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On the mercantile Virtues which may exist without the Influence of Christianity.
"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report ; if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things."— Philippians iv. 8.
The Apostle, in these verses, makes use of men to estimate the lovely and the honourcertain terms, without ever once proposing able of character. He appeals to a tribunal to advance any definition of their meaning in their own breasts, and evidently supHe presumes on a common understandig poses, that, antecedently to the light of the of this, between himself and the people Christian revelation, there lay scattered whom he is addressing. He presumes that among the species certain principles of feelthey know what is signified by Truth, and ing and of action, in virtue of which, they Justice, and Loveliness, and the other mo- both occasionally exhibited what was just ral qualities which are included in the enu- and true, and of good report, and also meration of our text. They, in fact, had could render to such an exhibition, the howords to express them, for many ages an- mage of their regard and of their reverence. tecedent to the coming of Christianity into At present we shall postpone the direct enthe world. Now, the very existence of the forcement of these virtues upon the obwords proves, that, before the gospel was servation of Christians, and shall confine taught, the realities which they express our thoughts of them to the object of estimust have existed also. These good and mating their precise importance and charespectable attributes of character must racter, when they are realised by those who have been occasionally exemplified_by are not Christians. men, prior to the religion of the New Tes While we assert with zeal every doctrine tament. The virtuous and the praisewor- of Christianity, let us not forget that there thy must, ere the commencement of the new is a zeal without discrimination ; and that, dispensation, have been met with in society to bring such a spirit to the defence of our --for the Apostle does not take them up in faith, or of any one of its peculiarities, is this passage, as if they were unknown and not to vindicate the cause, but to discredit unheard of novelties—but such objects of it. Now, there is a way of maintaining the general recognition, as could be under- utter depravity of our nature, and of doing stood on the bare mention of them, with it in such a style of sweeping and of veout warning and without explanation. hement asseveration, as to render it not
But more than this. These virtues must merely obnoxious to the taste, but obnoxious not only have been exemplified by men, to the understanding. On this subject there previous to the entrance of the gospel is often a roundness and a temerity of anamongst them-seeing that the terms, ex- nouncement, which any intelligent man, pressive of the virtues, were perfectly un- looking at the phenomena of human chaderstood—but men must have known how racter with his own eyes, cannot go along to love and to admire them. How is it that with; and thus it is, that there are injudiwe apply the epithet lovely to any moral cious defenders of orthodoxy, who have qualification, but only in as far as that mustered against it not merely a positive qualification does in fact draw towards it a dislike, but a positive strength of observasentiment of love? How is it that another tion and argument. Let the nature of man qualification is said to be of good report, be a ruin, as it certainly is, it is obvious 10 but in as far as it has received from men the most common discernment, that it does an applauding or an honourable testimony? not offer one unvaried and unalleviated The Apostle does not bid his readers have mass of deformity. There are certain respect to such things as are lovely, and phases, and certain exhibitions of this nathen, for the purpose of saving them from ture, which are more lovely than otherserror, enumerate what the things are which certain traits of character, not due to the he conceives to possess this qualification, operation of Christianity at all, and yet He commits the matter, with perfect con- calling forth our admiration and our tenfidence, to their own sense and their own derness-certain varieties of moral comapprehension. He bids them bear a re- plexion, far more fair and more engaging spect to whatsoever things are lovely- than certain other varieties; and to prove nor does he seem at all suspicious that, by that the gospel may have had no share in so doing, he leaves them in any darkness the formation of them, they in fact stood or uncertainty about the precise import of out to the notice and respect of the world the advice which he is delivering. He before the gospel was ever heard of. The therefore recognizes the competency of classic page of antiquity sparkles with re
