Page images
PDF
EPUB

attempting to establish irresponsibility, you hurry past the average condition of our race, and seek your proofs in the moral wastes of the earth ? Well, dishonest as the work is, pursue it. We do not, we need not, fear the result. Wander through a:l the barbarous nations from Madagascar to Morocco, and if in any part of the desert you find a being without light, we will admit that he is without responsibility. If utterly blind, we admit that he is utterly irresponsible. But what will this avail you amid the noontide splendour which flashes upon us through the word and providence of God ? Yet if you do find such a being, a sane being, a being perfect in his senses, yet without any moral perceptions, or spiritual light, or power of conscience, will you have the heart to hold him up as the proof of a theory ? Bring him forward. O what a spectacle! Let men and angels wrestle together, until by the strenuous toil of patient love, they awaken in his mind some glimmering of his connexion with a higher order of things. There is only one conceivable sight of deeper humiliation in the wide universe of God. It is the sight of one who possesses light and yet acknowledges no responsibility to God or to man. When we find a being of this kind, we may seek out some blasted spot in creation, where the sun never shines, the dew never falls, and the green herb never grows. There let us locate him to perform quarantine; that from the solitude, darkness, and barrenness of his heart and his position, he may look upward to a vacavt heaven, and downward into the abyss of profound and final despair. Perhaps, in the course of time, he may be broken down in penitence before God, and arise in the reverence of adoring joy.

5. Another objector insists that man is the creature of circumstances. Is this so ? What then do we mean by a great man, a moral hero? Do we not signify one who powerfully struggles with every adverse current, and comes stronger out of every tempestuous trial ? Do we not behold men on every side of us who control the circumstances in which they are placed, and by the steady exercise of their inherent power, create new circumstances for themselves, and by vigorous impulses change the face of society ? Oh, responds the objector, But man himself is a circumstance. Is he, indeed ? Well, but if man be a circumstance your doctrine is mere insanity. It is then the overwhelming influence of circumstances, (not upon man, for the man is gone,) but upon themselves, or upon each other! Imperial necessity promulges a decree, that all the agencies of fatalism and all the circumstances of compulsion, are to convene that man may be victimized. But after the edict has gone forth, man has either so much wizard cunning, or so much inherent strength, that he changes his essential and distinctive nature and slips in among the circumstances ! so that after all this turmoil and trooping together in mad haste, there is nothing left for the circumstances to do, but to dance a scotch reel and go home again.

6. But here another interposes, Is not human action determined by motive? Yes, unless in the case of the insane. But what are motives ? Not distinct substantial entities apart from the man, entering into his soul, and throwing chains around his energies. Motives are generally understood as the desigpation of those feelings which are the springs of action. But this is merely the mind itself in a state of excitement, so that if there be any compulsion, man is self-compelled. To originate our own feelings, to hold our own convictions, and act under their influence, this liberty we have, and greater cannot be enjoyed by man or angel on earth or in heaven.

7. But inquires another, Have we the liberty or power of willing opposite things at the same time? No. This would only transfer the earth into a huge bedlam. It would certainly take away even the shadow of compulsion, but it would at the same time destroy causation, which is a different thing. Man's will is always free, yet always in accordance with his prevailing disposition; his volitions are voluntary, yet they always have the stamp and impress of his present cbaracter. With reverence be it stated, the Supreme Godhead has only liberty of this kind; his volitionis cannot be contrary to the purity of his nature; could he will anything evil he would divest himself of that awful holiness which essentially belongs to him. And yet though only willing that which is good and holy, we cannot deny the completeness of his freedom, nor dare we claim to be exempt from laws which regulate even the heaven of heavens.

