Page images

II. It is evident from these Discourses that the scheme of human perfectibility is without any foundation.

There are two methods, in which this truth may be satisfactorily evinced.

1. From Fact.

Mankind have in every age laboured with great earnestness to perfect the human character. The immense toils of education have been intentionally directed to this end. Schools and colleges without number have been erected, multitudes of wise and industrious men have laboured through life, books have been written, laws bave been enacted, and magistrates have been employed, in an almost endless multitude, for the same great purpose. Nay, God has himself revealed his own will ; requiring with infinite authority, instructing with infinite wisdom, and urging with infinite motives, that men should become virtuous. The Redeemer of mankind was born, lived, and died; the Spirit of grace has descended, influenced, and blessed ; the worship of God has regularly been celebrated through a great part of the world ; and a vast succession of wise and faithful ministers have spent life, to accomplish this glorious design. Yet how little has been done. How few have been seriously amended! What one has been raised to perfection ? Trace the history, search the race of man, and tell me where he is to be found.

Shall we then believe that the schemes of modern philosopby will accomplish what all preceding philosophers, and men much wiser than philosophers, what the word of God, the redemption of his Son, and the communications of his Spirit have never yet accomplished? Can human perfection be the result of a benevolence which, indeed, utters good words, but is a total stranger to good actions; which is ocoupied in lamenting while it should relieve ; which says to the poor, the hungry, and the naked, · Depart in peace ; be ye warmed, and be ye

, filled ;' which is exhaled in sighs, and emptied out in tears ; which shrinks from the cottage of poverty, and withdraws its icy hand from the supplications of distress ; which agonizes over imagined sufferers in Japan, but can neither see nor hear real ones at its own door; which deplores the disastrous fate of profligates and villains, and arraigns the justice, which consigns them to the gaol or the gibbet ; but exults in the ruin of worth, the destruction of human peace, and the contem


plated devastation of a world? Can the perfection of man be the result of intelligence which dictates, as the happiest state of society, a community of labours, in which the idle would literally do nothing, and the industrious nothing more than to supply their own absolute wants ; a community of property, in which little would be earned, and much of that little wasted on mere lust, and the remainder lost, because none would preserve what none expected to enjoy ; a community of wives, in which affection would cease, principle vanish, furious animosity distract, and fierce revenge assassinate ; and in which children would grow up, when they did not perish in infancy, without a known father, without comfortable subsistence, without education, without worth, without a name? When men become immortal by medicine and moral energy, according to the dreams of the same philosophy, they may perhaps become perfect by the proposed schemes of its discipline.

To such persons as insist that the melioration suggested has failed, because the means used were imperfectly fitted to accomplish the end, I answer: If the end were possible, it is reasonable to believe that amid so great a variety, extent, and continuance of these means, directed to this end by the highest human wisdom, some one system would have succeeded. As these have all failed, it cannot be rationally doubted that all others will fail. Those, particularly, which are now offered as substitutes, promise not even the remotest degree of success; and are, on the other hand, fraught with the most portentous threatenings of absolute ruin. To these things I will add, that the authors of them, on whom their efficacy ought first to be proved, are farther removed from virtue than mankind in general. Until their own character, therefore, is materially changed for the better, they may be unanswerably addressed with the forcible Jewish proverb, Physician, heal thyself.' 2. It is also clearly evinced by the nature of the case.

The depravity of man is a part of his constitution, of his nature, of himself. To perfect his character, it would be necessary to change him into a new creature; and separate a part of that which makes him what he is; viz. his moral character. It would be equally rational to say, that man in the present world can become a flying creature, as that he can

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

become a perfect creature. If he can be turned into a bird, he may also, perhaps, be changed into an angel. All that has been hitherto done, and therefore all that will hereafter be done, is to confine one class of his desires, viz. those which are sinful by their excess, within juster bounds; and to prevent in some measure the risings of the other, viz. those which are sinful in their nature. Until more than this shall be effected, the world will be equally and justly astonished at the folly which could persuade Godwin that a plough could be made to move through a field of itself, and that man could be rendered perfect by bis scheme of discipline.

III. From these Discourses it is evident, that the fundamental principle of moral and political science, so far as man is concerned, is his depravity.

