Images de page
PDF
ePub

have no proper conception whatever of the wonders of nature. Nature is to them a volume perfectly and entirely closed. Their thoughts never wander in that direction. That there is anything wonderful, or interesting, or manifesting the glory and goodness of God in the structure of an animal or of a plant, or in the laws according to which water freezes and ice melts, or in the materials, shape, and structure of the hills and valleys, which they have been accustomed to look at, and to tread over every day of their lives—is a matter of which they scarcely think. Even among those of whom better things should be expected, particularly among preachers of the gospel, how little proper knowledge of the truths of physical science, as illustrating the being, mode of existence, attributes, and providence of the Deity, is to be found. They regard it as a subject totally foreign to their pursuits and dutics. Because their profession leads them to no concern with the practical operations or details of the sciences, they take it for granted that they have nothing to do with the great truths which are the result of scientific research. Because they perceive, very clearly, that they could derive little benefit from toiling over retorts and crucibles, traversing rocks, bills, and forests, or surveying the heavens night after night with the astronomer,—they very falsely judge that they have theresore no concern with those splendid illustrations of divine power which the results of those labors so abundantly display.

We admit that the light of nature alone is most precarious and uncertain. From the study of her works we doubt if any considerable progress would ever have been made in the knowledge of the character and attributes of God, or of the nature and destiny of man. Or rather, we doubt, whether, if left to himself, man would ever have been led to any investigation at all of the world about him. But after revelation has made known to him a few elementary truths concerning the Creator of the universe, a thousand illustrations and confirmations of that revelation are immediately perceived in his works. It is true that we find in almost all tribes, however remote and insulated, some notions, more or less distinct, of a God and of a future state. And it would seem that men retained these general notions of spiritual things, with a degree of distinctness, very much in proportion as each nation is in the habit of intercourse with others. Where it happened that, in the very rude ages of the world, a tribe was cut off from all the rest of mankind—with no written records and an imperfect language, exposed to constant privations, and obliged to struggle hard with the elements for a bare existence, men would soon lose their traditionary knowledge of religion, and become merely a higher race of animals. But if tribes, however rude, were so situated as to maintain a constant intercourse with each other, the loss of this traditionary religion would be next to impossible, on account of the number of distinct centres from which the knowledge of it would be constantly radiating. Look at the accounts given us of savage tribes in different parts of the world. On continents, and islands connected with continents, where man is constantly in habits of intercourse with man, and nation with nation, the knowledge of a God and of a future state, is always found in some form and degree. But where tribes are found separated from the rest of mankind by physical barriers-barriers which have probably cut them off for ages past from human intercourse—there, knowledge on these subjects is extremely limited, if it exists at all. Thus it is doubtful whether the inhabitants of New Holland have any proper religious belief.

We allude here to those general notions of religious truth, which we suppose to have been originally delivered to our first parents; which we believe to have been never, perhaps, entirely lost by any people ; and which have formed the foundation of all the religious systems which have ever existed in the world, independently of subsequent revelations. Ultimately, then, it is revelation which throws light upon nature, and not nature upon revelation. Revelation furnishes the key, which enables us to unlock and read the book of nature; but it does not therefore follow that nature may not in its turn aid and confirm the disclosures of revelation.

But not to enter into nice inquiries with regard to the origin of any of our notions, it is sufficient to take our knowledge as it is, and determine how we can employ it to the greatest advantage in the improvement of the moral and religious state of mankind. And for our present purpose, we would remark, that, in the religious instruction of the world, and in the cultivation of a religious character in ourselves, we overlook a most important source of improvement when we neglect the truths' disclosed by the physical sciences. The phenomena and operations of the natural world, as explained and illustrated by philosophy, might furnish most important means of arousing the attention of the indifferent and careless; of confirming the faith, elevating the religious character, invigorating the hope, perpetuating and renewing the piety of those who are already interested ; and of coinmunicating to all, new and sublime views of the attributes, character, and intentions of God. The grand difficulty with regard to the majority of mankind,

3

VOL. V.NO. I.

is, not so much that they do not admit the truth of what religion teaches, as that they do not realize it. To a certain extent they believe. They assent to the force of evidence, or submit to that of authority. They would be shocked were it doubted for a moment that their belief is not as sufficient as it is sincere. Still their belief is not what it should be, a practical principlea principle always present and always influencing them. There are in fact few men who can constantly bring to their minds a sense of the reality of things far distant in time, or removed in their nature from the cognizance of the senses, so as to make them constant motives of action. There are few minds which do not occasionally need refreshing and renewing; which do not require to have the truths in which they believe, brought home to their conceptions, as well as to their faith. Men are not influenced in practice by any truth which they do not, or cannot, strongly conceive at the time when it should influence them. Present interests, passions, and propensities, are realized. They operate with all their force to distract the mind. It needs a strong conception of that which we believe to have past, and of that which we believe is to come, to counteract the nearer and more direct influence of present motives. The child believes that habits of idleness and love of play, will interfere with his education and destroy his prospects in life. But he has no strong conception of it. The drunkard believes that habits of intemperance will destroy him, body and soul. But he does not realize this every time he raises the glass to his lips. Men believe that God is everywhere present, and that he knows and witnesses all their actions. Yet how few must realize or conceive this truth, as they do the presence of any human individual, or who would ever dare to sin ?

