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THE DOCTRINE OF NECESSITY, OR, THE CERTAINTY OF WILL, WITJI
WHICH AN INSTRUCTED CONSCIENCE CHOOSES RIGIIT. The argument that excludes Chance from the universe, leaves nothing behind but Providence. If the cloud of fortuity is swept away, nothing appears but the throne of God. Wherever there is a law, there is God manifesting a fixed, constant purpose, putting forth the power and will of heaven, and whatever results from the operation of that law is the fiat of Providence; but law is everywhere--nothing in creation is independent, is uncontrolled; body and spirit, in whatever circumstances God places them, act, and are acted upon, according to the nature God gives them, and so He, who created that nature, and cast it amid circumstances which himself had arranged, where the results must, necessarily, be according to the laws which himself had appointed, is the author of whatever exists, be it material or spiritual, be it visible manifestation or invisible thought, be it events, or be it character, as truly and as absolutely as though it issued at each moment direct from the fountains of the creative mind. It is in respect of the moral and spiritual world that much difficulty is experienced before this position is fully and unresistingly admitted. If God constituted this moral nature, and also determined the influences which it must needs obey, and which have made it what it is, what becomes of moral obligation? If everything is of God, is man powerless, and therefore blameless? If the character of the soul is the result of its own constitutional qualities, operated on, developed or restrained by the fostering or blighting breath of a heaven-planned education, are virtue and vice but names for productions of God's making, and may man, in consistency with this doctrine, yield to temptation, since, if Providence wills everything, sin must be willed too, and the restraints of conscience must be idle terrors—or else sink into spiritual paralysis as the child of fatality ? This is the difficulty constantly objected to Providence, and it must answer it or perish. We say to Providence, for if that means that God is all in all—and it either means this or means nothing—then any modification of that doctrine which would exclude any moral condition of any being from the fixed plans or purpose of Him who causeth all things to work together for good, is a wretched evasion, attempting to console with shadows, whilst it refuses to encounter the real and the only difficulty, pretending to consign humanity to God, whilst it yet leaves it in a position of subjection to the power of moral evil, where God is not, and never willed it to be. If there is one condition of a character, but a single state of a human will, which God has not foreseen, permitted, ordered, as the means to a coming end, then must the whole question be surrendered,
and there is no Providence in heaven. Here we must have everything or nothing. If the present condition of our world is contrary to His will, what security have we that it ever shall be right? If there is any aberration from His purpose, it is vain to say that all things are ordered for the best, and it is equally vain to expect that His ends are unfailingly sure, if His means are unstable, and can thus wander from His pleasure. To acknowledge no will but God's, and yet to make it apparent that man is a moral and self-educating being: this is our task.
What is God's aim in the moral administration under which our souls are placed: to what end these influences, whose character is so varied, striking and ordinary, agitating and tame, conflicting and complex, that we see around us the colours from which our spirits take their hues: as a question of experience to be verified by testimony, what is it that life's discipline proclaims to the conscience of man as the final purpose of Him who is passing humanity through these mysterious processes ? We answer, or rather the history of humanity answers for us, that we are learning to understand and to sympathize with God; we are learning from a knowledge that is daily increasing, of the connexions he has established here, to travel upwards to the light of that Eternal Mind from which these connexions issued, and so to use that knowledge for our own best good, by making our will his, letting our souls play freely in the direction where virtue goes hand in hand with blessed peace, or if separated for a while, yet keeps her kindling eye on the world she knows to be her home and stands ready poised for flight, and holding back our souls from those connexions whose bond is misery, whose consequences, like an almighty cause, warn us that God will suffer no happiness there, but enfeeble and smite the spirit which wanders near. We are learning to make God's moral perceptions ours; we are learning to choose between good and evil, because our own will is determined by a fuller consideration of that spiritual truth, which, as it unfolds to our view, makes within us a necessary harmony with heaven; we are learning by experiment, by observation, by meditative thought, by conscious joy, by bitter suffering, to enter into the spirit of the law, as it is here morally manifested, and so we are learning, that where the spirit of the law is, there, practically, is liberty; that as we ascend into that light in which we see moral affinities as God sees them, the course and the preferences of our souls are becoming less capricious, uncertain, and erratic, our adoption of the way of duty is becoming infallibly sure. Take an individual mind, or take a survey of the history of man, and it is apparent that it is the course of God's providence to make humanity morally assimilated to himself, by bringing the human will more and more under the influence of those
spiritual perceptions, which are the lights and volitions of his own eternal mind. Man cannot be morally glorious, except by looking on moral relations as God looks on them; and man cannot look on moral relations with God's eye, until God's teachings have dissipated every mistake, and made his will divine, by making his perceptions right. Say not that experience contradicts this theory, because men are known to follow courses with the clearest understanding that they are destructive of their own happiness. We answer, that this cannot be known, because there can be no tests of a man's convictions so decisive as his actions—and the chain of cause and effect can never be broken. If we act wrong we must feel wrong, for action is but the expression of feeling; and if we feel wrong we must think wrong, for feeling is the child of the relations we perceive, feeling is a moral judgment; and in order that this whole succession may be set right, the mind's perceptions must be rectified, its knowledge of moral affinities must be more full and true, and since the heart is fed by the mind and can only gaze on what thought presents to it, as thought grows correct emotion will be more and more the child of truth, until the resulting life, which is the issue of the heart, thus springing from a clear understanding of His own relations, feels the teachings and pressure of His spirit, becomes its echo, and is harmonized with God. We know that men, in one state of mind, have vivid intuitions of their duties and their interests, which seem for the moment as bright and piercing as an angel's moral gaze, and that in another state of the same mind this clear fountain of the soul can pass away, and the turbid elements of sleeping passions be stirred into activity, until they fill with dark waters the spiritual urns. We know that so long as certain thoughts and excitations are held in abeyance, the comprehensive moral intellect can wing itself into the region of ultimate results, and ponder and resolve on a wide view of its whole existence, and perceive that the balance in its favour is as large as eternity: and that the same intellect, before the lapse of an hour, may be dwarfed to the compass of an hour; that another atmosphere of thought may be spread around it, other awakeners of emotion fall in its view, other objects inviting its notice, until its gaze is fastened and its power gone; and the vision of the soul thus narrowed, the action of the life is but a blind impulse irrespective of the world of consequences now utterly unthought of;—but all this only proves that we have moral perceptions still to acquire, that there are realms of darkness where the full light has not yet come, that there are temptations which we have not yet learned to look upon with truthful, piercing eyes, unblinded by desire; that we have not yet so understood the spirit of the Lord as to have our wills convinced that the attitude of these seductive influences is not towards present gratification, but ultimate and immortal good; in a word, that we are not yet instructed in the science and the laws of moral happiness.
