Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

should excite them to voluptuousness, cruelty, strife, fraud, avarice, and to all the mean aims and indulgences of a selfish disposition.

Let not these illustrations -- which are adopted, to be sure, partly because they are fitted to unfold a moral character where no credit has usually been given for it, and because, too, they present at once universal and disinterested manifestations of human feeling_let not these illustrations, I say, be thought to furnish an unsatisfactory inference, because they are drawn from the lighter actions of the human mind. The feeling in all these cases is not superficial nor feeble; and the slighter the occasion that awakens it, the stronger is our argument. If the leisure and recreations of men yield such evidence of deep moral feeling, what are they not capable of when armed with lofty purposes and engaged in high duties? If the instrument yields such noble strains, though incoherent and intermitted, to the slightest touch, what might not be done if the hand of skill were laid upon it, to bring out all its sublime harmonies? Oh! that some powerful voice might speak to this inward nature-powerful as the story of heroic deeds, moving as the voice of song, arousing as the trumpet-call to honour and victory! My friends, if we are among those who are pursuing the sinful way,

let us be assured that we know not ourselves yet; we have not searched the depths of our nature; we have not communed with its deepest wants; we have not listened to its strongest and highest affections; if we had done all this, we could not abuse it as we do; nor could we neglect it as we do.

But it is time to pass from these instances of spontaneous and universal feeling to those cases in which such feeling, instead of being occasional and evanescent, is formed into a prevailing habit and a consistent and fixed character; to pass from good affections, transient, uncertain, and unworthily neglected, to good men, who are permanently such, and worthy to be called such. Our argument from this source is more confined, but it gains strength by its compression within a narrower compass.

I shall not be expected here to occupy the time with asserting or proving that there are good men in the world. It will be more important to reply to a single objection under this head, which would be fatal if it were just, and to point to some characteristics of human virtue, which prove its great and real worth. Let me, however, for a moment indulge myself in the simple assertion of what every mind, not entirely misanthropic, must feel to be true. I say, then, that there are good men in the world: there are good men everywhere. There are men who are good for goodness' sake. In obscurity, in retirement, , beneath the shadow of ten thousand dwellings, scarcely known to the world, and never asking to be known, there are good men. In adversity, in poverty, amidst temptations, amidst all the severity of earthly trials, there are good men, whose lives shed brightness upon the dark clouds that surround them. Be it true, if we must admit the sad truth, that many are wrong, and persist in being wrong; that many are false to every holy trust, and faithless towards every holy affection; that many are estranged from infinite goodness; that many are coldly selfish and meanly sensual—yes, cold and dead to everything tbat is not wrapped up in their own little earthly interest, or more darkly wrapped up in the veil of fleshly appetites. Be it so; but I thank God, that is not all that we are obliged to believe. No! there are true hearts amidst the throng of the false and the faithless. There are warm and generous hearts which the cold atmosphere of surrounding selfishness never chills; and eyes, unused to weep for personal sorrow, which often overflow with sympathy for the sorrows of others. Yes, there are good men, and true men: I thank them, I bless them for what they are: I thank them for what they are to me. What do I say-why do I utter my weak benediction? God from on high doth bless them, and he giveth his angels charge to keep them; and nowliere in the holy rocord are there words more precious or strong than those in which it is written that God loveth these righteous ones. Such men are there. Let not their precious virtues be distrusted. As surely and as evidently as some men lave obeyed the calls of ambition and pleasure, so surely, and so evidently, have other men obeyed the voice of conscience, and "chosen rather to suffer with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” Why, every meek man suffers in a conflict keener far than the contest for honour and applause. And there are such men, who, amidst injury, and insult, and misconstruction, and the pointed finger, and the scornful lip of pride, stand firm in their integrity and allegiance to a loftier principle, and still their throbbing hearts in prayer, and hush them to the gentle emotions of kindness and pity. Such witnesses there are even in this bad world; signs that a redeeming Fork is going forward amidst its mournful derelictions; proofs that it is not a world forsaken of heaven; pledges that it will not be forsaken; tokens that cheer and touch every good and thoughtful mind, beyond all other power of earth to penetrate and enkindle it.

I believe that what I have now said is a most legitimate argument for the worth of human nature. As a matter of fact, it will not be denied that such beings as I have represented, there are. And I now further maintain, and this is the most material point in the argument, that such men—that good men, in other words-are to be regarded as the rightful and legitimate representatives of human nature. Surely, not man's sins, but his virtues, not his failure, but his success, should teach us what to think of his nature. Just as we should look, for their real character, to the productions nourished by a favourable soil and climate, and not to the same plants or trees as they stand withered and stunted in a barren desert.

But here we are met with the objection before referred to. It is said that a man's virtues come from God; and his sins only from his own nature. And thus for this is the result of the objection from the estimate of what is human, all human excellence is at once cut off, by this fine discrimination of theological subtilty. Unreasonable as this seems to me-if the objector will forget his theology for one moment I will answer it. I say, then, that the influence of the good spirit of God does not destroy our natural powers, but guides them into a right direction; that it does not create anything unnatural, surely, nor supernatural in man, but what is suitable to his nature; that, in fine, his virtues are as truly the voluntary putting forth of his native powers as his sins are. Else would his virtues have no worth. Human nature, in short, is the noble stock on which these virtues grow. With heaven's rain, and sunshine, and genial influence, do you say? Be it so; still they are no less human, and show the stock from

a

which they spring. When you look over a grain-field, and see some parts more luxuriant than others, do you say that they are of a different nature from the rest? And when you look’abroad upon the world, do you think it right to take Tartars and Hottentots as specimens of the race? And why, then, shall you regard the worst of men, rather than the best, as samples of human nature and capability?

