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God has external means whereby he conveys IIis Knowledge unto Man.
1. External Nature. 2dly. Society. The operation of External nature upon man's moral being explained.— The operation of Society is two foldfirst, of Law; second, of traditional knowledge or Opinion, whereof Society is a channel.
Our first question is, how is it that to man, even as a fallen being, God is still the Supreme Standard of Moral Good, and that his nature having lost its self-governing power, and the direct contact of God with it being withdrawn, man still measures all good by God?
The answer is, that man's nature being good, the instinct of this, his constitution, must lead him naturally, although blindly, towards God. And secondly, there must be corresponding to that instinctive feeling, external influences that draw forth the instinct of nature into consciousness, as the Sun upon the earth draws up the germ of the plant underneath until it rises into the light.
Now, in reference to our own nature or internal being, we call all other objects external-all those influences that bear upon us from without are external. And things external are divided into two parts, Nature and Society. And the question may be easily solved by asking, are there moral ideas connected with Nature and with Society? For then, since Nature exists before the individual man is born, and he is introduced into the world as into a school, then if there be ideas of God connected naturally with the objects of the external world, we are able to see how the germ in him may be awakened, and the dormant life excited to action.
And in like manner, as Society existed before him, and he is born into it; so if Society have the idea of God, it can suggest it to him, and thus awaken his nature and be a school of teaching to it.
From the earliest times we find an association of ideas that connects Nature with God, and makes each object of the material world a letter in the “great alphabet that speaks of Him." Nor is it a vain fancy that of the old Arabs, who, seeing upon the film of the locust's wing the semblance of the letters of their own language, read them into the words, “Desolation of God;" and connecting the stars by lines, and thereby tracing letters in the heavens, thence strove to discover an alphabet of the heavenly wisdom. * For in truth, had we but the eye, were but our senses sharpened to penetrate into the infinite subtlety of the teachings of this that we call Nature, so that we could discern them and be conscious of them, as we are influenced by them unconsciously, we should see that Nature is nought else than a means of bringing the Knowledge of God close to us; of awakening in us the sleeping germs of Spiritual Knowledge. And we should find that not a leaf upon a tree struck our sight even unnoticed amid the myriads of other leaves, not a sand upon the shore among millions has made its unregarded impression upon our sight, but that has tended to convey to us moral knowledge of God, the Supreme Good.
And as the drops of rain being countless that have fallen upon a given field, have nevertheless each single drop a definite and estimable amount in the sum of the harvest, only that it would take the calculus of Infinite Knowledge to estimate it; so the manifold impressions from day to day, from hour to hour, of Natural Objects, these all, although we are unconscious of it, yet tend to form in us the idea of God. Perhaps I should not say to form, but to call out the germs that exist in our own being, as made in the Image, to call them out and bid them expand.
Perhaps the idea here attempted to be expressed as a fact of Ethical science, the idea, that is, of an Ethical teaching of nature, that is universal and pours its influence unremittingly from the smallest as well as the grandest objects, might be as well set before the reader in half a dozen of verses, which I remember to have seen somewhere, in which the author has expressed the same thought very nearly.
“Oh! that mine ears were open, Lord,
Then on the world's broad face,
* For this alphabet, see the works of the learned Gataker.
Then, sounding clear from ocean's gloom,
The sounds that now mysterious sweep
These sounds that pow, confused and dim,
All living creatures then should speak
These verses, although I must say that the verse is of a very unpolished description, scem nevertheless to express the same feeling and persuasion.
But the same thing is clearly and distinctly asserted in the 19th Psalm. “ The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handy work. One day telleth another, and one night certifieth another; there is neither speech nor language, but their voices are heard among them, their sound is gone out into all lands and their words unto the ends of the world.”
In fact, from all languages, and from all nations, we might bring full proofs of this fact, “ that all men feel and know that the outward world in all its influences upon man is a teaching of God, an interpretation, as it were, of Him, to our limited intellects; a hiding away, and dimming of His glory, that so it may be softened and adapted to our sight." But still, from the smallest as well as the greatest objects that strike the sense, there flows a teaching, beginning with our life and ending only with our death, which we can never shut out.