8. It is often stated by unbelievers of the present day, that if the doctrine of free agency were destroyed we would have a millenium. What says the philosophy of history on this subject ? Let us inquire of the days that are past, and compare their responses with the revelations of the present. We distinctly remember several classes of men who denied free agency, and who, likewise, have bequeathed us the impress of their thoughts and deeds: first, The Heathen Stoics; second, The Jewish Sadducees; third, The Mahomedans; fourth, The French Philosophers; fifth, The Eng. lish Necessarians; and lastly, The Owenites of the present day, who eat flummery, hot or cold. To these, as a tribe of nondescript fatalists, we might add the Calvinists of every age. Did these men occupy the etherial summits of the moral world? Were they distinguished by the lustre of consecration ? The Stoics, of whom Cato may stand as the type, were remarkable for the most infernal pride and consummate selfishness, with so little strength of character, that they generally rushed away from the evils of life by that most cowardly vice, suicide. They never attempted to diminish the atrocities of carnage, to mitigate the woes of slavery, or to alleviate the pangs of disease and pauperism, They went scowling through the valley of humanity, only singular in more haughtiness, but not in more virtues, than the crowd; and whenever they were heavily jostled, could find no relief but by becoming their own executioners. The Sadducees were a cold and heartless class, who were mainly instrumental in consuming the life of Judaism; and it is well known that their mercy was equal to their faith, and their ferocity as prominent as their unbelief. Next shall we adventure among the Turks. Must we seek intelligence and devotion in the mosque, or sanctity and refinement in the seraglio, or, leaving the brood of the Arabian impostor, pass on to another class. Next arises Voltaire, Condorcet, Hel. vetius, Diderot, La Mott, and the Baron D'Holbach, who were all Necessarians or Fatalists, with minor variations in creed, and all scoffers with degrees of profanity and profligacy. They taught men their political rights without teaching them their moral duties. It was chiefly through their teaching that the illustrious event of the French revolution terminated in a harvest of blood and tears, becoming the fear of earth and the joy of deepest hell. The men who tore away the fangs from relentless despotism, might have settled down in the tranquillity of freedom, had it not been that their godless training unfitted them for the blessings of liberty. The doctrine of irresponsibility, in the public mind, whether distinct or floating, caused their liberty to run wild into the most ferocious anarchy, a thousand fold worse than the bondage which had been so nobly broken to pieces. Or, what have we ever received from Calvin and the legitimate interpreters of his creed, from Elisha Coles to Brine and Dr. Gill, and from Gill down to Robert Haldane ? What has this modification of Pagan fatalism given us, except intolerance, cant, and spiritual selfishness of a very loathsome kind ? We may next inquire, What have the English Necessarians given us ? those who were headed by Dr. Priestly and Mr. Belsham. All their energies were devoted in taking away the heart and bowels out of Christianity, and then they held up the breathless ghastly corpse, as a thing of exquisite syinmetry,

the
very

beau ideal of inoral loveliness. Few believed it, and those who did gathered na warmth from the exhibition. To seek for vitality or

ity among their followers, would indeed be a weary and hopeless task. If, then, the fields of fatalism and philosophical necessity, have been in the past sa singularly barren, or fruitful only in rank and rotten vegetation, by what logic are we to persuade ourselves, that another grand experiment will give us the bloom of Eden? We cannot believe that society can be parallelogramized into virtue, or restored to moral health by metaphysical pills, for we happen to know, that in every New Harmony,“ old discord" has made his appearance with some deeper shades of grimness in his ancient face.

9. So long as man remains rational and dependent, responsibility will cling to his nature. If the advocates of non-accountability will prove, in the first place, that man is not a rational, reasonable being, that he cannot appreciate laws, or the relations out of which they arise, or the necessity by which they exist, then we will admit irresponsibility, Or is, in the second place, they will prove that the relations in which man stands impose no laws upon him, that he is independent of parents, or society, or God, then we will acknowledge his irresponsibility. They must either make man a bru or a divinity; lower than the reptile that crawls in the slime of the earth, or higher than the Lofty and Holy One that inhabits eternity. Until this marvellous feat is accomplished, the temple of responsibility will stand in the sun, fair in the majesty of its proportions and the strength of its eternal columns,

G, GREENWELL.

[ocr errors]

CONFERENCE OF THE PRUSSIAN CLERGY

AT BERLIN.

A VERY important conference of the Prussian clergy took place at Berlin in June last. It was attended by about two hundred pastors, and about half the number of laymen, and lasted three days. As the proceedings of this assembly throw a good deal of light upon the actual state of the ecclesiastical bodies of the country, a short account of the same will doubtless be interesting.

The Prussian church is, in its form, something between the Episcopal and the Presbyterian. It has not the hierarchy of the Episcopal, and it has not the independence of Presbyterian establishments. Its consistories, in which its whole constitution resides, are appointed, from their presidents to their lowest members, directly to the king. Now, hitherto, or till very late years, the Prussian kings have used this authority without any regard to the prosperity of the church; the weaker she was, the better they were pleased. But the present king of Prussia is differently minded. He wishes to exalt the church and to make a power of her, and would, therefore, increase its temporal resources and promote a unity of its various sections. These views of the king are, as might be naturally supposed, very agreeable to the clergy; and as the evangelical portion of that clergy are now the most prominent, it is this party who bring these views most forward. The object of the clergy is to adopt one uniform creed, to which all parties may subscribe. There is, therefore, a great cry for the adoption of the Augsburgh Con: fession of 1530, as the best adapted to secure that object.

On the first day of the conference a discussion was opened on John xx. 23, “ Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained;" and in explanation of this verse, a doctrine of a very Romanish aspect was announced.

It is maintained by the majority of the speakers, that the power to forgive sins conferred on the apostles had, inasmuch as it was not miraculous, descended to all ministers of the gospel. M. Gerlach, a counsellor of the consistory of Berlin, who has resided in London, and often preached in the Lutheran church in the Savoy, seemed to regret that individual confession of sins was not made to the minister previous to

« PreviousContinue »