On the mischiefs and dangers to which man is exposed, by suffering himself to be confirmed in the appearance that his life is his own or self-derived ; and on the contrary, the blessing and security which never fail to result from the growing conviction, that the all of his life is a continual derivation from a divine fountain ; yet still intended to be exercised and enjoyed by him as if it was absolutely his own and independent.
My Dear Sir,
If you have reflected seriously, as I trust you have done, on the mystery hinted at in the conclusion of my last letter, you will be glad to attend to its promised development; and will, accordingly, lend a willing ear whilst I endeavour to convince you that you have nothing to fear, but, on the contrary, every thing to hope, from the appearance that your life is your own or self-derived, provided you do not confirm it.
In pursuing, however, this part of my argument, it will be necessary that I previously call your attention to what you have to fear, in case you should be so unwise as to confirm the above appearance.
By confirming, on this occasion, I would be understood to mean, not merely a speculative, but also a practical establishment in your mind of a denial that your life is from God ; which denial leads you finally to conclude, both speculatively and practically, that your bodily sensations, together with all the higher energies of scientific, rational, intellectual, and voluntary faculty, originate merely in yourself; and consequently, have no connexion with any power within or above yourself.
But, need I be at any pains to expose to you the mischievous and dangerous tendencies of this conclusion ? For, do not you see, of yourself, that it is directly opposed, not only to the doctrine of faith as taught in the gospel, but also to the doctrine of life; and, consequently, that it is at variance with every evangelical precept; and this to such a degree as to render the whole economy of the gospel dispensation of none effect, either as a dispensation of truth, or as a dispensation of life and salvation ?
For, let us examine now the gospel dispensation, in the first place, as a dispensation of truth, and then mark the striking contrast between that truth and the direful conclusion of which we are speaking, that the all of sensitive, of scientific, of rational, of intellectual, and of voluntary life in man, originates merely in himself; and, consequently, has no connexion with any power within or above himself.
Jesus Christ repeatedly announces His supreme divinity, by assuming to Himself the distinguishing, characteristic title of the life ; (see John xi. 25, chap. xiv. 6.) and, at the same time, by teaching that He is the giver and the bread of life. (John vi. 33, 35, 48.) But, what now shall we say is involved in this high titlethe life, and also in the singular power of communicating it ? Are not we constrained to say that the term life implies the all of activity and energy in the several constituent principles both of the souls and bodies of men; and that, consequently, it bespeaks that its Divine Giver or Communicator hath some secret internal connexion with such souls and bodies? Is it not plain, therefore, to demonstration, that when Jesus Christ called Himself the life, and declared also that He giveth life to the world, and is thus the bread of life, He intended to publish to mankind the interesting, the most edifying intelligence, that He is the Divine source of all vital activity and energy, whether of soul or body; and that, consequently, He hath His secret abode, as a principle of life, in the deep centre of every human mind?
To assert, then, that you possess in yourself a principle of independent life, or of life unconnected with Jesus Christ as its Divine source, is to oppose, in the most direct manner, the testimony of that Great and Holy God ; and thus to set at nought the whole doctrine of faith, or of truth, as delivered in the gospel. But this is by no means the worst effect of such an assertion; since it not only contradicts the doctrine of evangelical faith, or of evangelical truth, but it also, at the same time, has a tendency to annihilate the doctrine of evangelical life, by depriving it of all its meaning, power, and blessed intention. For, what shall we say is the principal or leading doctrine of evangelical life, as taught in the sacred pages of revealed wisdom ? Is it any thing more or less than the doctrine of self-denial, or of that renunciation of ourselves which may lead us to humble and abase ourselves before our Great and Merciful Creator, under the inward, devout acknowledgment that " we are His people, and the sheep of His hand;n consequently, that all we have, and all we are, is from Him, and is His? For, what else can be meant or intended by the precept where it is written, " Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple (Luke xiv. 33.) and again, " If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me:" (Matt. xvi. 24, Mark viii. 34, Luke ix. 23.) and again, " If any man come to Me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple." (Luke xiv. 26.)
But how, now, is all the wisdom of these Divine precepts contradicted, and even annulled, by the deadly persuasion that man is possessed of a principle of independent life ! For how is it possible for any one, under the influence of such a persuasion, to forsake all that he hath; since the forsaking all that he hath, evidently implies the humble acknowledgment, that he hath nothing but what he receives; consequently, that his life, which constitutes his chief property, is from God, as a continual momentary gift ? How is it possible, too, that any one, under the influence of such a persuasion, can deny himself; since self-denial manifestly implies the denial of the selfish suggestion that his life, with all its powers, activities, purposes, and joys, is his own, and not another's? And lastly, how is it possible that any one, under the influence erf such a persuasion, can hate his own life ; inasmuch as his own life can never become hateful to him, until he is convinced of the extreme folly and danger of calling it his own, instead of acknowledging it to be the merciful and perpetual gift of his Heavenly Father ?
It is evident, then, to demonstration, that in proportion as you confirm yourself in a practical belief that your life is your own independent property, and, consequently, unconnected with a Divine source, in the same proportion you oppose, both in speculation and practice, some of the most important doctrines of revealed wisdom. The gospel thus becomes to you not only a sealed but a useless book; because, whilst your persuasions are at variance with its truths, your conduct is at irreconcileable enmity with its purposes and its purity. And what, think you, must be the necessary result of such outrage against the light and life of heaven and its God, but that you will thus become one of those branches broken off from the true vinethe tree of life,of which branches it is written, that " men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned (John xv. 6.) For, will not all that is sensitive, all that is rational, all that is intellectual, all that is voluntary and operative in yourself, be referred solely to yourself, as to its highest and only source; and instead of kindling in you the flame of heavenly love and gratitude to the Giver of all good, as it was designed to do, will it not add fuel to the fire of a devouring and destructive self-love, in which you will be consumed, together with your sensations, your reason, your understanding, your will, and your operation ? Thus you will play over again the part of the wicked husbandmen in the parable, of whom it is written, that " when they saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and seize on his inheritance." (Matt, xxi. 38.) For, in such case, when the Great Saviour comes to receive the fruits of His vineyard, you will not only kill Him,in other words, destroy His life in yourself; but you will seize on His inheritance by claiming to yourself, as your own property, that life of which He alone is the true proprietor, because He alone is its daily and momentary source, sustenance, and controller.
But I am persuaded you will be glad to quit with me this painful subject, and recreate your eyes with the delightful view of the happy effects resulting from the conviction, that the all of your life is a continual derivation from a divine fountain, yet still intended to be exercised and enjoyed by you, as if it were absolutely your own and independent; and that thus you have nothing to fear, but, on the contrary, every thing to hope, from the appearance that your life is your own or self-derived, provided you do not confirm it!
Allow me, then, to observe, in discussing this very interesting topic, that in the kingdom of matter, as well as in that of mind, appearances perpetually present themselves which are opposed to real truth; and which yet, notwithstanding such opposition, are attended with no ill consequences, but are rather productive of benefit in all cases in which they are discovered to be appearances, and are accordingly corrected by the truth to which they are opposed. It is an appearance, for instance, that the sun is in a perpetual course of revolution round the earth; and that, in the mean time, the earth is stationary and at perfect rest; when yet, according to the demonstrations of an enlightened philosophy, we are convinced of the reverse; by being compelled to allow that the sun is stationary, and that the appearance of his motion results from the teal motion of the earth. So again, it is an appearance that the eye sees, and that the ear hears; when yet we are instructed by the documents of sound reason, that both the eye and the ear are merely organs of sight; and that in reality the mind alone sees and hears through those organs; whilst the organs themselves are totally void of any sensation like that of seeing or hearing! It would be endless to multiply cases of a similar nature, in which we are continually exposed to the danger of mistaking appearances for realities; and of thus plunging ourselves into the darkness of error and delusion.
But how plain is it to see, in all these instances, that no mischief can result from the mere appearance, only so far as it is confirmed, and thus converted into an instrument of first denying, and afterwards destroying physical and philosophical truth! How plain is it also to see further, that if the appearance be not confirmed, but submitted to the examination and decision of sound reason and an enlightened philosophy, it then acquires a new quality and character, answering to that of a dark shade in a well-finished picture, which, as every one knows, tends to enhance the value and beauty of the picture, by acting as a contrast to its lights !
