X. Progress.

From: New Views . . . (1836)
Author: O. A. Brownson
Published: James Munroe and Company 1836 Boston


  THE actual existence of evil, the effects of which are every where so visible, and apparently so deplorable, may seem to be a serious objection to the great doctrine of the Atonement, that all things are essentially good and holy; but it will present little difficulty, if we consider that God designed us to be progressive beings, and that we can be progressive beings only on the condition that we be made less perfect than we may become, that we have our point of departure at a distance from our point of destination. We must begin in weakness and ignorance; and if we begin in weakness and ignorance we cannot fail to miss our way, or frequently to want strength to pursue it. To err in judgment or to come short in action will be our unavoidable lot, until we are instructed by experience and strengthened by exertion.

  But this is no ground of complaint. We gain more than we lose by it. Had we without any agency of our own been made all that by a pro­per cultivation of our faculties we may become, we should have been much inferior to what we now are. We could have had no want, no desire, no good to seek, no end to gain, no destiny to achieve—no employment, and no motive to action. Our existence would have been aimless, silent and unvaried, given apparently for no purpose but to be dreamed away in an eternal and unbroken repose. Who could desire such an existence? Who would prefer it to the existence we now have, liable to error, sin and misery as it may be?

  Constituted as we are, the way is more than the end, the acquisition more than the possession; but had we been made at once all that is promised us by our nature, these would have been nothing; we should indeed have had the end, the possession, but that would have been all. We should have been men without having first been children. Our earlier life, its trials and temptations, its failures and its successes, would never have existed. Would we willingly forego that earlier life? Dear to all men is the memory of childhood and youth; dear too is the recollection of their difficulties and dangers, their struggles with the world or with our own passions. We may regret, do regret, suffer remorse, that we did not put ourselves forth with more energy, that the enemy with which we had to contend was not more manfully met; but who of us is the craven to wish those difficulties and dangers had been less; or that the enemy’s forces had been fewer and weaker?

  God gave his richest gift when he gave the capacity for progress. This capacity is the chief glory of our nature, the brightest signature of its Divine Origin and the pledge of its immortality. The being which can make no farther progress, which has finished its work, achieved its destiny, attained its end, must die. Why should it live? How could it live? What would be its life? But man never attains his end; he never achieves his destiny; he never finishes his work; he has always something to do, some new acquisition to make, some new height of excellence to ascend, and therefore is he immortal. He cannot die, for his hour never comes. He is never ready. Who would then be deprived of his capacity for progress?

  This capacity, though it be the occasion of error and sin, is that which makes us moral beings. Without it we could not be virtuous. A being that does not make himself, his own character, but is made, and made all he is or can be, has no free will, no liberty. He is a thing, not a person, and as in­ capable of merit or demerit as the sun or moon, earthquakes or volcanoes. As much superior as is a moral to a fatal action, a perfection wrought out in and by oneself to a perfection merely received, as much superior as is a person to a thing, albeit a glorious thing, so much do we gain by being made for progress, by having a capacity for virtue, not withstanding it be also a capacity for sin, so much superior are we to what we should have been, had we been created full grown men, with all our faculties perfected.

  But moral evil, by the superintending care of Providence and the free will of man, is often if not always a means of aiding progress itself. The sinner is not so far from God as the merely innocent. He who has failed is farther onward than he who has not been tried. The consequences of error open our eyes to the truth; the consequences of transgression make us regret our departure from duty and try to return; the effort to return gives us the power to return. Thus does moral evil ever work its own destruction. Rightly viewed, it were seen to be no entity, no positive existence, but merely the absence of good, the void around and within us, and which by the enlargement of our being, we are continually filling up. It is not then a person, a thing, a being, and consequently can make nothing against the doctrine, which asserts the essential holiness of all things.

  But men formerly supposed evil to be a substantial existence, as much of an entity as goodness. But then came the difficulty, whence could evil originate? It could not come from a good source, for good will not and cannot produce evil. But evil exists. Then all things do not come from the same source. One good and holy God has not made whatever is. There must be more Gods than one. There must be an evil God to create evil, as well as a good God to create good. Hence the notion of two Gods, or two classes of Gods, one good and the other bad, which runs through all antiquity, and under the terms God and the Devil, is reproduced even in the Christian church.

  But this notion is easily shown to be unfounded. If one of the two Gods depend on the other, then the other must be its cause, its creator. In this case, nothing would be gained. How could a good God create a bad one, or a bad God create a good one? If one does not depend on the other, then both are independent, each is sufficient for itself. A being that is sufficient for itself, that has the grounds of its existence within itself, must be absolute, almighty. There are then two absolutes, two almighties; but this is an absurdity, a contra­ diction in terms. This notion then must be abandoned. It was abandoned, and the evil was transferred to Matter. But Matter is either created or it is not. If it be created, then it is dependent, and that on which it is dependent is answerable for its properties. How could a good God have given it evil properties 1 If it be not created, then it is­ sufficient for itself; it has the grounds of its own existence within itself; it is then absolute, almighty, and the absurdity of two absolutes, of two almighties, is reproduced.

