Page images
PDF
EPUB

expected? They are accused of inconsistency; but without reason. They are true to the god of their idolatry. They joined the ranks they have now deserted, not for principle, but for fashion; and in ranging themselves under a new standard, they seek their own gratification, not the furtherance of a cause.

While these are influenced by fashion, others follow the impulse of gross self-interest. They ask not what is true, but what is advantageous, and advantageous not to society at large, nor to themselves in the general issue—but what is advantageous to their lowest interests, and for the passing moment. And as is the answer in their own gross calculations, so is their conduct. Yet often is such conduct dignified with the name of public opinion; often is it pointed to as a proof of the progression of society. But let a change come over the spirit of their dream ; let them see, or imagine that they see, their individual and momentary interests in another quarter, and without delay they flock to the enchanting sight, and exemplify the integrity of their principle by their tergiversation. In fact, the conduct of such is an index, not of opinion, but of selfishness. It records their wish, not for the furtherance of liberty and virtue, but for their own aggrandizement.

There is yet a degree lower; it is of men who are the mere echos of their superiors; whose acts proclaim, not what they themselves think, but what others bid them do, and who often have as much of the hardness and rigidity of mechanism as they have of its senselessness. Do these constitute a portion of an enlightened public opinion ?—these who, obedient to the impulses of the supercilious Pharisee or the wily priest, have been ready, in all ages, to shout for the crucifixion of virtue and patriotism; these who perform scarcely a higher function than the funnels of the social system—to pour forth whatever is poured into them, and become in some sense the speaking-trumpets of the few_blazing out the watch-word of the passing hour, to the terror of the well-disposed and the annoyance of the reflecting; these who, true to the instinct which was born with them in the manger, herd together at the call of their driver, and press forward to any work which he may bid them do?

And sure we are that if an enlightened public opinion prevailed to the extent that some have thought, the autocrats of society would neither wish nor dare to make their fellow-creatures into their passive instruments : of themselves they would abstain lest they should injure their own minds by the defilements of tyranny, and the minds of their fellows by curtailing their liberties and invading their conscience; and they would be deterred by the fear of, or the sound of, the loud outcry

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

of intelligence denouncing the misdeed, and asserting human rights.

We have alluded to these features in society around us with a view, not to deject the philanthropist, but to aid him in forming an accurate idea of our real position. We have, we confess, ourselves yielded too readily to the pleasing illusion that public opinion was more enlightened than it really is. In the first gushings of sudden joy at the triumph of a righteous cause, it is so easy to lose from sight all the dark spots which dim the horizon. They are there, however, and when the breeze has grown into a storm, they may expand into frightful dimensions, and mingle heaven and earth in confusion. Hence the necessity of knowing things as they are. With such knowledge, a remedy may be found for what is disordered, a check may be put on what is in excess, a spur applied to what is sluggish, and the dark provinces of the land may be enlightened with the beams of knowledge.

Of the evils of which we have now complained, we conceive the chief cause to have been in the want of a sound moral education among the mass. Property may give, in some sense, power; but a moral education only can form that character which is at once the guarantee to society for the proper use of power, and the safeguard to the individual against the temptations of his own breast and the encroachments of others. What have the mere rudiments of knowledge—such as have been for the most part taught to the many—what have they, reading, writing, arithmetic-rather a smattering of each—what have they to do with even intelligence, much less positive virtue? They may be introductory to both; they may also—and, except under a guiding hand, they will be, as they have often been, introductory to a style of reading fitted only to pervert and deprave, and to companions who would, in the recklessness of infidelity and social discontent, finish the moral ruin which they found begun. How can it be expected that principle should actuate the conduct, when it is but one of the many inducements all combined to oppose its influence? Principle, at the best, when matched against the love of self, and the love of immediate gratification, it may be the love of guilty excess,—against the force of vicious and inveterate habits, can effect little more than inflict on conscience a slight and transitory discomplacency. But little likely is it that any thing worthy of the name of principle should be formed in the breast of one whose impulses has never been restrained by knowledge, nor directed by morality.

It is true that a strong religious influence has been at work in society, and without stopping to make those exceptions to its good which justice demands, we admit, in general terms, its beneficial operation, and consider that much of the social worth

of the nation is attributable to it. We believe, also, that the prevalence of a sound moral education would have curtailed, if not precluded, some of its triumphs; but we also hold that the morality we desiderate would have been better than the religion which we have. We are the enemy of no one form of Christian faith. The balance is for good in all. Yet it is possible to conceive a moral education which should, to say the least, have been on the whole as useful in itself as some prevalent displays of the religious principle; while it would not-as they have too frequently done—have incapacitated the breast for the simplicity of the Gospel, but rather prepared the soil for the seed of God's own truth. In a word, we would not exchange morality for fanaticism, while we prefer an education modelled on the principles of Christianity to all other influences.

