Sidor som bilder


much dignity as the superintendence of great events; and our admiration is never more excited, than when we contemplate an intelligence, which, while it directs the most grand and mighty movements, overlooks not the most insignificant concern capable of affecting the ultimate result. That superintendence which extends its care to the feast obvious circumstances, no less than to the most striking, is certainly more perfect than that which regards only such events as no intelligent being could possibly overlook. The apprehension, that this constant superintendence of events, from the minutest circumstance which is capable of exciting sensation, up to those mighty movements which affect the condition of worlds, must be attended with perplexity to the Deity, originates in conceptions equally unenlightened and imperfect. He is at all times present every where, and every where is capable of exerting his power. The superintendence of all the events in the universe, therefore, can be attended with no more trouble to him than the superintendence of any single event. The whole of possibility must all times be equally easy to the Being who possesses infinite power.

We have, therefore, abundant reason to rest in the delightful assurance, that, of every event which takes place, all the care is taken which perfect wisdom can dictate, and infinite goodness require that all its consequences are foreseen and considered-that its time, its place, its measure, its duration, are all appointed by him who first set in motion the complicated and mighty wheels which bring it round. Of this sublime truth, which nothing but its great and cheering consequences can lead us to doubt, we may be further assured, by the consideration of the relation which the Creator necessarily bears to his creatures. He is not merely their Creator; by the very act of creation he unites himself to them by a tie, but feebly represented by that which_binds a parent to his child. He is their Father, in a much more near and real sense than any human parent is the father of his offspring; and the best feelings of earthly parents must be exceeded by his, in the degree in which he is more perfect than they. Yet a good father lives but to labour for the welfare of his family. A tender mother, while she presses her child to her bosom, anxiously considers how she may best avail herself of the situation in which she is placed, to advance its happinesswishes she had the command of circumstances, and could prevent the occurrence of every event capable of endangering its virtue and enjoy


This power, so vainly desired by human parents, is possessed by the Universal Parent. And is it possible to believe that he will not exert it for the welfare of his offspring? With unerring wisdom and unbounded goodness, must he not feel towards them in the best manner? And, since no power in the universe is capable of controlling his will, must he not at all times act towards them as these feelings dictate?

No other consideration surely can be necessary, to make every intelligent being satisfied with his lot, and resigned to the dispensations which befal him. Many of the events of life, it is true, are deeply afflictive. Often our enjoyments seem given us but to be removed, and even the most secure we hold by an uncertain tenure. The inequalities in health, in the duration of life, in the distribution of property-the prevalence of natural and moral evil in their thousand shapes sometimes press with such severity upon the mind, as to create, even in the most pious and confiding, a doubt whether a Being of perfect be nevolence be indeed seated at the helm of affairs. Our very hearts die within us when sickness and death assail our beloved friends.

When the heart on which our image was engraven, and, which beats with generous affection for us, is insensible and cold-when, in that dark and narrow bed, from which they cannot arise, sleep a father, a wife, a child, a friend, we feel a sorrow which refuses to be comforted. We dwell upon their excellences with a mournful pleasure. We think of the happy hours we have spent in their societyhours never to return with a feeling which nearly approaches to despair. That they are no more-that they have ceased to think, to feel, to act, at least for us-that the eye which used to gladden at our approach is dark, and can no more beam upon us with tenderness and love-that those lips which have enlightened us with the counsels of wisdom, or soothed our souls with the accents of hallowed and virtuous affection, are silent for ever-no more to solace us in sorrow, no more to excite or to heighten our pleasure-while these thoughts press upon the mind, (and on the loss of our dear and virtuous friends they do incessantly press upon it, sinking it to the dust,) the universe is a blank to us. No longer do we discover any traces of that supreme and unchanging goodness which we have been accustomed to contemplate with delight. But even in these moments of sadness we must be unjust to cur selves, and to the Author of our mercies, if we are not soon revived by the consciousness of benevolence, to which the severity of anguish may for a while have made us insensible. The privation of our friends, afflictive as it is, is never without benefit to us. It is then we feel that we are born for immortality

that the world is not our home-that we are travelling to a fairer clime. It is then that we enter into religion, and feel its genuine spirit. The same happy effects are often produced by sickness; and, to the natural and moral disorders which prevail, we owe the production and the growth of the highest excellences of our nature. In a word, an attentive consideration of what are termed the evils of life, enables us to discover so much of the truest benevolence in many of them, as may well induce us to bear with resignation those whose design we cannot so fully comprehend, until it shall please our heavenly Father to give us clearer light and stronger vision.

