Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

in brutality. Were God pleased, in like manner, to manifest the present set of brutes, that pass for men, ‘so as that they might see,' as Solomon expresses it, that they themselves are beasts,' what honour would it not do to human nature! And what happiness would it not bring to the real men, who might, in that case, have leave to govern themselves, and manage their affairs, by the rules of right reason, and pure religion ! On the other hand, what a detestable, what a miserable herd must these brutes, thus expelled from human society, constitute, if their abominable qualities could suffer them to live together! But till this be done, which we are sure will one day happen, as it is the just privilege, so it will be the wisdom, of every reasonable creature, to look on such monsters of their own making with contempt and detestation; for, surely, of all living creatures, they best deserve it, devils only excepted. Other brutes are where it hath pleased God to put them, and act up to the nature he hath given them; but these brutes have chosen to degrade themselves from a higher order of beings, and from pretensions to an order still more exalted and dignified; and, instead of answering either the intentions of their Maker, or the expectations of men, pursue a course of life directly contrary to both ; and are become, in the mouths of rash and ignorant persons, a reproach to the works of God, and an objection to the wisdom and justice of his providence.

Of those, who thus fall from the dignity of human nature into a state of brutality, there are few or none that do it all at once. They descend to this sink of folly and vice by certain steps, so imperceptible to themselves, that they often rise in vanity, as they sink in dignity, till they become capable of even 'glorifying their shame.' It requires some length of time, and force of habit, to make so great a change in nature, as that which compels a rational soul to give up all its glorious prospects, and to sink into a lower order of beings.

The original taint of human nature is that which gives the first occasion to this fall. It is owing to this, that the appetites, the affections, the passions, that is, the brutal part of most men, comes earlier to its strength than the rational or angelic. If there happens to be any defect, or wrong bias, in the education of a man, as for instance, if he passes any considerable share of his youth under the unhappy influence of unsound principles, or bad examples, his brutal part, having been suffered to correspond too freely and too closely with sensual allurements, soon overpowers the rational, and gives him either a worldly or voluptuous turn of thinking. In this disposition of mind, he now and then ventures on vicious practices, intemperance, lying, lewdness; and still, as conscience and shame give way, proceeds with greater boldness to more frequent and grosser acts of the kind. If his reason, roused by the immediate mischiefs of vice, or some fears of futurity, now and then remonstrates against such practices, it is easily overborne by the violence of appetite and passion in such a one, whose heart goes before his head, and hath already got the start and mastery within him. But these checks of reason, conscience, or shame, which never wrought on him with any considerable strength, giving him pain, and vice pleasure, the spiritual part of his nature grows still weaker, and the brutal stronger, till the habit of sin rivets all his vices in the very soul of him, and renders them inveterate.

In the mean time, if the influence of conscience, or regard to character, continue to give him some uneasiness, he never once considers either as an instrument of reformation, but as a clog to his pursuits; and therefore, instead of setting himself to consult with either, he only seeks a remedy against both. To cure himself of his conscience, he looks out for loose principles, and quickly finds, that all religion is priestcraft and imposition; for, as hath been already observed, his brutish heart goes foremost in all things, and forces his head to follow. By this management his very reason is debauched, and the angel within him falling, is no less brutalized than the grosser half of his composition. Regard to his character, which in him is nothing more than regard to his schemes of pleasure and interest, which cannot proceed without some character, gives him a good deal more trouble than his conscience ; for whereas his conscience lies altogether at the mercy of his own discretion, his character depends as much on the opinions and tongues of others. His only relief, in this case, is to be drawn from deceit and artifice, wherewith he takes care to stock himself, as fast as he can, according to the utmost extent of that understanding God hath given him for higher and better purposes. Here also the angel is enslaved to the brute, and he is rational only in order to be wicked. If pleasure is his turn, dressing, drinking, wenching, swallow up all his time and fortune, and lead him such a dance, through a sink of filth and pollution, as is too gross for the taste of a swine. If avarice or ambition lays hold on him, he puts himself under the tuition of the old serpent, and, by a mixture of deceit, which is no way akin to right reason, or true wisdom, and of cruelty, which hath no tincture of bravery, he does more mischief among mankind in one year, than all the wild beasts of the world during twenty.

In the last stage of a mind, thus wholly abandoned to brutality, no beast can think or act with less regard to reason, with less sense of conscience, or shame, or pity, than such a monster. He falls from so great a height, who falls from the nature of a man to that of a beast, that he cannot stop even at brutality, but is hurried still downward, till he can hardly be distinguished from his tempter; so that, from being only a little lower than the angels,' he is now but a very little higher than the devils.

