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Edward Hitchcock.

The religion of geology and its connected sciences online

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form of its statement. That brings forward certain prominent and appalling
evils, and endeavors to show that, in striking the balance of their
effects, the preponderance is on the side of benevolence. This advances a
step farther, and attempts to show that the direct object of evil is to
produce good.

It follows, hence, that the examples adduced and elucidated under the last
argument are not inappropriate to sustain and illustrate the present. Yet
others should be added.

Almost the entire history of medicine and surgery illustrates the manner
in which physical evils result in physical good. Indeed, men never resort
to the physician, or the surgeon, because their remedies and operations
are desirable, but only because they are the necessary means of health and
comfort. These means are, indeed, for the most part, of human invention,
but not, therefore, the less indicative of the divine intention; for they
are founded upon such a constitution in nature as makes it possible to
discover remedies for disease and accidents. And the characteristics of
nature's constitution are an index of the intentions of its Author.

The severe mental discipline through which the youth must pass, who would
attain distinction in learning, affords us an example of intellectual evil
resulting in intellectual wealth and happiness. The trial is too severe
for many irresolute minds, and they give over the effort, and sink down
into a state of indolence and neglect. But he who bears manfully the
discipline will at length gather the golden fruit. And he will be
satisfied, too, of the wisdom and benevolence of that law of mental
progress, which makes it impossible ever to find a royal road to the
temple of learning, and which shuts out from that temple all who shrink
from the preparatory discipline.

Still more strikingly illustrative of this argument are the evils which
men suffer as necessary precursors of moral good. These may be physical or
mental; embracing all those experiences that take the name of trials,
afflictions, and disappointments. These are often intensely bitter, and
they constitute, indeed, the master evils of life. We shudder when we see
them coming; and we often writhe in agony when in the furnace. But how
many have come out of that furnace purified from base alloy, and ready for
the service of God and the world! To do good is henceforth their delight;
and they thank God for the severe discipline. When his heavy blows fell
upon them, one after another, they felt as if they were the strokes of an
incensed Deity. But now they see that they were only the necessary
inflictions of infinite love. And they admire the wisdom that could thus
educe so much good out of so great evil.

I do not contend that good is always educed from evil in this world, or
could be; but only that, in a plurality of cases, if men improve the evils
they suffer as they might, such would be the effect. And if this be
admitted, it is sufficient to establish the general principle, that one of
the direct objects of evil in this world is to produce individual benefit.

But the converse of this proposition cannot be maintained. We cannot,
indeed, deny that evil sometimes results from good; but never as the
direct object of the latter. The effect is only incidental; that is, not
as the main object; and so a few cases of this sort cannot invalidate the
proposition which I defend.

I might multiply much more the arguments furnished by nature to prove a
predominance of benevolence in the arrangements and operations of the
present system of things. But I see no way of escaping the force of those
presented, and cannot doubt that all will admit the conclusion. I advance,
therefore to a second proposition, and maintain that _the benevolence
exhibited in the present system of nature is not unmixed_.

I mean, by this statement, that the divine benevolence exhibited in this
world is modified by other perfections. While there is a predominance of
benevolence, there are also indications of God's displeasure; or, at
least, his dealings seem to be adapted to restrain and amend a wicked
race, rather than to make an innocent and holy race happy; so that the
condition of the human family is far less happy than unmixed benevolence
would confer.

In proof of this assertion, I maintain, first, that evil is incidental to
every process and event in nature.

This is pre√Ђminently true of all those actions which we call vicious.
Indeed, they are in themselves evils of the worst kind; and not only so,
but they are connected incidentally with scarcely any thing but evil,
though sometimes, as theologians say, overruled for good.

