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ON THE ADAPTATION WHICH BELIGION, TO BE TRUE
AND USEFUL, SHOULD HAVE TO HUMAN NATURE.
ISAIAH XLII. 3. A bruised reed shall be not break, and the
smoking flax shall he not quench.
This was spoken by prophecy of our Saviour, and is commonly considered as one of the many passages which either prefigure or describe the considerate and gracious adaptation of his religion to the wants and weaknesses of human nature. This adaptation of Christianity to the wants of the mind, is, indeed, a topic that has been much and very justly insisted on as an evidence of its truth.
I wish, however, in the present discourse, to place this subject before you in a light somewhat different, perhaps, from that in which it has usually been viewed. If Christianity is suited to the wants of our nature, it is proper to consider what our nature needs. I shall therefore in the following discourse give considerable prominence to this inquiry. The wants of our nature are various." I shall undertake to show in several respects whát a religion that is adapted to these wants should be. In the same connexion I shall undertake to show that Christianity is such a religion.
This course of inquiry, I believe, will elicit some just views of religious truth, and will enable us to judge whether our own views of it are just. My object in it is to present some temperate and comprehensive views of religion, which shall be seen at once to meet the necessities of our nature, and to accord with the spirit of the Christian religion.
Nothing, it would seem, could be more obvious than that a religion for human beings should be suited to human beings; not to angels, nor to demons; not to a fictitious order of creatures; not to the inhabitants of some other world; but to men—to men of this world, of this state and situation in which we are placed, of this nature which is given us,-to men, with all their passions and affections warm and alive, and all their weaknesses, and wants and fears about them. And yet, evident and reasonable as all this is, nothing has been more common than for religion to fail of this very adaptation. Sometimes it has been made a quality all softness, all mercy and gentleness--something joyous and cheering, light and easy, as if it were designed for angels. At others it has been clothed with features as dark and malignant as if it belonged to fiends rather than to men. In no remote period it has laid penances on men, as if their sinews and nerves were like the mails of steel which they wore in those days: while the same religion, with strange inconsistency, lifted up the reins to their passions, as if it had been the age of stoicism, instead of being the age of chivalry. Alas! how little has there been in the religions of past ages—how little in the prevalent forms even of the Christian religion--to draw out, to expand, and brighten the noble faculties of our
nature! How many of the beautiful fruits of human affection have withered away under the cold and blighting touch of a scholastie and stern theology! How many fountains of joy in the human heart hare been sealed and closed up for ever by the iron hand of a gloomy superstition! How many bright spirit how many comely and noble natures, hare been marred and crushed by the artificial, the erude, and rough dealing of religious frenzy and fanaticism!
It is suitable, then—it is expedient—to consider the adaptation which religion, to be true and useful. ought to have to human nature. It may serve to correct errors. It may serse to guide those who are asking what ideas of religion they are to entertain ; what sentiments they are to embrace; what conduct to pursue.
In entering upon this subject, let me offer one leading observation, and afterwards proceed to some particulars.
1. I say, then, in the first place, that religion should be adapted to our whole nature. It should remember that we have understandings, and it should be a rational religion. It should remember that we have feelings ; and it should be an earnest and fervent religion. It should remember that our feelings revclt at violence, and are all alive to tenderness; and it should be gentle, ready to entreat, and full of mercy. It should remember too that our feelings naturally lean to self-indulgence, and it should be, in its gentleness, strict and solemn. It should, in a due proportion, address all our faculties.
Most of the erroneous forms of religious sentiment that prevail in the Christian world, have arisen from
the predominance that has been given to some one part of our nature in the matters of spiritual concerti ment. Some religions have been all speculation, all doctrine, all theology; and, as you might expect; they have been cold, barren, and dead. Others have been all feeling, and have become visionary, wild, and extravagant. Some have been all sentiment, and have wanted practical virtue. Others have been all practice; their advocates have been exclaiming “ works! works! these are the evidence and test of all goodness." And so, with certain exceptions and qualifications, they are. But this substantial character of religion, this hold which it really has upon alt the active principles of our nature, has been so much, so exclusively contended for, that religion has too often degenerated into a mere superficial, decent morality.
Religion, then, let it be repeated, if it be trúe and just, addresses our whole nature. It addresses the active and the contemplative in us_reason and, imagination, thought and feeling. It is experience; but it is conduct too: it is high meditation, but then it is also humble virtue. It is excitement, it is eare... nestness; but no less truly is it calmness. Let me dwell upon this last point a moment. It is not und common to hear it said that excitement is a very bad thing, and that true religion is calm. And yet iti would seem as if, by others, repose was regardeduası : deadly to the soul, and as if the only safety lay in a tremendous agitation. Now what saith our nature , for the being that is the very subject of this varying discipline may surely be allowed to speak-what saith our nature to these different advisers ? ' It says,
I think, that both are, to a certain extent, wrong, and both, to a certain extent, right. That is to say, human nature requires, in their due proportion, both excitement and tranquillity. Our minds need a complex and blended influence; need to be at once aroused and chastened, to be at the same time quickened and subdued ; need to be impelled, and yet guided; need to be humbled, no doubt, and that deeply, but not that only, as it seems to be commonly thought-humbled, I say, and yet supported; need to be bowed down in humility, and yet strengthened in trust; need to be nerved to endurance at one time, and, at another, to be transported with joy. Let religion- let the reasonable and gracious doctrines of Jesus Christ-come to us with these adaptations; generous, to expand our affections; strict, to restrain our passions ; plastic, to mould our temper; strong, ay, strong to control our will. Let religion be thus welcomed to every true principle and passion of our nature. Let it touch all the springs of intellectual and of moral life. Let it penetrate to every hidden recess of the soul, and bring forth all its powers, and enlighten, inspire, perfect them.
I hardly need say, that the Christian religion is thus adapted to our whole nature. Its evidences address themselves to our sober judgment. Its precepts commend themselves to our consciences. It imparts light to our understandings, and fervour to our affections. It speaks gently to our repentance; but terribly to our disobedience. It really does that for us which religion should do. It does arouse and chasten, quicken and subdue, impel and guide, humble and yet support: it arms us with fortitude, and it transports