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Letter 4

On the progressive and gradual operation of the life of God in the soul or spirit of man, from its first commencement in the mother's womb, to the completion of mans growth in the several degrees of life, called corporeal, natural, rational, spiritual, and celestial.

My Dear Sir,

If the contents of my former letters on the human soul or spirit, have made that impression upon you which it was my ardent wish and devout prayer they should make, by convincing you that you possess within yourself a spiritual substance and form, momentarily receptive of life from God ; and that what you call your own life is thus, as it were, a continual stream from a divine fountain ; you will then naturally be led to inquire concerning the nature and properties of that vital principle by which you are animated. Perhaps, too, on your first view of the subject, you will find yourself perplexed by its intricacies, and at length nearly lost in a labyrinth of doubts and conjectures. For, it is more than probable, that whenever you begin to reflect seriously on the term, life from God, you will be led to conclude that it involves in it the idea of something Omnipotent; and that, consequently, it must, sooner or later, effect its own purposes without any regard to the agency of man. Possibly, too, you may be betrayed into the persuasion that since life from God must of necessity be, in itself, both pure and holy, therefore, you also, as a receiver of that life, must of necessity be pure and holy also. Or lastly, you may perhaps ask, Why does not God so entirely rule and control man by the life which He imparts, as to keep man in a perpetual state of innocence and enjoyment, without the possibility of declining from that state by lapsing into sin and misery?

I am well aware that some such thoughts as the above will force themselves on your mind, from the first moment that you begin to take into serious consideration the above term, life from God. Allow me, however, to suggest on the occasion, what I am persuaded your own good sense will dispose you both to believe and confirm, that the Almighty, in all His operations, is bound by the laws of His own Divine order; since to act contrary to those laws would be to act contrary to Himself, which is a thing impossible. The single question, then, is, What do the laws of Divine order require, with a view to render man a subject of innocence and bliss ?

In reply to this question, I am sure you will agree with me in the confident assertion, that it is absolutely impossible for man either to be innocent or blessed unless he be a free agent; since if he be not a free agent, he must then be a compelled agent; and in compulsion there can neither exist innocence or blessedness: at least, not such innocence and blessedness as are the proper distinguishing characteristics of a human being. God might, indeed, by compulsion, have preserved man from sin, and kept him also in a state of natural enjoyment like that which is proper to the brute creation; but how plain is it to see that such compelled goodness, and such compelled enjoyment, are perfectly distinct from the goodness and enjoyment to which man is called, and for the attainment of which he is endowed with every necessary qualification ? Taking it, therefore, for granted, that the laws of Divine order require that man should be gifted with freedom of will, and consequent freedom of operation, as the only proper ground in which either human innocence or human happiness can be implanted and grow, it remains now only to inquire how, or by what means, this freedom was to be attained and secured. And here I would ask, Was it possible to gift man with such freedom, unless he was first gifted with a life apparently his own ; which life, in consequence of such appearance, would expose him to trial and danger, by tempting him to believe that it was not only apparently, but really his own; and that, thus, he was an independent being, capable at once of guiding, of governing, and of gratifying himself ? For, how can man be spiritually free, unless he be acted upon both by good and evil; or, what is the same thing, by truth and error ? For, supposing him to be acted upon by good and truth alone, he must then be necessarily the subject of good and truth; consequently, not a free subject: as, on the other hand, supposing him to be acted on by evil and error alone, in this case also he must be a creature of necessity, and not of choice, because he must necessarily be under the tyrannical rule both of evil and error. Mankind, therefore, cannot possibly be placed in a state of spiritual freedom (by which freedom is meant the freedom of choosing either good or evil, either truth or error), unless they be first placed in a state of equilibrium between good and evil, between truth and error; and be gifted, at the same time, with the faculty of determining themselves in any direction by virtue of their own free choice.

Taking, then, these premises along with us, let us now turn our attention to that adorable, wonderful, and most merciful providence of the Almighty, by virtue of which, mankind, from the beginning, have been gifted with a life apparently their own; and thus placed in a state of trial and of danger, and all this for the blessed purpose of endowing them with spiritual freedom; consequently, of qualifying them for the attainment of eternal innocence, peace, and blessedness, through conjunction with the supreme source of life and of every good.

