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CHAPTER XV.


Optimism.


1.—God rules. God is good. And He rules in such a way that goodness can never be excluded. In the end when events are connected both with causes and results, all will be found for the best. And this, expressed in few and simple terms, is what is known historically as Optimism,—a doctrine which not only has its foundation in the Absolute Truth, but which is practically of so much importance that it is well entitled to careful consideration.

2.—The subject may be argued and illustrated from various points of view. It may be said perhaps by some in a simple sentence, that if God is supreme, and if at the same time his existence is characterized by perfect goodness, the optimistic result, which is identical with the greatest possible good, necessarily follows. There cannot possibly be any other. All things are and must be for the best. This is a short argument, it is true, but it is of a nature to excite thought and perhaps to carry weight and conviction. During a long life I have not been exempt from the trials which are the common allotment of men; but I became early a disciple in the optimistic school; and the bitter tears I have sometimes shed have not prevented me from saying most heartily and sincerely,
all is well. And I hope it will not be considered thoughtless or presumptuous to add, that those who are not able to say this, and in whom the words do not express an inwrought personal conviction, have yet something of great practical value to learn.

In saying that
all is for the best, it is well to consider a moment how much is included in it. All truth, all falsehood, all joy, all sorrow, all kindness, all enmity, all reward, all punishment, all glory, all shame, and whatever else enters in to make up the moral constitution of the universe, when properly understood in its principle and its results, and when properly adjusted each to the other, contributes in one way or another to the universal harmony, and could not be left out without a loss to the universal and highest happiness. And when this great announcement is fully and sincerely received on scriptural and philosophical principles, as the teaching alike of the uttered scriptural Word and of the Absolute psychical reason, then the heart and the head, both in their fears of danger and their experiences of grief, find a pillow on which they can rest securely and rest forever.

3.—It will be asked is sin for the best? In answering this question we are first required to answer another which naturally precedes it, namely,—What is the best constitution of the universe? Is it one which excludes the possibility of all moral and responsible life, or one which admits and requires such moral responsibility? If in answering this question, we accept the great fact of a moral and responsible nature with all that is naturally involved in it, we necessarily accept wrong or crime or sin as a possibility, and may reasonably expect that it will sometime have an existence. The analysis of the operations of the human mind shows, that the idea of right implies and necessitates that of wrong; that the idea of virtue in like manner implies and necessitates that of vice; so that it can always be said of the man who does right, that he might have done wrong; and of the man who treads the path of virtue, that it was possible for him to have gone in the opposite direction. And therefore, if the existence of right implies the possible existence of wrong, if there can be no virtue without the possibility of its opposite, if the extinction of crime in the sense of its being an impossible thing involves the destruction of all moral good, then I think we cannot hesitate in saying, that those various evils which go under the name of wrong, crime, vice, and the like, taking into view their indirect relations and results, must be accepted as parts of the universal plan and are all for the best. So that sin itself, hateful as it is, may be regarded in the light of a true philosophy as a necessary result of the moral universe, and as throwing light upon the character of God. What idea should we have of the holiness of God, himself, if sin were an impossibility and therefore a thing unknowable; and if we could not aid our conceptions by saying not merely that God is holy, but that in being holy He hates sin?

4.—And looking at the matter in another aspect, we must not forget, that man considered in relation to certain ends which are before him and as reaching upward to such ends, is a developing or progressive, and not a fixed and stationary being. And it is generally conceded that all progress, in reaching its highest results, involves the fact of exercise, practice, struggles, obstacles to be met, and obstacles to be vanquished. Such are the laws of being, that growth and inactivity are incompatible ideas. It is involved in the mere fact of living, that we must do battle in the great contest of life. Christ himself assures us, that in the world we shall have tribulation, and the Apostle Paul exhorts us to fight the good fight of faith. But if moral evil is excluded from the universe, then all such views are out of place, and have no meaning. There is no content, because there is nothing to contend with; and there is no growth, because there is none of that spiritual wrestling, without which growth is unknown. And therefore we say again, that Optimism has a philosophical as well as scriptural foundation, and that in the conflicts and trials of life, including moral evils and moral conflicts,
all is for the best.

