Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

portion of our own. Much less can we form an adequate idea of all the pleasures and pains, the joys and griefs, of all the individuals, families, and nations, which are dispersed over the face of the earth. This were far beyond the reach of our observation, as well as of our sagacity.

It is plain, therefore, that we can judge of the complexion of the universe only by considering the influence of those general laws by which every event is produced, and which operate invariably at all times, in all places, upon all individuals. And if we find that those general laws are universally benevolent, notwithstanding the evils unavoidably connected with them, we may rationally conclude that the world is, upon the whole, happy.

But why were general laws established at all, when so much misery is the result?

That general laws are not only consistent with, but necessarily flow from, the goodness of God, will appear, if we reflect that man is an assemblage of various powers, the exertion of which constitutes his proper happiness; and that, were the universe not governed by general laws, or were these laws not discoverable by man, he could neither have any incitement to action, nor any sphere of activity; but ever conscious of powers he was doomed never to exert, or to exert in vain, he must at last sink into a state of utter despondency.

Supposing then the human mind to be such as we know it is, it was necessary that through all nature there should not only be a constitution of general laws, but that these laws shonld be maintained inviolable. For every interruption must be proportionably attended with the same pernicious effects as would arise from their being totally abolished. No private interest of individuals, therefore; no public good, but of the most comprehensive and important nature; nothing but what deeply affects the grand design of creation, can induce the Creator to violate the established order of the universe: and to expect such an interposition on any other occasion, would be be just as unreasonable as ito refuse our assent to it on this.

The several kinds of evil which exist in the world, may all be traced up to certain general laws, which, though the occasional sources of misery, yet in their original design are most benevolent, and in their constant effects most salutary.

We may be satisfied of this, if we only confine ourselves to the consideration of man; not qnly because the human frame is what we are best acquainted with, but also because, within the compass of this, we find all the varieties of evils which infest the whole creation. For, as the nature of man is partly animal and partly rational, he is not only liable to the same external evils as the inferior creatures, but also exposed to many internal evils from which they are exempt. Let us take a distinct view of both parts of his frame, of the general laws to which both are subject, and of the evils resulting from these laws respectively.

First, when we reflect upon the human body, having its basis formed of solid bone; clothed with sinews and muscles, adapted to every variety of motion; strung with nerves, and nourished by veins and arteries, branching throughout its whole substance, as well as furnished with many curious organs of sense; it appears to be constructed in the most perfect manner for agility, strength, ornament, and subserviency to the mind. Yet, notwithstanding this admirable construction of our frame, the several parts of which it is composed are liable to be frequently deranged; in consequence of which they are disabled for their respective offices, and, instead of ministering to ease and enjoyment, become avenues to pain and disease. Whence these derangements, with all their fatal effects? If we trace them to their ultimate source, we shall find that they arise from those general laws, on which depend not only the welfare, but the existence, both of the individual and of the species.

Since the body, by being kept in constant action, is liable to considerable waste; what can be more admirable than the ample provision of food which Providence has made for all living creatures! But when the supply is more or less than adequate to the waste, the effect is, and must be, various diseases, and untimely deaths. Nor is this constitution repugnant to benevolence; since it is calculated both to excite that industry which is as necessary to the enjoyment as to the support of life, and to set bounds to that luxurious indulgence, which, while it is fatal to the higher pleasures of the mind, would deprive numbers of necessary sustenance, in order to gratify one insatiate appetite.

Not less necessary than food, is the air we breathe. Accordingly, there is the highest reason to adore the

lom of Providence, which has diffused this wonderful fluid so abundantly round the earth, yet it is corrupted, even in ministering to life; and the most balmy and refreshing gales oftentimes carry on their wings a fatal poison; and then, to purify the atmosphere, winds are let loose, the sea is thrown into commotion, and the land desolated with tempests. But who would wish this fountain of universal life to be annihilated, because, when stagnant, it is the medium of contagion, and, when agitated, of tempests?

