« AnteriorContinuar »
him astray. They are apt to engross to themselves an excessive share of our attention ; at the same time that they excite us to diligence and activity in order to acquire the means of their gratification, and thus call the powers of the mind into exercise and improvement, they too often prevent these powers from being directed to other pursuits more excellent and truly worthy of them. They often tend to exclude more elevated pursuits, and the instruments of more substantial and durable happiness. In our eagerness after the inferior pleasures they set before us, we are tempted to violate or neglect the laws of God, when these require from us a course of conduct which involves restraint and self-denial. But shall we therefore say that it would have been better for us, if we had not been furnished with these principles at all, and by consequence had been incapable of deriving pleasure from the various objects which make impressions on our senses ?
Our rational nature is so constituted as to enable us to take a lively interest in many pursuits on which a rational being alone is competent to enter, and which afford us many valuable sources of happiness and improvement. Thus, in consequence of the various advantages we derive from the possession of knowledge, we learn to take pleasure in its pursuit and acquisition for its own sake ; and that principle of curiosity which is characteristic of our natures, and the more remarkably so in proportion as our powers are cultivated and improved by education, is gradually formed in every man's mind. No one, I am persuaded, who bas ever felt this desire, or who has experienced the pleasures which flow from its gratification, can seriously think it would have been better for man to have been without it ; or will hesitate to acknowledge it as a most signal proof of our Maker's care and bounty to us his favoured creatures, that he has herein made us but a little lower than the angels,-that he has empowered us to engage in employments which enable us to know ourselves, to discern his image in his glorious works, and “look through nature up to nature's God." And yet it is manifest, that this very principle is the source of many and great temptations to sin. The admiration which is bestowed on those who are looked up to as philosophers and wise men after the flesh, and the influence which they are permitted to exercise over those who acknowledge their superiority in these respects, occasion no small portion of jealously, rivalship, and animosity among such as aspire after distinction in this way, and too commonly lead them to seek after their chief happiness in a regard for the praise of
It has been frequently observed, that men of learning and extensive knowledge have often appeared not more remarkable for their eminent and valuable attainments, than for the vain glory and conceit which attend them. And this same principle of curiosity is still more frequently found in a lower sphere to lead to abuses not less lamentable. But we do not on that account seek to root it out altogether from our minds ; or wish it had never been there, merely because we should not then have been exposed to some temptations which now occasionally betray us into sin.
The same general remark will apply to other desires which appear to prevail more or less wherever men are found, and which
may therefore be thought to be essentially connected with, and to arise out of, a rational and intelligent nature. Such are the desire of esteem, the desire of power, the love of eminence and distinction. These are continually urging men on to active exertion, and enter largely into the motives which stimulate to the most honourable labours and the noblest sacrifices. They are not, it must be confessed, the most elevated principles of action of which our nature is capable ; though it may be doubted whether those minds which are in a great measure insensible to their influence, at least in the earlier stages of their growth, ever make any considerable progress in intellectual and moral improvement. But these principles may be abused and perverted. They may betray an ill-regulated mind into the follies of pride, vanity, and self-conceit ;-into that inordinate ambition which scruples no means to acquire power, and hesitates not to use it when acquired for base, selfish, and unworthy ends. Here, therefore, it again appears that the characteristics or principles of our nature which render us liable to sin by exposing us to additional and peculiar temptations, from which we should otherwise be free, are not proofs of our Maker's wrath and displeasure ; nor do they indicate, as some would have us believe, a disjointed, fallen, ruined nature. On the contrary, they are essential parts of the constitution with which our heavenly Father has endowed us in his love and gracious kindness ;—they are destined, and well adapted by Divine wisdom to be the instruments of present happiness and of moral improvement, leading the way to higher attainments, to greater and more substantial happiness hereafter.
