By George I. Chace, Prof. of Chemistry, Brown University.
Having in a former article considered the proofs of an author of the universe, from the manifestations of intelligence and design in the outward world, we propose to inquire in the present, what light may be derived from the same source concerning his character. Previous to engaging in this inquiry, however, it may be well to direct our attention for a moment to its nature and the proper mode of conducting it.
When a chemist or natural philosopher enters upon the investigation of any new substance, he is guided in putting his questions by what he has already learned of the properties of other similar bodies. He first asks whether the substance be simple or compound? If on being subjected to the proper tests it prove to be an element, he then inquires what relations it holds to the other elementary bodies? with which of them it enters into union, what are the conditions necessary to such union, what are the phenomena attending it, what are the products resulting from it? He further investigates the relations of this new substance to the imponderable agents. He inquires whether it be an electro-positive or an electro-negative body? whether it be a conductor or a non-conductor of heat, a refractor or non-refractor of light? Having obtained answer to these and other similar questions suggested by his acquaintance with the ordinary properties of matter, he is unable to proceed further. He has no intuitions, no pre-conceptions to guide him in his inquiries. There are no ‘a priori’ considerations, no antecedent probabilities of any kind that can be of avail to him. All his light must come from experience. If the substance under examination chance to possess properties different in kind from any with which he has become acquainted in the study of other bodies, he can put no direct questions concerning them. Their discovery if made at all, must be either accidental or else the result of a process of investigation instituted with reference to some hitherto unexplained phenomenon in the production of which they have had part.
But, when we come to inquire concerning the attributes of the Supreme Being, our knowledge of other beings can afford us no assistance. “He is God; there is none else beside him.” “Nec viget quidquam simile aut secundum.” Here all analogy even fails. The eternal, self-existent and all-powerful Creator of the universe is separated by too wide a remove from the most highly endowed of his creatures to admit of any parity of reasoning between them. Experience therefore can render us no aid in directing or limiting our inquiries. Our guides must be sought from within.
In the first place we need look for no attributes in the divine character, no motives for the divine conduct, to which there is nothing correspondent in our own natures. For however possible it may be that the divine Being is endowed with such attributes and influenced by such motives, it is wholly impossible that we should discover them. All our conceptions of character are necessarily limited to the analogies of what we are conscious of in ourselves. It is only so far as we are created in the intellectual and moral likeness of God that we are able to comprehend his plans or enter into his purposes. Beyond this we can no more go than a man blind from his birth can form an idea of color, or one who has never heard, can acquire a notion of sound.
In the second place, it is not among all the active principles embodied in the human constitution, that we need look for the moral elements of the divine character. The desires, appetites and passions immediately connected with our corporeal natures, which grow out of them on the one hand and minister to them on the other, are from the nature of the case excluded. Nor should we expect to find in the divine mind all those higher principles of action which have their origin in our spiritual natures. It is only the noblest and most worthy of them that we naturally look for. Having become satisfied of the existence of a Supreme Ruler of the universe, we instinctively ascribe to him all moral excellence and deny all moral imperfection. As our notions of these vary with the culture of our faculties, so will our conceptions of his attributes. It is only when our faculties have been fully and harmoniously developed, that we are conducted in this way to true views of the divine character. In every inferior stage of culture, our views will necessarily partake to a greater or less extent of the Imperfections and biases of our own natures. Hence the importance of some means by which we may verify them. These suggestions of our moral understandings are sufficient to guide us in putting the question and to awaken expectations concerning the answer. Nay more, they carry with them a certain degree of weight and authority, so that we cannot with safety neglect them. They do not alone, however, furnish a secure basis for a system of Natural Theology.
Now aside from an appeal to the teachings of revelation, the only mode of testing the ideas which we are thus led to form of the moral attributes of the Creator, is to see whether they are in harmony with the ends obviously provided for, and more or less fully attained in his works. If we find that they are, — more especially, if we find not only that these ends are secured in the case of ourselves, but that we are so made and placed in such circumstances, that whether we will or not we cannot avoid contributing by our agency to their attainment in others, then we conclude that they are the actual ends of the divine government, and that the anticipations of the reason and conscience were intended to be and in reality are, so far as these faculties have not been perverted, guides to a knowledge of the divine character.
Such is the nature of the inquiry upon which we are about to enter, and such the mode in which we propose to conduct it. We shall take for granted in this inquiry that the universe is a true index of the attributes of the Creator, that it originated in his simple, unbiased will, and was formed for his sole pleasure. Indeed any other supposition than this would be clearly absurd. For previous to the first creative act there was no one by whom the divine will could have been influenced or for whose happiness it could have been exerted. “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight,” —”for thy pleasure they are and were created,” is the teaching of reason not less than of revelation. This however supposes other subordinate ends in the works of creation through the accomplishment of which they minister to the divine pleasure. It is in the character of these ends, that the moral attributes of the Supreme Being are manifested.
There is no attribute or quality of character which, guided by the dictates of our moral understanding, we more unhesitatingly ascribe to the Deity, than a benevolent regard for the welfare of his creatures. Indeed, independently of the desire to produce happiness, we can conceive of no adequate motive for the work of creation. Other principles of action may have cooperated with this, and may have determined, to a greater or less extent, the forms of its manifestation, but without benevolence as a leading attribute, the divine character would not only fail to command our highest respect and homage, but be absolutely unintelligible to us. The only being in the universe, with no objects of his own to accomplish, beneficent purposes alone could have moved the omnipotent Creator to the displays of wisdom and power with which as far as the eye can see or the telescope reach, he has filled the mighty void of surrounding space.
To strengthen and confirm this intuitive apprehension of the divine goodness we have only to direct our observations to the part of the universe with which we are immediately connected. Our world is full of contrivances, or rather it is itself a vast assemblage of contrivances, adapted to the production of beneficent ends. There is not one of the innumerable forms of enjoyment, distributed among the different classes and orders of animals, which is not directly provided for in these contrivances, the actual and sole result of a greater or less number of them, nor is there one of these contrivances which is not either immediately or remotely tributary to the well-being of some portion of the animal creation. The kindly ministry of the elements, — of the air, the earth and the water, of the cheering light, the genial warmth and the refreshing shower, of summer and winter, spring-time and autumn varying the rolling year with ever-grateful vicissitude — is understood and felt by all. But, beside these arrangements of external nature which affect in common the entire population of our globe, there is wrapped up in each animal an organism equally complex and still more wonderful, upon whose action the continued existence even of that animal is every moment dependent. And if we look into this organism we discover the most convincing proofs of the infinite goodness and condescension as well as the matchless skill and power of the Creator. In the structure of every living being, most of the parts are so obviously subservient to useful ends, that no one can doubt in regard to their beneficent character. The senses are, in all cases, evidently designed to afford pleasure to the animal, as well as to convey to him a knowledge of whatever is necessary, to his preservation and well-being. The limbs are as clearly intended to minister to his happiness, by enabling him to satisfy his natural wants, and by furnishing him with the means of pleasurable exertion. And if we examine the structure of the body, we find, in every instance, the form, disposition, and connection of the several parts so exactly adapted to the mode of life, that no anatomist has ever dreamed of an alteration, by way of improvement.
