Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

the evidence of fact and experience has been decidedly opposed to this extravagant doctrine.' There has been abundance of wickedness no doubt ; and even in countries blessed with the sacred light of gospel truth, there is not one who has not cause enough for deep humiliation and penitence in the sight of God; but this admission is not inconsistent with the assertion, that the prevailing sentiments and feelings of mankind are on the whole favourable to virtue ;nay, that if we take the average of human character, we shall find virtue the rule, and wickedness the exception. Were it otherwise, how should we account for the fact, that integrity, truth, generosity, benevolence and piety are objects of respect, esteem and admiration among mankind? Why is it that vice does not universally stalk abroad, and boast of its achievements withcut reserve ? Why does hypocrisy find it advisable to assume the garb of holiness ? Why are the flagrant crimes of which we occasionally hear the sad and afflicting details, the objects of general horror and detestation? Why are they so much the objects of general attention and remark?' Why, but because, after all, they are the exception, and not the rule. If, as we might be led to suppose, they were the common order of things, we should pass them by with indifference and unconcern. If it were true that man, by nature, is a bater of God and of his neighbour, these are the characters which would meet with popular applause and sympathy. Virtue, as such, would be despised and hated ; vice, as such, esteemed and admired. How opposite to all this is the experience of human life, it is unnecessary to say,

The most distinguished moralists have shown, by an appeal to this experience, that even the practice, and still more the prevailing opinions of mankind, may furnish us with a rule of life, imperfect, it is true, and in some prints erroneous, but yet on the whole favourable to virtue ; which could never have happened, if men had been, in the language of this creed, wholly incapable of good, and unceasingly inclined to all manner of evil.* If it be alleged that the natural man is incompetent to judge upon this point because his faculties are all depraved and corrupted by the fall, I reply that this is to put an end at once to all reasoning on the subject. The very asking me to assent to the propositions, this is right and that is wrong, this good and that evil, implies that I have faculties which enable me to distinguish between the one and the other. It is to their decision, in fact, ihat the final appeal must be

* See an interesting and valuable application of this general remark to the formation of what may be called an approximate standard of morality, in that part of “ Hartley’s Observations on Man,” entitled the “ Rule of Life,” which is devoted to the investigation of this important subject, and contains a copious fund of excellent practical suggestions for the conduct of life in its various relations, which I will venture to affirm that no man can study with the attention it requires and well deserves, without being made both wiser and better.

I am aware, that some advocates of the doctrine we are now examining, have called this principle of moral reasoning in question ;-and one living writer of high reputation and authority with his party, Dr. Wardlaw, in a work entitled "Christian Ethics,” has denied that either the enquiries and reasonings of philosophers, or the prevailing sentiments of mankind, are deserving of the least regard in the formation of

made ; and I should no more think of listening to the man who questioned this, than to him who, when the noon-day sun was shining around me, would fain persuade me that it was all a delusion, and that I was really in midnight darkness.

But it is time to pay some attention to the Scripture proofs which are adduced in support of this doctrine ; though in fact, of all the false additions which have been made to the simple truths of the Gospel, there is scarcely, one for which the shadow of Scriptural argument commonly alleged is so meagre and imperfect. The first appeal of course, is made to the history of Adam's first transgression as given in the book of Genesis. There is scarcely any passage in the Bible with respect to which greater license has been used in drawing doctrinal conclusions than this. Few, if any, bave been contented with the literal interpretation ; and those who call themselves orthodox, least of all; assuming much that is altogether unauthorized by the record. Man is there said to have been created in' the image of God ; and St. James tells us that all men are made after the similitude of God; the creed adds, without authority,“ in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness.” No hint is given i, the original record

of Satan as an agent in the business. Nor is there any better authority for the assertion that Adam was, according to the technical phrase, “ a public person”—the federal head or representative of all his posterity ; so that when he sinned all maukinid sinned in him, and became liable to his punishment. Not one word do we find, from the beginning to the end of this narrative, which gives the smallest hint of any covenant whatever ; still less a covenant of so extraordinary a character, that the sin of him who vi-lated it was transferred or imputed to the very persons on whose behalf he acted, and whom he injured by his transgression. If it had been so, is it not most unaccountable that Moses in writing a history of this transaction, should have omitted the most im portant feature of it, and that which made it chiefly interesting to mankind in every succeeding age ?

