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mankind shall eternally perish, let their works be what they may ?
Evander. I readily answer I cannot, agreeably to your statement; notwithstanding I fully believe in the total depravity of human nature, the absolute sovereignty of God, in his final determination of all events in the ages of eternity, and the necessity of the special agency of the Holy Ghost, to awaken, enlighten, renew and sanctify every one who shall be prepared for the enjoyments of the heavenly world. But I cannot admit, that the inferences you draw naturally flow from these doctrines; such consequences can only follow from the principles of fatality and natural compulsion. I must here beg leave to inform you, that you do not understand our ideas of the nature and tendency of these doctrines. Please to state your view of the subject, that I may see wherein we disagree.
Lorenzo. I believe mankind moral agents, capable of choosing good or evil, and by nature possessing both virtuous and vicious principles, which is partial depravity. If they are persuaded by virtuous examples and arguments, to shun vice and cherish virtue, they will progressively conquer all their evil passions and propensities, and, in principle., become virtuous.
Evander. I perfectly agree with you, that mankind are moral agents; for total depravity, as I understand it, does in no way infringe on the natural faculties, so as to produce an ina
bility for free, spontaneous, voluntary exercises; but leaves men free to perform actions praise or blame-worthy. I believe moral agency to consist in the power of choice, and not in any thing antecedent or subsequent to it; but total depravity consists, not only in being destitute of holiness, but in a spirit of supreme selfishness.
Lorenzo. In what do you conceive true holiness to consist ?
Evander. It consists in a supreme aim at the glory of God, arising from love to his charac-, ter, and in universal benevolence to beings in general; and every act that arises from a princi- , ple destitute of holiness, has no moral goodness in it, notwithstanding the act itself may be good.
Lorenzo. I wish to be informed, how an act can be good, and have no goodness in it, at the same time? to me it appears like a contradiça; tion.
Evander. Moral goodness consists alone in a divine principle in the heart, which flows out in, holy exercises; it does not consist in the external act, but in the heart, from whence the act proceeds. Suppose I am determined, from malice prepense, to take your life; and to accomplish my design, I propose that we should go a hunting, determining, when a convenient time and place present, to shoot you; the opportunity presents, and I fire at your heart, but by Divine direction, the shot misses you and kills a tyger, which was ready to leap, and would have de-, voured you in a moment, if I had not fired and killed him. In this case, in attempting to destroy your life I save it. I presume you will not contend I did a morally good act, notwithstanding the effect was good; but on the contrary, that I was, in heart, a murderer.
Lorenzo. I grant your ideas in this case are just; but this does by no means prove, that mankind are all naturally destitute of benevolence. I have seen persons who professed - no religion, possess almost unbounded benevolence. They would give a beggar the only dollar they had; they would attend the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, even if they went hungry and cold themselves; and were ready to do good to their fellow creatu res, where there was not the least prospect of reward. I think you will not deny that benevolence consists in giving without expectation of receiving. · Evander. I very much differ with you in the idea of true benevolence. What you define benevolence, I call humanity, which is common to most men. There are but very few whose hearts are so hard, as not to possess the natural affections of love, sympathy, pity, grief, joy, &c. God often makes natural men, in the exercise of these affections, instrumental in doing good to his people and church; while they have not the least aim at his glory, and are destitute of the spirit of obedience to his commands. When a person is actuated by no higher motive
than his natural feelings, he is no more morally praise-worthy than beasts, who attempt to relieve each other in distress, which is common even to swine.
Lorenzo. I am surprised you think sympathy and pity are not commendable.
Evander. They are good abstractedly considered; and when under the regulation of a benevolent heart, have a very salutary effect on society; and a person destitute of them appears more savage than the beasts.
Lorenzo. I ask, then, if persons are not praiseworthy for exercising them?
Evander. It depends entirely on the motives by which they are actuated. All intelligent creatures, throughout God's vast dominion, are bound to love, serve, and obey him with all their powers and faculties, and any act short of this, is sinfully defective: "Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." All actions, which arise from natural affections only, without being re gulated by gospel charity, which is the essence of christian love, are blame-worthy; even relieving the poor and distressed, for they either originate in a desire to gratify the natural feelings, or to receive profit or honour; they have no aim at the glory of God, or at humble obedience to his divine commands. Natural feelings are too often taken for benevolent exercises.
Lorenzo. Does it not follow, that person's who are actuated by no higher motive than generous feelings, should refrain from giving to the poor and distressed, as they become blame-worthy agreeable to your sentiments ?
Evander. I think it does by no means, as it is their indispensable duty to relieve the indigent and distressed; and it is equally their duty to perform such actions from benevolent motives; but they would become more blame-worthy in the omission, than in the performance of them only from natural affections.
Lorenzo. Do you believe that any are actuated by motives void of selfishness?
Evander. I believe that all who have been “created anew in Christ Jesus unto good works,” exercise universal beneyolence; and so far, as they possess the spirit of Christ, regard themselves no more than their real worth in the scale of intelligent existence.
Lorenzo. How can you determine that mankind do not naturally possess some degree of benevolence ?
Evander. I think we have not only reason and experience to shew that mankind are naturally altogether selfish, but the sure word of God to confirm it; which if fact, we have great reason for humility, that we naturally possess hard hearts of unbelief, which depart from the living God.