« السابقةمتابعة »
of contemplation, and the calm of inaction; and all the passions and all the faculties of the human mind were trained up to constant and immitigable activity:
There are sources of sin, also, to be found in the exercise of all our intellectual faculties. We may abuse the noble powers of imagination, memory, and reason itself. The regulation of our thoughts is one of the first and highest tasks of virtue, and the neglect of it is the primary source of all transgression. The law of association, by which we explain the phenomena of habit, may, as it is watched over, or neglected, establish the foundation of our virtues, or rivet the chains of our vices.
In short, my brethren, there is nothing in our nature, animal or intellectual, however useful and indispensable, however fitted and designed originally for good, but what by our neglect and abuse of it, may be converted into evil. There is a necessity imposed on us for perpetual vigilance. Whether we eat or drink, whether we think or feel, or desire, whether we are in motion or at rest, whether engaged in exertion or contemplation, it is necessary that reason and conscience should not sleep, that watchfulness and prayer should not cease; and when we think that we stand most safely, let us most carefully take heed lest we fall.
This very hasty and imperfect survey of some of those principal facts and laws in our moral con
stitution from which the sources of sin arise, may lead us to some general conclusions.
It would have appeared clearly, if I had been able to do justice to so extensive and difficult a subject, that there is no active principle of our nature, which is originally bad or vicious in itself ; not one, which we could lose without losing with it a capacity for virtue, as well as a source of sin; not one which is not implanted for a beneficent end; not one, which if its true end is regarded, will not lead us primarily and directly to what is right, and only secondarily, and by its excess or abuse, to what is wrong. Our propensities are all originally directed towards good ends, and it is our own fault if we seek those ends by criminal means.
On the other hand, it is equally clear, that in some of the parts of our nature there is a tendency, and in all a liability, to alteration and change, to infirmity and decay, to extravagance and excess. There is not one faculty we possess, that is not capable of being converted to an instrument of sin; not one, over which it is not necessary for us to place a constant guard.
Our moral nature may be compared to a machine composed of many parts, not one of which is not useful, not one indeed, which is not indispensable. Still it is evident, that however useful every part of such a machine may originally be, if any one is suffered to be out of order, is either too feeble or too powerful in its action, or is in any way, or in any degree deranged, the whole system
must be in that same degree disturbed. In order that the operation of this machine should be
perfect, it is necessary that all the parts should be kept in order, each occupying its proper place, each with its due proportion of power; and that the mutual relation, the perfect balance, the harmonious adjustment of all its parts, should be always preserved.
This comparison would, I think, approach in some respects to a description of human nature in its actual state, if we should suppose this machine to resemble a clock, which however excellent in all its parts, is continually tending to run down, requires a stated superintendence and watchfulness, and if long neglected will infallibly be deranged.
It is implied in this view of human nature, that its perfection would consist, not in extirpating or changing a single faculty, desire, affection, passion, or original tendency of our constitution, but in directing them to their proper objects, in restraining them within their proper limits, preserving their due balance, and keeping them all in proper
subordination to the supreme authority of conscience.
It is implied also in what has been said, that to do all this is an effort, a great, a perpetual effort, in which we need all the strength that God has given us, and the gracious aids of his Holy Spirit. To say, however, of our nature in this way, that virtue is to us an effort, and vice a propensity, is saying no more, after all, than that there is an analogy in all the works of God. What good of any kind is
there in this world, which does not cost us toil, or which
may not be corrupted or forfeited by neglect or abuse ? Will the fields yield their fruit, if they are not tilled with unceasing care? Or will not thorns and thistles spring up, if they are left without cultivation, and spring up the faster and ranker, the richer and better the soil ? Why then should we expect that it should be otherwise with the goods of the mind ? Why should we suppose that we should be made virtuous by a miracle, any more than that we should be made wise by one? Or why should we expect that for the soul, which we acknowledge it would be madness to expect for the body ? No; it is decreed that all which we enjoy and possess in life should be an acquisition, and not an inheritance. If you ask why this is not otherwise ? I answer, you will know, when you are admitted to penetrate the counsels of omniscient and inscrutable wisdom.
The observations which have been hazarded on the moral nature of man, are intended, I hope, for a far more serious
than the gratification of curiosity. I think them of great practical moment as they respect our views of the character of God, and as they tend to point out to us the true grounds of christian humility and repentance.
There is no mere opinion ever seriously entertained by a sensible man, which seems to me so unscriptural, so revolting, so dangerous if pursued to its practical consequences, as that which makes the Deity the author of sin. I know that there have been good men, who have reconciled their minds to it. There is nothing to which a man, who is thoroughly a metaphysician, may not reconcile himself. While, too, the sentiment is wrapt up in mysterious talk about the decrees of God, and encompassed with subtle but slender distinctions between moral and physical necessity, it may be saved from being very mischievous by being very unintelligible. But as a principle to be understood and disseminated among people in the ordinary state of their minds, I can imagine nothing more effectual to prostrate all just ideas of the divine character, and destroy all motives to virtuous effort. I have deemed it important, therefore, to show as distinctly as I could, by an examination of all the leading facts and laws of our moral constitution, that our nature, as it comes from the hand of God, is worthy of its Maker, and that we alone are responsible for our sins. If we believe our nature to be bad in itself, let us explain it how we will, it is impossible not to feel that He who made it so is answerable for its defects.
6 But we ought to be cautious,” says the admirable Bishop Butler, “ we ought to be cautious how we charge God foolishly. We ought to take care how we ascribe that to Him, or to the nature he has given us, which is owing wholly to our own abuse of that nature. Men may speak of the degeneracy and corruption of the world, according to the experi