Commentators, in their attempts to explain this history, have givın almost unbounded scope to their imaginations ; and I do not propose at present to add to the number, because it is not necessary to our present purpose. That it is not to be interpreted strictly by the letter seems certain ; but whatever view we take of it, the marrative gives us no reason for supposing that Adam, in respect of any mental or mural quality, had the slightest advantage over his a rule of morals. Setting aside the law of conscience, written in the hearts of men, he contends that we must appeal exclusively to the Bible ; interpreted of course in conformity with what are called orthodox principles. In drawing this conclusion, and repudiating all appeal to human reason in connexion with this subject, the author is quite correct and consistent ; but it appears to me that the very circumstance of its leading to such a conclusion, is enough to show that the system from which it is derived as a necessary consequence, must be false. Besides, how are we to satisfy ourselves of the authority of the Bible, to which he refers, us as containing the word of God ? In no other way than by the exercise of those same rational faculties, which this system elsewhere represents as utterly unfit to furnish us with any conclusion that can be relied upon.

Y

3

posterity. On the contrary, as far as we can draw any inference at all from the ac 'ount here given, of the law imposed, of the temptation and the disobedience, it indicates a moral character very inferior in strength and perfection to that of many of his descendants. As far as appears, the trial before which his virtue gave way, was not to be compared to those which were gloriously resisted by Joseph, by Daniel, by a host of martyrs and confessors in later times, of whom the world was no worthy. Their characters had been matured by education, by experience, by the accumulated wisdom of ages, by the varied relations they sustained to their fellowcreatures, calling forth into exercise a multitude of affections and feelings, which as yet lay dormant in our first parents for want of objects to call them forth. Accordingly, when we compare the two, it is like contrasting the achievements of full grown men with the petty trials of children. At his first creation, Adam must of course have been furnished, by supernatural communication, with certain kinds of knowledge, and with various practical habits otherwise he must have instantly perished, because the human constitution does not exhibit that variety of instinctive principles which, in many of the lower animals, supersede experience, and, in some measure, supply its place. Whatever notions of duty and moral obligation he possessed, must have been received in this way; but to suppose that he was thus supernaturally endowed with anything corresponding to that enlargement and comprehension of mind, that strength and maturity of moral character, which many of his posterity have acquired as the slow result of a long course of education and discipline, is both highly improbable in itself, and without the shadow of a warrant from anything recorded in Scripture.

Assuming, then, that such was the original character of Adam before his first transgression-rational, but weak and inexperienced

- liable to sin like every other human being, but imperfectly provided with those principles and moral habits which the discipline of ages, under the direction of a wise Providence, has since enabled his descendants to acquire ; receiving a law, adapted in the plainness and simplicity of its single requirement to his comparatively feeble, and, if I may so call it, infantile state of mind--and yet yielding to the first attack of temptation ;-We cannot but be struck with the absurdity of holding him up as the model of humanity, the mirror of intellectual and moral perfection, entitled, in that capacity, to covenant in the name and on behalf of the whole human race. The history, as given by Moses, presents no trace of any such thing ; nor should we even infer from anything it contains, when taken by itself, that the consequences of his sin were in any way visited upon his descendants. We may, however, deduce from it the instructive and salutary Jesson, that a Paradise on earth in bowers of bliss, relieved from the necessity of daily toil, is not fit for man in his present state. In such a condition he might vegetate, but there would be no stimulating motive to action, no advance, no improvement. A life of uniform, unbroken tranquillity, without struggle, difficulty, or contest, would be insufficient to unfold and exercise his powers. A more varied, a more effective, a sterner discipline is required to awaken his energies, and rouse

him to exertion. The condition in which we find him placed is more conducive to that development of his moral and spiritual character which his residence in this world was evidently intended to promote. The more extended and diversified relations which he now sustains with his fellow-creatures, lead him to take an interest in their welfare, and thus unfold his affections, and furnish him with the most lively and effectual motives to vigorous effort. Having experienced evil as well as good, he knows how to choose the one and flee from the other. The school of adversity teaches him patience under suffering, it also nerves his arm to contend against the foe; it teaches him sympathy and benevolence ; “ from his own, he learns to melt at others' woe,” to pity, to love his fellow partners of mortality.

