Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
The Happiness of Adam
By Robert South (16341716)
From Sermons preached upon Several Occasions
HE came into the world a philosopher, which sufficiently appeared by his writing the nature of things upon their names; he could view essences in themselves, and read forms without the comment of their respective properties: he could see consequents yet dormant in their principles, and effects yet unborn, and in the womb of their causes: his understanding could almost pierce into future contingents, his conjectures improving even to prophecy, or the certainties of prediction; till his fall, it was ignorant of nothing but of sin; or at least it rested in the notion, without the smart of the experiment. Could any difficulty have been proposed, the resolution would have been as early as the proposal; it could not have had time to settle into doubt. Like a better Archimedes, the issue of all his inquiries was an [eureka],1 an [eureka], the offspring of his brain without the sweat of his brow. Study was not then a duty, night-watchings were needless; the light of reason wanted not the assistance of a candle. This is the doom of fallen man, to labour in the fire, to seek truth in profundo, to exhaust his time and impair his health, and perhaps to spin out his days, and himself, into one pitiful, controverted conclusion. There was then no poring, no struggling with memory, no straining for invention: his faculties were quick and expedite; they answered without knocking, they were ready upon the first summons, there was freedom and firmness in all their operations. I confess, it is difficult for us, who date our ignorance from our first being, and were still bred up with the same infirmities about us with which we were born, to raise our thoughts and imagination to those intellectual perfections that attended our nature in the time of innocence; as it is for a peasant bred up in the obscurities of a cottage, to fancy in his mind the unseen splendours of a court. But by rating positives by their privatives, and other arts of reason, by which discourse supplies the want of the reports of sense, we may collect the excellency of the understanding then, by the glorious remainders of it now, and guess at the stateliness of the building, by the magnificence of its ruins. All those arts, rarities, and inventions, which vulgar minds gaze at, the ingenious pursue, and all admire, are but the reliques of an intellect defaced with sin and time. We admire it now, only as antiquaries do a piece of old coin, for the stamp it once bore, and not for those vanishing lineaments and disappearing draughts that remain upon it at present. And certainly that must needs have been very glorious, the decays of which are so admirable. He that is comely, when old and decrepid, surely was very beautiful when he was young. An Aristotle was but the rubbish of an Adam, and Athens but the rudiments of Paradise.
The image of God was no less resplendent in that which we call mans practical understanding; namely, that storehouse of the soul, in which are treasured up the rules of action and the seeds of morality. Where, we must observe, that many who deny all connate notions in the speculative intellect, do yet admit them in this. Now of this sort are these maxims; that God is to be worshipped; that parents are to be honoured; that a mans word is to be kept, and the like; which, being of universal influence, as to the regulation of the behaviour and converse of mankind are the ground of all virtue and civility, and the foundation of religion.
It was the privilege of Adam innocent, to have these notions also firm and untainted, to carry his monitor in his bosom, his law in his heart, and to have such a conscience as might be its own casuist: and certainly those actions must needs be regular, where there is an identity between the rule and the faculty. His own mind taught him a due dependence upon God, and chalked out to him the just proportions and measures of behaviour to his fellow creatures. He had no catechism but the creation, needed no study but reflection, read no book, but the volume of the world, and that too, not for rules to work by, but for objects to work upon. Reason was his tutor, and first principles his magna moralia. The decalogue of Moses was but a transcript, not an original. All the laws of nations, and wise decrees of states, the statutes of Solon, and the Twelve Tables, were but a paraphrase upon this standing rectitude of nature, this fruitful principle of justice, that was ready to run out, and enlarge itself into suitable determinations, upon all emergent objects and occasions. Justice then was neither blind to discern, nor lame to execute. It was not subject to be imposed upon by a deluded fancy, nor yet to be bribed by a glozing appetite, for an utile or jucundum to turn the balance to a false and dishonest sentence. In all its directions of the inferior faculties, it conveyed its suggestions with clearness, and enjoined them with power; it had the passions in perfect subjection; and though its command over them was but suasive and political, yet it had the force of coaction, and despotical. It was not then, as it is now, where the conscience has only power to disapprove, and to protest against the exorbitances of the passions; and rather to wish, than make them otherwise. The voice of conscience now is low and weak, chastising the passions, as old Eli did his lustful, domineering sons; Not so, my sons not so; but the voice of conscience then was not, This should or This ought to be done; but, This must, This shall be done. It spoke like a legislator; the thing spoke was a law; and the manner of speaking it a new obligation. In short, there was as great a disparity between the practical dictates of the understanding then and now, as there is between empire and advice, counsel and command, between a companion and a governor.