Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

of the incident alluded to, peculiarly striking and important, I hope you will allow me room in your next Number for the insertion of the following observations.

case, the doctrine of a Providence will be entirely rejected; and if such sentiments are true, the universe is a chaos; the character of the Parent of it is imperfect; all trust in him, and all supplications to him are absurd, and no part of practical religion has any good foundation."

In the first place, I must observe, that both your correspondent and the writer in the " Inquirer" have singularly misconceived the doctrine of a particular Providence, at least in the shape in which it is maintained by the excellent person who is the subject of their remarks. According to Dr. Hartley, a general Providence implies the adaptation of the circumstances of the world to promote the happiness of the whole;-a particular Providence consists in the adaptation of these circumstances with a view to the greatest good of each individual. The latter, as well as the former, he thinks that sound philosophy and revelation equal ly require us to admit. The general arguments for a divine moral government, says Dr. Price, (Dissertation on Providence, Sect. i.), “prove what has been called a particular, in opposion to a general Providence. We cannot conceive of any reasons to influence the Deity to exercise any providence over the world, which are not likewise reasons for extending it to all that happens in the world. As far as it is confined to generals, or overlooks any individual or any event, it is incomplete, and therefore, unsuitable to the idea of a perfect Being." In conformity with the views here stated, this eminent writer goes on to represent every creature in the universe as equally under the Divine care, and every change that takes place as resulting from the immediate exertion of Divine power. Having adverted to the hypothesis of those who choose rather to suppose that the same perfect direction of affairs takes place in consequence of an original establishment, without any subsequent divine agency, he observes, “If an exact foreknowledge of all actions and events, and such a perfect original establishment in consequence of it, as I have mentioned, are thought by any to be impossible; and if, for this reason, no more is supposed than that powers were given to beings, and general laws settled, and then events suffered to arise as they would, without any particular care or superintendency exercised over them; in this

If these views be correct, it follows that every thing which has happened, or is to happen in the universe, was immediately contemplated by the Divine mind, and formed from the beginning an essential part of the general plan; that every individual entered separately and distinctly into the view of his Creator; that not merely our existence, not merely our welfare in general, but every moment's existence, every the minutest circumstance which ministers to our welfare, was foreseen and provided for before time commenced his course. It also follows that the execution, as well as the original design, is in the hands of the same great and wise Being, and that in every event which happens we behold the immediate exertion of divine power. Both those changes which appear to us to involve extensive and important consequences, and those which in our wisdom we denominate trifling and insignificant, the bursting of a bubble and of a world are equally parts of one system, equally indispensable links of the great chain of events by which the purposes of the Divine government are accomplished.

But the believer in a particular Providence, thus defined, is not called upon to suppose that there are frequent, or any, deviations from the plan originally laid down; or that any events, except those proper miracles, for the reality of which we have scriptural evidence, are brought about in a manner different from that which our observation of the ordinary course of nature would lead us to expect. So far from it, a belief in permanent and uniform laws of nature, (considered, however, not as operating causes, but merely as the modes in which the Divine agency is unceasingly exerted,) forms an essential part of his system. The notion that any interference takes place, to suspend or alter these general laws, in order to prevent or mo`dify certain consequences arising from them which had not been foreseen or intended, he justly rejects, as unphi

losophical and absurd; as unauthorized by any appearances, and inconsistent with those views which both reason and revelation require us to form of the infinite perfections of the Divine Nature. At the same time that he considers every phenomenon which attracts his attention as arising from the immediate exertion of divine power, he perceives that the purposes of infinite wisdom and goodness require that these phenomena should succeed each other according to uniform and invariable laws. If it were otherwise, the experience of the past could not form a rule for the future; and this world would no longer be fitted for the education and discipline of rational and moral creatures.

is supposed to have an immediate reference to some important purpose, as implying a miraculous interference. If this be his definition of a miracle, there is an end of the argument; for his error will then appear to arise merely from that indistinctness of ideas which is the necessary consequence of a vague and inaccurate use of language.

