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The depravity of nature appears, in that the general consequence of the state and tendency of man’s nature is a much greater degree of sin, than righteousness; not only with respect to value and demerit, but matter and quantity.
I have before shown, that there is a propensity in man’s nature to that sin, which in heinousness and ill desert immensely outweighs all the value and merit of any supposed good, that may be in him, or that he can do. I now proceed to say further, that such is man’s nature, in his present state, that it tends to this lamentable effect, that there should at all times, through the course of his life, be at least much more sin, than righteousness; not only as to weight and value, but as to matter and measure; more disagreement of heart and practice from the law of God, and from the law of nature and reason, than agreement and conformity. The law of God is the rule of right, as Dr. T. often calls it: It is the measure of virtue and sin: so much agreement as there is with this rule, so much is there of rectitude, righteousness, or true virtue, and no more; and so much disagreement as there is with this rule, so much sin is there. Having premised this, the following things may be here observed.
I. The degree of disagreement from this rule of right is to be determined, not only by the degree of distance from it in excess, but also in defect; or in other words, not only in positive transgression, or doing what is forbidden, but also in withholding what is required. The divine Lawgiver does as much prohibit the one as the other, and does as much charge the latter as a sinful breach of his law, exposing to his eternal wrath and curse, as the former. Thus at the day of judgment, as described Matt. xxv. The wicked are condemned as cursed, to everlasting fire, for their sin in defect and omission: I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat, &c. And the case is thus, not only when the defect is in word or behaviour, but in the inward temper and exercise of the mind. 1 Cor. xvi. 22 . “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha.” Dr. T. speaking of the sentence and punishment of the wicked, (Matt. xxv. 41, 46.) says, p. 159: “It was manifestly for want of benevolence, love, and compassion to their fellow-creatures, that they were condemned.” And elsewhere, as was observed before, he says, that the law of God extends to the latent principles of sin to forbid them, and to condemn to eternal destruction for them. And if so, it doubtless also extends to the inward principles of holiness, to require them, and in like manner to condemn for the want of them.
II. The sum of our duty to God, required in his law, is love; taking love in a large sense, for the true regard of our hearts to god, implying esteem, honour, benevolence, gratitude, complacence, &c. This is not only very plain by the Scripture, but it is evident in itself. The sum of what the law of God requires, is doubtless obedience to that law: no law can require more than that it be obeyed. But it is manifest, that obedience is nothing, any otherwise than as a testimony of the respect of our hearts to God: without the heart, man’s external acts are no more than the motions of the limbs of a wooden image; have no more of the nature of either sin or righteousness. It must therefore needs be, that love to God, the respect of the heart, must be the sum of the duty required in his law.
III. It therefore appears from the premises, that whosoever 155 withholds more of that love or respect of heart from God, which his law requires, than he affords, has more sin than righteousness. Not only he that has less divine love, than passions and affections which are opposite; but also he that does not love God half so much as he ought, or has reason to do, has justly more wrong than right imputed to him, according to the law of God, and the law of reason; he has more irregularity than rectitude, with regard to the law of love. The sinful disrespect of his heart towards God, is greater than his respect to him.
But what considerate person is there, even among the more virtuous part of mankind, but would be ashamed to say, and profess before God or men, that he loves God half so much as he ought to do; or that he exercises one half of that esteem, honour, and gratitude towards God, which would be altogether becoming him; considering what God is, and what great manifestations he has made of his transcendent excellency and goodness, and what benefits he receives from him? And if few or none of the best of men can with reason and truth make even such a profession, how far from it must the generality of mankind be?
