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The depravity of nature appears by a propensity in all to sin immediately, as soon as they are capable of it, and to sin continually and progressively; and also by the remains of sin in the best of men.
The great depravity of man’s nature appears, not only in that they universally commit sin, who spend any long time in the world; but in that men are naturally so prone to sin, that none ever fail of immediately transgressing God’s law, and so of bringing infinite guilt on themselves, and exposing themselves to eternal perdition, as soon as they are capable of it.
The Scriptures are so very express upon it, that all mankind, all flesh, all the world, every man living, are guilty of sin; that it must at least be understood, everyone capable of active duty to God, or of sin against him. There are multitudes in the world, who have but very lately begun to exert their faculties, as moral agents; and so have but just entered on their state trial, as acting for themselves: many thousands constantly, who have not lived one month, or week, or day, since they have arrived at any period that can be assigned (for the commencement of their agency) from their birth to twenty years of age. Now—if there be not a strong propensity in men’s nature to sin, that should, as it were, hurry them on to speedy transgression, and if they have no guilt previous to their personal sinning—what should hinder, but that there might always be a great number, who have hitherto kept themselves free from sin, and have perfectly obeyed God’s law, and so are righteous in his sight, with the righteousness of the law? And who, if they should be called out of the world without any longer trial, as great numbers die at all periods of life, would be justified by the deeds of the law? And how then can it be true, that in God’s sight no man living can be justified, that no man can be just with God, and that by the deeds of the law no flesh can be justified, because by the law is the knowledge of sin? And what should hinder but that there may always be many in the world—who are capable subjects of instruction and counsel, and of prayer to God—for whom the calls of God’s word to repentance, to seek pardon through the blood of Christ, and to forgive others their injuries because they need that God should forgive them, would not be proper; and for whom the Lord’s prayer is not suitable, wherein Christ directs all his followers to pray, that God would forgive their sins, as they forgive those that trespass against them?
If there are any in the world—though but lately become capable of acting for themselves, as subjects of God’s law—who are perfectly free from sin; such are most likely to be found among the children of Christian parents, who give them the most pious education, and set them the best examples. And therefore, such would never be so likely to be found in any part or age of the world, as in the primitive Christian church, in the first age of Christianity, (the age of the church’s greatest purity,) so long after Christianity had been established, that there had been time for great numbers of children to be born, and educated by those primitive Christians. It was in that age, and in such a part of that age, that the apostle John wrote his first epistle to the Christians. But if there was then a number of them come to understanding, who were perfectly free from sin, why should he write as he does? 1 John i. 8, 9, 10. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and the truth is not in us.” 238238 If any should object, that this is an overstraining of things; and that it supposes a greater niceness and exactness than is observed in scripture representations, to infer from these expressions, that all men sin immediately as soon as ever they are capable of it. To this I would say, that I think the arguments used are truly solid, and do really and justly conclude, either that men are born guilty, and so are chargeable with sin before they come to act for themselves, or else commit sin immediately, without the least time intervening, after they are capable of understanding their obligations to God, and reflecting on themselves; and that the Scripture clearly determines, there is not one such person in the world , free from sin. But whether this be straining things to too great an exactness, or not; yet I suppose, none that do not entirely set aside the sense of such scriptures as have been mentioned, and deny those propositions which Dr. T himself allows to be contained in some of them, will deny they prove, that no considerable time passes after men are capable of acting for themselves, as the subjects of God’s law, before they are guilty of sin; because if the time were considerable, it would be great enough to deserve to be taken notice of, as an exception to such universal propositions, as, in thy sight shall no man living be justified, &c. And if this be allowed, that men are so prone to sin, that in fact all mankind do sin, as it were, immediately after they come to be capable of it, or fail not to sin so soon, that no considerable time passes before they run into transgression against God; it does not much alter the case, as to the present argument. If the time of freedom from sin be so small, as not to be worthy of notice in the forementioned universal propositions of Scripture, it is also so small, as not to be worthy of notice in the present argument.
