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PSALM li. 5. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did
my mother conceive me.
IN the investigation of human nature, difficulties continually multiply around us, when we attempt to proceed without the light of revelation. We may discern enough to convince us that man, as he now exists, appears not to be such a being as we must suppose him to have been when he first issued from the source of moral perfection. But how he came to be thus debased, or by what means his actual degeneracy may be rectified, we inquire in vain. The utmost extent of human research
goes no further than to ascertain the existence of the evil; neither the cause nor the remedy has it ever yet been able satisfactorily to explain. Here, then, as well as in our inquiry into the primeval state of man, (the subject of a former Discourse,) revelation must be called to our aid. Nor will it disappoint our purpose, if we be content to rest in a general solution of the question, not expecting the elucidation of every minute point on which scepticism may raise a doubt.
raise a doubt. Points there undoubtedly are in this, as in most other doctrines of revealed religion, concerning which the Scriptures, if not wholly silent, are far from gratifying our curiosity. These, it may be presumed, are unnecessary to be determined, having no tendency to that edification which it is the main object of the Scriptures to promote.
The subject itself is, indeed, one which should awaken sentiments of the deepest humility. Yet on no question, perhaps, have men been more inquisitively curious, more boldly speculative. It were no easy matter to exhibit all the shades of diversity concerning it, which have generated sects and parties in the Christian world, and have created division even among members professedly of the same communion in faith and worship.
The zeal, however, with which these discordant opinions have been maintained may be considered as one indication of the real importance of the subject. And, undoubtedly, the fall of man from his primitive state of innocence is too prominent a feature in revealed religion to be regarded with indifference; nay, it is so essentially interwoven with the revelation, as to be justly deemed a fundamental article of our faith. The necessity of man's redemption is grounded upon his fall. The extent of that redemption corresponds with the extent of his corruption. In every part of the Christian dispensation this is presupposed as an indisputable point. It is therefore of primary importance to examine the evidences of the fact, its causes, and its consequences, as they are represented in holy writ, and confirmed by the general experience of mankind.
1. The historical evidence of the fall of man stands
upon the same ground of credibility with every other portion of the sacred records relative to times before the flood. No writings of equal antiquity are in existence by which it can be contravened. None of subsequent date cast the slightest suspicion upon its fidelity. On the contrary, many appear
to concur with it as far as remote tradition, or confused representations of facts imperfectly known or understood, may be said to correspond with truth. Nothing, therefore, stands in the way of our admitting this particular narrative upon the same authority of divine inspiration as that which gives to the whole of the books of Moses a sanction purely sacred.
It is an argument also of no little weight in favour of these records, that we must either assent to the statement they give of this transaction, or abandon the hope of otherwise accounting for a phenomenon in human nature which all mankind confess to be unquestionably true. The general frailty and faultiness of our species is too palpable a fact to be denied. It has been from age to age the theme of heathen, as well as of Christian writers. It meets the moralist and the legislator at every step. It is the plea of the profligate, the humiliation of the virtuous, the acknowledged obstacle to perfection in all who are destined to pass through this probationary state. Thus far, revelation accords with reason and experience, in testifying that man is no longer that excellent being which the Author of his nature intended him to be.
What, then, is the scriptural solution of this phenomenon ?
It is substantially this :—that our first parents were tempted by a subtle and malignant being of a superior order, to transgress a positive command of their Creator ; that a pe