On this ground, then, of the natural appearances by which we are encompassed, and by which also we are exposed to the danger of being perpetually deluded, we are enabled to illustrate, and in some degree explain and justify, the phenomenon of that spiritual appearance of which we are speaking, respecting the true and proper source of all life. For is it not evident, from the above natural appearances, and from the skill with which man is endowed of correcting them, that they, are the appointed Providential means of bringing that skill into exercise, and thus of increasing its power and energies ? Is it not manifest, also, from this correcting skill, that man is gifted with a two-fold judgment; viz., one grounded in the bodily senses, and the other resulting from mental observation and reflection; and that the perfection of his character depends on the preeminence which he assigns, in his own mind, to the latter judgment above the former? Is it not, therefore, reasonable to conclude that man advances in intelligence, and, consequently, in all the blessings attending it, in proportion as he comes into the habit of correcting the judgment of sense by the higher judgment of mind and reason?
Let us apply, now, these remarks to the case under consideration; viz., the source of life. Our senses would persuade us, if we listen to their dictates, that this source is in ourselves, and utterly unconnected with any higher origin; but our reason, enlightened by the bright light of Revelation, corrects this sensual judgment, and informs us, that we are indebted to the mercy and love of a Heavenly Father for the momentary continuance of life, since, if His Divine influx of life was closed, though but for an instant, in that instant we should immediately fall down dead and lifeless, like stocks or stones. I would ask, then, To which of these judgments is it prudent and safe to give the preference ? And I would ask further, Is it not reasonable to conclude, from the cases of physical appearances above adverted to, that it is of Providential appointment that man's life should appear to be his own and independent, to the intent, not only that it may be more freely exercised and enjoyed than it could otherwise have been, but also, that the appearance of independence may be instrumental in calling into operation those higher faculties of mind and intelligence which are given him for the purpose of correcting it ? Lastly, I would ask, Who, on this occasion, is best entitled to the crown of wisdom,the man who takes part with his senses, and confirms all their delusive suggestions; or he who, opening his mind to the light of higher and surer judgment, proves himself to be an obedient disciple of that Divine Master who said, " Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment" ?
Trusting, then, that you are now sufficiently convinced that no danger is to be apprehended from the appearance that your life is your own and independent, provided this appearance be not confirmed, may I be allowed to point out to you some of the more general benefits (for to enumerate particulars would require a volume) resulting from a pious, well-grounded belief, that your life is a continual momentary gift from the Great Father of all life and being, whose high and holy name is Jesus Christ ?
And first, I am persuaded you will agree with me in the sentiment that it is highly advantageous for man to acquire a just and proper idea of the dignity of his nature as a human being; since, if this idea be kept constantly in view and acted upon, it must, of necessity, have a powerful influence on his conduct, by preserving him from every debasement of Evil, and, at the same time, elevating him to the Divine source of all Good. But, let me ask, what consideration can be so likely to impress him with such an idea as a well-grounded persuasion of his continual connexion with, and relationship to, his Heavenly Father, by virtue of the life which he momentarily derives from that beneficent Parent of life ? For, what other dignity is to be compared with this ? How does all the splendor of other connexions and of other relationships fade away and disappear before the full blaze and glory of this connexion and this relationship! If, then, we think it right to call a man to the recollection of his high birththe nobility of his pedigreethe virtues of his ancestors, &c. &c., as a stimulant to his own virtuous energies; how much more so is it to remind him, for the same purpose, of the sacred origin of his life ; thus, of a birth and pedigree more than human; and of an ancestor, in whom, as in their Divine source, are concentred, in an infinite degree, all the virtues, excellencies, and perfections that have ever adorned and ennobled any human being!
Do you wish, then, to be supplied with the most powerful motive to the faithful discharge of your various duties as a man and as a Christian ? Do you wish for the strongest excitement to devotion in your prayers; to depth in your meditations ; to courage and constancy in your purposes; to watchfulness against evil, and vigour in opposing it; in short, to consistency and perseverance in your daily Christian conduct? Reflect, then, let me entreat you, until you have made the reflection familiar to you, that the most high God is continually present with you in the deep centre of your bosom ; and that from that centre He is every moment dispensing the rich exuberant stream of what you call your life; which is nothing else, therefore, but a derivation from His own divine life of combined love, wisdom, and potency. Recollect, further, that the all of your love, thus, the all of your will, the all of your understanding, and the all of your agency, is from this high origin alone, and nothing at all from yourself. Recollect, lastly, that the all of your best prayers is not only directed towards God, but is also derived from Him; so that in reality it is God who properly prays, whilst you are only the reactive instrument of prayer. The same is true of your meditations; of your courage and constancy; of your watchfulness against evil, and of your vigour in opposing it; also of consistency and perseverance in your daily Christian conduct: of all these virtues the Great and Holy God is at once the supreme object, the ultimate end, and the producing cause. You are not left, then, a moment to yourself, but are every instant attended by a merciful and omnipotent Agent, who not only supplies you with the ability to will, to think, and to act, but who also, by that supply, instructs you as to the grand end and purpose of all willing, thinking, and acting.
