« PreviousContinue »
APRIL, 186 3.
ARTICLE I.-THE CAUSES OF HISTORY.
THE current of events, like successive generations, flows onward; and it is evident that both God and man have to do in giving them birth and direction. But how it is that each acts upon the other, and both upon human history, is a problem which the deepest thinkers have not yet been able to solve; at least they have not been able to make their solutions obvious to other minds. Theories there have been in abundance, many of them absurd, and all more or less contradictory of each other. But a complete elucidation of the theme has never been given, and is probably beyond the grasp of man's intellect.
There are however certain grand aspects of the subject, and these the important and practical ones, which do lie within the reach of human comprehension. But to understand them we must begin at the right point and unwind thread after thread in their natural order. The disregard of this caution is one principal cause of false reasoning, and of the opposite conclusions upon the same subjects to which different minds are per
petually arriving. One's argument may be sound and logical, considered merely as an argument, but if its assumption or point of departure be false, or, which is nearly the same thing, only a half truth, then the conclusion will of course be erroneous; and different persons starting with different assumptions, though all reason correctly, will yet arrive at different results.
The proper point of departure in the present discussion is the fact that the history of man is partly under his own control, and partly under the control of influences quite beyond himself. Our individual history is not such as we ourselves would have made it; nor such as we and our friends, at the beginning of life, anticipated it would be. We have often and in many things struggled in one direction, while we have found ourselves drifting in another. Our whole career has been a practical commentary on the words of Solomon-" A man deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps."
And what is true of ourselves has been true of mankind in general. Nations have drifted in directions and to results which they did not seek, and which no human foresight could have predicted or judged probable. Every reader of the past is constantly reminded of the old adage,-"Man proposes, but God disposes." To a limited extent we can, indeed, make the circumstances of our existence; but to a much greater extent we are made by them. Our destiny is not so much in our own hands as we are in the hands of destiny; and the remark applies to nations and to ages, no less than to individuals.
This clear and undisputed fact is the natural starting point in our argument. Its explanation is the problem to be solved,interrogatively stated-why is human history so variable, so apparently under man's control, and yet so obviously beyond it? It is conceded that no event or concatenation of events can exist without a cause; and as human history is a series of events, the question to be answered is, What has produced them?
In remote ages, when stupid ignorance brooded over the minds of men, the events of history were often ascribed to chance. The changes that occurred were not caused, they happened. No laws uniform in their operations were recognized,
unless chance might be dignified with the name of law. But chance is either something or nothing. If it be nothing, then to ascribe the events of history to chance is to deny the principle of causality; for ex nihilo, nihil fit. But if chance be something, if it be an adequate cause, then it is not chance but law; and if it be an intelligent cause, then it is more than law, it is another name for God.
Later in the world's history, and after the human mind had attained a greater development, the facts of experience and observation began to be classified. It was discovered that nature's operations for the most part exhibited a remarkable uniformity. Day and night, summer and winter, succeeded each other regularly. There was a close connection between sowing and reaping; not only was one necessary to the other, but it was found that the kind of harvest depended upon the seed
This uniformity which was seen to prevail throughout the operations of nature suggested the idea of law, fixed and unalterable, as the cause of all events. Hence observant minds passed from the chance theory to that of natural necessity. Now fate, not chance, came to be deified as the cause of all events. The connection between one event and another was a necessary connection. History was an endless chain, made up of an infinite number of links, interlocked and dependent. This was the theory of Hume; and is substantially the naturalistic theory, set forth by modern skeptics as the antagonist and supplanter of the Christian system.
It is sufficient to say concerning this theory of necessary connections that it involves both an absurdity and an impossibility. The absurdity consists in the hypothesis of an infinite series. The idea of a chain that has no end, a chain with an infinite number of links, is plainly absurd. And the impossibility grows out of the absurdity; for, if it is absurd to speak of a chain that has no end,-of a succession of links that has no first link, then is it impossible that nature should have originated and produced itself. Each link, or historic event, might indeed depend upon the one above it, but on what does the whole chain depend? This question annihilates the theory of
an endless succession, and the whole system of fatality, or necessary connections, founded upon it.
Now for the purpose of retaining all that was deemed valuable in the theory of necessary connections-it contained a half truth and at the same time to throw off the absurdity of it, another grand idea was incorporated; namely, the existence of a personal God, the creator and upholder of all things. This theory, so scriptural, so rational, supplied what the other lacked; namely, an almighty hand by which the chain of events was upheld; an almighty power by which the course of nature and of history was originated and rolled onward. But in or der to make provision for that uniformity which was observable in the operations of nature, and which the Platonic philosophy and its outgrowths contended for, it was held that all events, great and small, good and evil, took place in accordance with the predetermined plan and purpose of the Almighty; in other words, that "God hath foreordained whatsoever cometh to pass." Divine efficiency was substituted for natural necessity; predestination for inevitable fate. It was said, we quote from the works of John Calvin, "that God,-in predestinating from all eternity, one part of mankind to everlasting happiness, and another to endless misery,-was led to make this distinction by no other motive than his own good pleasure and free-will.” Predestination, according to this view, relates to means as well as ends, to specific acts as well as final results; and so far from being dependent on foreseen contingencies, or in any way limited by them, it denies that any such contingencies exist; or if they exist, it is only because they were predestinated. God foresees what will take place, because he has foreordained that it shall occur. Thus not only the ordinary operations of nature, but even the conduct and destiny of immortal beings, are determined by the purpose and direct agency of Almighty God; and all this "to the praise of his glorious justice."
Now of this theory of predestination, held as a naked and distinct theory, apart from all correlated and modifying truths, we have only to say that it fails utterly to answer its designed purpose. It does not explain satisfactorily the problem of human history; for-standing alone and logically held-it either
denies the existence of moral evil, or it makes God the author of sin. It is no less a system of inevitable fate than was the preceding one of necessary connexions; the difference being that God and not law is the cause of all events, the actions of men included. If this be so, then man is no more responsible for his conduct than a brute beast or an inanimate clod; and to treat him as guilty is not only unjust but cruel. The theory then, we repeat, held logically and apart from all modifying and connected truths, destroys the possibility of either virtue or vice, and presents God not as a righteous moral ruler, but as an infinite tyrant.
The natural and inevitable recoil from such a doctrine is found in the opposing theory of Free-Will. Hence while one class of theologians have sought to explain the facts of history by referring them to the sovereignty of God, another class of metaphysicians have aimed at the same thing by referring them to the free agency of man. The freedom of the will, it is said, is a fact of consciousness, and is undeniable. Johnson once remarked to Boswell, when this subject was under discussion, "Sir, we know our will is free, and there is an end on't;" by which he meant to say that the fact is too obvious to admit of argument. Because men are conscious of acting voluntarily, that is, of choosing between two or more courses of conduct, they are equally conscious of possessing moral character, and being the proper subjects of praise and blame, of reward and punishment. Now it is said that the freedom of man originates and determines the course of history, that each man makes himself, and all of us together make the world; and that what we call history, is only the channel that human freedom works out for itself to flow in.
Our objection to this view is two-fold. And first, the doctrine of the freedom of the will, as commonly held, and as this theory assumes, is not true. Men are not free, in any proper sense of that term, except as to final or ultimate choices. Every one lives for some ultimate end; that end is either universal or partial good, the good of being or the good of self. Now the end chosen determines and necessitates the choice and use of such means as are deemed to be best adapted to its ac