Page images

and vice in individuals is, to produce corresponding worldly advantages and disadvantages, is a doctrine which, in a speculative point of view at least, few would be disposed to controvert. And though this general rule admits of such numerous exceptions, that a right-minded and considerate man would not venture, in the case of any individual, to infer that his success in life had precisely corresponded with his deserts, or decidedly to promise, for example, prosperity to the honest, frugal, and industrious, and denounce certain ruin to the profligate; yet he would not feel the less convinced of the certainty of the general rule,—that such conduct will, for the most part, be attended with such consequences. Thus, though we are not to believe that regular temporal rewards and punishments are dispensed under the moral government of God to nations, yet the general rule by which temperance, and integrity, and industry tend, in private life, to promote each man's health, and reputation, and prosperity, is applicable to nations also. Unprincipled aggression will usually provoke, sooner or later, a formidable retaliation; and, on the other hand, moderation and good faith have manifestly a general tendency to promote peace and internal prosperity.1

And thus it is that religion, which produces these fruits of moderation and good faith, has an indirect, as well as a direct, influence on national character. Its direct effects few will be disposed to deny, even of those who believe in no religion; since, of several different forms of superstitious error, supposing all religions to be such, one may at least be more compatible with moral improvement than another. But it has an indirect effect also, through its influence on national prosperity. To take, for instance, the point of which we have just been speaking:—War, the direct demoralizing effects of which are probably still greater than its impoverishing effect, would be wholly unknown, if Christianity were heartily and generally embraced; and, even as it is, it has been much mitigated by that humanizing influence. Slavery, too, equally demoralizing and impoverishing, would cease; and if both Slavery and War were at an end. the wealth of nations would increase,—but their civilization in the most important points, would increase in a still greater ratio.

1 See Lectures on Political Economy.

That this progressive civilization,—this advancement of mankind, not merely as individuals, but as communities,—is the design of the Almighty Creator, seems evident from the provision made by his divine Wisdom for the progress of Society. This provision is, I think, manifest in many portions of Man's conduct as a member of society, in which is to be traced the operation of impulses which, while tending immediately to some certain end contemplated by the agent, and therefore rational, may yet, as far as respects another and quite diiferent end which he did not contemplate, be referred to a kind of vtstinct, or something analogous to instinct. He is led, while doing one thing, by choice, for his own benefit, to do another, undesignedly, under the guidance of Providence, for the service of the community.

But there is no case in which this providential guidance is more liable to be overlooked—no case in which we are more apt to mistake for the wisdom of Man what is, in truth, the wisdom of God.

In the results of instinct in brutes, we are sure, not only that, although the animals themselves are, in some sort, agents, they could not originally have designed the effects they produce, but that even afterwards, they have no notion of the combination by which these are brought about. But when human conduct tends to some desirable end, and the agents are competent to perceive that the end is desirable, and the means well adapted to it, they are apt to forget that, in the great majority of instances, those means were not devised, nor those ends proposed, by the persons themselves who are thus employed. The workman, for instance, who is employed in casting printing-types, is usually thinking only of producing a commodity hy the sale of which he may support himself. With reference to this object, he is acting, not from any impulse that is at all of the character of instinct, but from a rational and deliberate choice: but he is also, in the very same act, contributing most powerfully to the diffusion of knowledge; about which, perhaps, he has no anxiety or thought: in reference to this latter object, therefore, his procedure corresponds to those operations of various animals which we attribute to instinct; since they, doubtless, derive some immediate gratification from what they are doing. Indeed, in all departments connected with the acquisition and communication of knowledge, a similar procedure may be traced. The greater part of it is the gift, not of human, but of divine benevolence, which has implanted in Man a thirst after knowledge for its own sake, accompanied with a sort of instinctive desire, founded probably on sympathy, of communicating it to others, as an ultimate end. This, and also the love of display, are no doubt inferior motives, and will be superseded by a higher principle, in proportion as the individual advances in moral excellence. These motives constitute, as it were, a kind of scaffolding, which should be taken down by little and little, as the perfect building advances, but which is of indispensable use till that is completed.

It is to be feared, indeed, that Society would fare but ill if none did service to the Public, except in proportion as they possessed the rare moral and intellectual endowment of an enlightened public spirit . For, such a spirit, whether in the form of patriotism, or that of philanthropy, implies not merely benevolent feelings stronger than, in fact, we commonly meet with, but also powers of abstraction beyond what the mass of mankind can possess. As it is, many of the most important objects are accomplished by unconscious co-operation; and that, with a certainty, completeness, and regularity, which probably the most diligent benevolence, under the guidance of the greatest human wisdom, could never have attained.