It is this passive reception of truth ; this norninal belief, but actual unbelief, which is the cause of the greatest part of the indifference and neglect of religion which we have reason to lament in the world. It is a natural consequence of the constitution of the human mind that it should be so ; and it is so in many other things beside religion. In order to induce men to persevering efforts, they must be influenced by some present excitement, or some principle which shall be constantly operating. Hence, in all ages, it has been found necessary, in order to raise the attention of men to religion, to have recourse to other means beside simply convincing them of its truth. The reason might be satisfied, and yet the inclinations remain debased, and the will disposed to evil. Men have generally been found ready enough to believe. The difficulty has been, after they believe, to induce them to act up to their belief. In men of sober and calm temperaments, whose reason always controls the imagination and the passions, the conviction of the understanding is enough, and the moral nature accompanies the intellectual in the changes it undergoes. But it is not so with the mass of mankind; the uneducated, the ardent in temperament and disposition, the sensual, the passionate, the ambitious. They can only be interested in religion by turning the current of their strony passions into that channel. Their imagination must be influenced, and their feelings excited. It is thus only they can be made to conceive of the reality of the things which they are taught. In these, ercitement is the substitute for the principle which actuates the former. In order that they may become permanently religious, this excitement must be kept up, must be perpetuated, at least till the new modes of feeling and conduct have become habitual, and habit takes the place of both principle and excitement. Hence it will be a necessary consequence, that of those who become interested in religion in this latter method, a considerable proportion must always, from the very nature of the case, finally fall away.

But not to speak of mankind in general, we doubt whether even those who are the happiest in regard to their religious belief, and who manifest most clearly in their lives its constant influence as a principle of action; who appear to be fully possessed of a knowledge of their situation, of their relation to God, and of the obligations of religion-we doubt whether even these can boast of minds always clear and undisturbed on these momentous subjects. Are there any whose faith is always sure and steadfast? whose hope is always an anchor to the soul? whose conceptions of divine things are always clear, bright, and unclouded? There are hours, we suspect, in the life of every man, in which it seems to him as if the foundations of truth and faith were breaking up around him, and his hopes were to be confounded and defeated. These are indeed sad and gloomy hours, when all that we have believed, and all that we have hoped, seems fading away in dim and distant uncertainty. Yet he must be either a very firm and enlightened, or else a very thoughtless man, who does not sometimes experience feelings like these.

It would seem then, if we are right, that all men require some powerful and present cause of excitement or of interest, to ensure that constant, pervading sense of the existence and providence of God, and of our dependence upon him, which lies at the root of all true religious feeling; that we often need something more direct and immediate and palpable, than the feelings and sentiments which we have derived from written knowledge, which, however sublime and glorious in itself, has been conveyed to us through the fallible medium of human languages and translations of languages. Men in all ages, and particularly those who are uncultivated and unenlightened, need something more immediate and more exciting than a bare spiritual belief ; they seek a present Deity. Hence in primitive times the worship of the sun, moon, and the host of heaven, and of beasts, birds, and insects ; hence the worship of heroes and images in heathen lands, and of saints and images in christian. It is from the same cause that the minds of men are engaged by the splendid and imposing ceremonies of many churches; and in many other churches, as a substitute for these, a thousand artificial modes of excitement have been resorted to. In all sects which have prevailed extensively, ceremonies, or modes of worship, or processes of some kind, have been found necessary to rouse up the indifferent mind to a sense of the importance of spiritual things. These measures are all of the same kind, have the same relation to human feelings, and are predicated upon the same principle ; namely, the principle which demands some definite present source of excitement—which demands that a powerful impression shall be made upon the mind of the immediate agency of God in the actual scenes which are passing.

Nothing so exactly meets the demand of this principle as the perception which we may acquire of the agency of the Deity in the universe around us. Every step we take in the study of nature, brings to us proofs of this agency, and furnishes us with motives and sources of excitement of precisely the kind which is wanted. The man who studies the material universe with a previous conviction of those truths which revelation has taught us, finds, wherever be casts his eye, fresh and living confirmations and illustrations of all that he has before learned. The book of nature teaches not a different system of things, a different system of doctrines, a different code of belief; it is but another volume from the same great Author, who has put into our hands the book of revelation. He who enters with proper preparation into the examination of the truths which physical science unfolds, cannot avoid feeling, as he advances, that his conceptions are strengthened, his feelings of reality invigorated. He finds for every disclosure in his bible, an answering commentary in the material works of God. He sees that both are but parts of one stupendous whole; and he is forced irresistibly to the conviction that, while with his bodily organs of sense he perceives before him operations which indicate the immediate agency of

« PrécédentContinuer »