We are by nature, when we are born into the world (since we come from the hands of the Creator) innocent and pure, and free from all moral corruption. We are also destitute of all positive holiness; and, until we have, by the exercise of his faculties, actually formed a character either good or bad, an object of the divine complacency and favor.
The complacency and favor of the Creator are expressed in all the kind provisions that God made of things given for our improvement and happiness. We are by nature no more inclined or disposed to vice than to virtue, and are equally capable of either, in the ordinary use of our faculties, and with the common assistance afforded us. We derive from our ancestors a frail and mortal nature; and are made with appetites which fit us for the condition of being in which God has placed us.
We have passions implanted in us [at birth] which are of great importance in the conduct of life, but which are equally capable of impelling us into a wrong or a right course. We have natural affections, all of them originally good, but liable by a wrong direction to be the occasion of error and sin.
We have reason and conscience to direct the conduct of life, and enable us to choose aright, which reason may yet be neglected, or perverted, and conscience misguided. The whole of these together make up what constitutes our trial and probation. They make us accountable beings, able to make a right or wrong choice, being equally capable of either and as free to the one as to the other.
But what of "human depravity?" The question is not whether there is a great deal of wickedness in the world, but what is the source of that wickedness; not whether mankind are very corrupt, but how they become so; whether it is a character born with them, or acquired; whether it is what God made them, or what they have made themselves.
It is easy to bring together into one picture, and place in a strong light, with exaggerated features, all the bad passions in their uncontrolled and unqualified state, all the atrocious crimes that have been committed, all the bad dispositions that have been indulged; but the picture, though it contain nothing, but what is found in us, will be far, very far, from being a just picture of human nature.
Let all that is virtuous, and kind, and amiable, and good, be brought into the picture, and presented also in their full proportions, and the former will be found to constitute a far less part of it, than we were ready to imagine.
Innocence, and simplicity, and purity are the characteristics of early life. Truth is natural; falsehood is artificial. Veracity, kindness, good will flow from the natural feelings. Duplicity, and all the cold, and selfish, and calculating manners of society are the fruit of education, and interaction with the world. We have marks enough of a feeble, helpless nature, calling for assistance, support, kindness; but we see no proofs of depravity, of malignity, of inclination to evil in preference to good.
By our natural birth we only become human, accountable beings. We receive by natural birth only the human nature. We receive no moral character, but only the faculties and powers, in the exercise of which a moral character is to be formed.
The formation of this character introduces us into a new state of being, and by whatever means, and at whatever time it takes place, we may be called "a new birth." And those who have thus acquired a moral character, and received the principles of a spiritual life, in addition to the natural human life, may be said to be born again.
We have certainly no cause to feel ourselves humbled under a sense of anything that we are by nature. We have occasion to be ashamed only of what we have become by practice. For the nature God has given us no sentiment but that of gratitude is due. Humility and self-condemnation should spring only from the consciousness of a course of life not answering to the powers, and faculties, and privileges of our nature.
Adapted from the writings of Dr. Henry Ware