It is true that the evil we suffer, and, indeed,

that the general train of events, is the result acknowledged to possess, and their truth must of laws which we cannot without absurdity be admitted by every consistent theist. But suppose the Deity to be continually changing if God have given to his intelligent offspring and suspending, for the benefit of individuals. a revelation of his will-if he have altered the Neither does any rational believer in a Provi- course of nature, in attestation of its truthdence maintain such an opinion. It is not if, to prove the divinity of the mission of the recessary to his argument, to suppose that great personage whom he raised up to comthese general laws have ever once been sus- municate it, he endowed him with the power pended. From a conviction, that he has evi- of performing such stupendous works as no dence of the fact, he may believe that on some being, unassisted by him, could possibly acoccasions of supreme importance they have complish-if mankind were in want of a revebeen suspended; but the great argument for lation-if the revelation actually given be in the doctrine of a Providence would remain every respect suited to supply it-if it be caljust the same, even though it could be demon- culated to rectify their errors, to purify their strated, that the laws by which the universe hearts, to exalt their hopes, to dignify their is governed have operated with undeviating pursuits, to promote their truest welfare here, regularity from the beginning. For who- and to prepare them for pure and ever-increasever believes that these general laws were ing happiness hereafter-if all the circumappointed by a Being of infinite wisdom and stances of time, place, and method, were adgoodness, must admit that he foresaw all the mirably adapted to give it effect, and to secure consequences which would result from their the most important objects it is designed to operation in every instant of time, and to every accomplish, then is the doctrine of providence individual. If, therefore, when he appointed established on a new basis. Every Christian them, he foresaw that they would give rise to must believe that the affairs of mankind are any event inconsistent with perfect benevo- under the direction of the Deity-that he has lence, he would have so modified them, as not cut himself off from all interference with effectually to have prevented its occurrence, the wants and happiness of his creaturesor he would have provided for its counteraction, that he does interpose for their welfare as he by the operation of secondary causes. Whe- sees occasion; for the Christian system is one ther the Deity govern the universe by such an of the most illustrious and delightful instances original adjustment as secures, with undevia- of that interposition. ting order, the occurrence of every thing in its proper season, place, and manner, according to the plan which his wisdom and goodness have ordained, or whether he govern it by a continual superintendence of events, every thing, on either supposition, is entirely in his hands. It is possible that the first is his plan; he may have adopted the second; both must be alike easy to him. But, since both were equally in his power, he can have been induced to choose the one rather than the other, only because the one is better adapted than the other to accomplish the purposes of benevolence; and it seems scarcely possible for us not to conclude, that these purposes may be better effected by the second than by the first, and therefore that this is the plan which he has adopted.

If, from the fact itself of a divine revelation, we descend to the particular doctrines which it contains, we shall find the most decisive evidence of this truth. It is recognised in every page-it is affirmed on innumerable occasions, and in every variety of form. God is there represented as the Sovereign Arbiter of events-as the Great Being who sitteth on the circle of the earth, Judging among the nations. It is he who causeth the sun to shine, and the rain to descend; it is he who giveth healthful and fruitful seasons; it is he who rideth on the wings of the wind, and it is his voice which thunders in the storm. By him kings reign and princes decree justice. He exalteth one and abaseth another. He turneth round the mighty wheel of events, retaining every individual in the situation which he judges fit. He hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the face of the earth; he hath determined their appointed times, and the place of their habitation.'


Our reverend Master assures us, that not even a sparrow falleth to the ground without the will of our heavenly Father, and that the very hairs of our head are all numbered; meaning, it is evident, that our most trifling concerns are appointed by him. Behold,' says he, the fowls of the air; for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? And why are ye anxious about raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet Solomon, in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which flourisheth to-day, and to-morrow is cast into the furnace, will he not much more

To sum up the whole argument, if of every event all the care is not taken which it is right should be taken, the administration of the world is imperfect; but the wisdom, power, and goodness, which are spent on the minutest and meanest object we can contemplate, necessarily lead to the conclusion, that their Author possesses these attributes in a perfect measure; and, since they have been exerted in the production of particular objects, they must be employed in the government of the whole. We have therefore the most solid ground to adopt the sublime and cheering conclusion, that nothing can happen without the knowledge and permission of unerring wisdom and perfect goodness, and that all the vast affairs of the universe, in every particular circumstance, and in every instant of time, are under the wisest and the best direction. The preceding arguments are founded on the perfections which the Deity is universally

clothe you? Take not, therefore, anxious | ent laws. By different laws, therefore, they are governed; by laws admirably and exactly suited to its nature, each is guided to its destined end.

thought, saying, What shall we eat, or what shall we drink, or wherewithal shall we be clothed? For your heavenly Father knoweth that you have need of all these things. But seek first the kngdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.'


