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The outward actions of men are the best evidences of their dispositions. If therefore it be found, in fact, that the chief good is neglected or undervalued, the line of moral uprightness is transgreffed. And if this be found an universal fact, respecting every person from earliest life, it forms undeniable proof that all men are degenerate. But how shall we investigate and ascertain this interesting fact? If we appeal to inspired narratives and documents, the verdict is, that all have finned, and that there is none righteous, no not one; but as we are treating of God's moral government, it may be thought necessary to inquire into the reafons, the righteous grounds of the fact.
§ 4. We daily find, by growing indubitable experience, that, in the present state of things, the human intelle Et does not represent all the obječts by which the mind might be best modified, and there. by the will moved. It does not resemble the light of open day, the unclouded fun at noon, which illuminates all reflecting surfaces around us; but serves only as a torch or candle to conduct our wandering feet in a dark night. And this mental power, properly speaking, makes but a mere representation of objects, having no aflive influence on the will ; and therefore, this representation, small as it is, does not ensure the best use of the good fo represented. Thus we see, that as far as the intelle Et is concerned, the objects are but few, and those few but merely represented.
§ 5. Let us now see how the mind, in its present ftate, is qualified to improve this good, in virtue of
its liberty. We ever choose the greatest apparent good, or, more accurately, the will is ever as the greatest apparent good. To suppose otherwise leads to a great absurdity; for it would then imply, that we choose, in some cases, what, upon the whole, we deemed best for us not to choose: that is, we choose evil, as evil; which is incompatible with our mental constitution. But if that be the limit of the intellect, and this the condition of liberty, it follows, that what appears to us preferable may be really and eventually not so.
$ 6. Man, therefore, in the present state, resembles one who employs the light of a candle for the purpose of seeking what he wants. He is in a large room, which is abundantly stored with objects, fome valuable, and many unsuitable to his immediate real wants, and therefore to him worthless. Whatever is illuminated, and falls under his observation, of that he forms an estimate. He gives invariably the preference to what appears to him preferable, all things considered. Now his imperfection lies in his not employing his light to illuminate other objects, when he is conscious that those he views do not contain the chief good, or that he does not improve them for acquiring or retaining that momentous object. That appears to him preferable which a mind morally upright views as not preferable; and that appears to him a thing to be chosen for its own fake, which ought to be chosen only for a higher end.
Again: God has communicated to the soul, as a firm and invariable principle, a tendency towards
good good in general. But it never chooses what is not represented to it by the light of the understanding. It is very capable, however, of quitting a good represented and enjoyed, though a better does not actually and distinctly appear ; because it is conscious, from its general tendency, that a greater good than what it has yet experienced is attainable. Thus its general tendency to good keeps the mind ever in expectation, and its great fault consists in a temporary but idolatrous resting in what is not the chief good. And this idolatry is committed not only when an inferior good is falsely deemed preferable to another, but also when a good which is really preferable is not chosen with reference and in subordination to the chief.
Moreover : the will, in its present progress to the chief good, is not unlike a traveller who aims at his wished for home. Were it perfect day-light, he might discern a straight, plain path ; but being overtaken by the night, he has only a torch or candle, as a light shining in a dark place, to direct his wandering steps. He has lost his path. His duty consists in his employing the light he has to find it, as the means of conducting him to his destined home; and his fault lies in his growing indifferent about the path of safety, and indulging a temporary satisfaction with what his light but partially and ineffectually represents to him. He never changes his course but by checking his guide, and ordering hiin to seek another course which may prove more satisfactory; and this, which is always in his power, le neglects.
In this state of darkness and uncertainty, ever learning but never coming to the knowledge of the truth, divine revelation finds the children of men. It proposes a brighter light, and a surer clue, than any they possess of their own. It proposes a divine leader to conduct into all necessary truth. But alas ! men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. This is the great cause of condemnation. All, if left to themselves, walk in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart. Christ is the life of men, but they will not come unto him that they might have life. He is the sun of righteousness, and light of the world, but those who walk in the shadow of death and on the brink of perdition, refuse his benefits. Hence the justice of their final ruin. And those whose advantages are more circumscribed transgress by misimproving those they have.
$ 7. But man's present state of darkness and de. pravity, the darkness of his understanding and the depravity of his disposition, by no means excuses him from subjection to the moral governor. His receding from perfect moral rectitude makes no difference in his obligations. For to say that a moral power is necessary, as well as liberty and means of improvement, to lay him under obligation of conformity to the rule of right, is to say, either, that man is incapable of abusing his liberty ; or, that on such abuse God is bound to restore him imme.
diately diately to perfect rectitude, each of which is absurd. In proportion, indeed, that physical power is wanting, the subject is not accountable; but the more a moral power is wanting the more culpable he is, for in that same degree has he receded from rectitude. And this must be the case, except we say that our moral ability remains perfectly the same after diso. bedience as it was before ; and then it would follow that our moral ability sustains, in that respect, no inconvenience from innumerable transgressions ; but this is directly contrary to the well known faet of moral habits.
$ 8. Here it is natural to ask, Whence proceed these streams of depravity and confusion? The present race of human beings had an ultimate progenitor ; the first man, Adam. As mankind, there. fore, do not coexist independently, but rise to existence successively by descent from father to son, we are bound to consider the whole race as one great system, of which every succeeding part depends on the preceding, as much as any succeeding species of plants depends on the first plant of that species. Nor is it conceiveable, if the first of our race lost the enjoyment of the chief good prior to his having any descendants, how his posterity could rise succelsively into being polesed of it. As well may we say that streams of water may rise higher than their source, or that we may gather grapes from thorns, and figs from thistles. Can a fig-iree, my brethren, bear olive berries? or a vine figs? then, indeed, but not before, may the descendants of Adam be con