Page images
PDF
EPUB

acquisitions which have separately been disapproved by him through every stage of the accumulation.

Why is it possible for feeble creatures to maintain their little dependent beings fortified and invincible in sin, amidst the presence of divine purity? Why does not the thought of such a being strike through the mind with such intense antipathy to evil as to blast with death every active principle that is beginning to pervert it, and render gradual additions of depravity, growing into the solidity of habit, as impossible as for perishable materials to be raised into structures amidst the fires of the last day? How is it possible to forget the solicitude which should accompany the consciousness that such a being is continually darting upon us the beams of observant thought, (if we may apply such a term to omniscience,) that we are exposed to the peircing inspection, compared to which the concentrated attention of all the beings in the universe besides, would be but as the powerless gaze of an infant? Why is faith, that faculty of spiritual apprehension, so absent, or so incomparably more slow and reluctant to receive a just perception of the grandest of its objects, than the senses are adapted to receive the impressions of theirs? While there is a spirit pervading the universe with an infinite energy of being, why have the few particles of dust which enclose our spirits the power to intercept all sensible communication with it, and to place them as in a vacuity where the sacred Essence had been precluded or extinguished?

If there is such a being as we mean by the term God, the ordinary intelligence of a serious mind will be quite enough to see that it must be a melancholy thing to pass through life, and quit it, just as if there were not. Through what defect or infatuation of mind. then have you been able, during so many years spent in the presence of a God, to continue even to this hour as clear of all marks and traces of any divine influences having operated on you, as if the Deity were but a poetical fiction, or an idol in some temple of Asia?

Obviously, as the immediate cause, through want of thought concerning him.

And why did you not think of him? Did a most solemn thought of him never once penetrate your soul, while admitting the proposition that there is such a Being? If it never did, what is reason, what is mind, what is man? If it did once, how could its effects stop there? How could a deep thought, on so singular and momentous a subject, fail to impose on the mind a permanent necessity of frequently recalling it; as some awful or magnificent spectacle will haunt you with a long recurrence of its image, even if the spectacle itself were seen no more?

Why did you not think of him? How could you estimate so meanly your mind with all its capacities, as to feel no regret that an endless series of trifles should seize, and occupy as their right, all your thoughts, and deny them both the liberty and the ambition of going on to the greatest Object? How, while called to the contemplations which absorb the spirits of heaven, could you be so patient of the task. of counting the flies of a summer's day?:

Why did you not think of him? You knew your self to be in the hands of some Being from whose power you could not be withdrawn ; was it not an equal defect of curiosity and prudence, to indulge a careless confidence that sought, no acquaintance with his nature and his dispositions, nor ever anxiously inquired what conduct should be observed toward him, and what expectations might be entertained from him? You would have been alarmed to have felt yourself in the power of a mysterious stranger of your own feeble species; but let the stranger be omnipotent, and you cared no more.

·

Why did you not think of him? One would suppose that the thought of him must, to a serious mind, come second to almost every thought. The thought of virtue would suggest the thought of both a lawgiver and a rewarder; the thought of crime, of an avenger; the thought of sorrow, of a consoler; the

thought of an inscrutable mystery, of an intelligence that understands it; the thought of that ever-moving. activity which prevails in the system of the universe, of a supreme agent; the thought of the human family, of a great father; the thought of all being, of a creator; the thought of life, of a preserver; and the thought of death, of a solemn and uncontrollable disposer. By what dexterity therefore of irreligious caution, did you avoid precisely every track where the idea of him would have met you, or elude that idea if it came ? And what must sound reason pronounce of a mind which in the train of millions of thoughts, has wandered to all things under the sun,. to all the permanent objects or vanishing appearances in the creation, but never fixed its thought on the Supreme Reality; never approached, like Möses,, "to see this great sight?"

It would be interesting to record, or to hear, the history of a character which has received its form,. and reached its maturity, under the strongest operations of religions. We do not know that there is a more beneficent or a more direct mode of the divine agency in any part of the creation than that which "apprehends" a man, as apostolic language expresses it, amidst the unthinking crowd, and leads him into serious reflection, into elevated devotion, into progressive virtue, .and finally into a nobler life after. death. When he has long been commanded by this. influence, he will be happy to look back to its first operations, whether they were mingled in early life almost insensibly with his feelings, or came on him with mighty force at some particular time, and in connexion with some assignable and memorable circumstance, which was apparently the instrumental ! cause. He will trace all the progress of this his better life, with grateful acknowledgment to the sacred power which has advanced him to a decisiveness of religious habit that seems to stamp eternity on his character. In the great majority of things, habit is a greater plague than ever afflicted Egypt; in reli

gious character, it is a grand felicity. The devout man exults in the indications of his being fixed and irretrievable. He feels this confirmed habit as the grasp of the hand of God, which will never let him go. From this advanced state he looks with firmness and joy on futurity, and says, I carry the eternal mark upon me that I belong to God; I am free of the universe; and I am ready to go t O to any world to which he shall please to transmit me, certain that every where, in height or depth, he will acknowledge me for ever..

SECTION VII.

The Liberty of Man, and the Foreknowledge and Providence of God.

[ocr errors]

THE foreknowledge and providence of the De ity, and that liberty which doth truly belong to man, as a moral agent, are things perfectly consistent and naturally connected. The proof of our liberty is to every individual of the human race the very same, I am persuaded, with the proof of his existence. I feel that I exist, and I feel that I am free; and I may with reason turn a deaf ear upon every argument that can be alledged in either case to disprove my feelings. I feel that I have power to flee the danger that I dread-to pursue the good that I covet -to forego the most inviting pleasure, although it be actually within my grasp, if I apprehend that the present enjoyment may be the means of future mischief to expose myself to present danger, to submit to present evils, in order to secure a future good -I feel that I have power to do the action I approve to abstain from another that my conscience would condemn ;-In a word, I feel that I act from my own hopes, and my own fears; and whenever

I act from other motives, I feel that I am misled by my own passions, my own appetites, my own mista ken views of things. A feeling always succeeds these unreasonable actions, that, had my mind exerted its natural powers, in considering the action I was about to do, the propriety of it in itself and its consequences, I might and I should have acted otherways. Having these feelings, I feel all that liberty which renders the morality of a man's actions properly his own, and makes him justly accountable for his conduct.

The liberty, therefore, of man, and the foreknow-ledge and providence of God, are equally certain, although the proof of each rests on different principles. Our feelings prove to every one of us that we are free: : reason and revelation teach us that the Deity knows and governs all things,--that even "the thoughts of man he understandeth long before," long before the thoughts arise-long before the man himself is born who is to think them. Now, when two distinct propositions are separately proved, each by its proper evidence, it is not a reason for denying either, that the human mind, upon the first hasty view, imagines a repugnance, and may perhaps find a difficulty in connecting them, even after the distinct proof of each is clearly perceived and understood.

There is a wide difference between a paradox and a contradiction. Both, indeed, consist of two distinct propositions; and so far only are they alike: for, of the two parts of a contradiction, the one or the other must necessarily be false,--of a paradox, both are often true, and yet, when proved to be true,. may continue paradoxical. This is the necessary consequence of our partial views of things. An intellect to which nothing should be paradoxical would be infinite. It may naturally be supposed that paradoxes must abound the most in metaphysics and divinity, "for who can find out God unto perfection?" yet they occur in other subjects; and any one who should universally refuse his assent to proposiitions.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »