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The more I have contemplated the view of the Divine character and government which is exhibited in the following pages, and the more the engagements of life have brought me acquainted with the wants of the human mind in this state of discipline, and therefore of vicissitude and suffering, the more deep has become my conviction, that were the opinions which it is the object of this work to establish, generally believed and considered, they would promote in an incalculable measure the virtue and happiness of mankind. This conviction coincides with that of the wisest and best men whom I have the pleasure of knowing. My sense of the importance of rendering this view of the moral government of the Deity as complete as possible, is therefore stronger than ever; and, under this impression, I have entered, in this edition, into a more close and connected investigation of the origin, the nature, and the tendency of evil. I have considered separately and in detail, the several classes of evil, namely, natural and moral evil, and the evils which have hitherto been found inseparable from the social state ; namely, poverty, dependence, and servitude. I have endeavored to show why these evils exist in the creation of a Being of almighty power, of infinite wisdom, and of perfect goodness. I have endeavored to lead the mind to the calm and serious consideration of principles which seem adequate to divest it of doubt, where doubt must be unhappiness, and to conduct it to a conclusion, which, if once embraced from conviction, must secure it from misery.
I look back to the quiet and contemplative hours which were devoted to these inquiries with the feeling, not unmixed with melancholy, with which we reflect on our departed pleasures. And yet there is a closer connexion than there might at first sight seem between these subjects and those which now much more exclusively occupy my attention: the real end of both is the same: for the object of each is alike to extend the knowledge, to mitigate the suffering, and to increase the happiness of mankind ; and without doubt this is the great business of life : whoever succeeds in it most, is the wisest, the ablest, and the happiest of his race; and even he whose measure of success is not great, cannot be without satisfaction, so long as he is conscious of the wish and the effort to accomplish more.
If it be reasonable to refer the formation of the earth and of all the objects and beings on its surface to an intelligent agent, and if we cannot doubt, that we are entirely dependent upon our Creator for all which we possess and hope, it must be of unspeakable importance to ascertain what his character really is; and if there be indeed reason to believe, that, in fashioning our frame, and appointing that it should undergo at a certain period a total disorganization, he do not by that change design to destroy us, but to qualify us for a higher state and for nobler pursuits, no inquiry can be so interesting as that which relates to our destiny in the ages which are before us.
Were it possible to arm ourselves against the calamities of life, as Perseus is fabled to have been armed by the gods for his far-famed expedition, he who should commence the career of existence without his helmet, falchion and ægis, would be universally regarded as destitute of reason; but that individual is infinitely better prepared to encounter the evil with which he has to combat, who believes in the doctrine of a Providence, and knows the ground of his belief, that is, who views all events with the eye and meets them with the feeling of a Christian Philosopher. With this belief, no combination of circumstances can make him, for any