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Gratitude is not only a duty we owe for past favors, but it is the best means of attracting fresh ones from the Fountain of Grace; for the prayer of thanksgiving is a heavenly stream that flows into the ocean of divine love, and again returns to us in showers of benediction.
MAN POSSESSES MORAL FREEDOM.
By moral freedom I mean that, while man is conscientiously bound by law, he is not necessitated by it. Man enjoys moral freedom. He is at liberty to conceive thoughts good or evil; and if no external violence is offered to him, he can speak and act well or ill. He has the inherent power to choose between right and wrong. He can praise or blaspheme his Maker. He is free to honor or despise his parents, to hate or forgive an enemy; to help the poor if the means are at hand, or to reject their petition; to eat and drink, or to decline what is set before him; to entertain deliberately unchaste desires, or to spurn them; to tell the truth or to prevaricate.
If there is any truth which is plain and luminous, which is profoundly rooted in the human heart and universally admitted by the human race, it is the doctrine which proclaims that there is within us an active principle capable of deliberating, choosing, and determining,—which tells us that we are neither machines subject to purely mechanical impulses, nor mere animals led by blind instinct, which masters and controls us.
I have an innate sense or feeling that I am a free agent. Just as I have the evidence of my senses that the sun gives me light, that the fire warms me, that I am now writing in my room; so I have an innate conviction that I possess free-will, that I can speak or be silent, and that, if no coercion is exercised, I can walk out or remain at home. I am not more certain that I feel a sensation of hunger than I am of my ability to accept or reject the food that is set before me. Nay, I am as intimately persuaded of my moral liberty as I am of my very existence; for it is the same interior monitor that makes me conscious. of both. This vital principle within me is as worthy of belief when it tells me that I am free, as when it tells me that I exist.
I feel remorse after committing a crime, although it may
have been a secret one and not amenable to civil punishment. If I were not free in the commission of the deed, I should not experience this remorse. If in trying to kill a deer, I shot a man by accident, I should indeed be distressed on account of the unfortunate act; but this regret is quite different from the bitter sense of contrition I should experience had I deliberately wounded him, though no one was, nor ever should be privy to the crime.
The deniať of human liberty would involve the denial of divine justice and the equity of human tribunals. For the justice of God consists in rendering
. to every one according to his works, in rewarding merit and punishing demerit. But man could merit neither praise nor blame if, instead of being a free
agent, he willed and acted from the necessity of his nature.
The benevolent man who dispenses his charities with a ready hand, would have no more merit before God than the unconscious Nile which, by its overflow, enriches the surrounding country; and the passionate man who allows his impetuous temper to run uncontrolled, would have no more responsibility for his violent conduct than the mighty Mississippi which by its periodical outbreaks, brings ruin and desolation to many families.
An Evangeline whose thoughts daily went heavenward, whose soul was pure as the sun's ray, whose outward demeanor was a tribute to virtue and a rebuke to vice; though through life she shed benediction along her pathway,—
“And from the fields of her soul a fragrance celestial ascended,”
-would deserve no more recompense from God for her saintly life than the unthinking rose that bloomed in her garden.
The Sister that voluntarily enters the plaguestricken hospital and, at the risk of her life, ministers to the victim of a loathsome and contagious disease, would be neither better nor worse in the sight of God than the ruthless assassin.
The crime of Guiteau, which excited universal horror and plunged the nation in grief, becomes an irresponsible and guiltless act; the court that tried and condemned him is a usurped tribunal, and his executioner a legalized murderer.
The denial of human liberty would be an impeachment, not only of divine justice, but also of divine goodness. God gives us a law, which we are strictly commanded to observe. He tells us that this law is not only practicable,' but that it is easy of fulfilment in view of the aid which He gives us: "This is the love of God that we keep His Commandments: and His Commandments are not heavy." But if man
had not free-will and was obliged to follow the bent of his inclinations, the fulfilment of the Divine Law would be not only difficult, but impossible. And would it not be cruel on the part of the Divine Legislator to command impossibilities by imposing on us a burden that we could not bear? Would He not be dealing with us (with all reverence be it said) as harshly as Pharao acted toward the Hebrew people when he commanded them to make bricks without straw?
The Divine Founder of the Christian religion gives us precepts far more sublime and exacting than those of the Old Law. And yet, He tells us, that their observance is by no means above our strength. "Take My yoke upon you," He says, "for My yoke is sweet, and My burden light." But would not this invitation be a delusion and a snare, if we had no free-will, and would not the Son of God be putting a heavier yoke on us than the son of Solomon imposed on his subjects? "My father," said Roboam, "put a heavy yoke upon you, but I will add
1 Deut. XXX., 11-14. 2 I. John V., 3.
3 Matt. XI., 29, 30.