5.—But supposing, says one, that moral evil, in the contest which its existence necessarily implies, should gain the victory, what is our situation then; and what becomes of the optimistic utterance. And here it may be said, if we take the question in the widest sense, that it involves what may be called an impossible supposition. It is the affirmation of all thought and all philosophy, the doctrine of all the suggested or inspirational Scriptures of all ages and all nations, the dying word of those who drink hemlock, and perish in the flames, and bleed upon the cross, the martyred teachers and guides of humanity, that goodness taken in its widest sense, bears in its bosom the seed of immortality and can never be overthrown; that it conquers now, and conquers forever. Let that word stand; humanity will never part with it.

6.—But when we look at the contest, not in its general aspect, but as we find it commenced and progressing in individual cases, we must confess that the battle sometimes goes against us. But we are at liberty to add that it does so for a good reason; that it does so because we violate the laws of victory, and therefore we can still hold to the great truth we are considering. And the reason to which we refer is the fact, never to be forgotten, that God is a reality and holds a position which can never be set aside. Not an impersonal God, who is rhetorically great but practically nothing. Not a fatalistic God — a God who is bound in chains and fetters; nor an heathen idol God, who has as little intelligence and power as the wood and stone of which he is fashioned; but a God, who clothes his infinitude with a personal oversight and responsibility, who takes an interest in all the things He has made and especially in his own children, whom He is fashioning by the process of trial into the perfection and brightness of his own image. He has all strength, and He is always ready to render all needed assistance. But while standing at our side and always ready with his aid, He will not and cannot violate and destroy our position as his intelligent and responsible children, by violating our moral freedom. If we reject his aid it necessarily follows that in some cases, and I think in all, sin will have dominion over us; but on the other hand if we accept it and trust in it, though our strength may be small, we never fail to conquer. And in either case, whether we rise with God or fall without Him, when we look carefully at the principles involved, we can still say,
it is all for the best.

And thus it is that in these and all other things the Absolute Religion, in aid of Revealed Religion, stands ready, by processes of intelligent thought and reason, to show that all the constituents of the moral universe, when all facts, relations and issues are reached, hold their position, not as an error or an accident, but as the out-giving of the highest wisdom, and as necessary elements in a system which is stamped with perfection.

7.—But the question is sometimes asked, whether this view does not make God the author of sin; in other words, whether all moral evils of whatever nature may not be laid directly and exclusively to his account? The fact supposed to be involved in such inquiries, is as far as possible from the truth. It is true that God cannot establish a moral universe in which the highest and most glorious results may be realized without admitting the possibility of sin. But it is also true, both on philosophic and scriptural principles, and also as shown by the history of his dealings with the world, that God takes all possible measures short of a violation of man’s freedom, which cannot be violated without man’s ceasing to be a man, to instruct man, to protect him against evils and to guide him to truth and to good. So far from being the author of sin, God shows himself both by his nature and his works to be the enemy of sin; and also looking at the subject in another aspect, that he is the friend of all good or holiness, and the assertion that God is the author of sin in the sense in which the suggestion is evidently made, is not only an error but a wrong, a contempt of the highest goodness as well as a dishonor to unchangeable truth.

8.—The greatest of all moral teachers and philosophers, I mean Christ himself, in a few wonderful words, has announced the great truth which forms the subject of this chapter.
“It must needs be,” he says, “that offenses come; but woe unto that man by whom the offense cometh.” In other words, the principles of the moral universe, being a “needs be,” are necessities. They exist, not by an arbitrary command which would be consistent with the idea that there was a time when they had no existence, but because the “needs be” was in them; and exist therefore beyond time and beyond space, and with eternity for their changeless home. There is no wisdom back of them or above them which can originate or alter and improve, or make them in any way otherwise than they are. And yet it is further implied in this remarkable passage, that these necessities by which sin comes into the world, in point of fact and in the view of those who have a true interior insight, will be found consistent with personal responsibility and with the punishment of evildoers.

Nevertheless we are willing to admit that on this great subject there may be and there probably are difficulties which a finite mind cannot easily solve. And to a mind that is in a right position, this admission excites no surprise and causes no sorrow, because it is one of those things which God himself cannot remedy, unless He can unite things which are contradictory and incompatible in their nature, and make the finite identical with the Infinite.