If (as we are perbaps entitled to infer from the very few slight and imperfect imitations to be found in Scripture) these rougher elements of our moral culture, and death as its close, were introduced after Adam's sin-affecting him as its punishment, and all the rest of mankind as its consequence, it may be allowed indeed that we suffer through our relation to him ; but we shall also perceive that these seeming evils are so far from being marks of the wrath of an offended God, that they are instruments in the hands of a wise and gracious Father for training us up to a fitness for glory and happiness hereafter. Even our blessed Saviour was made perfect through sufferings—and we advance on our pilgrimage by various tribulations and afflictions, piercing our souls with many sorrows, along a path chequered with many difficulties and troubles. And yet there are few of us who will hesitate to apply to their own lot the saying, “ It is good for us to be here.”

With respect to the afflictions and sorrows of this life, although there is much to exercise our faith, we are permitted to see and trace their actual benefits to an extent sufficient to justify that faith as the act of a rational being, who does not yield his assent without just and satisfactory evidence. And as to death, which puts a period to them all,-especially when considered in connexion with the glorious discoveries of the Gospel, -he must have a strange inaptitude for serious reflection, who fails to perceive not only that it is an essential and indispensable part of the present constitution of things, but that it could not be materially altered in many of those features which render it the object of alarm and fear and solemn awe, without diminishing its wise adaptation to the condition of man, as a pilgrim and a sojourner in this world. Though almost all may fairly say, “it is good for us to be here,” there is no one who could justly say,—there are very few who would choose to say, “it were good for us to remain here for ever.” Our early years are, or ought to be, a period of improvement and rapid advance, and mature age the period of active and useful exertion ;-but it is evident that, with a few rare exceptions, both our intellectual and our moral progress are commonly less rapid as our lives are protracted. The pleasure we once took in active pursuits gradually subsides ;there is an increasing indisposition to change ; our habits both of action and of thought acquire a certain fixed and invariable character ; our prejudices become, as we express it, inveterate. In short there appears in all cases to be a limit beyond which we

should evidently gain little or nothing personally by a longer stay in this scene of things ;-a limit which does not differ very widely from the average close of our mortal existence.-If a longer life would not be useful to ourselves, still less would it be so to society at large. The evils arising from rooted prejudices in those who occupy, and would then for a longer period retain, stations of influence,—from long continued bad habits, from an increased love of the world, and the things of the world, would be greatly aggravated, and the progress of knowledge and of every kind of improvement most seriously impeded.

It appears then, that in various ways we are affected by the consequences of Adam's transgression. In the same manner our condition is often influenced by the sins of others of our fellowcreatures ; conformably to the appointment of Him who for wise reasons, some of whish we can withont difficulty trace and comprehend, not seldom permits the sins of the parents to affect the condition of their children. These visitations are most commonly, in the first instance at least, painful and afflictive ; but they are not always so even at first, and in many cases it rests with ourselves alone to render them ultimately conducive to our own benefit. They give us experience of the evils of sin ;-they may enable us to guard against the dangers into which others have fallen ;-—they dispose the mind to serious reflection ;-they counteract temptation, they stimulate to exertion. In one or another, or all of these ways, it is not unreasonable to think that Adam's sin has been an instrument in the hands of Providence for promoting the moral education of his descendants, and for placing them not in a worse, but a better state than that which they might otherwise have attained. At all events, there is here not one word of the alleged darkening of their understandings and depravation of their moral faculties ;-not the least intimation of any other death, or of any more formidable meaning veiled under this word, than that dissolution of the budily frame which all mankind undergo when they cease to live in this world.

How pleasing and satisfactory is the view which these meditations give us of the ways of Divine Providence, in its dealings with rational and moral creatures !-Good, we see, is brought out of evil ; and the very dispensations which were introduced as the punishment of the original offence, though occasionally harsh and rugged in their immediate aspect, become a school of moral discipline, more effective than the original condition of sinless innocence, by which souls are trained to a higher dignity and nobler achievemeots, and gradually ripened for the skies. · Had Adam never fallen, shepherds and husbandmen only could have sprung from him ;—now, patriots, martyrs, confessors, apostles !'*

* See Mrs. Barbauld's eloquent piece, entitled “ A Rhapsody on Evil."

1

« AnteriorContinuar »