On the astonishing capacity with which the soul of every human being is gifted, by virtue of the life it receives from God, of ascending by degrees from the lowest delights of sense, through all the intermediate gratifications of science, of reason, and of intellect; until it reaches the supreme joy, resulting from its reciprocal conjunction with the Most High, in the purity of His love, the brightness of His wisdom, and the power of His operation : and of the several distinct characters of relationship to the Divine Being which it acquires in that ascent.
My Dear Sir,
It cannot have escaped your observation, that the human soul is the subject of a thousand varied delights, which differ from each other, not only in regard to the multitudinous objects which excite them, but also in reference to the degree of life in which they are received and tasted. Thus, the delights of sense manifest themselves in an endless diversity, according to the divers impressions made on the organs of sense; whilst, at the same time, they differ essentially from the delights generated in the higher regions of mind, called reason, intellect, conscience, will, &c. It cannot, therefore, have escaped your further notice, that the delights of sense are the lowest in the scale of human gratifications; and that above them, and within them, there is a continual creation of higher and interior joys, in proportion as the rational and intellectual mind is opened; and especially in the degree that that mind is elevated to the knowledge and love of the supreme good and the supreme truth.
Your own discernment, too, will enable you to discover, that in the above gradation of delights is to be seen one of the grand characteristics by which man is distinguished from all other animals; and one, also, which eminently marks, not only a difference as to the dignity of his being, but also as to its duration. For the inferior animals, it is evident, are limited in their gratifications to the delights of sense ; nor have they any capacity of elevation to the superior or interior delights either of reason or of intellect; and still less of those which result from a devout regard to eternal objects. The inferior animals, therefore, in this fixed boundary of their joys, exhibit, almost to demonstration, the fixed boundary of their existence; since it is highly improbable that the existence of any being can be extended to a spiritual and eternal world, when yet his capacities are so limited, that he can neither conceive an idea of such a world, nor have any relish for its enjoyments. Man, on the contrary, from the capacity with which he is gifted of elevating his joys to an eternal world, and especially to the God of that world, receives the most decided evidence of his immortality; for how else can we account for this capacity, unless that world and its God were designed for his everlasting possession and enjoyment ?
Allow me, then, to call your attention for a few minutes to this distinguishing feature in the character of man, by virtue of which he is enabled to raise his delights (or rather, suffer them to be raised) from their lowest sensual basis, to their highest spiritual summit; whilst he passes, at the same time, through all the intermediate gratifications of reason and of intellect, until, finally, a blessed conjunction, through the descent of the Supreme, is effected of them all, to fill, to sanctify, and to save both the intermediate and the ultimate.
During the early period of infancy, it is manifest that the delights of sense are the only delights which stimulate their young and delicate subjects; and that these are contracted in their measure, in consequence of the immature state of the organs of sense, which have not as yet attained their full growth and activity. By degrees, however, these organs are opened more and more to the reception of the impressions made on them by surrounding objects; and of course the delights of sense receive perpetual increment, both as to number and intensity. Here, then, we discover the first rude and raw materials for the formation of the future man; which materials, nevertheless, are not immediately applied to the noble purpose for which they are designed, but for a time are stored up for future use, until the rational faculty be opened, with its astonishing capacity of viewing, of analyzing, and of thus exalting them into the higher region of intellect and of intellectual enjoyment. In infancy, then, and boyhood, the pleasures of sense manifestly predominate; nor is it known, at the time, that any higher gratifications exist; still less that they are designed to fill up the cup of human felicity.
But mark, now, the gracious purposes of the Divine providence of the Most High, together with the accomplishment of those purposes through the operation of that life from God which is the blessed birthright of every human being!
