« FöregåendeFortsätt »
the Apostle Paul as operating on a large portion of the minds of ancient philosophers; “ even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge.” The reference of this to the pestilence, however, is the only point before us.
Of the fact adverted to in reference to this, I fear that no one can have any doubt. There are multitudes of men who fail altogether in recognizing the Divine hand in this visitation. They are absorbed in inquiries as to atmospheric influences; as to electricity: as to malaria ; as to the natural causes in cities which may effect the public health ; as to the proper quarantine and sanitary regulations. In themselves, all these inquiries are well; but what I would wish to suggest to this class of men is, that the pestilence seems as if it were a part of God's design in sending it, to rebuke the atheistic spirit with which you ordinarily pursue your investigations into the works of nature. In the regular laws of health or of sickness in the human frame, and in the beautiful laws of chemistry and of botany, you fail to see any traces of Divine wisdom and goodness, and even in the laws of astronomy, you fail to see the great and glorious Creator and Upholder of all. Those laws are so regular and so beautiful, and so satisfactory in themselves; there seems to you to be so little of Divine agency in them, and the whole thing works so much like a beautiful ma. chine ; there is to your mind so little evidence of intervention, or of any foreign influence, that your thoughts are never raised from the formation of the crystal up to the God who may make each particle seek its appropriate attachment; from the flower up to Him who has so beautifully pencilled it; from satellites and suns up to the One mind that directs them all. Yet here, in the pestilence, is a visitation that is eminently adapted to rebuke that spirit
. It seems to come direct from God. Its laws are to you unknown. You yourself can trace it to nothing short of his throne. You are not able to rest in secondary causes; not even to tell what those secondary causes are. About the pestilence there is no atheism. If
you find atheism anywhere else, for the same reason that
you find it there, there is none here. If your mind rests in the regularity of the laws of nature elsewhere, it cannot as yet here; for here is a new aspect of the Divine administration that is opened upon you. If you are a practical atheist here, it is for reasons which have not operated to make you an atheist on any other subject .-and you are here left to resist the new demonstrations that there is a God, and to find new reasons for being an atheist. There are features above the pestilence which look as if they were under the control of an intelligent Ruler of the universe-of One who does according to his will in the army of heaven, and the inhabitants of the earth ;-of One, in reference to whose dealings the impressive thought of the king of Babylon is so strikingly applicable :-"Who can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?" To almost nothing can the apothegm of Bacon be more properly applied than to this very case :"A little philosophy inclineth a man to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion ;-for while the mind of man lookeih upon second causes scattered, it may sometimes rest in them, and go no further ; but when it beholdeth the chain of them confederate and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and Deity.”
2. I notice a second view which appears to me to be equally, erroneous. It is that where there is a recognition of the hand of God, but it seems to me on no principles demanded in the Bible, and authorized by no rational views of the Divine administration. This view embraces two aspects : that which speaks of the pestilence as if it were a miracle—and that which regards it as a specific judgment for particular sins. In regard to the former ; -while there is abundant recognition of God, and while there is an intention to honor Him, there can be no doubt that there is among religious people, a view of all such subjects that regards these visitations, as being as much beyond all secondary laws, as any of the miracles were which the Saviour wrought, or as the judgments with which God afflicted Egypt in its resistance to His commands, or as the plagues that He brought upon his people when under the theocracy. It is much, even for good men, to learn that God can rule the world in its ordinary administrations, without miraculous interference; and it is not a departure from all proper recognition of the Divine hand, to suppose that the pestilence has its place under His government, substantially as other events have, and that it is administered by similar laws.-In regard to the latter opinion—that the pestilence is to be regarded as a special judgment for particular national sins, -it is worthy of careful inquiry, whether this is the correct view which is to be taken of the relation of these extraordinary visitations. I know that it is a very common view. I doubt not that this will be the view which will be taken by many in the public discourses this day. It has been so at all times, and there is a strong tendency among certain classes of men, and perhaps particularly among ministers of the gospel, to take this view of the design of Divine judgments. The prevalence of the plague of pestilence, of famine, of war, of any great public calamity, is set down as a proof of the Divine anger, and regarded as a demonstration of God's displeasure against some abounding form of iniquity, and as a call for repentance on account of that special form of public transgression. It is often judged to be an easy matter to determine what are the sins for which a people are thus visited ; and the Divine displeasure against that form of national transgression is supposed to be marked by the severity of the infliction. In estimating the sin for which God thus visits a people, each one will
be likely to select that which in his own view is most aggravated and prominent, though there be no apparant connection between that sin and the peculiar form of the visitation. With one, it will be the national sin of intemperance—with another, that of oppression—with another, that of infidelity-with another, that of ingratitude- with another, that of Sabbath desecration-with another, that of waging war-with another, that of licentiousness - with another the idea is, that in all these respects we are becoming worse, and that the visitation of the pestilence is a Divine judgment for all combined. Accordingly, a fast day, appointed like this, is usually an occasion on which the ministers of religion dwell—and not improperly, except in the point of view now before us-on the prevalence of national sins. Two things would strike the hearers of many discourses on such occasions: One, that we are a nation given up to wickedness—a nation where every form of evil abounds, and where no good influences prevaila nation so sunk in depravity that a stranger, if he had no oth source of information, would infer that we are the most ungrateful and corrupt people on the earth ; and the other would be, that the nation is in all respects growing worse, and that there was no way of recovering it but by this extraordinary visitation, levelled directly against prevailing sins. Accordingly it is painful to read the “ fast sermons” preached in other days, in our own country; and painful that they should be preserved as serving in any way to mark the real character of the times.