say

According to Mr. L. it was assuming an unwarrantable degree of personal importance in the author to suppose that her preservation could be an object of sufficient magnitude to attract the attention of the Almighty. It would so, if she had imagined that she was an object of divine superintendence in any peculiar or exclusive manner;-but if she, at the same time, believed that every other human being, nay, every other creature possessed of life and sense, was an immediate object of its Creator's regard, it is obvious that a complete check must have been imposed upon all such feelings. For my own part, I should it indicated a much more unwarrantable degree of presumption for a finite mortal to pronounce what objects were, and what were not, of sufficient value to deserve the immediate attention of the Supreme, or to limit either the possible or the actual exercise of his infinite attributes in watching over the interests of all the creatures which he hath made. If it is not derogatory to his dignity to suppose that divine power was employed in the formation even of a worm or an insect, surely it cannot be unreasonable to believe that infinite wisdom and goodness are also displayed in providing for its sustenance and enjoyment. And if so, would it be irrational or presumptuous to suppose, even if we had no better ground than our own unassisted reason for the persuasion, that he will much more care for the interests of the children of men? Indeed, to suppose otherwise would be to destroy to every practical purpose the belief God over his creatures. If, then, Mr. in a moral government exercised by L. admits that any cases can be proposed in which the welfare or preservation of an individual human being would be not undeserving of the Divine regard, we are entitled, I think, to presume, from the very high but

These are conclusions which are evidently as open to him as to the believer in a mere general Providence. And it is impossible, I think, to read the passage referred to with the attention which it deserves, without perceiving that with the truth of these conclusions Mrs. Cappe's mind was fully impressed. Not a word do we there find of any express or miraculous interference; on the contrary, in every particular of the story, the natural causes of the circumstances, (some of them such as we should call trivial and minute,) the combination of which was necessary to bring about the important consequence, are distinctly related ;-so distinctly, indeed, that I am at a loss to imagine how your correspondent, who has been at the pains of transcribing, and, therefore, must of course have read the whole passage, should have so completely misconceived it. Mrs. Cappe had too much humility and good sense, as well as sound philosophy, to suppose that a miracle was to be wrought for her preservation. Nevertheless, the whole of Mr. L.'s subsequent reasoning is founded on this false and gratuitous assumption. Or, perhaps, he really considers every event, which

* It is scarcely necessary to observe, that by this term I must be understood in this place to mean, not efficient, but physical causes only; or those antecedent circumstances which uniformly and invariably precede the effect. Of efficient causes, properly and strictly so called, acknowledge but one.

I

VOL. XVIII.

3 F

by no means undeserved terms of respect and admiration in which he speaks of the subject of his remarks, that the continuance for ten or twelve years more of such a life as that of Mrs. Cappe would be acknowledged by him as one of those cases. But if this is granted, then it necessarily follows (since we are agreed that the adaptation of this world for a scene of moral discipline requires that it should be governed according to general laws), that all the circumstances which, in conformity with those laws, must be combined in order to accomplish this purpose, must also have been foreseen and provided for from the beginning. And however limited and imperfect our knowledge may be of the manner in which the various incidents and changes which occur in the world are connected with each other, we cannot fail to perceive that events of such magnitude that it is impossible for any one to suppose them to be overlooked, who believes that the Divine Being concerns himself in the remotest degree with the affairs of his creatures, are continually dependent upon circumstances which, but for this connexion, would have been considered as trifling and unimportant.

intended to prepare us for another and more enduring state, can I doubt that the circumstances in which the heirs of immortality are placed, are regulated with a view to the promotion of this great and glorious object? Why, then, should it be thought a thing incredible, that one of the purposes intended to be answered by the dispensations of the present life should be to prove in us those dispositions and feelings which may fit us for our heavenly inheritance? From a view of the constitution of our bodily frame, natural theology has derived some of her strongest proofs of the infinite wisdom and benevolence of our Almighty Creator; and it is thought not unreasonable to suppose that a Being who could have conferred upon us our various faculties at once, by a fiat of his omnipotent word, has chosen rather to resort to a complex organization, in order to afford his rational creatures an opportunity of tracing the marks of wise design, manifested in the works of nature;-why, then, should it be thought absurd to suppose that in the dispensations of Providence, his object has been not merely to accomplish the purpose immediately in view, but also to impress more forcibly on our minds a conviction of our dependence on him for every good gift, and to lead us to perceive and admire the display of his natural and moral perfections in the government of the universe? But, it is said, that in many instances we are unable to perceive this; the ways of Providence are often inscrutable. It is granted; but is this any reason why, in those cases where we can trace his counsels, however imperfectly, we should fail to do so? Still more, is there any reason why, in those cases where we have ourselves received any signal benefit, or have been delivered from some impending calamity, we are to refuse to conteniplate in the beneficent dispensation the agency of him in whom we live and move and have our being? In such cases are we to rest in second causes? Are we bound, on pain of being contemned as weak and unphilosophical reasoners, to look no further than the laws of gravitation or of muscular contraction, and to refrain from lifting up our thoughts to that great Being

