ON THE CONTEST FOR AN ASCENDANCY OVER MAN,
AMONGST THE HIGHER ORDERS OF INTELLIGENCE
"And, having spoiled principalities and powers, he made
a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it."-
Colossians ii. 15.
THOUGH these Discourses be now drawing to a close, it is not because we feel that much more might not be said on the subject of them, both in the way of argument and of illustration. The whole of the infidel difficulty proceeds upon the assumption, that the exclusive bearing of Christianity is upon the people of our earth; that this solitary planet is in no way implicated with the concerns of a wider dispensation ; that the revelation we have of the dealings of God in this district of His empire, does not suit and subordinate itself to a system of moral administration, as extended as is the whole of his monarchy. Or, in other words, because Infidels have not access to the whole truth, do they refuse a part of it, however well attested or well accredited it may be; because a mantle of deep obscurity rests on the government of God, when taken in all its eternity and all its entireness, do they shut their eyes against that allowance of light which has been made to pass downwards upon our world , from time to time, through so many partial unfoldings; and till they are made to know the share which other planets have in these communications of mercy, do they turn them away from the actual message which has come to their own door, and will neither examine its credentials, nor be alarmed by its warnings, nor be won by the tenderness of its invitations.
On that day when the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed, there will be found such a wilful duplicity and darkening of the mind in the whole of this proceeding, as shall bring down upon it the burden of a righteous condemnation. But even now does it lie open to the rebuke of philosophy, when the soundness and the consistency of her principles are brought faithfully to bear upon it. Were the character of modern science rightly understood, it would be seen, that the very thing which gave such strength and sureness to all her conclusions, was that humility of spirit which belonged to her. She promulgates all that is positively known; but she maintains the strictest silence and modesty about all that is unknown. She thankfully accepts of evidence wherever it can be found; nor does she spurn away from her the very humblest contribution of such doctrine, as can be witnessed by human observation, or can be attested by human veracity. But with all this she can hold out most sternly against that power of eloquence and fancy, which often throws so bewitching a charm over the plausibilities of ingenious speculation. Truth is the alone object of her reverence; and did she at all times keep by her attachments, nor throw them away when theology submitted to her cognizance its demonstrations and its claims, we should not despair of witnessing as great a revolution in those prevailing habitudes of thought which obtain throughout our literary establishments, on the subject of Christianity, as that which has actually taken place in the views which obtain on the philosophy of external nature. This is the first field on which have been successfully practised the experimental lessons of Bacon; and they who are conversant with these matters, know how great and how general a uniformity of doctrine now prevails in the sciences of astronomy, and mechanics, and chemistry, and almost all the other departments in the history and philosophy of matter. But this uniformity stands strikingly contrasted with the diversity of our moral systems, with the restless fluctuations both of language and of sentiment which are taking place in the philosophy of mind, with the palpable fact, that every new course of instruction upon this subject, has some new articles, or some new explanations to peculiarize it and all this is to be attributed, not to the progress of the science, not to a growing, but to an alternating movement, not to its perpetual additions, but to its perpetual vibrations.
We mean not to assert the futility of moral science, or to deny her importance, or to insist on the utter hopelessness of her advancement. The Baconian method will not probably push forward her discoveries with such a rapidity, or to such an extent, as many of her sanguine disciples have anticipated. But if the spirit and the maxims of this philosophy were at all times proceeded upon, it would certainly check that rashness and variety of excogitation, in virtue of which it may almost be said, that every new course presents us with a new system, and that every new teacher has some singularity or other to characterize him. She may be able to make out an exact transcript of the phenomena of mind, and in so doing, she yields a most important contribution to the stock of human acquirements. But, when she attempts to grope her darkling way through the counsels of the Deity, and the futurities of His administration; when, without one passing acknowledgment to the embassy which professes to have come from him, or to the facts and to the testimomies by which it has so illustriously been vindicated, she launches forth her own speculations on the character of God, and the destiny of man; when, though this be a subject on which neither the recollections of history, nor the ephemeral experience of any single life, can furnish one observation to enlighten her, she will nevertheless utter her own plausibilities, not merely with a contemptuous neglect of the Bible, but in direct opposition to it; then it is high time to remind her of the difference between the reverie of him who has not seen God, and the well-accredited declaration of him who was in the beginning with God, and was God; and to tell her, that this, so far from being the argument of an ignoble fanaticism, is in harmony with the very argument upon which the science of experiment has been reared, and by which it has been at length delivered from the influence of theory, and purified of all its vain and visionary splendours.
