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DEPRAVITY OF MAN:
WHEREFORE, AS BY ONE MAN SIN ENTERED INTO THE WORLD, AND DEATH BY SIN; AND SO DEATH HATH PASSED UPON ALL MEN, FOR THAT ALL HAVE SINNED.
ROMANS VI. 12.
IN the four preceding Discourses I have endeavoured to show the universality and extent of human corruption, and its existence in consequence of the apostasy of Adam. It is now my design to subjoin to the observations made in these Discourses several REMARKS, naturally arising from the consideration of this subject, and of no inconsiderable importance. The end of all doctrinal preaching is to persuade men cordially to receive truth, that they may be governed by it in their conduct; and of preaching, in any particular instance, to persuade them thus to receive one truth, in order to their reception of others.
From doctrines so important and so absolutely fundamental as those which have occupied these Discourses, very numerous inferences of great moment cannot fail to be drawn by a mind addicted to solemn contemplation. A small number of them only can, however, be mentioned with advantage in a single sermon. For the present occasion I have selected the following:
I. It is evident, from the last of these discourses, that the corruption of man is not the result of any given form of government, nor of any given character in rulers.
At this subject I have glanced in a former discourse, but have reserved the more extensive discussion which it merits, for the present occasion.
It has been frequently and triumphantly said, particularly in modern times, that the corruption of mankind is wholly artificial, and owes its existence to civilized society; particularly to the form and administration of government, and to the civil and ecclesiastical rulers of mankind.
The method in which these orders of men are supposed to have corrupted their fellow-men is that of oppression; at least this is considered as the chief instrument of the corruption, and is supposed to operate principally in two ways; viz. keeping them poor, and keeping them ignorant.
It ought, undoubtedly, to be acknowledged that the rulers of mankind have extensively corrupted them; that they have also greatly oppressed them; and that by keeping them poor and ignorant, they have contributed in a very great and guilty degree to the increase of their corruption. It ought to be further acknowledged, that rulers, and other men of wealth and influence, have much more effectually and extensively corrupted their fellow-men by example, art and seduction; by exhibiting to them powerful temptations, placing within their reach the means of sin, making the path to perpetration smooth, easy and safe, and presenting to them arguments, ingeniously and laboriously contrived to justify them in the commission, than they have ever done by both the methods alleged above. The philosophers with whom I am contending have probably insisted less on this source of human corruption, partly because they wished to render the men in question odious, and thought this an efficacious mean of accomplishing their purpose; and partly because they were sensible that themselves were deeply implicated in the charge of corrupting mankind in the manner last mentioned. So far as argument and influence have increased the turpitude of the human character, few men are chargeable with so great a share of the guilt. Their arguments concerning moral subjects have been commonly mere means of seduction, and their example has only seconded their arguments. A host of ancient philosophers were ba
nished from Rome as a public nuisance. Had a large proportion of modern ones lived in the same city at the same time, there is little reason to doubt that they would have shared the same fate, for the same reason.
The form of government also, in some cases, and the peculiar administration of it in others, have undoubtedly contributed in a distinguished degree to the depravation of mankind. Monarchies have produced this effect by immense patronage; by the operations of despotic power, demanding and effectuating a slavish dependence and a base sacrifice of principle in their subjects; by splendour, luxury, war, and a general dissoluteness of manners. Republican governments, although in certain circumstances more favourable to virtue, have yet at times been equally pernicious, by furnishing opportunities and strong temptations for the sacrifice of integrity at elections, for caballing, bribery, faction, private ambition, bold contentions for place and power, and that civil discord which is naturally accompanied by the prostration of morality and religion. Thus Rome, in the time of Marius and Sylla, degenerated with inconceivable rapidity. This example many other republics have been but too willing to follow. The heathen priests and princes also, although generally believing in the most serious manner the miserable, demoralizing idolatry which they professed, found a deep interest in the establishment of their religious systems, and the deplorable corruption by which they were of course attended.
