Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

in

devising a remedy, no prospect of improving the species by patient toil and care. In short, as far as this monotonous system of perfection prevailed, its influence would be to shed a listless torpor over the faculties of man. Nor would it serve to exempt any supposed domain of human industry from the paralyzing operation of the rule; since man's charter embraces the whole earth, stimulating energy and research into nature's laws by the reward proposed, and we cannot pronounce that any part of this inheritance can never subserve his wants, or become the object of his labor and attention. Besides, such a discrimination as that supposed would be repugnant to man's intellectual nature; for it would seem a capricious decree, impairing the unity of the general plan confusing and obliterating the analogies that bind the parts of creation together, and weakening the force of the moral lesson taught by the inviolability of natural laws. Monstrous formations are but other examples of defective organisms. A peach blossom without a germ, though really a monster, volves no more difficulty than a blighted and shrunken peach. Aborted forms of the higher animal life surprise and shock us more, from peculiar associations, but they follow the same analogy. Nor is it correct to speak of an organism as passing at birth from nature's hand. Throughout its course—from the first deposit of the cell that forms the nucleus of the germ, till the vital principle is extinguished, and the chemical affinities commence their disorganizing work-the same hand guides its development and works its decay. If, then, a formation abnormal from birth is a blot on nature's works, the untimely destruction of a more perfect organism must be viewed in the same light. But much more rational it appears to us to regard such seeming blemishes as parts of some high plan of celestial wisdom reaching beyond the fate of mere physical forms, and embracing moral designs which the narrow grasp of the human mind is inadequate to span.

One, advantage abnormal formations may be specially adapted to supply. Most of that department of physiology which relates to the functions of life, its preservation and transmission, is as yet unknown to science; but we must not suppose it will always remain unexplored. Important dis

a

coveries hereafter made will, doubtless, illuminate this dark region, and, as in similar cases, valuable practical applications will probably follow, of which we can now form no anticipation. In these future conquests of science we have a right to suppose that those strange departures from the normal type, those revolting distortions of the natural form, which strike us as something ill-omened and portentous, will contribute iinportant assistance, by the light they shed on the obscure principles of vital organization.

In supposing the physiological laws of our globe were designed in part for the discipline and instruction of man, we do not forget that, long before his creation, laws, in all respects similar, were in operation upon earth. It may probably be thought that man's requirements, as a reasoning philosopher, or his condition as a probationary moral agent, would have had no influence in moulding the physiology of that day. The conclusion is, however, not quite clear. Nothing tends more to impress the mind with the certainty and permanence of its principles of knowledge, or more to enlarge and liberalize its views, than to find the phenomena with which it is familiar exhibited in distant localities and remote eras. In the vast fields opened by modern geology, the lines of analogy which unite dispersed phenomena, have a far wider sweep and more commanding sway, and emancipate the mind from any lingering doubt whether natural laws might not be mere local, transitory, and variable expedients. Considerations drawn from such sources give to many minds high intellectual gratification, when, “ immersed in rapturous thought profound," they contemplate the unity, consistence, and order of the grand design which pervades creation. Such exalted pleasure, blending admiring wonder with religious awe, * was doubtless felt by the sages of Newton's time when his great discovery allied our planet, and every particle of its dust, with the remotest realms of space; and so too felt philosophers in more recent days when the present laws of organic life were found to have prevailed on earth innumerable ages before it became

* His tibi me rebus quædam divina voluptas,

Percipit, atque horror, quod sic natura tua vi
Tam manifesta patet ex omni parte retecta.- Lucretius, iii., 28-30.

the abode of man. Nor must we overlook the probability that in tracing the hand of the Divine Artisan from our globe's earliest epoch down to the present time, intelligences far superior to that of man may find subjects of absorbing thought and of adoring wonder; to whom also the apparent anomalies in nature's works that perplex our minds arrange themselves into systems of perfect symmetry, order, and beauty.

But the clearest light shed upon the dark questions of nature is that of revelation; which teaches that man is in a fallen state, estranged from his Maker, whose benevolent regard is in consequence mingled with judicial displeasure. Accordingly we find that mercy and judgment are blended in the created system in which we have our part. Beneficent design appears the prevailing characteristic; but its lines are everywhere checkered and blurred by evils of every degree, and sickness, pain, and bitter disappointment, resulting not always from the fault of the sufferer, but issuing directly from the conditions and necessities by which his life is invested, are portions of the universal lot. From the same source, however, we learn that the present world was never designed as the home of man, but merely as a place of probationary sojourn, where his appointed duty is to prepare for a higher state of being. If, therefore, the earth is full of blemishes and abortions, if evil abounds in all its departments, diffusing pain, want, and death throughout animated nature, and blight and mildew through the vegetable kingdom, we must rememter that the high moral destiny to which man is appointed requires that his heart should not be detained and engrossed by an earthly paradise.

