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ECCLESIASTES VII. 29.
Lo! this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.
It is obvious that the term "man" occurs here in its generic sense, denoting the race collectively. The word rendered " upright" may with more precision be translated "right." It implies no qualities positively virtuous, but simply the absence of all obliquity. And the whole passage conveys this important sentiment, God hath made man right; with a proper nature, possessing such powers as are requisite in the place he fills, and for all the designs of his being. When we begin to live there is nothing in our moral frame which is itself wrong, or must necessarily produce sin. Whatever be the amount of wickedness in the characters of men, it is not the proper fruit of the human nature, but results entirely from a voluntary abuse and perversion of that nature.
This doctrine is opposed to some opinions commonly inculcated on the subject of man's condition, but not opposed to Scripture; not opposed to facts, as they lie around us in society; not opposed to conscience and to reason. From each of these sources are drawn the ar
guments we employ for its support. The discussion I propose on this occasion will bear chiefly on the point of native hereditary depravity, which gives us a false account of the cause of that moral evil which is seen and felt in the world. But before I enter on this main design, let me suggest a few remarks on another branch of the general subject; I mean, total depravity, which gives us as false a view of the degree of sin found among men, as the other does of its origin. The two dogmas are inseparable in the popular notions of human character, and both have a bad tendency so far as they operate without modification from other principles.
If the word "total" have any meaning in the phrase "total depravity," it excludes every good feeling, desire, purpose, and action, and makes the character of mankind consist solely of bad dispositions, passions, and deeds. To be totally depraved is to be evil in every part, and evil always. Where now is the being on the face of the earth, who has done nothing but sin; whose every act has been wicked, and all his thoughts, emotions, and desires, corrupt? Where is the man, concerning whom, it is true that since he was born he has had in his mind nothing pure, and in his conduct nothing right? You cannot find such a being; this may be the description of a devil, but not of a man. We may imagine such a sinner, but we never saw one. We are greatly deceived by the popular theological division of our race into two classes, between which is drawn a line straight and inflexible, as between two distinct orders of beings having no alliance, and unable to pass from one to the other. That division is a mere fiction. That line is nowhere apparent among the
real characters which we meet and mingle with on the stage of life. The world contains no such beings as the saints and sinners described in many sermons and painted in many tracts and magazines. They are as unlike the actual men and women around us, as if the one were described as having no senses, and the other as having no souls.
But of what use is any description of mankind which wants a counterpart in nature and life? It cannot be true-for a glance at the world as it is, belies it. Look abroad for yourselves, brethren, and tell me if you can discover among the good, one who has ceased to be frail, and incapable of becoming evil. Take the accounts which men give you of themselves-take their own judgments of their own characters-will you conclude that any are totally holy? But is it fair to pronounce all who may be sinners, totally depraved, when you dare not pronounce all who are saints, totally pure? There is as much evidence of a partial depravity in the one case, as of a partial holiness in the other. There are as many proofs of a little remaining good in those who pass for wicked men, as of some remaining corruption in those reputed pious men. It is as correct to esteem the latter entirely holy, as to esteem the former entirely depraved. The fact is, there are no unmixed characters among men. The best are not perfect in virtue, the worst may still be capable of a recovery from vice. There are degrees of goodness, and degrees of sin; the former ascending from a very low, to almost angelic virtue, the latter descending from simple failing to the deepest guilt. However, to my narrow view it may seem that no vestige of what is good 1*
remains in some of my fellow-beings, or even that their capacity of goodness is extinct, yet there is an eye which discerns more clearly, and may discover symptoms of reviving health, where all to me wears the aspect of death. I dare not, I never will say, that there slumbers not beneath the ruins, on which I gaze with despair, a spark of virtue, which shall be kindled yet into a celestial flame. I leave an abandoned sinner, hopeless of restoring him myself, but remembering that what is impossible with man is possible with God. And as to the doctrine that we are all totally depraved, I must consider it as I should a proposition which declared that all men were fools, or all men were giants, all men were monsters. We are not totally any thing whatever, for be the quality what it may, there are ten thousand chances that we have a little of its opposite too. Some are wise; but not always, nor in all things. Some are timorous generally; yet on an occasion can be bold as lions. Some are indolent generally; yet, for some desired end, will rouse themselves to the most vigorous activity. Where nothing is fixed and permanent, but all in progress, pressing onward, it is rash to attempt nice definitions and descriptions, for the object may change under your hand. So it is, to affix such characteristics as denote completeness in good or evil, to mutable men. The only just and true account of human character is that which represents it as mixed and imperfect in all its forms.
The Scriptures are often quoted to prove the total depravity of mankind. But there are two very obvious principles of interpretation, which ought to be applied to the passages thus employed, and which remove at once
all pretence for using them in evidence of such a doctrine.
1. What is declared in universal terms is not always to be received without limitation. We often affirm absolutely, and in the most unqualified language, what we know to be true, only for the most part and with some exceptions. All books contain more or less examples of such propositions as the author designs his readers should understand, not to the full extent of their literal import, but as general truths. When God was about to destroy a guilty generation by the deluge, it is recorded, "And God looked upon the earth; and behold it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted its way." "All flesh" is a universal term, including every man alive. But there was, at least, one exception; for "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord." Paul, in his address to the Lystrians, says, that "God had, in times past, suffered all nations to walk in their own ways." But he had not so suffered the Jews, who had enjoyed a revelation and been subjected to peculiar restraints. John tells the carly converts, "Ye know all things." We are compelled by the very nature of the case to put a limitation on the word "all," which reduces the meaning of the pas sage to the bare affirmation, that they knew whatever they needed as Christians to know. The proposition, as it stands, ascribes omniscience to them.
In like manner, although some passages of Scripture, which speak of the degeneracy of mankind at certain periods, are so expressed, that we might suppose not an individual remained, who had the least goodness in him, we learn from sacred history, that there was always a