The Romish hierarchy, uniting in itself all anthority both secular and ecclesiastical, presented immense inducements to the love of wealth, power, splendour and sensuality, and vast means of gratifying these corrupt propensities of the human heart. At the same time, it held out the most efficacious motives to the perpetuation of these enjoyments by keeping mankind in a state of abject ignorance, slavery and corruption. In this manner it contributed more to this dreadful purpose than any other political system which the world has ever seen. Like the mountains piled up by the Giants, it seemed, for a time, to menance heaven itself with the loss of its dominion over the earth, and, like the deluge, swept from this world almost every thing which had life.
It must further be conceded, that among Protestant ministers, although plainly the most unblameable and exemplary
class of men who in equal numbers have ever appeared in this world, there have not been wanting those who, by means of their latitudinarian doctrines and loose lives, have exercised a malignant influence over their fellow-men, and contributed in a serious degree to the depravation of the human character.
Finally: Infidel philosophers of modern times have surpassed, in the wonderful rapidity and success with which they have dissolved the human character, and destroyed the very remembrance of principle, even the portentous mischiefs of the Romish hierarchy. Were it not that such nuisances to the world are in their very nature incapable of operating with such efficacy for any long continuance, they would change the earth into a desert, where no principle would spring, and no happiness grow. Like the Genü, fabled in Arabian tales, they would enchant the towns and cities of this world with a more than magic wand, and where rational and immortal beings once lived and acted, where morals flourished, religion scattered her blessings, and the worship of God ascended to heaven as the odour of sweet incense, leave nothing but the forms of men, without motion, without life, without souls; imprisoned beyond the hope of escape within their encompassing walls, and surrounded by nothing but silence, solitude and death.
These concessions will, it is presumed, be thought sufficiently liberal and ample. Still the doctrine against which they have been pleaded is not even remotely affected by them, but stands in full force, and on the basis of conclusive evidence. For,
1. The subjects of virtuous rulers have been deeply depraved.
Rulers, although in a great majority of instances corrupt, and in many wonderfully corrupt, have yet in many others been virtuous, and in some eminently virtuous. It will not, as with truth it plainly cannot, be denied, that virtuous rulers have had a real and happy influence in reforming those whom they governed. The example and efforts of all men in high authority have ever been efficacious; if good, to encourage virtue; if evil, to promote vice. The good which virtuous rulers have done has not been here merely negative; that is,' they have not merely ceased to corrupt their fellow-men, but
with a positive efficacy they have directly contributed to make them better. This is so evident from uniform experience, that an attempt to prove it would be only a waste of time. Example and influence are proverbially powerful even in private life, and no man needs to be informed that they are more effectual in the chair of authority than in the cottage. Nor will any man acquainted with history deny, that David, Hezekiah, and Josiah; the Maccabees, Alfred the Great, Edward vi, or the two elder Gustavuses, reformed in a serious degree the nations over whom they presided.
Still it is equally well known to all persons of information, that no ruler and no succession of rulers ever changed the native character of man in any such manner as to make the nations whom they governed generally virtuous, or at all to lessen the evidence which supports the doctrine of universal depravity. What they have done we style with metaphysical exactness, reformation; that is, forming anew the moral character which they actually found, and which only was everywhere the subject of their efforts. In our very language we thus testify, unwillingly perhaps, that the moral character of our race is such as needs to be formed anew; or, in other words, is depraved. Even this reformation, good rulers have accomplished with great labour and difficulty; and it was confined to a number of instances in a melancholy degree moderate. Of this truth flagrant proof has been furnished in the sudden and deplorable revival of all kinds of iniquity, at the moment when the restraining influence of a good ruler has been taken away by death, and new license has been given to the free indulgence of the native human propensities, by the succession of a wicked prince to the sceptre. Such a prince has had more influence to corrupt a nation in a year, than a virtuous one to amend them during his whole reign. Manasseh pulled down in a day what Hezekiah had been building up through his life. Or perhaps, in more exact language, what virtuous princes accomplish with such vast labour, dissolves of itself, under the malignant influence of corruption universally experienced and universally operating, whenever that corruption is freed from the restraints imposed on it by virtue seated upon the throne. Were the mind of man originally inclined to virtue, this would be impossible.
2. Those subjects who have been raised above the oppression