Now, it is evident that the first state of existence into which mankind, in all ages of the world, have been introduced, is of the above description ; inasmuch as it is a state of life apparently their own, and thus a state of trial and of danger. For, the first state of man's existence is what is commonly called his natural state; or that state into which he is first born here below, and in which he continues for a longer or shorter period, until he acquires the capacity of distinguishing between good and evil, between truth and error, and of forming his life accordingly. The Apostle accordingly testifies to this effect, when he says, " That was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterwards that which is spiritual." (1 Cor. xv. 46.) You fancy, perhaps (as every man must fancy who judges only from appearances), that this natural birth is a product solely from natural parents, being begotten by the natural father, and conceived and born by the natural mother. But allow me, on this occasion, to observe that natural parents have no power to produce life; they can only supply forms adapted to the reception of life; the father, the spiritual form, or what is commonly called the soul or spirit; and the mother the material form, or what is commonly called the body. Into these forms life from God immediately enters; or, as it is expressed in the book of creation, " The Lord God breathed into man's nostrils the breath of life; and he became a living soul." (Gen. ii. 7.) The first access, then, of the Almighty to every man is in the mother's womb; agreeable to the Divine declaration," I was cast upon Thee from the womb; Thou art my God from my mother's belly." (Psalm xxii. 10.) And again,"Thus saith Jehovah that made thee, and formed thee from the womb." (Isaiah xliv. 2, 24.)

Behold here, then, the first rudiments of a living soul and of a material body, in every individual of the human race! Behold, too (and let the view excite at once your astonishment and adoration) how the Almighty is ever present and ever operative in those rudiments; to the intent that He may finally create a human being, capable of enjoying a life apparently his own, and at the same time, by virtue of the freewill with which he is perpetually gifted, capable of referring that life to its proper, its Divine source, and thus of enjoying it, with a hundred-fold increase of blessedness, as the real property of his Heavenly Father and his God ! But it may be useful to consider, more attentively and minutely, the progress of this new and wonderful creation, in which the Eternal, the Infinite, the Omnipotent God is momentarily at work. I shall not, however, detain you with an inquiry into the mysteries of the Divine operation in the mother's womb, previous to the birth, which is to make that mother forget" her anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world;' because your own discernment will enable you to see clearly, that in the gradual process of the formation of the infant body, that most astonishing of all mechanism, whether viewed in the whole or in all its parts,the natural father and mother of the babe are mere instruments ; whilst the Heavenly Father, by virtue of His inspired life, is the principal designer and operator. For, what human understanding can be so grossly blind as not to discern that the beautiful symmetry of the body of a child; the orderly arrangement of its varied organs and members; the adaptation of one to the other; and especially that combined harmony by which all are directed to the accomplishment of the same grand end and purpose; cannot possibly be the results of any contrivance, skill, and operation, either of the one natural parent who begets, or of the other who conceives and cherishes in her womb the nascent offspring ? I am persuaded, therefore, that on this occasion you will unite your voice with that of revealed wisdom ; and, seeing how the mercy and omnipotence of the Great Father of all flesh commence their grand work of man's first creation, and continue it for a period of nine months, in the bowels of his natural mother, you will exclaim with joy and thankfulness, in the words of the inspired writer of old, "It is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves: we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture!" (Psalm c. 3.)

Taking it, then, for granted that you are fully convinced of a divine, supernatural operation, which unremittingly exerts itself in the formation of every infant during its hidden residence in the mother's womb; allow me now to call your attention to the gradual development and process of the same operation from the moment that this infant begins to breathe the air, and to be affected by the objects of this lower world. And here, let me ask, What think you is that power or principle by virtue of which the several distinct senses of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and of the touch, are by degrees opened in the new-born child ? It is the height of absurdity to say that the child himself opens them; and it is equally contradictory to common sense and reason to assert that they are opened by surrounding objects. We are compelled, then, to confess that they are opened and rendered operative, in consequence of a latent principle of life within the child ; and that this principle is no other than the life from God of which we have been speaking, and which can alone explain to us, in a rational and satisfactory manner, the stupendous birth of the sensitive part of our being.

