« PoprzedniaDalej »
dulgence. All the creatures round him, now minister only sorrow or temptation. They have the dominion over him, either subduing him by their strength, or seducing him by their fascinations; a tyrannical control, which is, of all others, the most cruel and imperious.
Behold then the present state and condition of men. On the one hand they retain a powerful instinctive impression of the happiness of their primitive nature; on the other hand, they are plunged in the miseries of their own blindness and lust; and this is now become their second nature.
2. In the principles which I have here stated, you may discern the spring of those wonderful contrarieties which have confounded, while they have distracted and divided all mankind Watch attentively all the emotions of greatness and glory, which the sense of so many miseries has not been able to extinguish, and see if they must not have their source in another nature.
3. See, then, proud man, what a paradox thou art to thyself. Let impotent reason be humbled ; let frail nature be silent. Know that man infinitely surpasseth man; and learn from thy Maker, thy real condition.
For, in fact, had man never been corrupted, he would have ever enjoyed truth and happiness, with an assured delight. And had man never been any other than corrupted, he would never have had any idea of truth and blessedness. But wretched as we are, (more wretched than if we had never felt the consciousness of greatness) we do, now retain a notion of felicity, though we cannot attain it. We have some faint impression of truth, while all we grasp is falsehood. We are alike incapable of total ignorance and of sure and definite knowledge. So manifest is it, that we were once in a state of perfection, from which we have unhappily fallen. What then do this sense of want, and this impotency to obtain, declare to us, but that man originally possessed a real bliss, of which no traces now remain, except that cheerless void within,
which he vainly endeavors to fill from the things around him; by seeking from those which are absent, a joy which present things will not yield,-a joy which neither the present nor the absent can bestow on him; because this illimitable chasm, this boundless void can never be filled by any but an infinite and immutable object.
4. It is an astonishing thought, that of all mysteries, that which seems to be farthest removed from our apprehension, I mean the transmission of original sin, is a fact without the knowledge of which we can never satisfactorily know ourselves. For, undoubtedly, nothing appears so revolting to our reason as to say that the transgression of the first man should impart guilt to those, who, from their extreme distance from the source of the evil, seem incapable of such a participation. This transmission seems to us not only impossible-but unjust. For what can be more repugnant to the rules of our despicable justice, than to condemn eternally an infant, yet irresponsible, for an offence, in which he appears to have had so little share, that it was committed six thousand years before he came into existence. Certainly nothing wounds us more cruelly than this doctrine. And yet without this mystery, to us of all others the most incomprehensible, we are utterly incomprehensible to ourselves. The complicateá knot of our condition, has its mysterious folds in this abyss ; so that man is more incomprehensible without this mystery, than is this mystery itself to
The notion of original sin, is foolishness to men. But then we should not condemn the want of reasonableness in this doctrine, for in fact it is not assumed to be within the province of reason.
At the same time, this very foolishness is wiser than all the wisdom of men : (The foolishness of God is wiser than men, 1 Cor. i. 25.) For without this, what explanation can we give of man! His whole condition hangs upon this one imperceptible point. Yet how could he have discovered this by his reason ; seeing it is a matter above
his reason; and that reason, far from discovering the fact, revolts from it, when it is revealed.
5. These two states of original innocence and subsequent corruption, being once presented to our view, it is impossible not to recognise them, and admit their truth. Let us trace our own emotions, and observe ourselves; and let us see whether we do not detect within, the living characters of both these different natures. Could such contrarieties exist in the subject of one simple nature ?
This two-fold tendency of a man is so visible, that some have conceived him to possess two souls: one soul appearing to them incapable of such great and sudden changes, from an immeasurable presumption, to the most debasing and abject depravity.
Thus we see that the several contrarieties which seem most calculated to alienate men from the knowledge of any religion whatever, are the very things which should most effectually avail to guide them to the true.
For my own part, I avow, that as soon as the Christian religion discloses this one principle,--that human nature is depraved and fallen from God, my eyes open at once to discover the characters of this truth, inscribed on every thing around me. All nature, both within and without us, most manifestly declares the withdrawing of God.
Without this divine communication, what could men do, but either feed their pride on the inward impression yet remaining of their former greatness; or abjectly sink under the consciousness of their present infirmity ? For as they do not discern all the truth, they can never attain to perfect virtue. Some regarding their nature as hitherto uncorrupted; others, as irrecoverably lost; they could not escape one of the two great sources of all vice,-either pride or recklessness. They must either abandon themselves to vice, through negligence; or emerge from it by the strength of their pride. If they were alive to the excellency of man, they would be ignorant of his corruption : and
though, by this means, they would avoid the guilt of reckless indifference, they would split upon the rock of pride; and if they recognize the weakness of human nature, they would be strangers to its dignity: and thus they would shun the dangers of a proud presumption, only to plunge themselves into the vortex of despair.
From this very source sprung all the various sects of Stoics and Epicureans; of the Dogmatists, and the Academics, &c. The Christian religion only has been able thoroughly to care these opposite vices; not by using the wisdom of this world to make one expel the other; but by expelling them both, through the means of the simple truth of the gospel. For while it exalts its votaries to be partakers of the divine nature, it teaches that even in this exalted state, they carry with them the source of all corruption, which renders them, during their whole life, liable to error and misery, to death and sin. At the same time, it assures the most impious, that even they might yet experience the grace of the Redeemer. Thus administering salutary dread to those whom it justifies, and needful encouragement to those whom it condemns; it so wisely tempers hope and fear, by means of this two-fold capability of sin and of grace, which is common to all mankind, that it humbles man far below what unassisted reason could do, without driving him to despair; and it exalts man far beyond the loftiest height of natural pride, without making him presumptuous. And hereby it is shewn of Christian religion, that inasmuch as it only is free from defect or error, to it alone belongs the task of instructing and correcting mankind.
6. We have no conception of the glorious state of Adam, nor of the nature of his sin, nor of the transmission of it to ourselves. These things occurred under circumstances widely different from our own; and they exceed the present limits of our comprehension. The comprehension of them would be of no avail for our deliverance from evil. All that we need to know is, that through Adam we are become miserable, corrupt, and alienated from God; but that by Jesus Christ, we are redeemed. And of this, even in this world, we have ample proof
7. Christianity has its wonders. It requires man to acknowledge himself vile and abominable; it requires him also to emulate the likeness of his Maker. Unless these things had been accurately balanced, such an exaltation would have rendered him extravagantly vain ; such a debasement, lamentably abject.
Misery leads to despair; aggrandizement to presumption.
8. The mystery of the incarnation, shews to man the depth of his degradation, in the greatness of the necessary remedy.
9. The Christian religion does not recognize in us such a state of abasement, as renders us incapable of good; nor such a purity as is perfectly safe from evil. No doctrine iş so well adapted to human nature, as this which declares man's capability of receiving and of forfeiting grace; because of the danger to which, on either hand, he is ever exposed, of despair and of presumption.
10. Philosophers have never furnished men with sentiments suited to these two features of their condition. They either infused notions of unalloyed greatness, which is certainly not man's real state ; or they encouraged the idea of man's total depravity, which is equally an error. We want an abasement of soul, not by the indulgence of our own base nature ; but by a real penitence : not that we may abide there, but that we may attain thereby to exaltation. We want the stirrings of greatness; not those which originate in human merit; but those which spring from grace, and follow humiliation.
11. No man is really happy, rational, virtuous, amiable, but the true Christian. How free from pride is his consciousness of union with the deity! How free from meanness, the humility which levels him with the worms of the earth.
Who, then, can withhold from this celestial light, his