The material world, being without sensation and thought, is governed by a particular set of laws. The animal world, possessing sensation and thought, is governed by another set. By sensation and thought, an animal is induced to act. Every animal possesses a fixed and determinate constitution, according to which, sensation and thought are excited in it in a particular, determinate manner. The great agent in inducing sensation and thought in the animal, is the material world. A certain state of the material world will inevitably produce a certain sensation in an animal possessing a particular constitution; that sensation will produce a particular volition, and that volition will lead, certainly, to a particular action. It only requires, therefore, an exact knowledge of the constitution of the animal world to render its state at all times precisely what may be required; for he who perfectly understands the constitution of the material and the animal worlds, and has a sovereign control over both, has only to adapt the state of the one to that of the other, to make both, at any and at all periods, exactly what he wishes. While every animal goes on regularly to exercise its different functions, he may at all times maintain the whole animal world in the condition he pleases; for he may so modify the operation of the material world upon it, as inevitably to bring it into the state he wishes. Thus a sovereign control may



Of the Manner in which the Divine Government is Ad- be exercised over the material and animal worlds, while both invariably act according to the settled principles of their nature.

As we ascend in the scale of creation, we shall find that the principle of the divine admin


WHEN the deity is represented as appointing and controlling every event, it may seem difficult to conceive how this can be reconciled with the agency and accountability of man.istration is exactly the same. Man is endowA little consideration, however will show that ed not only with the faculties of sensation and these truths are not incompatible with each thought, but with the power of distinguishing between the rectitude and immorality of conduct. He is capable of understanding his obligations, and the grounds of them. Certain actions appear to him to be good; others he regards as evil. The performance of the one is attended with a consciousness that he has acted right, and excites the sensation of happiness; the performance of the other is attended with an inward conviction that he has acted wrong, and produces misery.

All this takes place in a fixed and invariable manner, according to certain laws, which are termed principles of his nature, and the faculty on which this discrimination and feeling depends, is terined his moral nature.

Now it is obvious, that, to a certain extent, a being thus endowed may be governed exactly in the same manner as a creature who possesses only an animal nature. In him, as well as in the mere animal, sensations will be excited by the external circumstances in which he is placed. In him, too, a particular sensation will excite a particular volition; but the exercise of this volition will be attended with a result which is never found in the ani

The argument which our Lord here employs is beautiful and affecting. Every one must have felt its force. When, in a solitary ramble, our eye has been struck with a little flower blooming in a secluded spot-when we have examined the perfection of all its parts-the richness, the variety, the exquisite beauty of its tints-when we have considered the care which has been taken of this humble plant, and the inimitable skill employed in the construction of it, which of us has not been deeply impressed with the truth which our divine Instructor, here teaches us? Which of us has not said to himself, Can so much skill have been lavished in forming, can so much care have been taken in preserving, this little flower, and can I, humble and insignificant though I am, be overlooked by the Author of my being? It is impossible. There must be a God; there must be a Providence; and I, and the myriads of creatures who, in common with me, enjoy the boon of existence, have reason to rejoice.

Though the Sovereign Arbiter of events regulates and determines every thing, yet he carries on the administration of the world by the instrumentality of other beings. Seldom does he act directly; seldom is he the immediate cause of any thing. He has left the developement of his vast plan to the operation of what are termed secondary causes; but these can act only so far, and in such a manner, as he has appointed.

The material world is governed by certain general laws, which are never interrupted except on occasions of supreme importance, foreseen and provided for from the beginning. These laws, though thus steady and invariable in their operation, bring about, in every instant of time, precisely that condition only of the material world which he appoints, and which is necessary to carry on his purposes with regard to his animal and moral creation.

The animal and moral world he governs by laws equally fixed and invariable; but, being of a nature different from that of the material world, they require to be governed by differ