Now, there can be no doubt that there are sins enough in the nation, over which we should mourn, nor that those sins are of an aggravated character, and that they are such as to deserve the severity of the Divine displeasure. There can be no doubt that it is proper for us, and for all this people, this day, to call them to remembrance, and on account of them to humble ourselves before God, nor that our nation has much to apprehend from the prevalence of those sins, because they are a violation of the Divine law,—and because, in their own nature, and being a violation of the Divine law, they are “a reproach to any people," and tend to national disaster. Nor do I mean to intimate that this visitation of Divine Providence should not be, in any respect, contemplated in connection with the existence of national sins, or that it is in no sense to be regarded as a rebuke for prevalent iniquity. But that of which I am expressing a doubt is, whether it is to be regarded as a direct judgment for these, or any other national sins ; and whether, because we are thus visited, we are to infer that we are
sinners above all that dwell upon the earth,” or are, in fact, becoming more corrupt, abandoned, and ungrateful. In other words, I doubt whether it can be demonstrated, and whether it ought to be so represented, that God means that this judgment should be a rebuke for any particular form of prevalent sin; or
as a proof that we are a singnally depraved people: or as a demonstration that we are growing worse; or as an argument that religion and virtue are not, on the whole, advancing in the land.
It would consume too much of the time to state the reasons why this view is entertained, and I will not draw them out in detail. They are summarily these :-That the Saviour seems to have settled the principle in what he says about the eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell, and the Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices (Luko xiii : 1-5); that there is no prevailing form of sin for which this judgment seems to be particularly intended—that is, that it is not so confined to any particular form of iniquity, is not so directly and clearly in the line of our national offences, as to convey any distinct lesson on any one of these specific subjects; that, as already remarked, it cannot be regarded as of the nature of a miracle, like the plagues of Egypt, and must therefore, be designed to teach lessons more general in their character; and that it cannot be interpreted as levelled against the particular sins of this nation, for it has a wider sweep; it began on the other side of the globe, it has travelled among all the nations; it has gone where the peculiar sing which exist here do not prevail, and it has, therefore, some greater and broader lesson to teach mankind at large, and as one family, about God.
II. But, in the second place, what are we to regard as the true doctrine on the subject, and as the true principles of judging in the case ? This inquiry will bring up the consideration of the relation of the Divine judgments to the sins of men. I say "to the sins of men;" for I do not deem it necessary to attempt to prove that there is such a relation, and that the different forms of evil with which our race is afflicted are to be regarded as connected with the fact that it is a sinful race, and are, at once a proof of that fact, and a means of estimating the manner in which God regards transgression.
There are, then, two great principles on the subject which I desire to set before you, and which, if correct, exhanst the subject. One is plain ; the other, embracing the matter before us, is more difficult.
(1.) The plain principle is this:--that there is a class of sins that bring their own punishment, sooner or later, along with them; sins in reference to which the judgment is in the line of the offence, so that there can be no mistaking the cause and the effect. These embrace a very large portion of the infractions of the Divine laws, civil, social, domestic, and individual; and these are the standing proofs that there is a Divine moral government, and are an indication of its nature, and a vindication. of the revealed doctrine respecting the penalties of law. The instances that illustrate this are too numerous, and the principle is too plain, to make it proper to dwell on the point now. The most obvious instance, perhaps, to illustrate this, is intemperance in the use of intoxicating drinks. In referring to this, I mean that there is a class of results as the consequence of this habit that flow directly from it; that are found nowhere else ; that, as a great law, always follow from it sooner or later; and that, therefore, may be interpreted as an expression of the Divine view of that habit, and as a proof that some clear law of nature, armed with an appropriate penalty, has been violated. For these effects are not such as follow a mode of life which God approves. They are effects which are found appended to no other course of conduct. They are results so uniform as to show that there is an infraction of law, and so fearful and destructive as to demonstrate that the law was one which He who made our frame meant particularly to guard. The babbling, the poverty, the disgrace, the ruin of the intellect, the corruption of morals, the debasement of manners, the blunting of the moral sense, the train of diseases, the liability to commit crime, the sense of personal misery, and the peculiar form of mania to which the inebriate is subject, and which so frequently closes life---these and kindred things are of the nature of penalty, and come upon men as an undoubted judgment for what God regards as wrong.doing—and what in all His dealings with men, in spite of all their devices, He will continue to regard as wrong-doing. Here we never make a mistake in connecting the judgment with crime; nor is any other part of the Divine administration better understood than this,
There are multitudes of things in the world which, if not in all respects equally plain, are no less illustrative of the principle : things so numerous and so certain as to enable men to understand that there is a moral government over the world ; to determine with a good degree of accuracy what its principles are; and to furnish constant confirmations, by the course of Providential dealings, of the laws which have been disclosed in the volume of revealed truth. Thus, licentiousness has its own most awful and unmistakable penalty ; war has its penalty; slavery has its penalty; avarice has its penalty; pride has its penalty; dishonesty, indolence, fraud, falsehood, all have their penalties. That is, there is a class of evils which spring out of each and every one of such things which spring from nothing else, and which would not be suffered if some law of God had not been violated, and its penalty incurred. It is not necessary to specify these things farther.
(2.) I turn, then, to the consideration of the second principle referred to. This relates more particularly to the case before us, and concerns a large part of the Divine dealings in this world. The case is, that where the judgment—if it be a judgment--or the