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The beginnings, respectively, of our civil, ecclesiastical, and astronomical year, though not coincident, are so little apart, that they may be considered as essentially the same. The true beginning of our ecclesiastical year dates from the beginning of the year of our redemption, the birth into the world of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; and this great event we celebrate on Christmas Day. Our civil year begins on the 1st of January; and our astronomical year begins on the 21st of December, when, in our hemisphere, the sun, having completed his journey through the ecliptic, sets out afresh on his annual course—or when the earth, having finished the circle of her orbit, enters again on her accustomed round. The luminaries of heaven which thence receive their apparent motion, are thus set for signs and for seasons, and for days and for years. They tell us of the progression of time and of its changes. Beneficent, as all the Divine arrangements are, they bring us seed-time and barvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night. And, although, influenced by our sensations and circumstances, we do not always find the conditions which these bring with them agreeable to us, we know that they are all conducive to our temporal interests and physical wellbeing. Motion and change are the effects and the signs of life. They are, as all created things and conditions are, evidences not only of original design, but of presiding wisdom. Wisdom is displayed in the adaptation of means to ends. And where can we look without seeing everything in nature working towards some useful result? There is
nothing purposeless, nothing useless. Things are formed and moved by an intelligence and power not their own, and their course is shaped by ends and towards objects not of their own origination. The only created being who has a will that impels him, and an intelligence that enables him, to deviate from the limited track which the Creator has fixed for His creatures generally, is man. But man is as completely subject to the laws of nature as other creatures are.
He owes to them all that his animal nature requires ; and obedience is as necessary for his welfare as for theirs. But man is subject to a higher law, because he has been created with a higher nature, than the beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, and the fish of the sea. He is endowed with the faculty of reason, therefore with the power of reflection, therefore of choice. But the faculty of reason and the powers of reflection and choice indicate not only a higher nature, but a higher destiny, than that of the creatures to whom they have been denied. What would be the nature of these gifts, if intended only for the present life? The lower animals in some respects are better provided for than we, and live a freer life and a happier. They sow not, yet they reap; they have neither storehouse nor barns, yet they are fed ; like the lilies of the field, they toil not, neither do they spin, and yet they are clothed, and in apparel more gorgeous than the Eastern monarch for whose adorning all parts of the earth were laid under contribution, and the highest human skill had been invoked. Is our physical condition such as it is, only that, unlike the lower animals, we may be compelled to labour and contrive, in order that we may procure the means of supporting a precarious and sometimes painful existence, and then that our last end
may be like theirs ? Do not even our physical necessities themselves suggest to our reason another and higher object than the mere exertion required to supply them? Are not the wants of our bodies a powerful means for the development of our minds?. If we had no wants but those which nature spontaneously supplied, we would remain in a state of nature. How wonderfully are the mental faculties expanded by the efforts which they put forth to supply the demands of the body! The whole agriculture and trade and commerce of the world have grown out of our physical demands. It is true that the whole of our mental exertions are not needed nor made to supply our physical wants. The mind has its needs and cravings as well as the body. Hence arts and sciences that transcend our physical wants. But those which have been produced to satisfy the cravings of the mind would never have existed if the faculties had not been first employed in providing for the demands of the body. Our physical are the bases of our mental wants and desires. And He who created us evidently meant to lead us by our lowest necessities to lay a foundation on which we might build upwards, or on which He Himself might build a nobler and more enduring superstructure.
But Divine Wisdom never gives a supply till Divine Love has created a desire for it. The desire for knowledge is implanted in the human mind. This desire leads first to a knowledge of things and facts. But in the progress of development, the mind craves not only a knowledge of facts but of causes. The natural causes of natural things must be the first object of desire relating to causation. But this is not sufficient to satisfy the mind. There must be some cause beyond all the causes that nature discloses, or that the universe in its best ascertained order and widest known extent reveals. Whence the wondrous structure, the illimitable extent, the speckless beauty, the perfect harmony of creation ? But does not science, which has so enlarged our knowledge of creation, make known the laws on which its existence and order depend? Are not the causes of the phenomena of the starry heavens known to us as clearly as that of the thunder, in which the untutored savage hears the voice of God? The savage has, it is true, the knowledge, or at least the conviction, which we have spoken of as that of which natural knowledge is the basis. In his mind, therefore, not knowledge but ignorance seems to be the foundation of his faith. But there is in his mind the felt necessity of a cause.
His ignorance of secondary causes leads him to ascribe unexplained phenomena directly to the first cause.
