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Short Treatise on God, Man, and His Well-Being:
Part 1, Chapter 04.

    We deny that God can omit to do what he does, and we shall also prove it when we treat of Predestination; when we will show that all things necessarily depend on their causes. But, in the second place, this conclusion also follows from the perfection of God; for it is true, beyond a doubt, that God can make everything just as perfect as it is conceived in his Idea; and just as things that are conceived by him cannot be conceived by him more perfectly than he conceives them, so all things can be made by him so perfect that they cannot come from him in a more perfect condition. Again, [N1] when we conclude that God could not have omitted to do what he has done, we deduce this from his perfection; because, in God, it would be an imperfection to be able to omit to do what he does; we do not, however, suppose that there is a subsidiary provoking cause in God that might have moved him to action, for then he were no God.
[Note N1]: B: but.

    But now, again, there is the controversy whether, namely, of all that is in his Idea, and which he can realise so perfectly, whether, I say, he could omit to realise anything, and whether such an omission would be a perfection in him. Now, we maintain that, since all that happens is done by God, it must therefore necessarily be predetermined by him, otherwise he would be mutable, which would be a great imperfection in him. And as this predetermination by him must be from eternity, in which eternity there is no before or after, it follows irresistibly that God could never have predetermined things in any other way than that in which they are determined now, and have been from eternity, and that God could not have been either before or without these determinations. Further, if God should omit to do anything, then he must either have some cause for it, or not; if he has, then it is necessary that he should omit doing it; if he has not, then it is necessary that he should not omit to do it; this is self-evident. Moreover, in a created thing it is a perfection to exist and to have been produced by God, for, of all imperfection, non-existence is the greatest imperfection; and since God desires the welfare and perfection of all things, it would follow that if God desired that a certain thing should not exist, then the welfare and perfection of this thing must be supposed to consist in its non-existence, which is self-contradictory. That is why we deny that God can omit to do what he does. Some regard this as blasphemy, and as a belittling of God; but such an assertion results from a misapprehension of what constitutes true freedom; this is by no means what they think it is, namely, the ability to do or to omit to do something good or evil; but true freedom is only, or no other than [the status of being] the first cause, which is in no way constrained or coerced by anything else, and which through its perfection alone is the cause of all perfection; [N1] consequently, if God could omit to do this, he would not be perfect: for the ability to omit doing some good, or accomplishing some perfection in what he does, can have no place in him, except through defect.[N2]
[Note N1]: B: but true freedom consists in this, that the first cause, constrained or coerced by nothing else, through its perfection alone is the cause of all perfection.

[Note N2]: B: because it implies defect.

    That God alone is the only free cause is, therefore, clear not only from what has just been said, but also from this, namely, that there is no external cause outside him to force or constrain him; all this is not the case with created things.

    Against this it is argued thus: The good is only good because God wills it, and this being so, he can always bring it about that evil should be good. But such reasoning is about as conclusive as if I said: It is because God wills to be God that he is God; therefore it is in his power not to be God, which is absurdity itself. Furthermore, when people do anything, and they are asked why they do it, their answer is, because it is what justice demands. If the question is then put, why justice, or rather the first cause of all that is just, *makes such a demand,* then the answer must be, because justice wills it so. But, dear me, I think to myself, could Justice really be other than just? By no means, for then it could not be Justice. Those, however, who say that God does all that he does because it is good in itself, these, I say, may possibly think that they do not differ from us. But that is far from being the case, since they suppose that there is something before God [N1] to which he has duties or obligations, namely, a cause [through] which [God] desires that this shall be good, and, again, that that shall be just.[N2]
[Note N1]: B: Goodness (Goed instead of God).

[Note N2]: B: ... obligations, because of a desire that this shall be good, and that, again, just.

    Then comes the further controversy, namely, whether God, supposing all things had been created by him in some other way from eternity, or had been ordered and predetermined to be otherwise than they now are, whether, I say, he would then be just as perfect *as he is now.* To this it may serve as an answer, that if Nature had, from all eternity, been made different from what it is now, then, from the standpoint of those who ascribe to God will and understanding, it would necessarily follow that God had a different will and a different understanding then,[N1] in consequence of which he would have made it different: and so we should be compelled to think that God [N2] has a different character now from what he had then, and had a different character then from what he has now; so that, if we assume he is most perfect now, we are compelled to say that he would not have been so had he created all things differently. All these things, involving as they do palpable absurdities, can in no way be attributed to God, who now, in the past, and unto all eternity, is, has been, and will remain immutable. We prove this also from the definition that we have given of a free cause, which is not one that can do or omit to do anything, but is only such as is not dependent on anything else, so that whatever God does is done and carried into effect by him as the freest [N3] cause. If, therefore, he had formerly made things different from what they are now, it would needs follow that he was at one time imperfect, which is false. [N4] For, since God is the first cause of all things, there must be something in him, through which he does what he does, and omits not to do it. Since we say that Freedom does not consist in [having the choice of] doing or not doing something, and since we have also shown that that which makes him [God] do anything can be nothing else than his own perfection, we conclude that, had it not been that his perfection made him do all this, then the things would not exist, and could not come into existence, in order to be what they are now. This is just like saying: if God were imperfect then things would be different from what they are now.[N4]
[Note N1]: B: "than now" (als nu) instead of "then" (als doen).

[Note N2]: B omits the eleven words which follow ("has ... and").

[Note N3]: A: wisest (alderwijste instead of aldervrijste; corrected in B).

[Note N4]: B omits this sentence.

    So much as regards the first [attriute]; we shall now pass on to the second attribute, which we call a proprium of God, and see what we have to say about it, and so on to the end.
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