Εικόνες σελίδας
PDF
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

who loved righteousness and hated iniquity, if he took upon him our flesh with all its inherited infirmities continually called forth by the evil and sin around him, might compare unfavourably with one of us, who, from want of temptation, manifested little sinfulness, but who, nevertheless, when he sinned, did that which he loved, while the other, when overcome by sin, would do that which he hated.

Let us now conceive a race of unfallen beings, or redeemed men, united to God by those spiritual bonds of filial trust, confidence, and love before spoken of. As moral and intelligent beings, their chief happiness would consist in the mutual love between them and God, and between each other, yet they would have their necessities and desires in that thirst for perfection in wisdom, love, and beauty, which must ever animate every unfallen but finite being; and we must conclude that, as love is the substance of all happiness and the very essence of God, all growth in perfection and conformity to God would increase that love, and consequent happiness.

Now, we are told that in the kingdom of heaven there will be many degrees of glory—that, in fact, there will be as much inequality as there is on earth. But in what will that inequality consist ? Clearly on a greater or less conformity to the moral image of God—that is to say, in a greater capacity for loving and being lovedand under such circumstances selfishness, envy, and jealousy have no place, or standpoint, or room for existence. Yet such beings may be given various degrees of power and wisdom to use in the service of God and for each other; and if, as must be expected, such power would be bestowed in proportion to their greater conformity to the image of God, then they would be those who would be most loved by all, and who would be acknowledged by all to be the most fitting recipients of that power. But the mere possession of this power would not, of itself, add one iota to the recipient's happi. ness. It would be only the sign of his glory, or of the favour of Him who had bestowed the power, and this, and not the power, would be the real source of its possessor's happiness.

Power lies not in the creature, but in God. “Power,' says the Psalmist, ' belongeth unto God' (Ps. lxii. 11). • Who maketh thee to differ from another ?' asks the Apostle, and “What hast thou that thou didst not receive?' Now, if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it ? (1 Cor. iv. 7). Therefore, those who recognise this, even now, are not led with the rest of the world to worship honour, riches, wisdom, and position, for they know that these things are all of God, who can exalt those that are abased, and humble those that are exalted. The power of the mightiest archangel lies not in himself, but in God; and thus we are told that the Archangel Michael, when disputing with Satan about the body of Moses, durst not bring a railing accusation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke thee' (Jude 9); that is to say, the highest archangel, animated by that spirit of love, which is righteousness, and the essential principle of which is the direct opposite of self-confidence and self-assertion, sought not to oppose evil by his own power and strength, but referred the matter at once to Him who is Almighty.

Therefore, if power adds not to the happiness and glory of the unfallen being, who delights in his dependence on Him, whose desire to give is in proportion to His creature's need, and whose power is made perfect in the creature's weakness, then pride, and selfishness, and self-assertion have no conceivable place in such a state of things.

If, however, by any means the creature should cast

off his depondence on God and trust in himself, as we know was the case with Satan, the former state of things at once passes away. The spirit of self-dependence or self-confidence is pride, which, we are told, was the condemnation of the devil (1 Tim. iii. 6), and the creature, thus trusting in himself, seeks of necessity to render the basis of that trust more secure by exalting his own power. But when this is the case with others also of the race, then there commences a struggle as to who shall be the greatest, and sin in all its various forms-envy, hatred, malice, deceit, injustice, cruelty, and tyranny-becomes triumphant, and selfishness the dominating principle which rules the relations of each with the other, making righteousness and love impossible; while the dominion of selfishness develops the merely animal propensities, starves and weakens the moral and even the intellectual faculties, and produces vices which tend to degrade men even below the level of the beasts.

Hence we perceive that, in its purely human aspect, sin, which is the contrary of that love which is righteousness, is the immediate and necessary result of the creature's moral independence of the Creator.

But such independence of the Creator on the part of man is sin against God, or the transgression of that law of His being which, when obeyed, united him to God. Thus sin against God is the root of all other sin. In short, independence of God is self-dependence, and that self-dependence which severs the union between man and God, equally severs the union which should exist between man and his fellow-men, and, as we shall see, was the sole cause and principle of the fall of man.

If, then, there was no God, or if the First Cause was merely a blind energy unaffected by the moral happiness of the creature, and if there was no future reward for righteousness, or punishment for iniquity, men could only obey the law of self. For without a God to whom the righteous could look for help, sympathy, and reward, they would be necessarily self-dependent; and it would be natural and right that each should seek, firstly, the good of himself and of those to whom he was bound by natural affection, and, secondly, the good of the community so far as its interests were identified with his own; and it would be equally natural that he should be at war with those whose interests were antagonistic to his own.

In short, if there is no future state of reward and punishment, man is simply part of nature, or wholly natural, and must live according to his environment; and as self-love is the law of all conscious intelligence, to do evil to himself in order to save others from suffering would be contrary to that law, and absolute unselfishness would be absolute madness. Like the animals, he might suffer himself for the sake of his natural affection for others, and it would be prudent, no doubt, to put up with a certain amount of evil or inconvenience in order to secure the assistance of the rich and powerful, and imprudent to injure them for the sake of some immediate benefit to himself, lest they should retaliate ; and, therefore, it would be wise to confine himself to injuring only the poor, the weak, and the despised, whose anger need not be feared, and whose good-will was of little value.

But because conscience is powerful in many, and because they value, and are attracted by righteousness and hate iniquity, such acts of selfishness would be inexpressibly painful to them, and they are often ready to suffer evil themselves rather than inflict it on others ; and this obedience to the moral law of their being gives them greater happiness than if they did good to themselves at the expense of others.

This, however, is by no means always the case, and the suffering consequent on doing right, or the benefit consequent on doing wrong, are often so great that many, in spite of the reproach of conscience, do wrong instead of right. In fact, good in this world and righteousness are so constantly opposed to each other, that if, while men had a conscience which recognised and approved of righteousness and hated iniquity, there was yet no future, there would be the strange contradiction of man being so constituted, that his good was always evil to him, and his evil good!

Conscience is thus an anomaly in man, regarded as simply part of nature and nothing more. It would imply a state of utter disorder in his constitution which has no parallel in Nature, and its prescience of future reward and punishment would be an unaccountable contradiction. It unfits a man for the present state of things, and those in whom it is strong must constantly suffer from the continual opposition of its dictates to their present good. But if the good' and 'the right' are thus at war, and if as long as man is part of nature this must always be the case, it is clear that conscience is something contrary to, and opposed to nature. It is as great an anomaly, indeed, as it would be in the lion who, suffering the pangs of hunger, had relieved them by the slaughter and consumption of its prey, and was immediately filled with an inexplicable sense of dread and anguish of spirit, even more painful than the hunger it had relieved!

If, however, the prescience of conscience is true, and there is a future state of reward and punishment, yet, if there is no God, man would still be selfdependent, and therefore still bound to seek his own good at the expense of others. His own good would still be the goal of his efforts, and the desire for power would still be the necessary consequence of self-dependence. A higher state of being, however it might alter the nature

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »