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Thomas Chalmers on Gratitude and Seeking God

On Natural Theology, Vol. 1 (Robert Carter & Brothers: 1857) pp. 71-3.

The prima facie evidence for a God may not be enough to decide the question; but it should at least decide man to entertain the question. To think upon how slight a variation either in man or in external nature, the whole difference between physical enjoyment and the most acute and most appalling of physical agony may turn; to think how delicate the balance is, and yet how surely and steadfastly it is maintained, so as that the vast majority of creatures are not only upheld in comfort but often may be seen disporting themselves in the redundance of gaiety; to think of the pleasurable sensations wherewith every hour is enlivened, and how much the most frequent and familiar occasions of life are mixed up with happiness; to think of the food, and the recreation, and the study, and the society, and the business, each having an appropriate relish of its own, so as in fact to season with enjoyment the great bulk of our existence in the world; to think that, instead of living in the midst of grievous and incessant annoyance to all our faculties, we should have awoke upon a world that so harmonized with the various senses of man, and both gave forth such music to his ear, and to his eye such manifold loveliness; to think of all these palpable and most precious adaptations, and yet to care not, whether in this wide universe there exists a being who has had any hand in them; to riot and regale oneself to the uttermost in the midst of all this profusion, and yet to send not one wishful inquiry after that Benevolence which for aught we know may have laid it at our feet — this, however shaded from our view the object of the question may be, is, from its very commencement, a clear outrage against its ethical proprieties. If that veil of dim transparency, which hides the Deity from our immediate perceptions, were lifted up; and we should then spurn from us the manifested God — this were direct and glaring impiety. But anterior to the lifting of that veil, there may be impiety. It is impiety to be so immersed as we are, in the busy objects and gratifications of life; and yet to care not whether there be a great and a good spirit by whose kindness it is that life is upholden. It needs not that this great spirit should reveal Himself in characters that force our attention to Him, ere the guilt of our impiety has begun. But ours is the guilt of impiety, in not lifting our attention towards God, in not seeking after Him if haply we may find Him.

Man is not to blame, if an atheist, because of the want of proof. But he is to blame, if an atheist, because he has shut his eyes. He is not to blame that the evidence for a God has not been seen by him, if no such evidence there were within the field of his observation. But he is to blame if the evidence have not been seen, because he turned away his attention from it. That the question of a God may be unresolved in his mind, all he has to do is to refuse a hearing to the question. He may abide without the conviction of a God, if he so choose. But this his choice is matter of condemnation. ¶ To resist God after that He is known, is criminality towards Him; but to be satisfied that He should remain unknown, is like criminality towards Him. There is a moral perversity of spirit with him who is willing, in the midst of many objects of gratification, that there should not be one object of gratitude. It is thus that, even in the ignorance of God, there may be a responsibility towards God. The Discerner of the heart sees whether, for the blessings innumerable wherewith He has strewed the path of every man, He be treated like the unknown benefactor who was diligently sought, or like the unknown benefactor who was never cared
for. In respect at least of desire after God, the same distinction of character may be observed between one man and another — whether God be wrapt in mystery, or stand forth in full development to our world. Even though a mantle of deepest obscurity lay over the question of His existence, this would not efface the distinction between the piety on the one hand which laboured and aspired after Him, and the impiety upon the other which never missed the evidence that it did not care for, and so grovelled in the midst of its own sensuality and selfishness. The eye of a heavenly witness is upon all these varieties; and thus, whether it be darkness or whether it be dislike which hath caused a people to be ignorant of God, there is with Him a clear principle of judgment that He can extend even to the outfields of atheism.