peated exemplifications of what is bright | his God, as if the principles of his constiand beautiful in the character of man; nor tution had been mixed up in such a differdo all its descriptions of external nature ent proportion, as to make him an odious waken up such an enthusiasm of pleasure, and a revolting spectacle? In a word, as when it bears testimony to some grace- might not Sensibility shed forth its tears, ful or elevated doing out of the history of and Friendship perform its services, and the species. And whether it be the kindli- Liberality impart of its treasure, and Paness of maternal affection, or the unwearied-triotism earn the gratitude of its country, ness of filial piety, or the constancy of tried and Honour maintain itself entire and unand unalterable friendship, or the earnest- tainted, and all the softenings of what is ness of devoted patriotism, or the rigour of amiable, and all the glories of what is unbending fideliiy, or any other of the re- chivalrous and manly gather into one corded virtues which shed a glory over the bright effulgency of moral accomplishment remembrance of Greece and of Rome-we on the person of him who never, for a sinfully concede it to the admiring scholar, gle day of his life, subordinates one habit, that they one and all of them were some or one affection, to the will of the Al times exemplified in those days of Heathen- mighty; who is just as careless and as unism; and that, out of the materials of a pe- concerned about God, as if the native tenriod, crowded as it was with moral abomi-dencies of his constitution had compounded nations, there may also be gathered things him into a monster of deformity; and who which are pure, and lovely, and true, and just as effectually realizes this attribute of just, and honest, and of good report. rebellion against his Maker, as the most
What do we mean, then, it may be ask- loathsome and profligate of the species, ed, by the universal depravity of man? that he walks in the counsel of his own How shall we reconcile the admission now heart, and after the sight of his own eyes? made, with the unqualified and authorita The same constitutional variety may be tive language of the Bible, when it tells us seen on the lower fields of creation. You of the totality and the magnitude of human there witness the gentleness of one animal, corruption ? Wherein lies that desperate the affectionate fidelity of another, the cruel wickedness, which is every where ascribed and unrelenting ferocity of a third ; and to all the men of all the families that be on you never question the propriety of the the face of the earth? And how can such language, when some of these instinctive a tribute of acknowledgment be awarded tendencies are better reported of than to the sages and the patriots of antiquity, others; or when it is said of the former of who yet, as the partakers of our fallen na- them, that they are the more fine, and amiature, must be outcasts from the favour of ble, and endearing. But it does not once God, and have the character of evil stamp- occur to you, that, even in the very best of ed upon the imaginations of the thoughts these exhibitions, there is any sense of God, of their hearts continually ?
or that the great master-principle of his auIn reply to these questions, let us speak thority is at all concerned in it. Transfer to your own experimental recollections on a this contemplation back again to our spesubject in which you are aided, both by cies; and under the same complexional difthe consciousness of what passes within ference of the more and the less lovely, or you, and by your observation of the cha- the more and the less hateful, you will perracters of others. Might not a sense of ceive the same utter insensibility to the honour elevate that heart which is totally consideration of a God, or the same utter unfurnished with a sense of God ? Might inefficiency on the part of his law to subnot an impulse of compassionate feeling be due human habits and human inclinations. sent into that bosom which is never once It is true, that there is one distinction bevisited by a movement of duteous loyalty tween the two cases; but it all goes to agtowards the Lawgiver in heaven? Might gravate the guilt and the ingratitude of not occasions of intercourse with the be- man. He has an understanding which the ings around us, develope whatever there is inferior animals have not—and yet, with in our nature of generosity, and friendship, this understanding, does he refuse practiand integrity, and patriotism; and yet the cally to acknowledge God. He has a conunseen Being, who placed us in this thea- science, which they have not-and yet, tre, be neither loved, nor obeyed, nor listen though it whisper in the ear of his inner ed to ? Amid the manifold varieties of man the claims of an unseen legislator, human character, and the number of con- does he lull away his time in the slumbers stitutional principles which enter into its of indifference, and live without him in the composition, might there not be an indi- world. vidual in whom the constitutional virtues Or go to the people of another planet, so blaze forth and have the ascendency, as over whom the hold of allegiance to their to give a general effect of gracefulness to maker is unbroken-in whose hearts the the whole of this moral exhibition ; and yet, Supreme sits enthroned, and throughout may not that individual be as unmindful of the whole of whose history there runs the
