תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

passage through the wilderness and through Jordan could not but affect their hearts and wills infinitely more than they could have been by any description of God, or by any mere precepts. Probably it was better adapted than any thing else could have been to give that people correct ideas of God, and to lead them to a full and joyful obedience of his commandments. And so the great fact of the New Testament, that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son,” and the example of our Saviour, “who loved us and gave himself for us," have ever been among its most powerful and constraining motives. They have, in fact, been those without which no others would have been of any avail.

Whether, then, we consider its offers of pardon and of aid ; its connection with the affections; the power of its direct motives ; or its mode of appeal by facts and manifestations in action, — we see that Christianity is perfectly adapted to the will of man.

[ocr errors]

LECTURE VI.

CHRISTIANITY AS A RESTRAINING POWER. THE EXPERI.

MENTAL EVIDENCE OF CHRISTIANITY. – ITS FITNESS AND TENDENCY TO BECOME UNIVERSAL. -- IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN IN THE WORLD.

Man is a complex being. He has been called the microcosm, or little world, because, while he has a distinctive nature of his own, he is a partaker and representative of every thing in the inferior creation. In him are united the material and the spiritual, the animal and the rational. He has instincts, propensities, desires, passions, by which he is allied to the animals; he has also reason, conscience, free-will, by which he is allied to higher intelligences and to God. Hence the ends he is capable of choosing, and the principles by which he may be actuated, are very various. Body and soul, reason and passion, conscience and desire, often seem to be, and are, opposing forces, and man is left

“ In doubt to act or rest,
In doubt to deem himself a god or beast,

In doubt his soul or body to prefer." “ The intestine war of reason against the passions,” says Pascal, “ has given rise, among those who wish for peace, to the formation of two different sects. The one wished to renounce the passions, and be as gods; the other to renounce reason, and become beasts."

With this wide range of faculties, and consequent variety of impulses and motives, in the individual, and especially when we consider the variety of his social relations, we may well say that, if any problem was beyond human skill

, it was the choice of ends, and the arrangement of means and motives, the contrivance of a system of excitement, and guidance, and restraint, - which should harmonize these jarring elements, and cause every wheel in the vast machinery of human society to move freely and without interference. Accordingly, whether we look at the faculties excited, or at the ends to which they have been directed, or at the restraints imposed, we find in all human systems a great want of adaptation to the nature of man. Excitement, guidance, restraint, these are what man needs; and a system which should so combine them as to lead him, in its legitimate influence, to his true perfection and end, would be adapted to his whole nature. I have already spoken of the power of Christianity to excite and to guide some of the principal faculties. I now proceed to make some observations upon it as a restraining power.

There is no natural principle of action which requires to be eradicated, but there are many which require to be directed, subordinated, and restrained. There are principles of our nature, which conduce only to our well-being when acting within prescribed limits, which become the source of vice and wretchedness when those limits are overstepped. But to put the check upon each particular wheel, precisely at the point at which its motion would become too rapid for the movement of the whole, requires a skill beyond that of man.

To fix, for example, the limits within which, for the best interests of the individual and of society, the appetites should be restrained, requires a knowledge of the human frame, and of the relations of society, which no philosopher, unenlightened by the Bible, has ever shown. I need not say how essential it is to the wellbeing of any community that these limits should be rightly fixed. If there is too much restraint, society becomes secretly, and often hopelessly, corrupt; to other sins the guilt of hypocrisy is added, and sanctimonious licentiousness -- the most odious of all its forms - becomes common. If there is too little restraint, vice walks abroad with an unblushing front, and glories in its shame. The state of the ancient heathen world is described by the apostle in the first of Romans. The accuracy of that description is remarkably confirmed by testimony from heathen writers, and, according to the testimony of all impartial travellers, that chapter is true, to the letter, of the heathen of the present day. The tendency of human nature to sensuality, in some form, is so strong that no false religion has ever dared to lay its hand upon it, in all its forms. Mohammed, it is well known, did not interfere essentially with the customs of his country in this respect; and, in fact, all his rewards and motives to religious activity were based on an appeal to the sensitive, and not to the rational and spiritual part of man. In instances not a few, the grossest sensuality has been made a part of religion; and, in almost all cases, the voluptuary has been suffered to remain undisturbed, or has been led to commute, by offerings, for indulgence in vice.

Those, on the other hand, who have recognized the

higher nature of man, and have felt that there was something noble in the subjugation of the animal part of the frame, have been excessive. Instead of

regulating the appetites, they have attempted to exterminate them ; and the mass of their followers have been ambitious, corrupt, and hypocritical. “ Nothing,” says Isaac Taylor, “has been more constant in the history of the human mind, wherever the religious emotions have gained a supremacy over the sensual and sordid passions, than the breaking out of the ascetic temper, in some of its forms; and most often in that which disguises virtue, now as a spectre, now as a maniac, now as a mendicant, now as a slave, but never as the bright daughter of heaven.” *

But not only have men framed systems of religion which allowed of sensuality, — not only have they attempted to subdue the animal nature altogether, they have also ingrafted sensuality upon self-torture. There is in man a sense of guilt; and, connected with this, the idea has been almost universal that suffering, or personal sacrifice, had, in some way, an efficacy to make atonement for it. Hence the costly offerings of heathen nations to their gods; hence their bloody rites, the offering up of human victims, and even of their own children. But when once the principle was established that personal suffering could do away sin, then a door was opened for license to sin; and hence the monstrous, and apparently inconsistent spectacle, so often witnessed, of sensuality walking hand in hand with self-torture.

In opposition to these corruptions and distortions,

* Lectures on Spiritual Christianity.

« הקודםהמשך »