It is now time to turn our eyes from a set of wretches, who do not only shock us with the sight of reason in ruins, as is the case when we see a madman or a fool, but, what is infinitely worse, with the mind of a brute and a devil in the mask of a man, to the refreshing view of a human creature rising, through the improvement of his angelic nature, towards a higher order of beings, till that which was sown in corruption, is raised in incorruption ; till that which was sown in dishonour, is raised in glory ; till that which was sown in weakness, is raised in power.' These are the men, who, in respect to the great change whereof the nature of man is capable, are found in the third state, namely, of such as make a more or less speedy progress, through piety and virtue, to the nature of angels.

We are told by our blessed Saviour, that, in the resurrection we shall be as the angels of God in heaven;' that is, holy, happy, and crowned with unspeakable glory. But, if we do not resemble them in goodness here, in this state of trial and preparation, we cannot hope to rise hereafter to a participation of their dignity. The angels always behold the face of God;' but without holiness, no man shall see the Lord.' The inen I am speaking of, having laid this to heart, do all they can, during their whole lives,' to perfect holiness in the fear of God.' Like the angels in heaven,

they have set the Lord always before them,' both as their master, in whose sight and presence they are to perform the task assigned them; and as their pattern, to which their whole lives, as far as human infirmity will permit, are to be conformed.

Degenerate as the times are, we here and there see a man of this sort, whom, were we to consider him in the mean of his actions, and not in his outward figure, or in his accidental slips, we should take to be an angel, rather than a man. If we compare the purity and holiness of his life with those of angels, or with the corruptions of other men, we shall perceive a much greater resemblance in him to the former than to the latter. If we consider the fervour of his devotions, we shall find him, agreeably to the image given in Scripture of God's ministering spirits, a flame of fire,' of fire so bright, so pure, so hallowed, and of a tendency upward to the fountain and object of love so warm and strong, as raises him, in spite of the flesh and blood that yet hang about him, to a fellowship in piety with angels and seraphim. If we consider him in the truth of all he says, in the integrity of all he does, in the zeal and activity wherewith he serves his Master, in his beneficence to all men, in his compassion for the miserable, and in his good offices even to such as have injured him in his fortune, his character, and his person, we shall have too much modesty to rank him with ourselves; we shall pronounce him a ministering spirit,' an angel.

It will be worth our while, who look up to him from a state, in comparison of his, so low and abject, to inquire by what steps he rose to so great a height. So far as his happy progress depended on his own endeavours, he began with a fair and close examination into the difference between good and ill principles, and their effects ; between good and ill practices, and their consequences; and having, on a full conviction of his judgment, chosen the former, he put himself under the government of his angelic part, or his understanding. But, finding the brutal part, or his fleshly nature, utterly averse to such a government, he did not stay to consult with fresh and blood, but had recourse immediately to watching, mortification, and prayer. By a resolute perseverance in these, the brute within him was bridled, and the angel began to gain ground. When at any time he stumbled, and fell back from his course, the remorses of a David, and the tears of a Magdalen, brought him up again to a higher and firmer station, than that from whence he fell. Thus he grappled with himself, and fought with his enemy, till the hand of God and habit gained him a complete victory, and gave him the entire command over the inferior part of his composition. From this time, he saw the world far beneath him, and its pomps, its vanities, its profits, its pleasures, sunk and diminished to a minuteness, that left them but a very small share of his esteem; while God and virtue took up all his attention, filled his imagination, and inspired him with a noble ambition of rising in the scale of being, a step nearer to the source of all perfection. In this blessed state of mind, he found, with infinite delight, all his affections and passions, not only under absolute subjection, but so spiritualized, and pointed upward, that they served only to give warmth to his devotions, and to carry his heart, with all their strength, to God. .

Such is the nature of this angel in human shape; and his carriage is conformable to his nature ; for being, in the first place, innocent,' and void of offence towards God, and towards man ;' and, in the next place, giving up his soul and affections to God, he divides his time between the delightful ardours of piety and prayer on the one hand, and acts of goodness and charity on the other. What he solicits God to be to him, as far as his limited ability extends, he thinks himself obliged to be to others. What he tastes from the fountain of good, whether it be in spiritual or temporal blessings, he scatters with an unsparing hand among his fellow creatures. He is the canal of God's goodness to man, which as it passes through him, enriches its banks with flowers of a heavenly hue, and fruits of a most exalted taste. He is the almoner of divine charity, and is paid his salary in blessings both from the giver and receiver. In prosperity, he is the refuge of the helpless, the protection of the oppressed, the treasurer of God, frugal in his own expenses, and faithful in the disbursements of his master. In

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »