« ZurückWeiter »
extremely absurd: for the unchangeableness of God, when considered in relation to the exertion of his attributes in the government of the world, consists, not in always acting in the same manner, however cases and circumstances may alter; but in always doing what is right, and in adapting his treatment of his intelligent creatures to the variatien of their actions, characters and dispositions. If prayer then makes an alteration in the case of the supplicant, as being the discharge of an indispensable duty; what would in truth infer changeableness in God, would be, not his regarding and answering it, but his not doing this. Hence it is manifest, that the notice which he
be pleased to take of our prayers by granting us blessings in answer to them, is not to be considered as a yielding to importunity, but as an instance of rectitude in suiting his dealings with us to our conduct. Nor does it imply that he is backward to do us good, and therefore wants to be solicited to it: but merely that there are certain conditions, on the performance of which the effects of his goodness to us are suspended : that there is something to be done by us before we can be proper objects of his favour; or before it can be fit and consistent with the measures of the divine government to grant us particular benefits. Accordingly, to the species of objection alluded to in page 10, (namely, that our own werthiness or unworthiness, and the determined will of God, must determine how we are to be treated, absolutely, and so as to render prayer altogether unnecessary,) the answer is obvious, that before prayer we may be unworthy; and that prayer may be the very thing that makes us worthy: the act of prayer being itself the very condition, the very circumstance in our characters, that contributes to render us the proper objects of divine regard,
and the neglect of it being that which disqualifies us for receiving blessings.
Mr. Wollaston, in his Religion of Nature, (pp. 115. 116.) expresses the same ideas with his usual exact, and (I may here particularly say) mathematical, precision “ The respect or relation, (he observes,) which lies between God, considered as an unchangeable being, and one that is humble, and supplicates, and endeavours to qualify himself for mercy, cannot be the same with that, which lies between the same unchangeable God, and one that is obstinate, and will not supplicate,* or endeavour to qualify himself: that is, the same thing, or being, cannot respect opposite and contradictory characters in the same manner.f It is not in short that by our supplication we can pretend to produce any alteration in the Deity, but by an alteration in ourselves we may alter the relation or respect lying between him and us."
The beautiful language of Mrs. Barbauld, upon this subject, I cannot prevail upon myself to leave unnoticed. Having observed upon that high toned philosophy, which would pronounce prayer to be the weak effort of an infirm mind to alter the order of nature and the decrees of providence, in which it rather becomes the wise man to acquiesce with a manly resignation : this elegant writer proceeds to state, that they who cannot boast of such philo
Πως αν δοιη τα προς τας ορμας αυτεξασια μη αιτεντι ο διδοναι πεφυκως Θεος. Hierocl.
+ This position he exhibits thus, in language which will be intelligible to mathematicians only. “The ratio of G to M+q, is different from that of G to M-q: and yet G remains unaltered."- To the opponents of the argument, this formula of its exposition will no doubt afford ground rather of jocularity than of conviction. For, of men capable of maintaining a contrary opinion, there can be no great hazard in pronouncing, that they are not mathematicians.
sophy, may plead the example of him, who prayed, though with meek submission, that the cup of bitterness might pass from him; and who, as the moment of separation approached, interceded for his friends and followers with all the anxiety of affectionate tenderness. But (she adds) we will venture to say, that practically there is no such philosophy. If prayer were not enjoined for the perfection, it would be permitted to the weakness of our nature. We should be betrayed into it, if we thought it sin; and pious ejaculations would escape our lips, though we were obliged to preface them with, God forgive me for praying !—To those (she says) who press the objection, that we cannot see in what manner our prayers can be answered, consistently with the government of the world according to general laws; it may be sufficient to say, that prayer, being made almost an instinct of our nature, it cannot be supposed but that, like all other instincts it has its use: but that no idea can be less philosophical, than one which implies, that the existence of a God who governs the world, should make no difference in our conduct; and few things less probable, than that the child-like submission which bows to the will of a father, should be exactly similar in feature to the stubborn patience which bends under the yoke of necessity. Remarks on Wakefield's Enquiry, p. 11-14. See also the excellent remarks of Doctor Percival to the same purport, cited in the Appendix to these volumes.
-ON THE GRANTING OF THE DIVINE FORGIVENESS
Page 12. (i)-See H. Taylor's Ben. Mord. 5th Letter: in which, a number of instances are adduced from the Old Testament, to shew that God's dealing with his creatures is of the nature here described. Thus we find, that when God had declared, that he would destroy the entire nation of Israel, for their idolatry at Horeb, (Numb. ch. xiv.) and again, for their intended violence against Caleb and Joshua, (Deut. ch. ix.) yet upon the intercession of Moses, he is said to have forgiven them. In like manner for the sake of ten righteous persons, he would have spared Sodom. (Gen. xviii
. 32.) In remembrance of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and for their sakes, he is represented as being merciful to their posterity. (Gen. xxvi. 24.)—He forgave Abimelech also
prayer of Abraham, (Gen. xx. 7.) and the friends of Job, upon the solicitation of that patriarch, (Job. xlii. 10.)—and, what renders these two last instances particularly strong is, that whilst he declares the purpose of forgiveness, he at the same time expressly prescribes the mediation, by which it was to be obtained. To quote more of the numerous instances, which the Old Testament supplies on this head, must be unnecessary. What has been urged, will enable us to form a true judgment of that extraordinary position, on which Dr. Priestley relies not a little, (Hist. of Cor. vol. i. p. 156.) viz. that “ the declarations of Divine Mercy are made without reserve or limitation to the truly penitent, through all the books of Scripture, without the most distant hint of any regard being had to the sufferings or merit of any being whatever."
Very different indeed were the sentiments of the pious writer referred to in the last Number. He not merely admits the contrary of this position to be founded in the facts of revelation ; but he maintains the abstract reasonableness of the principle, with a force and feeling, that must render his remarks upon this head particularly acceptable to the reader. If it be asked, he says, what influence our prayers can have upon the state of others; what benefit they can derive from our intercessions; or, whether we can conceive, that God, like weak men, can be persuaded by the importunity of one person to bestow upon another blessings, which he would not else have bestowed: the proper answer is to be derived from the consideration, that it is by no means necessary to suppose, that the treatment which beings shall receive, depends, in all cases, solely, on what they are in themselves. This, without doubt, is what the universal Governor, chiefly regards; but it is not all. And though there are some benefits of such a nature, that no means can obtain them for beings who have not certain qualifications, there are other benefits which one being may obtain for another, or for which he may be indebted entirely to the kind offices of his fellow-creatures. An advantage may become proper to be granted to another, in consequence of some circumstances he may be in, or some relations in which he may stand to others, which abstracted from such circumstances and relations, would not have been proper. Nothing more frequently happens in the common course of events.
The whole scheme of nature seems indeed, to be contrived on purpose in such a manner, as that beings might have it in their power in numberless ways, to bless one another. And one great end of the precarious and mutually dependent condition of men appears plainly to be, that they might have room and scope for the exercise of the beneficent affections. From this constitution of things it is, that almost all our happiness is conveyed to us, not immediately from the hands of God, but by the in