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N° 6. TUESDAY, MARCH 27.
Θεον και προνοιαν επιςεύεν εξ ών εθαύμαζεν.
"Their admiration of God's might, displayed in his works, produced in them a conviction also of his providence and moral government."
THERE is an agreeable parallel drawn in Cicero's Nature of the Gods, which throws considerable ridicule on the obstinacy of an atheist: "His case," says he, " is like that of a person, who, upon entering a large house beautifully constructed and commodiously arranged, and finding it untenanted by any animal of greater power, sagely concludes it to have been built by the mice he sees running about it." Thus the atheist disbelieves in Providence, for no other reason than because he does not see him actually at the great work. He has, however, the choice only of two conclusions: he must either attribute the creation of the world, and its moral government, to God; or he must attribute unwearied constancy and unfailing order to chance.
When I see our reason thus raised in rebellion against our hopes, and nursing errors so frightful and monstrous, I am tempted to repine at this privilege and distinction of our nature, and can almost regret the possession of an instrument we may so easily handle to our own destruction. The sensible proofs of the existence of a God are so very manifest, and, to speak in scriptural language, are so scattered
about our paths, that one can hardly think this primary article of our faith a part of our probation, or that any degree of merit is attached to it. I have seen, however, in some men, a sort of foggy understanding, which outrages every object, and melts down proportion and colour into a mass of mighty confusion, in which there is no susceptibility of beauty, and whence light and order are for ever excluded. To one of this temper, the harmony of the system in which we move appeals in vain; the return of the seasons can make no impression upon him; and the revival of the verdure, and the regeneration of the blossom, brings him no delight or consolation.
I have ever considered it as one of the most touching instances of the benevolence of our Maker, that he has afforded us this great variety of sensible proofs of his existence and providence, in the vast scene that lies before us: and our sense of this bounty and condescension is very much raised by considering, that it not only sustains our hopes, and confirms our faith, but reaches to the mere concerns of this world, and diverts and refreshes the spirits, in the seasons of disappointment, of exertion, and of
Sir William Temple has observed, that there is a kind of sensual pleasure in a fine day; our very organs and fibres seem to feel its invigorating influence; our veins riot, and our spirits bound. If it be a sensual pleasure, it is not only the most innocent, but it is ennobled by its relation to those which are intellectual: and it is plain how much it is our interest to enlarge the sphere of these sorts of enjoyments, which we may indulge in without reproach, and persevere in without satiety.
It was a favourite idea of the stoics, that to con
template and admire the excellencies of Nature's works, forms a capital part of our duty and destination in this world. We may observe also, that, when they dwell on these testimonies of a providential government of the world, the unity of design that every where discovers itself obliges them to speak of one great Omnipotent. For the same reason does Cicero deify the world itself, rather than ascribe such integrity and perfection of plan to the counsels and agency of the gods in general.
Among all the animals which walk upon the earth, and inhale the breezes of a summer-day, man alone, erect and contemplative, is conscious of the benefaction, and capable of its delights: it should, methinks, therefore be somewhat affronting to the Deity, to pass by these tokens of his benevolence, without either tribute, or homage, or grace, or sensibility. For my part, I find no recreation so agreeable to my temper and my years, as the study of nature. I work under my mother's tuition in the school of botany; a science she has followed up, the greater part of her long life, with much perseverance and delight. She frequently bestows upon me great commendation for my specimens, but thinks I waste too much time in my comments and reasonings upon them; and the other day, on my forgetting the names of some of her favourites, she called me a giddy boy, and touching my cheek softly with her hand, observed, with a melancholy smile, that thus would the names and chronicles of the house of the Olive-branches be forgotten after our departure.
But to return to my subject: I was going to remark, that the study of nature is as much distinguished from other subjects by the variety of its topics, as by the value of its conclusions. All our different tastes and geniuses may here be severally
consulted. As the colour and tendency of our minds dispose us, we find a suitable order of proofs; and while one is struck with the solemn and unwearied return of seasons and of fruits, another is better pleased with considering the bland and unerring powers of instinct, which gathers under the mother's wing the little brood of helpless stragglers, and makes its voice heard amidst the howlings of the desert. It is by these contemplations that we learn, in the scriptural phrase, to walk with God, and cherish towards him a certain loyalty of heart, that brings all the ardours and sensibilities of our nature to the side of religion.
I cannot admit among those who reap the true advantage of this study, our modern collectors of 'cabinets, whose ambition is generally to accumulate rarities only for the distinction they confer, and to swell their lists from a sterile sort of ostentation, without any advancement of real knowledge. The true philosophical observer finds his cabinet of curiosities in his own and his neighbour's fields and gardens; and the interest he feels in every object is not in proportion to its unfrequency, but to the indication it affords of design and providence in the government of the world.
This consoling testimony, so abundantly spread over the face of nature, seems, if I may so express myself, to be distributed into different masses and portions, in the examination of which we may follow the bent of our particular tastes and studies.
some have been principally captivated by the stated motions of the heavenly bodies, as most inimical to the notion of chance; others consider the Divine wisdom as most emphatically announced in the structure of the human frame; and not a small number are best pleased with contemplating it in the
properties and affections given to plants. The playfulness and innocent joys of young children are to others the kindest proofs of a superintending Providence: and sir Isaac Newton was of opinion, that a primary mover of all things was incontrovertibly shown by the revolutions of the planets in their orbits, which are the combined effects of a projectile and centripetal force; the latter of which is accounted for by the laws of nature, but the former supposes the voluntary impulse of a predisposing hand.
Thus the various classes of nature's works present to the studious and contemplative a various arrangement of proofs, as different tastes and opinions decide. New discoveries enrich this valuable collection; and, as we advance in the knowledge of nature's varieties, we find fresh ornament in truth, fresh dignity in devotion, and fresh reason in religion. If, after this partial consideration, we mount a stage higher in the argument, and take a view of the whole plan and order of our system, the unity of design and connection of parts force us upon concluding that one pervading spirit directs the whole.
At this point did the excellent author of the Analogy take up the argument, and, bending his thoughts to discover how far this unity of plan lay open to human penetration, he has shown us that we can trace it through the course of natural and revealed religion he has shown us that the same character of goodness and wisdom is stamped upon each portion of God's government; that the same venerable order and progression is every where observed; that the great truths of each unfold themselves in the same course of patient and gradual discovery; and that in each he has opposed certain limits to our in