« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
instance, we recognize, I repeat, the nobility of his nature; and when we say that his offence is a degradation, we imply a certain distinction. And so to do wrong, implies a noble power-the very power which constitutes the glory of heaven-the power to do right. And thus it is, as I apprehend, that the inspired teachers speak of the wickedness. and unworthiness of man. They seem to do it under a sense of his better capacities and higher distinction. They speak as if he had wronged himself. And when they use the words ruin and perdition, they announce, in affecting terms, the worth of that which is reprobate and lost. Paul, when speaking of his transgressions, says, "not I, but the sin that dwelleth in me. There was a better nature in him, that resisted evil, though it did not always successfully resist. And we read of the prodigal son, in terms which have always seemed to me of the most affecting import-that when he came to the sense of his duty, he came to himself." Yes, the sinner is beside himself; and there is no peace, no reconciliation of his conduct to his nature, till he returns from his evil ways. Shall we not say, then, that his nature demands virtue and rectitude to satisfy it?
True it is, and I would not be one to weaken nor obscure the truth, that man is sinful; but he is not satisfied with sinning. Not his conscience only, but his wants, his natural affections, are not satisfied. He pays deep penalties for his transgressions. And these sufferings proclaim a higher nature. The pain, the disappointment, the dissatisfaction, that wait on an evil course, show that the human soul was not made to be the instrument of sin, but its lofty avenger. The desolated affections, the haggard countenance, the pallid and sunken cheek, the sighings of grief, proclaim that these are ruins indeed; but they proclaim that something noble has fallen into ruin-proclaim it by signs mournful, yet venerable, like the desolations of an ancient temple, like its broken walls and falling columns, and the hollow sounds of decay that sink down heavily among its deserted recesses.
The sinner, I repeat it, is a sufferer. He seeks happiness in low and unworthy objects-that is his sin: but he does not find it thereand that is his glory. No, he does not find it there: he returns disappointed and melancholy, and there is nothing on earth so eloquent as his grief. Read it in the pages of a Byron and a Burns. There is nothing in literature so touching as these lamentations of noble but erring natures, in the vain quest of a happiness which sin and the world can never give. The sinner is often dazzled by earthly fortune and pomp, but it is in the very midst of these things, that he sometimes most feels their emptiness; that his higher nature most feels that it is solitary and unsatisfied. It is in the giddy whirl of frivolous pursuits and amusements that his soul oftentimes is sick and weary with trifles and vanities: that "he says of laughter, it is mad; and of mirth, what doeth it?"
And yet it is not bare disappointment, nor the mere destitution of happiness caused by sin,-it is not these alone that give testimony to a better nature. There is a higher power that bears sway in the human heart. It is remorse-sacred, uncompromising remorse, that will hear of no selfish calculations of pain and pleasure; that demands to suffer; that, of all sacrifices on earth, save those of benevolence, brings the only willing victim. What lofty revenge does the abused soul thus
take for its offences: never, no, never, in all its anger, punishing another, as, in its justice, it punishes itself!
Such, then, are the attributes that still dwell in the dark grandeur of the soul; the beams of original light, of which amidst its thickest darkness it is never shorn. That in which all the nobleness of earth resides, should not be condemned even, but with awe and trembling. It is our treasure; and if this is lost, all is lost. Let us take care, then, that we be not unjust. Man is not an angel; but neither is he a demon, nor a brute. The evil he does is not committed with brutish insensibility, nor with diabolical satisfaction. And the evil, too, is often disguised under forms that do not, at once, permit him to see its real character. His affections become wrong by excess; passions bewilder; semblances delude; interests ensnare; example corrupts. And yet no tyrant over men's thoughts, no unworthy seeker of their adulation, no pander for their guilty pleasures, could ever make the human heart what he would. And in making it what he has, he has often found that he had to work with stubborn materials. No perseverence of endeavour, nor devices of ingenuity, nor depths of artifice, have ever equalled those which are sometimes employed to corrupt the heart from its youthful simplicity and uprightness.
In endeavouring to state the views which are to be entertained of human nature, I have, at present, and before I reverse the picture, but one further observation to make: and that is on the spirit and tone with which it is to be viewed and spoken of. I have wished, even in speaking of its faults, to awaken a feeling of reverence and regret for it, such as would arise within us, on beholding a noble but mutilated statue, or the work of some divine architect in ruins, or some majestic object in nature, which had been marred by the rending of this world's elements and changes. Above all other objects, surely human nature deserves to be regarded with these sentiments. The ordinary tone of conversation in allusion to this subject, the sneering remark on mankind, as a set of poor and miserable creatures, the cold and bitter severity, whether of philosophic scorn or theological rancour, become no being; least of all, him who has part in this common nature. He, at least, should speak with consideration and tenderness. And if he must speak of faults and sins, he would do well to imitate an Apostle, and to tell these things, even weeping. His tone should be that of forbearance and pity. His words should be recorded in a book of Lameutations. How is the gold become dim," he might exclaim in the words of an ancient lamentation,-"how is the gold become dim, and the most fine gold changed! The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed but as earthen vessels, the work of the hands of the potter!"
ON HUMAN NATURE.
PSALM viii. 5: "For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour."
I HAVE endeavoured, in my last discourse, to show that the very objections which are usually brought against human nature, imply, in the very fact, in the very spirit and tone of them, the strongest concessions to its worth. I shall now proceed to the direct argument in its favour. It is the constitutional worth of human nature that we have thus far considered, rather than its moral worth or absolute virtuc. We havo considered the indignant reproaches against its sin and debasement, whether of the philosopher or the theologian, as evidence of their own conviction, that it was made for something better. We have considered that moral constitution of human nature, by which it was evidently made not to be the slave of sin, but its conqueror.
Let us now proceed to take some account of its moral traits and acquisitions. I say its moral traits and acquisitions: for there are feelings of the human mind, which scarcely rise to the character of acquisitions, which are involuntary impulses; and yet which possess a nature as truly moral, though not in as high a degree, as any voluntary acts of virtue. Such is the simple, natural love of excellence. It bears the same relation to moral effort as spontaneous reason does to reflection or logical effort: and what is spontaneous, in both cases, is the very foundation of the acquisitions that follow. Thus, the involuntary perception of a few axioms lies at the foundation of mathematical science; and so from certain spontaneous impressions of truth springs all knowledge; and in the same manner, our spontaneous moral impressions are the germs of the highest moral efforts.
Of these spontaneous impressions I am to speak in the first place, and then to produce in favour of human nature the testimony of its higher and more confirmed virtues.
But I am not willing to enter upon this theme without first offering a remark or two, to prevent any misconception of the purpose for which I again bring forward this discussion. It is not to bring to the altar at which I minister, an oblation of flattery to my fellow-worshippers. It is not to make any man feel his moral dangers to be less, or to make him easier in reference to that solemn spiritual trust that is committed to his nature; but the very contrary. It is not to make him think less of his sins, but more. It is not, in fine, to build up any one theological dogma, or to beat down another.
My view of the subject, if I may state it without presumption, is this that there is a treasure in human nature of which most men are
not conscious, and with which none are yet fully acquainted! If you had met in a retired part of the country with some rustic youth, who bore in his character the indications of a most sublime genius, and if you saw that he was ignorant of it, and that those around him were ignorant of it, you would look upon him with extreme, with enthusiastic interest, and you would be anxious to bring him into the light, and to rear him up to his proper sphere of distinction. This, may I be permitted to say, illustrates the view which I take of human nature. I believe that there is something in every man's heart upon which he ought to look as a found treasure; something upon which he ought to look with awe and wonder; something which should make him tremble when he thinks of sacrificing it to sin; something, also, to encourage and cheer him in every endeavour after virtue and purity. Far be it from me to say that that something is confirmed goodness, or is the degree of goodness which is necessary to make him happy here or hereafter; or, that it is something to rest upon, or to rely upon, in the anticipation of God's judgment. Still I believe that he who says there is nothing good in him, no foundation, no feeling of goodness, says what is not true, what is not just to himself, what is not just to his Maker's beneficence.
I will refer now to those moral traits, to those involuntary moral impressions, of which I have already spoken.
