“  apprehension,” while one pamphlet contended that the “Doctrine of Divine Sovereignty as implying God's eternal, arbitrary and absolute determination ... is contrary to the nature and attributes of God, because inconsistent with the very notion of His being a moral governor of the world.” 1 Yet even in this discussion against the Presbyterian Jonathan Dickinson, Johnson exhibits a lightness of touch which relieves the subject of much of its soberness:
Johnson's skilfulness was shown better in his constructive than in his controversial writings. If he rendered Calvin absurd by his use of the satirical paraphrase, he rendered Berkeley plausible by the glamour of his style. He was first attracted to the Irish idealism because it supplied him with the strongest arguments against the doctrine of necessity. But when Berkeley himself came to America, the neophyte fell in love with the author and his system at the same time. It was then that Johnson, according to his best biographer, became a convert to the “new principle,” which he regarded, when rightly understood, as the true philosophical support of faith. The
Suppose some unhappy wretch entirely in the power of some arbitrary sovereign prince. Suppose the sovereign had beforehand absolutely resolved he should be hanged, but for the fancy of the thing, or purely to please himself, and gratify a capricious humour of his, commands him to lift a weight of ten thousand pounds and heave it to the distance of a mile, and tells him if he will do this he will give him an estate of ten thousand a year, and if he will not do it he shall certainly be hanged. At the same time he promises and designs him no manner of help or means whereby he might be enabled to accomplish it. It is true he speaks very kindly to him, and gives him several great encouragements expressed just like promises. He tells him if he will be up and doing he will be with him, and that if he will try and strive and pray for help, his labour shall not be in vain. However, the truth of the matter at the bottom is that he never intends to help him, having beforehand absolutely resolved he shall be hanged, and without help he can no more stir the weight than create a world. Now I humbly conceive that this unhappy wretch is under a necessity of disobeying and being hanged.Letter . . . in defence of Aristocles, pp. 14-20.