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Of what, again, is the miser, and of what is every inordinately covetous man, guilty? Conversant as he may be with every species of trade and traffic, there is one kind of barter coming yet nearer to his interest, but of which, perchance, he has never thought. He barters virtue for gain. That is the stupendous moral traffic in which he is engaged. The very attributes of the mind are made a part of the stock in the awful trade of avarice. And if its account-book were to stato truly the whole of every transaction, it would often stand thus :
Gained, my hundreds or my thousands; lost, the rectitude and peace of my conscience:” “Gained, a great bargain, driven hard; lost, in the same proportion, the generosity and kindness of my affections."
Credit”- and what strife is there for that ultimate item, for that final record?—“Credit, by an immense fortune;” but on the opposing page, the last page of that moral, as truly as mercantile, account, I read these words, written not in golden capitals, but in letters of fire"a lost soul!”
Oh, my brethren! it is a pitiable desecration of such a nature as ours to give it up to the world. Some baser thing might have been given without regret; but to bow down reason and conscience, to bind them to the clods of earth, to contract those faculties that spread themselves out beyond the world, even to infinity—to contract them to worldly trifles—it is pitiable; it is something to mourn and to weep over. He who sits down in a dungeon which another has made, has not such cause to bewail bimself as he who sits down in the dungeon which he has thus made for himself. Poverty and destitution are sad things; but there is no such poverty, there is no such destitution as that of a covetous and worldly heart. Poverty is a sad thing; but there is no man so poor as he who is poor in his affections and virtues. Many a house is full, where the mind is unfurnished and the heart is empty; and no hovel of mere penury ever ought to be so sad as that house. Behold, it is left desolate— to the immortal it is left desolate, as the chambers of death. Death is there indeed; and it is the death of the soul!
But not to dwell longer upon particular forms of evil —of what, let us ask, is the man guilty? Who is it that is thus guilty? To say that he is noble in his nature has been sometimes thought a dangerous laxity of doctrine, a proud assumption of merit, “a flattering unction” laid to the soul. But what kind of flattery is it to say to a man, ". you were made but little lower than the angels; you might have been rising to the state of angels, and you have made-- what have you made yourself? what you are—a slave to the world—a slave to sense slave to masters baser than pature made them to vitiated sense, and a corrupt and vain world!" Alas! the irony implied in such flattery as this is not needed to add poignancy to conviction. Boundless capacities shrunk to worse than infantile imbecility! immortal faculties made toilers for the vanities of a moment! a glorious nature sunk to a willing fellowship with evil-alas! it needs no exaggeration, but only simple statement, to make this a sad and afflicting case. lll enough had it been for us if we had been made a depraved and degraded race; well might the world even then have sat down in sackcloth and sorrow, though repentance could properly have made no part of its sorrow. But ill is it indeed, if we have made ourselves the sinful and unhappy beings that we are; if we have given ourselves the wounds which have brought languishment, and debility, and distress upon us? What keen regret and remorse would any one of us feel, if in a fit of passion he had destroyed his own right arm, or had implanted in it a lingering wound? And yet this, and this last especially, is what every offender does to some faculty of his nature.
But this is not all. Ill enough had it been for us if we had wrought out evil from nothing-if, from a nature negative and indifferent to the result, we had brought forth the fruits of guilt and misery. But if we have wronged, if we have wrested from its true bias, a nature made for heavenly ends; if it was all beautiful in God's design and in our capacity, and we have made it all base, so that human nature, alas! is but the by-word of the satirist, and a mark for the scorner; if affections that might have been sweet and pure almost as the thoughts of angels, have been soured, and embittered, and turned to wrath, even in the homes of human kindness; if the very senses have been brutalized, and degraded, and changed from ministers of pleasure to inflicters of pain ; and yet more, if all the dread authority of reason has been denied, and all the sublime sanctity of conscience has been set at naught in this downward course; and yet once more, if all these things — not chimerical, not visionary—are actually witnessed, are matters of history in ten thousand dwellings around us, -ah! if they are actually existing, my brethren, in you and in me;—and, finally, if uniting together, these causes of depravation have spread a flood of misery over the world; and there are sorrows, and sighings, and tears in all the habitations of men, all proceeding from this one cause; then, I say, shall penitence be thought a strange and uncalled-for emotion? Shall it be thought strange that the first great demand of the gospel should be for repen. tance? Shall it be thought strange that a man should sit down and weep bitterly for his sins—so strange that his acquaintances shall ask, “what hath he done?" or shall conclude that he is going mad with fanaticism, or is on the point of losing his reason? No, truly; the dread infatuation is on the part of those who weep not! It is the negligent world that is fanatical and frantic, in the pursuit of unholy indulgences and unsatisfying pleasures. It is such a world refusing to weep over its sins and miseries that is fatally deranged. Repentance, my brethren! shall it be thought a virtue difficult of exercise? What can the world sorrow for, if not for the cause of all sorrow? What is to awaken grief, if not guilt and shame? Where shall the human heart pour out its tears, if not on those desolations which have been of its own creating?
