Page images
PDF
EPUB

imply modes of thinking in regard to the Divine mind, profound, refined and comprehensive, and deeply fixed by meditation in the habitual consciousness of the soul. What man's intellect would not grow dizzy at the thought, that the universe was rushing on its course without a God, that with all its antagonist powers and possibilities of derangement, there was no Almighty mind to watch the safety of its moving worlds, to preserve its regularities, to fix a bound to its deviations, and to impose the laws of His own mighty will on the wildest play of its elements? What man's heart would not sink beneath the burden of existence sick and faint, if bereft of the thought that in all its seeming confusion Omniscient Love was mingling the elements of discipline, foreseeing the effect on each separate spirit, and out of that sea of tumultuous influences on which our souls seem tossed determining the precise condition of each mind when it shall separate from the mass, and through the portals of the grave roll its own individual stream of thought into the peaceful eternity ?

But these are rather the ultimate convictions of the mind, than the immediate lights through which it looks upon liferather its last resting-place, when you drive it back step by step from difficulty to difficulty, than an unsheathed instrument of thought, brightened with constant use, flashing through the mists of Providence and severing its perplexities rather one of those last resorts to which the soul occasionally retreats, than its habitual and best known home-one of those rocks of truth on which our nature, when closely pressed, falls back and leans, rather than a living principle incorporated with itself, and wielded with all its might and prowess amid the discipline of the world.

It is no unusual thing, for those who admit a great truth in its absolute and general statement to be thoroughly insensible to its practical operations, and thoroughly incapable of making any special applications of it. These are the men, who, in social progress, profess themselves the friends of re form, and in their hearts really are so, but tremble to wield the principle they have adopted, alarmed for the possible consequences, as though the application of God's truth could bring ruin on God's world. These are the men, who, as a general question, profess a belief in Providence, and then instantly forgetting or not perceiving the practical consequences in which they are immediately involved, never dream of looking out upon each aspect of life for the footsteps of His presence, in whom they live, move and have their being; or who, when He sends them some unexplained lot, baffles their calculations by a stroke that scatters all the elements of their plotted happiness, or administers some influence to the heart pregnant with good,

[ocr errors]

but at present piercing and bitter, instead of applying the doctrine of a Providence, desert it as untenable, as though it was impossible that God could be in that gloom, love in that infliction, or the machinery of future blessing in that wild disorderinstead of lighting up this candle of the Lord and placing it in the centre of the soul, to show the workings of its affections and give light to all that is in it, they then quench it with tears, as though something like Chance were torturing in dreadful sport, or something like Fatalism rolling over them its unguided car.

I apprehend, that in the whole circle of opinions, there is none which holds a place more barely speculative, more located in the region of cold thought, and less applied to its practical uses, than the doctrine of Providence. None deny it, and yet none use it. It is universally admitted, and as universally disregarded. It is one of those truths, which is bereft of its operative power, because it is regarded as so very true, such a household verity, that it attracts to it no new thought, no fresh examination, and is accordingly laid aside, as a fixed and settled matter, in the dormitory of the mind, there to fade through neglect, until it is practically dead.

There is, in this state of belief in the Providence of God, a remarkable peculiarity of the moral being, which claims the most delicate observation from those who would pierce the outward folds of thought that drawn over the moving soul hide us from ourselves like a veil of mist, and who would place their eye on the strange sources of our sin or our helplessness. I am quite sure of being understood by each mind, through its own experience, when I say, that on this and some other spiritual truths, there is, as it were, a sort of double consciousness in our moral nature-an exterior belief in the doctrine, and an interior state of feeling, within which its light never radiates and constructed of elements altogether foreignone sphere of formal though indefinite acknowledgment, and another sphere of totally. independent sentiment and action-and these two spheres, through that dimness in which every mind without energy passes its life, actually co-existing, the one prominent, and the other in the back ground of consciousness, so that they are never confronted in staring inconsistency. Is it not true that every specific doctrine of revelation is held in co-existence with a contrasted mass of unchristianized sentiment which virtually neutralizes it, so that whilst the article of faith is not formally displaced from the mind, it is yet seen, when seen at all, through an impure medium, in that sort of indistinctness, which neither forces attention nor reveals too glaringly the incongruities of conscience,—through those vapours of alien feeling which the soul should struggle through and scatter, to gaze upon the mountain truth in all the majesty of its magnitude, and

in all the beauty of its clear outline, to keep it free from the obscuration of unharmonized thought, standing out to the eye a well-defined and towering guide, with God's own light upon its summit, as it looks heavenwards? Is not the doctrine of the essential alliance between virtue and happiness held in co-existence with a prevailing pursuit of happiness through ten thousand other channels that can claim no such spiritual afhnity;—the doctrine of mortality and immortality held in co-existence with many favourite habitudes which mortality shall interrupt, and immortality everlastingly repudiate, and so lodged in some dim and retired chamber of the mind, apart from the busy throng of thoughts that crowd its middle passages ;—the doctrine of Providence held in co-existence with wills that consult only themselves—with plans not studious of God's purpose, that they may accord with and be woven into his designs with hearts that thrill in the irreligious restlessness of fearful expectancy, as though their fate rolled upon the turn of chance, and not upon the stable omnipotence of all-wise Love?