Take next the common operations of nature, which, of course, have no moral
character. Their leading design, as we have already seen, is to produce
good to sentient beings; but incidentally they bring much evil. Food is
intended for gustatory enjoyment and for nourishment; but it is often the
occasion of severe suffering, and becomes an active poison. Gravity is
intended to hold the material universe in a proper balance, and to attach
every moving thing on earth to the surface; but it occasions a vast number
of accidents, and a vast amount of suffering. Water and fire are of
immense direct benefit; yet the first buries a vast amount of property and
life in its bosom, and the latter is scarcely less injurious in its
incidental effects. Indeed, what natural agency can be named, that is not
armed with the power to do evil?

But the same principle extends also to benevolent actions. With our views
of divine benevolence, we might expect that virtuous conduct would never
be coupled with evil. But this notion does not accord with facts; for the
incidental evils connected with benevolent action are often the most
painful in life. Indeed, in how many instances has doing good been
rewarded by the loss of life, and under all the aggravations of suffering
which malignant ingenuity could invent! And the fact has been, that those
whose motives in doing good were the purest have suffered the most.
Witness the life and the death of Him who knew no sin, and yet was led as
a lamb to the slaughter. Since wickedness in this world is sometimes
allowed to have the power of annoying goodness we might expect that the
more disinterested the latter, the more malignant and persecuting would be
the former, because its own deformity is made more manifest.

But the incidental evils connected with benevolent action are not limited
to those resulting from the malice of the wicked. If, for instance, some
huge system of iniquity has become incorporated into the very texture of
society, benevolence cannot root it out without producing many a severe
laceration of individuals, who are incidentally connected with the system,
but to whom no blame attaches. The history of the efforts that have been
made to substitute Christianity for heathenism and other false religions,
is full of examples illustrative of this principle, in conformity with the
remarkable declaration of Christ, _Think not that I am come to send peace
on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword._ Alike prolific of
illustrations are all the great attempted reforms which the world has
witnessed, whether for delivering religion from human corruptions, or
eradicating slavery, or intemperance, or breaking the political yoke of
the oppressor. In fine, no reasonable man ought to expect to do much good
in this world, without suffering much himself and bringing some incidental
suffering upon others.

Now, although the evils that have been described are incidental, they
belong to the constitution of this world, and, therefore, show the
feelings and intentions of its Author, as much as those effects of his
works which appear to be their final causes. But do not such evils,
incidental to every event, indicate a feeling in the divine mind different
from unmixed benevolence? Strictly speaking, these evils are not penal
inflictions. But they certainly do not show in the Creator a simple desire
to promote the happiness of men, by directly conferring it. They rather
indicate a necessity, on account of some peculiarity in the character of
man, of mingling severity with goodness in the divine conduct towards him.

In thus representing incidental effects as indicative of the feelings of
the Deity, I may seem to contradict my reasoning under the first head,
where I gave, as proof of God's benevolence, the fact that the direct
object of every contrivance is beneficial, and evil only incidental. But I
did not mean to intimate that the incidental effects of a contrivance are
no index of the feelings of its author, but only that the direct effects
show more clearly than the incidental what are his wishes and intentions,
especially if the former are the most numerous, important, and striking.
Still, incidental effects are never without an object; and where they are
evil, as in the case supposed, they indicate other feelings towards men,
in the divine mind, than unmixed benevolence. For it is a strange
limitation of God's wisdom and power to say, as some do, that the evils
could not be prevented.

It may be said, however, that if men only conform to the laws of nature,
they will escape all the evils they suffer. On the other hand, I
maintain, - and this constitutes my second argument to show that the divine
benevolence is not unmixed, - I maintain that the highest virtue and the
most consummate prudence cannot avoid all the evils of life.

Such prudence and virtue will not secure any one against many destructive
natural agencies and operations to which he is exposed. Miasms productive
of fatal disease may contaminate the atmosphere we breathe, unperceived by
us; poison may exist in the food which we take as our necessary
sustenance; the mechanical violence of the elements, or of gravity, may
crush us; the lightning may smite us to the earth; the wild beast may rush
from his unnoticed lair as we pass; or the deadly insect, or serpent, may
inject its poison into our blood at an unexpected moment; or the floods
may overwhelm, or the fire consume us.