mal-with a consciousness that he has acted well or ill-with a feeling of approbation or of disapprobation-with a sensation of happiness or misery, arising purely from the action itself. This train of sensation becomes itself a new source of action; but it arises according to certain fixed laws, and operates as steadily as any other principle of his nature, or as any law of the material world. He, therefore, who perfectly understands this nature, who knows how every circumstance will affect this moral agent, and who has a sovereign control over events, can govern him with the same steadiness with which he regulates the animal or the material world-can make him at all times feel, and think, and act, as may be necessary to carry on the great designs of his administration, without violating any principle of his nature. By adapting the particular situation in which he is placed to the particular state of his mind, he can excite whatever volition, and secure whatever action, he pleases. What is maintained, then, is, that, with respect to every individual in the world, there is this exact adaptation of circumstances to his temper, his habits, his wants; so that, while he is left to the full and free exercise of every faculty he possesses, he can feel and act only as the Sovereign of the Universe appoints; because the circumstances which excite his sensations and volitions are determined by him. It is not just to suppose that the Deity exercises any such control over his creatures, as to force them to act contrary to their will, or to violate any principle of their nature. They always act, and must act, according to their will, and in conformity to their nature; but at the same time he secures his own purpose, by placing them in circumstances which so operate upon their nature, as certainly to induce the conduct he requires.*

Volition cannot arise, as is often imagined, at the pleasure of the mind. The term volition expresses that state of the mind which is immediately previous to the actions which are called voluntary; but that state is not induced by the mind itself, but by objects operating upon it. The circumstances in which a percipient being is placed excite sensations, and sensations ideas. Sensations and ideas induce that peculiar condition of the mind which is termed pleasurable, or its opposite, which is termed painful. The feeling of pleasure excites desire; that of pain, aversion. Will is the result of this state of the mind. Prove to the mind, that an object is desirable—that is, that it will induce pleasure-and you immediately excite in it the volition to possess it. Prove to it, that an object will occasion pain, and you excite the volition to avoid it. Volition, then, it is manifest, depends on the object, whatever it be, which the mind contemplates as desirable or otherwise. Take away the object, there is no volition; satisfy it that the object can affect it neither with pleasure nor pain, there is no volition; so that volition does not spring up in the mind of its own accord, and without cause, but is entirely dependent upon objects perceived to be, or supposed to be, desirable. In a word, and to repeat what has already been said, sensations and ideas are attended with the feelings of pleasure or of pain; these induce desire or aversion, and these volition, with as much certainty and steadiness as the law of gravitation produces the phenomena which are dependent upon it.*

Volition being thus dependent on the circumstances in which an individual is placed, any given volition may be excited in him by a certain modification of his circumstances. We find that the tempers of different men are infinitely various. The Deity has made a corresponding variety in the situations in which he has placed them. To every indi

*It has been argued, by almost all who have hitherto written on the origin of evil, that its exist-vidual he has assigned his allotted work; to ence could not have been prevented, unless an every intelligent and moral agent he has given absolute restraint had been placed upon the will. a certain part of his administration to carry This is not true; for there might have been given, to mankind a knowledge of their welfare so clear and strong, as effectually to have secured their choice of it. In other words, they might have been brought under the influence of motives so powerfully determining them to the choice of good, that it would not have been possible for them, their circumstances remaining the same, to have chosen evil. This has been distinctly admitted by a late writer, who, though he has laboured to reconcile, and sometimes very successfully, the evil which actually exists, with the wisdom and goodness of the Deity, yet has carefully avoided opposing or even alluding to those theological opinions which involve this subject in great and insurmountable difficulty. It is a position wholly untenable, that, according to our view of the subject, the degree of moral evil must necessarily have been as great as it is, unless an absolute restraint had been laid upon the will of man. Without entering into metaphysical discussions, it may be safely assumed, that the will is determined by the greater apparent good, and that when it makes a bad election, in defiance of reason and judgment, the dismission of some present uneasiness, or the possession of some present gratification, is the greatest apparent good for the time being. Had,

then, their real interest, upon a full view of their present and future condition, been placed before all mankind, with a clear distinctness which we can certainly conceive, because we have examples of it on record, freewill, though exposed to less chance of error, would not have been annihilated; and yet it would have been as morally impossible for man to choose evil in opposition to good, as we imagine it to be for the glorified inheritors of a future state, as it proved to be for Jesus Christ, during his adoption of human nature, with its temptations and infirmities, or, to go no farther, as it appears to be for good men, when they approach the termination of their course, after a long perseverance in the habits and practice of virtue.' Treatise on the Records of the Creation By JOHN BIRD SUMNER, M. A., vol. ii. p. 228.