How fitly is it written, and in language none too strong, that "the sacrifices of God are a broken and contrite heart.” And how encouragingly is it written also_" a broken and contrite heart thou wilt not despise. “Oh, Israel!" saith again the sacred word, “Oh, Israel! thou bast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help found.”
ON THE ADAPTATION WHICH RELIGION,
TO BE TRUE AND USEFUL,
SHOULD HAVE TO HUMAN NATURE.
Isaian xlii. 3: “A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall
he not quench.”
This was spoken by prophecy of our Saviour, and is commonly considered as one of the many passages which either profigure or describe the considerate and gracious adaptation of his religion to the wants and weaknesses of human nature. This adaptation of Christianity to the wants of the mind, is, indeed, a topic that has been much and very justly insisted on as an evidence of its truth.
I wish, however, in the present discourse, to place this subject before you in a light somewhat different, perhaps, from that in which it has usually been viewed. If Christianity is suited to the wants of our nature, it is proper to consider what our nature needs. I shall therefore, in the following discourse, give considerable prominence to this inquiry. The wants of our nature are various. I shall undertako to show in several respects what a religion that is adapted to these wants should be. In the same connexion I shall undertake to show that Christianity is such a religion.
This course of inquiry, I believe, will elicit some just views of religious truth, and will enable us to judge whether our own views of it are just. My object in it is to present some temperate and comprehensive views of religion, which shall be seen at once to meet the necessities of our nature, and to accord with the spirit of the Christian religion.
Nothing, it would seem, could be more obvious than that a religion for human beings should be suited to human beings; not to angels, nor to demons; not to a fictitious order of creatures; not to the inhabitants of some other world; but to men—to men of this world, of this state and situation in which we are placed, of this nature which is given us,to men, with all their passions and affections warm and alive, and all their weaknesses, and wants and fears about them. And yet, evident and reasonable as all this is, nothing has been more common than for religion to fail of this very adaptation. Sometimes it has been made a quality all softness, all mercy and gentleness—something joyous and cheering, light and easy, as if it were designed for angels. At others it has been clothed with features as dark and malignant as if it belonged to fiends rather than to men. In no remote period it has laid penances on men, as if their sinews and nerves were like the mails of steel which they wore in those days: while the same religion, with strange inconsistency, lifted up the reins to their passions, as if it had been the age of stoicism, instead of being the age of chivalry. Alas! how little has there been in the religions of past ages—how little in the prevalent forms even of the Christian religion—to draw out, to expand, and brighten the noble faculties of our nature! How many of the beautiful fruits of human affection have withered away under the cold and blighting touch of a scholastic and stern theology! How many fountains of joy in the human heart have been sealed and closed up for ever by the iron hand of a gloomy superstition! How many bright spirits—how many comely and noble natures—have been marred and crushed by the artificial, the crude, and rough dealing of religious frenzy and fanaticism!
It is suitable, then-it is expedient—to consider the adaptation which religion, to be true and useful, ought to have to human nature. It may serve to correct errors. It may serve to guide those who are asking what ideas of religion they are to entertain; what sentiments they are to embrace; what conduct to pursue.
In entering upon this subject, let me offer one leading observation, and afterwards proceed to some particulars.