perpetual and the unfailing habit of subor- man, is to fasten on the radical element of dination to his law. It is conceivable, that depravity, and to show how deeply it lies with them too, there may be varieties of incorporated with his moral constitution. temper and of natural inclination, and yet It is not by an utterance of rash and sweepall of them be under the effective control ing totality to refuse him the possession of of one great and imperious principle; that what is kind in sympathy, or of what is in subjection to the will of God, every kind dignified in principle--for this were in the and every honourable disposition is che face of all observation. It is to charge him rished to the uttermost; and that in sub- direct with his utter disloyalty to God. It jection to the same will, every tendency to is to convict him of treason against the maanger, and malignity, and revenge, is re- jesty of heaven. It is to press home upon pressed at the first moment of its threatened him the impiety of not caring about God. operation; and that in this way, there will It is to tell him, that the hourly and habitbe the fostering of a constant encourage- ual language of his heart is, I will not have ment given to the one set of instincts, and the Being who made me to rule over me. the struggling of a constant opposition It is to go to the man of honour, and, while made against the other. Now, only con- we frankly award it to him that his pulse ceive this great bond of allegiance to be beats high in the pride of integrity—it is to dissolved ; ihe mighty and subordinating tell him, that he who keeps it in living play, principle, which wont to wield an ascend- and who sustains the loftiness of its moveency over every movement and every af- ments, and who, in one moment of time, section, to be loosened and done away; and could arrest it for ever, is not in all his then would this loyal, obedient world, be- thoughts. It is to go to the man of soft and come what ours is, independent of Chris- gentle emotions, and while we gaze in tentianity. Every constitutional desire would derness upon him—it is to read to him, out run out, in the unchecked spontaneity of of his own character, how the exquisite its own movements. The law of heaven mechanism of feeling may be in full opewould furnish no counteraction to the im- ration, while he who framed it is forgotten; pulses and tendencies of nature. And tell while he who poured into his constitution the us, in these circumstances, when the re- milk of human kindness, may never be adstraint of religion was thus lifted off, and all verted to with one single sentiment of venethe passions let out to take their own tu- ration, or on one single purpose of obemultuous and independent career-tell us, dience; while he who gave him his gentler if, though amid the uproar of the licentious nature, who clothed him in all its adornand vindictive propensities, there did gleam ments, and in virtue of whose appointment forth at times some of the finer and the it is, that, instead of an odious and a revoltlovelier sympathies of nature tell us, if ing monster, he is the much loved child of this would at all affect the state of that sensibility, may be utterly disowned by world as a state of enmity against God; him. In a word, it is to go around among where his will was reduced to an element all that Humanity has to offer in the shape of utter insignificancy; where the voice of of fair and amiable, and engaging, and to their rightful master féll powerless on the prove how deeply Humanity has revolted consciences of a listless and alienated fa- against that Being who has done so much mily; where humour, and interest, and to beautify and to exalt her. It is to prove propensity-at one time selfish, and at an- that the carnal mind, under all its varied other social--took their alternate sway over complexions of harshness, or of delicacy, is those hearts from which there was excluded enmity against God. It is to prove that all effectual sense of an overruling God. If he let nature be as rich as she may in moral be unheeded and disowned by the creatures accomplishments, and let the most favoured whom he has formed, can it be said to alle- of her sons realize upon his own person the Fiate the deformity of their rebellion, that finest and the fullest assemblage of themthey, at times, experience the impulse of should he, at the moment of leaving this some amiable feeling which he hath im- theatre of display, and bursting loose from planted, or at times hold out some beau- the framework of mortality, stand in the leousness of aspect which he hath shed over presence of his judge, and have the questhem? Shall the value of the multitude of lion put to him, What hast thou done unto the gifts release them from their loyalty to me? This man of constitutional virtue, with the giver; and when nature puts herself all the salutations he got upon earth, and all into the attitude of indifference or hostility the reverence that he has left behind him, against him, now is it that the graces and may, naked and defenceless, before him the accomplishments of nature can be plead who sitteth on the throne, be left without a la mitigation of her antipathy to him, who plea and without an argument. invested nature with all her graces, and up God's controversy with our species, is holds her in the display of all her accom- not, that the glow of honour or of humanplishments ?
