Home page The Occident and American Jewish Advocate Jews in the Civil War Jews in the Wild West History of Palestine The Occident Virtual Library


Readings for the Young

By S. S.


The Progressive State of Man

The happiness of man, although not so tangible or certain in this stage of his being as that of the animal kingdom, opens upon so bright a vista in the future, that he who would barter the endless felicity, to which his essence is attainable, for physical enjoyments, deserves to be placed in a lower grade in the scale of creation, than those creatures over which he assumes to rule. To any one interested in the study of the different works of nature, the chasm which exists between himself and the animated creation, cannot fail to call forth the most solemn reflections; and as the mind of man contemplates the apparent happy condition of the former, whilst the repinings and discontents of the latter pass in review before him: the momentous question, of “What were the purposes and aim of his creation?” forces itself into such prominence, as to banish other subjects, to make room for its contemplation.

Whilst man is always in a progressive state, never attaining to the perfection of his nature, the animals, on the contrary, soon arrive to the full capabilities and enjoyments of which theirs is susceptible; and are subject to no other His than those to which their whole race must submit. In other words, no animal is more favoured by fortune than his companion. For each the sun strides with the same warmth; <<32>>and for all has Providence spread forth the same table. They are subjected to neither tyranny nor misrule; nor does ingratitude or slander shoot forth their poisoned darts, to destroy their happiness, or rob them of their peace of mind. Good parents are they too; for their offspring soon vie with them in knowledge, skill, and strength; and the filial affection of some of them might call up the blush of shame upon the face of many a reasoning being. They rise in the morning, from a couch neither visited by pain nor care, to hail the first dawn of the day, and enjoy the present moment, without fear for the next. They know not poverty, and find a living without pursuing a trade or an occupation; and though skilled in some of the arts and sciences, have attained their knowledge without any severe study.

Who taught them all to seek only for that food, which would cause the fullest development of their several natures? Who taught the beaver to build for himself so snug an habitation? or made the bee so great a chemist? or endowed the feathered songsters with the power of filling the air with such sweet melody? or bid them seek a milder clime, a more hospitable shore, when the winds of winter make desolate their homes in northern regions?—That God who, whilst He created everything for his own glory, rendered all things capable of finding enjoyment in their own  existence; and as the animal creation was to return to the dust from which it sprung, its happiness was to be placed on a basis, secure from the reach of accidents in this, its only, state of existence, and its powers to be innate, and capable of arriving at their full perfection, without the aid of adventitious circumstances.

What might now have been the condition of man, had not the first purpose of his creation been frustrated, (his immortality on earth,) by the disobedience to the only command he was bid to observe, can only be a matter of speculation; but the economy of the human structure was well adapted for a lasting existence, by the silent but perpetual renewal of its component parts. If man had never partaken of anything antipathetic to the nature of his system, there is no reason to suppose why he might not have been still in the enjoyment of perpetual youth; for, unlike the productions of science and art, the creations of which waste away by use, without any power of renewal in themselves, nature constantly replaces the wear and tear of the human <<33>>machine. But though Adam, in partaking of the fruit of the forbidden tree, engrafted in his system the elements of a sure decay, yet the progress was slow, until the descendants of Noah, after the flood, in their partaking of animal as well as vegetable food, so changed the nature of the human composition, as to shorten in a few generations the duration of its existence, until man lived tens of years, instead of centuries.

Doubtless no other means, save that of rendering man’s life so short and precarious, could serve to wean him from earthly pleasures, and teach him to place his hope on a basis more difficult to be attained, but offering a more secure and blissful result; and henceforth,  though he was not debarred from rational enjoyments here, and blessed with happiness and prosperity, he was to undergo such moral training, as would render him master of his appetites and passions, and fit him for the great mission with which his Creator had honoured him, (for which these preparatory steps were necessary)—that of forming one of a holy nation,—a kingdom of priests, and eventually the means through which the various races of mankind should be blessed, when sin and sorrow should flee from the earth.

Revelation then proclaimed these fundamental principles: 1st, that man was created heir to everlasting happiness; but that he could forfeit his birthright either in part or in whole, by deviating from, or acting contrary to the expressed will of his Creator; His expressed will! so that no man could say that he sinned without knowledge, or plead in extenuation that he knew not what the commands of God required, for they were within his ken; and if he would not stretch forth his hand to receive them, his punishment was justly due to his indolence or indifference!

2d. That the eye of the Omnipresent was always upon man and viewed his most hidden thoughts, and secret deeds; and that as He required us to love Him “with all our hearts, with all our soul, and with all our might,” we could only show this love by the utmost purity in our persons,* in our thoughts, and in our <<34>>actions; and that in the contemplation of his pure essence, we should gradually elevate our own natures to a state of holiness, and arrive at that perfect faith, which places its possessor above the shocks of human affliction, misfortune, or fear.

* The pleasure derivable from the contemplation of the beauties of outward nature, the chief charm of which is a freedom from stain or blemish, seems to be an innate feeling of the human mind. Whether our attention is fixed upon the varied landscape, the sparkling streamlet, or the blue expanse of heaven with its changeful drapery, it is its purity that lends enchantment to the view. Let the landscape be shorn of its velvet mantle; let the streamlet become opaque, and stop in its liquid course; let the sky become murky with the gloom of an approaching storm, and the feelings that its purity and beauty give rise to vanish in a moment, and we turn away uninterested in its farther contemplation. Is it a wonder then that our ancient sages, perceiving the strong hold that pure associations had upon the mind of man, and seeing the importance attached to cleanliness throughout the whole Bible, as a necessary antecedent to the attainment of purity, should have taught that cleanliness was the foundation upon which all the virtues built their temples? that its first fruits were sobriety, self denial, and chastity? that it implanted within us a love of order, and habits of application and industry? that the mind, taking its tone from the pure associations that surrounded it, was careful to exclude all thoughts or desires that might tarnish its lustre, and prepared itself for that state of holiness unattainable as long ds the animal propensities had preponderance? Even the prohibition of certain animals for food rested upon their uncleanliness; not upon their appearing so outwardly; for where is the animal that surpasses the horse in nicety? but that our natures would become unclean by using them as food. Now the workings of the human system goes so silently on, and its changes are so gradual, that this effect is not perceivable; but it is a well-known fact in physical science, that two elements, harmless in themselves, when combined together form a product possessing very different qualities from either of the original constituents; and though the workings of the human system are too subtle to make its changes apparent, science may yet arrive at that height as to prove this, (as it has already done in many other ordinances of the Bible,) prohibition in all its bearings, to be another evidence of the wisdom of the Supreme.

3d. That as God was just to all the works of his hands, He had bestowed upon the inferior creation a limited though certain happiness, commensurate to their capabilities of enjoyment; but man He had endowed with the desires appertaining to his earthly formation, and the aspirations due to his spiritual nature; rendering him thus capable of experiencing all the pleasures derivable from his twofold state; placing it in his power to partake of spiritual delights, or of animal gratifications; so that he might seek his happiness in this sublunary sphere, (at the forfeit of all his superior gifts,) with those creatures who have not reason for their guide, or revelation “for a lamp to their feet;” or find it in submitting in all things, cheerfully and trustfully, to the will of  his Eternal Father, until his soul takes wing for the empyrean, and progressing still to higher states of being, joins at last that heavenly choir who bask everlastingly in those beams, that like a sea of glory surround the throne of  the great Creator.