There is, however, one feature in the constitution of animals, of which the design is not so obviously benevolent. We allude to the provision through which they are liable to suffer pain either from the influence of external causes or from the derangement of their own organisms. Pain is in itself an evil; and when we consider to how great an extent it prevails in our world, how broadly it casts its dark shadow over the otherwise fair scenes of earthly felicity, how large a portion of its bitterness mingles in the cup of experience which life proffers to all, and of how many it is almost the only heritage, it would seem scarcely reconcilable with that pure and absolute benevolence which we instinctively ascribe to the Deity, and we are not surprised that the provision so clearly made for it in the constitution of animals should have been regarded as indicating the existence of other and sterner qualities in the Divine character. But, on examination, it will be found that this like all the other endowments of the animal structure, is subservient to wise and beneficent purposes — nay, that without it, the other endowments would have failed of accomplishing the object for which they were intended.
As there is reason to believe, that the susceptibility of which we are now speaking is most fully developed in man, and as it is in him that we are best acquainted with it, it will be sufficient to consider its nature and tendencies, as manifested in our own species. The thought which most readily presents itself when we contemplate our relations to the outward world, is, that we are surrounded on every side by agents capable of destroying our bodies. Heat may dissolve them; cold may congeal them; gravity in any of its countless forms may crush them; while chemical affinity, in ways equally numerous and equally certain may effect their demolition. To protect us against the dangers of a situation so exposed, the Creator has endowed the various parts of our bodies with a sensibility to these agents, so that in all cases we may be admonished of their presence and by removing ourselves from them avoid the injury they would otherwise do us. When the infant attracted by the flame of the candle attempts to grasp the beautiful object, the sensations awakened cause the withdrawal of his hand which is thus preserved from being consumed. Or when the boy, eagerly pursuing his wintry sports, is exposed to a degree of cold that threatens his safety, his chilled body and aching and benumbed limbs inform him of the danger and persuade a retreat to the genial warmth of the fireside. Or when the man in any of the occupations of mature life is required to put forth his strength, he is apprised by his sensations of the limits which he may not pass with impunity, and is thus preserved from serious or perhaps fatal injury.
The great design of the Creator, therefore, in giving us a constitution by which we are susceptible of pain through the instrumentality of our bodies, was to protect them from the various dangers to which from the conditions of our being, they would necessarily be exposed. Agreeably to this design, the sensibility as it manifests itself in the different parts of our bodies, varies both in kind and degree, according to the nature and severity of the evil against which it affords protection. The skin is delicately alive to heat, cold and pressure. The importance of this endowment is strikingly illustrated in the condition of those persons, in whom the nerves ministering to it have become paralyzed. Such persons unless constantly watched over by others are liable to suffer without knowing it, from any of these causes. The parts which lie beneath the skin, being, for the most part, sufficiently protected by it, are nearly destitute of feeling; muscles may be cut, cartilages burned and bones subjected to every form of mechanical violence without causing any considerable pain. The stomach may be handled, and the heart even forcibly grasped, without occasioning the slightest sensation to the individual. The lungs, on the contrary, are endowed with an exquisite sensibility to the mere contact of any foreign substance, so that whatever by accident finds its way into them is immediately and convulsively expelled. The design is obvious. Were it not for this provision, the lungs would soon become filled with foreign matter, and would no longer be capable of performing their office. The eye throughout its whole interior, is entirely insensible to any form of mechanical violence. It is covered, however, in front, by a membrane possessed of so delicate a sensibility, that it is painfully affected by the presence of the smallest mote. The surface of the eye is thus ‘guarded against injury, and its transparency preserved. And so generally, to whatever part of the body we direct our attention, we find it endowed with precisely the form and degree of sensibility, necessary to protect it against the kind of danger to which it is exposed. There is no where gratuitous sensibility, but everywhere just that amount of it which is required for the safety of the part and the good of the whole. The benevolence of the provision cannot therefore be questioned. It was necessary to the preservation of our existence. Without it our very creation would have proved a failure.1
The other class of pains, or those which arise from disease, are subservient to equally wise and benevolent ends. They not only acquaint us with the existence of the disease, but by indicating its nature and situation, they serve as guides to the proper remedies. When the danger is imminent they moreover compel us, by their severity, to submit to whatever confinement or privation may be necessary for its cure. They further inform us that some organic law has been violated, and admonish us to beware in future of a similar offence. The sensibility therefore with which the Creator has endowed our frames to the various forms of disease as well as injury, was intended to be the means of preserving them with all their powers and faculties healthy and entire, and of thus securing to us the conditions most favorable to our well-being. And whoever will consider how constantly during the whole of his past life, he has been indebted to it for safety and protection, will be convinced that by no provision of his constitution is he placed under greater or more unceasing obligation to gratitude.
That the suffering arising from this endowment of our organization is occasionally, excessive, or that it continues after the ends to which it is specially directed have ceased to be attainable, is no argument against the benevolence of its design. Being provided for in the constitution of the sensory nerves, it must necessarily continue so long as these retain their functions, although the malady may have assumed a character precluding all possibility of recovery. Nor is there anything peculiar in this. All the provisions of nature are general and therefore liable in particular cases not only to fail of their object, but to be turned to other and different purposes. The same sun which in the spring, quickening into life the innumerable vegetable tribes, clothes the earth with verdure and beauty, in the summer scorches it to barrenness. The same air which cools and refreshes us by its gentle breezes and from whose ample store we each moment inhale the breath of life, may bear upon its bosom the seeds of pestilence and disease or wrought into fury by the other elements, may sweep along in the resistless tornado, everywhere marking its track with ruin, desolation and death. The same fire which warms us and prepares our food, and to whose kindly aid in the different mechanical arts we are indebted for so large a portion of the conveniences and comforts of life, from a faithful ally and friend, may suddenly become our most fearful enemy, remorselessly destroying our property or even consuming us within our dwellings.
Against this view of the design of pain in the animal economy, it is sometimes urged that God is all-powerful, and had he seen fit, might have so constituted matter as to render the beings composed of it incapable of injury. The necessity of a monitory system would in that case, it is said, have been avoided, and all the evils arising from it spared to his sensitive creatures.
As such an idea is incompatible with the supposition of the absolute and unqualified benevolence of the Creator, and is yet, there is reason to believe, quite generally entertained, we are disposed to give a brief space to its consideration. For, if we mistake not, men are accustomed to indulge on this subject, in an unwarranted license of speech. Our knowledge of the attributes of the Deity, as it seems to us, is too imperfect and our acquaintance with the consistencies of things too superficial, to enable us to say, à priori, what is or what is not possible. The disposition to ascribe limitless power to the Divine Being proceeds in many cases, we have no doubt, from a deep reverence for his character, and from an overwhelming impression of his power as manifested in the world around us. In others, it probably arises from mere habit; while in not a few instances, we fear, it springs from a desire to throw upon him the responsibility of all moral and physical evil, and thus to quiet the apprehensions of conscience under a sense of guilt.
