« FöregåendeFortsätt »
limits God hath assigned to either progress we know not ; but, forasmuch as the Divine nature is at the head, and the diabolical at the foot, of all beings, it seems impossible, that a creature so progressive in virtue and vice as man is, should not always either improve in angelical goodness to a greater resemblance of God, or grow more brutishly wicked, to a still nearer and nearer likeness of the devil.
Pursuant to this observation, there are three states, in one or other of which every man may be found. . The first is of those, who waver between virtue and the angelical nature, on the one side ; and vice, with the brutal nature, on the other. Religion and conscience, having laid hold on their understandings, teach them to look upward, and labour to improve and refine their nature to a resemblance of better beings than themselves. During the jofluence of these principles, they rise to some improvement in piety ; but are soon thrown down again to low thoughts, to gross and vicious actions, and consequently to a depravation and corruption of nature, by the force of violent temptations, working on the brutal part of their composition. A man of this turn, having too much understanding and conscience to be completely wicked, and too much of appetite and passion to be uniformly good, is unstable in all his ways.' One hour, his religious, his laudable ambition to be somewhat more than a mere man, raises him above himself, and forces even his passions to second his reason and principles; the next, his fleshly appetites and brutal passions, taking the lead, sink him as much below himself, and the rank even his mixed nature entitles him to in the scale of being, insomuch that his ‘understanding is darkened,' his very reason for a time depraved, and his principles perverted or biassed to a miserable compliance with such intentions and actions, as better become a brute than a man. The one half of his nature seems to consult apart from the other, and even sometimes to act by itself, as if he consisted rather of two distinct persons, than two different parts. Take him when the spiritual part of his nature prevails, and you conceive hopes of his becoming in time a saint or an angel. Take him when the brutal part bath the mastery, and you cannot help fearing, he will at length degenerate into a brute or devil.
- This war between the law of spirit and flesh, both of which are strong and active within him, not only makes it uncertain, as well to himself as others, what he is, or will be, but likewise renders every one of his actions, whether virtuous or vicious, so very defective in its kind, that it is impossible to judge, whether he is a good or bad man, whether he is in the broad or narrow way; and, in a word, whether the angel or the animal hath the better right to give him a name. . However, it is worth his while seriously to consider two things; the misery, and danger, of his condition.
That man is certainly, for the present, very unhappy, who, having a just sense of religion, a rational prospect, and with it a glorious ambition, of rising to a higher order of beings by the purification and improvement of his nature, finds himself nevertheless drawn downward by the inferior part of that nature, and so entangled in the corruption of sin, that his fears of falling into a lower and baser order of beings are fully sufficient to balance all his hopes of rising. He who hath great thoughts, and a high sense of things, must be infinitely more impatient, than men whose minds are much lower pitched, under the disgrace of a fall from such exalted views, to reasonable apprehensions of finding himself, in the end, a vile and abject beast, instead of a glorious angel.
. * But, while he labours under these distractions, he hath something, if he considers it, to reproach himself with, that sets him, in point of understanding, below the fool who is uniformly wicked. A life so divided between virtue and vice as his, can never refine his nature, and qualify him for glory and happiness; and yet no kind of life can be farther from pleasure and satisfaction; for, at the same time that his corrupt inclinations, and vile practices, put it out of his power to relish the angelic pleasures of contemplation, of devotion, and of doing good, his conscience, and his title to exaltation, which he knows not how to surrender, forbid his having any other than an imperfect enjoyment of sin, and force him to take up with a pitiful share of those pleasures, · which the entirely wicked allows himself. Besides, his sinful pleasures are imbittered with remorse, and he feels the pangs of guilt without the comfort of reformation. Is this a scheme for a sensible mind, or one that had ever any notion of that which is great and good, to rest in ? No, it is so far from a rational scheme, that it is no scheme at all. He is a man of understanding and religion, and yet lives without a design or scheme, without any certain aim or end; but is sometimes drawn upward, and sometimes driven downward (without knowing where he shall stop in the one progress, or whether he shall persevere in the other), by quite contrary impulses, that depend not, either as to their kind or degree, on his own election. Surely the condition of such a man, so convulsed and torn by contrary principles, so anxiously struggling upward at one time, and so shamefully falling at another, so racked between hopes and fears, now aspiring to the piety and glory of angels, and now plunged in the abject appetites, the abominable pollutions, of a beast, must be very miserable.
