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of Christianercantile ville have
shall break one of the least of these commandments, and teach men so, is accounted the least-whosoever shall do and teach them is ac. counted the greatest." pp. 132-134.
Where so much is to be approved and admired, we would have passed over one exception, did it not affect a great doctrinal principle, of which it behoves every one to entertain the most explicit views; because a wavering or false conception of it, is apt very greatly to influence our opinions on other essential points. The statement which DR. CHALMERS has made of the doctrine of human depravity, in the first sermon, appears to us both defective in itself, and calculated to lead to palliations on this humbling subject, which he himself would very strenuously refuse to sanction.
From this sermon we have already made an extract. It is' “On the mercantile virtues which may exist without the influence of Christianity." The author conceives that the doctrine of "the universal depravity of man," has been often maintained in such a style of sweeping and vehement asseveration," as to be inconsistent with the phenomena which the human character actually exhibits. « Let the nature of man be a ruin, as it certainly is, it is obvious to the most common discernment, that it does not offer one unvaried and unalleviated mass of deformity." We are then told of the virtues of some heathens; and of the integrity, compassion, generosity, and honour of many among ourselves, from whose minds the genuine religious principle is absent; and in stating the doctrine of man's corruption, the Doctor recom. mends us, therefore, to fasten on the radical element of depravity," the alienation of the heart from God; and to show that, notwithstanding the existence of a class of virtues, which he terms " constitutional," to convict man “ of the impiety of not caring about God,” in any thing. In this view, therefore, there may be “in our nature" generosity, and friendship, and mercy, and integrity, without acquitting man of the charge of being an entire direlict in his obligations to God, and that the proof of human depravity lies not so much in the absence of qualities which are universally acknowledged to be virtuous, as in the principle from which this direliction springs.
Much of what is said on this subject is just; but it is not investigated with the usual discrimination of the author.
In the first place, we apprehend that he mistakes in supposing so much difference between himself and those whom he censures for stating the doctrine of human depravity in too sweeping a manner; for surely no one ever maintained that unconverted men are not, in some cases, generous, just, and honourable. The class of divinés to whom Dr. CHALMERS refers, have certainly represented the natural man as presenting an unvaried mass of deformity to God, but have never spoken of him as this
co stating the herefore, ton of the bece of a clases of the therefore,
unalleviated mass of deformity, in every instance, to men. This is the distinction, and how much does DR. CHALMERS himself differ from this opinion ? He justly observes, that all the compassionate feeling, and the integrity of this class of men, may be as totally unconnected with a single monument of duteous loyalty to the Lawgiver in heaven, as the gentleness of one animal, the fidelity of another, and the gratitude of a third. Here, then, there is not the least alleviation of the totality of human depravity, by this apparent concession, as far as the question lies between God and his creature. Certain good qualities are called by circumstances into exercise; but there is no reference in that exercise to any obligation laid upon us by God; nothing is done or left undone because he wills or forbids it. As to Gon, these qualities, therefore, are not virtues, and the case of man is not alleviated by them. If these excellencies, therefore, are exhibited, they owe their manifestacion either to some inferior motive, or they are “constitutional” and “instinctive.” That an inferior principle to that of regarding God may be the source of very imposing virtues between man and man, is very ably proved in the third discourse on the power of selfishness,” &c. Here the compassionate, the just, the honourable man, who stalks abroad in so proud an array of excellence, that it might, for a moment, be doubted whether the forbidden fruit had ever been tasted, or that the moral constitution of our kind suffered a taint, is stripped of his factitious adornings; and the whole of this display is resolved into one of the meanest and most humbling depravities of our nature.—“ Selfishness, in fact, may have originated and alienated the whole of this virtue that belongs to you.” In all this we perceive no difference between Dr. CHALMERS, and those who contend for the total degeneracy of man. If selfishness ori. ginates these virtues, that is, if they are exhibited for the sake of honour and interest among men, they are not real but mock virtues. They cannot deceive Omniscience, and as to man they are assumed ;--they are acts, and not principles.
But widely as selfishness and hypocrisy are allowed to operate in producing the semblance of moral excellencies, it is still contended that there are some real constitutional virtues in man, which may be pleaded against the representations usually made of the universal depravity of his nature.
66 Might not a sense of honour elevate that heart which is totally unfurnished with a sense of God? Might not an impulse of compassionate feeling be sent into that bosom which is never once visited by a movement of duteous loyalty towards the Lawgiver in heaven? Might not occasions of intercourse with the beings around us, develope , whatever there is in our nature of generosity, and friendship, and integrity, and patriotism; and yet the unseen Being, who placed us in this theatre, be neither loved nor obeyed, nor listened to ? Amid
the manifold varieties of human character, and the number of consti. tutional principles which enter into its composition, might there not be an individual in whom the constitutional virtues so blaze forth and have the ascendancy, as to give a general effect of gracefulness to the whole of this moral exhibition; and yet, may not that individual be as unmindful of his God, as if the principles of his constitution had been mixed upin such a different proportion, as to make him an odious and a revolting spectacle ? ” pp. 15, 16.
Now, on this view we may remark, that if by constitutional virtues our author means instinctive ones, -and this we conceive to be his notion,-virtues to which our nature impels us, and in which the will is rather passive than active, though this would by no means relieve the question of man's depravity as to God, to whom neither the motive nor the end of these virtuous feelings, or the acts which they originate, are referred; yet, if the fact could be made out, is would appear to be an abatement of those deep conceptions which the Sacred Writers uniformly express, as to the human heart and the natural man. There are some indiyiduals, at least, of the species, who must, in that case, be excepted from certain general representations which we find in the Scriptures. The nature of such is, upon the whole, better than the general doctrine, though its religious character, from the entire absence of the religious principle, subjection to God, is not improved.
But against this doctrine of “constitutional” and “instinctive" virtues; some objections lie which, to us, are very formidable. We can easily conceive that, by his constitutional conformation, one man shall be of spirits more lively than another, and that he shall mix in the intercourse of society in a more agreeable and less mischievous manner; and that one should be more susceptible of the impressions of pity, and of course more disposed to afford aid to the distresses of his fellow-creatures than a man of sterner nature. But as justice and integrity are conventional virtues, as they result from rights and duties either established by God, or by men, or by both, and suppose instruction in the nature and obligation of these duties and rights, and are originated by the will, we cannot see how any constitutional formation can become the source of these principles. A savage being, in a state of society where the laws of property are unknown, inight have touches of humanity, but how he would be impelled to acts of justice against all custom and example by constitutional feeling, it is difficult to conceive.
Again, virtues merely constitutional would be found to develope themselves pretty equally under all circumstances, like instincts of every other kind. But this is not the fact. Very much depends upon the altitude of the moral standard, and the state of society in which they live, for men are virtuous or vicious in
common parlance, by comparison. Dr. CHALMERS speaks of those repeated exemplifications of what is bright and beautiful in the character of man, which sparkle in the classic page of antiquity. But surely the virtuous man, there spoken of with so much praise, would often make a pitiful figure in a country like ours, where the rule of public judgment is exalted by Christianity. Titus, the “deliciæ humani generis," caused fifteen hundred Jews to be slain at Cesarea in honour of his brother's birth-day. CICERO calls PomPBY, “ hominem integrum, et castum, et gravem;" and yet this man openly tampered with the judges, in behalf of his father-in-law, when impeached; and Cicero himself, however indignant he appears against the vices of CATALINE, in his Orations, was once inclined to have undertaken his defence, when tried for some atrocious murders. Even our author's fine burst of eloquent exultation at the superior character of British Merchants for honourable dealing, page 30, is in point. We join with him in the conclusion, that the glories of British policy and British valour are eclipsed by the moral splendour which British faith has thrown over the name and the character of our nation. But then he allows that many of these men of far-famed honourable dealing, are men utterly without religion, that they are “natural men" in the same sense as the less honourable merchants of other countries. How then is it that they have a superior character? If the superior virtue be “constitutional," then are we to conclude, that the Creator has moulded a race of mer. chants for us with a superior mixture of better ingredients, a position too absurd to be maintained ;-orthat circumstances have among us attracted a larger proportion of men of better nature into the walks of commerce, which is equally indefensible;-or else, that these superior virtues must arise out of the moral circumstances of our country, which render integrity more honourable, and the violations of it more fatal to character and interest, or in some other way check the opposite vicious practice.
There are two circumstances in the fact of the moral corruption of our kind, which are not to be lost sight of, in speaking on this subject. One is, that human depravity is specific. It is human, not diabolical depravity, except in its capabitities. Devils delight in evil, as it would seem from the Scriptures, simply as evil. Man is totally destitute of appetency for good, and is even at enmity with it, and with its Author, because both are opposed to his tastes and to his gratifications, and both enjoin duties at which his nature spurns. Evil seems to be chosen by us, not precisely, in the first instance, abstractedly, because it is evil, but notwithstanding that it is evil, and because it offers itself under the forms of pleasure, interest, or honour, “the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life." The approach to diabolical depravity, however, commences with the first instance of actual sin, and the deterioration runs on quickly, if not powerfully checked, to that awful point, “evil, be thou my good.” Ours is, therefore, a kind of depravity, capable of being checked in the act, even when it is not amended in the principle.
The second consideration to be taken into the account is, that though the fountain be wholly corrupt, yet it pours forth its most copious stream in different directions in different persons. There is a “sin which easily besets" every individual; and when religion itself has erected her mounds around the tide of evil, some one part is, in many instances, sa often broken through by the violence of the pressure, that it long remains the weakest and most dangerous point. Whether this arises, not from the presence of counteracting constitutional virtues, but from different degrees of constitutional vice, or from the circumstances of trial and temptation into which we are cast in this various state of things, from the arrangements of which, a thousand almost unconscious impulses, are made upon us daily, it may be difficult to determine. Our own opinion leans to the latter view; but the fact of this variety, both in our temptations and in our evil inclinations, cannot be disputed.
To these two specialities in the fallen nature of man, we must add a very important circumstance taken from the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is, the influence which his SPIRIT exerts upon the minds of men, according to the degree of authorized truth which exists among them. Now, by whatever names divines, led by their respective systems, have called this influence, whether special or common, or preventing and restraining, or saving grace, almost all have agreed that it is imparted ; and in this they are doubtless confirmed by the Holy Scriptures.
We collect these ideas, in order to make them bear upon the subject; and we think that it will appear that the moral varieties among unconverted men may be accounted for, without resorting to any such solvent as the constitutional and instinctive virtues mentioned by Dr. CHALMERS.
We have then before us a nature, in its progress, it is true, to that state of diabolical depravity in which evil is considered abstractedly as its good, but which, in the majority of men, has not reached that point. It is at enmity to positive good and to its Author; but sin is loved, not yet wholly in its naked and abstract form, but for the pleasure, the interest, the honour, which it imparts or promises. Let iis suppose, then, a case in which the pain of some sin, or some sinful habit, overbalances the pleasure,—the loss the profit,—the disgrace the honour,-and the sin may be renounced, but solely on the principle of selfishness, or from the influence which one vice has over another. Vou. XLIV. JULY, 1821.