There are some, on the other hand, who think that a knowledge of secondary causes justifies them in denying the existence of a first cause.
The mental exertion which is forced upon us by our physical necessities would never lead to more than temporal results, and not even to the nobler of these, if it were not that there is a divinity within as well as around us.
“There is a universal influx into the minds of men, that there is a God.” He who created all things is present in all things He has created; and He is present in them as their life, impelling them to act, each according to its own nature and the end of its existence. Those created for an earthly existence only are endowed with faculties admirably suited to their temporal condition, but which never show the slightest sign of a tendency or power to rise above it. Man alone is supersensuous. He thinks and has the language of thought, not merely the cry of desire and feeling. He can think not only of what relates to the body and the senses, but of what relates to the mind and the affections and perceptions. He can not only penetrate into the secrets of nature, but rise above nature, and think of what is beyond it.
The difference between man and animals is one of the wonders of creation. It is the difference between nature and spirit, and between time and eternity; not between measured and endless duration, but between time which has nothing of eternity and eternity which has nothing of time. Some assert that the difference between animals and man is only one of degree ; and that instinct is only a lower kind of reason, and reason is only a higher kind of instinct. The reason of man is thus, according to them, nothing more than a higher development of the instinct of animals. This is a fallacy. Animal instinct can never pass into human reason. There is a discrete degree between them. The lower ends where the higher begins. The higher cannot even be superadded to the lower. Reason cannot enter into instinct, nor can instinct enter into reason; nor can they coexist in the same being.
If instinct cannot be developed into reason, the animal cannot be developed into the man. Man is a being of a higher order than the highest animal. He is, even by creation, an image and likeness of God. He is endowed with the faculties of will and understanding, neither of which the lower orders of created beings possess. He alone, therefore, can act from liberty according to reason. He can have a knowledge and a sense of duty; to him, therefore, laws can be revealed; and these he needs, since, unlike the lower animals, he has none inscribed upon his nature. The laws of civil and moral life, considered apart from Revelation, are the result of reflection and experience. Of God and immortality men can know nothing but by revelation. The universal influx of which we have spoken gives the light which enables the mind to see the truth when revealed, but a knowledge of the truth comes by outward revelation. The influx is from Him who is the true Light, and the light which flows from Him is that which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. All the knowledge which exists in the world respecting divine and spiritual things, which has not been derived from the Bible, has descended from a more ancient revelation, of which the Bible itself speaks. The inflowing Divine light is no other than the Divine Wisdom, the Eternal Word, by which all things were created, and which is in all created things, sustaining and directing all that it has produced, and giving to each that which is suited to its nature and use. It is this Divine Wisdom that gives to the vegetable kingdom all its endless variety of form and colour and fragrance, and from which both animals and man receive their form and their faculties, that wisdom which is the light of instinct in them and the light of reason in him.
Such is our position in this created universe. Man is the head of creation. In him, and in him alone, we can see the completion of a creative design worthy of an infinite and eternal Being. We cannot suppose a Being of infinite love and wisdom capable of being satisfied with a continual succession of birth and death, which has no other final result than dust to dust, ashes to ashes. A being capable of consciously receiving and reflecting back, and of living in the endless enjoyment of, some measure of the Creator's perfection and happiness, may therefore reasonably be considered as alone worthy of being the ultimate end of creation.
Rational and immortal beings, we are accountable for the employment of the faculties which the Creator has bestowed upon us, and for the use we make of the time and opportunities we have for the formation of character, which is to determine much of our present and the whole of our future happiness. We can look behind and before, above and below. Behind us is the past, before us is the future ; above us is heaven, below us is hell. We can reflect upon the past and learn from it something that may guide us in the future; we can draw conclusions as to what the future will be, according as we act upon or reflect the lessons of the past. We can even from the general tendencies and movements of the past argue something of the state and direction of the future. From the larger view we can have no doubt that the direction of the world's movements is onwards and upwards. There is a general growth of the mind; and with this there must be advancement in all human concerns, civil, scientific, ecclesiastical. Freedom of thought, which is one of the principal effects and signs of mental growth, steadily advances, and infuses itself into all that engages human attention. One of the principal outgrowths is civil liberty; and we, who in our happy country enjoy so much of this human prerogative, must rejoice to see other nations gradually, however slowly, coming into the enjoyment of greater personal freedom and into the possession of freer institutions. The Emperor of Russia, , who not many years ago emancipated the serfs, has intimated his intention of establishing some form of constitutional government. China, the most immobile of nations, has begun to move; and