Now, if all this be admitted, (and how it is to be disputed by any one who believes in a Providence at all, I cannot conceive,) I am at a loss to understand upon what grounds we can hesitate to assent to Mrs. Cappe's conclusion in the passage which has given rise to this discussion; namely, that it was the intention of a gracious Providence, by these means, at that time, to preserve her life. "It may be asked," she continues, "could not life have been preserved in a much shorter way, by simply preventing the accident? I answer, undoubtedly; but let it be remembered, that the mercy would then have been wholly unperceived, and, consequently, that not one of the salutary convictions would have been felt, which similar dangers and similar deliverances are intended to produce." Mr. L. finds in this argument only a fit subject for ridicule. To my mind, I confess, it suggests graver reflections. When I consider that the present world is a scene of trial, probation and discipline,

by whom these laws were established, and of whose mighty energies they are in fact nothing more than the modes of operation?

we to ascribe those phenomena, sometimes the instruments of good, at others, in the first instance at least, of evil, of which in popular language these inanimate objects are represented as the causes? In ascending through the series of second causes, how can we stop any where till we arrive at that Infinite Being who hath declared by the mouth of his prophet, "I form the light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil; I the Lord do all these things!"

Mr. L. has undertaken the very superfluous labour of proposing such a case and arguing upon it. Suppose a coach to be overset, carrying six passengers-two of them killed on the spot, two maimed for life, and the remaining two totally unhurt. How is this to be explained ?" Among other solutions which he imagines of this "difficult problem," one is, that "the downfal was the effect of universal rules established by Omnipotence as the permanent laws of nature;" another, "that the accident itself was in the common course of cause and effect, but that the Almighty interposed his power to save the lives of the two who escaped, and left the other four to their fate." The first is that which he himself adopts; the other, he seems to take it for granted, would have been preferred by Mrs. Cappe. With respect to his own solution, it may be sufficient to observe, that it involves an absurdity in ascribing a physical effect to a mere abstraction of his own mind. An effect can only be produced by some agent; now, a rule is not an agent, but only the mode according to which some agent operates. The laws of motion and gravitation, to which he would refer the effect in question, are not beings, and therefore not agents. They are in reality, as I have just observed, mere abstractions of our own minds, devised in order to enable us commodiously to express in one general proposition, a great variety of phenomena, which present themselves to our notice, under circumstances more or less closely analogous. Who, then, is the agent by whom these effects are produced? In the case of the law of gravitation, are we to suppose that the earth exerts a positive inherent force to draw down every unsupported body to its surface? Has it intelligence to perceive and obey the laws which its Maker hath imposed upon it? Is the earth a servant that can hear and understand the commands of its Almighty Lord? Is it in a literal sense that the winds are his messengers, and the flaming fire his minister? If not, to whom are

[ocr errors]

Supposing, then, that such a circumstance as this had actually occurred, and I were called upon to furnish a solution of the problem, I should say, that this, like every other event that occurs throughout the universe, is the result of the immediate exertion of divine power, directed to the production of that particular effect, but operating according to the uniform and regular plan which has been wisely established, in order to render this world a school in which men may learn wisdom from experience. The effect in this instance was awful and mysterious;-I do not presume to account for it; but as it constitutes a part of the great plan of Providence, as it was the necessary consequence of the previous circumstances, arising out of them at that particular time and place, as infallibly as an eclipse or a transit,- -so I firmly believe that it was connected with other effects in a high degree beneficial, and, in fact, (to adopt the language of a doctrine that has often been ridiculed, but can never be disproved,) formed an essential part of the best possible system.*