If it should still be maintained that a man may prefer an immediate indulgence, though he has full in his eye the eternal consequences, then, even if we believed such a case to be possible, which we do not, it is only asserting that his moral judgment is depraved, that God has not yet so disclosed to him the spiritual connexions of retribution, that he sees this present life by the light of moral truth, and his will is guided by his perceptions to make choice of happiness. Even supposing such a desperate case, it could only prove that the moral being had made a dreadful mistake_but with the appalling addition that there are no means of recovery, for if you can suppose that with an entire knowledge of persuasives and consequences the will can go wrong, what power do you leave in God's hands to prevail with it to go right ? If you say that experience may do it when it finds itself at last a shattered wreck on sin's narrow and vexed sea, that is only asserting and admitting the very point in dispute, that Providence has yet to enlighten it, that God will lead it by a path-way of sure though sorrowful experiment to a knowledge of moral relationship, which it did not before possess; that he will teach it by bitter, but merciful trial, spiritual truths, which, previous to that teaching, it did not believe, but which, once thus learned, will evermore be mighty influences to sway and rectify its will. What, then, is virtue, and what is vice, in reference to this constant acting of God on the springs of character? Virtue and vice mark the degrees in which God's moral perceptions have become ours, so that our will is God's. Moral character is simply and solely a manifestation of the influences to which our souls are sensible. Virtue is the spirit, looking on the retributive ties which heaven has fastened, with a vision piercing and serene as light, regarding the peace in which all duty merges as the smile of love and welcome, which woos a soul to harmony with Him who loves rectitude, and regarding the pain that follows guilt as the parental warning that waives it away from estrangement, and calls it to where God's sympathies are shed-taught to detect the indications of His will by pursuing every tendency of thought or feeling to its issue, and there learning whether God's blessing pronounces it to be good trembling to the finest and faintest influences He floats around it by consecrating as His whatever the spirit reveals to us as freighted with a pure happiness—alive to His purposes in all that ministry of discipline which the heavenly Teacher dispenses to each soul, and so perceptive through its own awakened intelligence, that the end is God's and good, that the will chooses rectitude by a spiritual necessity, that wherever duty's voice is heard, its mightiest energies are instantly in action, because of its sensibility to moral motive and the transparent clearness of its conviction, that that very sensibility is great and present glory, and the result similitude to God in heaven. Vice is spiritual insensibility, a blinded erring will—insensible to the happiness of duty-sensible to the pleasures of guilt-unreached by God's finer teachings, and alive only to the present earthly connections, which the senses and experience have taught, though not yet taught fully-ignorant of that moral nature whose issues it has never traced-deaf to those voices from God which appeal to faculties that are steeped in leth urgy-alien to God's will because it is alien to God's perceptions, and making a depraved choice because it is not susceptible to the loftier class of motives, and decides from the considerations before it, which may be partial and earth-bound, false, scanty, and unspiritual. A moral judgment, unerringly right, requires a perfect knowledge of moral relations, and our virtue and our vice, in other words, our style and grade of character, must depend on the proportion in which that knowledge is thoroughly and really
Regarding God as educating human beings, then virtue expresses the fact that in respect to one mind he has so opened it to perceive his meaning, that it harmonizes with his will—and in respect to another mind, vice expresses the fact that the influences brought to bear on it have not yet produced fruit, have not yet unfolded to its gaze the regions of spiritual truth, and awakened it to sympathy with God. I know that other elements often pass in review before us, when we pronounce judgment on human character. We are not satisfied with a simple expression of the fact respecting this man or that, that he is a glorious moral being, with his spirit trembling to the impulse of every generous motive, and his sensibility susceptible to the finest breathings of duty, to the most delicate aspects of spiritual loveliness and good—or that he is morally dull and apathetic, with no perception of refined truth, no taste for its beauty, no susceptibility to its lofty persuasives ; instead of confining ourselves to the character itself as a result, and speaking of its present moral qualities, we attempt to try it by the influences which made it, enter into a consideration of its opportunities and its talents, and portion out our censure or our praise as we deem it to have abused or improved its privileges. In this, I think, we do wrong, except when we pass judgment on ourselves : of character we are qualified to judge --of any human will, as a question of fact, we may be qualified to say whether it springs at the call of high and holy influences, or whether it hears only the pleadings of a baser suasion--but of the merit or demerit of character, on a view of its original constitution, and all its subsequent discipline,