeing^ is
, very djlficidt to aooouit^dToru Ki . wc . af-
fert.that he could not prevent rftertiv ^wt
deftroy his power } if ttiat he would not,
• . . wc

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'i6 the N-ATUkE and
we arraign his goodnefs j and therefore
his power and goodnefs cannot both be

But hoWevef cohclufive this argument
may feem, there is tbmewh^re of othef
an error in it ; and this erfdr I tak6 to
arife from our wrohg notions of omnipo-
tence. Omnipotence cannot work con-
tradi(^ions, it can only efFe6t dl poflible
things. But fo liftle are wfe acquainted
with the whole fyftem of Natin*6, that we
know n6t what at*e poflible, and what are
hot : but if we may judge from' that con^
ftant mixtuffe of pain with pleaflire, and
of inconvenience with advantage, Which
We muft oM&rve in every thing around
Us, We have refafon to tonclude, that to
cndae created Beings with peifeftion,
th^t is, to produce Gobd ticlufive of


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dRiGIN ofEVlL. tf

Evil, h one of thofe impoffibilities which
^en infinite flower cannot accomplifli»

The true foliition then of this iflcom-
prehenfible J)aradox muft be this, that all
Evils owe their cxiftcnce folely to the
necefllty of their own natures, by nMch
I mean they could rtot pofliWy have beert
prevented, without the loft of fttoie fupe*
rior Good, or the permiflion €)# feme
greater Evil than themfelves ; or that
rhany Evils will unavoidably infiflUate
themfdves by the natural rdations and
cifcumftances of things into the moft
perfe6l fyftem of Created Beings, evert
in oppofition to the will of an almighty
Cfeator, by reafon they cannot be ex*
eluded without wwking contradidions ;
which not being proper objeft$ df power,
it is no diminution of omnipotence to
affirm that it cannot effeft them.

C And

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vi8 ^WUhT^mt>kkA

-J 'Ahd-'Iterl^lk*Wilirb*J^ropcfrfW) IMfcif a

'^ttlMeysii toi tie ^rnkderftdod! nttL&n^ cp-
trenchment of the dirikteromffitpotcnQe)
but only that fuch things are in their

^bwn nit&res liiipraaicdile, and ifft^ffi-
yk t6 br'petforfified, ^ ■ '^ ■ -

^i> // That//tbo Q^linigbty > ihwld Ibe ih^s
.ikmted^^ md^ciifn^ri^%;i^ tiiitore
:>b£otfaiDg|Sy.^tif.fvMoh: lio ;liiibfid[f is tBe
.rAuthofy ihaytOiibai&fi^lfiDtyery itt-
.laffigiblel: ism^Gsifif iauhsaot at dUM-
ihaik i» icaiiOMTO^ithatiiweiviciyjpbfrdile
mcdwd ^«*i.ldrd*rir^, atfji^iigi and
-^ft^hiitij^ the ItftftVe^fel^ fjrftenv df • ti^^,
'ffidli J4iilrnte6i:lefe '1^ might

'>ftarid%ilpiad&V' ithat jatl ^tha£ iogfijce
^: : : power

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, Bowr (iin4qW#^!iCOiil4i^,L. VIS to
. ttttended; wkb *thfif)ka^iwidlfeweftv wd

a j)6wdr/inf(lhe (Jyeator,. htttiiDainithat itta-
perfe&ioii^iivbkrbLisitiiiereoli iiDithevoatwe
urfiail'^watod tMn^. ' > :«'?f ^

T.'^'iygi^e^, J iix^gfp^,^ what ;hc

Ancients meant by Fate, |q .wbiq^ they

fancied that Jupiter^ and all the Gods,

^iwfere-^dbli^edito fdbmit/ and^which was

dtb^bis ^«2»i¥iit&tel^byii0|)O«^er wfaateven

;^he ^iekksikoA to itanre liad Iraie dark

4ttd oniMttl^giMe iiot]Oi)s:i^ this. kind,

ivSiSdh thef joeichor iMidctilbMid them^ves,

hbT'knefviiowitotcbtpbchbCifttthcK that

ube i^rlsofif^en^ of .^Mater was the

-<^«Jfe;0f>BrtHl5<itl«t i5ft^3»^idd bare

-m^ 1^1; ^gA perfei^i^ori^t ihcrc

Was in MatteHan eril t^ii'e]^ ugAmt to

C 2 his

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2o' Tiie'N'AVl^'Al^'a!ii'

