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PSALM VIII. 5. For thou hast made him a little lower than the
angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
I HAVE endeavoured, in my last discourse, to show that the very objections which are usually brought against human nature, imply, in the very fact, in the very spirit and tone of them, the strongest concessions to its worth. I shall now proceed to the direct argument in its favour. It is the constitutional worth of human nature that we have thus far considered, rather than its moral worth or absolute virtue. We have considered the indignant reproaches against its sin and debasement, whether of the philosopher or the theologian, as evidence of their own conviction, that it was made for something better. We have considered that moral constitution of human nature, by which it was evidently made 'not to be the slave of sin, but its conqueror.
Let us now proceed to take some account of its moral traits and acquisitions. I say its moral traits and acquisitions : for there are feelings of the human mind, which scarcely rise to the character of acquisitions, which are involuntary impulses ; and yet which possess a nature as truly moral, though not in as high a degree, as any voluntary acts of virtue. Such is the simple, natural love of excellence. It bears the same relation to moral effort as spontaneous reason does to reflection or logical effort: and what is spontaneous, in both cases, is the very foundation of the acquisitions that follow. Thus, the involuntary perception of a few axioms lies .at the foundation of mathematical science; and so from certain spontaneous impressions of truth springs all knowledge; and in the same manner, our spontaneous moral impressions are the germs of the highest moral efforts.
Of these spontaneous impressions I am to speak in the first place, and then to produce in favour of human nature the testimony of its higher and more confirmed virtues.
But I am not willing to enter upon this theme without first offering a remark or two, to prevent any misconception of the purpose for which I again bring forward this discussion. It is not to bring to the altar at which I minister an oblation of flattery to my fellow-worshippers. It is not to make any man feel his moral dangers to be less, or to make him easier in reference to that solemn spiritual trust that is committed to his nature; but the very contrary. It is not to make him think less of his sins, but more. It is not, in fine, to build up any one theological dogma, or to beat down another.
My view of the subject, if I may state it without presumption, is this—that there is a treasure in human nature of which most men are not conscious, and with which none are yet fully acquainted! If you had met in a retired part of the country with some rustic
youth, who bore in his character the indications of a inost: sublime genius, and if you saw that he was ignorant of it, and that those around him were ignorant of it, you would look upon him with extreme, with enthusiastic interest, and you would be anxious to bring him into the light, and to rear him up to his proper sphere of distinction. This, may I be permitted to say, illustrates the view which I take of human nature. I believe that there is something in every man's heart upon which he ought to look as a found treasure; something upon which he ought to look with awe and wonder; something which should make him tremble when he thinks of sacrificing it to sin; something, also, to encourage and cheer him in every endeavour after virtue and purity. Far be it from me to say that that something is confirmed goodness, or is the degree of goodness which is necessary to make him happy here or hereafter; or, that it is something to rest upon, or to rely upon, in the anticipation of God's judgment." Still I believe that he who says there is nothing good in him, no foundation, no feeling of goodness, says what is not true, what is not just to himself, what is not just to his Maker's beneficence.
I will refer now to those moral traits, to those involuntary moral impressions, of which I have already spoken.
Instances of this nature might undoubtedly be drawn from every department of social life ; from social kindness, from friendship, from parental and filial love, from the feelings of spontaneous generosity, pity, and admiration, which every day kindles into life and warmth around us.: But since these feelings are often
alleged to be of a doubtful character, and are so, indeed, to a certain extent, since they are often mixed up with interested considerations which lessen their weight in this argument, I am about to appeal to cases, which, though they are not often brought into the pulpit, will appear to you, I trust, to be excused, if not justified, by the circumstance that they are altogether apposite cases; cases, that is to say, of disinterested feeling. .
The world is inundated in this age with a perfect deluge of fictitious productions. I look, indeed, upon the exclusive reading of such works, in which too many employ their leisure time, as having a very bad and dangerous tendency : but this is not to my purpose at present. I only refer now to the well-known extent and fascination of this kind of reading, for the purpose of putting a single question. I ask, what is the moral character of these productions ? Not high enough, certainly; but then I ask still more specifii cally, whether the preference is given to virtue or to vice, in these books, and to which of them the feelings of the reader generally lean? Can there be one moment's doubt? Is not virtue usually held up to admiration, and are not the feelings universally enlisted in its favour? Must not the character of the leading personage in the story, to satisfy the public taste, be good, and is not his career pursued with intense interest to the end ? Now, reverse the case. Suppose his character to be bad. Suppose him ungenerous, avaricious, sensual, debased. Would he then be admired? Would he then enlist the sympathies even of the most frivolous reader? It is unnecessary to answer the question. Here, then, is a right and virtuous feeling at work in the community : and it is a perfectly disinterested feeling. Here, I say, is a right and virtuous feeling, beating through the whole heart of society. Why should any one say it is not a feeling ; that it is conscience; that it is mere approbation? It is a feeling, if any thing is. There is intense interest, there are tears, to testify that it is a feeling.
If, then, I put such a book into the hands of any reader, and if he feels this, let him not tell me that there is nothing good in him. There may not be goodness, fixed, habitual goodness in him; but there is something good, out of which goodness may grow. · Of the same character are the most favourite popular songs and ballads. The chosen themes of these compositions are patriotism, generosity, pity, love. Now it is known that nothing sinks more deeply into the heart of nations, and yet these are their themes. Let me make the ballads of a people, some one has said, and let who will make their laws; and yet he must construct them on these principles; he must compose them in praise of patriotism, honour, fidelity, generous sympathy, and pure love. I say, pure love. Let the passion be made a base one ; let it be capricious, mercenary, or sensual, and it instantly loses the public sympathy: the song would be instantly hissed from the stage of the vilest theatre that ever was opened. No, it must be true-hearted affection, holding its faith and fealty bight and unsoiled amidst change of fortunes, amidst poverty, and disaster, and separation, and reproach. The popular taste will hardly allow the affection to be as prudent as it ought to be. And when I listen to one of these popular