Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
 
The Conception of General Law
By Henry Longueville Mansel (1820–1871)
 
From The Limits of Religious Thought Examined

IF then the condition of Time is inseparable from all human conceptions of the Divine nature, what advantage do we gain, even in philosophy, by substituting the supposition of immutable order in time for that of special interposition in time? Both of these representations are doubtless speculatively imperfect: both depict the infinite God, under finite symbols. But for the regulative purposes of human conduct in this life, each is equally necessary: and who may dare, from the depths of his own ignorance, to say that each may not have its prototype in the ineffable Being of God? We are sometimes told that it gives us a more elevated idea of the Divine wisdom and power, to regard the Creator as having finished His work once for all, and then abandoned it to its own unerring laws, than to represent him as interfering, from time to time, by the way of direct personal superintendence;—just as it implies higher mechanical skill to make an engine which shall go on perpetually by its own motion, than one which requires to be continually regulated by the hand of its maker. This ingenious simile fails only in the important particular, that both its terms are utterly unlike the objects which they profess to represent. The world is not a machine; and God is not a mechanic. The world is not a machine; for it consists, not merely of wheels of brass, and springs of steel, and the fixed properties of inanimate matter, but of living and intelligent and free-acting persons, capable of personal relations to a living and intelligent and free-acting Ruler. And God is not a mechanic; for the mechanic is separated from his machine by the whole diameter of being; as mind, giving birth to material results; as the conscious workman, who meets with no reciprocal consciousness in his work. It may be a higher evidence of mechanical skill to abandon brute matter once for all to its own laws; but to take this as the analogy of God’s dealings with His living creatures—as well tell us that the highest image of parental love and forethought is that of the ostrich, “which leaveth her eggs in the earth, and warmeth them in dust.”
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  But if such conclusions are not justified by our a priori knowledge of the Divine nature, are they borne out empirically by the actual constitution of the world? Is there any truth in the assertion, so often put forth as an undeniable discovery of modern science, that cause and effect are indissolubly chained together, and that one follows the other in inevitable succession? There is just that amount of half truth which makes an error dangerous; and there is no more. Experience is of two kinds, and philosophy is of two kinds:—that of the world of matter, and that of the world of mind; that of physical succession, and that of moral action. In the material world, if it be true that the researches of science tend towards—though who can say that they will ever reach?—the establishment of a system of fixed and orderly recurrence; in the mental world we are no less confronted, at every instant, by the presence of contingency and free-will. In the one we are conscious of a chain of phenomenal effects; in the other of self, as an acting and originating cause. Nay, the very conception of the immutability of the law of cause and effect is not so much derived from the positive evidence of the former, as from the negative evidence of the latter. We believe the succession to be necessary, because nothing but mind can be conceived as interfering with the successions of matter; and, where mind is excluded, we are unable to imagine contingence. But what right has this so-called philosophy to build a theory of the universe on material principles alone, and to neglect what experience daily and hourly forces upon our notice—the perpetual interchange of the relations of matter and mind? In passing from the material to the moral world, we pass at once from the phenomenal to the real; from the successive to the continuous; from the many to the one; from an endless chain of mutual dependence to an originating and self-determining source of power. That mysterious, yet unquestionable presence of Will—that agent, uncompelled yet not uninfluenced, whose continuous existence and productive energy are summed up in the word Myself; that perpetual struggle of good with evil; those warnings and promptings of a spirit striving with our spirit, commanding, yet not compelling—acting upon us, yet leaving us free to act for ourselves; that twofold consciousness of infirmity and strength in the hour of temptation; that grand ideal of what we ought to be, so little, alas! to be gathered from the observation of what we are; that overwhelming conviction of sin in the sight of One higher and holier than we; that irresistible impulse to prayer, which bids us pour out our sorrows and make our wants known to One who hears and will answer us; that indefinable yet inextinguishable consciousness of a direct intercourse and communion of man with God, of God’s influence upon man, yea, and—with reverence be it spoken—of man’s influence upon God—these are facts of experience, to the full as real and as certain as the laws of planetary motions and chemical affinities—facts which philosophy is bound to take into account, or to stand convicted as shallow and one-sided—facts which can deceive us only if our whole consciousness is a liar, and the boasted voice of reason itself but an echo of the universal lie.  2
 
 
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