« PreviousContinue »
law, that would account for the motions of the planets, and the preservation of the solar system, makes no attempt to explain, or investigate its nature; because that being the legitimate boundary of his science, to go farther was impossible : and, as to that incalculable projectile force, which first ranged the heavenly bodies in their respective orbits, even his mighty mind knew no more of it than the untutored savage. He, therefore, always referred it, together with their creation, in pious humility, to the Will, and Power of God. It is the same with respect to the faculties of the human mind, and all the essential properties of matter. We know there are such intellectual powers as reason, memory, and imagination; and we observe in the variety of material substances around us, what we call elasticity, cohesion, opacity, transparency, and other properties; but as to the causes that constitute them, or the elements of which they are formed, we know nothing.–Farther, we look up with reverence and adoration to the Deity himself, as the first Great Cause of all things, and we acknowledge his wisdom, his mercy, and power, as manifested in the works of creation; “ but,” says the inspired author of the book of Job, “ Behold, God is great, and
we know him not." Every attempt to pry into his divine nature, or to form any idea of the mode of his existence, beyond such information as we derive from the Holy Scriptures, is the height of folly, and presumption. There he is represented, (to check our vain and idle speculations), as“ dwelling in light, which no man can approach ;' and, at the same time, as “ making darkness his pavilion, and flying upon the wings of the wind.”
It appears, therefore, that in every branch of human knowledge, whether abstract, experimental, or practical, certain first principles must be assumed, beyond which we cannot go; and, on these, our laws and duties, both moral and religious, as well as all the sciences, are founded.
Now, the first principle in ethics, that can be resorted to, and that is applicable to man, as an accountable being, is Consciousness. If once deprived of this, there is an end of his responsibility, even in the estimation of human laws; for no one thinks of punishing a fellow-creature for actions committed in a state of delirium, or under the strong illusions of insanity: but every man, in his right mind, is conscious, within certain limits, of good and evil; and of having some degree of power, and control over his own actions. It will not be denied, that this principle is often strangely modified by peculiar laws, customs, and superstitions ; but it is never extinguished : for, not to put an extreme case, where is the human being to be found, who, on hear. ing our blessed Lord's beautiful Parable ad. dressed to the lawyer, in consequence of his quibbling question, “ And who is my neighbour ?” will not immediately say, that the Jewish priest and Levite neglected their duty to the poor wounded traveller, and that the good Samaritan performed it as he ought ?
Not all the subtilty of metaphysics, therefore, will be able to set aside Consciousness as the first great principle, or element, of moral responsibility, and social duty. We can go no higher ; and, if its evidence be questioned, let the caviller remember, that he has no surer test to prove his own existence; or to satisfy himself, that he is, in reality, uttering his doubts and objections, and that the whole is not an illusion, or a feverish dream.
To listen, therefore, on the present occasion, to that idle scepticism, which may be made to envelope every subject of human inquiry, seems almost as absurd as not to enjoy the light of the sun, because we know not how it is produced ; or not to feast on the fruits of the earth, because we can only observe the process of vegetation, without understanding any thing of that wonderful chemistry of nature, in which its first elements and operative power consist.
A few remarks, however, deserving some consideration, perhaps, may be made on the freeagency of man, as compatible with the prescience of the Deity. In the first place, when we contemplate the latter, as one of the divine attributes, we must admit, that, like omnisci. ence, and omnipresence, it is utterly beyond the comprehension of our minds. We should be very careful, therefore, how we form deductions of practical importance from premises, which we cannot fully understand; or from the use of terms, to which we affix no accurate and distinct ideas. Acknowledging, however, the existence of this prescience in the fullest sense of the word, let it be always remembered, that it has never been manifested, in relation to the future character and conduct of men, except by the declaration of the holy prophets, on a few particular occasions; and that only in the age of miracles and wonders, when it was necessary to impress the children of Israel with due reverence for the divine government on earth
to prepare them for the advent of the heavenly Messiah—or to establish his kingdom of righteousness in the hearts of men.
Having premised this, it may be remarked, that all we can do on a subject like the present, is to reason from analogy, and to consider what human wisdom and foresight can sometimes discover. From observation, and experience, we can perceive causes and effects operating in their relation to each other, on a variety of occasions, with tolerable accuracy. The skilful physician, for instance, prognosticates from certain symptoms, the death of the plethoric and intemperate man, within a given period, unless he submits to a proper regimen, and reforms his mode of life. The moralist, when he sees a man idle and profligate, vicious and improvident, foretells, with sufficient certainty, that he will, sooner or later, come to poverty, misery, ruin, or disgrace; and, to borrow the imagery of Scripture, every common observer, when he perceives “ the blind carelessly leading the blind," can tell that they will fall into the first ditch that lies in their path : but who will pretend to say, that this foresight interferes at all with the free-agency of the persons respectively concerned ?-It seems sufficient, therefore, for all practical purposes,