« PreviousContinue »
out Dissenters; and then there will be two party places, instead of one, to perpetuate narrow views and disunion to our children's children. For it is vain to deny, that the Church of England clergy have politically been a party in the country, from Elizabeth's time downwards, and a party opposed to the cause, which in the main has been the cause of improvement. There have been at all times noble individual exceptions, and, for very considerable periods, in the reign of George the Second, and in the early part of George the Third's reign, for instance, the spirit of the body has been temperate and conciliatory ; but in Charles the First and Second's reigns, and in the period following the Revolution, they deserved so ill of their country, that the Dissenters have at no time deserved worse : and, therefore, it will not do for the Church party to identify themselves with the nation, which they are not, nor with the constitution, which they did their best to hinder from ever coming into existence. I grant that the Dissenters are, politically speaking, nearly as bad, and as narrow-minded, but then they have more excuse, in belonging generally to a lower class in society, and not having been taught Aristotle and Thucydides. June 1st. I was interrupted, for which you will not be sorry, and I will not return to the subject. I was much obliged to you for your letter and pamphlet; but though I approve of the proposed change, yet of course it does not touch the great question.
Whose happiness was much affected, and faith endangered, by dwelling on
points revealed as God's will, but irreconcileable with his ideas of God's goodness.
Rugby, June 21, 1835. I have been very far from forgetting you, or my promise to write down something on the subject of our conversation, though I have some fears of doing more harm than good, by not meeting your case satisfactorily. However, I shall venture, hoping that God may bless the attempt to your comfort and benefit.
The more I think of the matter the more I am satisfied that all speculations of the kind in question are to be repressed by the will, and if they haunt us, notwithstanding the efforts of our will, that then they are to be prayed against, and silently endured as a trial. I mean speculations turning upon things wholly beyond our reach, and where the utmost conceivable result cannot be truth, but additional perplexity. Such must be the question as to the origin and continued existence of moral evil; which is a question utterly out of our reach, as we know and can know nothing of the system of the universe, and which can never bring us to truth, because if we adopt one hypothesis as certain, and come to a conclusion upon one theory, we shall be met by difficulties quite as insuperable on the other side, which would oblige us in fairness to go over the process again, and to reject our new conclusion, as we had done our old one; because in our total ignorance of the matter, there will always be difficulties in the way of any hypothesis which we cannot answer, and which will effectually preclude our ever arriving at a state of intellectual satisfaction, such as consists in having a clear view of a whole question from first to last, and seeing that the premises are true, the conclusion fairly drawn, and that all objections to either may be satisfactorily answered. This state, which alone I suppose deserves to be called knowledge, is one which, if we can ever attain it, is attainable only in matters merely human, and wholly within the range of our understanding and experience. It is manifest that the sole difficulty in the subject of your perplexity is merely the origin of moral evil, and it is manifest also that this difficulty equally affects things actually existing around us. Yet if the sight of wickedness in ourselves or others were to lead us to perplex ourselves as to its origin,
instead of struggling against it and attempting to put an end to it, we know that we should be wrong, and that evil would thrive and multiply on such a system of conduct.
This would have been the language of a heathen Stoic or Academician, when an Epicurean beset him with the difficulty of accounting for evil without impugning the power or the goodness of the gods. And I think that this langage was sound and practically convincing, quite enough so to shew that the Epicurean objection sets one upon an error, because it leads to practical absurdity and wicked
But I think that with us the authority of Christ puts things on a different footing. I know nothing about the origin of evil, but I believe that Christ did know; and as our common sense tells us, that we can strive against evil and sympathize in punishment here, although we cannot tell how there comes to be evil, so Christ tells us that we may continue these same feelings to the state beyond this life, although the origin of evil is still a secret to
And I know Christ to have been so wise and so loving to men, that I am sure I may trust His word, and that what was entirely agreeable to His sense of justice and goodness, cannot, unless through my own defect, be otherwise than agreeable to mine.
Further, when I find Him repelling all questions of curiosity, and reproving in particular such as had a tendency to lead men away from their great business,—the doing good to themselves and others,—I am sure that if I stood before Him, and said to Him, “Lord, what can I do? for I cannot understand how God can allow any to be wicked, or why He should not destroy them, rather than let them exist to suffer;" that His mildest answer would be, “ What is that to thee-follow thou me.” But if He, who can read the heart, knew that there was in the doubt so expressed any thing of an evil heart of unbelief-of unbelief that had grown out of carelessness, and from my not having walked watchfully after Him, loving Him, and doing His will,—then I should expect that He would tell me,
that this thought had come to me, because I neither knew Him nor his Father, but had neglected and been indifferent to both; and then I should be sure that He would give me no explanation or light at all, but would rather make the darkness thicker upon me, till came before Him not with a speculative doubt, but with an earnest prayer for His mercy and His help, and with a desire to walk humbly before Him, and to do His will, and promote His kingdom. This, I believe, is the only way to deal with those disturbances of mind which cannot lead to truth, but only to perplexity. Many persons, I am inclined to think, endure some of these to their dying day, well aware of their nature, and not sanctioning them by their will, but unable to shake them off, and enduring them as a real thorn in the flesh, as they would endure the far lighter trials of sickness or outward affliction. But they should be kept, I think, to ourselves, and not talked of even to our nearest friends, when we once understand their true nature. Talking about them gives them a sort of reality which otherwise they would not have; just like talking about our dreams. We should act and speak, and try to feel as if they had no existence, and then in most cases they do cease to exist after a time; when they do not, they are harmless to our spiritual nature, although I fully believe that they are the most grievous affliction with which human nature is visited.
Of course, what I have here said relates only to such questions as cannot possibly be so answered as to produce even entire intellectual satisfaction, much less moral advantage. I hold that Atheism and pure Scepticism are both systems of absurdity; which involves the condemnation of hypotheses leading to either of them as conclusions. For Atheism separates truth from goodness, and Scepticism destroys truth altogether; both of which are monstrosities, from which we should revolt as from a real madness. With my earnest hopes and prayers that you may be relieved from what I know to be the greatest of earthly trials, but with a no less earnest advice, that, if it does continue, you will treat it as a trial, and only cling the closer, as it were, to that perfect Saviour, in the entire love and truth of whose nature all doubt seems to melt away, and who, if kept steadily before our minds, is, I believe, most literally our Bread of Life, giving strength and peace to our weakness and distractions.
TO ONE OF HIS SIXTH FORM, THREATENED WITH CONSUMPTION.
Fox How, July 31, 1835. I fear that you will have found your patience much tried by the return of pain in your side, and the lassitude produced by the heat : it must also be a great trial not to be able to bear reading. I can say but little of such a state from my own experience, but I have seen much of it, and have known how easy and even happy it has become, partly by time, but more from a better support, which I believe is never denied when it is honestly sought. And I have always supposed that the first struggle in such a case would be the hardest; that is, the struggle in youth or middle age, of reconciling ourselves to the loss of the active powers of life, and to the necessity of serving God by suffering rather than by doing. Afterwards, I should imagine the mind would feel a great peace in such a state, in the relief afforded from a great deal of temptation and responsibility, and the course of duty lying before it so plain and so simple.
Fox How, July 28, 1835. .. Next week we probably shall return to Warwickshire, and I expect the unusual circumstance of being at Rugby for a fortnight in the holidays, a thing which in itself I shall be far from regretting, though I certainly am not anxious to hasten away from Westmoreland. But I often look at the backs of my books with such a forlom