When a sufficient store of the rudiments of bliss has been collected through the instrumentality of the senses, a new source of delights presently begins to be opened by the operation of the natural affections. Varied and distinct relationships are thus created, which manifest, each of them, their enchanting allurements under the several forms of love to parents, of friendliness towards playmates, of respect to masters and mistresses, of tenderness towards the afflicted and distressed, of regard to the laws of civil and moral life; and finally, of eagerness to acquire all that science and knowledge which is necessary to discharge the varied duties resulting from the above relationships. What human being has not felt more or less of the influence of these affections, and of the gratification which they impart ? What human being, therefore, has not here a demonstrative evidence of the operation of an unseen power in himself, raising him daily above the delights of sense, and by that elevation convincing him that he is created to be the happy subject of higher and more durable joys; and thus to approximate, by degrees, to the highest and the eternal?
But the time is now arrived when our young heir of immortality, having been introduced into the several regions of sensual, scientific, civil, and moral life; and having also feasted on the abundant delights which each region affords, is to experience an additional proof of the love and benevolence of his Heavenly Father, and also of the boundless capacities of bliss with which, through the adorable mercy of that Father, he is gifted. For lo! the pages of the eternal truth now begin to claim his attention, and he feels himself impelled, by an almost irresistible desire, to explore that wonderful book of revelation in which they are contained. The first impression made by this Divine testimony is on his understanding; which now, by degrees, becomes enlightened to see the glories of a new world, the happiness and order of its celestial inhabitants, and above all, the existence, the mercy, the wisdom, and providence of the God who dwells there : all which sublime objects had heretofore been concealed from his sight in impenetrable darkness! A thousand new delights thus burst on his enraptured eyes as indefinitely exceeding all the gratifications of sense, and of human science and intelligence, as heaven is above earth, and the concerns of eternity superior to those of time! In proportion, too, as he explores the interior contents of the above Divine testimony, so as to discover the various orders of truth and of life which enter into its composition, in the same proportion his delights increase both in number and in interest! And, indeed, how should it be otherwise ? For, does he not find, to his inexpressible joy, that in reading the word of God he converses with God Himself; He associates himself with Him Who spake as never man spake; like Moses of old, he ascends the holy mount of the Divine presence and communication, and receives from the mouth of the infinite and eternal, that astonishing system of Divine philosophy and legislation, the distinguishing characteristics of which, as announced by God Himself, are, " that it is perfect, converting the soul; that it is sure, making wise the simple; that it is right, rejoicing the heart; that it is pure, enlightening the eyes; that it is clean, enduring for ever; that it is true and righteous altogether; that it is more to be desired than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honey comb " ? (Psalm xix.)
But the delights resulting from the testimony of the inspired volume are not long confined to the understanding of our young student; for lo! they begin presently to affect his will, and thus to operate on his love and affections, by exalting these higher principles of his mind to the pursuit and enjoyment of the most sublime and august objects. For a time, indeed, his chief gratification in his perusal of the sacred records, is grounded in his exquisite relish of the fruit of the tree of knowledge ; but this gratification he quickly discovers is only preparatory to one infinitely sweeter, because more interior and more elevated, which never fails to present itself to his acceptance, in proportion as he approaches to, and tastes the fruit of, the tree of life. Are you surprised at the figurative names here assigned to two distinct gratifications ? Your surprise will cease when you allow yourself leisure to consider that the two figurative trees of knowledge and of life are planted by the Great Creator in the garden of every human mind, as they were originally planted in paradise, to denote that every human being is endowed with the double faculty both of knowing and of loving ; and that his eternal happiness depends altogether on his combined exercise of each faculty. For, until he knows what eternal happiness is, and in what it consists, how is it possible for him to make any advancement towards its attainment ? Yet, if this knowledge be confined merely to his understanding, without affecting his will or love, how plain is it to see, that it is like the light of a wintry sun, unattended with heat, which leaves the earth at once torpid, unfruitful, and dead! It is evident, then, that the grand design of the Almighty, in dispensing to mankind the astonishing blessing of His most holy word, is twofold, viz., first, to elevate the human understanding to the enjoyment of celestial light; and, secondly, by means of that sacred light, to exalt the human will to the pure and holy relish of celestial love.
Behold, then, our young disciple at length arrived at that blissful state, when the grand objects presented to his delighted view in the pages of Revelation begin now to affect his love, and thus to raise his affections out of and above the mire and clay of mere temporal gratifications, to feast on the sublime joys resulting from the love and adoration of the Great Father of his being! What sight can be more delightful, and what too more rational ? For, hath not that Great Father, in His unbounded mercy, called and invited all His children to this blessed feast of His own pure love, when He says, not in the way of a commandment only, but to express His infinite loving-kindness to every individual of His offspring, " Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might"? (Deut. vi. 5, Matt. xxii. 37,Luke x. 27.) Is it not plain, too, that this Divine law is accommodated in the most perfect manner to the nature and constitution of the being to whom it is given, by presenting to his view and acceptance an object of regard commensurate with his boundless desires, and alone capable of satisfying them ? I appeal, on this occasion, my dear sir, to your own feelings. For, do not you find something in yourself which, panting after an eternal good, refuses to admit a fulness of consolation from any other ? Are not you thus made sensible that all the riches, glories, and pleasures of this lower world are inadequate to the gratification of your wishes ? And do you not hence feel an inward and irresistible conviction that you were born to a more durable inheritance than the present world can supply; and for the enjoyment of a bliss which can only be found and tasted in proportion as you suffer your love and affections to be raised from earth to heaven, from what is temporal to what is eternal, from what is human to what is Divine ? You have then a sure and satisfactory testimony in your own mind, that there is implanted in the human soul a blessed power, by virtue of which it is capable of ascending from one degree of delight to another, until it reaches the highest; which highest is to be found only in the eternal God and His everlasting kingdom!
Our disciple, then, we will suppose, has attained to this highest step in the ladder of Divine communication and ascent; and has already begun to feed on that celestial food of which it is written, "This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof and not die." (John vi. 50.) Let it not, however, be supposed, that as yet he is admitted into all the fulness of the delights prepared for his acceptance ; because this fulness can only be tasted by imparting his bread to others with the same liberality with which it has been imparted to himself. For such is the very essential quality of the Divine love and truth, that their sweetness cannot long be enjoyed in selfish and solitary parsimony, but only in charitable and social distribution; and that thus, like the figurative loaves and fishes of old, they derive increase in proportion to the multitudes who are made partakers of their nutritive virtues. Accordingly it is written in the divine testimony, respecting these celestial blessings, " Give, and it shall be given unto you;" (Luke vi. 38.) and in another place, " He hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor; his righteousness endureth for ever; his horn shall be exalted with honour." (Psalm cxii. 9.)
It is expedient, then, that in agreement with this quality of the Divine grace which he has received, our young disciple, after having feasted both his eyes and his heart with the blessings of celestial life and love, on the high and sacred mountain of the Divine bounty and loving-kindness, should next descend from his elevation to share his bread with others; and thus at once to continue and to multiply its sweets. It is expedient, I say, that the love of God should become operative in works of charity amongst men, otherwise it wants its proper foundation to rest upon: in which case it may be compared with a head separate from its trunk and feet, which, it must be obvious, is totally unfit for any use or enjoyment whatsoever.