Yet, miserable as it is, he ought keenly to consider the danger he is in of falling, even from this state of distraction, .wherein, if there is a battle, there is also some hope of victory, into a course of life, that must hurry him continually downward. It is not in the nature of man to be, for any considerable time, neither better nor worse. Nor will the principles that are within him, nor the spiritual good or ill powers that act on bim from without, long suffer him to remain in the same moral state. If the Spirit of God, together with a lively conscience, and a right sense of religion, have the government of his mind, they will lead him continually upward to a more pure and spiritual nature. If the devil and vice have the dominion over him, they will keep him always in motion downward, to still deeper and fouler degrees of corruption. Besides, as habit always naturally grows out of practice, it will add considerably to the speed and expedition of either progress.
It being therefore certain, that he must be always, in the main, either rising or falling; and, as he cannot but choose the former, it is his business to bring his passions and affections, as speedily as possible, either heartily to concur with, or at least humbly to submit to, his choice. In order to this, the nature of the subject we are upon, if closely considered, will lend him all the assistance (humanly speaking) his case admits of. If, on the one hand, he strongly represents to himself the glory and happiness which the angelic order enjoys, through the purity and excellence of its nature, he will find somewhat, in this representation, infinitely more powerful to engage his affections, than all the flesh and the world can tempt them with. If, on the other, he sensibly considers, not only what it is to be a beast, but what it is to fall from a rational to a brutal nature, and, for the sin of such a fall, to be degraded, even below the rank of a brute, to the disgraceful nature, and the dreadful condition of a devil, he will derive, from this consideration, wherewithal to alarm his shame, his fear, and every other sense, that is most impatient of pain and misery, to such a pitch, as will put it past the power of any other object or consideration to make a deep impression on them."
The second state, in relation to the present subject, in which a too numerous class of men may be found, is of those, who make a uniform, though more or less speedy, progress, through vice or irreligion, to the nature of brutes.
These are the men in whom human nature is inverted; in whom the brute, which ought to serve and be directed, usurps a tyranny over the angel, whose right it is to direct, restrain, and govern; that is, in whom sense, appetite, and passion, bear the sway, while reason and conscience act only an under part, when they are suffered to act at all, and serve for no other purpose, but to countenance the folly, or scheme the wickedness, of their lives. Were not instances of this sort so common as they are, we should be more shocked with them, than with the sight of a man driven by a horse, or whipped and disciplined by a dog, and obliged to run on his errands, whenever he pleases to bark his will. This image sets the thing in a most contemptible, and, I own, in a ridiculous light; but in what other light can it be justly set?
When we are asked, What man is? we answer, He is a rational animal. If this is admitted as a right definition, will it not exclude from the class of men all those creatures, howsoever distinguished by an outward human figure, over whom reason hath so little authority, that either no ends, or ends quite contrary to those of their being, are pursued during the far greater part of their lives, and in whom mere sensual affections, gross appetites, and lawless passions, pre
ppetites, lives, and
scribe at random so wild and wicked a behaviour, as nothing but infamy and misery can attend? Is he a rational creature, or a man, who never acts by reason? Or rather, is he not a brute, who, after his hunger is satisfied, eats till he surfeits; after his thirst is quenched, and his spirits cheered, drinks on till he can neither think, speak, nor stand; who, after the natural ends of commerce with the other sex are answered, follows his filthy desire, till all the powers, both of mind and body, are enfeebled to an utter unfitness for every office, nay, every pleasure, of life; who, after rising to a station high enough to make his head giddy, and too heavy for his shoulders to bear, in pursuit of his ambition, schemes or fights on for a degree of power, which he does not even propose either to use or enjoy? Who, after he hath scraped together more wealth than is sufficient for many expensive men, is still a beggar, as appears by the miserable penury in which he lives, and by the infinite anxiety wherewith he distracts and tortures himself in the pursuit of more? Or who, being possessed of more than he can possibly use, puts it to the hazard of a die, whether he shall have twice as much, or nothing? If such creatures, instead of obtaining the least shadow of ease, peace, or contentment, only plunge themselves in sickness, in confusion, in distress, in remorse, in death ; shall we not rank ourselves with them, if we pronounce them men, and reasonable creatures ? For my part, I think it a scandal to human nature, and highly detrimental to civil and religious society, that such brutes, merely on the strength of walking erect on two legs, and wearing a human face, should be suffered still to pass for men. What better is the spaniel, that frowns and flatters for a bit ; the ape, that by his ridiculous grimaces, confounds things sacred and profane; the fox, that supports himself by fraud and deceit; the goat, that lives only on his lust; and the wolf or tiger, that oppresses and tears all he can lay his teeth on, for disguising himself in a human figure? Were all men such as these, Solomon might have truly said, as well in respect to the life, as the death of man, that he hath no preeminence above a beast.' When the heart,'or understanding, ‘of a beast was given to Nebuchadnezzar,' he was driven from the society of men ; and, though still retaining the shape of a man, was forced to herd and mess on grass with his peers