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The prayers and hymns of the sanctuary abound in phraseology of similar import. The hearts of worshippers respond to the language that leads their devotions. But we would ask if this impression of the Divine presence and agency is not, with very many, a vague sentiment rather than a clearly apprehended truth, a profound conviction of the understanding. We infer this to be the fact from the language we often hear respecting nature and its operations. The Laws of Nature is a phrase that falls from almost every tongue. Teachers of philosophy especially are in the habit of representing the Creator as having ordained certain permanent laws in the beginning, by which all the revolutions of the worlds, and all the processes and appearances of matter, take place. They seemingly speak of creation as a mighty machinery, which, once set in motion, continues to go on without any further impulse from the original contriver and mover. The text-books of youth on Natural Science, and a thousand books beside, are fraught with language conveying such an impression. The term “Laws of Nature” has been personified, indued with a life and a will. Indeed it has almost grown from a mere figure of speech to be an actual person, a very entity, even the Creator's conscious vicegerent, carrying on his works, while he might be away or inactive, almost as if the Omnipresent might be absent, the Omnipotent weary or delighting in rest.
We propose in the following article to show, that the Deity operates directly upon and through the material universe with out the intervention of what philosophers call Laws, — that all the changes of nature proceed from the instantaneous impulses of his Almighty will
. The subject is one of exceeding importance. It is of the highest practical tendency in respect to faith, filial love, and resignation towards the paternal Creator. And still further, it has a particular bearing on the probability and truth of the Miracles connected with our Religion.
In the first place, we must dispose of the often uttered and blindly used term, “Laws of Nature.” Whence came it, and what does it mean? The word law was primarily applied to human conduct. It was prescribed to men by those in authority to do, or forbear to do, certain things. The language used on the occasion was denominated a law. The definition of the term is, a rule of action. All know that it is not the rule of action which causes action. The origin of conduct,
properly speaking, is the living energies seated in the constitution of man. The law indeed may furnish a motive to conduct, but it is that centre of the inner man, the will, which is the source of movement. From this primary use of the term, it was transferred, with a figurative application, to the works and operations of nature. One of the distinguishing characteristics of matter is regularity of appearance and of motion. Under given circumstances its elements always combine in a certain proportion, its particles or masses tend in a certain direction, for the accomplishment of some important end ; just as if it possessed consciousness, and was obeying a mandate imposed by some superior power, to whom it felt constrained to submit. Hence matter was said to obey certain laws, or acted according to a rule, as man does; but it is evident, that it is not the rule that causes the action in the one case any more than in the other. For instance, an apple drops from its tree by a law of nature ; all that is really meant is this, that matter of a due density, and undisturbed by any external force, uniformly tends toward the centre of the sphere to which it belongs, as if following a known rule previously prescribed. The term gravitation is often used as if it were a real property of matter, or an individual agent operating upon it. But gravitation is nothing but a word, - a word expressive of the fact that matter tends toward matter with a force proportionate to distance. This word does not explain the cause of the tendency or the ratio of force. To say that gravitation makes the apple fall or bodies tend toward each other, is, strictly speaking, the same as saying that a fall makes a fall and a tendency makes a tendency. Take another instance. By a law of nature water freezes at a specific temperature. All that the phrase really conveys is, that, on condition that a certain portion of caloric leaves the fluid, it becomes solid. The cause of the departure of caloric or of the consequent change is not in the least explained by the ternis by which the phenomenon is expressed.
Let us suppose ourselves to have been born deaf and dumb, and moreover never to have been taught the use of language by sight. We will also suppose ourselves to possess acute perceptions, a proneness to reflection, and an ardent curiosity. We are placed in the midst of nature, with all the elements of a philosophic mind, by which we may observe, compare, and infer, with not a single word of language either to aid or to
mislead us. We perceive the apple drop. We may perhaps, like Newton, of ourselves infer, or it may be signified to us by others, that it is brought down by a power similiar to that which makes our feet cleave to the ground, the house press on its foundations, and which also keeps the earth from Aying off from the sun. Now all that we shall perceive will be the event, together with its invariableness, the circumstances being the same, accompanied also with the reflection that it is of the same nature with certain other phenomena. The term law being unknown to us, we cannot impute the phenomenon to this fancied agency. The idea usually conveyed by this term could not possibly enter our minds, and we should be likely to refer directly to the Creator as the direct and constant cause of what we observed.
What then are the Laws of Nature, -those invisible agencies of the philosophers, which have seemed to turn the wheels and tend upon the springs and valves of the universal machine ? They are nothing but empty names, which were originally adopted by a figure of speech for the sake of convenience. They are mere words which simply express the fact, that what we observed of things yesterday, we also observe to-day and are likely to observe to-morrow. Or, slightly to vary the definition, they are methods or rules, according to which the things of nature are done; and it is of course absurd to say, that it is methods or rules which do them.
