« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
Ther. What you call evil propensities I am apt to think are not really sinful, but appointed for the trial of our virtue; nay, since they are confessedly natural, they cannot be in themselves evil; because upon this supposition, God, who is the author of our nature, would be the author also of our sin.
Asp. Then you imagine that propensities to evil are void of guilt: this is the popish notion, but neither the Mosaic nor the apostolic doctrine. In the law of Moses it is written, Thou shalt not covet.'* The divine Legislator prohibits, not only the iniquitous practice, but the evil desire. The apostle gives it in charge to the Colossians,' mortify your members which are upon the earth, fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, and' which is the source of all,' evil concupiscence.'+ Now, can that be free from guilt which we are commanded to mortify, which, if not mortified, denominates us children of disobedience, and subjects us to the wrath of God?
Though these propensities are confessedly natural, they may be evil notwithstanding. The sacred writers oppose what is natural to what is spiritual, Instead of commending it as innocent, they condemn it as foolish, base,|| and criminal. Neither does this make the Au. thor of our nature the author of our sin: but it proves that our nature has sustained a deplorable loss; that it is quite different from its original state ; that what is spoken of the Israelitish people is applicable to the hu. man race ; 'I planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine ?"**
However, let us puserve your proposal : dwell no longer on general hints, but descend to a particular examination. As our examination will chiefly respect the soul, let me inquire, What are her principal faculties?
Ther. The understanding, the will, and the affections. These are the most distinguishing powers which that queen of the human economy retains in her service: these, like the several distributions of some ample * Exod. xx. 17:
+ Col. iii. 5.
t Col. iii. 6. $ 1 Cor. ii. 14. || 2 Pet. ii. 12. Eph. ii. 3.
** Jer, ii. 21
river, run through the whole man, to quicken, fertilize, and enrich all his conversation; but you represent them bitter as the waters of Marah, unwholesome as the streams of Jericho, noxious as the pottage prepared for the sons of the prophets.
Asp. Nor is this a misrepresentation: for such they really are, till divine grace, like Moses's wood,* like Elisha's salt, or the meals cast in by that holy man of God, sweeten them, heal them, and render their operations salutary.
The understandiog claims our first regard. This, however qualified to serve the purposes of civil life, is unable to discover the truths in which wisdom consists, or to form the tempers from which happiness flows.
Let us take our specimen, not from the uncultivated savages of Afric, but from the politest nation in Europe. The Grecians piqued themselves on their intellectual accomplishments; they termed all the rest of mankind barbarians : yet even these sons of science, 'professing themselves wise, were,' in fact, egregious . fools.'s Not to enumerate the shocking immoralities which the poets ascribed to their deities, not to insist upon the gross idolatries which the common people practised in their worship; even their philosophers, the most improved and penetrating geniuses, were anacquainted with the very first principlell of true religion, even they could not pronounce, with an unfaultering tongue, I 'that God is One.' * Exod. xv. 25.
+ 2 Kings ii. 21, 22. 1 2 Kings iv. 41.
S Rom. 1. 22. 1. The first of all the commandments is, hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord, &c. Mark xii. 29. From which it appears, that the unity of the Godhead is the foundation of all the divine commandments, and of all human worship.
1.Unfaultering. For though in Plato's book of laws, we meet with ο θεος-του θεου-τον θεον again and again; yet he soon departs from this sound speech, and relapses into the language of idolatry.
A learned and ingenious friend, would fain have Socrates exempted from this charge; I wish I could gratify his benevolent temper, and spare that amiable philosopher. But however justly he may
himself on some occasions at other times he wavers; he evidently revolts; and is most pitiably inconsistent with himself. Even in his excellent conference with Aristodemus, where he argues admirably well for the existence, he cannot
Ther. With regard to the philosophers, the preju. dices of a wrong education might pervert their judg. ment; or, in compliance with the prevailing mode, they might adopt customs and assent to notions which they did not thoroughly approve.
Asp. A poor compliment this to their integrity! Had I been their advocate, methinks, I would have given up the sagacity of my clients, rather than their fidelity to the cause of God and truth.
With reference to the supreme Good they were equally at a loss. There is not one among all the in. ferior creatures, not even the crawling worm or the buzzing Ay, but perceives what is beneficial and pur. sues it, discerns what is pernicious and avoids it. Yonder caterpillar, whose nourishment is from one particular species of vegetables, never makes a wrong application to another; never is allured by the fragrance of the auricula, or Jazzled by the splendour of the tulip, but constantly distinguishes and as constantly adheres to the leaf which affords her the proper food. So sagacious are the meanest animals with relation to their respective happiness, while the most celebrated of the heathen sages were, on a subject of the very same import, mere dotards. Varro reckons up no less than two hundred and eighty-eight different opinions concerning the true good, and not one of them derives it
steadily adhere to the unity, of the Godhead. Nay, in his last solemn apology before his judges, he publicly renounces the truth; declares that he worshipped those gods, which were acknowledged by his countrymen; worshipped them and no other, on the same festivals, at the
same altars, in the same (idolatrous) manner. No other : these are his words, Oute yap eywye av. τι Διος, και Ηρας, και των συν τουτοις θεων, ουτε θυων τισι καινοις Δαιμοσιν, ουτε ομνυς, ουτε ονομαζων αλλους Deous avanegnvar-Socrat. Memor. lib. 1. c. i. sect. 11. 24.
