« PreviousContinue »
wish for it. It is essential to the advancement of society that every man should endeavour to form a proper estimate of his own faculties, and not suffer the thought of moral degradation, however justly and deeply felt, to weaken the sense of personal responsibility, or obliterate the consciousness of man's exalted nature. Every one has a soul—that is, an inward intelligent being - of various faculties, although it is perverted and polluted. This imparts to him inherent dignity, as well as power;
among his first duties is that of cherishing the highest sentiment of a pure self-love.
Let not this statement be misunderstood. Solomon observes, .He that getteth wisdom loveth bis own soul;' but it is necessary to distinguish between selfishness and self-love. The former is the disease of human nature ; at once prevalent and fatal. Not only is it not identical with self-love, but it is directly opposed to it; for it cannot be said that any man loves himself who destroys himself, whether suddenly or slowly, by the physical or moral means of self-ruin. This is the antagonistic principle to our very instincts and primary sensibilities. But the suicide destroys himself, and so does the devotee of wickedness; the man of selfish ends, of low ambition, and worldliness. It may be alleged that this is not the direct aim. Be it so ; but that does not alter the character of the actions in question. The intention of the first transgressor was not self-ruin, but self-gratification, the very opposite to that principle which we are endeavouring to inculcate.
The soul of man is properly himself; for it is that which distinguishes him from the mere sentient beings around him. The body is but the appendage-the vehicle or transmitting medium of the impressions and operations of the inner life. If, therefore, a man does not love his own soul, in the sense of Solomon, he does not realize its true character, or seek its real interest and improvement—he does not love himself. The love of life, in the lowest sense, is an instinctive feeling. The animal loves life according to its nature ; but if we do not love life according to our nature, we debase ourselves below the brute. To seek the preservation and welfare of life all allow to be a primary and universal law; and yet, with marvellous inconsistency, multitudes do not admit that the cultivation of life, in its truest and noblest sense, is either a duty or a blessedness ; but, disregarding both their rational and moral faculties, emphatically lose their own souls.'
As the desire of self-improvement, therefore, is an essential element of that improvement, one of the first efforts of the Christian philanthropist should be to inspire this sentiment—to rouse into action the inward consciousness of a capability of moral progress—to inspire a lively sense of the value of our being, and of the dependence of its welfare upon the bringing out the capacities of that being for its own advancement. And this consideration will apply both to temporal pursuits and spiritual attainments.
Self-love in the way of self-improvement is not only a concomitant of excellence, but a great obligation. Like every power of body or mind it involves a duty, for it is implanted in us for use.
It has its
appropriate objects and aims, which are to be pursued in obedience to the Creator's will—a will written as a primary law by the very bestowment of the faculty or power. He who lies down in inactivity instead of employing his bodily strength, will not only suffer the consequences in an enfeebled frame, but be guilty of a crime ; and who can question that, whoever acts in a similar manner with regard to his mind, is violating a sacred law inscribed by his Maker upon his inner being ?
II. The temporal interests of man are subordinate to the spiritual ; but the spiritual element of a renewed character is capable of producing temporal improvement. Christianity loses sight of neither; and in the personal labours of its Divine Author both the one and the other were clearly comprehended. He who taught the truth to the multitudes on the mountain-side, multiplied the fishes and the bread to provide for their bodily wants. He who poured salvation into the soul by his doctrine and spirit, cured the diseased frame, restored the crippled limb, and opened the blind eye. The compassion he manifested ever ran in two parallel streams of mercy to the soul and to the body, showing that a heaven-born philanthropy regards man in all his relations to time and eternity.
In estimating the two kinds of human necessity, however, the temporal occupies the lowest place, especially on this ground-that while the temporal, if supremely pursued, and exclusively for its own sake, is detrimental to the spiritual; the spiritual, that is, the right principle of truth and religion, has a direct tendency to advance the temporal interest of its possessor. Every man is not only the better for his religion considered in his relation to the future, but in his connexion with the present ; for Christianity in the heart is the source of all real virtue and happiness in the life. It is favourable to health ; and by establishing character, secures influence and success. He who is guided by it, whether in a high or low situation, will obtain advan. tages not otherwise accessible. He will understand his duties better, and enjoy his mercies more. He will avoid many afflictions, and know how to encounter all. And with respect to the different conditions of life, he will be the better master and the better servant—the better parent and the better child—the better magistrate and the better subject. It is here the springs of action are purified, the passions find their correction, and all the interests of man their advancement.