But, behold! a thousand other wonders present themselves to our observation, alike inexplicable, unless we take into account the Divine activity and fruitfulness of that vitality from God which first forms us in the womb, and afterwards adds to that formation by imparting to us the joys and delights of sensitive life. For, lo! no sooner are the five doors of sensation opened, by which we are rendered capable of holding communication with external objects, than those objects are admitted into the mind under the form of ideas; which ideas are at first stored up in the memory, and being thence afterwards selected, as occasion requires, become the future materials for the composition of those astonishing principles called thought, reflection, and understanding. You fancy, perhaps, as many great philosophers have done before you, that external objects possess the power of impressing the above ideas; and that matter thus operates upon mind, in consequence of some inherent quality with which it is gifted for that purpose.

But are you aware that, according to this hypothesis, you render the human mind the mere creature of material activity, and at the same time assign to matter a principle which, in the nature of things, it never did or can inherit ? For, passivity, not activity, is the proper characteristic of matter; and to deny this axiom, is to introduce a dreadful confusion of thought, by confounding all distinction between matter and spirit.

Here, then, if you are disposed to open your eyes, or rather to suffer them to be opened, to the bright light both of rational and revealed truth, you may discover at once the origin of all your ideas; consequently, of all the principles in yourself of thought, reflection, and understanding. You may discover, I say, that the impressions derived from external objects, are not made by the objects, but are more properly taken from the objects, and this by virtue of the activity of the mind; which activity is the result exclusively of that life from God to which I am eager to direct your attention. For, separate from such an Omnipotent agency, the formation and operation of the human mind are altogether inexplicable: and man, with all his wondrous powers both of sensation and ratiocination, is a riddle to himself; as the writing, alas! of too many profound metaphysicians have too plainly demonstrated. Whereas, let the simple truth be once admitted, that the human soul or spirit is in continual connexion with a vital principle, infused into it perpetually from the Great Father and Fountain of all life; and thus gifting it with the faculty of receiving ideal impressions from external objects, and of combining, analyzing, and reasoning from those ideas,and all difficulty and perplexity instantly vanish: whilst at the same time is discerned, in all its magnificence and consolation, the grand eternal truth,that as God originally created man " in His image, and after His likeness," (Gen. i. 26, 27.) so He still, by virtue of His perpetually influent life, continues at this day momentarily to create him.

Let us here stop a moment to recollect ourselves before we proceed in our inquiry respecting the further operation of that vital principle from God which, as we have already seen, is the primary cause of our existence; since it is the producing cause, first of the formation and growth of our bodies in the womb, and afterwards of the formation and growth of our minds, by means of the materials introduced through the organs of sense.

It is then to the Divine mercy alone, operating perpetually in the deep centre of our being, that we are indebted both for the beauty, symmetry, and perfection of our corporeal frame. and also for the superior and more distinguished faculties called thought, reason, and intelligence of our mental one. But, have we ever considered as we ought, the state and situation in which we are placed here below in consequence of these splendid favours and benefits bestowed upon us by Divine liberality ? Have we considered, I say, that these very favours and benefits expose us to trial and suffering; and that if they did not so expose us, they would not be favours and benefits ? You start, I see, at this remark, and therefore it will be necessary that I explain myself.