For instance, let any one propose to himself the problem of supplying with daily provisions the inhabitants of such a city as London—that' province covered with houses.' Let any one consider this problem in all its bearings, reflecting on the enormous and fluctuating number of persons to be fed,—the immense quantity of the provisions to be furnished, and the variety of the supply (not, as for an army or garrison, nearly uniform)—the importance of a convenient distribution of them, and the necessity of husbanding them discreetly, lest a deflcient supply, even for a single day, should produce distress, or a redundancy produce (from the perishable nature of many of them) a corresponding waste; and then let him reflect on the anxious toil which such a task would impose on a Board of the most experienced and intelligent commissaries; who, after all, would be able to discharge their office but very inadequately. Yet this object is accomplished far better than it could be by any effort of human wisdom, through the agency of men who think each of nothing beyond his own immediate interest—who are merely occupied in gaining a fair livelihood; and, with this end in view, without any comprehensive wisdom, or any need of it, they co-operate, unknowingly, in conducting a system which, we may safely say, no human wisdom directed to that end could have conducted so well—the system by which this enormous population is fed from day to day—and combine unconsciously to employ the wisest means for effecting an object, the vastness of which it would bewilder them even to contemplate.

I have said, 'no human wisdom;' for wisdom there surely is in this adaptation of the means to the result actually produced. And admirable as are the marks of contrivance and design in the anatomical structure of the human body, and in the instincts of the brute-creation, I know not whether it does not even still more excite our admiration of the beneficent wisdom of Providence, to contemplate, not corporeal particles, but rational, free agents, co-operating in systems no less manifestly indicating design, yet no design of theirs; and though acted on, not by gravitation and impulse, like inert matter, but by motives addressed to the will, yet advancing as regularly, and as effectually, the accomplishment of an object they never contemplated, as if they were the mere passive wheels of a machine. If one may, without presumption, speak of a more or less in reference to the works of Infinite Wisdom, I would say, that the branch of Natural Theology with which we are now concerned, presents to the reflective mind views even more striking than any other. The heavens do indeed 'declare the glory of God;' and the human body is 'fearfully and wonderfully made;' but Man, considered not merely as an organized Being, but as a rational agent, and as a member of society, is perhaps the most wonderfully contrived, and to us the most interesting, specimen of divine Wisdom that we have any knowledge of. IIoXX^ ra Ceiva, K ovSev avBpanrov Beivorepov 7reX«.

Now, it seems to me that, to this proof, that it is the design of Almighty Providence that mankind should advance in civilization, may be added one drawn from the fact that, in proportion as the religion of the Bible is embraced, and men become subjects to the revealed law of God, civilization progresses.

'And here I would remark, that I do not profess to explain why, in so many particular instances, causes have been permitted to operate, more or less, towards the frustration of this general design, and the retardation, or even reversal, of the course of improvement. The difficulty, in fact, is one which belongs, not to this alone, but to every branch of Natural Theology. In every part of the universe we see marks of wise and benevolent design; and yet we see, in many instances, apparent frustrations of this design; we see the productiveness of the earth interrupted by unfavourable seasons—the structure of the animalframe enfeebled, and its functions impaired, by disease—and vast multitudes of living Beings exposed, from various causes, to suffering, and to premature destruction. In the moral and political world, wars, and civil dissension—tyrannical governments, unwise laws, and all evils of this class, correspond to the inundations—the droughts—the tornados, and the earthquakes, of the natural world. We cannot give a satisfactory account of cither;—we cannot, in short, explain the great difficulty, which, in proportion as we reflect attentively, we shall more and more perceive to be the only difficulty in theology, the existence of evil in the Universe.

Yet many, in almost every past age (and so it will be, I suppose, in all future ages), have shown a tendency towards such presumption as that of our first Parents, in seeking to pass the limits appointed for the human faculties, and to ;be


'But two things we can accomplish; which are very important, and which are probably all that our present faculties and extent of knowledge can attain to. One is, to perceive clearly that the difficulty in question is of no unequal pressure, but bears equally heavy on Deism and on Christianity, and on the various different interpretations of the christian scheme; and consequently can furnish no valid objection to any one scheme of religion in particular. Even atheism does not lessen our difficulty; it only alters the character of it. For as the believer in a God is at a loss to account for the existence of evil, the believer in no God is equally unable to account for the existence of good; or indeed of anything at all that bears marks of design.

'Another point which is attainable is, to perceive, amidst all

« PreviousContinue »