Let none conclude from this or any other passage, that we would consign over all the heathens to damnation. This is as far from our intention, as it is foreign to our argument; we are only like witnesses, summoned to give in our evidence. From which it appears, that the very best among the Gentiles were ignorant of the true God; or if they knew him'in any degree, they glorified him not as God;' but became vain in their inagination, and vile in their worship. Whether they shall obtain mercy, or which of them shall be objects of divine clemency, is left solely to the determination of their supremě, unerring, righteous judge.
-Non nostrum est tantas componere lites.
from the true source; I mean a conformity to the ever-blessed God, and an enjoyment of his infinite perfections.
If on these leading points they were so erroneous, no wonder that they were bewildered in their other researches,
Ther. We are not inquiring into the circumstances of this or that particular nation, but into the state of mankind in general.
Asp. Cast your eye, Theron, upon those swallows; they shoot themselves with surprising rapidity through the air. I should take them for so many living arrows, were it not for their shifting, winding, wanton motions. Are not these what you call birds of passage?
Ther. These and some other of the feathered race are our constant visitants in summer, but leave us at the approach of winter. As soon as the weather be. comes cold, they assemble themselves in a body, and concert measures for their departure. Who convenes the 'assembly, what debates arise, or how they communicate the resolution taken, I do not presume to say: this is certain, that not one of them dislodges till the affair is settled, and the proclamation has been published; not a single loiterer is to be seen when the troops are preparing for their decampment, nor a single straggler to be found when they have once begun their march. Having finished their journey through the land, their wings become a sort of sails,* and they launch, not into, but over the ocean. Without any compass to regulate their course, or any chart to make observations in their voyage, they arrive safely at the desired shore; and what is still more extraordinary, they always find the readiest way and the shortest cut.
Asp. ' The stork in the heavens knoweth her ap. pointed times: and the turtle, and the crane, and the swallow, observe the time of their coming: but my people know not the judgment of their God.'t The young ones of those birds perceive how necessary it is to forsake the land of their nativity, and travel in quest of milder climes; our offspring, even when
* Remigio alarum.-Virg. + Jer. viii. 7.
their minds begin to open,' are brutish in their know. ledge.'Born they are, and too lorg continue, like the wild ass's colt.'+ Not only quite destitute of hea, venly wisdom, but stupid to apprehend it, and averse to receive it: 'As soon as they are born they go astray,' and
Ther. Go astray; to what is this owing but to the bad examples they behold? They catch the wayward habit from the irregular conversation of others.
Asp. Is not this a confirmation of my point? Why are they yielding clay to each bad impression-casehardened steel to every edifying application? From imitating unworthy examples, you can hardly withhold them by the tightest rein ; but if you would affect them with a sense of divine things, or bring them ac, quainted with God their maker, ‘line must be upon line, line upon line: Precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; here a little and there a little. I What farther corroborates my sentiment is, that all these tender toils of erudition are generally unwel. come, are too often unsuccessful, nay, will always be ineffectual without the concurrence of almighty grace.
Besides, Theron, if this propensity to evil be observable in all children, it seems more than probable that the unhappy bias is derived from their parents
* Jer. x. 14. + Job. xi. 12. How keenly is this comparison pointed. Like the ass's, an animal remarkable for its stupidity even to a proverb like the ass's colt,' which must be still more egregiously stupid than the dam; like the 'wild ass's colt, which is not only blockish, but stubborn and refractory; neither possesses valuable qualities by nature, nor will easily receive them by discipline. The image in the original is yet more strongly touched." The comparative particle like' is not in the Hebrew; born a wild ass's colt,' or, as we should say in English, a mére wild, &c.
| A great critic has laid down the followiug rule to be cbserved in fine writing :
'Tis not enough no harshness gives offence,
Pope's Essay on Criticism. Never was this delicate maxim more nicely exemplified than in the above-cited passage of Isaiah, xxviii. 13. Another instance of the same kind occurs in the seventh verse; where the language seems to mimic the reeling, straggling, giddy motions of a drunkard : while it iterates and reiterates the idea, expresses the
ng in a different and still different manner, with an apparent, and, in this case, a significant circumrotation of words.