« AnteriorContinua »
twenty, and sometimes to thirty in a day. I had not gone through the New Testament, before I was fully convinced of the truth of Christianity. Now I resolved on a new course of living. This resolution I adopted the 13th July at 12 o'clock on the Sabbath: and at three I wrote a recantation of my deistical principles to an intimate friend of the same sentiment. On Monday morning following, for the first time in my life, I called my family together, exhorted, and prayed with them. This, by the grace of God, I have done ever since. But I ought not to forget telling you, that after I was beaten off the foundation of Deism, I embraced Calvinism, and held on to it, for the space of three weeks, when I discovered its fatal effects, and renounced it.
During my convictions, I suffered indescribable horrors of mind, I thought once, that there was no mercy for me. I however continued in prayer day and night, much to the astonishment of all, who had been previously acquainted with me. Even my wife imagined for two days that I was a crazy man. I resolved, in addition to my own prayers to obtain those of my godly neighbours; and therefore sent and invited all in the neighbourhood to come, see, and pray for a poor desponding Infidel. Accordingly, a number assembled, and at one o'clock com menced their devotions to God in my behalf--and at three o'clock, while many of their pious souls were employed in singing and prayer, it pleased God to release my soul from bondage, and with heavenly extacies, in the fulness of Jesus, I cried out, Glory to God. About two weeks after my sins were pardoned, I determined to become a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church. A number of my old deistical companions were collected on the occasion. In the name of God, in the Methodist Church in Wilmington, and in the presence of a large congregation, I went forward to the altar and enlisted under the banner of Jesus. This I have not regretted since, and hope I never shall. I hope ere long to hail you and my brethren on the banks of glorious deliverance. H. B. H,
P. S. On the Sabbath when brother H. joined the Church, one man in particular, who had been an unbeliever, was solemnly impressed-became an enquirer after truth from that hour, and never rested until he became happily acquainted with the Saviour of sinners, and is now a steady member of our Church.
From Smith's Lectures on moral and political Philosophy, deliverered in the College of New-Jersey.
(Concluded from page 348.)
THE power of beginning action without being itself impelled by any extraneous impulse, is one of the principal distinctions between spirit and matter. Matter, that is impelled by other matter, receives an impetus according to the quantity and direction of the force with which it is impressed. And without the impression of some external force it is inert. But mind is essentially active; it is capable of beginning motion, and of communicating motion to other things, antecedently to the action of any anterior force upon it. Otherwise how shall we account fo all the motions of the universe? how account for creation itself? For we cannot surely be under the necessity here of combating the atheistical absurdity of fate, and making all existence depend upon an abstract and unintelligible idea. The Infinite and Eternal Mind, the author of all power and wisdom, has given existence and motion to all things by that intrinsic power which mind possesses over matter, and over its own movements. He could not originally have been moved by any consideration, extraneous to himself. If motive can be ascribed to the Deity, the motive, the power, and the wisdom in him must have been simultaneous and co-eternal with his existence; or if we can conceive of any order in the divine mind, power, and wisdom, must have been prior to any system of motives that could arise out of the arrangement of the universe; for that arrangement, and every motive of action resulting from it, must have first been conceived, and received effect from him. He was self-determined by his own sovereign power and wisdom, conceiving most freely the system, to which he freely gave existence. To say, with Leibnitz, that there was a best in the plan and idea of the universe antecedent to the act of the Creator, which of necessity his infinite power converted into fact, seems certainly a very un
founded principle. Much more consistent it is with our apprehensions of the wisdom, power, and perfection of the Deity, to believe that he could have conceived an infinite variety of systems, any of which should have been equal in its structure to that which he has formed; but, in his sovereign pleasure, he gave effect only to that which exists. No antecedent motive in the state of the universe influenced his action. He created all motives; and in its conformation, and arrangement, only gave existence to his own idea. As an inherent self-determining power is essential to the infinite mind by which he controls all the movements of the universe; so has he given to man to possess an image of that power, in the control that he enjoys over his own will and over all the actions of his mind, as well as of his body.
In all disquisitions concerning the will, it ought perhaps to be laid down as a primary principle, than which there can be no axiom in science more evident, that the mind is perfectly free in her volitions. It stands on the same footing with the clearest testimonies of sense and consciousness. This, indeed, is confessed by some of the most strenuous advocates of necessity; although in order to preserve their theory they are obliged to maintain that it is a delusive feeling. They lay it down as a maxim that the human mind acts and can act only in consequence of motives; whence, as they conceive, results this necessary consequence, that it must be determined by the strongest motive, or at least by the last motive immediately present to its view before acting. Whence arises this ulterior consequence, that, the train and order of motives being arranged by another power than man's, his mind, in all its acts, is subjected to the law of an imperious necessity, over which it can have no control.