his benevolence^ which dfew another way^^
whence arofe all manner of Evils. 0£
the li^e kind is a Maxim of the lame
Philofophjers^ That Pain is no Evil ^,
which, if aflertpd with r^ard to the in-
dividuals who fuffef it, is downright
nonfenfe ; but if cotifider;^ as it afffeiSls
the univerial Syftem, . is^. an undoubted
truth, and nipans Qnly that th^re is n^
more pai?t in^ it than whajt-is j^iecelj^ tq^
the prodw(5tiGn of hapgi^cls* t Ho^ m^gji
focvec of thefc Evils then . force theii>n
felves iata the CrQatior^ fo loog as tiifr
Good prepQoderat^s, it is-ft worl^, well
wo^'tby of if^fi^fte WifdoiuapAiB^aevo-
leiijue i an^ nptwithft^ndi^g thi§ imperr-
fcaipnjs, of i,t^ gam^ the whole ii^.moft
undoubtedly pe;cfeft. , , ,

Hence then we n:vay plainly fee, that
much Evil may cxift, not at all incon-


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cue, the more mlh,n„ ^i,,^ .
Alcern w' lights b^I, „ T' T^ '*'?

«>= oKprmg of Rcafc^ „

C 3 . .

^ well


22 The NATURE, &c.

well as the Parent of all Virtue and Re-
fignation to the juft, but unfcrutable,
dUpenfations of Providence.

But, iPjOrdfr more cle^ly to^explam
thrs abflrefe ipfccul^ion, ft witf'benl-
ccffary to divide Evils into their different
Species, and beftow. oh each a feparate
confideration. This I Ihall do under
the f(dlo^'«i^%:h^s': Evils of ImjJerfcc-
tion, Natural Evils, and Religious
Evils ; which, I think, will comprehend
mod of thofe to which human Nature is
unhappily liable. And now. Sir, left I
Ihould add one more Evil to this melan-
choly Catalogue, which is that of along
and tedious Epiftle, I fhall referve the
examination into each of thefe particulars
for the fubjeft of a future Letter;
and conclude this by affuring you, that

I am,

SI R, &c.

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-3>I bnii ^uniV IIb to ^^^^B^ srfl afi 11-jw

.t).in;iijjvoi4 to 2nobi^lnD4lib

-V'-^ -J? N^. ^ p^^i ^-^'^^^ -^^^r

m,.-. ^ ,. ,,,1 -, .' ;; • ] .i)r/jN o: V'"'c7l''}:t

- S^Pts of Impeffe6tion»:

'.' M .:; '-f nr'r'.:frl i^ ::^ '- o^ '^)Oi!i 1 -'\. -
"* •''» .*■■ / "^\ -, *: ^uii •^btM Mio-> bnp

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(* 3

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On Evils of Imperfedion.

IN purfuance of the plan propofed in
my laft, I fliall now proceed to ex-
amine into the Nature of each particular
kind of Evil, and in the firft place of
thofe therein denominated Evils of Im-
perfe&ion ; which are in truth no Evils
at all, but rather the abfence of fome
comparative Good ; and therefore I fhall
not have occafion to detain you long on
this part of my fubjed.


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eat). tpi(«<^i«fhcr •; eyery ^ pifltwe piuft