I have already shewn that human happiness requires that man's life, though derived continually from God, should yet appear to be his own; since otherwise it could not be exercised in freedom, consequently could not be blessed. I have shown, also, that this freedom must be extended to every principle of the human constitution, and especially to the determinations of the will respecting good and evil; since, otherwise, man would be a compelled, not a voluntary agent. Behold here, then, the two distinct sources of trial and of suffering to which every individual of the human race is exposed, in consequence of being endowed, through the Divine operation, with a human body and a human mind as above described! For, how plain is it to see that such a human body and mind, with all their beautiful form and symmetry,gifted, too, with the astonishing excellencies of sensitive and intelligent life,created also under the necessary law that this sensitive and intelligent life should appear to be their own ; how plain, I say, is it to see that such a body and mind, in consequence of such appearance, must unavoidably be a perpetual source, to their possessor, both of trial and of suffering, by tempting him to suppose that his life is not only apparently, but really his own; and that, of course, his talents, his virtues, and his joys, are likewise his own; so that he is the sole arbitrator and controller of all his purposes, thoughts, words, and works! Yet, how plain is it to see further, that unless man had been endowed with such a body and such a mind, and thus been exposed to trial and suffering, he could not possibly, in such case, have enjoyed freedom of will; since, as was above observed, freedom of will implies that man be placed in the equilibrium between good and evil, with the perfect liberty of choosing either the one or the other! You see then, my good friend, that your very perfections, whether corporeal or mental, whilst they tend to excite all your gratitude towards your Divine Benefactor, have a tendency, at the same time, to call forth all your watchfulness, lest they should tempt you to confirm the appearances, which they are for ever suggesting, that your life is really your own; and should thus lead you to forget that your talents, your virtues, your joys, and all that you have, whether of corporeal or mental excellence, are the continual results of the Divine life and its operation with which you are gifted. Do not, however, be alarmed, I entreat you, at the idea of being called to a state of watchfulness; for what shall we say is involved in such a state ? Is it not a state of heavenly light and of heavenly security ? For, without heavenly light there can be no watchfulness; and whensoever the guidance of heavenly light is faithfully followed, heavenly security is a certain infallible consequence. Be not alarmed, again, at the trial and suffering necessarily resulting from the appearance that your life is your own; for, without trial and suffering, or, what amounts to the same thing, without the labour of combat against appearances, with a view to the possession of realities, how is it possible that those realities should either be secured, or even known ? You, yourself, I am persuaded, are willing to allow that there are such things as real goods and evils, which, in themselves, are perfectly distinct from apparent goods and evils ; and not only distinct from them, but in many eases directly opposed to them. Thus, you will allow that the love of God and of your neighbour is a real good, and that whatsoever opposes that good is a real evil. You will allow, also, that the love of yourself, of the world, and of the flesh, is an apparent good, and that whatsoever opposes that love is an apparent evil. I would ask, then, how is it possible that the love of God and of your neighbour, which is a real good, should be known and secured, except by the labour of combat against the delusions and disorders suggested by the apparent good,which is the love of self, of the world, and the flesh? For, how .manifest is it that every good, whether real or apparent, is eager to maintain its own dominion; and that thus, the apparent good is ever at war with the real one, whilst the real one, at the same time, is ever endeavouring to establish its authority over the apparent one!

You see, then, my friend, the situation in which you are placed, in common with every other individual of the human race, as a continual receiver of life from God, and as a possessor, at the same time, of a life apparently your own. You perceive, I say, that as to your better part, your eternal soul or spirit, you thus stand in the midst between real goods and apparent ones; endowed, too, with the free power of choosing to which of these goods you will assign the superiority and preeminence. You believe, too, because the Scriptures of truth teach you so to believe, that God, with all His heavenly host of ministering angels, takes part with real goods; and is at all times in the endeavour to prevail upon you to take the same part, by giving them the uppermost place in your love and affections. On the same authority, also, you believe that the spirits of darkness, called the Devil and Satan, are arranged on the side of apparent goods, and are ever in the act of tempting you to eat of this forbidden fruit, by attaching yourself to appearances more than to realities. The important question, then, is, which of these goods will you prefer, the real or the apparent?for you must of necessity give the preference to one or the other: since, as the Saviour of the world testifies, you must either " hate the one, and love the other; or else you must hold to the one, and despise the other;" and for this plain reason, because " you cannot serve God and Mammon." (Matt. vi. 24.)

Do you feel alarmed at this view of your awful position between heaven and hell, between life and death, and of the important consequences attendant on your own decision ? Do you complain, too, of the strong propensities which you feel within yourself to exalt apparent good above real, and thus to live to yourself and the world more than to God and His kingdom ? Let me admonish you, as God Himself admonishes you, rather to be of good courage, and to hope every thing from the divine mercy and providence of your Heavenly Father, who hath been pleased to place you in this situation, the only one fitted to qualify you for the eternal blessedness which He has prepared for you. Remember, too, in regard to the propensities of which you complain, that an evil propensity is not an Evil only so far as it is cherished by non-acknowledgment and non-resistance; but that it even becomes a Good whensoever it is renounced, and its infernal origin and tendency made manifest by the light of truth; since, in such case, it is made to administer to the splendor of Divine victory, and to add to the laurels of Him that overcometh. Learn, therefore, only to distrust yourself, and in the spirit of sincere repentance, to put your whole trust in God, and you will then have nothing to fear; because then you will discover, to your inexpressible joy, that Omnipotence is always on your side; and that the dangers, the difficulties, the oppositions which excite your alarm, are the very means and instruments of promoting and securing your greater salvation.

I shall hope for the satisfaction of pursuing, at some future opportunity, my discussion on the operation of that principle of life from God which has been the subject of this letter; assuring you at present how truly I remain, in devout prayer for your eternal well-being,

Yours, &c. &c.

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