III. Notwithstanding the artificial distinctions of life, there is a moral equality among all the classes. The abuse of this sentiment does not impugn the principle. The highest of all authorities affirms, that God
hath made of one blood all nations of men.' The distinctions which obtain among mankind are not primary, but accidental ; not internal, but external. There is often in humble life a real pre-eminence of character, though divested of the blaze and brilliancy of rank; and, on the other hand, an intellectual and moral inferiority while wealth and station are possessed. Owing to a want of discrimination between the real and the unreal—the substance and the shadows of existenceunhappy prejudices prevail among the classes, generating indifference or superciliousness in the one, and discontent and dislike in the other. If it be not actually supposed by the more opulent that they are exempt from the vices of the poor, or that vice in them is not the same thing with vice in their inferior neighbours; yet being, as it is termed, educated, they are not the persons, as they too frequently imagine, to need the guidance which is suited to the working classes, But it is not education, in the restricted sense in which that word is commonly employed, that elevates, but instruction ; that is, it is not dexterity of intellect, or the mere accumulation of general knowledge, but the training of the mind and heart, that forms the man.
It is necessary, therefore, to view the individuals composing society in their natural state of moral equality. In order to devise the best means of doing them good, we must look at the universal depravity of the world. The whole is corrupt before God; and he who seeks to deal aright with any portion of fallen humanity, must remember that he is himself fallen. This will tend to correct pride, to purify and invigorate the sympathies, and to give effect to benevolent ministrations. And especially will these results be the more probable, when not only the moral equality of mankind is considered, but in connexion with it their general destiny. All have sinned, and all must die. Artificial distinctions are but the embellishments of a mortal life, resembling only the sparkles that play upon the surface of a rapid stream, which vanish at every instant. There is, then, little for one man, or one class of men, to boast over another; while a sense of the universal relation of a moral equality should produce as universal a humility and good will.
IV. Example possesses a power indefinitely great and important. The philosopher who, to settle a dispute between him and another on the question of motion, rose up and walked, furnished a demonstration without words of the most convincing kind. And if there be hesitation respecting the abstract principles of virtue and religion, as to their practical power; or if, as in every unrenewed heart there will be, reluctance to admit the claims of the gospel; the most efficient of all arguments will be, an exemplification in daily intercourse of its tendency to elevate the character and render life happy. Man has been described as an imitative being; and though goodness is the last thing he is prone to imitate, yet there is a certain charm in virtuous and consistent conduct, that influences by imperceptible degrees, and will sometimes conciliate the most determined hostility. Truth is, undoubtedly, the same in itself, by whomsoever and in whatever manner administered; but it has been committed not to angels, but to men, to teach their fellow-men, in order that its practical energy might be manifested in the most obvious and immediate manner.
It is, indeed, a trite remark, that example is better than precept; still it requires to be more constantly recognised, that mere precept, unaccompanied by practical conformity, much more when there is a direct contrariety of action, will, in general, have a repulsive character. The retort of the heart will ever be in the proverb, Physician, heal thyself.' Moral and religious persuasions carry with them, in such instances, the air of hypocrisy. The first element of persuasiveness is self-conviction. He who would make others feel, must himself feel; he who would
guide others, must take the lead, and not resemble the way-post that only points out the path. This is a point of true Christian philosophy.
The pharisaical religion became contemptible in consequence of what is stated by Christ. The Pharisees 'said, and did not ;' they laid heavy burdens on others, and grievous to be borne, but they themselves would not touch them with one of their fingers. Apart from the essential inefficacy of the philosophic systems of antiquity, the glaring contrast between the precepts and practice of their distinguished advocates tended to nullify their moral influence. Their rules were strict, but their lives were loose and unrestrained. No one discoursed better on magnanimity of mind and true greatness, amidst dangers and distresses, than Cicero ; and yet no one, in actual circumstances of calamity, evinced more dejection and pusillanimity of mind. Seneca writes with great force of expression and argument on contempt of riches and worldly things; but was himself an ambitious and covetous man, accumulating extraordinary wealth. On the contrary, Cæsar was powerful in command ; but exercised a more absolute sway over his soldiers by his example. All these instances bear strikingly upon instructions of a moral and religious character, and show how important to usefulness it is that a man's conduct should reflect his principles.
