« PreviousContinue »
our reason; and with the Bible in their hands, think to convince us, that religion is a very unreasonable thing. But singular as this conduct is, its cause is obvious. Men have thought that to undervalue and decry their natural powers, was to be humble. But RO mistake can be greater or more dangerous. It is not humility to lay our imperfections and follies at the door of another. It is not humility to make poor Adam or any body else take the blanie of our faults. True humility consists in sorrowing for something which we have done ourselves, and endeavoring to do better; not in finding fault with that nature which God has given us, and tracing all our sins to some other cause than our own bad passions, the evil propensities which we ourselves have created. Thus, says the excellent Jeremy Taylor, “men are taught to say that
every man sins in every action he does; and this is one of the doctrines for the believing of which he shall be accounted a good inan; and upon this ground it is easy for men to allow themselves some sins, when in all cases and in every action it is una voidable." Let us not be led away from the simplicity of “the truth as it is in Jesus," by such absurdities as these. We are surrounded by temptations, but none of them are greater than we can resist, because to him that asketh for strength, it will always be given. Let us then use to the best of our power all the means of improvement put within our reach, whether by Reason or Revelation, assured that we may safely measure our obligation and duty by our knowledge and capacity.
From the Unitarian Miscellany.
DOCTRINE OF TOTAL DEPRAVITY. Or two strange facts in the history of the human mind, we know not at whieh to wonder the most; whether at the intolerably absurd opinions which have been extensively embraced, or the real ingenuity which has
been perverted to defend them. On the one hand, we see the most stupid weakness; and on the other, an extraordinary power employed in supporting that very weakness and stupidity. If we were required to specify some remarkable instance of human folly, we should name some prevalent dogma of a corrupt religion ; and if we were desired to bring forward a corresponding instance of mental acuteness, we should point to the skill, which had labored to prove that self-same folly to be Heavenly wisdom. "Men give up their common sense, and then set out to persuade themselves, and convince others, that it is the most sensible thing which they could possibly do.
Take, for example, the doctrines of original sin, and total depravity. What extravagant systems have been constructed on these points; and what subtle disquisitions, and immense volumes, have been piled up, like walls, to fortify and guard them. How sorely the wise have been puzzled in attempting to discover why and how guilt and misery came into the world, without stopping once to consider that their introduction might be necessary to the perfection of a wise and general system; and how earnestly they have toiled to make it out that human nature was altogether vile, notwithstanding the good affections, dispositions, and actions, with which the world is full.
The true and simple, as well as the most natural and obvious account of original sin, we take to be this. Human nature is, and for the wisest purposes tended to be, an imperfect nature. Now imperfection implies a necessary liability to sin; it supposes weakness and error, and a departure from the line of abso. lute rectitude. We must have been either imperfect or perfect; and it is pretty evident that we were not intended to be either angels or gods. We assert that an infant is pure and innocent, not because we believe its nature to be sinless, not because we believe it to be created without propensities to evil, but simply because those propensities have not yet been brought
into action by the thousand occasions of the world, and consequently the child has not actually sinned. His nature remains the same; it is human nature, and imperfect nature, and the nature with which God chose to endow him, and the nature which must lead him, if he lives long enough, to transgress, in a greater or less degree, the divine law. So it is in the case of our first parents. They were at first, indeed, upright and spotless, as an infant is, and in no other way. But on account of their imperfect nature they yielded to a temptation, and transgressed a command of their Maker. "It is not so easy to tell, from the allegorical language of Scripture, what this transgression was; but whatever it might be, it was their first sin, or in a more technical language, their fall. We their descendants, sin, not because their particular sin is entailed upon us, but because we are created with the same nature that they were, and therefore cannot help sinning. What difficulty is there in all this ?
If the old question be asked, why did not the Almighty create us perfect? it is sufficient for us to answer, that we are not of His counsel; and we trust that He knows, tho we do not. We believe his wisdom to be infinite, and are altogether content that he should guide and govern the world as he sees most fit.
As to the doctrine of total depravity, we hardly know in what words to express our sentiments concerning it. On two or three passages of Scripture, which have been so misinterpreted as to contradict its most obvious and explicit declarations, has been founded the wild and revolting doctrine, that human nature is entirely corrupt; and that every human being, until affected by a supernatural and mystical agency, is wholly incapable of any good, and is justly subject to the wrath of God, and the torments of hell, forever and ever. This is exactly the Calvinistic belief, and by no means so strongly expressed as by some of its own advocates. And what a belief it
is? And what will men not believe, and what will they not defend, when they can receive and support 'such a dogma as this.
That human nature is sinful, no one who is acquainted with human nature will deny. That there is transgression, and folly, and wickedness, and outtage, in the world, and in abundance too, no one who lives in the world, and marks its ways, can for a mo: ment doubt. That there are crowds of evil desires and imaginations in the heart of man, no one who has lifted the veil from a brother's heart, or from his own, will think of questioning. But this is not total depravity; and the man who can look forth into society, and see virtue mitigating the influences of vice, justice repairing the injuries of violence, pity hanging on the footsteps of revenge, charity extending pretection and aid to the desolate and oppressed ; see, in short, the thousand good offices which are passing from hand to hand, and the thousand manifestations of good feeling which are flowing perpetually from breast to breast; and then with a grate face declare that four nature is utterly vile, and that, with the exception of a few who have the presumptuous superstition to imagine themselves the elect of God, every human being is wholly depraved and lost, the man who can do this, we say, must either be deficient in natural understanding, or he must have had that understanding wofully perverted by education and sophistry.
It is of no manner of use to tell us of the learned and ingenious books which have been written to demonstrate this doctrine, nor of the able and pious men who have thought proper to write them. know perfectly well, that a plain man, unacquainted with metaphysical discussion, might be so bewildered by the reasonings of an auther like Edwards, as to doubt whether he trod upon the earth, or was shone upon by the sun. But let us be informed in fair, honest words, what is meant by this phrase, total depravity, so that we may decide, and others may decide, whether we are to adopt, or to reject and denounce it. If it means that there exists no human being who is without sin, and who does not frequently transgress the commandments of the Almighty; if it means that vice and atrocity may be met with in every corner of the earth, and that not a day goes by without a long account of disorders, follies and crimes; why then we are orthodos on this point ourselves, and have nothing further to say. But if it means, according to the plain signification of the words, that there is no good whatever in "unregenerate” man, but that all his actions, all his affections, and all his thoughts, are thoroughly corrupt and evil; we have not the least hesitation in saying, that it stands: for one of the most idle and perverse imaginations, which ever, occupied the mind of man; and that fact, and observation, and experience, and feeling, and Heaven, and earth, cry out against it, and proclaim it false.
That such is the true meaning of the orthodox doctrine of total depravity, is incontrovertibly evident from the writings of those, who have hitherto been considered as standard authors on the subject. And where are we to obtain the true meaning of a doc. trine, if not from those who broached, and who defend it? What can be plainer than the following passage from Edwards, which is only one out of five hundred to the same purpose ? "So long as men are in their natural state, they not only have no good thing; but it is impossible they should have, or do, any good thing." Now, that is the genuine Calvinistic doctrine; and if Edwards had been inconceivably more acute than he was, and had filled the world with his books, and had ranked on his side all the Assemblies that were ever called, all the Catechisms that were ever made, and all the Divines that ever lived, we would have spurned such a doctrine, as we spura it now, for it is against reason, against nature, and against fact. All the arguments and authorities that could be named can be of no avail, so long as human nature, and the world, remain as they are.