Imatges de pÓgina
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SERMON II.

ON THE

DEGENERACY OF HUMAN NATURE.

Rom. V. 12. By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all

, have sinned.

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THE scriptures inform us, that “God made man upright,” and invested him with his own image, which consisted " in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness.” But man being in honour, abode not in his original condi. tion; he soon lost that rectitude with which he was en: dowed, and became degenerated in all his faculties. This assertion may be deemed the mere dogma of scholastic divines, but its truth is founded on observation as well as scripture.

That sin exists in the world, is a fact which is too evident to be disputed. Our own experience, and that of every past age, testifies that we are sinful and corrupted beings.

The sinfulness or corruption of human nature is a theological term, which signifies that degeneracy from integrity of heart and rectitude of conduct, which, as moral agents, we should possess and maintain.

We are born with an innate sense of right and wrong, that teaches us to obey the law of our nature under which we are constituted.

That law to which we are subject, is the dictates of conscience guided by reason, and the more perfect rule of duty prescribed by revelation.

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This law is a standard of perfection, which however none of our race have ever yet attained; as we find that mankind have violated it universally, and that "there is none who doeth good and sinneth not.” Whence this universal depravity of the human race originated, is a question which has perplexed wise men in every age of the world to explain.-The philosophers of antiquity could never account for the origin of moral evil; because when they reflected on the goodness of the Deity, whose tender mercies are over all his works, they were at a loss to conceive how he could create man with a nature so wicked and perverted. In their various speculations on this subject, they proposed many different theories, which from their extravagance, indicated the incapacity of the human mind to investigate doctrines which revelation alone is fitted to resolve. The most celebrated hypotheses entertained by the ancients respecting the origin of moral evil, were those of Pythagoras and the Manicheans. The for. mer of these supposed, that all mankind had formerly lived in some pre-existent state, and that they were now expiating in this world, the crimes committed in that period of their being. But the absurdity of this notion is evident, by considering, that we have neither any consciousness nor proof of our existence in any state prior to the present; and therefore it would be unreasonable that we should now be suffering for crimes of which we have no knowledge. Another opinion very generally prevalent was that of Zoroaster, commonly called Manichæism, which maintained that there were two principles in nature; the one the author of all good, the other of all evil. But this is repugnant to every idea of the perfections of God, and the free agency of man. For, if one God be good, he cannot exert his goodness in an unlimited manner, since he would be counteracted by the malignant Deity, and therefore could not be infinite in power, which however is an essential attribute of the Supreme Being. Besides, if there be a principle in nature which is the cause of evil, then sin is necessary as it proceeds from him, and therefore man is no longer to be regarded as the author of his own actions, nor accountable for his behaviour. This

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however is a tenet which neither reason ñor religion admits, and therefore the theory on which it is founded is untenable:

There is a third scheme which was adopted by the Stoics in ancient times, and has been revived by the Pelagians among the moderns. This theory supposes evil to be an inseparable concomitant of beings united to material bodies, and that a degree of imperfection must be necessarily attached to finite creatures. But however plausible it may appear, there is this strong objection against its truth, that it supposes God to have created us imperfect, and yet that he requires a perfect obedience, contrary to those rules of equity by which he governs the whole of his intela ligent creatures. In short, there is no theory invented by human wisdom; which can afford any consistent account of the origin of moral evil; and we would to this day have been bewildered in the mazes of uncertainty in our investigations on this subject, if the scriptures had not taught us the only true solution of the difficulties with which it is perplexed. From them we are informed, that God made man upright, and that “ by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death hath passed upon all men for that all have sinned.” As the doctrine of original sin is one in which we are all peculiarly interested, it is well deserving our research; and therefore an inquiry into its nature, and the extent of its influence may be deemed important to every reflecting mind. In prosecuting this subject in detail, it will be necessary to shew,

1. The proof of original sin, derived both from reason and revelation.

II. The nature of original sin, and how it is communicated to us.

III. The extent of the punishment to which we are liable by its imputation.

IV. The application of the subject.

1. The evidences of original sin are many and palpable. Sin exists in the world at present, it has existed in all preceding ages, and may be traced up to Adam our first

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parent. We all feel that vicious propensities are inherent in our natures, and begin to exert their influence on our actions as soon as we are capable of doing either good or evil. Accordingly we find, that children soon discover a frowardness of temper, and disposition to wickedness, which can proceed from no other source but the innate depravity of the human mind. They are guilty of many improper actions, and acquire many pernicious habits by a sort of instinctive impulse; “ they go astray,” as the scripture says, “ as soon as they are born, speaking lies.” It may indeed be alleged, that they are corrupted by the influence of a bad education, and that if they enjoyed the advantages of wise instruction and good example, children would be universally free from wicked practices. If indeed only those who were viciously educated were prone to vice, their actions might be resolved into the principle of imitation ; but when we observe those who are well instructed, equally disposed to indulge the caprices of childhood and the follies of youth, how shall we account for the same conduct in persons who are placed in circumstances so very different? How, but from the original perversity of human nature, which exhibits itself in opposition to the most severe means employed to suppress or overpower it.

When persons advance to years of understanding, it might be expected that they would regulate their conduct by the principles of reason, and exhibit more general propriety of demeanour than they did in their younger years. But, so far is this from being the case, that many become depraved in a great degree, by the indulgence of their lusts and passions; and all are more or less addicted to unreasonable habits, to sins of the flesh, or sins of the spirit, which prevail against them. Together with this inclination to evil inherent in every individual, there is a strong aversion to the practice of those duties which are incumbent on us as rational and social beings. It requires many efforts and long perseverance to instil into our souls a love of holiness, and acquire a relish for every thing that is pious, lovely, and of good report. Many virtues which we should possess, are not the natural offspring of our own inclinations, but the slow growth of discipline and gradual improvement. On the contrary, many vicious dispositions are nourished and matured in the soul, notwithstanding our most strenuous endeavours to counteract them; and even the most vigilant and self-denying still find that when they would do good, evil is present with them. Whence arises such an unnatural state of mind, but froin some original depravity which has perverted our faculties, and rendered us sinful and corrupted ?

But is it credible that man derived from his Creator, at his original formation, such innate perversity as now adheres to his nature? Can it be imagined, that God, who has provided for the happiness of all his creatures, would have formed man with passions so impetuous, and a temper so iniquitous, as in many cases to produce inevitable misery? Would that wise Being who created all things very good, and exactly adapted to the stations which they occupy, place man alone in a condition which renders him unqualified to act the part assigned him with dignity and honour ? Would he who hath bestowed on the irrational animals instinctive faculties, which direct them with invariable wisdom, and given to every other creature the capacity of acting according to its nature, produce man in such an imperfect state as renders him an anomaly in the creation ? Nay, can we suppose, that God, who hath conferred on us such powers of intellect, which when well adjusted and rightly directed, still lead us to the attainment of excellence of character and rectitude of conduct, did not bestow them at first in greater perfection for teaching us our duty, and inspiring us with the love of it? Is it not likely, that he imparted such strength to reason and conscience, as would restrain our inferior principles, and maintain that due subordination among all our faculties, in which consists the glory of human nature ? If such was the original constitution of the human mind, then there is no reason to charge God foolishly for having created man less perfect in his kind, than any other of his creatures. There is only cause of regret, that we are not now what our first parents once were; and we can only deplore the loss of original righte

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