We would yield to no one in a profound veneration for the great intellects of the past. But let us not be dazzled and blinded by the splendour of their achievements. Let us look at it closely, and see how wonderful it is -- this thing called the human mind. The more I think of it, the more it fills me with amazement. I scarcely know which amazes me the more, its littleness or its grandeur. Now I see it, with all its high powers and glorious faculties, labouring under the ambiguity of a word, apparently in hopeless eclipse for centuries. Shall I therefore despise it? Before I have time to do so, the power and the light which is thus shut out from the world by so pitiful a cause, is revealed in all its glory. I see this same intelligence forcing its way through a thousand hostile appearances, resisting innumerable obstacles pressing on all sides around it, overcoming deep illusions, and inveterate opinions, almost as firmly seated as the very laws of nature themselves. I see it rising above all these, and planting itself in the radiant seat of truth. It embraces the plan, it surveys the work of the Supreme Architect of all things. It follows the infinite reason, and recognises the almighty power, in their sublimest manifestations. I rejoice in the glory of its triumphs, and am ready to pronounce its empire boundless. But, alas! I see it again baffled and confounded by the wonders and mysteries of a single atom!
I see this same thing, or rather its mightiest representatives, with a Newton or a Leibnitz at their head, in full pursuit of a shadow, and wasting their wonderful energies in beating the air. They have measured the world, and stretched their line upon the chambers of the great deep. They have weighed the sun, moon, and stars, and marked out their orbits. They have determined the laws according to which all worlds and all atoms move -- according to which the very spheres sing together. And yet, when they came to measure |the force of a moving body,| they toil for a century at the task, and finally rest in the amazing conclusion, that |the very same thing may have two measures widely different from each other!| Alas! that the same mind, that the same god-like intelligence, which has measured worlds and systems, should thus have wasted its stupendous energies in striving to measure a metaphor!
When I think of its grandeur and its triumphs, I bow with reverence before its power, and am ready to despair of ever seeing it go farther than it has already gone; but when I think of its littleness and its failures, I take courage again, and determine to toil on as a living atom among living atoms. The glory of its triumphs does not discourage me, because I also see its littleness; nor can its littleness extinguish in me the light of hope, because I also see the glory of its triumphs. And surely this is right; for the intellect of man, so conspicuously combining the attributes of the angel and of the worm, is not to be despised without infinite danger, nor followed without infinite caution.
Such, indeed, is the weakness and fallibility of the human mind, even in its brightest forms, that we cannot for a moment imagine, that the inherent difficulties of the dark enigma of the world are insuperable, because they have not been clearly and fully solved by a Leibnitz or an Edwards. On the contrary, we are perfectly persuaded that in the end the wonder will be, not that such a question should have been attempted after so many illustrious failures, but that any such failure should have been made. This will appear the more probable, if we consider the precise nature of the problem to be solved, and not lose ourselves in dark and unintelligible notions. It is not to do some great thing -- it is simply to refute the sophism of the atheist. If God were both willing and able to prevent sin, which is the only supposition consistent with the idea of God, says the atheist, he would certainly have prevented it, and sin would never have made its appearance in the world. But sin has made its appearance in the world; and hence, God must have been either unable or unwilling to prevent it. Now, if we take either term of this alternative, we must adopt a conclusion which is at war with the idea of a God.
Such is the argument of the atheist; and sad indeed must be the condition of the Christian world if it be forever unable to meet and refute such a sophism. Yet, it is the error involved in this sophism which obscures our intellectual vision, and causes so perplexing a darkness to spread itself over the moral order and beauty of the world. Hence, in grappling with the supposed great difficulty in question, we do not undertake to remove a veil from the universe -- we simply undertake to remove a sophism from our own minds. Though we have so spoken in accommodation with the views of others, the problem of the moral world is not, in reality, high and difficult in itself, like the great problem of the material universe. We repeat, it is simply to refute and explode the sophism of the atheist. Let this be blown away, and the darkness which seems to overhang the moral government of the world will disappear like the mists of the morning.
If such be the nature of the problem in question, and such it will be found to be, it is certainly a mistake to suppose that |it must be entangled with perplexities while we see but in part.|(1) It is only while we see amiss, and not while we see in part, that this problem must wear the appearance of a dark enigma. It is clear, that our knowledge is, and ever must be, exceedingly limited on all sides; and if we must understand the whole of the case, if we must comprehend the entire extent of the divine government for the universe and for eternity, before we can remove the difficulty in question, we must necessarily despair of success. But we cannot see any sufficient ground to support this oft-repeated assertion. Because the field of our vision is so exceedingly limited, we do not see why it should be forever traversed by apparent inconsistencies and contradictions. In relation to the material universe, our space is but a point, and our time but a moment; and yet, as that inconceivably grand system is now understood by us, there is nothing in it which seems to conflict with the dictates of reason, or with the infinite perfections of God. On the contrary, the revelations of modern science have given an emphasis and a sublimity to the language of inspiration, that |the heavens declare the glory of the Lord,| which had, for ages, been concealed from the loftiest conception of the astronomer.
Nor did it require a knowledge of the whole material universe to remove the difficulties, or to blast the objections which atheists had, in all preceding ages, raised against the perfections of its divine Author. Such objections, as is well known, were raised before astronomy, as a science, had an existence. Lucretius, for example, though he deemed the sun, moon, and stars, no larger than they appear to the eye, and supposed them to revolve around the earth, undertook to point out and declaim against the miserable defects which he saw, or fancied he saw, in the system of the material world. That is to say, he undertook to criticise and find fault with the great volume of nature, before he had even learned its alphabet. The objections of Lucretius, which appeared so formidable in his day, as well as many others that have since been raised on equally plausible grounds, have passed away before the progress of science, and now seem like the silly prattle of children, or the insane babble of madmen. But although such difficulties have been swept away, and our field of vision cleared of all that is painful and perplexing, nay, brightened with all that is grand and beautiful, we seem to be farther than ever from comprehending the whole of the case -- from grasping the amazing extent and glory of the material globe. And why may not this ultimately be the case also in relation to the moral universe? Why should every attempt to clear up its difficulties, and blow away the objections of atheism to its order and beauty, be supposed to originate in presumption and to terminate in impiety? Are we so much the less interested in knowing the ways of God in regard to the constitution and government of the moral world than of the material, that he should purposely conceal the former from us, while he has permitted the latter to be laid open so as to ravish our minds? We can believe no such thing; and we are not willing to admit that there is any part of the creation of God in which omniscience alone can cope with the atheist.