« AnteriorContinuar »
towards the other, and, at length, associate to all eternity, either with angels or devils. To feed, to strengthen, to exercise, the spiritual part of us, is to rise. To feed, to strengthen, to exercise, the brutal, is to sink, and be lost for ever.
• We lost the innocence and dignity of our nature by eating,' says St. Athanasius, and must restore ourselves by abstinence."
A man may say, although I feed well, I hope, by reason and resolution, to keep down my inordinate desires. Vain are the hopes of such a person. The saints and hermits, with all their amazing mortifications, found this no easy task, such is the corruption of human nature, since the fall, in which the soil of the earth, and the soul of man, fell under a like curse.
Much labour and violence must be used to both, or they will produce no fruit; and, after our utmost pains and skill, we must expect, along with the crop, to see tares, briars, and thorns, shooting up every day. Men feed themselves up, through an unhappy indulgence to their desires, with hopes of travelling downward, through a broad smooth road, to heaven, and entering into it by a wide and open gate. Although our Saviour gives a contrary account of that journey, yet flesh and blood, relying more on hope in themselves, than faith in him, would needs endeavour to make it a mere jaunt of pleasure. Even those who think self-denial necessary, are often too tender of themselves to put it in practice. They will fast to get rid of a slight bodily disorder; and yet will not do as much to be cured of disorders that threaten the soul with eternal death. tonishing! that a short, uncertain, miserable life, should seem to a thinking being, more worthy to be preserved and provided for, than that which is eternal, and may be rendered infinitely happy. A man may be as indulgent to his internal enemy as he pleases; yet he may assure himself, the corruptions of flesh and blood are not to be cured by delicate, but severe methods; not to be rubbed with soft cloths and napkins, but rather with the potsherd of Job.
• Nobody hears,' says St. Augustin, “the tempter, saying within him, What do you mean by your fasting? Why do you defraud your own soul? You punish yourself; you are your own tormenter : he is a cruel master you. serve, if he is pleased with your misery. Answer him thus,' says that
writer: "I torment myself, that God may spare me; I suffer, that God may forgive, and that the flesh may hang less heavily upon my soul; knowing well, that the victim must be flayed and mangled, before it is laid on the altar.'
The sickness, which hath been bred out of delicacies, can sometimes be purged away only by bitter or nauseous medicines. Shall we still continue to think the delicacies good, and the medicines evil? No; all is not good that pleases, nor all evil that gives pain. Now, nothing but good is the object of choice; and therefore we ought, after having carefully distinguished the real, from the seeming, good or evil, to embrace that which is good, not that which is pleasant, and shun that which is evil, not that which is painful. If then luxury, and riot, and voluptuousness, are condemned, both by Scripture and experience, as hurtful to the soul, let us, like rational creatures, detest and avoid them, be they ever so grateful to our corrupt inclinations. If, on the other hand, temperance and mortification are, by the word of God, and the trials that have been made of them, found to be highly instrumental in promoting the virtue and real happiness of mankind, let us, in the name of God, as becomes men of sense and Christians, determine to be at all times temperate in all things; and, when occasion requires, if our constitutions will bear it, to mortify the deeds of the flesh, be it ever so irksome to the brutal part of our nature.
And may God, of his infinite mercy, accept our sacrifice herein, and, by the power of his Holy Spirit, crown our warfare with a glorious victory, and an eternal triumph, through Jesus Christ our Lord; to whom, in the unity of the ever-blessed Trinity, be all might, majesty, dignity, and dominion, now and for evermore.
THE PROGRESS OF MAN.
PSALM VIII. 5.
Thou hast made him but a little lower than the angels.
ALTHOUGH these words, and what follow in the three next verses, are, in their more important meaning, to be understood of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and accordingly are by St. Paul applied to him in the Epistle to the Hebrews; yet are they as applicable, in their first, simple, and immediate sense, to man in general. It is plain, David had the infirmity, and the seeming insignificance of human nature under consideration, at the uttering these words of the same psalm : When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and stars, which thou hast ordained ; What is man, that thou art mindful of him ? and the son of man, that thou visitest him ?'