The way, then, is open for us to claim for human nature-however that nature is breathed upon by heavenly influences - to claim for human nature all the excellent fruits that havo sprung from it. And they are not few; they are not small; they are not contemptible.

They have cost too much if there were no other consideration to give them value--they have cost too much to be thus estimated.

The true idea of human nature is not that it passively and spontaneously produces its destined results; but that, placed in a fearful contest between good and evil, it is capable of glorious exertions and attainments. Human virtue is the result of effort and patience, in circumstances that most severely try it. Human excellence is much of it gained at the expense of self-denial. All the wisdom and worth in the world, are a struggle with ignorance, and infirmity, and temptation; often with sickness and pain. There is not an admirable character presented before you, but it has cost years and years of toil, and watching, and self-government, to form it. You see the victor, but you forget the battle. And you forget it, for a reason that exalts and ennobles the fortitude and courage of the combatant. You forget it, because the conflict has been carried on, all silently, in his own bosom. You forget it, because no sound has gone forth, and no wreath of fame has awaited the conqueror.

And what has he gained ?—to refer to but one more of the many views that might be urged—what has he gained? I answer, what is worth too much to be slightly estimated. The catalogue of human virtues is not brief nor dull

. What glowing words do we involuntarily put into that record ? with what feelings do we hallow it? The charm of youthful excellence; the strong integrity of manhood; the venerable piety of age; unsullied honour; unswerving truth; fidelity; magnanimity; self-sacrifice; martyrdom, ay, and the spirit of martyrdom in many a form of virtue; sacred friendship, with its disinterested toil, ready to die for those it loves; noble patriotism, slain in its high places, beautiful in death; holy philanthropy, that pours out its treasure and its life ;—dear and blessed virtues of humanity! (we are ready to exclaim)—what human heart does not cherish you?-bright cloud that hath passed on with “ the sacramental host of God's elect,” through ages! how dark and desolate but for you would be this world's history!

My friends, I have spoken of the reality and worth of virtue, and I have spoken of it as a part of human nature, not surely to awaken a feeling of pride, but to lead you and myself to an earnest aspiration after that excellence which embraces the chief welfare and glory of our nature. A cold disdain of our species, an indulgence of sarcasm, a feeling that is always ready to distrust and disparage every indication of virtuous principle, or an utter despair of the moral fortunes of our race, will not help the purpose in view, but must have a powerful tendency to hinder its accomplishment.

Unhappy is it that any are left, by any possibility, to doubt the virtues of their kind! Let us do something to wipe away from the history of human life that fatal reproach. Let us make that best of contributions to the stock of human happiness, an example of goodness that shall disarm such gloomy and chilling scepticism, and win men's hearts to virtue. I have received many benefits from my fellow-beings; but no gift in their power to bestow can ever impart such a pure and thrilling delight as one bright action, one lovely virtue, one character that shines with all the enrapturing beauty of goodness.

Who would not desire to confer such benefits on the world as these? Who would not desire to leave such memorials behind him? Such memorials have been left on earth; the virtues of the departed, but for ever dear, hallow and bless many of our dwellings, and call forth tears that lose half their bitterness in gratitude and admiration. Yes, there are such legacies, and there are those on earth who have inherited them. Yes, there are men, poor men, whose parents have left them a legacy in their bare memory that they would not exchange—no, they would not exchange it, for boundless wealth. Let it be our care to bequeath to society and to the world blessings like these. memorial of virtue,” saith the wisdom of Solomon, “is immortal. When it is present, men take example from it; and when it is gone, they desire it; it weareth a crown, and triumpheth for ever.”

ON THE WRONG WHICH SIN DOES

TO HUMAN NATURE.

PROVERBS viii. 36: “He that sinneth against me, wrongeth his own soul.”

This is represented as the language of wisdom. The attribute of wisdom is personified throughout the chapter; and it closes its instructions with the declaration of our text: “He that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul.” The theme, then, which, in these words, is obviously presented for our meditation, is the wrong which the sinner does to himself, to his nature, to his own soul.

He does a wrong, indeed, to others. He does them, it may be, deep and heinous injury. The moral offender injures society, and injures it in the most vital part. Sin is, to all the dearest interests of society, a desolating power. It spreads misery through the world. It brings that misery into the daily lot of millions. Yes, the violence of anger, the exactions of selfishness, the corrodings of envy, the coldness of distrust, the contests of pride, the excesses of passion, the indulgences of sense, carry desolation into the very bosom of domestic life; and the crushed and bleeding hearts of friends and kindred, or of a larger circle of tho suffering and oppressed, are everywhere witnesses, at once, and victims, of the mournful prevalence of this great evil.

But all the injury, great and terrible as it is, which the sinner does or can inflict upon others, is not equal to the injury that he inflicts upon himself. The evil that he does is, in almost all cases, the greater, the nearer it comes to himself; greater to his friends than to society at large; greater to his family than to his friends; and so it is greater to himself than it is to any other. Yes, it is in his own nature, whose glorious traits are dimmed and almost blotted out, whose pleading remonstrances are sternly disregarded, whose immortal hopes are rudely stricken down-it is in his own nature that he does a work so dark and mournful, and so fearful, that he ought to shudder and weep to think of it.

Does any one say " he is glad that it is so; glad that it is himself he injures most”? What a feeling, my brethren, of disinterested justice is that! How truly may it be said, that there is something good even in bad men. Yes, doubtless, there are those who in their remorse at an evil deed would be glad if all the injury and suffering could be their own. I rejoice in that testimony. But does that feeling make it any less true,- does not that feeling make it more true, that such a nature is wronged by base and selfish passions? Or, because it is a man's self, because it is his own soul that he has most

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »