On the peculiarly important situation in which every individual of the human race is placed, as a receiver of life momentarily from God, in consequence of the danger to which he is exposed of being deceived by the appearance that this life is his own, and self-derived.
My Dear Sir,
Having, I trust, convinced you, by the contents of my two former letters, that, under the outward covering of your material body, you possess an immaterial and immortal soul or spirit which is a real substance and form, created to receive life from God ; I should feel myself greatly wanting in the regard I owe to you, as well as in the duty which that regard so powerfully imposes on me, if I did not now proceed to give you a few words of cautionary counsel, respecting the Divine origin of the life with which you feel yourself animated; and in regard also to the conduct, on your part, which will be necessary to preserve it from defilement, from perversion, and from destruction; and thus to improve it to all those blessed purposes and ends for which it is given.
Allow me, then, to observe in the first place, that, notwithstanding the positive evidence which both reason and Revelation supply, of the astonishing fact that your life is imparted momentarily from God; and that you are thus dependent on your Great Creator, every instant, for its continuance; yet your senses, and the persuasions to which they give birth, will be for ever opposing that evidence, by endeavouring to seduce you into a belief that your life is, as it indeed appears to be, absolutely your own, and totally independent of any foreign source. Nor is this circumstance at all to be wondered at, inasmuch as the senses, we find, are perpetually liable to be imposed on by appearances, and to decide accordingly, whether in explaining the phenomena of nature or of life. Thus, in regard to the phenomena of nature; it is the ordinary fallacy of the senses, that the sun performs a diurnal revolution round the earth, and that when he appears to rise and set, he really rises and sets; nor is it an easy matter to correct this fallacy, even by demonstrations of the most enlightened philosophy. It is, again, an ordinary fallacy of the senses, that the eye sees, and that the ear hears; when yet, a sound and sober philosophy teaches that the mind alone sees and hears, and that the corporeal eye and ear are mere instruments for the conveyance of sight and sound to the mind. The case is precisely the same in regard to the phenomena of life. A sensual man, therefore, or one who is under the guidance and government of sense, will of necessity contend, in spite of all argument to the contrary, whether grounded in reason or Revelation, that his life is his own, and independent, since such is the appearance, and appearance is what on all occasions influences and determines his judgment.
But, methinks I see you collecting all your powers of argumentation, and setting them in battle array against the representation which I have here stated, of the delusion imposed by the senses, and especially of the fallacy which they induce in regard to your continual reception of life from God. You contend, therefore, that had it been a matter of any great importance for you to believe in such reception, the Divine providence of the Most High would surely have so constructed the senses that, instead of opposing your belief, they would have united all the force of their testimony in confirming it; and you would thus have been exposed to no danger of seduction, but would have embraced the salutary and edifying sentiment without difficulty, and particularly without the regret of thinking that the difficulty was excited principally by "the foes of your own household."
Your reasoning is exactly what I anticipated, and, therefore, I am the better prepared to reply to it, by observing, that, in the above instance, no blame at all attaches to your senses, since they only do what the Divine Providence ordained them to do; viz., confirm the appearance that your life is your own, independent of any other source. For such, it is manifest, is the divine will and intention respecting the senses, inasmuch as, notwithstanding the eternal truth that all life is from God, yet it is necessary that this life from God, should appear to be man's own, and that he should exercise it as his own; since, otherwise, it would be impossible for him to exercise freely, and if he could not exercise it freely, it would be equally impossible for him to exercise it with happiness and enjoyment to himself. For, let me appeal, my good friend, to yourself, and ask you, whether you think your life would be any gratification to you, if divested of the semblance of its being your own? Would not you, in such case, feel perpetual constraint, attended with an uneasy consciousness that you were another's, and not yourself and that, consequently, you were not a creature of freedom, but of compulsion? In the exercise, for instance, of your reason and of your will, what possible satisfaction could you find in it, unless it was attended with the sensation that both your reason and your will were your own, and that you had thus the liberty to use them as your own ? If, then, it be necessary for your happiness that you should be a free agent, it is at least equally necessary that your life should appear to be your own, and underived, even at the very moment that both reason and Revelation assure you to the contrary. Let not, therefore, the senses be blamed for suggesting a fallacy which is pregnant with so many advantages to yourself, but rather let the Almighty be adored for His astonishing providence in their constitution and operation; by virtue of which you are rendered capable of exercising and enjoying your life freely, as if it was your own, and yet of referring it, at the same time, to another, that is to say, to God, as the continual unmerited effect of His adorable love and bounty!