I. I say, then, in the first place, that religion should be adapted to our whole nature. It should remember that we have understandings ; and it should be a rational religion. It should remember that we havo feelings; and it should be an earnest and fervent religion. It should remember that our feelings revolt at violence, and are all alive to tenderness; and it should be gentle, ready to entreat, and full of mercy. It should remember too that our feelings naturally lean to self-indulgence, and it should be, in its gentleness, strict and solemn. It should, in a due proportion, address all our faculties.
Most of the erroneous forms of religious sentiment that prevail in the Christian world, have arisen from the predominance that has been given to some one part of our nature in the matters of spiritual concernment. Some religions have been all speculation, all doctrine, all theology; and, as you might expect, they have been cold, barren, and dead. Others have been all feeling, and have become visionary, wild, and extravagant. Some have been all sentiment, and have wanted practical virtue. Others have been all practice; their advocates have been exclaiming “works! works! these are the evidence and test of all goodness.” And so, with certain exceptions and qualifications, they are. But this substantial character of religion, this hold which it really has upon all the active principles of our nature, has been so much, bo exclusively contended for, that religion has too often degenerated into a mere superficial, decent morality.
Religion, then, let it be repeated, if it be true and just, addresses our whole nature. It addressos the active and the contemplative in us
- reason and imagination, thought and feeling. It is experience; but it is conduct too: it is high meditation; but then it is also humble virtue. It is excitement, it is earnestness; but no less truly is it calmness. Let me dwell upon this last point a moment. It is not uncommon to hear it said that excitement is a very bad thing, and that true religion is calm. And yet it would seem as if, by others, repose was regarded as deadly to the soul, and as if the only safety lay in a tremendous agitation. Now what saith our nature—for the being that is the very subject of this varying discipline may surely be allowed to speak—what saith our nature to these different advisers? It says, I think, that both are, to a certain extent, wrong, and both, to a certain extent, right. That is to say, human nature requires, in their due proportion, both excitement and tranquillity. Our minds need a complex and blended influence; need to be at once aroused and chastened, to be at the same time quickened and subdued; need to be impelled, and yet guided; need to be humbled, no doubt, and that deeply, but not that only, as it seems to be commonly thought-humbled, I say, and yet supported; need to be bowed down in humility, and yet strengthened in trust; need to be nerved to endurance at one time, and, at another, to be transported with joy. Let religion—let the reasonable and gracious doctrines of Jesus Christ—come to us with these adaptations; generous, to expand our affections; strict, to restrain our passions; plastic, to mould our temper; strong, ay, strong to control our will. Let religion be thus welcomed to every true principle and passion of our nature. Let it touch all the springs of intellectual and of moral life. Let it penetrate to every hidden recess of the soul, and bring forth all its powers, and enlighten, inspire, perfect them.
I hardly need say, that the Christian religion is thus adapted to our whole nature. Its evidences address themselves to our sober judgment. Its precepts commend themselves to our consciences. It imparts light to our understandings, and fervour to our affections. It speaks gently to our repentance; but terribly to our disobedience. It really does that for us which religion should do. It does arouse and chasten, quicken and subdue, impel and guide, humble and yet support: it arms us with fortitude, and it transports us with joy. It is profitable for the life that now is, and for that which is to come.
II. But I must pass now, to observe that there are more particular adaptations which religion should have, and which the gospel actually has, to the condition of human nature, and to the various degrees of its improvement.
One of the circumstances of our moral condition is danger. Religion, then, should be a guardian, and a vigilant guardian; and let us be assured that the gospel is such. Such emphatically do we read. If we cannot bear a religion that admonishes us, watches over us, warus us, restrains us, let us be assured that we cannot bear a religion that will save us. Religion should be the keeper of the soul; and without such a keeper, in the slow and undermining process of temptation, or amidst the sudden and strong assaults of passion, it will be overcome and lost.
Again, the human condition is one of weakness. There are weak points where religion should be stationed to support and strengthen us. Points, did I say? Are we not encompassed with weakness? Where, in the ole circle of our spiritual interests and affections, are we not exposed and vulnerable ? Where have we not need to set up the barriers of habit, and to build the strongest defences with which resolutions and vows and prayers can surround us? Where, and wherein, I ask again, is any man safe? What virtue of any man is secure from