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as a practice which it is dangerous and reprehensible to neglect or discourage.
A question, however, arises whether these ideas (common as they may be) on the subject of prayer, or religious worship of any kind, are not wholly founded in ignorance and error; whether they do not betray at once false ideas of ourselves, and erroneous impressions of the Deity. Can man render a service to God? In all religious exercises is not the benefit to be derived wholly and exclusively his own? Is prayer a duty, a debt which all should pay? Or is it not rather a privilege to be sought for with ardour, and which only a few—those who are worthy and to whom it is benevolently given-can pretend to possess? These are important questions; and it will be necessary, in some degree, to answer these, before we go into the more immediate subject of our inquiry.
Accustomed as we daily are to see the externals of religion -to listen to the forms of worship--and to hear the common use of the name of God, it is with difficulty that we can go back to first principles and see things as they really exist. The Jews, perhaps, acted wisely when they wholly abstained from repeating the hallowed name of Jehovah; it is certain that many, who call themselves Christians, act impiously in the frequent and familiar use which they make of the title and attributes of Deity. Let us consider for a moment God and man—the creator and the created: that eternal, omnipotent being who“ lives for ever-preserving and upholding "all things by the word of his power"--with that weak, imperfect, mortal creature whose“ life is a life of trouble,” whose “ days are as grass,” and who, when assembled in countless nations, even“ all the inhabitants of the earth,” is “ reputed as nothing before him and counted less than nothing and vanity.* Not for himself, surely, but for our sakes, must God have formed us.
Our praise cannot exalt-our worship cannot
our fidelity cannot gratify Him; neither can our abstaining from these things degrade, or injure, or hurt Him for a moment. Well was it asked, by one of old, “ Can a man
be profitable unto God, or is it gain to Him that thou makest thy ways perfect? Thy wickednesss may hurt a mun as thou art, and thy righteousness may profit the son of man; but if " thou sinnest, what dost thou against Him; or if thy trans“gressions be multiplied, what dost thou against Him? If thou "be righteous, what givest thou unto Him, or what receiveth He "at thy hands?4 So much for the duty—the “indispensable
Isaiah xl. 17.
+ Job xxii. 2, 3; xxxv. 6, 7, 8.
“duty" of man to serve and glorify God. Poor reptile! that, like an insect in the ground, would seek to magnify the greatness of that being who “ sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers.”*
In connexion with the error which we have been noticing there exists another, equally common, and, to say the least, equally pernicious in its consequences: namely, an idea that God is by nature the FATHER of the whole human race, and, as a necessary consequence, that all mankind, indiscriminately, are entitled to the privilege of being his children, and of publicly praying to him as their common parent. I propose to shew that these ideas are neither founded in reason, nor justifiable from scripture; and first, to try the assertion by the test of reason.
God, it is argued, is the father because he is the creator of all mankind. But between the ideas of parentage and creation there is no necessary connexion. Let us look closely into this matter. A parent is that being who has been the means of bringing another being of a nature similar to his own into existence, by which means the species is propagated and continued. God therefore is evidently, in strictness, not the parent of man. That he should be so indeed because he is his creator involves this further absurdity—that he must be equally, and for the same reason, the parent of the brute ereation-of the whole of animated, perhaps, we may equally say, of inanimate nature;
for is he not equally the creator of all these, as of man? This is to disprove the assertion at once, by reducing it to a gross and palpable absurdity:
Some-finding the position untenable, when founded on the creative power of God-maintain it on the ground of his providence, and the unlimited benevolence of his nature.
He is,” they argue, “alike the father of all mankind, “ because he equally supports all by his power and blesses “all by his beneficence." The reply here is precisely the same as in the former case. The reductio ad absurdum might here be equally employed, by shewing that the benevolence of God extends as well to the brute as to the rational part of the creation; besides which, as before we have seen that there is no necessary connexion between creation and parentage, so here we may assert that there is no such necessary connexion between benevolence and parentage. To render this more evident let us take an illustration. A rich man, il benevolently disposed, may extend his charity
* Isaiah xl. 22.
to the whole surrounding neighbourhood; but it would be at once absurd and presumptuous were all the objects of his bounty to join in claiming a right to his care, and to contend for a natural connexion between them, by proclaiming themselves his sons and daughters. This same individual, indeed, whilst thus benevolent to all, might (particularly if without natural offspring) be induced peculiarly to select one as his adopted child; and to that individual and to him only the title of son could in common propriety be applicable. The tendency of this argument is evident. The Deity is this Being, benevolent and merciful to all; to adopt any of his creatures as his children, must be, on his part, an act of choice and condescension. Has he made this choice? Has he thus condescended? An answer to these questions will presently be given when we come to the scriptural part of the subject.