"Would you behold, then, the sum and perfection of the joys and delights which the human soul, by virtue of the life which it receives continually from its Divine fountain, is capable of tasting? Let me direct your eyes to a view of that favoured mortal who, having been elevated, through the Divine mercy, to a taste of the sublime blessedness resulting from a participation of the Divine loving-kindness, is led to open and extend the channel of that blessedness, by bringing it down from the high mountain in which it originates, to water and enrich the valley of human concerns, interests, and occupations here below. Behold, I say, in this child of heaven, the never-failing progress and end of Christian love and life! For lo! he sees the necessity of doing what is good and heavenly, as well as of loving it; and of thus bringing down into his external man, all the holy and blessed influences manifested in his internal; that so the two men may be closely united in one common affection and operation, and society may be benefitted and improved by their combined energies. Is he then a priest, a judge, a soldier, a merchant, a mechanic, or engaged in any other office of public utility ? He feels a weighty obligation imposed upon him to discharge faithfully, diligently, and conscientiously, the several duties to which that office binds him; recollecting that such a discharge constitutes at once the true essence and full measure of Christian charity, and is at the same time a fulfilment of the Divine precept, " If ye know these things, happy ate ye if ye do them." (John xiii. 17.) But what pen can recount the new and varied delights resulting from this union of the love of God with the love of man, or from this conjunction of heavenly affection with its correspondent operation ; by virtue of which the world above is joined with the world below, angels with men, and the Creator with His creatures ? Suffice it, therefore to say, that when the head, the heart, and the hands of man are thus connected in one common purpose of universal benevolence, a complex and full gratification never fails to result from the connexion, which neither the head, the heart, or the hands can possibly produce in their single and unconnected state.
And here let me call your attention to a circumstance which possibly has already occurred to your notice,or, at all events, deserves it. The circumstance to which I allude is this: that the capacity above adverted to, by virtue of which the human soul is enabled to ascend from one degree of delight to another, and to combine the delights of each degree in such a manner as to form the complex delight which may be called happiness, is a manifest and most convincing proof of the perpetual connexion of the life of man with the life of God; which connexion has been the subject of discussion in my former letters. For how is it possible, let me ask, for man to raise himself from one delight to another, or indeed, of himself to command any delight ? For, if he had this power of himself, can it be supposed that he would not be always exerting it, especially when oppressed by the burden of affliction and trouble ? His very sorrows, therefore, are the most satisfactory proofs that he is utterly incapable, of himself, of elevating himself to a single delight; and of course his elevation, if it ever be effected, must be attributed to the operation of a power above himself consequently to a Divine power !
The ascent, then, of the human soul from a lower to a higher delight is a manifest demonstration of Divine agency ; and of an agency, too, continually exerted in the inmost principles of the life of man. But this is not all; since this agency involves in it the additional proof that man is a perpetual object of Divine favour ; and that thus his capacity of rising in the scale of delights is the result of a strong attractive love on the part of the Father of Mercies, which is ever in the act of accomplishing the blessed promise of the Great Redeemer where He says, " And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all [men] unto Me." (John xii. 32.) For, what can be the purpose and end of this Divine attraction, but to promote the happiness of man, by drawing him to a close and intimate conjunction with the Supreme good ? And what can be a more distinguished and unequivocal proof of Divine love than the endeavour to accomplish such a purpose and end ?
In every ascent, then, of human delights, and especially of those which are derived from the word of God, we behold the effect and manifestation of the adorable mercy and tenderness of that Heavenly Father, whose principal joy it is to draw all His children within the golden girdle of His own infinite love, protection, and blessing; that so He may impart to them as large a share of His own happiness as they are capable of receiving. Consequently, in every ascent of human delight we discover some new and distinct relationship with that Heavenly Father ; which relationship is perpetually changing, in proportion as the delight is nearer to, or more remote from, its Divine source. This relationship, we find, is frequently adverted to in the volume of Revelation, where mention is made of its several classes under the several titles of stranger, servant, companion, friend, child, bride, and of wife.* Every human being, therefore, whether he be aware of it or not, must of necessity be enrolled in one of these classes: and thus, according to the quality of his delights, must be either a stranger, a servant, a companion, a friend, a child, a child, or a wife of the infinite and the eternal.