Instances of this nature might undoubtedly be drawn from every department of social life; from social kindness, from friendship, from parental and filial love, from the feelings of spontaneous generosity, pity, and admiration, which every day kindles into life and warmth around us. But since these feelings are often alleged to be of a doubtful character, and are so, indeed, to a certain extent, since they are often mixed up with interested considerations which lessen their weight in this argument, I am about to appeal to cases, which, though they are not often brought into the pulpit, will appear to you, I trust, to be excused, if not justified, by the circumstance that they are altogether apposite cases; cases, that is to say, of disinterested feeling.
The world is inundated in this age with a perfect deluge of fictitious productions. I look, indeed, upon the exclusive reading of such works, in which too many employ their leisure time, as having a very bad and dangerous tendency: but this is not to my purpose at present. I only refer now to the well-known extent and fascination of this kind of reading, for the purpose of putting a single question. I ask, what is the moral character of these productions? Not high enough, certainly; but then I ask still more specifically, whether the preference is given to virtue or to vice, in these books, and to which of them the feelings of the reader generally lean? Can there be one moment's doubt? Is not virtue usually held up to admiration, and are not the feelings universally enlisted in its favour? Must not the character of the leading personage in the story, to satisfy the public taste, be good, and is not his career pursued with intense interest to the end? Now, reverse the case. Suppose his character to be bad. Suppose him ungenerous, avaricious, sensual, debased. Would he then be admired? Would he then enlist the sympathies even of the most frivolous reader? It is unnecessary to answer the question. Here, then, is a right and virtuous feeling at work in the community: and it is a perfectly disinterested feeling.
Here, I say, is a right and virtuous feeling, beating through the whole heart of society. Why should any one say it is not a feeling: that it is conscience; that it is mere approbation? It is a feeling, if anything is. There is intense interest, there are tears, to testify that it is a feeling.
If, then, I put such a book into the hands of any reader, and if he feels this, let him not tell me that there is nothing good in him. There may not be goodness, fixed, habitual goodness in him; but there is something good, out of which goodness may grow.
Of the same character are the most favourite popular songs and ballads. The chosen themes of these compositions are patriotism, generosity, pity, love. Now it is known that nothing sinks more deeply into the heart of nations, and yet these are their themes. Let me make the ballads of a people, some one has said, and let who will make their laws; and yet he must construct them on these principles; he must compose them in praise of patriotism, honour, fidelity, generous sympathy, and pure love. I say, pure love. Let the passion be made a base one; let it be capricious, mercenary, or sensual, and it instantly loses the public sympathy: the song would be instantly hissed from the stage of the vilest theatre that ever was opened. No, it must be truehearted affection, holding its faith and fealty bright and unsoiled amidst change of fortunes, amidst poverty, and disaster, and separation, and reproach. The popular taste will hardly allow the affection to be as prudent as it ought to be. And when I listen to one of these popular ballads or songs, that tells-it may be not in the best taste-but which tells the thrilling tale of high, disinterested, magnanimous fidelity to the sentiments of the heart; that tells of pure and faithful affection, which no cold looks can chill, which no storms of misfortune can quench, which prefers simple merit to all worldly splendour; when I observe this, I say, I see a noble feeling at work; and that which many will pronounce to be silly, through a certain shamefacedness about their own sensibility, I regard as respectable and honourable to human nature.
Now I say again, as I said before, let these popular compositions set forth the beauties of vice; let them celebrate meanness, parsimony, fraud, or cowardice, and would they dwell, as they now do, in the habitations, and in the hearts, and upon the lips of whole nations? What a disinterested testimony is this to the charms of virtue! What evidence that men feel those charms, though they may not be won by them to virtuous lives! The national songs of a people do not embrace cold sentiments: they are not sung or heard with cold approbation. They fire the breasts of millions; they draw tears from the eyes of ten thousand circles, that are gathered in the homes of human affection.
And the power of music, too, as a separate thing-the power of simple melody I mean-lies very much, as it seems to me, in the sentiments and affections it awakens. There is a pleasure to the ear, doubtless; but there is a pleasure, also, to the heart; and this is the greater pleasure. But what kind of pleasure is it? Does that melody which addresses the universal mind appeal to vile and base passions? Is not the state into which it naturally throws almost every mind, favourable to gentle and kind emotions, to lofty efforts and heroic sacrifices? But if the human heart possessed no high nor holy feelings, if it were entirely alien to them, then the music which excites them,