But he is comforted again, when he reflects, 'that God hath made man only a little lower than the angels; that he hath crowned him with glory and honour;' and that he hath, by the prerogative bestowed on him, as a reasonable creature, in the first of Genesis, 'given him dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every thing that moveth upon the earth.'
The words of my text, together with those that follow, thus understood, shew us, what reason and observation also render probable, that man is placed in the middle, between the angelic and brutal nature, being a little lower than the former, and at the same time holding dominion over the latter.
It is a thing very remarkable, that all the orders of created beings, known to us, form a kind of scale or chain, wherein the lower is always linked to that above, by somewhat common to the nature of both. The nature and qualities of lifeless matter are found in plants; the vegetable life of plants, in brutes; the senses, appetites, and affections
of brutes in man; and the reasoning faculty of man, in angels. That this communion of natures ascends still higher than we can possibly trace it, is very probable; since, so far as we are able to pursue it, no breach nor interruption can be discovered; and since, in holy Scripture, a certain distinction of order and dignity among created beings, of a class superior to our own, seems plainly enough pointed out to us by the terms angels, archangels, principalities, powers, dominions, thrones, cherubim, and seraphim, which had never been used in the same sentence, and immediately following one another, had it not been the intention of the Holy Spirit to express to us some distinction or subordination in these superior creatures.
With this chain, or gradation of created beings, there seems to be joined a certain progress of each, at least for a few links, from lower to higher, or the contrary; a rise from the class below, to the excellence of that above; or a fall from the class above, to the insignificance and baseness of that below. This we may observe, in matter, for instance, which rises from dead earth to plants; from plants to animals; or sinks from the bodies of animals into plants, and afterward, upon the dissolution of those plants, rots, and is reduced to common dirt. That there is a like improvement or degeneracy in the world of spirits is most highly probable, and the rather, as every man may observe somewhat like it in himself; for we are never at a stand, but always ascending to a greater perfection in virtue, or descending to grosser acts of vice and wickedness.
Man borrows one half of his nature from creatures of a superior, and the other, from creatures of an inferior order; and, thus compounded, links together the chain of beings by standing between the angel and the brute, and bearing an equal relation to both. He hath, in common with the first, a reasonable soul, which may render him a free, a moral, and a religious being; and he hath, in common with the last, an animal body, with senses, passions, and appetites, that may engage him in gross and brutal pollutions. So far as he is a spiritual being, he may aspire, through virtue and piety, to the nature and dignity of angels; and, so far as he is an animal being, he may degenerate, through vice and irreligion, to the abject nature of a brute. What
limits God hath assigned to either progress we know not; • but, forasmuch as the Divine nature is at the head, and the diabolical at the foot, of all beings, it seems impossible, that a creature so progressive in virtue and vice as man is, should not always either improve in angelical goodness to a greater resemblance of God, or grow more brutishly wicked, to a still nearer and nearer likeness of the devil.
Pursuant to this observation, there are three states, in one or other of which every man may be found.
The first is of those, who waver between virtue and the angelical nature, on the one side; and vice, with the brutal nature, on the other. Religion and conscience, having laid hold on their understandings, teach them to look upward, and labour to improve and refine their nature to a resemblance of better beings than themselves. During the influence of these principles, they rise to some improvement in piety; but are soon thrown down again to low thoughts, to gross and vicious actions, and consequently to a depravation and corruption of nature, by the force of violent temptations, working on the brutal part of their composition. A man of this turn, having too much understanding and conscience to be completely wicked, and too much of appetite and passion to be uniformly good, 'is unstable in all his'ways. One hour, his religious, his laudable ambition to be somewhat more than a mere man, raises him above himself, and forces even his passions to second his reason and principles; the next, his fleshly appetites and brutal passions, taking the lead, sink him as much below himself, and the rank even his mixed nature entitles him to in the scale of being, insomuch that his ‘understanding is darkened, his very reason for a time depraved, and his principles perverted or biassed to a miserable compliance with such intentions and actions, as better become a brute than
The one half of his nature seems to consult apart from the other, and even sometimes to act by itself, as if he consisted rather of two distinct persons, than two different parts. Take him when the spiritual part of his nature prevails, and you conceive hopes of his becoming in time a saint or an angel. Take him when the brutal part hath the mastery, and you cannot help fearing, he will at length degenerate into a brute or devil.