This naked and bald idea of necessity, in its evident tendency, goes to destroy all moral distinctions; but we have the pleasure of perceiving that nature, in her care for human happiness, often contradicts, by her practical dictates, the errors of a too subtle speculation. And some distinguished philosophers have had the candor to acknowledge that, however certain their principles appear in theory, they are not able to carry their conclusions into practical life. The invincible feelings of liberty, every moment stand in the way of their uncomfortable.speculations. Not a few of these hardy philosophers, however, like the French Helvetius, and the British Kaims, boldly avow the moral
results of their system, and declare virtue and vice to be only names invented for the use and convenience of society. If the existence, or the happiness of society depends so much upon these names, there can hardly be conceived, one would think, a stronger argument for the reality of the things. But if we degrade a consciousness so clear and determinate into a deceitful feeling, by what criterion shall we admit any principle of science to the rank of an axiomatic or first truth? Is there any proposi tion, or even any perception of sense, more clear, or more irresistibly convincing than this, that we are free in acting? The clear and ultimate perceptions of nature are the foundations of all truth and certainty in reasoning.
Before I conclude my reflections on this question, I must ob serve that liberty, as a principle of moral action, has a much more extensive power than merely controlling our general conduct within a certain sphere, according to our present inclinations, and dispositions. It extends to the power of resisting our inclinations, of correcting any habits of thinking and acting which may be in opposition to our duty, interest, or pleasure; and in a word, of changing our moral dispositions. Of this we need no other proof than the obvious effects of moral culture. The most ignorant mind may become enlightened, the most rude and uncultivated taste refined, and the most vicious disposition reformed. And this effect we see produced simply by presenting clear ideas, and distinct examples of virtue, and of taste before it; and by illuminating and directing it in the free and proper exercise of its natural faculties and powers. It is true, when any violent passion has seized, or any inveterate prejudice, or habit, has in a manner incorporated itself with the soul, it becomes extremely difficult, and, in some cases, almost impossible to effect a favourable change. But the ideas of difficulty, and of necessity, are totally distinct. And surely the increasing strength of all moral habits arising from time, and by indulgence, conformably to universal experience, is an argument against the fatalist; unless they will imagine a useless distinction of grades in necessity, where every grade is uncontrollable perdition.
An argument is sometimes employed on this subject which would operate against all power of moral reform in vicious men, unless there be presupposed in them a miraculous change, that is, a change wholly independent on all natural means of instruction and cultivation in the moral dispositions of the heart. With
out such a change, it is asserted, in which, however, the will of the agent cannot have any concern but that of a passive subject, no moral motive can have effect in producing the habits and principles of virtue. A man of depraved affections, it is said, is blind to the proper beauty of virtue; and has, moreover, an aversion to the purity of its sentiments, and to the restraints which it imposes on his inclinations. On both these grounds, therefore, in the first place, want of discernment of the excellence of virtue, which will hinder the effect of any motive drawn from that source; and, in the next place, aversion from its restraints, and from the purity of its sentiments, he will be hostile to every virtuous reform, and therefore incapable of true virtue, as long as he is left merely to the action of his own natural powers.-This is a mistaken view of human nature. There are principles in the moral constitution of man, which lead even the vicious to understand, and approve a degree of virtue beyond their own present attainments, and enable them to perceive, at least, some faint and dawning rays of its beauty and excellency through the mists of their passions, before they are enamoured of its perfection. Here, then, we behold a vantage ground, in advance of their actual state of morals, on which moral culture, reason and reflection can take hold to carry forward to an ulterior point, their improvements in knowledge and virtue. And as these improvements proceed, the same means of assisting their progress continually advance before them.
In this process of the mind there is a striking analogy between the cultivation of morals, and of taste. The uncultivated mind is blind to the finer and more delicate beauties of taste, as the immoral heart is to the excellencies of virtue. It prefers a ruder and coarser execution in all the works of art: because it is not yet prepared to understand and relish those of a higher and more perfect order. Still, however, there are principles in the rudest mind which give a perception of beauty and elegance, in examples properly placed before it, always in advance of its own present state of improvement, and its present powers of execution in the liberal arts. And in these principles we discern the means of still further improvements. These reflections exhibit a proof of the moral freedom of man, and of power over his own actions, to fulfil his duties, and, notwithstanding his present imperfections, to advance in the career of moral and mental cultiva