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BY LYMAN BEECHER, D. D. BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS.
THE NATIVE CHARACTER OF MAN.
I. JOHN, iv. 7-Every one that loveth, is born of God.
THE love here spoken of, is holy love; which assimilates its subject to God. Every one that loveth, is born of God; that is, is a child of God, and bears his image. It is that love which is styled the fulfilling of the law, and which is the principle of evangelical obedience. It is religion. For every one that loveth, knoweth God but to know God is life eternal;-is religion. This love does not belong to man by nature. never a quality of his heart, as a consequence of his birth; but is the result, in all cases, of a special divine interposition. For, if religion were the character first sustained by man, it would not be true that " every one that loveth is born of God.”
It will be the object of this discourse, тO SHOW THAT MAN IS NOT RELIGIOUS BY NATURE. By religion we intend supreme love to God. By man we mean the entire race and by the proposition, that man is not religious by nature, we mean, that there is nothing in him, of which religion is the natural effect or consequence, without a special divine interposition. When natural objects produce certain effects uniformly, we suppose that there is in them some cause for such results, which we call their nature; and if there be certain effects which they never produce, we say that it is not in their nature to produce them. When it is affirmed of man, therefore, that he is not religious by nature, we mean that there is nothing in his constitution of which religion is the result, without a special divine interposition; and that the first accountable character which he sustains is not a religious character. It will not be denied, that, if religion exist at all in man, it must be found in his heart. It must consist primarily in the state of his affections towards God-must include a predominant friendship for God, complacency in his character, delight in his service, approbation of his law, and resignation to the dispensations of his providence. With this view of the subject, we remark,
I. UNIVERSAL EXPERIENCE AFFORDS EVIDENCE THAT MAN IS NOT
RELIGIOUS BY NATURE.
Have religious affections found a place in your hearts, my hearers, from your earliest years? Do all of you, even now, experience them? Do you believe that you are religious, and that you have been from the beginning? Are you prepared to die? Whatever you may be disposed to hope from the mercy of God, should you be called suddenly out of time, have you any evidence that you now possess, or ever have possessed, those affections of heart, which constitute a religious character, and are necessary to qualify for heaven? Are you conscious of supreme love to God? Do you love his word, his worship, his people? Do you maintain, habitually, secret prayer, and delight in the duty? Are you meek under injurious treatment, self-denied in temptation, and resigned to the will of God in affliction? This is religion. But is this the experience of any one in this assembly who has no reason to believe that he is born of God? If not, you certainly are not religious by nature. And if you present this outline of religious experience to your neighbour, you will find that he has nothing that answers to it in his first accountable state of feeling; and if you extend the inquiry through the world, you will find none who possess religious affections in the beginning.
This truth is confirmed also by the uniform experience of awakened sinners. From the day of Pentecost to the present, multitudes have experienced a deep anxiety for their souls. But universally the cause of this anxiety has been the discovery that they had no religion. They have perceived always that the law of God required of them affections of heart which they did not possess; and nothing has been found to aggravate their distress more than the simple direction, to love the Lord their God supremely, and to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. They have always replied, we cannot love, we cannot repent, we cannot believe"a direct confession that they have no religion, We are sensible that there are multitudes who are not thus awakened. But does their stupidity prove that they are religious? or discredit the consciousness of those who are awakened, in respect to their own character? This consciousness then of all who are awakened, that they have no religion, is strong presumptive evidence that the fact is the same with respect to those who are not awakened.
To this we may add the testimony of those who furnish evidence of piety. Their testimony is, that their religious experience is a state of the affections, and is something new. We are not insensible that some persons profess religion who disclaim the existence of any great change in the state of their affections towards God; who claim that they have always from their earliest years loved God religiously. But it must be remembered, that the religion to which they lay claim, is not such religion as we have described. To this they make no pretensions; but ridicule it, often, as visionary and enthusiastic. We admit then, that men may have such religion as these persons profess without a change of heart. But we insist that the outline of religious experience which we have drawn is the religion of the Bible; and that all who are conscious of possessing it, do testify that it is a state of the affections, entirely new; and that this uniform testimony of the pious strengthens the presumption that religion is never the first character of man, but is always the result of a divine interposition.
II. THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD IS UTTERLY INCONSISTENT WITH THE SUPPOSITION OF NATIVE PIETY IN MAN.]
If man is religious by nature, we should expect to witness the ef fects of early and universal piety in the history of the world. A world whose inhabitants all begin their accountable course religiously, could not surely furnish the same materials for history as a world whose early character is that of alienation from God. But does the history of the world confirm the supposition that man is religious by nature? Of those who, in adult age, afford credible evidence of piety, three fourths at least continue to do so; and the reasons would be stronger in favour of perseverance, if religion were the first character of all men. But do three fourths of the human race, or one fourth, afford evidence of piety from childhood upward? Is it not a rare event to find it at all among children? Among real Christians religion is a predominant principle of action. But does the history of the world show that religion has been the predominant principle of action in the human race? What is the origin of governments but necessity? Families cannot dwell in safety in the world without protection, and therefore associate in tribes; and tribes, wearied with the action and re-action of violence, coalesce for safety, and form the more extended communities of nations. Until these great associations were formed the world had no rest, and the arts of civilized life were scarcely known. But towards each other nations have displayed the same principles of ambition and violence which marked the conduct of individuals, and families, and tribes. The history of nations is the history of crimes and blood, and not of peace and good will to men. If men were religious by nature, we might expect that the knowledge and worship of the true God would be in every age universal. Instead of this, two thirds of the human family have been idolaters. Notwithstanding the invisible things of God are clearly seen by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; and notwithstanding all that God has done by revelation, and by miracle, and by his Spirit, two thirds of the human family have changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to four-footed beasts and creeping things. Why is this? The evidence of His being is not obscure, and the divinity of idols is not supported by even specious evidence. The service of God is reasonable, pure, and benign; while that of idols is obscene, expensive, and bloody. Could a race, of which every individual commenced his accountable course under the influence of religion, have done thus ?