Now, although prudence and virtue may defend us against many evils, they
afford no security against such as I have named, in very many instances.
We are often ignorant of their existence or proximity till we become their
victims, and suffering, often intense, is the consequence. Indeed, the
greatest of all physical evils - I mean death - is as sure to visit every
son and daughter of Adam as any event can be; and nothing but insanity, or
its religious synonyme, fanaticism, has ever pretended to be proof against
disease and death. You cannot, indeed, point out any particular organ or
agency, whose direct object is to produce disease and death; but they are
nevertheless the inevitable result of organic operations and agencies in
such a world as this.

It will be said, perhaps, that the good resulting to the whole from even
the most severe of these sufferings, overbalances the evil, and therefore
they are indications of benevolence in such a world as ours. True, as
things are, this may be so. But the question is, Why is there such a
constitution given to nature as made it necessary to introduce disease,
accident, and death? Would not unmixed benevolence have conferred the
good, but have withheld the evil? Had there not been something in man's
character requiring the discipline of trials, would pure benevolence have
sent them? At least, we should suppose that they might all have been
avoided by prudence and virtue. Why should benevolence make such severe
drawbacks upon the happiness even of the virtuous, if something were not
radically wrong in the human constitution?

Thirdly. The great sterility of so large a part of the earth, and the
necessity of severe bodily labor to secure sustenance from it, show us
that the benevolence exhibited in nature and in man's condition is not
unmixed. Though some limited regions are exuberantly fertile, the larger
part of the earth yields up even a mere sustenance only after the severest
labor. And the vast majority of the race can do nothing more than to
obtain food for the body. The artificial state of most societies does,
indeed, keep the lower classes much more depressed than a better state of
the world would bring them into; but at the best, nature unites with
revelation in attesting the truth of the sentence passed upon man - _In the
sweat of thy face shalt thou eat thy bread._

Nor is this necessity for severe labor confined to the cultivation of the
earth, but extends to all kinds of human pursuits. Success, as a general
fact, can be secured only by vigorous industry; and often, in spite of
their most honest and persevering efforts, men fail of securing even a
competence for the support of themselves and their dependants.

Some will say that all this arises from a necessity in the very nature of
the case. But does not such a view limit the divine power and wisdom?
Could not God have prepared a world more paradisiacal than the present,
where the earth should spontaneously yield her fruits, and pour out her
hidden treasures at man's feet? Who will deny this? Why, then, has he not
done it? Because obviously a race so prone to evil as man, so incapable of
maintaining his integrity in the lap of ease and indulgence, needs all
this severe discipline to keep him where he ought to be. Here, then, we
see a reason why God must mingle seeming severity with benevolence.

The same thing is seen, in the fourth place, in the confined and depressed
condition of the human mind in this world, and in the multiplied obstacles
in the way of its cultivation and enlargement.

What a clog to the intellect is a body governed by gross appetites, and
often stopping the ingress of truth, or perverting its aspect, by
disordered and imperfect senses! Nearly one third of the time must that
intellect sink into oblivion, while sleep recruits the physical powers.
And nearly another third of life must be given to the wants of the body;
and as we have seen, the great mass of men are obliged to devote nearly
their whole time to serve the necessary wants of the body. What an
incalculable waste of mind does the world exhibit! And even when all
artificial and unnecessary obstructions are taken out of the way, what an
immense waste must it always present, while in so gross a corporeal
tenement! for were it free to exhibit its true nature, we cannot doubt its
power of unwearied and incessant activity. And such might have been its
condition here, had it pleased infinite wisdom and benevolence. But what
unmixed benevolence would have prompted, perfect wisdom would not permit
to fallen man.

