God does not oblige us to anything that is either impossible or unreasonable. Consequently, there must be some ways we may distinguish Divine Revelation from all pretenses to it.
His evidences are not irresistible, and God, having made us free Agents, can’t be supposed to destroy His own work; they are sufficient to convince all reasonable Persons who examine them as the weight of their truth.
For what is it that God requires of us? No very hard task, one would think, for it is only a sincere and constant endeavor after our own Perfection.
God has made us Rational and Free Agents, capable of paying a reasonable and voluntary homage to His Majesty, and of enjoying the happy effects of it, He has set before us Good and Evil, Life and Death, and entices us by all the Duty we owe to Him, by all the Gratitude we ought to pay for the most stupendous instance of His Love in our Redemption, and by all the kindness we have for ourselves [to do what is right.]
Was it then unfit for God to adorn His Creation with all imaginable Ranks and Degrees of Being, consequently with Free Agents which is a very noble Order?
Now the difference between a Free and a Necessary Agent consists in this: The Actions of the former, or more properly the Motions of his Mind, are in his own power. He has Ability, as every one of us is aware, to determine them this way or that, according to his own pleasure, and as he is affected b the supposed agreeableness of the objects he pursues. This power or faculty is what we call Liberty, which distinguishes a Free from a Necessary Agent, for this last type does not determine for itself, has no command over its own motions, but is absolutely governed by a foreign cause.
But in whatever Degree of Being a Creature is placed, whether it is a Free or a Necessary Agent, there must be a certain measure of Perfection belonging to its Rank, which it cannot attain but by some certain and stated Progressions or Methods, suitable to the Nature that God has given it, and in the same manner as a Seed becomes a Plant, or a Plant a Tree. Some actions therefore do naturally and necessarily tend to the Perfection of Mankind, and others as naturally and necessarily drag us down into Misery.
If then you will allow that God may create Free Agents, and where I pray is the Injustice of it? Since it can’t be supposed that He lays irresistible restraints upon us, or gives them irresistible impulses, which were to destroy the Nature He has made, and to contradict Himself, consequently all that can be done for us, even by Infinite Power and Goodness, conducted by Infinite Wisdom, is to lure us to good by the vastness of the Pleasure proposed, and to deter them from Evil by the dread of the Pain of separation that is threatened by God.
If God should deprive us of our Liberty and make us Necessary Agents, that is, make us like other Creatures and not human beings, he who is currently unaffected with the Infinite Goodness and Longsuffering of God (which ought to lead him to Repentance) would continue his Impenitency; he who is Unjust, would remain Unjust; and he who is Filthy, would remain that way. Leaving them therefore in their own mire, and to be punished by their own Folly. Let us consider the Practical Duties of Christianity, that we may Practice as well as Believe, all that is required of us in order to gain our Salvation.
Since, therefore, we desire our own Happiness, and God desires it also, and has done so much, even beyond our Modest hopes, in order to grant it, what can hinder it?
(Adapted from a 1717 book by Mary Astell, “The Christian Religion…”)