In the actual condition of society, while there is darkness enough to sober our joy, there is not the slightest reason for despondency. If we of the present day have one advantage more decided than another over ancient times, it is in the existence of an enlightened public opinion. True, that opinion is restricted—but it is expanding; it is defective—but it is improving; true, its growth is opposed, but it is also encouraged, and that by most numerous and most powerful agents.. The great wave of knowledge, the parent of opinion, is making, it may be a slow, but certainly a sure progress over the world. The powers of heaven urge it onward-the wishes and prayers of good men are speeding its course, and as easily may the ant raise the mountain at whose base it creeps, or the moat roll back the storm which bears it away in its impotence, as that the lovers of ignorance should arrest the mighty waters in their career of beneficence. Light has been darted on the nations from on high, and man interposes in vain his tiny hand to interrupt its rays. Thanks to the progress already made, even those who would retard the social movement are compelled to educate and enlighten, and in this work, undertaken it may be reluctantly, and pursued grudgingly, they cannot fail to further the good of man and the prevalence of truth. In a word, on all sides agents are engaged in forming public opinion, and it is a matter of little consequence, comparatively, what in each particular case the actuating principle may be. But is there no room and no call for increased efforts ? There are both, if we have even approached to a correct estimate of the state of public opinion. The work has been begun—it is proceeding—but far is it from being completed. Darkness is still struggling with light. Every lover of social order and happiness must therefore work, both because so much yet remains to be done, and because also much has been done. In what is undone

so many congenial aids to corruption, ignorance, and

are

wretchedness. May the breath of the omnipotent God speedily slay these his enemies and man's! In what has been done is there an urgent call for more; for in how many instances have men been taught their rights, without being taught their duties—made acquainted with their power, but not with their obligations; in how many cases is the head informed, and the heart depraved—the tongue free and loud, and the habits and desires gross. Destitution and ambition are linked together. Discontent and recklessness are in alliance. The worst men, in some instances, have the greatest hold on the popular mind. In these things are the elements of social confusion. May the gracious power of the Almighty restrain their wrath, and convert the ill to good! But God works through the instrumentality of man. And all, therefore, who love their God and their kind, must labour as in his sight, and as being his instruments, for the formation and universal prevalence of an enlightened public opinion. And let the labour be in word—by the press, but chiefly and rather in the life.

We should be as prompt to let others think, and to aid others to think, as we are determined to think ourselves and for ourselves. The practice of restraint on the liberty of others should be as abhorrent to our minds as the endurance of restraint on our own thoughts. And mental and moral inviolability, as well for others as ourselves, should be asserted in word, sought for in effort, and most scrupulously maintained in practice.

PROVIDENCE.-No. II.

THE CONNECTIONS BETWEEN THE PROVIDENCE AND THE

SPIRITUALITY OF GOD.

(Continued from p. 41.) The doctrine of the divine spirituality involves in it the necessary consequence that all things are of God. If God is present every where, he acts every where : every movement and every volition is his : in the world of matter there is but one energy, in the world of mind there is but one will. If this momentous conclusion, God's universal agency, from a premise so simple, God's universal presence, contains in it so much that is inconsistent with our acquired, but perhaps very confused notions about moral agency and the grounds of man's accountableness, that it perplexes rather than satisfies, silences rather than convinces, asserts the reality of Providence rather than removes the difficulties which the admission of that truth involves, let it at least serve the purpose of demonstrating the possibility

of God's universal action and unintermitting control, so that if by other reasonings we can make it apparent that this doctrine is glorious and benign, and in itself unobjectionable, your limited conceptions of the diffusiveness of the divine existence may present no obstacle to your facile reception of it. I mean,

let
your

idea of God be so moulded on the conception of a boundless spirit, that if what is called a universal Providence should appear to be the very best government which an infinitely good being could exert, such a view may not be too large for your notion of Him in whose nature it must inhere, but fit itself without difficulty into the frame-work of your refined and mighty thought, and hasard no rejection from your faith because of your poor imaginations of Jehovah.

I believe that men will not task their minds to conceive adequately of the greatness of Him who filleth all things--of what his nature and essence must be who works the machinery of creation, and is equally present with his power, and puts forth an operation of it precisely similar, when a wave recedes from the shore, or an atom floats in air—as when worlds glide through space, and systems maintain their integrity; and that the imaginations of our childhood of the better Father, who dwelleth in his own home above, and our earliest thought of heaven as God's abode beyond the sky, and the stars which infant fancy makes the floor and pavement of its courts, and which maturer reason rejects as puerile, whilst it too often neglects to substitute the still more glorious truth for the beautiful vision it has broken and displaced,—that these first impressions either cling around the soul till its dying day, leaving our spiritual nature unfurnished with any thoughts of heaven, to which the fact of a Providence is not utterly alien, or else are rejected from a mind which becomes too enlarged to retain a local deity, but at the same time too little enlarged to apprehend the true deity, so as in effect to leave it bereft of God of that peace in believing which adheres only to distinct and definite views of that in which we believe, a clear fountain in the fixed rock of truth.

I mean not that the child should be chilled into apathy and distaste by any futile and most heartless attempt to expand its frail thought to the immensity of God, that it should be robbed of one happy and sunny dream of the lovely land where all is purity and dazzling light, where the companies of the blessed are banded in loving groups, and shining angels strike from golden harps the sweet praise of Him their King, who rejoices in their bliss—that the links of infant piety should be snapped and broken by lengthening them out until the young warm heart slips from their hold. I mean not that such a grievous wrong should be inflicted on tender childhood that such a death

« PreviousContinue »