The objection asserts that God, if he had seen fit, might have so constituted matter, as to render the organized beings composed of it incapable of injury. Let us consider, for a moment what we can do towards forming an idea of the mode in which this could have been accomplished. In doing so, we shall take for granted that matter is in reality what it seems to be — actual substance possessing inherent constitutional properties — and that in the formation of our bodies, it is wrought into their several parts in such a manner as to confer upon them through these properties their respective endowments. On any other theory — more especially that which refers all material phenomena to the immediate agency of the Deity — the subject becomes involved both morally and physically in inextricable difficulties. If matter be wholly inert, the animal organs formed of it can have no real part in the functions associated with them. Their elaborate structure is consequently unmeaning and nugatory. It accomplishes nothing, and indicates nothing. No argument whatever can be drawn from it in favor of an intelligent and designing author. Adopt this absurd dogma and the divine light which beams so brightly not only from every part of the human frame, but from the organization of each one of the lower animals and from the whole outward world, is suddenly extinguished. Not a single ray of intelligence or beauty comes from aught above, beneath, or around us; but an impenetrable veil spreads itself over the entire physical creation, robing it in profound darkness. There is nothing left from which the mind can infer the existence even of a Supreme Intelligence, but its Own sensations and perceptions. Shut out from every other source of knowledge, it must seek in these, considered in their relations to itself and to one another, the sole proof of the transcendent perfections of the Almighty, with which every part of this wide universe, to him who views it aright, is so gloriously radiant. If matter possess no inherent powers, and every change, whether in our physical organizations or in the outward world, be produced by the immediate power of God, then are all these changes, of what sort soever they may be, equally an indication of his will and character. We cannot regard some as ends and others as means; some as directly intended and others as connected with the object designed to be accomplished, but forming no part of it. The idea of both the instrumental and the incidental, on this strange supposition, so repugnant to reason and common sense, is necessarily excluded. The devastation of the whirlwind is as much intended by God and as immediately dependent upon his agency, as the refreshing coolness of the summer breeze upon the flushed cheek and moistened brow of the laborer, or the life-giving influence of the same fluid as he each moment expands his chest and bathes his lungs in it. The fire which rages in our dwellings is kindled by Him and sustained by the continual exertion of His power; and the subtle element is under these circumstances as truly accomplishing His will as when it diffuses its genial rays through our apartments, or lends its ready aid, in melting the brass and forging the iron, in driving the steam car and turning the spindle. In the wasting pains of prolonged and hopeless disease and in the last expiring agony, it is not the deranged, shattered and convulsed body, acting upon the sensitive spirit still held in connection with it, that causes the suffering; it is God by his own immediate and direct agency. He inspires the sense of weariness; He inflicts every pang; it is under the pressure of His hand that the dying groan is extorted. He, too, at man’s bidding rivets the fetters of the slave, bars the door of the prisoner, applies the torture of the wheel and the rack, binds to the martyr’s stake, and piles the fuel, and kindles the flame, and presses it to the bared and quivering flesh of the innocent sufferer. It is He also that gives edge to the knife of the assassin, and infuses energy into the poisoner’s cup. It is His power that is seen and felt on the battle-field; He sends the cannon’s iron hail through the serried ranks of the warriors, marring and rending to pieces the fairest specimens of His most perfect handiwork, and strowing the earth with carnage and slaughter. Such are the unavoidable consequences of the philosophy which denying to matter the possession of inherent, constitutional properties, ascribes all the phenomena exhibited by it to the immediate agency of Deity. So abhorrent to every right sentiment are the views of the Divine character to which this monstrous doctrine necessarily leads. Admit it and there is no escaping the conclusion that God is the direct author of each and every event that befals us; the good and the evil, the joy and the woe, the bliss and the agony are alike from him, and alike intended by him. With those, therefore, who adopt as their philosophical creed any form of idealism, whether absolute or virtual, we shall hold no argument. We frankly confess (hat with such ideas in regard to the mode of the Divine government, we see no way of reconciling that government with the sentiments of our moral natures. The world without and the world within, for aught we are able to perceive, must forever remain in mysterious and inexplicable discordance.
But, if we take the only rational view of the physical universe, if we see in the different kinds of matter so many instrumentalities employed by the Supreme Being in the accomplishment of his purposes, then light breaks in upon the subject. The peculiar difficulties which before surrounded it, vanish. We now behold in the outward world a vast system of means, adapted to the production of wise and beneficent ends. We are able to trace the connection between the several parts of that system, and the particular objects to which they are subservient; and although we do not see these objects in every instance accomplished, or in any, it may be, so perfectly, as we are able to conceive of their being accomplished, yet all the provisions of the system look towards them, and are such as in the great majority of cases to secure more or less fully their attainment. Keeping in view, therefore, the general plan which the Divine Being has seen fit to adopt in carrying forward his designs in our world — either because it was best suited to the ends proposed or because it was most in harmony with his own nature — we proceed to inquire whether it be possible to imagine any change in the constitution of matter which would remove the necessity of the monitory provisions incorporated in the structure not only of man but of all the lower orders of the animal creation.
The liability to accident and disease, under the existing constitution of things, arises from the fact that our corporeal frames are endowed with the same general properties and governed by the same general laws, as the bodies by which they are surrounded, and therefore capable of entering into relations with them; of acting upon them on the one hand, and of receiving impressions from them on the other. Did the material atoms on becoming a part of the living organization lose all their elementary properties, did they from that moment cease to hold relations to other bodies, we should no longer be exposed to any form of outward danger. Neither caloric or electricity, gravity or chemical affinity could in any way harm us. Our bodies would in that case be as incapable of injury as our spirits. At the same time they would have as little power over the other forms of matter. We could no longer employ them in accomplishing any of the purposes of our existence. Our limbs would cease to be of any use to us as instruments of motion, and our senses would equally fail us as organs of perception. We should be unable to effect the slightest change of any kind whatever, in the world around us, nor could we ever gain a knowledge of that world. We should be as completely cut off from all intercourse with it as if we were without bodies. The entire assemblage of instrumentalities included in our physical organizations, and designed to put us in communication with surrounding existences, would be annihilated.
Nor could the interior processes necessary to the support of life itself be maintained. It is only through the powers and properties of the matter from which they are organized, that the heart, lungs and stomach perform their respective offices. Suspend these and they would at once cease to act, and the vital phenomena connected with them would no longer be manifested. Whether we consider, therefore, the external parts of our bodily frame, as the limbs and senses, or its internal organs, we find them alike dependent, in the exercise of their functions, upon the general properties of matter — the same properties in which our liability to injury, and we may add to disease, has its origin. It is not any particular quality or qualities of the material atoms that cause this liability, but the power possessed by them of acting and reacting upon one another; and it is this power which qualifies them for entering into the constitution of organized beings — through which alone such beings can exercise their functions. Nay, it is this power that lies at the foundation and source of all physical causation.
