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Vindication of Human Nature.
ROMANS, xiv. 7.
For none of us liveth to himself.
HERE is not a sentence in scripture which strikes a narrow soul with greater astonishment;-and one might as easily engage to clear up the darkest problem in geometry to an ignorant mind, as make a sordid one comprehend the truth and reasonableness of this plain proposition. -No man liveth to himself!-Why!-does any man live to any thing else?-In the whole compass of human life, can a prudent man steer to a safer point?-Not live to himself!-To whom then?Can any interests or concerns which are foreign to a man's self, have such a claim over him, that he must serve under them,-suspend his own pursuits,-step out of his right course, till others have passed by him, and attained the several ends and purposes of liying before him?
If, with a selfish heart, such an inquirer should happen to have a speculating head too, he will proceed, and ask you, Whether this same principle, which the apostle here throws out, of the life of man, is not, in fact, the grand bias of his nature? That however we may flatter ourselves with fine-spun notions of disinterestedness and heroism in what we do; that were the most popu lar of our actions stripped naked, and the truest motives and intentions of them searched to the bottom, we should find little reason for triumph upon that score.――
In a word, he will say, that a man is altogether a bubble to himself in this matter; and that, after all that can be said in his behalf, the truest defi
nition that can be given of him, is this, That he is a selfish animal; and that all his actions have so strong a tincture of that character, as to show, (to whomsoever else he was intended to live) that, in fact, he lives only to himself.
Before I reply directly to this accusation, I cannot help observing, by the way, that there is scarce any thing which has done more disservice to social virtue than the frequent representations of human nature, under this hideous picture of deformity, which, by leaving out all that is generous and friendly in the heart of man, has sunk him below the level of a brute, as if he was a composition of all that was mean-spirited and selfish. Surely, it is one step towards acting well, to think worthily. of our nature; and, as in common life, the way to make a man honest, is, to suppose him so, and treat him as such; ;- --so here to set some value upon ourselves, enables us to support the character, and even inspires and adds sentiments of generosity and virtue to those which we have already pre-conceived. The scripture tells us, That GOD made man in his own image,
not surely in the sensitive and corporeal part of him, that could bear no resemblance with a pure and infinite spirit ;-but what resemblance he bore was undoubtedly in the moral rectitude, and the kind and benevolent affections of his nature. And though the brightness of his image has been sullied greatly by the fall of man in our first parents, and the characters of it rendered still less legible, by the many superinductions of his own depraved appetites since,yet, it is a laudable pride, and a true greatness of mind, to cherish a belief, that there is so much of that glorious image still left upon it, as shall restrain him from base and disgraceful actions; to answer which end, what thought can be more conducive than that, of our being made in the like
ness of the greatest and best of Beings? This is a plain consequence. And the consideration of it should have, in some measure, been a protection to human nature, from the rough usage she has met with from the satirical pens of so many of the French writers, as well as of our own country, who, with more wit than well-meaning, have desperately fallen foul upon the whole species, as a set of creatures incapable either of private friendship or public spirit, but just as the case suited their own interest and advantage.
That there is selfishness, and meanness enough, in the souls of one part of the world, to hurt the credit of the other part of it, is what I shall not dispute against; but, to judge of the whole, from this bad sample, and, because one man is plotting and artful in his nature,- or a second openly makes his pleasure or his profit the sole centre of all his designs,-or because a third strait-hearted wretch sits confined within himself-feels no misfortunes but those which touch himself: To involve the whole race, without mercy, under such detested characters, is a conclusion as false as it is pernicious; and, was it in general to gain credit, could serve no end but the rooting out of our nature all that is generous, and planting, in the stead of it, such an aversion to each other, as must untie the bands of society, and rob us of one of the greatest pleasures of it, the mutual communications of kind offices; and,by poisoning the fountain, render every thing suspected that flows thro' it.
To the honor of human nature, the scripture teaches us that God made man upright,—and, though he has since found out many inventions, which have much dishonored this noble structure, yet the foundation of it stands as it was,-the whole frame and design of it carried on upon social virtue and public spirit, and every member of us so evidently supported by this strong cement,
that we may say with the apostle, That no man liveth to himself. In whatsoever light we view him, we shall see evidently, that there is no station or condition of his life,-no office, or relation, or circumstance, but there arises from it so many ties, so many indispensible claims upon him, as must perpetually carry him beyond any selfish consideration, and show plainly, that, was a man foolishly wicked enough to design to live to himself alone, he would either find it impracticable, or he would loose, at least, the very thing which made life itself desirable. We know that our Creator, like an All-wise contriver, in this, as in all other of his works, has implanted in mankind such appetites and inclinations as were suitable for their state; that is, such as would naturally lead him to the love of society and friendship, without which, he would have been found in a worse condition than the very beasts of the field. No one, therefore, who lives in society, can be said to live to himself; he lives to his GOD,-to his king and his country;he lives to his family, to his friends, to all under his trust; and, in a word, he lives to the whole race of mankind: Whatsoever has the character of man, and wears the same image of GOD that he does, is truly his brother and has a just claim to his kindness.That this Is the case in fact, as well as in theory, may be made plain to any one who has made any observations upon human life.-When we have traced it through all its connections-viewed it under the several obligations which succeed each other in a perpetual rotation thro' the different stages of a hasty pilgrimage, we shall find, that these do operate so strongly upon it, and lay us justly under so many restraints, that we are every hour sarificing something to society, in return for the benefits we receive from it.
To illustrate this, let us take a short survey of
the life of any one man, (not liable to great ex, ceptions, but such a life as is common to most); let us examine it merely to this point, and try how far it will answer such a representation.
If we begin with him in that early age wherein the strongest marks of undisguised tenderness and disinterested compassion show themselves, I might previously observe, with what impressions he is come out of the hand of Gop, with the very bias upon his nature which prepares him for the character which he was designed to fulfil.But let us pass by the years which denote childhood, as no lawful evidence, you will say, in this dispute; let us follow him to the period when he has just got loose from tutors and governors, when his actions may be argued upon with less exception. If you observe, you will find, that one of the first and leading propensities of his nature, is that which discovers itself in the desire of society, and the spontaneous love towards those of his kind. And tho' the natural wants and exigencies of his condition are, no doubt, one reason of this amiable impulse,-God having founded that in him as a provisional security to make him social; yet, tho' it is a reason in nature, it is a reason, to him yet undiscovered.
Youth is not apt to philosophize so deeply-but follows as it feels itself prompted by the inward workings of benevolence without view of itself, or previous calculation, either of the loss or profit which may accrue. Agreeably to this, observe how warmly, how heartily he enters into friendship, how disinterested and unsuspicious in the choice of them, how generous and open in his professions!-how sincere and honest in making them good! When his friend is in distress,what lengths he will go,-what hazards he will bring upon himself,- -what embarrassment upon his affairs, to extricate and serve him! If man