As for the other solution, every one must admit that it is in a high degree irrational and derogatory to the Divine perfections; but nothing can be more remote from the view of a particular Providence as maintained by Mrs. Cappe. I should not, therefore, have taken any further notice of this part

* For some further details on this part

of the subject, I hope I may be permitted

to refer to an Essay on the Different Views of Providence, inserted in the Monthly Repository for August, 1814. That paper contained my earliest thoughts on this subject, which a more matured, and at least annually repeated examina tion of it, have fully confirmed.

of Mr. L.'s paper, but for a very singular reference to scriptural authority, which deserves to be cited as a remarkable example of the folly of the practice too cominon among all classes, of quoting from Scripture sentences and half sentences, as detached aphorisins, without regard to argument or connexion. "Why presume," says he, "on this system of favouritism, when the very authority on which so large a portion of mankind rests its belief, has declared that one event happens alike to all?" Whether your correspondent is competent to undertake a commentary on the difficult book he has here quoted, I know not; but I think no one who reads the whole of the passage out of which these few words are selected, (Eccles. ii. 12-17,) will fail to be forcibly struck by the thoughtless precipitation with which the querulous discontented complaints of a man dissatisfied with himself, satiated and disappointed with worldly pleasures and mere worldly business, are made to pass for indisputable maxims of divine truth. "We have it from the SAME source," he continues, "that'not a sparrow falleth to the ground without our heavenly Father, and even the hairs of our heads are all numbered.'" No, says Mr. L., the hairs of our heads are not numbered; all that is meant is, that Omniscience is capable of numbering them! In this manner does a fallible mortal presume to explain away the express words of our Lord, and set limits to the Divine Omniscience! And why? Because it derogates from the dignity of the Supreme Being to suppose him to be " occupied" with such petty details; because Divine power must be fatigued, if every motion and every atom is to be guided by such "incessant and watchful regulations!"

so long as it is stated in the abstract, or veiled in dry and barren generalities; but whose imaginations, when we attempt to apply it to a particular example, are instantly carried away by some of the minor and accidental details, and they lose sight of, or hesitate to admit the general principle. This is more remarkably the case, when any of the circumstances may be turned into ridicule, or are connected with low and ludicrous images. In the present instance, it is to be feared that some readers have been more occupied by the minute particularities of the "gristle of a breast of veal," "the glass of cold water," &c., than by the important and instructive practical lesson which the author endeavours to deduce from the incident. To such minds I do not wonder that the whole should appear to savour of the ludicrous or burlesque. Doubtless, if Mrs. Cappe had been writing for persons of such refined taste and susceptible imaginations, she would have abstained from all mention of these petty and vulgar details. But I suspect her more sober readers would have been losers rather than gainers by this sort of fastidiousness. We are none of us, perhaps, sufficiently aware how much of the force and value of correct general principles is lost, by neglecting to apply them ha bitually and constantly to particular cases. The cases themselves may be minute, and, if taken separately, may appear trifling and insignificant; but the habit of mind which is thus cultivated, and which can thus alone be brought to perfection, is often of the highest importance. Sometimes, as in the instance before us, the details may be such as to excite, in those who have not accustomed themselves to view the hand of a Sovereign Disposer in all the events and circumstances of their lives, nothing but low and ludicrous associations; but there are others, I trust, who will be actuated by sounder principles and better feelings. For myself, replete with instruction as is the whole of this valuable work, I do not hesitate to declare that those parts of it appear to me pre-eminently so, in which the writer endeavours, from those circumstances of her life which might otherwise have been considered as uninteresting to the public, to deduce

After all, there is one point of view in which this passage of Mrs. Cappe's Memoir may possibly be thought liable to some exception. The correctness of the philosophical principle is, in my opinion, unquestionable; but how far it was judicious to connect it with the detail of a variety of minute particulars is a matter of taste, on which some doubts may perhaps be started. There are, unfortunately, many persons who are ready enough to acknowledge an important maxim,

« AnteriorContinua »