Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

tive poetry of him who often pictures what all must have felt, yet never may have reflected upon—and which confers such an interest on the performance of one man, when he holds up to another man the mirror of himself—and which invests the philosophic sage who has made our common nature the province of his studious and skilful observation, with the credit of being a quick and a powerful discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart—one perhaps who can pierce and divide asunder his way through all the dormancies of another's unconsciousness, and can awaken in the bosom of many a disciple such recollections as had been long asleep, and out of these recollections can furnish each with his own image so as that he himself may recognize it. And thus again, without an argumentative process at all, without inference and without logical demonstration, but solely by judicious statements recommending themselves and approving their own truth to every man's conscience, may new and sound and most important lessons of moral wisdom be conveyed.

26. II. The second branch of the experimental evidence which we proposed to expound, lies in the accordancy between what the Bible overtures for our acceptance, and what we feel ourselves to need. Like the first it requires a comparison between the objective and the subjective. Even previous to our contemplation of the overtures of relief, our felt need of relief could only have arisen from a regard had by us to both—that is, to the objective, when we think of the character of God

the lawgiver; and to the subjective, when we think of our own character as the subjects of His law. With our actual moral nature, we cannot escape from the impression of a reigning and righteous sovereign, who cannot be mocked, but whose authority, if trampled on, must be some way vindicated and maintained. On the other hand, we can as little escape from the consciousness of being defaulters to that high and holy government under which we sit; and the most direct and palpable vindication of which were the condemnation and adequate punishment of the offenders. And thus a sense of our disruption from God, and of His displeasure against us may be said to haunt us continually. It is true that, for the greater part of life, we live in a state of exemption from this sore disquietude—not however because we have laid our confident hold on any relief or reconciliation which has been authentically proposed to us; but because, in the manifold engagements of the world, we have the faculty of committing the whole subject to oblivion, and can live at ease, simply because the thought of an angry God or of a coming vengeance is away

from our hearts. It is not because we have made up the quarrel; but it is when we forget the quarrel, that we slumber in the tranquillity of our deep and fatal unconsciousness. When made fully awake to the realities of our condition, there is an unavoidable sense of necessity and of danger; and, with even nothing but the theology of conscience brought home to the bosom of guilty man, there is enough to excite his fears in the apprehended frown of the God who is above him,

in the anticipated terrors of the judgment which is before him.

27. On this subject conscience, when once made alive, gets the better of all those representations which are made of God, by the expounders of a poetic or sentimental theism.

There is a disposition to merge all the characteristics of the divinity into one : and while with many of our most eminent writers, the exuberant goodness, the soft and yielding benignity, the mercy that overlooks and makes liberal allowance for the infirmities of human weakness, have been fondly and most abundantly dwelt upon-there has been what the French would call, if not a studied, at least an actually observed reticence, on the subject of His truth and purity and His hatred of moral evil. There can be no government without a law; and the question is little entertained—how are the violations of that law to be disposed of ? Every law has its sanctions -the hopes of proffered reward on the one hand, the fears of threatened vengeance upon the other. Is the vengeance to be threatened only, but never to be executed ? Is guilt only to be dealt with by proclamations that go before, but never by punishments that are to follow ? What becomes of the truth or the dignity of heaven's government–if man is to rebel, and God, stripped of every attribute but tenderness, can give no demonstration of His incensed and violated majesty ? There is positively no law, if there be not a force and a certainty in its sanctions. Take away from jurisprudence its penalties, or, what were still worse, let the penalties only be denounced but never be exacted; and we

reduce the whole to an unsubstantial mockery. The fabric of moral government falls to pieces ; and, instead of a great presiding authority in the universe, we have a subverted throne and a degraded sovereign. If the lawgiver in his treatment of sin is to betray a perpetual vacillation; if at one time sin shall be the object of high-sounding but empty menaces, and at another be connived at or even looked to by an indulgent God with complacency; if there is only to be the parade of a judicial economy, without any of its power or its performance; if the truth is only to be kept in the promises of reward, but as constantly to be receded from in the threats of vengeance ; if the judge is thus to be lost in the overweening parent-then there is positively nothing of a moral government over us but the name. We are not the subjects of God's authority; we are but the fondlings of his regard. Under a system like this, the whole universe would drift as it were into a state of anarchy; and, in the uproar of this wild misrule, the King who sitteth on high, would lose his hold on the creation that he had formed.

28. It is impossible to pursue this speculation into its consequences, without being shut up unto the conclusion, that there is indeed a moral government; and, if so, that there is indeed a law with its accompanying sanctions; and, again if so, that guilt and condemnation, that sin and punishment, follow in the train of each other. Now what we complain of is, that, in the great majority of our writers on Natural Theism, while a moral government is admitted in the general, the doctrine is not

at all carried out to its specific applications. There is nothing done to dispose of the palpable fact which glares so obviously upon us, that the rule of this government has been transgressed by every individual of the human species; and that all, without exception, have become amenable to the high jurisdiction of heaven for their gross and repeated violations of it.

Either this government then must resign its authority and honour; or man is in that fearful dilemma, from which it deeply concerns one and all of us to know how it is that we can possibly be extricated. Now this is a question which the advocates of Natural Theism have scarcely ever offered to dispose of. By far the greatest number of them have blinked it altogether, or at least left it wholly unresolved. It remains with almost every one of them in the state of an unsettled problem; and though both the character of God and the destinies of man are most essentially involved in it, yet if touched by any, it is with a very delicate and undecided hand. It is no vindication, that it lies not within the limits of their department. It is very true, that it lies not within their limits in the shape of a doctrine. But it lies within their limits in the shape of a desideratum. They know as much both of the “ Quid oportetand the quid est,as to assure them of the conclusion, that all men have done despite to the authority of heaven—and the yet unresolved difficulty is, how can it consist with the truth and the unchangeableness of this authority, that the High and the Holy One, whose dwelling-place is among the sublimities of an unapproachable sacredness, how

« ZurückWeiter »