  Still we need not wonder that men, who saw good and evil thickly strown together up and down the earth, the tares every where choking the wheat, should have inferred the existence of two opposite and antagonist principles, as the cause of what they saw. Nor is it at all strange that men, who felt themselves restrained, hemmed in, by the material world, who carried about with them a _1qaterial body for ever importuning them with its wants and subjecting them to a thousand ills, should have looked upon Matter as the cause of all the evil they saw, felt and endured. As things presented themselves to their observation they judged rightly. We may, by the aid of a revelation, which shines farther into the darkness and spreads a clearer light around us and over the Universe than any they had received, be able to correct their errors, and to perceive that the antagonism, in which they believed, has no existence in the world of reality; but we must beware how we censure them for the views they took. They saw what they could see with their light and from their position, and we can do no more. Future generations will have more favor­ able positions and a stronger and clearer light than we have, and they will be to us what we are to the generations which went before us. As we would escape the condemnation of our children, so should we refrain from condemning our fathers. They did their duty, let us do ours,—serve our own generation without defaming that to which we owe our existence and all that we are. All things are holy, and all doctrines are sacred. All the productions of the ever-teeming brain of man, however fantastic or unsubstantial their forms, are but so many manifestations of Humanity, and Humanity is a manifestation of the Divinity. The Son of Man is the Incarnate God. He who blasphemes the spirit with which he works and fulfils his mission in the flesh, blasphemes the Holy Ghost. Si­ lent then be the tongue that would lisp, palsied the hand that would write the smallest censure upon Humanity for any of the opinions it has ex­ pressed, however defective, however far from embracing the whole truth, future or more favored inquirers may find them. Humanity is holy, let the proudest kneel in reverence.

  This doctrine of progress, not only accounts for the origin of evil and explains its difficulties, but it points out to us our duty. The duty of every being is to follow its destiny, to seek its end. Man’s destiny is illimitable progress; his end is everlasting growth, enlargement of his being. Progress is the end for which he was made. To this end, then, it is his duty to direct all his inquiries, all his systems of religion and philosophy, all his institutions of politics and society, all the productions of genius and taste, in one word all the modes of his activity.

  This is his duty. Hitherto he has performed it, but blindly, without knowing and without admitting it. Humanity has but to-day, as it were, risen to self-consciousness, to a perception of its own capacity, to a glimpse of its inconceivably grand and holy destiny. Heretofore it has failed to recognize clearly its duty. It has advanced, but not designedly, not with foresight; it has done it instinctively, by the aid of the invisible but safe-guiding hand of its Father. Without knowing what it did, it has condemned progress, while it was progressing. It has stoned the prophets and reformers, even while it was itself reforming and uttering glorious prophecies of its future condition. But the time has now come for Humanity to understand itself, to accept the law imposed upon it for its own good, to foresee its end and march with intention steadily towards it. Its .future religion is the religion of progress. The true priests are those who can quicken in mankind a desire for progress, and urge them forward in the direction of the True, the Good, the Perfect.

  Here I must close. I have uttered the words UNION and PROGRESS as the authentic creed of the New Church, as designating the whole duty of man. Would they had been spoken in a clearer, a louder and a sweeter voice, that a response might be heard from the universal heart of Humanity. But I have spoken as I could, and from a motive which I shall not blush to own either to myself or to Him to whom all trust render an account of all their thoughts, words and deeds. I once had no faith in Him, and I was to myself “a child without a sire.” I was alone in the world, my heart found no companionship, and my affections withered and died. But I have found Him, and he is my Father, and mankind are my brothers, and I can love and reverence.

  Mankind are my brothers,-they are brother to one another. I would see them no longer mutually estranged. I labor to bring them together, and to make them feel and own that they are all made of one blood. Let them feel and own this, and they will love one another; they will be kindly affectioned one to another, and “the groans of this nether world will cease;” the spectacle of wrongs and outrages oppress our sight no more; tears be wiped from all eyes, and Humanity pass from death to life, to life immortal, to the life of God, for God is love.

  And this result, for which the wise and the good every where yearn and labor, will be obtained. I do not misread the age. I have not looked upon the world only out from the window of my closet; I have mingled in its busy scenes; I have rejoiced and wept with it; I have hoped and feared, and believed and doubted with it, and I am hut what it has made me. I cannot misread it. It craves union. The heart of man is crying out for the heart of man. One and the same spirit is abroad, uttering the same voice in all languages. From all parts of the world voice answers to voice, and man responds to man. There is a universal language already in use. Men are beginning to understand one another, and their mutual understanding will beget mutual sympathy, and mutual sympathy will bind them together and to God.

  And for progress too the whole world is struggling. Old institutions are examined, old opinions criticised, even the old Church is laid bare to its very foundations, and its holy vestments and sacred symbols are exposed to the gaze of the multitude; new systems are proclaimed, new institutions elaborated, new ideas are sent abroad, new experiments are made, and the whole world seems intent on the means by which· i-t may accomplish its destiny.

  The individual is struggling to become a greater and a better being. Every where there are men laboring to perfect governments and laws. The poor man is admitted to be human, and millions of voices are demanding that he be treated as a brother. All eyes and hearts are turned to education. The cultivation of the child’s moral and spiritual nature becomes the worship of God. The priest rises to the educator, .and the school-room is the temple in which he is to minister. There is progress; there will be progress. Humanity must go forward. Encouraging is the future. He, who takes his position on the “ high table land “ of Humanity, and beholds with a prophet’s gaze his brothers, so long separated, coming together, and arm in arm marching onward and upward towards the Perfect, towards God, may hear celestial voices chanting a sweeter strain than that which announced to Judea’s shepherds the birth of the Redeemer, and his heart full and overflowing, he may exclaim with old Simeon, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”


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