« ПредишнаНапред »
whole planetary system from the sun as the central point, and their measurements become heliocentric instead of geocentric. All inquirers into heavenly truth, proceeding in an inductive method, must, like astronomers, begin with the earth ; but after having proceeded a certain length, and determined that there is a God, they may view all things as from heaven. It is when surveyed from both points that we attain the clearest idea of their exact nature and relation one to another, and to God.
The finite cannot comprehend the infinite, and so no man should presume to point out all the ways in which a God of unbounded resources might govern the universe. It is conceivable, in particular, that he might have ordered the affairs of this world in some other way than by the method of general laws.
Superficial thinkers are apt to conclude that there is a necessity of some kind for the existence of these laws. But we have only to view this world from the point from which God surveyed it at its creation, to discover that it was at least possible for God to act after a different method. The determination to govern the world by general laws was an act of the Divine mind, swayed by allwise reasons and motives, and not at all by stern necessity.
It is not difficult to discover the utility of this method of action. It is the regularity of the laws of nature which leads us to put confidence in them, and enables us to use them. Without such order and uniformity, man would have no motive to industry, no incentive to activity. Disposed to action, he would ever find action to be useless, for he could not ascertain the tendency, and much less the exact effect, of any step taken by him, or course of action adopted. Suppose that, instead of rising regularly at a known time, the sun were to appear and disappear like a meteor, no one being able to say where, or when, or how,—all human exertion would cease in a feeling of utter hopelessness. If, instead of returning in a regular manner, the seasons were to follow each other capriciously, so that spring might be immediately succeeded by winter, and summer preceded by autumn, then the labour of the husbandman would be at an end, and the human race would perish from the earth. In such a state of things mankind would not have sufficient motive to do such a common act as to partake of food, for they could not anticipate that food might support them. With such a system, or rather want of system, pervading the world, suspicion and alarm would reign in every breast ; man would sink into indolence, with all the accompanying evils of reckless audacity and vice ; "fears would be in the way," and he would dread the approach of danger from every quarter ; feel himself confused as in a dream, or lost as in darkness ; or rather, after leading a brief and troubled existence, he would disappear from the earth. “Now, if nature,” says Hooker, in a passage, which we quote for its masculine old English, as well as the correctness of its sentiment, “should intermit her course, and leave altogether, though it were but for a while, the observation of her own laws—if those principal and mother elements, whereof all things in this lower world are made, should lose the qualities which they now have—if the frame of that heavenly arch erected over our heads should loose and dissolve itself—if celestial spheres should forget their wonted motions, and, by irregular volubility, turn themselves any way as it might happen-if the prince of the lights of heaven, which now as a giant doth run his unwearied course, should, as it were, through a languishing faintness, begin to stand and to rest himself -if the moon should wander from her beaten way—the times and seasons blend themselves by disordered and confused mixture, the winds breathe out their last gasp, the clouds yield no rain, the earth be defeated of heavenly influence, the fruits of the earth pine away as children at the withered breast of their mother, no longer able to yield them relief-what would become of man himself, whom these things do now all serve ?”
How unreasonable, then, as well as ungrateful, the conduct of those who fail to discover the presence of God in His works, and that because of the existence of these laws, so beautiful in themselves, and benignant in their aspect towards us. Every person sees that the blessings which God lavished upon the Hebrews in that desert which now supports but four thousand of a population, but was made to support upwards of two millions and a half for a period of forty years, were not the less, but all the more, the gifts of God, from the circumstance that they were bestowed in a somewhat regular manner. No one will affirm that the manna was the less bountiful proof of the care of God, because, in order to suit the convenience of the Israelites, it did not fall irregularly, but at periodical intervals, and was gathered every morning, that those who partook of it might be strengthened for the journey of the day. And will any one maintain that our daily food is less the gift of God, because it is sent not at random, but in appointed ways, and at certain seasons, that we may be prepared to receive it? Was the water of which the Israelites drank less beneficent, because it followed them all the way through the wilderness ? No one will affirm that it was; and yet there are persons who feel as if they did not require to be grateful for the water of which they drink, because it comes to them from the clouds of heaven, and the fountains which gush from the earth.
We condemn the Hebrews when we read of their ingratitude, and yet we imitate their conduct. When the manna first fell, and they saw abundance of food on the bare face of the desert, gratitude heaved in every breast, and the bounty of God was acknowledged by all. How short a time elapsed till this gratitude was turned into apathy and indifference; and they began to look upon the manna in much the same light as we look upon the dews of the evening, or the crops in harvest—as something regular and customary, the denial of which might justify complaint, but the bestowal of which was not calculated to call forth thankfulness. Because the water flowed with them through all their journey, so that the heat of a burning sun could not exhale it, nor the thirsting sand of the desert drink it up,—just because it continued all the time as fresh and as cool as when it leapt from its parent rock, the Israelites came to regard it with as little wonder as we do the stream which may run past our dwelling. The pillar of cloud hung continually before them, so that the rays of a meridian sun could not dissipate it, nor the winds of heaven drive it away ; and they came last to be no more grateful for it than we usually are for the light of the sun returning every morning. Just because this pillar of cloud was kindled into a pillar of fire every evening, they became as familiar with it as we are with the stars which God lights up nightly in the firmament. The younger portion of the people, born in the desert, and long accustomed to these wonders, may have come to look upon them as altogether natural; and would no more be surprised at the sight of the fiery pillar, casting its lurid glare upon the sands, than we are with the meteor that flashes across the evening sky. Does it not appear as if it were the very frequency of the gift, and the regularity of its coming, which lead mankind to forget the Giver ? It is as if a gift were left every morning at our door, and we were at length to imagine that it came alone without being sent. It is as if the widow, whose barrel of meal and cruise of oil were blessed by the prophet, had come at length to imagine that there was nothing supernatural in the transaction, just because the barrel of meal did not waste, and the cruise of oil did not fail.
Method of the Divine Government.
It is a strange thing how little in general people know about
It is the part of creation in which nature has done more for the sake of pleasing man,-more for the sole and evident purpose of talking to him and teaching him, than in any other of her works ; and it is just the part in which we least attend to her. There are not many of her other works in which some more material or essential purpose than the mere pleasing of man, is not answered, by every part of their organisation ; but
every essential purpose of the sky might, so far as we know, be answered, if once in three days, or thereabouts, a great, ugly, black rain-cloud were brought up over the blue, and everything well watered, and so all left blue again till next time, with perhaps a film of morning and evening mist for dew. And, instead of this, there is not a moment, of any day of our lives, when nature is not producing scene after scene, picture after picture, glory after glory; and working still upon such exquisite and constant principles of the most perfect beauty, that it is quite certain it is all done for us, and intended for our perpetual pleasure. And every man, wherever placed, however far from other sources of interest or of beauty, has this doing for him constantly. The noblest scenes of the earth can be seen and known but by few; it is not intended that man should live always in the midst of them ; he injures them by his presence ; he ceases to feel them if he be always with them. But the sky is for all. Bright as it is, it is not
“Too bright, and good,
For human nature's daily food ;” It is fitted, in all its functions, for the perpetual comfort and exalting of the heart ; for the soothing it, and purifying it from its dross and dust. Sometimes gentle, sometimes capricious, sometimes awful, never the same for two moments together ;
almost human in its passions ; almost spiritual in its tenderness : almost divine in its infinity,—its appeal to what is immortal in us, is as distinct as its ministry of chastisement or of blessing to what is mortal is essential. And yet we never attend to it, we never make it a subject of thought, but as it has to do with our animal sensations; we look upon all by which it speaks to us more clearly than to brutes, upon all which bears witness to the intention of the Supreme,—that we are to receive more from the covering vault than the light and the dew, which we share with the weed and the worm,-only as a succession of meaningless and monotonous accidents, too coinmon and too vain to be worthy of a moment of watchfulness, or a glance of admiration. If, in our moments of utter idleness and insipidity, we turn to the sky as a last resource, which of its phenomena do we speak of? One says it has been wet, and another, it has been windy, and another, it has been warm.
Who among the whole chattering crowd can tell me of the forms and the precipices of the chain of tall white mountains that girded the horizon at noon yesterday? Who saw the narrow sunbeam that came out of the south, and smote upon their summits, until they melted and mouldered away in a dust of blue rain ? Who saw the dance of the dead clouds when the sunlight left them last night, and the west wind blew them before it like withered leaves ? All has passed, unregretted as unseen ; or, if the apathy be ever shaken off, even for an instant, it is only by what is gross, or what is extraordinary ; and yet it is not in the broad and fierce manifestations of the elemental energies, not in the clash of the hail, nor the drift of the whirlwind, that the highest characters of the sublime are developed. God is not in the earthquake, nor in the fire, but in the still small voice. They are but the blunt and the low faculties of our nature, which can only be addressed through lampblack and lightning. It is in quiet and subdued passages of unobtrusive majesty, the deep, and the calm, and the perpetual,—that which must be sought ere it is seen, and loved ere it is understood,—things which the angels work out for us daily, and yet vary eternally; which are never wanting, and never repeated ; which are to be found always, yet each found but once ; it is through these that the lesson of devotion is chiefly taught, and the blessing of beauty given.