The chief and most fundamental of all the commands of the moral law, requires us to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, and with all our souls, with all our strength, and all our mind: that is, plainly, with all that is within us, or to the utmost capacity of our nature. God is in himself worthy of infinitely greater love, than any creature can exercise towards him; love equal to his perfections, which are infinite. God loves himself with no greater love than he is worthy of, when he loves himself infinitely; but we can give God no more than we have. Therefore, if we give him so much, if we love him to the utmost extent of the faculties of our nature, we are excused. But when what is proposed, is only that we should love him as much as our capacity will allow, all excuse of want of capacity ceases, and obligation takes hold of us; and we are doubtless obliged to love God to the utmost of what is possible for us, with such faculties, and such opportunities and advantages to know God, as we have. And it is evidently implied in this great commandment of the law, that our love to God should be so great, as to have the most absolute possession of all the soul, and the perfect government of all the principles and springs of action that are in our nature.
Though it is not easy, precisely to fix the limits of man’s capacity, as to love to God; yet in general we may determine, that his capacity of love is coextended with his capacity of knowledge: the exercise of the understanding opens the way for the exercise of the other faculty. Now, though we cannot have any proper positive understanding of God’s infinite excellency; yet the capacity of the human understanding is very great, and may be extended far. It is needless to dispute, how far man’s knowledge may be said to be strictly comprehensive of things that are very great, as of the extent of the expanse of the heavens, &c. The word comprehensive, seems to be ambiguous. But doubtless we are capable of some proper positive understanding of the greatness of these things, in comparison of other things that we know. We are capable of some clear understanding of the greatness or considerableness of a whole nation; or of the whole world of mankind, as vastly exceeding that of a particular person or family. We can positively understand, that the whole globe of the earth is vastly greater than a particular hill or mountain. And can have some good positive apprehension of the starry heavens, as so greatly exceeding the globe of the earth, that the latter is as it were nothing to it. So the human faculties are capable of a real and clear understanding of the greatness, glory, and goodness of God, and of our dependence upon him, from the manifestations which God has made of himself to mankind, as being beyond all expression above that of the most excellent human friend, or earthly object. And so we are capable of esteem and love to God, which shall be proportionable, much exceeding that which we have to any creature.
These things may help us to form some judgment, how vastly the generality of mankind fall below their duty, with respect to love to God; yea, how far they are from coming half way to that height of love, which is agreeable to the rule of right. Surely if our esteem of God, desires after him, and delight in him, were such as become us, considering the things forementioned, they would exceed our regard to other things, as the heavens are high above the earth, and would swallow up all other affections like a deluge. But how far, how exceeding far, are the generality of the world from any appearance of being influenced and governed by such a degree of divine love as this!
If we consider the love of God, with respect to one exercise of it, gratitude, how far indeed do the generality of mankind come short of the rule of right and reason in this! If we consider how various, innumerable, and vast the benefits we receive from God, how infinitely great and wonderful that grace, which is revealed and offered to them who live under the gospel—in that eternal salvation which is procured by God giving his only-begotten Son to die for sinners—and also how unworthy we are all, deserving (as Dr. T. confesses) eternal perdition under God’s wrath and curse—how great is the gratitude that would become us, who are the subjects of so many and great benefits! What grace is this towards poor sinful lost mankind, set before us in so affecting a manner, as in the extreme sufferings of the Son of God; who was carried through those pains by a love stronger than death, a love that conquered those mighty agonies, a love whose length and breadth, and depth and height, passes knowledge? But oh! what poor returns!—How little the gratitude! How low, how cold and inconstant, the affection in the best, compared with the obligation! And what then shall be said of the gratitude of the generality? Or rather, who can express the ingratitude?
If the greater part of them who are called Christians, were no enemies to Christ in heart and practice, were not governed by principles opposite to him and his gospel, but had some real love and gratitude; yet if their love falls vastly short of the obligation, or occasion given, they are guilty of shameful and odious ingratitude. As, when a man has been the subject of some instance of transcendent generosity, whereby he has been relieved from the most extreme calamity, and brought into very opulent, honourable, and happy circumstances, by a benefactor of excellent character; and yet expresses no more gratitude on such an occasion, than would be requisite for some kindness comparatively infinitely small, he may justly fall under the imputation of vile unthankfulness, and of much more ingratitude than gratitude; though he may have no ill will to his benefactor, or no positive affection of mind contrary to thankfulness and benevolence. What is odious in him is his defect, whereby he falls so vastly below his duty.