V. Efforts to promote the spiritual interests of mankind must be entirely moral. Hence the expulsion of wrong principles can only be secured by the implantation of right ones. Persecution in religion is founded upon the opposite sentiment. It is presumed that coercion will command a real obedience or a moral conviction. It has certainly made hypocrites and martyrs, but transformation of character can be accomplished in no other way than through the medium of truth, evidence, and sound argument. Vice, indeed, may be checked by other means, but cannot be exterminated. The axe must be laid at the root of the tree. The true philanthropist, then, may see at what he is to aim, and how he is to ply the ploughshare of moral improvement. He must penetrate the surface: he must go into the recesses of a man's own mind; and there, in the centre of his thoughts and passions, work out as from beneath the superficial as well as inward change. There the spiritual agriculture must begin, and there corruption must be subdued.
And what is applicable to an individual or to a class, belongs to a nation. It has, therefore, been justly remarked, that the desolating torrent of corruption will never be effectually combated by any expedient separate from the growth and the transmission of personal Christianity throughout the land. If no addition be made to the stock of religious principle in a country, then the profligacy of a country will make its obstinate stand against all the mechanism of the most skilful, and plausible, and well-looking contrivances. It must not be disguised that it does not lie within the compass either of prisons or penitentiaries to work any sensible abatement on the wickedness of our existing generation. The operations must be of a preventive, rather than of a corrective tendency. It must be brought to bear upon boyhood; and be kept up through the whole period of
random exposures through which it has to run on its way to an established condition in society; and a high tone of moral purity must be infused into the bosom of many individuals ; and their agency will effect, through the channels of family and social connexion, what never can be effected through any framework of artificial regulations, so long as the spirit and character of society remain what they are. In other words, the progress of reformation will never be sensibly carried forward beyond the progress of personal Christianity in the world.
VI. Every one is responsible for the exercise of his individual capacities for usefulness. The duty he owes to God becomes twofold in respect to man: first, with regard to self-discipline; and secondly, with regard to the necessities of others, and his opportunities of promoting their welfare. The capacity to do good involves the obligation. No man liveth or can live to himself. By the very law of his existence, as an intelligent being placed in a social condition, he must be influential upon others for good or for evil, and he may be so extensively. Every one both receives from, and communicates to, all creatures and all things around him. He cannot walk untouched among the crowd, or prevent the transmission of a thousand influences from himself as a moral centre to others near him, to many even without his immediate circle, and it may be to a distant posterity. Every man has something to do, much indeed that is incumbent on him to do. He should search out what it is, by inquiring what powers, resources, and opportunities he possesses; and then do it, to use a scriptural phrase, with all his might.' The home adage, . Let every one mend one,' is of incalculable practical value, and is as truly wise as it is universally applicable. It was the announcement of a comprehensive principle, as well as a genuine burst of patriotism, when Nelson gave the signal, • England expects every man to do his duty.' But a greater than Nelson is here; and laying hold of the very selfishness of our nature to elevate it by permanent, intelligible, and ennobling law, he enjoins all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do
ye even so to them.'
VII. The self-elevation of the wealthier part of the community has an essential bearing upon the exaltation of the poorer and workingclasses. It is not meant by this statement that the wealthier must seek to become more wealthy to promote their temporal welfare, or the religious more lavish in their expenditure to advance, by gifts or accommodating edifices, their spiritual progress; but rather that they should discipline their own minds, and aspire after the higher attainments of virtue and religion in themselves, as the means of raising the character of those below them. Let those who are above others in station possess a character that shall be commensurate with their rank, and the moral power of it will soon be apparent. All society will, sooner or later, rise or sink together. If the lower classes are kept low by the folly, oppressions, and crimes of the higher, the higher will keep themselves low by these means, or rather prepare for their own descent, as well as preclude, to a great extent, the elevation