ity is never felt among them. It is, that The way, then, to assert the depravity of Inone of them understandeth, and none of
them seeketh after God. It is, that he is for all that is manly in the accomplistdeposed from his rightful ascendency. It ments of nature, disjoined from the faith o is that he, who in fact inserted in the hu- Christianity. They take up a separate man bosom every one principle that can residence in the human character from the embellish the individual possessor, or main-principle of godliness. Anterior to this retain the order of society, is banished alto-ligion, they go not to alleviate the guilt of gether from the circle of his habitual con- our departure from the living God; and templations. It is, that man taketh his way subsequently to this religion, they may in life as much at random, as if there was blazon the character of him who stands out no presiding Divinity at all; and that, against it; but on the principles of a most whether he at one time grovel in the depths clear and intelligent equity, they never can of sensuality, or at another kindle with shield him from the condemnation and the some generous movement of sympathy or curse of those who have neglected the great of patriotism, he is at both times alike un- salvation. mindful of him to whom he owes his con- The doctrine of the New Testament will tinuance and his birth. It is, that he moves bear to be confronted with all that can be his every footstep at his own will; and has met or noticed on the face of human society. utterly discarded, from its supremacy over And we speak most confidently to the exhim, the will of that invisible Master who perience of many who now hear us, when compasses all his goings, and never ceases we say, that often, in the course of their to pursue him by the claims of a resistless manifold transactions, have they met the and legitimate authority. It is this which man, whom the bribery of no advantage is the essential or the constituting principle whatever could seduce into the slighiest of rebellion against God. This it is which deviation from the path of integrity—the has exiled the planet we live in beyond the man, who felt his nature within him put limits of his favoured creation and whether into a state of the most painful indignaney
, it be shrouded in the turpitude of licentious at every thing that bore upon it the charakness or cruelty, or occasionally brightened ter of a sneaking or dishonourable artificewith the gleam of the kindly and the honour- the man, who positively could not be at able virtues, it is thus that it is seen as afar rest under the consciousness that he had off, by Him who sitteth on the throne, and ever betrayed, even to his own heart, the looketh on our strayed world, as athwart a remotest symptom of such an inclinationwide and dreary gulf of separation. and whom, therefore, the unaided law of
And when, prompted by love towards his justice and of truth has placed on a high alienated children, he devised a way of re- and deserved eminence in the walks of calling them-when, willing to pass over honourable merchandize. all the ingratitude he had gotten from their Let us not withhold from this character hands, he reared a pathway of return, and the tribute of its most rightful admiration; proclaimed a pardon and a welcome to all but let us further ask, if, with all that be who should walk upon it—when through thus possessed of native feeling and constithe offered Mediator, who magnified his tutional integrity, you have never observed broken law, and upheld, by his mysterious in any such individual an utter emptiness sacrifice, the dignity of that government, of religion; and that God is not in all his which the children of Adam had disowned, thoughts; and that, when he does what he invited all to come and be saved happens to be at one with the will of the should this message be brought to the door Lawgiver, it is not because he is impelled of the most honourable man upon earth, to it by a sense of its being the will of the and he turn in contempt and hostility away Lawgiver, but because he is impelled to it from it, has not that man posted himself by the working of his own instinctive senmore firmly than ever on the ground of re- sibilities; and that, however fortunate, or bellion? Though an unsullied integrity however estimable these sensibilities are, should rest upon all his transactions, and they still consist with the habit of a mind the homage of confidence and respect be that is in a state of total indifference about awarded to him from every quarter of so- God? Have you never read in your own ciety, has not this man, by slighting the character, or observed in the character of overtures of reconciliation, just plunged others, that the claims of the Divinity may himself the deeper in the guilt of a wilful be entirely forgotten by the very man, do and determined ungodliness? Has not the whom society around him yield, and rightly creature exalted itself above the Creator; yield, the homage of an unsullied and and in the pride of those accomplishments, honourable reputation; that this man may which never would have invested his per- have all his foundations in the world ; that son had not they come to him from above, every security on which he rests, and every has he not, in the act of resisting the gospel, enjoyment upon which his heart is set
, lieth aggravated the provocation of his whole on this side of death ; that a sense of the previous defiance to the author of it? coming day on which God is to enter into