But although we are unable to conceive of any change in the properties of matter which would exempt our bodies from the liability to accident and disease, may we not suppose these latter differently constituted out of matter as it now exists, and the evil in this manner avoided? It is well known that every part of the animal structure is endowed with a vital force or energy which enables it, within certain limits, to resist the action of causes tending to its injury. May we not suppose this vital endowment to be greatly exalted, so as in fact to afford our corporeal frames adequate protection against all the dangers, whether external or internal, to which they are naturally exposed? The complex system of nerves, which at best only informs us of these dangers, leaving us to escape them as we best may, would then be unnecessary.
However plausible this mode of dispensing with the monitory provisions incorporated in the structure of animals would at first seem, every one, we think, will be convinced on reflection of its utter impracticability. Life, as we have already had occasion to notice, is not a principle but a power. Nor is it superinduced upon the organization, but developed in it and through it. It is the natural and in that sense necessary result of the relations which the several parts of the organization hold to one another and to the outward world. So long as these relations are maintained, so long its phenomena continue to be exhibited but no longer. Neither is life everywhere one and the same power. On the contrary, it varies with the part in which it is manifested, both in kind and degree. The life of the brain is different from that of the heart; and the life of the lungs is different from that of the stomach. The skin possesses a higher vitality than the muscles which lie beneath it, and these again possess a higher vitality than the bones, cartilages, and ligaments. Each organ is constitutionally endowed with all the powers which are necessary, whether for its own preservation or for the performance of its particular functions; and these taken collectively, we denominate its life. Of the manner in which they are developed, we may form some idea from what we know of the effect produced, in numerous instances of chemical union and decomposition, by the mere juxtaposition of bodies having no direct part in the action. Oxygen and hydrogen although mingled in the proper proportions do not combine at ordinary temperatures. The simple presence, however, of platinum foil or platinum sponge immediately determines their union. The copper sheathing of vessels, when fastened by nails of the same metal, is gradually corroded by the substances dissolved in sea water. But if iron nails be used, it is no longer attacked by these substances. On the other hand, when a plate of pure zinc is immersed in diluted sulphuric acid, no perceptible action takes place. But the moment a piece of copper, dipped in the same fluid, is brought in contact with it, water is decomposed, the zinc is rapidly oxydized and an invisible, imponderable agent is evolved which, under proper direction, is capable of producing still further changes. By the presence of a certain substance called diastase, starch is converted into sugar, and by another similar substance sugar is turned into alcohol. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump, not by entering into combination with it, but by inducing throughout the mass an action similar to that taking place in itself. In these and numerous other instances which might be mentioned, we behold a power analogous in many of its characters to that of life, and altogether as inexplicable, as regards its origin and mode of operation — a power sometimes determining changes and sometimes preventing them, now impelling bodies to unite which under ordinary circumstances manifest little or no affinity, and now causing the separation of those which are held together by the most energetic attractions. It has been called by chemists the catalytic power and also the power of presence. It is in reality the power of relation. It is developed through the proper arrangement or disposition of the several bodies in connection with which it is manifested. Although springing from the constitutional endowments of the material atoms, it is to be regarded not so much as a primary source of change, as a regulator and modifier of the more essential and permanent forces of matter. Independently of these, it is capable of producing neither combination nor decomposition — of evolving neither chemical nor mechanical phenomena. Its influence as a regulating and modifying principle is, moreover, strictly confined to the circle within which it originates. And even here it continues to operate only so long as the circle remains perfect. The moment that is broken, or the relation of the several bodies composing it is disturbed, either by the introduction of a new body or by some overpowering external influence, its manifestations cease.
All this is true of the power which we are now considering, call it by what name we will, whether exhibited in connection with these artificial combinations of ordinary matter or manifested in the organisms of living beings. Hence we cannot, in the latter case, look to it for the protection required by such beings. It is at best of but limited influence, and, depending upon adjustments and relationships more or less complex, it is liable at any moment to be greatly weakened or altogether suspended by their disturbance. Were what is denominated the vital principle an independent force, manifesting itself in the organizations of animals, but not of them, then .there would be no difficulty in conceiving it of an intensity sufficient to resist the action of any of the innumerable causes tending to their destruction. Then there would be no limit to the power that might be assigned to it. But the individual life of each of the bodily organs being developed through its structure, and the general life of the animal being dependent upon the combined action of these organs excited and maintained by the air which surrounds and the blood which pervades them, neither can exceed in intensity the forces operating within the circle that gives it birth, or continue longer than that circle remains unbroken. Both must necessarily yield to the influence of causes attacking the conditions of their existence. Instead therefore of being able to conceive of a constitution that should exempt our corporeal frames from the liability to accident and disease, when we consider how many delicate adjustments are necessarily included in them, and how numerous are the causes of derangement to whose action they are constantly exposed, we are amazed at the extent of the protection actually secured to them through their present wonderful endowments. “Men that look no further than their outsides,” says Sir Thomas Brown in his Religion of a Physician, “think health, an appurtenance unto life, and quarrel with their constitutions for being sick; but I, that have examined the parts of man and know upon what tender filaments the fabric hangs, do wonder that we are not always so.”
But, although we are unable to conceive of such an exaltation of the powers of life as to afford our bodies adequate protection, may we not suppose the influence of the will over them to be greatly extended, and their safety in this manner sufficiently provided for? As at present constituted, the only thing that we can do when admonished of any form of danger, is to withdraw ourselves from it; and as the information not unfrequently comes too late to admit of this, we consequently suffer. Now instead of being limited to the mere contraction of muscles and flexure of joints, may we not suppose the will to have direct control over every molecule of the entire body? May we not imagine ourselves able, by a simple voluntary act, either to suspend the properties of these molecules and thus remove them altogether from the influence of disturbing causes, or else to infuse into them an energy and power which should enable them to resist the action of such causes? Or if it be thought that, under any imaginable constitution, the spirit would be incapable of effecting so great changes in the material atoms composing the body, may we not at least suppose its power to extend to their rearrangement in the several tissues and structures, after they have already suffered disturbance from accident or disease? In obedience to its commands, expressed through the will, may .we not suppose the fractured bone, lacerated muscle, and diseased brain to assume their proper and healthy condition, in like manner as the head turns and the limbs move at its bidding?
True we are able to conceive all this; but the difficulty is in imagining by what means it may be accomplished; and in solving this difficulty, neither fact nor analogy derived from any part of the universe can afford us the slightest assistance. The spirit, we know, has no direct power over the ordinary forms of matter. Indeed, it is only through the medium of an elaborate and complex system of nerves that it is capable of acting upon the organized body with which it is immediately associated. Within this body, its direct influence is felt only by the muscles, and even here it is limited to a mere shortening of the fibres. In what manner then shall we suppose the spirit to be put into relation with each one of the innumerable particles contained in the entire frame? By what complex system of instrumentalities shall we imagine it enabled to act upon these particles — to suspend, exalt, or in any manner modify the properties with which God has endowed them, or even to bring them back into the organic forms and combinations that have been broken up by violence or disease? But, may we not suppose the Creator in constituting us, to have made these results immediately consequent upon our volitions without any intervening agencies? May we not suppose the connection between the two to have been established by special ordinance — by His simply willing it? Is not, in fact, the divine appointment sufficient of itself to secure any event without the provision of means for its accomplishment?