It would require a volume to say all that might be said on the subject of the above relationships; and after all, perhaps, much would remain unsaid, and more unthought of. Leaving it, therefore, to your future consideration, and at the same time recommending it as a subject of all others the most interesting to every intelligent mind, I shall beg leave at present only to suggest, that so long as man remains in the enjoyment of mere natural and sensual delights, separated from all regard to the eternal word of the Most High, his relationship to his Heavenly Father, in such case, is merely that of a stranger. Again, supposing him to have received some degree of information respecting the requirements of the eternal truth, and that he, accordingly, begins to submit to those requirements, his submission, if grounded only in what others have taught him to be right and good, and not in his own intelligence of what is so, still less in his delight in that intelligence, stamps upon him only the character of a servant. Again, whensoever he acquires from the word of God the knowledge of his duty, but as yet feels no delight in acting according to that knowledge, in this case he falls under the description of those who, in the language of Revelation, are called companions. Again, if to the knowledge of his duty be superadded a degree of delight in doing it, the name of companion is then changed into the more honourable and affectionate title of friend.* In proportion, again, as this combined knowledge and delight begin to operate upon, and produce their blessed effects on, his life, in the same proportion the relationship is again changed from that of companion and friend to the more endearing one of child. Lastly, whensoever, through combined knowledge and love, the purified soul of man is in the progress of exaltation to the high honour and happiness of conjunction with the Divine source of its life, it is then styled a bride : and when the conjunction is effected, and it is thus admitted to all the sanctities, blessings, and privileges of the heavenly marriage, it then acquires a name which is above every name of distinction attainable by man, and is called the bride the Lamb's wife!
You see, then, my dear friend, the astonishing elevation of delight, and at the same time, of dignity and security, to which both yourself and your fellow-creatures are called; and how this elevation is confirmed to you by the high and holy titles of bridegroom and husband, which the Almighty has been pleased to assume, as significative of the eternal and sacred conjunction of life into which He is disposed to enter with all His intelligent creatures. For, when this Almighty Being saith to His church or people, " Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzi-bah, and thy land Beulah: for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married. For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee: and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee;"(Isaiah lxii. 4,5.) when He again declares to His people, " Thou shalt call me my husband ;" (Hosea ii. 16.) and again, " Turn, O children, for I am married to you;" (Jer. iii. 14.) and again, " Thy Maker is thy husband ; the Lord of Hosts is His name; and thy Redeemer the holy one of Israel;" (Isa. liv. 5.) when, too, we find it written of this same Almighty Being, under His manifestation in the flesh, " He that hath the bride is the Bridegroom; but the friend of the Bridegroom, which standeth and heareth Him, rejoiceth greatly because of the Bridegroom's voice;" (John iii. 29.) and again, "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;" (Rev. xix. 7.) what are we to conclude from all this sacred testimony; or what is the plain language which it speaks ? Does it not assure us, beyond all contradiction, that such is the mercy and loving-kindness .of our Heavenly Father, that He is willing to enter into the holy relationship of marriage with all his intelligent creatures; and thus to confer upon them all the eternal honour, happiness, privilege, and security, involved in that most dignified of all titles ever conferred on human beings, the bride the Lamb's wife ?
What then remains, but that we keep constantly in view this high point of elevation to which we are called, so as not only never to lose sight of it, but to be making continually nearer approaches towards it ? What remains, I say, but that we compel all our delights to acknowledge their Divine Parent, and to bow down before him continually in the humiliation of affectionate gratitude ? And seeing that that Parent has been pleased to gift us with various orders and degrees of delight, as the means of drawing us nearer to Himself; and that in the highest order and degree He Himself resides, ever waiting and willing to receive us there, that He may conjoin us in an eternal bond of holy marriage with Himself; what remains but that we press forward to the possession of this golden wedding-ring ; accounting all other things, comparatively, but as dung and dross, which would detain us from the inheritance of this our highest privilege and only proper happiness ?
In the devout prayer that both you and I, and every other human being, may have the wisdom to discern, the courage to pursue, and the patience and perseverance to secure, this great end of our creation and redemption, I remain, dear sir, Sincerely and affectionately,
Yours, &c. &c.
Cave and Sever, Printers, 18, St. Ann's-street, Manchester.