Page images
PDF
EPUB

The heart of man, says God, by the prophet, is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?-In me, said the apostle, that is, in my flesh, abstracted from supernatural grace, dwelleth no good thing.-And, says a greater than both, From within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these evil things come from within, and defile the man (Mark vii). Is it possible, that any who calls himself a Christian, can, after considering the above declaration of Christ, dare to term the human mind, a sheet of white paper? No: it is, naturally, a sheet of paper blotted and blurred throughout. So blotted and defiled all over, that nothing but the inestimable blood of God, and the invincible Spirit of grace, can make it clean and white.

Neither the temptations of satan, by which we are exercised; nor the bad examples of others, which we are so prone to imitate; are the causes of this spiritual and moral leprosy. They are but the occasions of stirring up, and of calling forth, the latent corruptions within. If (as David speaks) our inward parts were not very wickedness, if we were not shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin, if enmity to God and holiness was not moulded into our very frame and texture; temptation and bad example would bid fair to excite our abhorrence, instead of engaging our compliance, conciliating our imitation, and operating with such general success. The truth is, we all have an inherent bias to bad, which readily falls in with the instigations that present themselves from without. Similis similem sibi quærit. Inward and exterior evil catch at each other, by a sort of sympathy, resulting from a sameness of affection, nature, and relationship. It is the degenerate tinder in the heart, which takes fire from the sparks of temptation. Hold a match to snow,

and no inflammation will ensue. But apply the match to gunpowder, and the whole train is in a blaze.

How must such a heart appear, if exposed to the intuitive view of an observing angel! And, above all, how black must it appear, in the eyes of immense and uncreated purity, of the God who is glorious in holiness, and, compared with whom, the very heavens are not clean! Judge of the infinite malignity of sin, by the price which was paid to redeem us from it, and by the power which is exerted in converting us from the dominion of it. For the former, no less than the incarnation and death of God's own Son, could avail. For the latter, no less agency, than that of God's own Spirit can suffice.

The hints already premised, give us (as far as they go) the true moral picture of a fallen soul: and such would all the descendants of Adam appear in their own eyes, and feel themselves to be, did they, by the light of the holy Spirit, see themselves in the pure, unflattering glass of God's most perfect law.

66

This likewise is the view in which the church of England represents the state of man by nature. Man, of his own nature, is fleshly and carnal, corrupt and naught, sinful and disobedient to God; without any spark of goodness in him, without any virtuous or godly motion, only given to evil thoughts and wicked deeds. As for the marks of the Spirit, the fruits of faith, charitable and godly motions, if he have any at all in him, they proceed only of the Holy Ghost, who is the only worker of our sanctification, and maketh us new men in Christ Jesus (a)."

Strong as this painting is, it is no caricature. Not a single feature of our natural corruption is exaggerated, or over-charged. You that read, and I who

(a) Homily for Whitsunday, part i.

write; yea, every individual of mankind, that now lives, or shall hereafter be born; may, with the church of old, plead guilty to the whole indictment, saying, We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.

I have read of an English painter, who, after only once meeting any stranger in the streets, could go home, and paint that person's picture to the life. Let us suppose, that one, whose likeness had been taken in this manner, should happen to see unexpectedly his own picture. It would startle him. The exact similitude of shape, air, features, and complexion, would convince him that the representation was designed for himself, though his own name be not affixed to it, and he is conscious that he never sat for the piece. -In the scriptures of truth, we have a striking delineation of human depravity through original sin. Though we have not sat to the inspired painters, the likeness suits us all. When the Spirit of God holds up the mirror, and shows us to ourselves, we see, we feel, we deplore, our apostacy from, and our inability to recover, the image of his rectitude. Experience proves the horrid likeness true: and we need no arguments to convince us, that, in and of ourselves, we are spiritually wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.

But how came man into a state so different from that in which Adam was created? Few inquiries are so important and no subject has given occasion to more various and extensive disquisition. Multitudes of conjectures have been advanced, and volumes upon volumes have been written, concerning the origin of human ill.

That moral evil, in almost every possible branch of it; and that natural evil, as the consequence of moral; do actually abound all over the world, are truths too evident to be denied. That the matter of fact is so, will not admit a moment's dispute.

But concerning the primary cause and inlet of these evils, men are not so unanimously agreed.

Some of the more considerable and judicious philosophers of heathen antiquity; particularly, the oriental ones (from whom the opinion was learned and adopted by Plato); supposed, that the spirits, which occupy and animate human bodies, were a sort of fallen angels; who, having been originally spirits of very superior rank, were, for misbehaviour in a nobler state of pre-existence, deposed from their thrones, degraded into human souls, and shut up in mortal bodies. Of course, those philosophers considered this earth as a place of banishment, and bodies as a kind of moving dungeon, where souls wander about, like prisoners at large, obnoxious to a vast variety of pains and inconveniences; by way of penance for past misdemeanors, and as a means of gradual purification, prelusive to their eventual restitution to the happiness from which they had fallen.

Conformably to this view of things, Plato chose to derive a, the Greek word for body; from onuɑ, which signifies a tomb, or sepulchre; on supposition, that the body is that to a soul, which a grave is to the body; and that souls emerge from the body by death, as a bird flies from a broken cage, or as a captive escapes from a place of painful and dishonourable confinement.

Not a few of the eastern sages pursued the idea of the pre-existence of souls to such a length, as to suppose, that the immaterial principles, which undoubtedly actuate the bodies of animalcules, of insects, and of brutes, are no other than fallen spirits, reduced to a class of extreme degradation: that, in proportion to the crimes committed in their unembodied state, they were thrust into material vehicles, of greater or of less dignity: and, that passing through a successive series of transmigrations from a meaner body to a nobler, they rise by continual progression, from animalcules to insects, from insects

to birds or beasts, and from these to men; till at last they recover the full grandeur and felicity of their primitive condition. All these supposed changes and removals from a humbler body to a higher, were considered by the philosophers who adopted this hypothesis, as so many stages both of punishment and of purgation; by which, as by steps rising one above another, the imprisoned spirit grew more and more refined, its powers widened into greater expansion, and itself approached nearer to its original and its final perfection.

I must own, that this was a train of conjectures extremely ingenious, and not a little plausible, when viewed as formed by persons who had not the light of the Bible to see by. And I believe, that, for my own part, I should have fallen in with this system, as the least improbable, and the least embarrassed, of any other; had not the gracious providence of God assigned my birth and residence to a country, where the scriptures of inspiration kindly hold the lamp to benighted reason.

St. Paul, within the compass of two or three lines, comprises more, than all the numberless uninspired volumes which have been written on the subject. By one man, sin entered into the world, and death by sin and so ['87, in this way, or by this chain of mediums] death (mdv) went through, upon all men; inasmuch as all have sinned, Rom. v. 12.

It is evident, from hence, that, previously to the first offence of that one man, who was the father of the human race; he was sinless, and, of course, happy, and deathless.Let us for a moment carry back our meditations to the garden of Eden, and endeavour to take a view of Adam, prior to his fall.

The sacred oracles acquaint us, that the first man was created spiritually and morally upright: nay, that he was made after the image of God; and was (in some respects, and with due allowance for the

« PreviousContinue »