This is merely an attempt to explain the manner in which volition arises. There can be no doubt that the will is invariably determined by the greater apparent good-or, to state the fact more generally, the will is invariably determined by motive, and with a steadiness and strength always in proportion to the uniformity and vigour of the motive.


on, and, in order to qualify him for it, he has adjusted to the particular constitution of his nature every circumstance of his being, from the first instant of his existence, to that which terminates his earthly career. If what is termed his natural disposition be such as would seem to render him incapable of performing it, the situation in which he is placed is adapted to it, and is such as to excite, to repress, or to modify it, till it becomes exactly what is necessary to fit him for his work; so that every individual is strictly an instruinent, raised up and qualified by God, to carry on the wise and benevolent purposes of his government.

hibits so strongly to the view of men the hot. rors of the dungeon, as to force them to suspend for a while their business and their pleasures, to feel for the sufferings of others, and to learn the great lessons, that the guilty are still their brethren-that it is better to reclaim than to destroy-that the punishment which is excessive is immoral-that that which does not aim to reform is unjust, and that which does not actually do so, unwise: he gives to a suffering world the angel-spirit of a HoWARD. The bodily frame and the natural temper of an individual may seem, as has already been observed, ill-adapted to execute the work which the Deity has determined to perform by him; yet no force is employed to induce him to do it. He is not compelled to act against his volition, but the circumstances in which he is placed are so adapted to his corporeal, his mental, and his moral constitution, as to excite the requisite volition. Suppose his bodily frame is weak, his temper irritable, his mind bold, impetuous, and rash; the part assigned him in the great drama of life requires uncommon bodily exertion. He must face the storm; he must endure the extremes of heat and cold; often he must lie unpillowed and unsheltered-his fatigue excessive-the supply even of the common necessaries of existence scanty and irregular. How can all this be without his perishing? He is led to adopt that regimen and exercise, together, perhaps, with that course of medicine, which strengthen his debilitated frame; gradually he is inured to fatigue and toil, and gradually he becomes capable of sustaining an astonishing degree of both. In order to ensure his success, the utmost patience, gentleness, caution, and foresight, are necessary. But his temper is irritable, and his mind bold, impetuous, and rash. Experience teaches him the folly of indulging this morbid sensibility; it occasions him bitter mortification; his impetuosity hurries him into errors which bring with them a long train of calamities; his boldness disappoints his cherished hopes; his rashness snatches from him some favourite object, at the very moment when success is placing it in his hand. The school of life teaches him to act better the part of life; present failure prepares him for future success; he learns, that, if he would escape perpetual vexation and lasting misery, he must check the first risings of pasreflect before he acts, and act with

Suppose it is his will to lead men to the discovery of the most interesting truths, respecting the phenomena of nature, and the laws by which the universe is governed; he endows an individual with a clear and capacious mind; he places him in circumstances favorable to the developement of his intellectual faculties; he leads him to observe, to reflect, to investigate; he forms him to those habits of patient and profound inquiry, which are necessary to elicit the truths to be disclosed, and sufficient to secure him from every temptation to carelessness and dissipation; he raises up a NEWTON. Suppose, after having for wise, though perhaps inscrutable reasons, permitted the most low and degrading notions to prevail, respecting his own character, government, and worship, he determines to lead back the minds of men to purer and nobler sentiments, and to overthrow those corrupt systems of religion which have prevailed for ages, and in the support of which the passions and the interests of men are now engaged: he raises up an individual, whose mind he enlightens, whose soul he fills with an ardent zeal for the purity of religion and the simplicity of its rites, whose spirit danger does but excite, and suffering cannot subdue-who, though cities and empires arm against him, and one general cry of execration and menace follow him from land to land, goes on with undaunted courage to expose abuses, and to call in a louder and louder voice for reformation it is the voice of LUTHER, which makes Corruption rage and Superstition tremble. Suppose it is his will to save a people in love with liberty, and worthy because capable of enjoying it, from oppression, and to exhibit to the world an example of what the weak whosion, are virtuous and united may effect against the strong who are corrupt and tyrannical: in the very season when he is needed he forms, and in the very station where his presence is necessary he places, a WASHINGTON. And suppose it is his will to pour the balm of consolation into the wounded heart, to visit the captive with solace, to extend mercy to the poor prisoner, to admit into his noisome cell the cheering beams of his sun, and his refreshing breezes: he breathes the genuine spirit of philanthropy into some chosen bosom; he superadds an energy which neither the frown of power, nor the menace of interest, nor the


Suppose the disposition of another is so mild as almost to degenerate into weakness; his caution is in danger of inducing irresolu tion, and he is in the habit of considering and re-considering every circumstance so minutely and so often, that he nearly loses the season of action. He is wealthy, attached to wealth, and full of the timidity which is so often the companion of riches. Yet this is the man who is to take a leading part in some great event, which requires promptitude, decision, uncommon effort, unconquerable perseverance, the certain sacrifice of a great portion of wealth scorn of indifference, can abate-which ex--perhaps the loss of all. He is not forced

« FöregåendeFortsätt »