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“Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child," and the life is but its development.
But what is the nature of human depravity? The christian church has been agitated by different philosophical systems, which have been adduced in illustration of scriptural facts. System after system has perished, like the withering grass and fading flower, but the word of God shall stand forever,” and the faith of the church in the fact of human depravity, remains unchanged. The best motives and the worst designs have been entertained by philosophical inquirers on this subject. Happy is it for the church that her faith stands not in the wisdom of men.
Whether depravity is to be found exclusively in the will, or equally in all the faculties—whether it has its origin in a modification of our essential nature—whether it is created in us, or derived by natural descent-whether it consists in acts and exercises, or in something back of them which lays the foundation for them, in the very nature of the essential soul—whether it is some deranged and inappropriate exercise of our moral powers, and to be referred to the character of the controling objects, or of the governing moral principle—are questions that have been seriously agitated. Some of these may attract our notice in another place. For the present, we confine our attention to the last.
Whether selfishness be the essence of sin, is, after all, a mere metaphysical question the decision of which does not affect the sinner's consciousness of guilt, nor is necessary to his conviction. Assuredly, every form and manifestation of selfishness, must be sin in a guilty corrupt creature, such as man. The design of the death of Jesus Christ, “who died for all” was, “that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves;”” and He gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity."4 No man has 1. Prov. xxii. 15.
2. Isai. xl. 8. 3. ? Cor. v. 14, 15.
4. Tit. ii. 14:
any proof that he is recovered from the dominion of sin. till he finds his selfishness destroyed. Whatever he may think, the death of Christ has taken none effect on him. His selfishness is proof of entire depravity.
The dominion of selfishness is deemed, by some, alike the proof and essence of human depravity.
But here we venture to ask, why is it? God aims at His own glory, and for it all things are and were created. He demands the homage of his creatures, and will have every knee bow, and every tongue confess to Him. We are not disposed to think that this is sin in Ilim. And why not? God is holy, benevolent, just and true; and in seeking His own glory, can never injure, or be guilty of injustice to others. Were he a capricious, fickle, tyrannical and malignant Being, such a design in him--we speak it with reverence—would become as morally wrong as it is in us. His seeking his own glory would be apprehended as evincive of those traits of character, which tend to destroy all confidence in the Being possessing them, and are destructive of the peace and happiness of the universe. As it is pow, however, we are inspired with the most delightful confidence, by means of the very circumstance—that all things are ordained and ordered for the glory of God. The whole difference would lie in the nature or character of God; not in the mere exercise of his volitions.
In like manner we may reason of man. The mere cir cumstance of his desiring his own happiness, is not in itself necessarily evincive of depravity. Many of the appeals which God makes to us, are based on the assumption, that man will, and may legitimately do so. But God has subordinated our interests to His glory, and has made it incumbent on us to prosecute them, in entire and absolute submission to His will. "Whether, therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."
1. 1 Cor. x. 31.
When we inquire into the matter of fact, the melancholy discovery is quickly made that man is found at war with per the constitution of God. He substitutes his own selfish in
terests, wishes and will, for God's, and thus madly attempts to ascend Jehovah's Throne, and impiously disputes the
equity of His constitution. He is under the all-commandting, and controling influence of a purpose of rebellion. It
may not indeed be his conscious intention to resist the God whose existence he admits, and whose character he imperfectly apprehends, but in point of fact there is the feeling of dislike for, and opposition to, His claims, which determines and regulates his thoughts and purposes and actions. He seeks his gratification and happiness, in ways and things directly at variance with the requisitions, and prohibitions of God. Whenever the latter are opposed to the dictates of his selfishness, they must give way, and thus God Himself must be subordinated to his will. It is this subjection of man's feelings, purposes, affections, thoughts, desires and acts, to his selfishness, that constitutes the depravity of his nature. Every act and emotion, evincive of it is sin.
By selfishness we do not understand the instinctive de sire of the man after happiness. God has ordained it, that by the mere impulse of instinct, we have respect to our well-being. It is the law of self preservation, enstamped on the universal creation. Some have seen fit to denominate it self-love, and others differently. We are not tenacious of terms. It is the fact of which we are in leaving disputed and ambiguous phrases out of view, we presume our readers will generally admit, that the mere longing of the soul after bliss, when it does not fix on any specific or forbidden and dangerous objects, is no more sinful in itself, than is our mere craving of food, when we think not to gratify it, by, appropriating to our use any poisonous or other substance. "There are certain character
istics of human nature,” says Dr. Dwight, “which considered by themselves, are innocent. Such are hunger, thirst, the fear of suffering and the desire of happiness; together with several others.” “The desire of happiness, and the fear of suffering, are inseparable from the rational and even the percipient nature.” The desire of happiness, consid. ered abstractly from every object on which it may be allowed to terminate, is not in itself sinful; nor is it necessarily selfishness. It is in letting this instinetive desire terminate on, and impel us to the choice and pursuit of, any thing improper and inconsistent with the will of God, that we are to discover the proof and workings of our own depravity.
The impelling and controling influence of this desire, as it terminates ou sinful objects and becomes the merest selfishness, has been variously designated, and its origin referred to various efficient causes. By some it has been called the bias of our nature, and by others the inclination of the heart, the temper of the mind, a principle, the disposition, the tendency, the habit, the propensity of the soul. Much of the dispute which agitates the christian community on this subject, we think will be found to grow out of different ideas, attached to such very vague and indefinite expressions. They are manifestly all analogical expressions, and therefore ought to be employed with great caution, and, as far as practicable, with great precision. One man understands by disposition, something laid in the very structure of the soul or constitution of our being, which possesses, anterior to all acts and exercises, efficient power to secure and produce acts and exercises of a particular character; and accordingly he employs such loose metaphors as the source, the fountain, &c. when speaking of moral actions. Another understands, by it, an immanent choice, the fixed purpose or preference, a permanent state of mind,
1. Dr. Dwight's Theol vol. i. p. 462.
which results, according to the very laws by which God governs the mind, from the first decisive act of the will, denyira g that there is any thing in the essence or constitutional properties, or nature of the human soul, apart from its established modes of action, which possesses efficient power to secure acts of depravity.
Here lies the main ground of dispute, as we suppose; and it is one of such a very serious nature, as to require the minutest and most interested attention. For it involves the character of God, and the responsibilities of man, and that most vi tally. It will not do to dismiss the subject with a cry of philosophy or metaphysics, and retreat into the refuges of ignorance. A vain and false philosophy may be ingrafted on the facts of revelation, and some may find it difficult accurately to discriminate between them. Where men have identified their philosohy with the facts of scripture, and are
averse to discriminate, it is as natural as it is common, to denounce the rejection of the former, and raise the ery of metaphysics, philosophy, when, in truth, it is but an effort
to separate what have been improperly united. That there is some appropriate cause of human depravity, all admit. Of the precise nature of this, it is obvious that we must
as we are of all causes whatever. This is not, in itself however a sufficient reason for our denying that there is, or may be such a thing. When we see effects uniformly resulting, we attribute them to the influence and operation of some efficient agency. We begin with God Himself, and apprehend His divine agency as the prime cause, and thence proceed, through all the different uniform phenonema, or results arising, which fall under our observation, apprehending some immediate efficient agency, which remains uniformly the same. This we call by various names, sometimes a law, sometimes a constilu