Thus much for all that is amiable, and I judgment with him, is to every purpose
practical ascendency, as good as expunged by oceans and by continents; when he fixes altogether from his bosom; that he is far the anchor of a sure and steady dependence in desire, and far in enjoyment, and far in on the reported honesty of one whom he habitual contemplation, away from that never saw ; when, with all his fears for the God who is not far from any one of us; treachery of the varied elements, through that his extending credit and his brighten- which his property has to pass, he knows, ing prosperity, and his magnificent retreat that should it only arrive at the door of its from business, with all the splendour of its destined agent, all his fears and all his susaccommodations—that these are the futuri- picions may be at an end. We know nothing ties at which he terminates; and that he finer than such an act of homage from one goes not in thought beyond them to that human being to another, when perhaps the eternity, which in the flight of a few little diameter of the globe is between them; nor years, will absorb all, and annihilate all? do we think that either the renown of her In a word, have you never observed the victories, or the wisdom of her councils, so man, who, with all that was right in mer- signalizes the country in which we live, as cantile principle, and all that was open and does the honourable dealing of her merunimpeachable in the habit of his mercan- chants; that all the glorịes of British policy, tile transactions, lived in a state of utter and British valour, are far eclipsed by the estrangement from the concerns. of immor- moral splendour which British faith has tality? who, in reference to God, persisted, thrown over the name and the character of from one year to another, in the spirit of a our nation; nor has she gathered so proud deep slumber? who, in reference to the a distinction from all the tributaries of her man that tries to awaken him out of his power, as she has done from the awarded lethargy, recoils, with the most sensitive confidence of those men of all tribes, and dislike, from the faithfulness of his minis- colours, and languages, who look to our trations? who, in reference to the Book agency for the most faithful of all managewhich tells him of his nakedness and his ment, and to our keeping for the most unguilt, never consults it with one practical violable of all custody. aim, and never tries to penetrate beyond There is no denying, then, the very exthat aspect of mysteriousness which it holds tended prevalence of a principle of integrity out to an undiscerning world ? who attends in the commercial world; and he who has not church, or attends it with all the life-such a principle within him, has that to lessness of a form ? who reads not his Bible, which all the epithets of our text may or reads it in the discharge of a self-pre- rightly be appropriated. But it is just as scribed and unfruitful task ? who prays not, impossible to deny, that, with this thing or prays with the mockery of an unmean- which he has, there may be another thing ing observation ? and, in one word, who which he has not. He may not have one while surrounded by all those testimonies duteous feeling of reverence which points which give to man a place of moral dis- upward to God. He may not have one tinction among his fellows, is living in utter wish, or one anticipation, which points forcarelessness about God, and about all the ward to eternity. "He may not have any avenues which lead to him ?
sense of dependence on the Being who susNow, attend for a moment to what that tains him; and who gave him his very is which the man has, and to what that is principle of honour, as part of that interior which he has not. He has an attribute of furniture which he has put into his bosom; character which is in itself pure, and lovely, and who surrounded him with the theatre and honourable, and of good report. He on which he has come forward with the has a natural principle of integrity; and finest and most illustrious displays of it; under its impulse he may be carried for- and who set the whole machinery of his ward to such fine exhibitions of himself, as sentiment and action agoing; and can, by are worthy of all admiration. It is very a single word of his power, bid it cease noble, when the simple utterance of his from the variety, and cease from the graceword carries as much security along with fulness of its movements. In other words, it as if he had accompanied that utterance he is a man of integrity, and yet he is a by the signatures, and the securities, and man of ungodliness. the legal obligations which are required of He is a man born for the confidence and other men. It might tempt one to be proud the admiration of his fellows, and yet a man of his species when he looks at the faith whom his Maker can charge with utter dethat is put in him by a distant correspon- fection from all the principles of a spiritual dent, who, without one other hold of him obedience. He is a man whose virtues have than his honour, consigns to him the wealth blazoned his own character in time, and of a whole flotilla, and sleeps in the confi- have upheld the interests of society, and dence that it is safe. It is indeed an animat- yet a man who has not, by one movement ing thought, amid the gloom of this world's of principle, brought himself nearer to the depravity, when we behold the credit which kingdom of heaven, than the most proflione man puts in another, though separated gate of the species. The condemnation, that