How has an occasional sound from perishing lips prevented the divine and ever-speaking voice!' How has a little language on paper been as a curtain of darkness hiding the allsurrounding and intimately present God !
But there are those who will readily grant the illusiveness of the afore-named phraseology, who nevertheless entertain a notion fully as unphilosophical and untrue as that. They will not allow the immediate and ceaseless agency of the Deity for which we contend. They say that in the beginning the Creator willed his works to start into action, and phenomena to be connected in an invariable order. This action has continued, this connexion has remained unbroken ever since, in consequence of this single original act of the Omnipotent will. Thus the worlds revolve and attract each other, and all the other operations and processes of matter take place. Let us see whether this opinion will bear the test of logical deduction. In the first place let it be remarked, that our ideas of
God are derived from the analogies of man. All will acknowledge this, we presume. Effects or changes in things are produced by man, by what he calls his power. The effects and changes in nature are imputed to God, hence we ascribe to him the attribute of power. By a similar process we ascribe to him wisdom and goodness, - extending all these attributes to infinity. So, when we speak of the will of the Deity, we liken him to ourselves. We indue him with a human faculty.
Now, what do we mean by will, or the act of willing ? When we will any thing to be done, there is a desire of the mind, and an impulse from the mind. The desire without an impulse is not an act of the will. We will to walk, and there is an impulse upon our physical powers.
We will to investigate some particular subject, and there is an application of the faculties in that direction. If any, however, are inclined to dispute our definition of will, or our description of its operations, they must at least acknowledge, that nothing is ever done by human beings without an impulse from the centre and source of power in the mind. Now when the Deity willed the masses and the particles of matter to assume certain forms and properties, and to move in certain directions, there must have proceeded an impulse from the power inherent in his nature.
Many seem to have very vague ideas on this point. They take the figurative Scripture as literally expressive of the truth. God created by his word ; he spake and it was done. They have in view something like what would take place should we say to the chair, Come, or to the door, Open, and they should immediately put themselves in motion, without any exercise of our own proper strength to produce such an effect. So the Deity is supposed to have spoken or desired, without any irnpulsive power to bring to pass. But let it be repeated, that this is straying wide from the analogies on which all our conceptions of the Divine Being are based. It is assuming for a fact what has not the slightest shadow of evidence. All who make the least pretensions to rationality, therefore, must allow a divine impulse in the beginning to put the universe in operation. But we would proceed to inquire if a continued impulse is not necessary to continue the universe in operation. There is certainly no continued action from the will of human beings without a continued impulse of
a living agent. If it be said that we put a machine in motion, and it continues to move without any farther exercise of our own proper strength ; we reply, that this is not a parallel case. The machine is made to operate by an active power inherent in matter,—gravitation, for instance, and this we affirm to be an impulse from a living agent, - even the Creator, which is the very point we are attempting to prove. The rule of analogy, therefore, and all the evidence that can be brought to bear on the subject, go to prove, that as impulse from the Divine mind was necessary in the beginning, so impulse from the same has been necessary ever since. Planets roll, suns diffuse their light, matter gravitates, vegetation springs, and all motion takes place, from that of the mightiest orb, to that of the minutest atom, in consequence of the direct and immediate agency of the infinite Creator.
It is difficult for us to realize that the phenomena of nature proceed from the immediate spirit, will, and power of God, because He is invisible. What cannot be seen by the physical eye, requires some exercise of faith to believe. We can realize the actions of men, because we imagine ouselves to behold the actors. But the difference between the infinite agent and finite ones, as it regards being seen, is not so great as it would at first appear.
When we observe the human body and limbs, form and features, we do not behold the living agents themselves. It is the instruments of organized and animated earth they use, and not themselves, that meet our eyes. Let the soul suddenly leave an individual, the form and lineaments for a while may be unchanged, and to ordinary observation the same as when breathing with life; but our fellow being has gone for ever ; and that which we called his person, and which for the first moment seemed unaltered, is now a corpse, a portion of the common dust. The only known agent is mind; and what mortal man has ever set his eyes upon the mind of man? It is most philosophically and certainly true, that the active beings who enliven the land with business, the active beings who have crowded the great world with its eventful history, were never by earthly vision seen. It is the spirit-moved matter which alone is perceptible, and not the spirit itself. Human agents are therefore as invisible as the Divinity. They are both indicated to be present by the actions proceeding from their impulses. If the moving of the human limbs convince