Now wherever a doctrine is thus formally and unreally held amid a host of practical antagonists, maintaining the same relation to the mind's actual occupants, as do fading pictures to the living animation on which from their fixtures they look down, it will always be found that the source of these doctrines is remote, refined, intellectual, that they do not come to us through the senses, that their medium is abstracted and earnest thought, that the mind must retire within itself and reflect, before it sees them. This is the case with that all-comprehending truth, Providence, whose realization would place us amid the brightness of the ever present God, and make the heart luminous with his love, but whose realization can only come through modes of thought not suggested by sensible impressions, and requires conceptions of an existence most dissimilar to our own, formed in the inner mind by meditation and with toil spiritual, ideal, infinite—and, therefore, inaccessible to those who will not withdraw themselves from their own experience and ponder upon that divine and immaterial nature, whose attributes render Providence a possible and a comprehensible truth. If God is omnipresent in the heart's secret sanctuary, whilst the saints above cast their crowns before the throne and adore in heaven; if he is ruling here, whilst His spirit is breathing in far distant climes and sustaining the beatings of other hearts; if this earth, with its awful freight of spiritual hopes, happiness and cares, is gliding on in serenest safety through its appointed courses, whilst other systems are watched by the same eye and obedient to the same voice, and suns, dwarfed by distance into stars, float in their places according to his will—then do these exertions of power, so remote from human, these facts of ubiquity, and consequently, immedi

ate government, require us to comprehend, as their medium, before they are in the faintest degree conceivable, a nature and an existence alike remote from the limitations of humanity—and it is only by apprehending what God is, that it becomes credible to the mind what God does.

It will be seen that I am not speaking of moral character, which, in case of God as of man, can only be judged of by moral acts; but of that mode of conceiving of the Divine Being, which is sufficiently enlarged and spiritualized, to admit within it the insertion of an intelligent faith in the universality of Providence. Now, no limited conception—no thought analogous to human existence, can admit within it the insertion of such a boundless truth ; and if all worlds and all beings float in God's presence and are moved by God's will; and if our minds are to believe this, that they may be ever sanctified and ever solaced—then, in order to believe it, we must first conceive it, by a refinement and an extension of our thought of Deity; we must apprehend a spiritual presence, within which creation lies, like a world in pure space, and realize through the kindred medium of mind what the prophet has rudely but most intelligibly pictured by material emblems, when he images Jehovah as

measuring the water in the hollow of his hand, and meting out heaven with a span, and comprehending the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighing the mountains in scales, and taking up the isles as a very little thing.' No mind can believe in the universality of God's agency, without first attributing to Him those modes of existence which make that agency possible; and we must not wonder that the doctrine of Providence is practically inefficient, so long as we hold it in co-existence with those limited apprehensions of the divine nature with which it is absolutely incongruous and irreconcilable, which have no tendency to suggest it to the wearied or wounded spirit when it falls back upon its thoughts of God in search of comfort, and which have no tendency to make it intelligible or clear when the soul rouses itself to earnest contemplation; so long as we provide for that mighty picturing of faith no spiritual framework in which it may fitly and harmoniously inhere. What avails it that the doctrine of Providence is true, if man's spirit is neither clarified nor consoled by thinking on the blissful truth ; and how is he to think on it, if his limited notion of God has no affinities with such a wondrous agency, or what is to suggest it to him, unless he has so spiritualized his thought of the great Father, that he cannot think of God except as one in whose life all things live, in whose love all things are embosomed, in whose being all things are contained? We profess to believe in Providence, without pondering that nature which makes providence a possibility and a reality; and thus our faith hanging loose, and inhering in no allied thought of God which would both recal it and explain it,

does die for want of nourishment from an order of conception kindred to itself, and dwelling apart, without communication or connection with our common notions of power, agency and existence, first becomes strange and hard to be conceived, and is then forgotten. This is a case in which the toil of thought cannot be spared us, in which we must acquire full and sufficing views by meditative effort, or else bereave ourselves of God. We cannot understand his moral relations to the happiness and glory of each spirit, without reflecting on his nature, without separating him in our thought from every restraint and natural imperfection. We cannot think of him as holding connections with ourselves and with other beings who are dear to us, without being involved in his infinity. We cannot realize his nearness to the soul in prayer when we bear to Him on our heart those for whom we would sanctify our love, and his nearness, at the same moment, to those whom it is solemn joy thus to encircle with his tenderness, without rising to the majestic but most serene conception of an omnipresent Spirit. And thus it is that an infinite Being is necessary for the repose of a nature like ours—that man cannot wander a step beyond his own consciousness, looking for rest for himself and security for all, without sweeping in his thought to the boundlessness of God, that ought but the spirituality of His existence might leave something that we love, unembosomed and unsheltered; and that in proportion as this is the prevailing order of conception by which we apprehend the Father of all, is there facility communicated to our belief in his universal, impartial, unintermitting agency, and a habitual reference of creation to the embrace of His providence, to the movement of His will, as though it were seen, folded within his presence as a cloud is cradled in the heavens.

That God is a Spirit,' so far as it is realized, becomes a medium of thought by which Providence is suggested and a truth so vast rendered conceivable; and it is also the simplest and most comprehensive light in which to view the essential glories of the Deity, to behold involved in that spirituality those infinite perfections which render His providence but another name for noblest happiness and final peace, under the wise and blessed rule of an Omnipotent Father. The proof from reason that God is a spirit, is simply that every other conception is essentially allied to limitationthat the Creator of this earth and that sun, who now breathes upon some spring-clime and it blooms, who now communes with some lone heart and it adores and is glad, must hold with all a spiritual communication. This does not help us to understand how it is, but it convinces us that it must be so. Let it not be objected, that God's spiritual omnipresence must remain dark and unintelligible; and that to rest the effi

« PreviousContinue »