For, secondly, in the cordial belief that your life is nothing else but a stream from a Divine fountain, you will gradually be led to the happy discovery of the ultimate end or design of your creation, and likewise of the means by which it may be best accomplished. For, in regard to the ultimate end or design of your creation, let me seriously ask you the few following questions: Is it at all conceivable that the Being whom we call God ; the Infinite ; the Eternal ; the only Good; the only Wise; the only Powerful; whose manifest intention it is to communicate happiness to others from Himself; and not only happiness, but also an image and likeness of His own perfections, that He may discern, and rejoice in discerning, in those perfections a reflected resemblance of Himself!is it conceivable, I say, is it possible, that such a Being,after having gifted His creature man with the ardent desire of immortality; after having endowed him, too, with the astonishing faculty of elevating his affections and thoughts to the Divine source of his life, and of attaining eternal conjunction with that source; after having distinguished him from all other animals by the capability of comprehending with his understanding the bright documents of the eternal truth, and of relishing in his will the delightful savour of the supreme good : is it possible, I repeat it, for such a Being, under such circumstances, to confine the duration of the existence of such a creature within the narrow limits of temporal life, and then to plunge him into that very annihilation which, above every other calamity, he had been taught to dread ? For, shall the Father of Mercies inspire the hope of immortality, and then suddenly disappoint it ? Shall He, from Himself, communicate to His creature a living principle, and by virtue of that principle render him capable not only of enjoying sensitive life, like the inferior animals, but of elevating himself to the higher and nobler delights of science, of rationality, of intelligence, and finally of celestial wisdom, love, and purity; and all this merely for the gratification of a few moments? Hath this Great Father, besides, in His adorable goodness, been pleased to establish a secret, inexpressible, and inconceivable harmony between the life which He imparts to man, and the various objects of the temporal world which he has so wonderfully and bountifully supplied for man's recreation and comfort; and shall all that harmony terminate with man's bodily life ? Shall there be no other world in which it may be continued and improved, and this to all eternity ? Surely it is the height, not of impiety only, but of folly and madness, to suppose that the communication of life from God, with all its attendant blessings and goodness, wisdom and peace, can ever cease: and consequently, we are compelled by sound reason, as well as by the documents of revealed truth, to acknowledge the validity of those weighty words of the Great Redeemer, " Because I live, ye shall live also;" (John xiv. 19.) and again, " I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth, and believeth in me, shall never die." (John xi. 25, 26.)
Whensoever, then, my good friend, you have the piety and good sense to establish yourself in a firm persuasion that what you call your life is not so much your life as God's, being a continual emanation from a Divine fountain, you will then be in possession of a fact confirming the great gospel testimony respecting your immortality, and the grand and ultimate end of your creation, with a force irresistible; so that you will no longer be exposed to the misery of doubt and uncertainty on the important subject. For you will then be enabled to see clearly, that in the momentary reception of life from the Infinite Eternal, you have an infallible assurance, not only that you shall never die, but that you shall ever live ; and not only that you shall ever live, but that (in case you are wise to follow Divine counsel) you shall live for ever happy; being rendered an image and likeness of the Great Author of your being, and thus capable of reflecting His perfections, of adoring His everlasting mercies, of fulfilling His will, and of rejoicing in His bounty; by forming one member or part of a member, of that celestial Being called the bride, the Lamb's wife; of whom it is written, "Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to Him ; for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white; for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And He saith unto me, write, Blessed are they which are called to the marriage-supper of the Lamb." (Rev. xix. 79, chap, xxi. 9.)