Such an idea, we reply, is absurd. No one can intelligently entertain it. It is directly at variance with that fundamental principle of human belief which requires for every effect a cause adequate to its production. Whatever the Divine Being purposes must be brought about, either by his own direct agency or by instrumentalities specially provided for that end. The will of God is the law of the universe only because he has combined the agents and elements composing it in such a manner that they are continually executing his will.
If by way of invalidating the foregoing considerations it be said, that our conceptions are all limited to the analogies of what we have seen, and that though we cannot imagine in what manner, nevertheless the Creator might have framed the constitution of things so as not only to save the necessity of pain to his sensitive creatures, but also to render them capable of a far greater amount of happiness than they at present enjoy, we say in reply, that this is pure assumption, that there are no facts which justify such an idea, or even suggest it. The supposition, moreover, involves in great difficulties an explanation of the existing order of things consistently with the other attributes of the Deity, and is further opposed by every consideration derived from analogy; for since the Creator has pressed to its outermost limits the capacity of the earth for the production and support of sensitive beings, and under an almost infinite variety of circumstances, has provided for their happiness at so prodigal an expenditure of contrivance, the presumption is, that if by having differently constituted our world, or the beings in it, he could have caused the production of a far greater amount of happiness — the presumption from analogy we say, is that he would have done it.
What should we think of the logic of the Tahitian or New Zealander, who examining the steam-engine should infer from the resources and skill displayed in it, that the author of the wonderful invention had he so chosen, might have constructed it in such a manner that the piston should keep in motion without the constant introduction of wood or coal to the furnace?—that this feature of the contrivance undoubtedly contemplated some other object besides the mere working of the engine and was in all probability designed to give employment to the fireman? or witnessing an explosion should conclude that this was one of the ends provided for in the construction of the engine, and that the destruction of life and property attending it was a part of the original design of the contriver? — arguing that if it had not been so, he would have made the boiler of stronger materials. And yet such, a conclusion would be reasonable and sober in comparison with the ideas very commonly entertained concerning the Divine purpose in that feature of the constitution of man and of the lower animals which we are now considering. For in the latter case the liability to accident and disease is carefully guarded against by the stationing of sentinels at every exposed point and even when the warning of these has been disregarded and some portion of the organization has suffered we see a still further set of provisions called into play for repairing the injury. It is as if there were connected with the steam-engine at different points, instruments for measuring the strain or pressure, with signal bells attached to inform the engineer whenever it became so great as to endanger any part of the machinery; and in case of accident through the inattention or negligence of the latter, a retained band of fairy artificers immediately appeared and set about stopping the opened seam or uniting the parts of the broken lever.
But while the sensibility of our frames to whatever is liable to injure them is obviously designed for their protection, the suffering actually experienced through it has other uses, which must not be overlooked, if we would form a just conception of the entire economy of our being. As there is no part of our bodily structure, having a single function, so there is no provision of our constitution physical, intellectual or moral that contemplates a single object. Besides the immediate purpose or purposes accomplished by each there are other and remoter ends which it was equally intended to secure and which concurred in justifying to the Divine wisdom its adoption. Nay more; as there is nothing in the universe isolated, it frequently happens that the means employed for the attainment of a particular end bring, in their train, consequences more or less at variance with what is obviously their chief design. Considered with reference to the provision from which they immediately spring, these consequences must be regarded as so many evils. But, if we extend our view, we often see them change their character by becoming parts of other related systems, comprehended within the same general plan. Thus the bodily pain we experience through the means adopted by the all-wise Creator for the protection of our corporeal frames, subtracting so largely as it does from the sum of human happiness, is itself made a means of spiritual culture. Of the virtues developed through it, and of the intellectual and moral quickening which comes from it, we shall have occasion to speak in connection with another part of our subject. A still more striking illustration of the same thing is seen in the institution of death. This is the great law of all organized beings. Neither animal nor vegetable is exempt from it It is the stern fate, the inexorable doom of everything that lives. The same agencies by which the bodily structure is built up and the vital processes are constantly maintained, at length undermine that structure and bring those processes to a termination. Nor are we able to conceive of any change by which under the present constitution of things such a result should be prevented or to any considerable extent delayed. What miraculous interposition would have taken place in favor of our own race had the first human pair remained innocent we know not; but that man was not designed for a physical immortality —to live forever on this earth all the provisions of his constitution abundantly show. The remains of the innumerable animal tribes which preceded him in the zoological series, while they attest the former prevalence of life in our world are equally monuments of the reign of death. But, although thus connected with life and as far as our knowledge extends inseparable from it, death is of all evils that which we most dread. Whether regarded in itself or in its attendant circumstances it is indeed the king of terrors. It casts its dark shadow over the whole face of human society. The very mention of it is sufficient to sober the gayest spirit and calls up images at which the stoutest heart grows sick and the ruddiest cheek pales. It is the rude severing of the dearest connections and most intimate relationships of life, the sudden extinction of all our worldly interests, the final setting of every earthly hope. It is the removal forever from the light of day, from the warm precincts of human affections and sympathies, and from this bright and beautiful world which we have known so long and loved so well, and which, however marred and scathed by sin, has still so many charms for our delighted senses. Its ministers are pain and wasting sickness and sore disease, and in its train of attendants are the shroud, the coffin and the tomb. Such is death; so chilling to every natural sensibility are the sad images awakened by its contemplation! and yet, besides being the appointed means of introducing us to a more exalted state of existence, it subserves the most important ends in connection with the present life. It is the great equaliser of the diversities of human fortune. It at the same time reconciles the poor man to his poverty and makes the rich feel of how little value is his wealth. It supports the confirmed and hopeless invalid under the wearying sense of his bodily infirmities, and humbles in the strong man all pride of strength as looking upon his wasted and suffering Fellow he remembers how soon they must lie down together and the sods of the valley be alike sweet unto them. It chastens aspiration, moderates desire, subdues selfishness, quickens benevolence, strengthens duty and disposes to the exercise of every Christian virtue. It is the great moral ballast of society. But for the restraining and steadying influences emanating from this source, its noblest institutions freighted with the best hopes of our race would be quickly dashed to pieces upon the rocks of interest or whelmed beneath the billows of passion. It deserves also to be remembered that death is rendered still further subservient to the beneficent designs of our Creator by the means adopted for meeting its ravages, and still continuing our world the abode of life and happiness. The wonderful provisions of our nature, organic and spiritual, having respect to this end and securing it with as much certainty as gravity the motion of the spheres, are the foundation of the most beautiful relationships — the well-spring of the tenderest sympathies and sweetest charities of life. Gathering the otherwise isolated individuals of our race into households and families, they furnish in these not only schools for the acquirement of every civil and social virtue, but nurseries in which immortal spirits are reared for the purity and beatitude of heaven. So graciously and so wonderfully has the all-wise Creator disposed the elements of our being, making the evils incident to the present state — inseparable it may be from it — tributary to good, and building upon the foundation of suffering, disease and death so large a portion of the entire fabric of our earthly happiness.