A writer, whom it is impossible to name but with respect, Dr. T. S. Smith, in his admirable " Illustrations of the “ Divine Government," appears to have fallen into the common error which we are now adverting to. In describing the omnipotence of God, he is led to speak of “ the relation which “the creator necessarily bears to his creatures. On this subject he says “God is not merely their creator. By the "very act of creation he unites himself to them by a tie but
feebly represented by that which binds a parent to his child. “He is THEIR FATHER in a much more near and real sense than
any human parent is the father of his offspring; and the best “ feelings of earthly parents must be exceeded by his, in the degree in which he is more perfect than they."
In reply to this I can only repeat-that if God be the father of his creatures, “ by the very act of creation,” then must he necessarily and equally be the father of all the beings he has formed. Not confined to
“ Man's imperial race," the relationship must equally extend
“To the green myriads of the peopled grass." But he is their father “ in a much more near and real sense “ than any human parent is the father of his offspring.” Here, in fact, lies the fallacy. A father can be but a father; how then can any being be such in a more near and real sense “than a human parent?” Whether or not the relationship
* Third Edition, p. 27.
be more or less near we need not stop to inquire; all I contend for is, that it is different. Even on Dr. Smith's own admission the tie by which the creator is connected with his creatures is “ but feebly represented by that which binds a “ parent to his child;" or, in other words, the relationship between God and man, by nature, is not the same as that which subsists between a parent and his child—which is the very point for which I am contending.
The obscurity which attends this subject has in a great measure been produced by a confusion of figurative with literal terms. Any man who looks at all closely at the subject must at once perceive, that, literally, God is the parent neither of the whole human race, nor of any part it; that he is—and ever was--and ever will be throughout eternity past and to come-ONE: neither deriving his existence from a parent, nor communicating his powers to any offspring. "Man, therefore, either individually or collectively, can only by the way of figure be called his child. Now figures of speech, unless closely watched, are delusive things; it being evident that no simile holds good throughout, or indeed it would cease to be a simile and actually become the thing to which it was compared. Under what circumstances is it then that this particular simile is applied? God--who is not by nature the parent of any being-is yet sometimes spoken of as the father of human beings; if not by nature, therefore, he must become their parent by adoption; and for this two preliminaries are necessary: first, that the Deity should have offered to adopt; and second, that the individuals to whom that offer was made should have accepted the gift and have performed the conditions, if any such were enjoined them. Who then has God adopted ? and who are they who have performed the prescribed conditions ? to revelation we must again turn for a reply.
In favour of man, however, as possessing superior claims to being regarded as the son of God, an exception is still taken on the ground of the great superiority of his mental and rational powers above those of all other created beings with whom we are unacquainted in the present state of things. This argument might well be considered as replied to in the preceding remarks; but, unwilling
to leave any thing on this important subject unattended to, I should wish to put the matter in the following point of view, for the consideration of the reader.
The superiority of man to the other portions of animated nature is evident and, of course, allowed; still, as com
PARED WITH Deity, the question is, whether the difference is not one rather of degree than of kind. Is there one power of the body, or one faculty of the mind, possessed by man, which we do not, in a greater or a less degree, find possessed by some of the lower animals ? The same skill is evident in their formation; the same power is exerted to preserve them; the same benevolent care is visible in providing for their pleasure and well-being. They, like man, possess a capability of pleasure and pain; like him they are organized beings, who hold existence by the means of a complicated and wonderful machinery; they live like him, and by nature they descend with him to a common grave; for, till “ life and immortality were brought to light” by Jesus, it might with truth and propriety be said that “that which befalleth the
sons of men befalleth beasts, even one thing befalleth them; as "the one dieth so dieth the other; yea! they have all one breath, “ so that a man hath no pre-eminence over a beast.”* Man, in intellect, indeed, was certainly at all times pre-eminent above the brute creation; but he was not therefore the child of God, any more than the horse because superior in speed the dog because remarkable for faithfulness--or the elephant because distinguished by sagacity.
The comparative insignificance of man, when compared with his Maker, has already been adverted to. nature the child of the living God! Look at the human animal in the weakness of infancy--the giddiness of youth ---the selfishness of manhood—the feebleness and imbecility of old age: see him in savage life; or observe him degraded by ignorance--blinded by superstition-brutalized by crime ! Iš man then the child of God? But I would not wish to appear as if desirous of drawing an unfavourable picture of the human character. Take man then in the most flattering point of view. Regard him as “ noble in reason; infinite in " faculties; in form and moving express and admirable.” What, after all, is this “quintessence of dust,” when he approaches the presence of his Maker? Though “ the beauty of the “ world,” what is he but "the paragon of animals”-the highest and the most distinguished of the created things of this world? One amongst the multitude of beings that live to shew the
of their Maker-a creature whose mind, indeed, is capable of expansion and improvement; but who, in the absence of revelation and of true knowledge, could
* Eccles. iii. 19.