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Psalm VIII. 4, 5. What is man, that thou art mindful of him ?
and the son of man that thou visitest him ? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
You will observe, my brethren, that in these words, two distinct and, in a degree, opposite views are given of human nature. It is represented, on the one hand, as weak and low, and yet, on the other, as lofty and strong. At one moment, it presents itself to the inspired writer as poor, humble, depressed, and almost unworthy of the notice of its Maker. But, in the transition of a single sentence, we find him contemplating this same being, man, as exalted, glorious, and almost angelic. “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained,” he says, “ what is man that thou art mindful of him?" And yet he adds, “thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.”
But, do not these contrasted statements make up, in fact, the only true view of human nature ? Are they not conformable to the universal sense of mankind, and to the whole tenor and spirit of our religion ?
Whenever the human character is portrayed in colours altogether dark, or altogether bright; whenever the misanthrope pours out his scorn upon the wickedness and baseness of mankind, or the enthusiast lavishes his admiration upon their virtues; do we not always feel that there needs to be some qualification, that there is something to be said on the other side? !;
Nay, more; do not alt - the varying representations of human nature imply their opposites ? Does not virtue---according to our idea of it, according to the universal idea of it, according to the scriptural representation of it-imply, that sins and sinful passions are struggled with, and overcome? And, on the contrary, does not sin, in its very nature, imply that there are high and sacred powers, capacities, and affections, which it violates ?
1In this view it appears to me, that all unqualified disparagement, as well as praise, of human nature, carries with it its own refutation; and it is to this point that I wish to invite your particular attention in the following discourse. Admitting all that can be asked on this subject by the strongest assertors of human depravity; admitting everything, certainly, that can be stated as a matter of fact; admitting that men are as bad as they are said to be, and substantially believing it too, I shall argue, that the conclusion to be drawn is entirely the reverse of that which usually is drawn. I shall argue, that the most strenuous, the most earnest and indignant, objections against human nature imply the strongest concessions to its constitutional worth. I say then, and repeat, that objection here carries with it its own refutation, that the objector concedes much, very much, to human nature, by the very terms with which he inveighis against it.
It is not my sole purpose, however, to present any abstract or polemic argument. Rather let me attempt to offer some general and just views of human nature ; and for this purpose, rather than for the sake of controversy, let me pass in brief review before you, some of the specific and disparaging opinions that have prevailed in the world concerning it--those, for instance, of the philosopher and the theologian. · In doing this, my purpose is, to admit that much of what they say is true; but to draw from it an inference quite different from theirs. I would admit, on one hand, that there is much evil in the human heart; but, at the same time, I would balance this view, and blend it with others that claim to be brought into the account. On the one hand, I would admit and enforce the objection of much and mournful evil in the world; but, on the other, I would prevent it from pressing on the heart, as a discouraging and dead weight of reprobation and obloquy.' - It may appear to you that the opinions which I have selected for our present consideration are, each of them, brought into strange company; and yet they have an affinity which may not at once be suspected. It is singular, indeed, that we find in the same ranks and waging the same war against all human selfrespect, the most opposite descriptions of persons; the most religious with the most irreligious, the most credulous with the most sceptical. If any man supposes that it is his superior goodness, or purer faith, which leads him to think so badly of his fellow-men and of their very nature, he needs to be reminded that vicious and dissolute habits almost invariably and unerringly lead to the same result. The man who is taking the downward way, with almost every step, you will find, thinks worse of his nature and his species ; till he concludes, if he can, that he was made only for sensual indulgence, and that all idea of a future, intellectual, and immortal existence is a dream. And so, if any man thinks that it is owing to his spirituality and heavenly-mindedness, that he pronounces the world so utterly corrupt, a mere mass of selfishness and deceit; he may be admonished, that nobody so thoroughly agrees with him as the man of the world, the shrewd, over-reaching, and knavish practiser on the weakness or the wickedness of his fellows. And, in the same way, the strict and high-toned theologian, as he calls himself, may unexpectedly find himself in company with the sceptical and scornful philosopher. No men have ever more bitterly decried and vilified human nature, than the infidel philosophers of the last century. They contended that man was too mean and contemptible a creature to be the subject of such an interposition as that recorded in the Gospel.
I. But I am to take up, in the first place, and more in detail, the objection of the sceptical philosopher.
The philosopher says, that man is a mean creature; not so much a degraded being, as he is, originally, a poor insignificant creature; an animal, some grades above others, perhaps, but still an animal ; for whom, to suppose the provision of infinite mercy and of immortality to be made, is absurd.
It is worth noticing, as we pass, and I therefore remark, the striking connexion which is almost always
found between different parts of every man's belief or scepticism. I never knew one to think wrongly about God, but he very soon began to think wrongly about man: or else the reverse is the process, and it is not material which.' The things always go together. He who conceives of the Almighty as a severe, un. just, and vindictive being, will regard man as a slave, will make him the slave of superstition, will take a sort of superstitious pleasure or merit in magnifying his wickedness or unworthiness. And he who thinks meanly of human nature, will think coldly and distrustfully of the Supreme Being, will think of him as withdrawing himself to a sublime distance from such a nature. In other words, he who does not take the Christian view, and has no apprehension of the infinite love of God, will not believe that he has made man with such noble faculties, or for such noble ends, as we assert. The discussion proposed is obviously, even in this view, one of no trifling importance.
Let us, then, proceed to the objection of our philosopher. He says, I repeat, that man is a mean creature, fit only for the earth on which he is placed, fit for no higher destination than to be buried in its' bosom, and there to find his end. The philosopher rejects what he calls the theologian's dream about the fall. He says that man needed no fall in order to be a degraded creature; that he is, and was, always and originally a degraded creature; a being not fallen from virtue, but incapable of virtue ; a being not corrupted from his innocence, but one who never possessed innocence; a being never of heaven, but a being only of earth, and sense, and appetite, and never fit for anything better.