We would also indicate another dark plan in nature which is illuminated by revelation. The power and wisdom of the Supreme Being are seen exhibited on a stupendous scale in the works of creation, but his benevolence and his moral character are far less clearly displayed. We do not now refer to such seeming anomalies as have in all ages furnished themes of atheistical descant; but from the nature of the case we think any indications of those moral attributes which the work of an infinite Creator can erer present must, as a demon

6

VOL. XLII. —NO. I.

stration, be inconclusive. Let us consider this point more closely.

Contrivances for beneficial ends are with us the result of toil and care, and when executed by man solely for the benefit of his fellows, we regard them as indicating a high order of that benevolence which incurs personal sacrifice for the sake of others. This instinctive judgment is by association transferred to the works of creation ; these, replete with admirable designs for beneficial ends, and, in the accurate finish of the different parts seeming to require, not only consummate skill, but diligence and care, deeply impress the sentiment of the Creator's benevolent regard for the works of his hands, and especially for man, whose elaborate structure, combined with the extent to which other organisms are made subservient to his wants, seems so clearly to evince the divine consideration for his welfare. If, moreover, the powers of nature, beneficial in general, are often productive of evil, his conscience may from this enforce bis moral responsibility, with the conviction of ill-desert, which mingles punishment with the blessings bestowed; especially since observation teaches that vice and crime are distinguished from virtue and integrity by a large allotment of pain, want, and shame. In this way, through associations so intimately penetrating his mind as almost to form a part of its substance, he receives intimations of the benevolence and moral purity of the Divine Being. Still these principles whenever existing must, if intelligible to us, be willing to incur self-sacrifice in attaining their respective ends; if they refuse, we regard them as spurious; and if the opportunity is wanting, the proof of character is defective. But the beneficence of the Almighty exhibited in creation involves no labor, no diminution of resources, no interruption of other pursuits, in short no apparent sacrifice of any kind, and consequently can offer no absolute demonstration of benevolent feeling in any sense in which we can appreciate its value. Similar remarks are applicable to the divine holiness, of which it seems essentially impossible that the works of nature should supply a perfect demonstration, because they afford no opportunity of personal sacrifice for the sake of principle. The proof of these attributes, therefore, which suffices for the

extinction of all scepticism, is not to be found in visible creation; and whoever attempts to supply the deficiency by metaphysical reasoning will be apt, we suspect, to wander in mazes of doubt and error, when the moral instinct, the safest guide in such a search, grows faint and dubious, until perhaps its voice ceases to be heard. But when the divinity becomes incarnate, bears to the full the evils of our immortal lot, and submits to ignominy, pain, and death in expiation of human guilt, we have the required demonstration in a form which renders the justice, holiness, and benevolence of God no longer a vague poetic sentiment, but a truth of vital importance, establishing with him relations of infinite consequence, and supplying the most urgent and animating motives to the conduct which he prescribes. Then, too, the hard decree that mingles so much pain and sorrow in our earthly lot is seen to be a merciful severity, that the hope of promise of this life may not be suffered to veil our interest in the life to come. Thus the works of creation cease to be the obscure and ambiguous oracles they seemed before, but become intelligible types and symbols which in their own mystic characters represent heavenly truth, and so reflect back on revelation a portion of the light received from above.

It is dangerous, as Bacon long since remarked, to seek the truths of revelation in the realms of philosophy, which he compared to seeking the living among the dead :* for since in such speculations the mind is apt to accept fancies for realities, and presumptions for proofs, the tendency is to perpetuate error by a sort of consecration to religion, and to rest theological tenets on postulates which, when examined, are discovered to be false. A creed founded on unsound arguments, though in itself true, has a precarious existence; for if the fallacy is detected the faith may suffer shipwreck, and sink to rise no more, before it finds a firmer support. On the other hand revelation, when its true meaning is cautiously determined, may shed its light on departments of reason in which, if we may infer the future from the past, absolute certainty must otherwise be for ever unattainable. As philoso

* De Augmentis Scientiarum, lib. ix., cap. 1, $ 3.

« ElőzőTovább »