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THE CHRISTIAN WARFARE
ON HUMAN DEPRAVITY.
Shall enmity and strife,
Almighty Lord, thy further grace impart!
THE injunction "know thyself," was revered by heathen sages as fraught with the wisdom of inspiration. They were not insensible to the importance of this kind of knowledge, and they knew it to be of very difficult attainment. On earth, the individuals who aspire to the greatest good, generally impose upon themselves the greatest labour. In the matter now to be considered this is especially manifest. Men fail to know themselves, when they fail to become students for the purpose; and it is only as their attention is concentrated on this point, that Wisdom is justified of her children.
But it is not from the oracles of heathenism that the true character of man may be learnt. Nor is this wisdom to be derived from the exercise of our own unaided thoughtfulness, however profound, or however ingenuous that thoughtfulness may be. It is reserved for the oracles of God fully to unveil the human heart. The book which alone reveals the full glory of the Almighty, can alone determine the extent of our obligations; and, as a consequence, the extent of that delinquency, or disorder which now pertains to us. It is the office, moreover, of the Divine Spirit, to give to the truth-the unwelcome truth-thus exhibited, the force of demonstration. The testimonies of heathenism corroborate the truth; they do not supply it. The view of human nature which they place before us is indeed a painful one, but it fails to present the darker and more appalling features of the reality. It is to the sacred scriptures, then, that our attention must be directed, if we would form a correct judgment with respect to the moral condition of our race; and with respect to ourselves, as parts of the whole. May the promised aids of the Holy Spirit be vouchsafed to us!-we shall then understand the things written for our learning. The entrance of thy word giveth light.
On this subject, there are two questions which seem to have special claim to consideration. What is the Extent of that Depravity which the scriptures attribute to mankind? And, what do
we know with regard to the Origin of this state of human nature?
I. It is obvious that we live in an evil world; in a region where the lusts of the flesh and of the mind are constantly assuming all the possible forms of deception, ever practising their impositions on mankind, and not unfrequently on the individuals who indulge them. It is a scene where every man is more or less a deceiver and deceived; and one, accordingly, in which every thing good must be exposed to danger, like a plant which has to contend against a soil and a climate not a little unfriendly to it. And the hazards to which every thing good is exposed on earth, will be found to result from the weakness of its friends, almost as much as from the enmities of its foes. The history of the church affords confirmation of this statement, which is but too abundant. There is scarcely a doctrine of the gospel which has not suffered as much from those who have received it in substance, as from those who have rejected it altogether. In some instances it has been softened down, or blended with partial error, so as to lose its true character and efficiency; and in others it has been pushed to excess in an opposite direction, so as to produce a needless revolt both of the understanding and of the heart. Thus has it been with the doctrine
of human depravity. While some men have abridged its meaning in a manner unauthorized
by scripture; others have pushed a few particular texts so far, and have given them so wide an application, as to leave no very perceptible difference between the most amiable among unconverted men and an angel of darkness. It is not in the refinements of the former class, nor in the extravagance of the latter, that we discern the truth as it is in Jesus. It will be easy to shew, that the charge proved against the human race is one of awful and ruinous import, without supposing that men in general are convicted of all the evil to which the nature of fallen creatures may become subject.
It may be proper, therefore, to notice distinctly in this place, what is NOT meant by the scripture doctrine of human depravity. It is to be observed, that the sacred writers distinguish, very carefully, between the duties which have respect to man, and those which have respect to God-between what we may call the morality of social life, and the religion which prepares the spirits of men to enter upon the elevated intercourse, pursuits, and enjoyments of the heavenly world. It is not denied that the man who is devoid of true Christianity may possess much of the former. It is with regard to the latter only that every such person is declared to be wholly wanting. He may have the tenderness of a parent, the virtues of a friend, the generosity of a patriot, the charities of a philanthropist. He may spurn at dishonesty, he may loathe a lie. All the ties that bind him to his
family, his acquaintance, his country, and the human race, may be generally respected. He may be among the most forward to discountenance the vices which bring misery in their train, and to patronize the conduct, and the dispositions, which tend to the present welfare of individuals and of communities. Depraved as the world may be, these are among the things of which an apostle speaks as obtaining a good report in it. Its standard recognizes them as good, and has made them matters of commendation. The de
gree in which fruits of this nature may abound, and the elements of religious character, after all, be unattained, is disclosed in the case of the young ruler mentioned in the gospel. Nor can we look to our own neighbourhood, or connexions, without meeting with many similar examples. How many do we there see, who appear to want but one thing to make them all we could I wish them to be! How painful is it, that this one deficiency should relate to the one thing needful! The young ruler preferred the possessions of earth to the treasures of heaven. Yet it is written, that Jesus, looking on him, loved him. And in our own day, where we mourn the absence of piety, are we not often bound to respect the presence of much moral worth? Nor should it be otherwise. Our prayer should be, that those who seem to approach so near to the kingdom of God, may be constrained to enter it.
When we read, therefore, that, in the days of