But, to return to the course of our argument, it is not in the structure or endowments of any single animal, however, perfectly adapted to the circumstances of its existence, that we behold the most convincing proofs of the Divine beneficence; but rather in the endless multiplication of classes, orders and families whereby every part of our globe is furnished with appropriate inhabitants. Not less than half a million of different species are believed to have existed upon the earth since it was first occupied by living beings. About two hundred and fifty thousand, it is supposed, at the present time inhabit its seas and oceans or dwell upon its islands and continents. These are fitted by their diversified organizations and instincts for every variety of physical condition and climate. Over the entire surface of the globe from the equator to the poles, wherever there exist the means of animal sustenance, there we find an appropriate fauna. Along the outer margins of the temperate zones where the seasons are marked by strong contrasts, and the abundant vegetation of an almost tropical summer is succeeded by ice and barrenness, we see displayed the most remarkable instincts and the most astonishing modes of developing and perpetuating life. Most of the feathered tribes on the approach of winter, guided by an unerring sense seek the ever verdant groves and savannas on the borders of the tropics, where amidst the profusion of a perpetual spring they obtain a plentiful subsistence. Insects gifted with feebler powers of flight are incapable of migration. Of these, by far the greater number perish, having made provision in the eggs or pupae which they leave behind them for a new generation the ensuing year. A few of the more hardy species bury themselves beneath the soil, or retire within the crevices of rocks and the hollows of old trees and there pass the cold season in a state of suspended animation. Such of the class of reptiles as are found in these latitudes, sheltered in similar ways from the severity of the frost, pass the winter months in a like torpid and insensible condition. Of the mammals, some like the bear and the marmot sink into a lethargic sleep, the supplies received into their systems during the preceding summer being sufficient to maintain their now reduced temperature, tardy respiration and slugglish vitality. Others like the beaver and the squirrel feed on provisions which they have previously stored away under the guidance of an instinct nearly resembling intelligence; while the carnivora, the ruminants and the most active of the rodants provided with a warmer and more abundant clothing still find a scanty subsistence amidst the snows of winter. In consequence of these wonderful endowments of life in the higher latitudes of the temperate zones, no sooner does the sun throw its rays more vertically, and under their genial influence, field and meadow, woodland and prairie brighten into verdure and beauty, than our ears are regaled by notes of melody poured forth from every tree-top and our eyes gladdened wherever we turn them by innumerable forms of animated and happy existence. Awaked from their long slumbers, or returned from climes far distant, multitudes of eager, joyous beings are seen on all sides, ready to partake of the varied bounties which nature is so lavishly spreading before them.
As there is no part of the earth, whatever its climate or physical condition, without inhabitants, so there is no production of the earth, whatever its character, but some animal or animals are found with appetites and powers of assimilation fitting them to derive sustenance from it. Indeed, few things in the arrangements and provisions of the outward world, impress a thoughtful mind more deeply than the care which is everywhere observed that nothing capable of supporting even the humblest form of sentient, conscious life should be lost. The lesson 60 emphatically taught by our Saviour in the direction given to his disciples after he had miraculously fed the multitude with the five loaves and two fishes, stands forth with equal prominence on every page of the book of nature. Not only are the endlessly diversified products of the earth appropriately distributed among the different classes of larger animals, but the fragments left by these are gathered up and made tributary to the sustenance of innumerable smaller tribes. A striking illustration of this wonderful economy of the Divine goodness is afforded in the class of insects. We never look upon these little beings without feelings of pleasure — they are so numerous, they cost so little, feeding for the most part upon what has been either rejected by other animals, or else thrown off as a useless excretion by vegetables; and yet they are so busy, and seem to be so happy; and when they have ended their transitory life, they become food to numerous species of the feathered tribe, and thus continue to pour their contributions into the general stream of happy existence. Nearly allied to the insect tribe in design, though lower in the scale of organized life, are the animalcules. These microscopic beings seem to have been created for the express purpose of turning to account these portions of nutrient matter, which, having escaped the other forms of the animated creation, pass off in a state of aqueous solution. They are found everywhere, but abound most in the waters of tropical climates, where the process of decay and reproduction is going on with the greatest activity. Within the compass of a few yards only, there are, probably, under such circumstances, more of these little animals, than there are human beings upon the whole face of the earth. And yet, if we may judge from the vivacity of their motions, each one is in a state of constant enjoyment
Besides the animals which derive their subsistence from the vegetable world, there is a very numerous class which feed upon other animals. An arrangement of this kind would at first, seem inconsistent with the benevolence of design characterizing the other provisions of the animal kingdom. But, on examination, it is found to be only a part of the same general plan, dictated equally by a regard #for the happiness of the beings affected by it. If there were no carnivorous animals, those which feed upon vegetables would rapidly multiply, till the earth would be no longer capable of supporting them. Famine and disease would then follow and whole races would perish in all the miseries of absolute starvation. By the introduction of a new class of animals depending for the materials of support upon those previously created, the evils arising from the want of sustenance among the herbivorous families are prevented, while at the same time, the happiness of this new class is entirely created. And with such care is the relative fecundity among the several species adjusted, that no one race becomes superabundant and no one is exterminated.
Such now is, and such always has been the economy of the Divine Being in conducting the affairs of this world. Having designed it as an instrument for the great end of producing happiness, he has, at every period of its existence, made use of all its capabilities for the accomplishment of that purpose. How well he has succeeded, it is not necessary to say. We suppose there is no one, who, on a fine summer’s morning, when all nature is full of life and motion, when the air, the earth, and the water, are each teeming with happy existence, when “the insect youth are on the wing,” and when every tree, and plant, and shrub, is swarming with its myriads of inhabitants, can look around him, and observe the countless beings which, on all sides, are every moment bursting into existence, with appetites keen for the gratification of sense, and limbs nimble for the delights of motion, and then consider, over how wide an extent of surface just such scenes as this are occurring, without his soul swelling within him, as he thinks of the amount of happiness which is thus constantly spread out beneath the eye of God, and which is continually sending up to him the incense of gratitude and praise. And further, when he reflects, that in the organization of each of these happy beings there is almost as great a display of contrivance and skill as in the wonderful mechanism of his own frame, he feels how infinite is the condescension of the divine beneficence, in comparison with the simplest and loveliest forms of human goodness. And when he thinks of the lesson designed to be taught by so sublime an exhibition of benevolence, he is ready to respond to the sentiment of the poet, —
We have thus far considered only the forms of happiness which a beneficent Creator has provided in common for all his sensitive creatures. It remains to inquire what further and peculiar proofs of his goodness he has furnished in the constitution of our own race. As man is by far the most highly endowed being on our globe — the last crowning work of the terrestrial creation — formed as we are taught by inspiration in the image of his Maker, we should expect to find in him a fuller revelation of the divine character. Nor are we disappointed. Not only do we see the principles of conduct controlling the previous manifestations of the wisdom and power of God more fully illustrated here, but we recognize the influence of other moral attributes whose existence could not have been inferred from aught we behold in the lower orders of the animal creation. Of these, however, we do not propose now to speak. They may perhaps form the subject of a subsequent essay, but at present we shall confine our attention to the additional proofs of the divine benevolence afforded in the peculiar endowments of man. These will be found not so much in his superior bodily organization as in the higher faculties of his soul — more especially in his power of apprehending the beautiful, the true and the good — and in his capacity of deriving pleasure from them. The various forms of happiness immediately dependent upon the ministry of the senses would seem to be very widely enjoyed and constitute it is probable the common heritage of all the higher classes and orders of animals. They affect in our case, it is true, a more exalted spiritual nature and derive greater dignity and importance from this circumstance. Many of the affections also, which with them are but t instinctive and temporary, ennobled by association with a loftier intellect and sustained and strengthened by moral reflection, become with us elevated and permanent sentiments, clothing with joy and beauty all the relations of life, and spreading a mantle of perpetual freshness and verdure over even the waste places of existence. Still, however, it is undoubtedly in the higher powers and sensibilities of the soul, to which no bodily organs directly minister, that we must look for the distinguishing characteristics and true glory of man. It is these that raise him so incomparably above the brute creation. It is the possession of these that allies him to spiritual intelligences — makes him but a little lower than the angels and fits him for becoming their companion.