In our last Discourses, we have attempted to collect, from the records of Gods actual communication to the world, such traces of relationship between other orders of being and the great family of mankind, as serve to prove that Christianity is not so paltry and provincial a system as Infidelity presumes it to be. And as we said before, we have not exhausted all that may legitimately be derived upon this subject from the informations of Scripture. We have adverted, it is true, to the knowledge of our moral history which obtains throughout other provinces of the intelligent creation. We have asserted the universal importance which this may confer on the transactions even of one planet, in as much as it may spread an honourable display of the Godhead amongst all the mansions of infinity. We have attempted to expatiate on the argument, that an event little in itself, may be so pregnant with character, as to furnish all the worshippers of heaven with a theme of praise for eternity. We have stated that nothing is of magnitude in their eyes, but that which serves to endear to them the Father of their spirits, or to shed a lustre over the glory of His incomprehensible attributes - and that thus, from the redemption even of our solitary species, there may go forth such an exhibition of the Deity, as shall bear the triumphs of His name to the very outskirts of the universe.
We have farther adverted to another distinct Scriptural intimation, that the state of fallen man was not only matter of knowledge to other orders of creation, but was also matter of deep regret and affectionate sympathy; that agreeably to such laws , of sympathy as are most familiar even to human observation, the very wretchedness of our condition was fitted to concentrate upon us the feelings, and the attentions, and the services of the celestial to single us out for a time to the gaze of their most - earnest and unceasing contemplation to draw forth all that was kind and all that was tender within them - and just in proportion to the need and to the helplessness of us miserable exiles from the family of God, to multiply upon us the regards, and call out in our behalf the fond and eager exertions of those who had never wandered away from Him. This appears from the Bible to be the style of that benevolence which glows and which circulates around the throne of heaven. It is the very benevolence which emanates from the throne itself, and the attentions of which have for so many thousand years signalized the inhabitants of our world. This may look a long period for so paltry a world. But how have Infidels come to their conception that our world is so paltry? By looking abroad over the countless systems of immensity. But why then have they missed the conception, that the time of those peculiar visitations, which they look upon as so disproportionate to the magnitude of this earth, is just as evanescent as the earth itself is insignificant? Why look they not abroad on the countless generations of eternity; and thus come back to the conclusion, that after all, the redemption of our species is but an ephemeral doing in the history of intelligent nature; that it leaves the Author of it room for all the accomplishments of a wise and equal administration; and not to mention, that even during the progress of it, it withdraws not a single thought or a single energy of His, from other fields of creation, that there remains time enough to Him for carrying round the visitations of as striking and as peculiar a tenderness, over the whole extent of His great and universal monarchy?
It might serve still farther to incorporate the concerns of our planet with the general history of moral and intelligent beings, to state, not merely the knowledge which they take of us, and not merely the compassionate anxiety which they feel for us; but to state the importance derived to our world from its being the actual theatre of a keen and ambitious contest amongst the upper orders of creation. You know that for the possession of a very small and insulated territory, the mightiest empires of the world have put forth all their resources; and on some field of mustering competition, have monarchs met, and embarked for victory, all the pride of a countrys rank, and all the flower and strength of a countrys population. The solitary island around which so many fleets are hovering, and on the shores of which so many armed men are descending, as to an arena of hostility, may well wonder at its own unlooked-for estimation. But other principles are animating the battle; and the glory of nations is at. stake; and a much higher result is in the contemplation of each party, than the gain of so humble an acquirement as the primary object of the war; and honour, dearer to many a bosom than existence, is now the interest on which so much blood and so much treasure is expended; and the stirring spirit of emulation has now got hold of the combatants; and thus, amid all the insignificancy which attaches to the material origin of the contest, do both the eagerness and the extent of it, receive from the constitution of our nature, their most full and adequate explanation.
Now, if this be also the principle of higher natures - if, on the one hand, God be jealous of his honour; and, on the other, there be proud and exalted spirits who scowl defiance at Him and at His monarchy - if, on the side of heaven, there be an angelic host rallying around the standard of loyalty, who flee with alacrity at the bidding of the Almighty, who are devoted to His glory, and feel a rejoicing interest in the evolution of His counsels; and if, on the side of hell, there be a sullen front of resistance, a hate and malice inextinguishable, an unquelled daring of revenge to baffle the wisdom of the Eternal, and to arrest the hand, and to defeat the purposes of Omnipotence then let the material prize of victory be insignificant as it may, it is the victory in itself which upholds the impulse of this keen and stimulated rivalry. If, by the sagacity of one infernal mind, a single planet has been seduced from its allegiance, and been brought under the ascendancy of him who is called in Scripture, the god of this world ; and if the errand on which our Redeemer came, was to destroy the works of the devil - then let this planet have all the littleness which astronomy has assigned to it - call it what it is, one of the smaller islets which float on the ocean of vacancy; it has become the theatre of such a competition, as may have all the desires and all the energies of a divided universe embarked upon it. It involves in it other objects than the single recovery of our species. It decides higher questions. It stands linked with the supremacy of God, and will at length demonstrate the way in which He inflicts chastisement and overthrow upon all His enemies. We know not if our rebellious world be the only stronghold which Satan is possessed of, or if it be but the single post of an extended warfare, that is now going on between the powers of light and of darkness. But be it the one or the other, the parties are in array, and the spirit of the contest is in full energy, and the honour of mighty combatants is at stake; and let us therefore cease to wonder that our humble residence has been made the theatre of so busy an operation, or that the ambition of loftier natures has here put forth all its desire and all its strenuousness.
This unfolds to us another of those high and extensive bearings, which the moral history of our globe may have on the system of Gods universal administration. Were an enemy to touch the shore of this high-minded country, and to occupy so much as one of the humblest of its villages, and there to seduce the natives from their loyalty, and to sit down along with them in entrenched defiance to all the threats, and to all the preparations of an insulted empire - how would the cry of wounded pride resound throughout all the ranks and varieties of our mighty population; and this very movement of indignancy would reach the king upon his throne; and circulate among those who stood in all the grandeur of chieftainship around him; and be heard to thrill in the eloquence of parliament; and spread so resistless an appeal to a nations honour, and a nations patriotism, that the trumpet of war would summon to its call all the spirit and all the willing energies of our kingdom; and rather than sit down in patient endurance under the burning disgrace of such a violation, would the whole of its strength and resources be embarked upon the contest; and never, never would we let down our exertions and our sacrifices, till either our deluded countrymen were reclaimed, or till the whole of this offence were, by one righteous act of vengeance, swept away altogether from the face of the territory it deformed.
The Bible is always most full and most explanatory on those points of revelation in which men are personally interested. But it does at times offer a dim transparency, through which may be caught a partial view of such designs and of such enterprises as are now afloat among the upper orders of intelligence. It tells us of a mighty struggle that is now going on for a moral ascendancy over the hearts of this worlds population. It tells us that our race were seduced from their allegiance to God, by the plotting sagacity of one who stands pre-eminent against Him, among the hosts of a very wide and extended rebellion. It tells us of the Captain of salvation, who undertook to spoil him of this triumph; and throughout the whole of that magnificent train of prophecy which points to Him, does it describe the work he had to do, as a conflict, in which strength was to be put forth, and painful suffering to be endured, and fury to be poured upon enemies, and principalities to be dethroned, and all those toils, and dangers, and difficulties to be borne, which strewed the path of perseverance that was to carry him to victory.
But it is a contest of skill, as well as of strength and of influence. There is the earnest competition of angelic faculties embarked on this struggle for ascendancy. And while in the Bible there is recorded, (faintly and partially, we admit,) the deep and insidious policy that is practised on the one side; we are also told, that, on the plan of our worlds restoration, there are lavished all the riches of an unsearchable wisdom upon the other. It would appear that, for the accomplishment of his purpose, the great enemy of God and of man plied his every calculation; and brought all the devices of his deep and settled malignity to bear upon our species; and thought, that could he involve us in sin, every attribute of the Divinity stood staked to the banishment of our race from beyond the limits of the empire of righteousness; and, thus did he practise his invasions on the moral territory of the unfallen; and, glorying in his success, did he fancy and feel that he had achieved a permanent separation between the God who sitteth in heaven, and one at least of the planetary mansions which He had reared.
The errand of the Saviour was to restore this sinful world, and have its people re-admitted within the circle of heavens pure and righteous family. But in the government of heaven, as well as in the government of earth, there are certain principles which cannot be compromised; and certain maxims of administration which must never be departed from; and a certain character of majesty and of truth, on which the taint even of the slightest violation can never be permitted; and a certain authority which must be upheld by the immutability of all its sanctions, and the unerring fulfilment of all its wise and righteous proclamations. All this was in the mind of the archangel, and a gleam of malignant joy shot athwart him, as he conceived his project for hemming our unfortunate species within the bound of an irrecoverable dilemma; and as surely as sin and holiness could not enter into fellowship, so surely did he think, that if man were seduced to disobedience, would the truth, and the justice, and the immutability of God, lay their insurmountable barriers on the path of his future acceptance.
It was only in that plan of recovery of which ,Jesus Christ was the author *d the finisher, that the great adversary of our species met withawisdom which overmatched him. It is true, that he had reared, in the guilt to which he seduced us, a mighty obstacle in the way of this lofty undertaking. But when the grand expedient was announced, and the blood of that atonement, by which sinners are brought nigh, was willingly offered to be shed for us; and the eternal Son, to carry this mystery into accomplishment, assumed our nature- then w.as the prince of that mighty rebellion, in which the fate and the history of our world are so deeply implicated, in visible alarm for the safety of all his acquisitions : - nor can the record of this wondrous history carry forward its narrative, without furnishing some transient glimpses of a sublime and a Superior warfare, in which, for the prize a spiritual dominion over our species, we may dimly perceive the contest of loftiest talent, and all the designs of heaven in behalf of man, met at every point of their evolution, by the counterworkings of a rival strength and a rival sagacity.
We there read of a struggle which the Captain of our salvation had to sustain, when the lustre of the Godhead lay obscured, and the strength of its omnipotence was mysteriously weighed down under the infirmities of our nature - how Satan singled Him out, and dared Him to the combat of the wilderness - how all his wiles and all his influences were resisted - how he left our Saviour in all the triumphs of unsubdued loyalty - how the progress of this mighty achievement is marked by every character of a conflict - how many of the gospel miracles were so many direct infringements on the power and empire of a great spiritual rebellion, how, in one precious season of gladness among the few which brightened the dark career of our Saviours humiliation, He rejoiced in spirit, and gave as the cause of it to his disciples, that he saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven"- how the momentary advantages that were gotten over Him, are ascribed to the agency of this infernal being, who entered the heart of Judas, and tempted the disciple to betray his Master and his Friend. We know that we are treading on the confines of mystery. We cannot tell what the battle that he fought. We cannot compute the terror or the strength of his enemies. We cannot say, for we have not been told, how it was that they stood in marshalled and hideous array against Him : - nor can we measure how great the firm daring of His soul, when He tasted that cup in all its bitterness, which he prayed might pass away from Him; when, with the feeling that He was forsaken by Flis God, He trod the wine-press alone; when He entered singlehanded upon that dreary period of agony, and insult, and death, in which, from the garden to the cross, He had to bear the burden of a worlds atonement. We cannot speak in our own language, but we can say, in the language of the Bible, of the days and the nights of this great enterprise, that it was the Season of the travail of His soul; that it was the hour and the power of darkness; that the work of our redemption, was a work accompanied by the effort, and the violence, and the fury of a combat; by all the arduousness of a battle in its progress, and all the glories of a victory in its termination: and after He called out that it was finished, after He was loosed from the prison-house of the grave, after He had ascended up on high, He is said to have made captivity captive; and to have spoiled principalities and powers; and to have seen His pleasure upon His enemies; and to have made a show of them openly.
We shall not affect a wisdom above that which is written, by fancying such details of this warfare as the Bible has not laid before us. But surely it is no more than being wise up to that which is written, to assert, that in achieving the redemption of our world, a warfare had to be accomplished; that upon this subject there was, among the higher provinces of creation, the keen and the animated conflict of opposing interests; that the result of it involved something grander and more affecting, than even the fate of this worlds population; that it decided a question of rivalship between the righteous and everlasting Monarch of universal being, and the prince of a great and widely-extended rebellion, of which we neither know how vast is the magnitude, nor how important and diversified are the bearings: and thus do we gather, from this consideration, another distinct argument, helping us to explain why, on the salvation of our solitary species, so much attention appears to have been concentrated, and so much energy appears to have been expended.