Besides, I am persuaded your own discernment will enable you to discover that the faculty of freewill,that high and super-eminent gift with which man is endowed, and of which I have frequently heard you speak in terms of the most unqualified eulogy,is connected, in a great measure, with the fallacy of the senses of which I am now speaking. For, if no such fallacy was in operation, in other words, if your senses did not suggest the idea that your life is your own, independent and underived; and if, consequently, they did not tempt you to transgress the laws both of Divine truth and Divine goodness, where, let me ask, would, in such case, be the freewill of which you boast ? For, can freewill be said to exist where there is no opposition of principles ? Does not this admirable faculty consist in choosing either what is good and true, in preference to what is evil and false, or what is evil and false, in preference to what is good and true ? If, then, you had no temptation from your senses to believe and to do what is evil and false, you would, of course, be necessarily kept in a belief and practice of what is good and true; and how can you reconcile such necessity with the idea of freewill ? Supposing, for instance, that in Paradise there had been no tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and no prohibition against eating of its fruit, and that Adam and Eve had thus been exempt from all trial and temptation; and, consequently, had been necessarily exempt from all evil and error; how, in such case, could they be said to have had freewill ? How, therefore, in such case, could they have been the subjects of praise or blame; of commendation or of condemnation; in short, of happiness or of misery, both of which, there is every reason to believe, are in the closest and most indissoluble connexion with man's freedom ? Now, what the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was to Adam and Eve, that your senses are to you ; and the prohibition, in each instance, is the same, and sanctioned, too, by the same penalty; since death, in both cases, is the declared result of eating of the forbidden fruit. But, then, it ought never to be forgotten that, in both cases, the benefit to be derived from the trial is, at least, equal to the mischief; since the trial involves in it the exercise of freedom; consequently, the sole qualification for bliss, because the sole characteristic either of responsibility, of obedience, or of duty.
Let not, then, any sentiment of indignation or resentment be excited in your bosom against your bodily senses, as if, by the fallacies which they are perpetually presenting, and by the temptations to which they continually expose you, you were a sufferer from their operation. For, so far from this being the case, I will be bold to assure you, that you have every thing to hope both from their treachery and their seduction, provided you maintain your guard, by consulting and obeying those interior powers and principles with which the Almighty, in His mercy, and by virtue of the life which He momentarily communicates, has been pleased to gift you.
It is true that your senses are for ever attempting to impose upon you, and thus to extinguish all consideration of duty, whether owing to God or man. But then it is equally true that you have power and light from God to detect the imposition, and thus to assert your dominion over your treacherous organs. And what, on this occasion, shall we say will be the happy consequence, provided you maintain your ground by taking part with God against those treacherous organs ? Will not those organs, in such case, supply the laurels of victory ? Will not they, by bringing your freewill into exercise, not only make manifest to you the incomparable value of that high faculty, but tend, at the same time, to increase your bliss, by demonstrating to you the nearness, the omnipotence, the mercy, and tender regard of your Heavenly Father ? And will not the snares and deceptions to which you are exposed by your connexion with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, contribute finally to give an additional flavour and relish to the fruit of the tree of life ?
But here, perhaps, you will contend, and say that, provided man's general conduct be pure and unblamable, it is then of little or no importance whether he believes his life to be underived and independent, or believes it, on the contrary, to be a living stream flowing continually from its divine fountain. True; but here arises an interesting question, Is it possible for man's general conduct to be pure and unblamable, so long as he remains confirmed in a belief that his life is underived and independent ? For, can it be supposed that such a belief will have no influence on a man's actions ? On the contrary, will it not necessarily affect his ways and manners both of thinking and of acting ? since, if he believes his life to be underived and independent, he must of course believe his science, his reason, his intellect, and his will, to be underived and independent also. He must thus conclude, that in all the common concerns of life he is left to be the sole arbitrator of right and wrong ; that all his powers and faculties are absolutely his own ; that the Almighty, so far from being present with him in the deep centre of his being, by virtue of momentarily communicated life, is at an immeasurable distance; and that he is, consequently, at liberty to follow his own inclinations, without any check from a witness and monitor so near to him as a life-giving God.
But, perhaps, this point may be set in a stronger and clearer light by examples; and, therefore, for the moment, let us conceive two young men, whom for the present I will call Callidus and Sophron, entering together on the great journey of human life; the former of whom had been educated in a belief that when God created man, He endowed him with a power of propagating not only forms receptive of life, but life itself; whilst the latter had been instructed, on the contrary, that man has no power at all to propagate life, but only the forms receptive of life. The former, viz., Callidus, of consequence regarded his life as his own, independent of any Divine Source; whereas the latter, viz., Sophron, whilst he, in like manner, regarded his life as his own, conceived it to be derived continually from God, as a stream in connexion with its fountain-head.
What now, let me ask, would in your judgment be the probable effect of the different persuasions of these two young men, as manifested in their conduct, or in the general tenor of their lives ?
Callidus, we have seen, regards his life as something independent, and unconnected with the life of God. Will he not, then, of course, think you, regard his talents, his affections, his thoughts, his words, his works, his delights, &c. according to the same idea; and thus consider all these things as the results of some independent faculty, inherent in himself, rather than as the manifestations and blessed fruits of that life which is continually imparted to him from above ? Will he not, consequently, be in danger of attributing to himself what properly belongs to the Divine Bounty? We will suppose that his talents are of a superior order, so as to entitle him to distinction, by commanding the respect and admiration of all who know him. But lo! that very respect and admiration, in consequence of being claimed as his own due, when it ought to have been referred to the Divine Author and Giver of his talents, intoxicates his mind with pride and vanity, and thus becomes in him the source of crimes and of misery. We will suppose, again, that he is celebrated for what the world calls virtues, because he is liberal, generous, and zealous on all occasions of promoting the welfare of others, whether publicly or in private. It is well: but what shall we think or say, if these virtues also are claimed as his own ; and he is thus found to rob the Almighty of the honour due to his Holy Name, as the sole proprietor of all virtue ? Will not, in such case, the very virtues of Callidus draw down upon his head a greater condemnation, by leading him to exalt himself more than God ; and thus to bow his knee in the idolatry of self-worship, instead of bending it in acceptable worship before the throne of the Infinite and the Eternal ? Yet, if Callidus calls his life his own and independent, how can it be expected that he will call his virtues by any other name ? How, therefore, can it be expected that either in his affections, his thoughts, his words, his works, his delights, or in any other properties either of mind or body, he will look up to any Being above himself as the prime author, agent, director, and controller ? Besides, if Callidus calls his life his own, instead of regarding it under its proper character, as the life of God in him, is it to be supposed that he can attribute to it all that high value, sanctity, and importance, which its proper character involves ? Is it to be supposed, too, that he will be watchful, as he otherwise would be, to guard the holy thing within him from perversion and from defilement, that so it may grow, like the grain of mustard seed, into a tree, and the birds of heaven may come and lodge in the branches thereof ? It is evident, then, from the example of Callidus, that as nothing can be more untrue, so nothing can be more dangerous and defiling, than the idea that man's life is his own, self-begotten and independent; consequently not as a stream from a Divine Fountain, with which it is in perpetual connexion, but as a separate spring, possessing virtues, qualities, and properties of its own, which, in like manner, are severed from every other source.
But the truth for which I am here contending, will be seen in still fuller lustre and importance, if we turn our attention to young Sophron, whose education, it was shown, was formed and conducted on this principle, that his life, though apparently his own, and imparted with the manifest design that it should seem to be his own, is yet a continual derivation from the Divine Fountain of Life, and in perpetual connexion with that fountain.
Observe, then, the countenance of this young man, and you will see it always composed, yet full of energy; serious, yet cheerful; intelligent, but perfectly free from the vanity and conceit of intelligence: and all this in consequence of his being continually impressed with a devout sense of his momentary connexion with the Divine Father of his being, by virtue of the living principle which he momentarily derives from that Heavenly Parent. Extend now your observation to the daily current of his affections and thoughts, to the exercise of his talents, to his words, his works, his delights; in short, to the whole circle both of his mental and bodily operations, and you will find that all is influenced by some high consideration, grounded in the consciousness that he is not left for a moment self-dependent, since his life, with all its activities, is derived from another; whilst to himself belongs nothing but reaction, or a dutiful compliance with the imparted vitality. Sophron, therefore, though possessed of high intellectual powers, which might entitle him to eminence in any situation of life, and though distinguished, too, by splendid virtues, manifested in a regular course of the most disinterested charity, and of strict attention to duty under every relationship in life, is as humble as he is intelligent, as lowly as he is virtuous. And would you know the reason ? It is because he never appropriates to himself either intelligence or virtue; but, on the contrary, refers those excellencies, and every other, to the Divine Spring in himself from whence they flow. In this respect, therefore, more especially, the religion of Sophron, and the worship which it enjoins, differ essentially from the religion of Callidus, and from the worship which he pays to the Great Author of his being. For Callidus, in all his addresses to the Almighty, looks up to a God out of himself: whereas Sophron, in his addresses, looks up to a God within himself. Callidus, again, in the exercise of his reason, and in the discharge of the common business and duties of life, rather separates himself at a distance from the Father of his being, in consequence of regarding his reason, his talents, and his virtues as things separate: whereas Sophron, in the exercise of his reason, and in the discharge of the common business and duties of life, finds his God nearer to him than at other times; because in the use of his talents, whether in thought or work, he considers God as the principal agent, and himself only as the instrumental one. Still Sophron, notwithstanding his regard to God as a principal agent, and to himself only as an instrumental one, feels himself in possession of the same freedom of operation with Callidus, and even of a greater, inasmuch as it is a prime article of his faith that he ought, on all occasions, to exert himself freely as of himself, yet under the secret, inward acknowledgment that all his power to do so is from another. But what, above every other consideration, marks the superior excellence of the faith of Sophron, is the high value and importance which it imparts to his life, and the consequent watchfulness which it induces to guard that vital and holy principle from defilement, from disorder, and from death. For, being accustomed to view his life as a continual gift from the Most High God, his mind is impressed with a deep sense of the inestimable treasure thus momentarily committed to his care by his Heavenly Father, compared with which, all the wealth and glory of this world are but as empty baubles. On this treasure, therefore, his inward eyes are continually fixed, as on that "pearl of great price" for which the wise "merchantman selleth all that he hath, and buyeth it;" (Matt. xiii. 46.) and his grand, his daily study is to buy this pearl: in other words, to make it his own, by incorporating it into all his affections, thoughts, purposes, and ends of life. For he is well aware that his senses, and especially the powers of darkness, who are in communication with his senses, are ever eager to lessen the value of that pearl by tarnishing its lustre; and not only so, but are intent also on its destruction, by leading its infatuated possessor to forget, to despise, to defile, and to annihilate it.
It would be endless, my excellent friend, to enumerate all the advantages by which the faith of Sophron claims a decided superiority over the faith of Callidus; and thus proves to a demonstration, that the persuasion that man's life is a continual gift, and not a principle inherent in himself, is not only true in speculation, but of the first importance also in practice. I shall not, therefore, detain you at present any longer on this subject, than only to observe, that the situation of every individual human being, at this day, in regard to his eternal destination, is precisely the same with that of Adam and Eve in Paradise; and that, consequently, he is no sufferer by the transgression of those first offenders, but only by his own transgression; or so far as he also listens and yields, like them, to the seducing language of the serpent. For, how plain is it to see, from what has been already said, that in every man's intellectual garden are still planted two trees, the one of life, and the other of the knowledge of good and evil; and that he has still power from God, by virtue of his freewill, to eat of the former tree, and to reject the temptation to taste the fruit of the latter! It is true indeed that, in consequence of hereditary evil, and the accumulation of disorder, by which both our voluntary and intellectual faculties are thus tainted, and their forms distorted, the fascinations of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, aided by the serpentine cunning of the spirits of darkness, have acquired at this day a more powerful and alarming ascendancy than at the period of the first creation. But, then, it is equally true that, in consequence of the redemption wrought by the Great Saviour, and the fuller communication of Divine strength imparted through the glorified humanity of that Incarnate God, the ability to resist those fascinations is proportionably increased; so that the equilibrium is still preserved, and we are thus free and at full liberty to be the arbitrators of our own eternal lot, either by yielding to or resisting the powers of seduction. Let you and I, then, my good friend, only look to that Glorious Redeemer, as we are kindly invited to do, and humbly beg of Him the grace to keep us in the pure and blessed path of His most holy commandments; and we shall then assuredly experience, to our unspeakable joy, and with an evidence incontrovertible, that the gates of the garden of Eden are still open, and that, as we enter in, we shall find, and may eat of, the tree of life in the midst; agreeable to the gracious promise of that Redeemer, " To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God." (Rev. ii. 7.) Thus shall we be taught, by demonstrative testimony in our own bosoms, that we have lost nothing by the sin of our first parents; but that, on the contrary, if we are faithful, we may be gainers by it, inasmuch as that sin hath been instrumental in bringing into manifestation and operation a greater fulness of the Divine mercy and truth, by virtue of which a more abundant communication of heavenly graces and blessings may be opened to us; agreeable to the declaration of the Good Shepherd, where He says of His sheep," I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." (John x. 10.)
Having thus, I trust, convinced you of the importance of your situation as a momentary receiver of life from God, and of the imminent danger to which you are exposed by calling that life your own, and thus exercising it as independent life, I shall now leave you to your own reflections on the interesting subject, yet not without the hope of being able to resume it at a future opportunity. In the mean time I shall not fail to pray earnestly that the Almighty may be pleased to bless the contents of this letter to your eternal good; and thus to teach you that heaven and hell, life and death, the blessing and the curse, are all of them within your reach, and all of them likewise soliciting your acceptance: so that to you is extended the full force of the Divine and ever memorable words, "I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live." (Deut. xxx. 19.)
I remain, yours, &c. &c.