And that this perpetually presents unto us, or rather cherishes in us, in a due measure as we can bear it, the idea of God, his Power, Mercy and Wisdom. And that although men may, because they are not conscious of it, dream that it is not so, still that there is such a thing in the science of Ethics as teaching, which being real is yet unconscious. And that it is so with this.
Upon which matter of moral teaching being real, although we are unconscious of it, I shall, perhaps, at a future time of this essay have some words to say. In the mean time, I say, that manifestly Nature, the face of outward, inanimate Nature, is a teacher to us of God, and from the greatest and from the smallest objects, at all times, moral teaching is flowing incessantly and perpetually upon each man. And although but seldom we may know of it, and but in extraordinary cases and under extraordinary circumstances are we struck with it, still, at all times, and in all places, is such an influence acting upon us.
And for the truth of this, I have to appeal to the general sense and persuasion, and the universal reason of mankind.
But leaving External Nature alone, we shall come now to the other sphere into which man is born, that of Society, and proceed to examine what influence it has upon man in revealing to him God, or bringing forth the idea or image of God that is in him by
And here we find a very distinct and manifest influence. An influence that tells upon man in Society as an instructor, in and of the nature of Good. The influence of Law. A second influence, also, the influence of Knowledge, handed down from generation to generation. Upon these two we shall remark.
And first, upon the influence of Law in general. We have stated it as our belief that the organizations of Society are unchangeable; that the Family, the Nation and the Church are always to remain as they always have been, and that man is never without them, has never been without them.
Now, in virtue of this fact of the perpetual duration of these forms of organization, there is a ruling spirit in each of them; in the Family, the Law of Love; in the Nation, the Law of Justice; in the Church, the Law of Holiness; a threefold division of the one Spirit, that influence the manifestation of which we call “ Law.” Now, what is this?
We take a description of it from a book* of our own, satisfied that the reader will not object to this if it give an answer to the This is an influence from which in the state none can be free. Through all the institutions of society it speaks, for these are its embodiments. The Magistrate, the Husband, the Parent, are mouth-pieces of this Eternal Spirit. To all men it speaks, to all classes and individuals; it reaches even to the babe on its mother's knee. To the good, it is the secret plastic force of Society, which works upon them almost unconsciously, framing and forming them ever with a gentle and omnipresent influence; unfelt, yet not the less real. To the bad, it is a force external and severely felt, sternly thundering out its penalties, its sanctions and its punishments, placing against them a barrier they cannot leap, and calling to its aid, even when men the most reject it, powers in man's own breast and being, and in the feelings of his fellows, and even in the elements themselves, which do and will execute its decrees.
Mercy to Babes, a Plea for the Christian Baptism of Infants."
Men have felt this, and felt that there is something divine in Law, and the loftiest and holiest have concluded that this that we call law is neither more nor less than the influence and operation of the Will, and Power and Justice of “the Almighty and Allgoverning God.”
Thus having spoken of Law, we ask our readers to avoid one very common error, when they think of it; the crror of imagining corporeal things to be the only realitics. A good many do som they think bread and meat, &c., things that we can see, and touch, and taste, and feel the only realities; whereas there are other things, just as solid and substantial realities, honesty, and justice, and love, and truth, these are just as much realities as if you could handle them, or see them, or feel them. Now, this that We call Law is of this class, a strong and true reality, and yet not to be handled or touched.
It is, too, that means by which mediately the Will of God is conveyed to us as in a channel, which to the primitive man was directly and immediately given from the Almighty; it is the veil in which, now that through man's weakness his eyes are feeble, so that he cannot look upon the full blaze of Glory, God shrouds his effulgence and tempers it to our sight; it is the spirit which from all Nature he pours upon man (as the imponderable fluids of natural philosophy are poured from material things) to teach hiin of God.
And well and truly does it teach him, for it, “the Law,” is the revealer of God to the natural man.
For God, being the supreme fountain and standard of Good,