But it would appear from the Records of Inspiration, that the contest is not yet ended; that on the one hand the Spirit of God is employed in making, for the truths of Christianity, a way into the human heart, with all the power of an effectual demonstration; that on the other, there is a spirit now abroad, which worketh in the children of disobedience: that on the one hand, the Holy Ghost is calling men out of darkness into the marvellous light of the Gospel; and that on the other hand, he who is styled the god of this world, is blinding their hearts, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ should enter into them: that they who are under the dominion of the one, are said to have overcome, because greater is He that is in them than he that is in the world; and that they who are under the dominion of the other, are said to be the children of the devil, and to be under a snare, arid to be taken captive by him at his will. How these respective powers do operate, is one question. The fact of their operation, is another. We abstain from the former. We attach ourselves to the latter, and gather from it, that the prince of darkness still walketh abroad amongst us; that he is still working his insidious policy, if not with the vigorous inspiration of hope, at least with the frantic energies of despair; that while the overtures of reconciliation are made to circulate through the world, he is plying all his devices to deafen and to extinguish the impression of them; or, in other words, while a process of invitation and of argument has emanated from heaven, for reclaiming men to their loyalty this process is resisted at all its points, by one who is putting forth his every expedient, and wielding a mysterious ascendancy, to seduce and to enthrall them.
To an infidel ear, all this carries the sound of something wild and visionary along with it. But though only known through the medium of revelation; after it is known, who can fail to recognize its harmony with the great lineaments of human experience? Who has not felt the workings of a rivalry within him, between the power of conscience and the power of temptation? Who does not remember those seasons of retirement, whieu the calculations of eternity had gotten a momentary command over the heart.; and time with all its interests and all its vexatious, had dwindled into insignifiancy before them? And who does not remember, how, upon his actual engagement with the objects of time, they resumed a control, as great and as omniotent, as if all the importance of eternity adhered to them - how they emitted from them such an impression upon his feelings, as to fix and to fascinate the whole man into a subserviency to their influence how, in spite of every lesson of their,worthlessness, brought home to him at every turn by the rapidity of the seasons, and the vicissitudes of life, and the ever-moving progress of his own earthly career, and the visible ravages of death among his acquaintances around him, and the desolations of his family, and the constant breaking up of his system of friendships, and the affecting spectacle of all that lives and is in motion, withering and hastening to the grave; how comes it, that, in the face of all this experience, the whole elevation of purpose, conceived in the hour of his better understanding, should be dissipated and forgotten?
Whence the might, and whence the mystery of that spell, which so binds and so infatuates us to the world? What prompts us so to embark the whole strength of our eagerness and of our desires, in pursuit of interests which we know a few little years will bring to utter annihilation? Who is it that imparts to them all the charm and all the colour of an unfailing durability? Who is it that throws such an air of stability over these earthly tabernacles, as makes them look to the fascinated eye of man, like resting-places for eternity ? Who is it that so pictures out the objects of sense, and so magnifies the range of their future enjoyment, and so dazzles the fond and deceived imagination, that, in looking onward through our earthly career, it appears like the vista, or the perspective, of innumerable ages? He who is called the god of this world. He who can dress the idleness of its waking dreams in the garb of reality. He who can pour a seducing brilliancy over the panorama of its fleeting pleasures and its vain anticipations. He who can turn it into an instrument of deceitfulness; and make it wield such an absolute ascendancy over all the affections, that man, become the poor slave of its idolatries and its charms, puts the authority of conscience and the warnings of the Word of God, and the offered instigations of the Spirit of God, and all the lessons of calculation, and all the wisdom even of his own sound and sober experience, away from him.
But this wondrous contest will come to a close. Some will return to their loyalty, and others will keep by their rebellion; and, in the day of the winding up of the drama of this worlds history, there will be made manifest to the myriads of the various orders of creation, by the mercy and vindicated majesty of the Eternal. On that day, how vain will this presumption of the infidel astronomy appear, when the affairs of men come to be examined in the presence of an innumerable company; and beings of loftiest nature are seen to crowd around the judgment-seat; and the Saviour shall appear in our sky, with a celestial retinue, who have come with him from afar to witness all His doings, and to take a deep and solemn interest in all His dispensations; and the destiny of our species whom the Infidel would thus detach in solitary illsignificance, from the umverse altogether, shall be found to merge and to mingle with higher destinies - the good to spend their eternity with augels the bad to spend their eternity with angels - the former to be re-admitted into the universal family of Gods obedient worshippers - the latter to share . in the everlasting pain and ignominy of the defeated hosts of the rebellious - the people of this planet to be implicated, throughout the whole train of their never-ending history, with the higher ranks, and the more extended tribes of intelligence: And thus it is, that the special administration we now live under, shall be seen to harmonize in its bearings, and to accord in its magnificence, with all that extent of nature and of her territories, which modern science has unfolded.
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