I feel confident that my first two propositions are established, viz.,
that there is a predominance of benevolence in the arrangements and
operations of the present world, and yet that it is not unmixed
benevolence. I advance to a third proposition, which asserts that _the
same mixed system of good and evil, which now exists, has always prevailed
since the earth was inhabited_.

Geology shows us the true succession of events since the first appearance
of organic beings on the globe, but no chronological dates are registered
on the rocks. And it is only by observing processes in existing nature,
analogous to those whose record is engraven on the solid strata, that we
can infer that the years since life first appeared on the surface must
have been very many. But however far back in the hoary past that event
occurred, we have indisputable evidence that the same laws then controlled
the operations of nature as now, and the result was the same mixture of
good and evil.

In the crystalline structure, and in the perfect crystals of the older
rocks, we learn the laws which predominated at their production. And we
find that the same chemical, electrical, and electro-magnetical influences
presided over their formation as are now exhibited in the laboratory of
the chemist or the laboratory of nature. Now, these crystals conduct us
back much farther than the dawn of terrestrial life, though similar ones,
and produced by the same laws, are found through the whole series of
rocks, from the oldest to the newest. And I might appeal to many other
facts in the earth's history, which demonstrate an identity between the
physical laws that have controlled nature's processes in every period of
past time.

We have evidence, also, of the same identity in the laws of life, or
organic laws. In the anatomical structure of the earliest animals and
plants we find the same general type that pervades the present creation,
modified only, as it now is, to meet peculiar circumstances. This is true
not only of the osseous, but also of the muscular, circulatory, nervous,
lymphatic, and nutritive organs. Hence, as we might expect, we have
evidence of the prevalence of the same functional or physiological laws
then, as now. Respiration was performed, as it now is, and with the same
effects. Vegetable and animal food was then, as now, masticated, digested,
and assimilated; and since animals possessed the same senses, we infer
that their habits were essentially the same. There is not, indeed, any
evidence that ancient animals and plants exhibited any peculiarities of
structure or function, save those necessary to adapt them to the
circumstances, so unlike the present, in many respects, in which they
lived.

We are sure, also, that death has ever reigned over all organic nature. It
has always been produced by the same causes, and attended by the same
suffering. And its ravages were repaired by the same system of
reproduction as now exists. All this we might presume would be the case,
upon the discovery of an identity of laws, mechanical, chemical, and
organic; but we have direct evidence, also, in the countless remains of
animals and plants entombed in the rocks, more than twenty thousand
species of which have been disinterred by naturalists and described.

I might multiply facts almost without number to sustain the position, that
the same mixed system has ever prevailed upon the globe; for geology is
full of the details. But in a subsequent lecture, the subject will be more
amply discussed.

Such are the facts respecting the divine benevolence, as they are
presented in the volume of nature. Though benevolence decidedly
predominates, it is modified by other divine attributes, and ever has
been, since organic existence began upon the globe. Let us now, _in the
fourth place, see what inferences are fairly deducible from the whole
subject_. For those inferences, if I mistake not, will not only clear away
every cloud from the divine benevolence, but throw much light upon man's
condition.

In the first place, the subject shows us that the world is not in a state
of retribution.

As a general fact, virtue is to some extent rewarded, and vice to some
extent punished. But it is not always so. Indeed, the picture is sometimes
reversed apparently; and the good are afflicted because they do good, and
the wicked triumph because they do evil. Evil abounds, but it is not so
distributed as righteous retribution would award it; neither is good.
Since, therefore, God's justice must be infinitely perfect, there must be
some other object for the prevalence of good and evil in the world besides
righteous retribution.

Secondly. We learn from the subject that the world is in a fallen
condition.