Nor has the Creator confined his beneficence to the endowment of our race with these high capacities. He has placed us in circumstances every way suited to them — in a world adapted not only to supply our more gross and material wants, but to minister to the finer sensibilities of the spirit — a world robed in beauty, pervaded by harmony and radiant in every part with his own glorious perfections. There is, perhaps, no part of our nature, for the exercise and gratification of which, more universal provision has been made than the faculty of taste. Everything around us addresses it, and there are few objects which do not minister to our happiness through it. The green earth, and the blue o’er-arching sky; the vast expanse of the ocean, forever heaving and tossing, and beating with ceaseless wave the rocky barriers that confine it; the mountain lifting its giant side laden with forest and glacier, up through the region of clouds and tempests to bathe its snow-clad summit in perpetual sunshine; the mighty cataract, poured as from the hand of the Almighty, and in its ceaseless flow notching in the solid rock the cycles of ages; the glorious orb of day, when first he shoots his orient beams “aslant the dew-bright earth and colored air,” or having climbed the high arch of heaven pours rom its azure vault his noonday heat, o r declining to the western horizon gilds with his setting rays cloud and hill-top, woods and meadow; the starry canopy of night veiling with darkness the narrow circle of the terrestrial scenery, but uncovering the celestial — opening to mortal vision the universal realm of space blazing through all its measureless depths with unnumbered suns equal in splendor to our own — these awaken in the mind of the beholder varied indeed, but still pleasurable emotions. Equally in harmony with this endowment of the spirit are the minor objects with which the Creator has adorned the scene of our earthly existence. The tinkling rill threading its way through copse and meadow, the noisy brook urging its impetuous course along the plain or down the hill-side, and the majestic river, rolling onward its mass of waters, laden with the commerce of nations, towards that ocean with which they are soon to mingle; the swelling bud, the expanding leaf, the opening flower, the waving harvest and the golden fruit; the tender plant bending its delicate and graceful form before the summer breeze, and the moss-grown oak whose sturdy trunk and outspread branches have braved the storms of a hundred winters; the swallow cutting with pliant wing the liquid air, the lark rising from the dewy lawn and “singing up to heaven’s gate,” the little humming-bird as, poised in air and gleaming in satin and gold, he sips from the painted flower-cup its nectared sweets, and the lordly eagle stooping from his aerial flight to bear away in his powerful talons the unwary hare or the defenceless lambkin; the graceful deer, the fleet gazelle, the stately elephant, the majestic lion, the human form and face divine, all kindle in the soul a like sense of joy and gladness. Whichever way we turn, the eye is greeted by beauty and the ear drinks in melody. Aside from the adaptedness of the objects with which the Creator has surrounded us to their several uses, a mysterious and indescribable attraction is spread over the entire face of nature, and breathes instinctive from all her forms. It is the benignant expression of goodness — the smile of the father’s love added to the rich provisions he has made for the welfare of his children.
Nor is the divine benevolence less conspicuous in the sensibility of the human soul to the forms of truth revealed around and within it The desire to know is one of the strongest and most operative principles of our nature. It is not confined to any age, character or condition. It manifests itself equally in the simple ‘why’ and ‘what makes it’ of the untaught child, and in the laborious researches and profound investigations of the natural philosopher; in the busy curiosity of the unoccupied citizen who spends his time “in nothing else, but either to tell or to hear some new thing,” and in the untiring devotion of the scholar, poring with bended form over the classic pages of ancient or modern lore. It is continually prompting to action under all the varied conditions and circumstances of life, and the pleasures arising from its gratification constitute no inconsiderable portion of the entire sum of human happiness. This is true of it regarded in its ordinary manifestations and as directed to the more usual objects. But, when it is associated with high intellectual endowments, and raised above the petty interests of vulgar curiosity to the sublime truths pertaining to God, man, and the universe, it becomes a source of enjoyment the purest and most exalted of which we can have any experience in the present state. And how ample are the materials provided for ministering to it in this divinest of all its forms, how glorious are the vistas opened on every-side into the infinity of being around us, how rich a beneficent Creator has thus made the heritage of mind, it is scarcely necessary to say. Whether we regard the displays of the Divine wisdom and power directly about us and within our immediate view, this ponderous globe with its mighty burden of oceans and continents teeming throughout with myriads of living organized beings, as hung in its orbit, it plunges through space with a velocity of more than a thousand miles to the minute; the material atoms composing it, indestructible, unalterable, connected with one another by the most mysterious relationships and endowed with exhaustless energies, varying in their outward manifestations with every new condition, but in essence remaining always the same, the source of all physical causation, evolving by their ceaseless action the entire assemblage of the terrestrial phenomena; the subtle principle of heat, invisible, intangible, without form or weight, or any of the sensible attributes of materiality, like the Being who created it ever present and ever active, and like Him revealing itself only through its effects, surrounding all things, pervading all things, and quickening all things, dissolving by its subtle force the strong bands of cohesion and as with spear of Ithuriel exciting the liberated atoms to either their gentlest or their fiercest play; light shooting through space like the glance of the Omnipotent One, or at the magic touch of the prism untwisting its braided and parti-colored beams into threads of as varied hues as his own benevolence — or going back through the untold ages of the past to that remote epoch in the history of our planet when it first assumed a habitable condition, trace the successive changes which it has undergone, the different forms of vegetable and animal life which have one after another appeared upon it, the mighty series of physical and organic developments of which it has been the theatre — or retiring from this scene of sublunary changes, back into the depths of immensity, until the world we inhabit is lost in the distance and the entire planetary system of which it forms so insignificant a part has dwindled to a mere point, there amid the splendors of a new heavens behold the wonders of creative power which still surround us — or turning from the various forms of material grandeur, gaze in upon the human soul, which besides containing in itself a world of unexplored mystery and transcendant beauty, reflects so purely from its serene depths the whole outward creation; or with awe and trembling lift our rapt vision to the great Being of whose boundless perfections this glorious universe is but the bright emanation, and in whose nearer presence angelic beings veil their faces, we behold all around, within, beneath and above us radiant with unimaginable splendors and our hearts swell with emotions of joy and gratitude unutterable as we thus survey the grandeur and glory of the spiritual birth-right which our Heavenly Father has bestowed upon us even while here clothed in the habiliments of mortality and dwelling in tabernacles of flesh.