h%^c^?W>pofe(irSfr, ya^ioji^ cc^QUf^ and of

l^hti ^ih^^ all h^^xgay muft be

fic^fiicd of ,,tr^ks, teapps, aad baflfes.v

OTcry J)eajiH^4l-^ ^^^^f^l cdi^ce nugift

^onfift'ofWghejr aad, Iqw^r^ ropr^an4

lefs magnificent isipartp)e(ptp. ^ » , ,Thii^ ;^ ^

theveryeflenceofall created things, and

Ihereftire ' tinttot be pf^erlted by' 'any

Witans vi'hatevef, lintefs by hot cr^atJrt^

titem at aSQ : for which reafoh, in the fbti-

^^ttiaSteii OT tht IMvefrl^, God was oWigdd,

^tt wckt to carry' on that JufV fubordimtioh

fo neceflary to the vejy cKiftenwot the

whole, to create Bemgs of cHffcrenc tankaj,

' and to beftow on Tarrous fpectes .of aii}-

\tQzhi aod 9i£o on the irtdwiduals of^the


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tages tte'givrthe liames'ofi&Uyj U^eAkt-i
mki ^dt^ty^' and iin|ierfe£lk)tH< ztut
ttry unjwClIy repiife them EiSb : Mrtto*^'
as in truth they arc blcffingi is^far » rli^'
extend, the* of an inferior degree. Tliey
ire no more a6hial Evils, than^ a finaJ!
eftate is a real misfortune, bcfcabTe maiiy
may bd j^oflefftd of greater. ^
:...-, \ L . • ...

"Whatever we enjoy, is purely a free
gift: from our Creator ; bujtth^ we ^-
jqf ^a more, can never jfisre be deer^e^
,flH iajMry» or a jiift reafoni to qwftion,^
kifimte ; benevolence. AH our hj^pinefs
-ii: owijBg to^his goodnefs ; but that it \%
*0O: greater, is owing vOnly to ourfclvcs,
that lis, to our not hairing any inherent
right to any happinefs, or even to any
^ rt cxiftcncc

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<:8 T}>f.Jit,^jy^^,a,^,
cxiftencc at z\L T^iis i^ jw ipotje to Ijc^
imputed to iGpd, thi^i^^th^ wants pf Jijj
beggar to thf; perfon ,whp k^s relieye^^^
him : that he had ibmething^ w^s ow-
ing to bis BenefaAor ; but that he had
no more^ opiy to his av^qrigina) Poyei^.

They who look upon the privation of
all the good they fee others enjoy, or
think poflible for infinite power to be -
flow, as pofitive Evil^ undcrftand not
that the Univerfc is a fyftem whofe Very'
nceconlifbin fubor<|[nation j afcale*
Beir^s dcfcending by infenfible de-^
es from infinite perfedion to abfolute
hing ; in which, tho* we may juftly
)eft to find perfcftion in the whole,
lid we poffibly comprehend it j yet
uld it be the highefl abftirdity to hope
it in all its parts, becaufe the beauty
i happinefs of the whole depend alto-
gether '

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gerfier Oft tHejuft ihferiomy of its parts!,
tftat'fe, t9t'th^ cbttiparttivej' imperfeai'^'
oflsbf the'l^e^al' Beings ojf Wliich It'il''

ft wooM'iave Uteri nia feo^b' aH'^.'
%nce of God's wfitom to have cife»tecS
BO Beings but of -the hi^eft ^fid ntoQn
perfcd o»der, th»: it would be oi sk,
painter's aft, to conF his whole piece^
with one J^gjfc colour the moil beauti-t ^
§\A he couiji fpippoie. Had he confined .
himfelf to-, fuch, nothing ccwuld hare «x*
ifted but den^i-gods, or a^ichangels, and.
then all inferior orders- mijfl: have beeri^
void and uninhabited : but as it is furely *
more agreeable to infinite benevolence^
that ay thefe fhould be filled up with Be-
ings capable of enjoying happihefs them-
felves, and contributing to that of ^othcrsy
diey muft neceffarily be filled with infe-

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trior Biaftgft, that fe, ^iA-1»icha$at€^Ws

perftity hut from -whofe aSft^ftce, iidt-

^idiftaiMKng^ that Icfe pcrfe^o^, nW?e

rfeUcity tipDrt tke whole actru^^i W ^Ae

^yjtti*v«tfe, ' than if no foch^ had beefii

Ifcwatwi ' ftJs ttwneovcrbij^ly probabte,

.that theud* is foch a c(»ruic(aidti l)et#ctti

/fell yarJcs and orders by fuboidiaate ^d*-

grees; dkat ithcjr mutually^ iupporteadi

^thei'*^ ^xift^Kce, and tv^vy = oil^ ' {li "its

2pkcei$tabfqhfttdly neceflary towardi/ fttf*

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Online LibrarySoame JenynsA free inquiry into the nature and origin of evil. In six letters to -- → online text (page 1 of 12)