The same may be said of the affections ;--of gratitude, friendship, patriotism ;—of parental attachment, of filial love. If any principles or sentiments can be said to be truly characteristic of human nature in its present state, surely these are they : and it will hardly be maintained by any, that it would have been better if we had been without them, or if they had been weaker and less influential than they commonly are. On the contrary, it will be admitted, if I mistake not, on all hands, that these affections are the source of a large portion of the purest happiness of which we are capable in this mortal state ;--and not only so, but that they furnish the elements, if I may so call them, of our religious and moral education, by which this world is peculiarly fitted to supply a discipline which shall prepare us for a more advanced and elevated state of existence. They supply us with many of our worthiest and most powerful motives to action ;-they tend to draw us out of ourselves, teaching us to mind not our own things merely, but the things of others, to weep with them that weep, to rejoice with them that rejoice, and to take a deep and lively interest in whatever contributes to the improvement and happiness of our brethren of mankind. It is therefore undeniable, that that original formation of our natures which made our souls susceptible of these feelings, and that constitution of human society which has established us in various social relations with our fellow-creatures, and has thus led to the development and cultivation of these affections, are among the best and most valuable gitts ot a kind Providence. We should not infer from hence, that human nature is a ruin, but
rather that it is a fair and lovely temple, erected under the auspices of Divine wisdom, destined to be sanctified and honoured by being devoted to the worship and service of its Great Founder, and to receive continually more and more glorious embellishments from his adorning hand. And yet it is equally undeniable, that every one of these excellent and valuable gifts may be, and often is, the oecasion and instrument of sin,--the inlet of new and strong and various temptations, to which we should not otherwise have been liable. The tender ties of family affection may blind us to the imperfections of their objects, and lead us so far to concentrate all our thoughts, and exertions, and labours for the single purpose of promoting their interests, as to neglect what is due to still higher and more important objects. Friendship, instead of being directed to those who really deserve our esteem, or are likely to be of essential service to us by the possession of valuable qualities and endowments, or by furnishing useful advice and assistance in important pursuits, or by setting an edifying example of piety and virtue inciting us to follow in their steps, may be so perverted as to become one of our most fatal and dangerous snares. Under the name and guise of friendship, we may be misled by those evil communications which corrupt good manners. The evil enticements and seductions of sinners, set off and adorned as they often are by qualities in themselves fitted to attract our esteem and admiration, may carry us far away from the path which leadeth unto life. The very desire of promoting the prosperity of our friends, may often tempt. us to resort to means for this purpose utterly inconsistent with other and higher duties. Perverted patriotism has but too often led the way to the blackest sins and deepest woes that have ever afflicted the world and degraded human nature.
It would be easy to follow out this general observation further, in its application to a greater variety of examples ; and I apprehend we should find, that in examining the sources and occasions of sin, when we ask the question, what is it that renders man liable to sin, we might almost always put the question in this form, --what is it that renders man capable of sinning ? *** In short, we should find that in every case the causes of transgression are the perversion or corruption of those very principles which are the true glory of our frame, which are essential to the happiness, almost to the existence of society among men,—which are required in order to render this life what it was evidently intended to become, a school of moral and religious education, where, as children and pupils in this earliest stage of our rational existence, we are gradually trained to a fitness for a more enduring and exalted state.
That men sin, therefore, is no proof that their natures are utterly depraved and degraded ; or that they are fallen from the state in which our first parents were created, or that in consequence of Adam's first transgression, it has pleased onr Maker to frame all his posterity with souls radically corrupt, and naturally incapable of doing a good action, or harbouring a single thought that is not essentially sinful, and deserving of God's wrath and curse for ever. However frequent such revolting expressions as these may be in the ereeds and theological systems of men, we shall look for them
in vain,' or for anything like them, in holy writ. Thus we are as sured in our text, that whatever any man may have made himself, God made him right. He has endowed him with no principles which are in their own nature, and essentially, corrupt ;-the human frame and constitution is throughout a masterpiece of Divine workmanship, admirably adapted to the condition of man in his present state, and necessary to the purposes of his being. Nevertheless, it appears that all these principles, not excepting the most elevated, important, and indispensable, may in certain circumstances become the occasions of sin ;-they lay us open to additional and peculiar temptations ; and consequently, at the same time that they increase our powers and add to our enjoyments, and serve to arise us to a higher dignity and excellence in the scale of created existence, they make fresh calls upon us for watchfulness and self-' control. They require continued attention and diligence, with fervent prayer to God, to guard us from their abuse and misapplication. While we justly bless and praise our Maker for his great goodness in having thus created us in his own image, we should combine with our thankfulness a continual seeking for the grace of God to direct us in the right use of our powers.
The view which we have now taken of sin, as arising not from any thing originally corrupt in our nature, but from our own perversion and misapplication of that which God made right and adapted to the best and most excellent purposes, may serve to deepen our humility and self-abasement in reflecting on our multiplied failings and transgressions. Whatever others may do, we cannot soothe our consciences with the pretence that as we inherited a constitution originally sinful and debased, naturally incapable of anything better, so we may be excused in yielding to the irresistible propensities of our nature, and cannot bị reasonably blamed for doing only that which it was impossible for us to avoid. Our doctrine suggests no such'plausible apology for sin ; nor does it enable us to cast the guilt or the burden of it from ourselves, seeing that it is we who have sought out the many inventions and corrupt devices which have converted what God intended as the means of happiness into instruments of degradation, sorrow, guilt and shame,
I am well aware that this is far from being a popular view of this subject ; nor do I much wonder at it, when I consider how eager men commonly are to lay hold on everything which seems to promise an apology or excuse for their vices, or may furnish a plausible ground for throwing the blame of them in any quarter but the right one ; namely, their own acquired selfishness, sordid desires, and ill-governed passions. With such men a system which authorizes, and indeed requires them to regard the nature which God has given them as sinful to the very core, may well be popular, since it relieves them from the heavy responsibility of those vicious indulgences on which their hearts are set. “How can I," such a man will say, “ be held answerable for my offences by those who allege that I was born with such a constitution of body and soul as makes me capable of nothing else but sin? How can I suppose that He whose attributes are infinite mercy and impartial justice will require at my hands what He has made me unable to perform, or will punish what is the inevitable result of the frame
and innate principles of action with which He hath Himself endowed me? If I have no reason to suppose that I am in the number of the elect, and my unregenerate nature is therefore still essentially and radically corrupt, so that in spite of my best endeavours, all I do and think must be only evil and that continually, why should I trouble myself about self-control and self-government? Why should I hesitate to gratify my present inclinations, and act according to the nature which it has pleased the Author of my being to give me ?"
Far be it from me to insinuate that the preachers of this doctrine are accustomed to draw from it such practical conclusions as these. I know well that they commonly take pains to reconcile it to the dictates of what I rejoice to believe is the natural bias of the human mind, in favour of holiness and virtue. But I am not on that account the less persuaded, that such inferences as I have described are those which will most readily present themselves to the sinner who is anxious to find some plausible apology for persisting in his evil ways; and I must acknowledge they appear to me so decidedly the most natural and reasonable inferences, that I cannot for a moment doubt that they are in faet deduced and acted upon by many.
I cannot but rejoice in my inability to put my readers off with such “smooth preaching” as this. I cannot tempt any man to lay the flattering unction to his soul which is fairly derived from the doctrine that he was altogether born in sins, and is naturally capable of nothing better ; that he has received from his Maker, or inherited from Adam (it matters not which, for to my mind these expressions amount to the same thing), a nature disabled from good, and wholly prone to evil. I am bound to remind him unceasingly, that God has made him right; by which I mean, not that He has made him holy and good—that must be his own work
- but that He has so wisely constructed his frame, and inspired him with such admirable faculties and principles of action, and placed him in such circumstances tending to promote their development and due cultivation, as to leave him altogether without excuse, if he still falls away after one or another of those many inventions which sinful men have sought out for the indulgence of their own inordinate passions and craving lusts. Without doubt we are all so placed, as to expose us to multiplied temptations our Maker knows it, and intended it. But this is essential to tủe main design of the present state, which was destined to be a scene of probation and discipline for the formation and development of our moral nature. It should be a motive with us to watchfulness and prayer, that we may not be so led into temptation as to fall under its evil influence. While we feel ourselves exposed to danger, we shall be excited to avail ourselves to the atmost of the opportunities and advantages which our condition supplies. We are born, it is true, into a world where sin hath entered; but it is a world into which virtue hath entered also. Are we in danger from the epticement of sinners ? Let us derive support and encouragement from the bright examples of all Christian graces. Are we painfully conscious in ourselves of the weakness of human