But, however pure or exhaustless the sources of happiness thus opened in the forms of being around us, these alone are not sufficient to satisfy the demands of our whole nature. Back of the taste and intellect, the faculties immediately addressed by them, there is a pro-founder sensibility which they do not reach — a deeper capacity for enjoyment which they cannot fill. Nay, were there nothing beyond these, the external universe with all its magnificence and glory would be but a vast wilderness, from whose solitary depths not a single voice would come to quicken into life the moral and social elements of our being. These diviner endowments of the spirit respond only to spiritual qualities or affections — to the pure in thought, the beautiful in sentiment, the god-like in virtue and the sublime in devotion and love. They hold no relationship whatever with the outward form or character of either material or immaterial existences. Heart only can answer to heart, and mind to mind, and soul to soul. It is the identity of spiritual nature that constitutes the electric chain of sympathy running through the whole human family and uniting them into one common brotherhood — along which the orator and bard send their breathing thoughts and burning words and become immortal. It is the golden links of fellowship that bind to the heart of the Christian scholar the inspired verse of David and Isaiah, and that hold the student in classic lore to the glowing pages of Homer and Demosthenes, of Horace, Virgil and Cicero. It is the deep chords of moral feeling pervading and underlying the whole mental structure which breathe through the soul its most exquisite harmonies, and which once struck by the master spirits of our race continue to vibrate through all succeeding time. Indeed, it is through this part of our nature that the sublime and beautiful in the outward world have their chief power over us. Detach from these the spiritual associations which we instinctively connect with them and they no longer move us. Extinguish the light of the indwelling soul and the human form and face would lose all their divinity and the most perfect work of the Creator become a mere piece of colored and figured matter. The sweetest melodies of woodland songsters, but for the joy that animates them and inspires their rapturous notes, would quickly cease to please us. We should look with comparative indifference upon the beautifully-formed leaf or the graceful and delicately-chiselled spray did we know that no mind had conceived it and no hand formed it, and that no eyes but our own had ever gazed upon its trembling loveliness. The surpassing glories of a winter’s night, apart from all idea of the great Being, who created the innumerable worlds disclosed to our view, framed their vast orbits and by his powerful arm sped them on their endless career of revolution, and who is each moment accomplishing by these mighty instrumentalities wise and beneficent purposes, would scarcely awaken a single emotion of sublimity or kindle one aspiration to become acquainted with the laws which govern the celestial mechanism. In all the deeper feelings inspired by the objects of external nature, there is a latent and unconscious it may be, but still actual recognition of the conceiving mind and forming hand; and it is this recognition which chiefly stirs us. The poet is thus conducted through his mere sensibilities to the same sublime doctrines of theism at which the philosopher arrives by the more circuitous processes of the reason and the understanding. Had the author of the beautiful lines to Mount Blanc been made acquainted with its entire history from the time when it first emerged from the waters of a primeval ocean to the present hour, the wonders thus revealed could not have impressed upon him more deeply the great truth which he so eloquently utters, than did that silent and awful form as it rose majestically before him.
Thus are we led by all the objects around us and by every faculty within us, up to the Creator and Author of all things, “in whom we live and move and have our being,” and with whom the soul through all its higher instincts is continually struggling for communion and sympathy. To this it makes all the manifestations of the Divine power and wisdom — all the revelations of the Divine will and character, plans and purposes immediately tributary. In this alone can its burning aspirations and ever-restless desires find permanent satisfaction and repose. Even in the profoundest emotions of human love and sympathy, in the most exstatic moments of terrene bliss, there is a want of that full and perfect fruition for which the soul was made and of which it feels itself capable. It seeks for a still nearer intercourse, a yet closer union, in which no material barrier, no veil of flesh, “no obstacle of membrane, joint or limb” shall intervene to prevent perfect commingling and interfusion of spirit. Such communion it can hold in the present state only with its Maker. It must be sought, not in the outward forms of ceremonial pomp and splendor, not in the solemn temple,
but in the silent worshipping of a meek and humble spirit, in the exercise of true penitence, of sincere and devout gratitude and of sublime faith and love. When thus sought, it will not be denied. When thus approached by a believing and contrite soul, the Almighty Creator of the universe, He who filleth immensity by his presence and inhabiteth eternity, condescends to reveal himself in a fulness of peace and joy, which shedding its light on all around, not only gilds with new glory each inferior blessing, but makes even the sorrows of life bright with a more than earthly beauty. Besides the other proofs of his benevolence— in addition to the rich provisions made for the supply of our material wants and the still richer inheritance conferred upon us as spiritual beings, the great Author of all things, the giver of every good and perfect gift, vouchsafes himself. Not limiting his favor to the bestowment of every external blessing, he opens within the soul a source of perennial happiness — a fountain of living waters of which they who drink thirst not any more, but, whose stream, as the shallow rills of earthly joy, one after another dry up and disappear, only grows broader and deeper, and as all the higher endowments of our nature bid us hope and as we are expressly taught in the revealed word of God, is destined to flow on forever.
Such are the proofs of the Divine goodness. So varied and so abundant are the provisions which a beneficent Creator has made for the welfare of his creatures. Everything, whether in their own constitution organic and spiritual, or in the circumstances under which they are placed, is so designed as either directly or indirectly to minister to it. Even the destruction of life and of the means of enjoyment occasionally produced by the warring elements — by fire, wind and water, by the earthquake and the volcano — as well as the suffering attendant upon disease and injury, instead of being so many proofs of the Divine wrath, as they have too often been regarded, or of indicating on the part of the Supreme Being a disregard to the welfare of his creatures, when seen in their proper connections, reveal agencies and provisions, in their ordinary and legitimate operation purely beneficent. Nor are we able to conceive of any modification of the general scheme or system of things whereby these incidental evils might be avoided, and at the same time the proposed ends secured. So far as we can see, they grow necessarily out of the conditions under which all organized beings have their existence. The happiness enjoyed by these beings, on the other hand is the object of special design — the direct result of innumerable contrivances, all looking towards it, and the greater part accomplishing their sole purpose in ministering to it. The most extended survey of the Creator’s works, therefore, only serves to verify and confirm the ideas of his character derived from the immediate and instinctive suggestions of our moral nature. The light which shines so clearly from within, is met, whichever way we turn, by an answering beam of equal brightness. The Divine benevolence is as visibly written on each and every part of the universe lying within the sphere of our observation as the Divine wisdom. Nay, it is only through the subordination of the mighty assemblage of means and instrumentalities included in it, to beneficent and worthy ends, that the Divine wisdom is manifested.
|1) This, and one or two subsequent paragraphs are taken with but slight alterations from an article published some years since in the Christian Review.|