Again, the reality and greatness of the depravity of man’s nature appears in this, That he has a prevailing propensity to be continually sinning against God. What has been observed above, will clearly prove this. That same disposition of nature, which is an effectual propensity to immediate sin, amounts to a propensity to continual sin. For a being prone to continual sinning, is nothing but a proneness to immediate sin continued. Such appears to be the tendency of nature to sin, that as soon as ever man is capable, it causes him immediately to sin, without suffering any considerable time to pass without sin. And therefore, if the same propensity be continued undiminished, there will be an equal tendency to immediate sinning again, without any considerable time passing. And so the same will always be a disposition still immediately to sin, with as little time passing without sin afterwards, as at first. The only reason that can be given why sinning must be 154 immediate at first, is that the disposition is so great, that it will not suffer any considerable time to pass without sin: and therefore, the same disposition being continued in equal degree, without some new restraint, or contrary tendency, it will still equally tend to the same effect. And though it is true, the propensity may be diminished, or have restraints laid upon it, by the gracious disposals of Providence, or the merciful influences of God’s Spirit; yet this is not owing to nature. That strong propensity of nature, by which men are so prone to immediate sinning at first, has no tendency in itself to a diminution; but rather to an increase; as the continued exercise of an evil disposition, in repeated actual sins, tends to strengthen it more and more: agreeable to that observation of Dr. T.’s, p. 228.: “We are apt to be drawn into sin by bodily appetites, and when once we are under the government of these appetites, it is at least exceeding difficult, if not impracticable, to recover ourselves, by the mere force of reason.” The increase of strength of disposition in such a case, is as in a falling body, the strength of its tendency to descend is continually increased, so long as its motion is continued. Not only a constant commission of sin, but a constant increase in the habits and practice of wickedness, is the true tendency of man’s depraved nature, if unrestrained by divine grace; as the true tendency of the nature of a heavy body, if obstacles are removed, is not only to fall with a continual motion, but with a constantly increasing motion. And we see, that increasing iniquity is actually the consequence of natural depravity, in most men, notwithstanding all the restraints they have. Dispositions to evil are commonly much stronger in adult persons, than in children, when they first begin to act in the world as rational creatures.
If sin be such a thing as Dr. T. himself represents it, p. 69. “a thing of an odious and destructive nature, the corruption and ruin of our nature, and infinitely hateful to God;” then such a propensity to continual and increasing sin, must be a very evil disposition. And if we may judge of the perniciousness of an inclination of nature, by the evil of the effect it naturally tends to, the propensity of man’s nature must be evil indeed: for the soul being immortal, as Dr. T. acknowledges, p. 94. S. it will follow from what has been observed above, that man has a natural disposition to one of these two things; either to an increase of wickedness without end, or till wickedness comes to be so great, that the capacity of his nature will not allow it to be greater. This being what his wickedness will come to by its natural tendency, if divine grace does not prevent, it may as truly be said to be the effect which man’s natural corruption tends to, as that an acorn in a proper soil, truly tends by its nature to become a great tree.
Again, That sin which is remaining in the hearts of the best men on earth, makes it evident, that man’s nature is corrupt, as he comes into the world. A remaining depravity of heart in the greatest saints, may be argued from the sins of most of those who are set forth in Scripture as the most eminent instances and examples of virtue and piety: and is also manifest from this, that the Scripture represents all God’s children as standing in need of chastisement. Heb. xii. 6, 7, 8. “For whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth; and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.—What son is he, whom the father chasteneth not?—If ye are without chastisement, then are ye bastards, and not sons.” But this is directly and fully asserted in some places; as in Eccles. vii. 20. “There is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.” Which is as much as to say, there is no man on earth, that is so just, as to have attained to such a degree of righteousness, as not to commit any sin. Yea, the apostle James speaks of all Christians as often sinning, or committing many sins; even in that primitive age of the christian church, an age distinguished from all others by eminent attainments in holiness: Jam. iii. 2. “In many things we all offend.” And that there is pollution in the hearts of all antecedent to all means for purification, is very plainly declared in Prov. xx. 9. “Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?”
According to Dr. T. men come into the world wholly free from sinful propensities. And if so, it appears from what has been already said, there would be nothing to hinder, but that many, without being better than they are by nature, might perfectly avoid the commission of sin. But much more might this be the case with men after they had, by care, diligence, and good practice, attained those positive habits of virtue, whereby they are at a much greater distance from sin, than they were naturally:—which this writer supposes to be the case with many good men. But since the Scripture teaches us, that the best men in the world do often commit sin, and have remaining pollution of heart, this makes it abundantly evident, that men, when they are no otherwise than they were by nature, without any of those virtuous attainments, have a sinful depravity; yea, must have great corruption of nature.
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