III. IT IS THE UNIFORM TESTIMONY OF THE BIBLE, THAT MEN ARE NOT RELIGIOUS BY NATURE.
1. This is strongly implied in the utter silence of the scriptures in respect to the piety of man by nature. If the first character which man sustains is a religious character, the scriptures could not have failed to recognise it. It would be a commanding fact which would extend its implications through every page, and modify every doctrine. Surely the descriptions of a religious and of an alienated world would not be the same. But we have examined, one by one, all the passages which speak of the heart of man, and there is not one which declares or implies that it is the subject of religion by nature. Whence this silence? It is one great object of the Bible to make man acquainted with his own heart; and much is disclosed concerning its wickedness. Why is nothing said of its excellence, if religion be one of its native attributes? This
silence, though only negative testimony, corroborates greatly the preceding evidence that man is not religious by nature.
2. The Bible ascribes to the natural heart of man a character utterly incompatible with the existence of religion. Before the flood, every imagination of man's heart is described as being evil only, continually; and after that event, as evil still, from his youth. This last declaration is made also as a reason why God in all future ages will no more curse the ground for man's sake, affording testimony, not only that the heart of man was evil then from his youth, but that it would continue to be so through all ages;-unreclaimed by judgments however numerous or severe. Thirteen hundred years later the hearts of the sons of men are described as "full of evil." And still later, as "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." The account which is given of the heart by our Saviour is as explicit and forcible as any of the preceding, "Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, blasphemies."
Upon this testimony of the Bible we remark, that the heart of man is never described as becoming thus wicked by any change from native goodness to evil since the fall of Adam. But when described as evangelically good, it is always done in terms which imply a change from evil to goodness.
Whenever men conduct wickedly, they are regarded as illustrating their own natural character-as obeying the dictates of their own hearts. But when they manifest religious affections, these are described as the fruits of the Spirit; and when they are given up to irreclaimable wickedness, they are given up to their own hearts' lust-to their foolish and darkened hearts-to vile affections through the lust of their own hearts after their hard and impenitent hearts treasuring up wrath. How then stands the testimony of the Bible concerning the heart of man? It is silent as to the existence in it of religion: It is described in terms which preclude its existence. It is never represented as becoming bad by the loss of religion, or as being good except as the effect of a divine interposition; and when abandoned to itself, it is always represented as being desperately wicked. Will it be alleged that this testimony is ancient, and that the heart of man may have changed for the better? To break the force of the testimony it must not only be possible that a change may have taken place, but it must be proved that it actually has taken place. Can such proof be found in the Bible? Is there a passage which asserts or implies that a universal change has taken place in the heart of man since the preceding descriptions of it were placed upon record.
Will it be alleged that Enoch, and Noah, and Moses, and Abraham, and others are spoken of as righteous, without any mention that they had expérienced a change of heart? If it were so, it would not prove that no change had been experienced. The omission to recognise the change in the record, does not prove that it never happened. But it is implied of all these that they did experience a change of character. Faith implies a change of character, and is the gift of God. But by faith Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain. By faith Enoch walked with God. By faith Abraham offered his son. By faith Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter. Will it be said that the pre
ceding proof is contained in a few detached texts of Scripture? The texts are the testimony of God. They relate to the subject in question; and are direct and explicit. They are not detached from the context, to speak a meaning which they would not be authorized to speak in their connection. And as to their being detached in any other sense, what if they were all contained on one page? would that increase their perspicuity? Or what if they were multiplied an hundred fold? would that increase the evidence of divine testimony? How near together must the declaration of God be placed, and how often must they be repeated, to be entitled to credit? And what is the character of those to whom the Lord speaketh once, yea twice, and they regard it not?
3. The scriptural account of childhood and youth implies that mankind are not religious by nature. Every imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth." "Childhood and youth are vanity." "Folly is bound up in the heart of a child." "The wicked are estranged from the womb."
Could all this be said of childhood and youth, if the first accountable character they sustain were a religious character? Is every imagination of the pious evil? Is religion vanity, or folly, or estrangement from God? It must be remembered also that the preceding are not specific descriptions of some children and youth, but generic descriptions of the entire race of man in the early periods of life.
4. The generic descriptions of man contained in the Bible are such as preclude the supposition that he is religious by nature.
The term man includes all men of all nations. One nation is not man. All nations but one are not man. Every individual of the race is included; and whatever is declared of the genus, is declared concerning every individual as such. Is the lion ferocious? It is the character of all the race. Is the asp venomous? It is true of every asp. Is man born to trouble as the sparks fly upward? none then escape trouble. Does he die and waste away? there is no discharge then from that war.
When it is demanded, then, what is man that he should be clean, or he that is born of a woman that he should be righteous? it is a positive declaration that man is not clean-is not righteous-as a natural consequence of his birth. He possesses strength, and intelligence, and memory, and will, and affections, and appetites, and passions, as the result of a constitution with which he is born. But moral purity-righteousnessit is expressly declared, is not, like these, the consequence of natural birth.
The world, is another generic term by which the human race is characterized; and always in a manner which excludes the supposition of religion as being the first or natural character of man. We know that we (Christians) are of God; [that is, are born of God,] and the whole world lieth in wickedness. He (Christ) was in the world, and the world knew him not. O, righteous Father, the world hath not known thee. Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. I have given them thy word, and the world hath hated them. If ye [my disciples] were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, therefore the world hateth you. In these passages the world is contrasted with the pious; and both together, like the