Again, from that law whereby all creatures derive their origin from others of the same species, arise all the tender relations of human life; and along with them, the most amiable affections of human nature: yet, in consequence hereof, what a complicated train of miseries is brought into the world! Hence those intemperate pursuits of pleasure, which enervate the body and corrupt the mind : hence those hereditary diseases, which often flow through the veins of successive generations: hence some of the most fatal disorders which prevail in society, the most tragical events which are recorded in the history of mankind. And thus the most destructive evils insinuate themselves where Providence has been visibly most attentive to our good. Nor, in this respect, is there any difference between internal diseases and external accidents. Deriving numberless advantages from our connection with the creation around us, and for this pur20.

4 M

pose formed of the like materials, our bodies are necessarily subject to the same laws which affect all similar substances. Whatsoever has the power of burning, bruising, piercing, or destroying the texture of other bodies, will necessarily produce the same effects on the body of man; yet, by means of those very qualities which render them hurtful and destructive, they become most valuable blessings, and greatly contribute to render the world a commodious and agreeable habitation.

Thus fire, that active penetrating element, which scarcely any substance can resist, compounds some bodies, and separates others; hardens the soft, and dissolves the hard; and, with the aid of human skill, causes them to assume a variety of forms both useful and ornamental. When applied in a more moderate degree, it diffuses a grateful warmth, supplies both to animals and vegetables the place of the sun in his absence, tempers the rigour of inclement seasons and the coldest climates, and changes into a comfortable abode some of the most inhospitable parts of the globe: yet by this most useful element, when it rages beyond the usual boundaries, we see the bounties of nature and the productions of art at once destroyed ; and not only the most valuable possessions, but even the lives of men, become a prey to its destructive violence.

In like manner, both air and water, the benefits of which cannot be enumerated,—the invaluable metal, without which scarcely any of the arts can subsist a moment,—the strong timber, so useful in framing our habitations,-the hard stone, which lasts from age to age without decay,—and all the natural productions which the earth offers to human ingenuity,--may become the dreadful ministers of death. But the advantages arising from them are continual, and the evils only incidental.

If, from its prodactions, we extend our view to the globe itself, we find it situated in such a manner, that its inhabitants may receive the least possible injury, and the greatest possible advantage. The sun is so placed

as to warm and enlighten, without consuming it. The moon is sufficiently near to raise the tides of the sea, without overwhelming the land; and the immeasurable distance of the stars which adorn the firmament prevents them from sensibly diminishing the coolness of the night. Yet, after all, we are not exempt from scorching summers and freezing winters; and while one part of the globe is exposed to sultry heats, the opposite part is equally exposed to piercing cold. This very circumstance, however, demonstrates that the present situation of the earth is the most eligible. Suspended as it is between the two fierce extremes of beat and cold, no region of it is uninhabitable : but were either of these extremes to be increased, half mankind must be consumed, or frozen into statues. And thus, notwithstanding our experience of partial inconveniences, we can trace the operation of benevolence and order, from the world which we inhabit, to the remotest regions of the universe.

From the foregoing instances, it appears that bodily diseases and accidents are the effect of general laws, which could not be abolished without introducing much greater evil. But, besides this, frorn the uniform operation of these laws, we are enabled, for the most part, to avail ourselves of their advantages, and escape their inconveniences. Accordingly, we find no malady, no disaster, to which the human frame is liable, however terrible in its symptoms, which is not to be relieved, or at least mitigated, by those healing powers which reside in almost every region of nature. What then is wanting but some powerful instinct, which may outstrip the slow procedure of reason, and irresistibly impel us to seek for that relief which Providence has prepared? Consider, therefore, what expedient nature employs to allure us to those things which are conducive to our being, or well-being. Has she not to these invariably annexed the sensation of pleasure ? What then ought to be connected with that which tends to our hurt or destruction, but the opposite sensation of pain? By the former we are drawn with a ' pleasing violence to whatever is beneficial; by the latter

« ПредишнаНапред »