I mean, that man has fallen from holiness and happiness. For the world is
evidently not such a world as infinite wisdom and benevolence would
prepare for a being perfectly holy and happy. Philosophize as we may, we
cannot discover any reason why the abode of such a being should be filled
with evils of almost every name - evils which the most consummate prudence
and the most elevated virtue cannot wholly avoid - evils which often come
upon the good man because he is eminent for holiness. But if man has
fallen from original holiness and happiness by transgression, we might
expect just such a world to be fitted up for his residence, because evil
is indissolubly linked to sin, perhaps in the very nature of things,
certainly by divine appointment. We know that it brings a curse upon every
thing with which it is connected; and here we see a reason for the blight
that has marred some of the fairest features of nature, and introduced
pain and suffering into the animal frame, and brought a cloud over man's
noble intellect, and hebetude over his moral powers. Such a fallen
condition will explain what no other supposition can, viz., the clouded,
fettered, and depressed condition of all organic nature.

Yet, thirdly. We should not infer that man's condition was hopeless, but
rather that mercy might be in store for him.

The very fact that the world is not in a state of retribution would seem
to afford hope that God had other purposes than punishment in allowing
evil to be introduced. And then the vast predominance of benevolence and
happiness around us cannot but inspire hope for the fallen.

This will be still more manifest if we infer, and can show, fourthly, that
the world is in a state of probation or trial.

By this I mean that men are placed in a condition for the trial and
discipline of their characters, in order to fit them for a higher state.
If fallen and depraved, they need to pass through such a discipline before
they can be prepared for that higher condition. And surely no one can
observe the scenes through which all pass, without being struck with their
eminent adaptedness to train man to virtue and holiness. Until we have
been pupils for a time in this school, we are not fit even for the
successive states in this life into which we pass; much less for a higher
condition. But there is a marvellous power in this discipline to prepare
us for both, as vast multitudes have testified while they lived and when
they died. Even death seems, so far as we can see, to be the only means by
which a sinful being can be delivered from his stains; and the dread of
this terrific evil is one of the most powerful restraints upon vice, and
stimulants to virtue. There is, in fact, no condition in which man is
placed, no good or evil that he meets, which is not eminently adapted, if
rightly improved, to discipline and strengthen his virtue. Hence we cannot
doubt that this is the grand object of the present arrangements of the
world. True, if misimproved, the same means become only a discipline in
vice. But this is only in conformity with a general principle of the
divine government, that the things which rightly used are highly
salutary, are proportionably injurious when perverted.

Fifthly. The subject shows us a reason why suffering and death prevailed
in this world long before man's existence.

God foresaw - I will not say foreordained, though he certainly permitted
it - that man would transgress; and, therefore, he made a world adapted to
a sinful fallen being, rather than to one pure and holy. If he had adapted
it to an unfallen being, and then changed it upon his apostasy, that
change must have amounted to a new creation. For, as I have endeavored to
show in a previous lecture, (Lecture III.,) the whole constitution of our
world, and even its relations to other worlds, must have been altered to
fit it for a being who had sinned. To have introduced such a one into a
world fitted up for the perfectly holy, would have been a curse instead of
a blessing. It was benevolence on the part of God to allow evil to abound
in a world which was to be the residence of a sinful creature; for the
discipline of such a state was the only chance of his being rescued from
the power of sin, and restored to the divine favor.

It may be thought, however, inconsistent with divine benevolence to place
the inferior, irrational animals in a condition of suffering because man
would transgress, and thus punish creatures incapable of sinning for his
transgression.

Animals do, indeed, suffer in such a world as ours; but not as a
punishment for their own or man's sin. The only question is, Do they
suffer so much that their existence is not a blessing? Surely experience
will decide, without inquiring as to their future existence, that their
enjoyments, as a general fact, vastly outweigh their sufferings; and hence
their existence indicates benevolence. It should also be recollected that
their natures are adapted to a world of sin and death, and they are
doubtless more happy here than they would be in a different condition,
which might be more favorable to unfallen accountable beings.

Finally. This subject harmonizes infinite and perfect benevolence in God
with the existence of evil on earth.



Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 19 of 39)