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DISCOURSES ON THE NATURE OF RELIGION.
ON HUMAN NATURE.
WHAT IS MAN, THAT THOU ART MINDFUL OF HIM? AND THE SON OF MAN THAT THOU VISITEST HIM?
FOR THOU HAST MADE HIM A LITTLE LOWER THAN THE ANGELS, AND HAST CROWNED HIM WITH GLORY AND HONOUR. -Psalm viii. 4, 5.
You will observe, my brethren, that in these words two distinct, and in a degree opposite views are given, of human nature. It is represented on the one hand as weak and low, and yet on the other, as lofty and strong At one moment it presents itself to the inspired writer as poor, humble, depressed, and almost unworthy of the notice of its Maker. But in the transition of a single sentence, we find him contemplating this same being, man, as exalted, glorious and almost angelic. “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained,” he says, “what is man that thou art mindful of him ?” And yet, he adds, “thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.” But do not these contrasted statements make
in fact, the only true view of human nature ?
Are they not conformable to the universal sense of mankind, and to the whole tenor and spirit of our religion? Whenever the human character is portrayed in colours altogether dark, or altogether bright; whenever the misanthrope pours out his scorn upon the wickedness and baseness of mankind, or the enthusiast lavishes his admiration upon their virtues, do we not always feel that there needs to be some qualification; that there is something to be said on the other side ?
Nay more; do not all the varying representations of human nature imply their opposites ? Does not virtue itself imply, that sins and sinful passions are struggled with, and overcome? And on the contrary, does not sin in its very nature imply that there are high and sacred powers, capacities and affections, which it violates ?
In this view it appears to me, that all unqualified disparagement as well as praise of human nature, carries with it its own refutation; and it is to this point that I wish to invite your particular attention in the following discourse. Admitting all that can be asked on this subject by the strongest assertors of human depravity ; admitting every thing, certainly, that can be stated as a matter of fact; admitting that men are as bad as they are said to be, and substan tially believing it too, I shall argue that the conclusion to be drawn is entirely the reverse of that which usually is drawn. I shall argue, that the most strenuous, the most earnest and indignant objections against human nature imply the strongest concessions to its constitutional worth. I say then, and repeat, that objection here carries with it its own refutation; that the objector concedes niuch, very much to human nature, by the very terms with which he inveighs against it.
It is not my sole purpose, however, to present any abstract or polemic argument. Rather let me attempt to offer some general and just views of human nature; and for this purpose rather than for the sake of controversy, let me pass in brief review before you, some of the specific and disparaging opinions, that have prevailed in the world concerning it; those for instance, of the philosopher and the theologian.
In doing this, my purpose is to admit that much of what they say, is true; but to draw from it an inference quite different from theirs. I would admit on one hand, that there is much evil in the human heart, but at the same time, I would balance this view, and blend it with others that claim to be brought into the account. On the one hand, I would admit the objection that there is much and mournful evil in the world; but, on the other, I would prevent it from pressing on the heart, as a discouraging and dead weight of reprobation and obloquy.
It may appear to you that the opinions which I have selected for our present consideration are, each of them, brought into strange company; and yet they have an affinity which may not at once be suspected. It is singular indeed, that we find in the same ranks and waging the same war against all human self-respect, the most opposite descriptions of persons; the most religious with the most irreligious, the most credulous with the most sceptical. If any man supposes that it is his superior goodness or purer faith, which leads him to think so badly of his fellowmen and of their very nature, he needs to be reminded that vicious and dissolute habits almost invariably and unerringly lead to the same result. The man who is taking the downward way, with almost every step, you will find thinks worse of his nature and his species; till he concludes, if he can, that he was made only for sensual indulgence, and that all idea of a future, intellectual, and immortal existence, is a dream. And so if any man thinks that it is owing to his spirituality and heavenly mindedness, that he pronounces the world so utterly corrupt, a mere mass of selfishness and deceit; he may be admonished that nobody so thoroughly agrees with him as the man of the world, the shrewd, over-reaching and knavish practicer on the weakness or the wickedness of his fellows. And in the same way, the strict and high-toned theologian, as he calls himself, may unexpectedly find himself in company with the sceptical and scornful philosopher. No men have ever more bitterly decried and vilified human nature, than the Infidel philosophers of the last century. They contended that man was too mean and contemptible a creature, to be the subject of such an interposition as that recorded in the Gospel.
I. But I am to take up in the first place, and more in detail, the objection of the sceptical philosopher.
The philosopher says, that man is a mean creature; not so much a degraded being, as he is originally, a poor, insignificant creature; an animal, some grades above others perhaps, but still an animal; for whom, to suppose the provision of infinite mercy and of immortality to be made, is absurd.
It is worth noticing, as we pass, and I therefore remark, the striking connection which is almost always found, between different parts of every man's belief or scepticism. I never knew one to think wrongly about God, but he very soon began to think wrongly about man: or else the reverse is the process, and it is not material which. The things always go together. He who conceives of the Almighty as a severe, unju and vindictive being, will regard man as a slave, will make him the slave of superstition, will take a sort of superstitious pleasure or merit in magnifying his