And as the immediate communication of life from the infinite and eternal, involves in it the blessed certainty that the subject of reception is destined for the everlasting enjoyment of the imparted gift in a world which has no end, so it has a tendency, if properly considered and acted upon, to conduct that subject to the right knowledge and application of the means most conducive to the attainment of such his destination. For what shall we say are these means ? Are they not all those luminous truths of God's most holy word, which were intended to lead man to love God above all things, and his neighbour as himself ? And how shall we say do these means operate to produce their proper effect, but by abasing man under a sense of his own nothingness and defilements, and of the all of God and His purity; and at the same time by rendering him a free, voluntary instrument of the exercise of heavenly love and charity in the several faculties of his life called will, understanding, and operation? Do they not operate, therefore, by leading man first into combat against his natural evils, and secondly into victory over them; agreeable to the Divine testimony, (Rev. ii. 7,11, 17,26; chap. iii. 5, 12, 21.) where it is manifest that every heavenly blessing is promised exclusively to him who overcometh; consequently, to him who successfully combateth, since without successful combat it is impossible that any one can acquire the high and distinguished character of one who overcometh ?
Here, then, we may discover clearly the advantages resulting to the true Christian from a firm and enlightened belief that his life is not independent; but, on the contrary, that it is in perpetual connexion with its Divine source, or with the Eternal Father of all life and being. For, how animating is this belief in all his combats against his natural evils, since it leads him to depend, not on his own strength, or on any power which he possesses of his own, but on that Omnipotence which, he is persuaded, is present with him continually in the deep centre of his being! His language, therefore, on the occasion, is the language of that revealed wisdom where it is written, " They got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them: but Thy right hand, and Thine arm, and the light of Thy countenance, because Thou hadst a favour unto them." (Psalm xliv. 3.) For, in the life which he receives momentarily from his Heavenly Father, he recognises the right hand, and arm, and the light of the countenance of that Divine Parent ever present, ever operative, and ever powerful for his defence and preservation. In all his spiritual combats, therefore, he looks up to this right hand, and arm, and the light of this countenance, and he never looks in vain. For, in proportion as he accustoms himself to regard God and his life in the deep centre of his being, in the same proportion he becomes enlightened and consoled by the blessed discovery that his being is a compound of two distinct principles, the one external, which is in connexion with this world and the powers, of darkness; and the other internal, which is in connexion with the eternal world and all the powers of light and salvation. In the same proportion, too, he discovers yet further, that all the evils, disorders, and mischiefs, which he has to fear, have their abode in his external part or principle; whilst, on the other hand, all the goods, the sanctities, and the blessings, which are the objects of his hope, have their residence within; being in close connexion with the life imparted to his inmost man from the Infinite and Eternal. His lesson, therefore, of Christian conduct, is at once plain, practicable, and of an efficacy the most important, viz., at all times and on all occasions, whether he be exposed to the assault of his natural evils or be pursuing his course of duty in the fulfilment of the obligations to which he is bound as a member of society, to submit his external man, or his external principle, to be guided, governed, and protected by the Divine mercy, truth, and blessing imparted continually to his internal man, or internal principle, from the first fountain of life. And behold the happy result! By degrees, every unchristian inclination of the external man is brought into judgment, and through judgment into condemnation and subjection; whilst, at the same time, and by the same act, all the powers, virtues, graces, and blessings of God and heaven, in the internal man, are brought into exercise, and through exercise into extension; until finally they descend, and in their descent take entire possession of the external man, by reducing him to subordination, and thus filling him with all the fulness of their own heavenly gifts, excellencies, peace, and salvation!
You see, then, my friend, from these few considerations, of what importance it is to confirm yourself in a belief that your life is, and ever must be, merely a derived life; the fountain of which is the great and holy God, the grand eternal source of all life, whether natural or spiritual; whether bestial, human, or angelic.
Much more might be said, if necessary, on the interesting subject, but I trust that the above remarks will be sufficient to establish you in a right faith and a correspondent conduct, by leading you to exercise your life freely, as if it was your own and independent; yet in that exercise to recollect gratefully, that it is a momentary gift, for which you are momentarily indebted to the Divine Father of your being.
At some future opportunity I shall be glad to call your attention to another point of no small moment, viz., the high value of your immortal soul or spirit, which, as hath been shown, is a spiritual form, intended to receive life from God : but my present time will only allow me to say how truly I remain, in devout prayer for your eternal well-being,
Yours, &c. &c.