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impelled to it by the cravings of hunger, and by the hope of that pleasurable sensation which is derived from partaking of food? Yet the desire for'food, thus produced in man, will, if improperly indulged, lead to the vice of gluttony. Nearly the same observations will apply to the appetite of thirst, and the pleasure that attends its gratification: yet the inordinate indulgence of this appetite leads to the dreadful vice of intemperance, which has wrought such misery and desolation in the human family. The desire for rest is also necessary for recruiting our bodily strength, and its gratification is attended with a sensible pleasure; but its improper indulgence leads to indolence, disease, and depravity. The desire for action is one of our natural propensities, that is very conspicuous in childhood, and its exercise is conducive to the health of both body and mind. It is this that often impels to useful labour, and renders even labour a pleasure. But how many evils arise from the desire of employment, when it takes a wrong direction? Thus the vice of gambling is one among the many expedients that have been invented “to kill time,” and to fill up those vacant hours, which ought to be devoted to nobler purposes.
The desire for knowledge is one of the noblest faculties of the mind, and the exercise of it is accompanied by an exalted pleasure: yet this desire, when directed to frivolous or useless objects, degenerates into a vain curiosity, which is productive of evil.
Thus we might proceed to examine all the desires and affections of our animal and spiritual natures, and we should find them all to be the good gifts of a gracious God, and “trees of his right-hand planting:” but, like the elements of the natural world, they are all liable to abuse. Thus conjugal and parental love are good in themselves, but they may degenerate into idolatry. Emulation may lead to envy; and the desire for power may end in avarice or ambition.
It has pleased the benevolent Author of our being,
to attach a peculiar pleasure to the gratification of these desires, when they are kept within their proper bounds: but no sooner do we indulge them beyond this point, than they become the instruments of our chastisement. Even that natural feeling of displeasure or aversion, which is occasioned by a positive injury inflicted upon ourselves or upon others, if it be permitted to arise to anger, will give us pain. Yet I believe it is a good principle, when directed only against the wickedness of men, without being accompanied by any ill-will towards them; for the Divine Being himself condemns "all unrighteousness," at the same time that he is kind even to the unthankful and to the evil.”
How beautiful--how perfectly adapted to our wants, is the original constitution of man ! especially when we take into view that Divine principle of light which shines in the soul, and enables us to perceive what is our duty towards God and our fellow-men; which is comprehended in “doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God!” Mich. vi. 8. The virtuous affections have been likened to the gales which waft the vessel on her way, and this Divine monitor is the pilot, who sits at the helm and guides her to the destined port. How much it is to be lamented that the free teachings of this Divine principle are neglected, while so many are looking outward, to men and to books, for instruction, instead of looking within themselves for the kingdom of heaven, which consists in "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit !"
John. I remember, that in our last conversation, thou told us, that man has nothing good in himself." Does not that sentiment conflict with some of the views thou hast just expressed?
Father. I said he had nothing good in himself, independent of the Divine Being, which does not conflict with my present views; for “there is but one that is good, that is God.” However noble may be the faculties he has given to man, they cease to be good, as soon as they cease to be governed by him. God is the sun and centre of his spiritual creation; and as soon as we depart from under the restraining influence of his love, we fall into a state of disorder and confusion. But he desires that we should serve him from choice, and not from compulsion; and therefore, while he has bound the material universe in chains, he has “ left free the human will."
All the dealings of God towards his creatures are founded in eternal love: even the sufferings which result from the abuse of his gifts, seem intended to bring back the delinquents to the path of rectitude, which is the only state where happiness can be attained. His commands and his prohibitions are all for our good, and are wisely designed for the promotion of our present and eternal welfare. It is a law which he has stamped upon our nature, that virtue will always produce happiness, and vice will always bring misery: they do so now, and they must continue to do so forever. How important then it is, that we should cultivate those benevolent affections, which are calculated to bring us into the image of God; for, as we become “partakers of his nature,” we shall
participate in his happiness; and when we leave this scene of probation, we shall be fitted to enter into those spiritual joys which are prepared for the righteous.
How ardently do I desire that all my fellow creatures may become sensible of the true dignity of man; which does not depend on the abundance of riches, nor on the attainments of learning, nor on the possession of intellectual power; but it consists in being made “partakers of the Divine nature,” enjoying communion with the Holy Spirit, and becoming “heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.”
ON THE DIVINE BEING. James. Since our last interview, brother John and I have been conversing on the attributes of the Divine Being, and his manifestations to the children of men, in different ages of the world. He appears to think there is something so mysterious in the subject, that we ought to believe without understanding it; but I am opposed to every thing like implicit belief; and as different doctrines are taught among men, I cannot believe any of them, until the subject shall become clear to my own understanding.
John. Here is the difference between brother James and myself: he is determined to measure every thing by his own finite understanding, even the threefold existence of the infinite God; but I do not feel at liberty to doubt any thing that appears to be clearly recorded in the Holy Scriptures, although it may be beyond my limited comprehension: for I find, that even in the works of creation, there are many things that I do not understand, yet it is impossible to doubt them. For instance, I know there is an intimate connexion between the soul and the body, and yet I cannot understand how they are united, nor how a material body can be acted on by an immaterial soul. We cannot understand how the simplest operations in nature take place. For example, the growth of grass is a fact that we all acknowledge, but we do not understand how it takes place. I therefore conclude, that it would be a piece of great folly in me to attempt to understand the mystery of three persons in the Godhead; for if the Scriptures assure us of the fact, I ask no further evidence.
Father. I am willing to explain to you my views upon the subject, and I wish you to state all the objections that may occur to you; for it is my desire that we may all be seekers of truth, and not the champions of a party. Before I proceed to state my views upon the main question, I must make a few remarks upon the subject of belief.
It appears to me, that belief does not depend entirely upon our own will; for we often hear things asserted, that we could not believe if we were to try. If a man who was really very sick, were told by his physician that he was not sick, and that he might get up and walk, it is very certain that the sick man would not believe him, although he might wish it were in his power to helieve.
Belief depends upon the weight of evidence presented before the mind, and upon our having a clear perception of that evidence. If the mind be clouded by the prejudices of education, or biassed by interest, it will not always perceive the evidence on both sides, that may be presented to it; which is a fact that may be illustrated by our outward vision: for when a great number of objects are presented before us at the same time, the eye will naturally rest upon those objects which are most agreeable to us, and will sometimes overlook other objects, so as not to perceive them at all. We therefore make up our opinions according to the evidence that we perceive; and if we perceive only a part of the evidence, we may be irresistably led to form an erroneous opinion. But if, at any time afterwards, we come to perceive the remaining evidence, we shall then be obliged to change this opinion. Therefore, I do not condemn any man for entertaining opinions different from my own; for I conclude that one or the other of us has not seen the subject in all its bearings; and I feel assured, that if we are both faithful to put in practice all that we do know to be good, the Divine Being will not leave us without sufficient light to guide our steps in the way that leads to eternal peace. There are many facts which we cannot explain, and yet we are obliged to believe