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It is delightful to gather the lessons of moral duty from the silent, but expressive operations of the Divine Being. It is recorded in more than one instance in the sacred volume, as the marked and peculiar sin of intelligent and rational creatures, that they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands.* This contemplation of the divine conduct, which is thus taught to be the duty of every human creature, is to extend, not only to the moral acts of God, but to his operations in the natural world. In this remark we refer not so much to those traces of divine workmanship, and those indications of divine power which are seen alike in the painted pebble and the delicately pencilled flower, in the tremendous volcano and the quiet corn-field, " in the wild winter storm and in the soft summer moonlight, as to those fixed and general principles of divine operation that extend through a whole system.
The idea intended to be communicated is this—that it is our duty to consider not only how Jehovah governs men and angels, how he treats the sinning and the unsinning; but how he governs the material universe—what appears to be the principle of divine administration in the natural government of matter and of mind. By such contemplation, we can often deduce inferences of high moral bearing, in relation to the regulation of human conduct. This idea I will endeavour to illustrate.
* Isa. v. 12. Ps. xxviii. 5. Job xxxiv. 26, 27.
The divine administration.
The globe on which we live, with all its varied furniture and appendages, with all its multiplied forms of organic and animated being, and with all its complex arrangements for the support of animal life, is, as a physical or material system, under the government of God. Every particle of matter is under his immediate and absolute control. There can be no such thing as chance within the sphere of such an administration. The heavenly minded Cowper has truly remarked
The smooth and equal course of his affairs. All the changes that occur take place according to fixed principles of divine administration. One of those principles is, that in this mundane system nothing shall be lost or struck out of being. Not a single particle of matter that existed at the original creation of this earth is now missing. Every atom, that is not at present in use, is carefully preserved in the great laboratory of nature, and is destined to enter into new aggregations or organized forms.
It is undoubtedly true, that every thing around us is the subject of constant mutation. “ Matter under every visible form and modification, when regarded in its general mass, is perpetually changing ; alternately living, dying, and reviving; decomposing into elements that elude our pursuit; and recombining into new shapes, and energies, and modes of existence. The purest and most compact metals become tarnished, or converted into a calx or oxyde on its surface, and the most durable and crystallized rocks crumble into granules ; and the matter constituting these oxydes and granules, by an additional series of operations, is still farther decomposed, till every vestige of their late character is lost, and the elementary principles of which they consisted are appropriated to other purposes, and spring to view under other forms and faculties. The same process takes
Nothing in nature lost.
place in the organized world. The
germ becomes a seed, the seed a sapling, the sapling a tree; the embryo becomes an infant, the infant a youth, the youth a man; and having thus ascended the scale of maturity, both, in like manner, begin the downward path to decay ; and so far as relates to the visible materials of which they consist, both at length moulder into one common elementary mass, and furnish fresh fuel for fresh generations of animal or vegetable existence ; so that all is in motion, all is striving to burst the bonds of its present state; not an atom is idle ; and the frugal economy of nature makes one set of materials answer the purposes of many, and moulds it into every diversified figure of being, and beauty, and happiness."'*
Thus we see, that while decomposition is continually going on in the material world around us, and that there is a ceaseless tendency in all bodies to be resolved into their original elementary principles, yet the moment this process arrives at a certain point, dissolution is arrested, and the elementary principles of these bodies are held safe in the great laboratory of nature, till they are needed, and taken up in some new combinations. And hence we learn, that the entire principle of GATHERING UP THE FRAGMENTS, THAT NOTHING MAY BE LOST, enters as an essential element into the divine administration, as it respects the physical world around us. And this will appear the more striking and remarkable when we consider the fact, that this course of divine procedure is not attributable to any difficulty that stands in the way of calling new matter into existence. The Divine Being could, with a single volition, call into existence, an amount of matter not only adequate to every exigence, but a mass equal to that which now constitutes the whole extended immense material universe. And yet He uses matter with such frugality that not a particle has been lost since the creation of the world. Is not this fact worthy of contemplation? Does it not read a lesson of moral instruction to every human creature? The words of !
* Good's Book of Nature, vol. i. p. 19.
There should be no waste of intellectual energy.
the divine Jesus, as he stood amid the fed thousands, that sat on the verdant grass, in a field near Bethsaida, GATHER UP THE FRAGMENTS THAT REMAIN, THAT NOTHING BE LOST, were but a moral exposition or beautiful comment upon one of the great laws of nature. And I would here add, that if the divine conduct be placed before us for our imitation, if we regard it as obligatory upon us to copy the divine example, as far as it is imitable, then shall we not be brought to the conclusion, that it is the bounden duty of every moral and intelligent being to strive to be engaged in labours that in their results will be endlessly useful ?
The practical inference to be deduced from the fact which we have been contemplating is, that every human creature is bound not only to use all the objects of external possession, in such a way that nothing will be lost, but so to consecrate all the powers and faculties of his mind to the cause of truth and holiness that, during the whole period of his earthly existence, there shall be no waste of intellectual energy. This is undoubtedly the will of God. But alas ! how wide from this have earth's inhabitants usually acted! One judiciously remarks,-" The experiment has never yet been fairly made, to see how much pure and ever-burning piety might accomplish, in calling forth the active powers of man.
What mighty energies ambition and sin might summon into being, has been exemplified ; and, unhappily, when we wish to gauge the powers of man, we are compelled to resort to some such melancholy exemplifications. History is little else than the record of such disastrous achievements ; in contemplating which, we stand almost equally amazed at the exhibition of gigantic intellect and fiendish malignity. Alexander, Cæsar, and Napoleon have amazed the world with their daring exploits, and by the mighty powers which they exhibited in the service of ambition ; Nero, Cæsar, Borgia, Richard III. have shown to what prodigious efforts unmingled sin may summon the human powers ; and D'Alembert, Diderot, and Voltaire have evinced to what almost supernatural feats of intellectual strength the mind may be
The power of human intellect.
summoned, in a united effort to corrupt a nation, and dethrone religion from the hearts of men. Here, talent has been controlled by sin ; ambition or crime directs all the powers on a single object, and the world trembles before the amazing intellect of fallen man.
“ But when we contemplate the influence of holiness upon the human mind, we see it in broken, irregular, and disjointed efforts. Among men, merely, we cannot point to a single instance, where the powers have been as entirely controlled and called forth by holy efforts, as they have been under the control of ambition or infidelity. A few, indeed, have approximated to it; and we refer to them as rare exceptions to the common laws of holiness over men. The energies of Paul were brought into action under the influence of piety ; and Baxter and Edwards seemed disposed to make trial of what that mind could do, under the operation of Christianity : and Howard is said to have pursued his object with an intensity which the nature of the human mind forbade to be greater. But why do we refer to these instances, as standing, like far distant lights in the darkness of the past? It is because the power of holiness has not been applied to the mass of the Christian world.
“ There are two melancholy facts which stand forth in the past history of the world. One is, that talent which might have made itself felt in shaping the destiny of men, has slumbered and been lost. At any single period of the world, there has been talent enough for all its great purposes of improvement. Who can believe that Luther was the only man who dwelt in a cloister, endowed with native powers to effect a revolution in nations? Who can believe that there is not power enough in the church to carry the gospel to all the world? The other fact is, that genius is often wasted, or burns and blazes for naught. Now, splendid talent is called forth by some daring scheme of ambition. Smitten and foiled in its designs, it shrinks back on itself, and withers, and is lost to the world. Now, it is excited by some wild Utopian plan for the philosophic improvement of men. Life is exhausted in the scheme, and the misdi