It will not be questioned, that virtuous and depraved beings differ from each other radically, nor that the science of the one must of course differ in its fundamental principles from the science of the other. A philosopher might, if possessed of competent knowledge, describe exactly the character of an angel, and yet scarcely say any thing except what pertains to a moral being as such, which would be at all applicable to the character of man. A book, displaying the whole nature and conduct of our first parents in paradise, would contain scarcely any thing descriptive of their apostate decendants. But all science of this nature is founded in facts, and is formed of facts, and the relations which spring from them. The first great fact in the science of man is, that he is a depraved being. This is the first and fundamental fact, because out of it arise, and by it are characterized, all his volitions, and all his conduct. Hence every thing pertaining to man is coloured and qualified by this part of his moral nature, and no description of him can be true, and no doctrine sound or defensive, into which this consideration does not essentially enter; equally true is it, that no system of regulations can be practically suited to him, or fitted to controul his conduct with success or efficacy, which is not founded on the same principle.

From these observations it is evident, that much of what is published and received as moral and political science, is only' science falsely so called.' It considers man as originally a virtuous being, accidentally and in some small degrees warped from the path of rectitude, and always ready to return to it again ; deceived and abused by insidious and peculiarly corrupted individuals, but, left to himself, designing nothing beside what is good, and uttering nothing but what is true. This indeed is a character devoutly to be wished:' but the pic

. ture is without an original; in the language of painters, a mere fancy-piece: and it would be as easy to find the human character in a gryphon of Ariosto, or the sylphs, gnomes, and nymphs of Rosicrucius, as in a library filled with this species of philosophy.

Were these systems to terminate in speculation only, their authors might be permitted to dream on without disturbance. But unhappily, their doctrines are made the foundation and directory of personal conduct, and public administration. Rules of private life, municipal laws, and other governmental regulations, are drawn from these pleasing but merely hypothetical doctrines ; and are intended and expected actually to controul men and their affairs, so as to effectuate good order, peace, and prosperity. Here the influence of systems, which proceed according to this scheme, becomes eminently dangerous, malignant, and fatal. All the measures founded on them are fitted for the inhabitants of some other planet, or the natives of fairy land, or the forms which haunt the dreams of a distempered fancy, with an incomparably better adaptation than

Of course they can never become practical or useful to such beings as really exist in this world, impatient even of necessary restraints ; selfish, covetous, proud, envious, wrathful, revengeful, lewd, forgetful of God, and hostile to each other. Open your eyes on the beings around you; cast them back on the annals of history; turn them inward upon yourselves, and you will find ample and overwhelming proof of the truth of these observations.

On this fundamental folly was founded all those vain, empty, miserable systems of policy which, in a portentous succession, deluded republican France into misery and ruin. In the treatises, laws, and measures brought into being in that nation, during its late wonderful struggle to become free, the people were uniformly declared to be good, honest, virtuous, influenced only by the purest motives, and aiming only at the best ends. These very people at the same time were

for men.

employed in little else except unceasing plunder, uniforin treachery, the violation of all laws, the utterance of all falsehood, the murder of their king, nobles, and clergy, and all the boundless butchery of each other. In a state of immorality, in a prostration of all principle, at which even this sinful world stood aghast, this despicable flattery was continually reiterated, and the miserable objects of it very naturally concluded that, as they were praised while they were doing these things, they were praised for doing them. Of course they were fixed in this conduct beyond recal. Every malignant passion was let loose, the reins were thrown upon the neck of every sordid appetite, the people became a collection of wild beasts, and the country a den of ravage and slaughter. In this situation nothing could restrain them but force. The wretches who by their songs and incantations had called up the fiends of mischief, could not lay them; but became, in an cnormous and horrid succession, victims of their own spells, and were offered up by hundreds to the sanguinary Moloch which they had so absurdly and wickedly idolized.

Sound and true policy will always consider man as he is, and treat him accordingly. Its measures will be universally calculated for depraved beings, and it will, therefore, never hesitate to establish every necessary restraint. Whatever is good in man it will regard as the result of wise, careful, efficacious discipline, realized and blessed by God. Such discipline, therefore, it will regularly establish, protect, and encourage. Honest, well disposed and orderly citizens, it will protect; the violation of private rights, and the disturbers of public peace, it will punish. Nor will its restraints and punishments stop, until they have gained in some good measure their end.

IV. From these Discourses it is evident, that the redemption of Christ was absolutely necessary to mankind.

If man is a depraved creature, it is plainly impossible that he should be justified by the law.of God. When he comes before his Maker, to be judged according to his works,” he must be declared to have done evil, because he has in fact done it. The law has declared, that the soul which sinneth

. shall die:' by the law therefore he must die, because he has siuned. Of course God cannot pronounce him just, or acquit

« EelmineJätka »