Dr. Turnbull abundantly insists, that the forces of the affections naturally in man are well proportioned; and often puts a question to this purpose,—How man’s nature could have been better constituted in this respect? How the affections of his heart could have been better proportioned?—I will now mention one instance, out of many that might be mentioned. Man, if his heart were not depraved, might have had a disposition to gratitude to God for his goodness, in proportion to his disposition to anger towards men for their injuries. When I say, in proportion, I mean considering the greatness and number of favours and injuries, and the degree in which the one and the other are unmerited, and the benefit received by the former, and the damage sustained by the latter. Is there not an apparent and vast difference and inequality in the dispositions to these two kinds of affection, in the generality of both old and young, adult persons and little children? How ready is resentment for injuries received from men! And how easily is it raised in most, at least to an equality with the desert! And is it so with respect to gratitude for benefits received from God, in any degree of comparison? Dr. Turnbull pleads for the natural disposition to anger for injuries, as being good and useful: but surely gratitude to God, if we were inclined to it, would be at least as good and useful as the other.
How far the generality of mankind are from their duty, with respect to love to God, will further appear, if we consider that we are obliged not only to love him with a love of gratitude for benefits received; but true love to God primarily consists in a supreme regard to him for what he 156 is in himself. The tendency of true virtue is to treat every thing as it is, and according to its nature. And if we regard the Most High according to the infinite dignity and glory of his nature, we shall esteem and love him with all our heart and soul, and to the utmost of the capacity of our nature, on this account; and not primarily because he has promoted our interest. If God be infinitely excellent in himself, then he is infinitely lovely on that account; or in other words, infinitely worthy to be loved. And doubtless, if he be worthy to be loved for this, then he ought to be loved for it. And it is manifest, there can be no true love to him, if he be not loved for what he is in himself. For if we love him not for his own sake, but for something else, then our love is not terminated on him, but on something else, as its ultimate object. That is no true value for infinite worth, which implies no value for that worthiness in itself considered, but only on the account of something foreign. Our esteem of God is fundamentally defective, if it be not primarily for the excellency of his nature, which is the foundation of all this is valuable in him in any respect. If we love not God because he is what he is, but only because he is profitable to us, in truth we love him not at all: if we seem to love him, our love is not to him, but to something else.
And now I must leave it to every one to judge for himself, from his own opportunities of observation and information concerning mankind, how little there is of this disinterested love to God, this pure divine affection, in the world. How very little indeed in comparison of other affections altogether diverse, which perpetually urge, actuate, and govern mankind, and keep the world, through all nations and ages, in a continual agitation and commotion! This is an evidence of a horrid contempt of God. It would justly be esteemed a great instance of disrespect and contempt of a prince, if one of his subjects, when he came into his house, should set him below his meanest slave. But in setting the infinite jehovah below earthly objects and enjoyments, men degrade him below those things, between which and him there is an infinitely greater distance, than between the highest earthly potentate and the most abject of mortals. Such a conduct as the generality of men are guilty of towards God, continually and through all ages, in innumerable respects, would be accounted the most vile contemptuous treatment of a fellow-creature, of distinguished dignity. Particularly men’s treatment of the offers God makes of himself to them as their friend, their father, their God, and everlasting portion; their treatment of the exhibitions he has made of his unmeasurable love, and the boundless riches of his grace in Christ, attended with earnest repeated calls, counsels, expostulations, and entreaties; as also of the most dreadful threatenings of his eternal displeasure and vengeance.
Before I finish this section, it may be proper to say something in reply to an objection, some may be ready to make, against the force of this argument—that men do not come half-way to that degree of love to God, which becomes them, and is their duty. The objection is this: That the argument seems to prove too much, in that it will prove, that even good men themselves have more sin than holiness; which also has been supposed. But if this were true, it would follow, that sin is the prevalent principle even in good men, and that it is the principle which has the predominancy in the heart and practice of the truly pious; which is plainly contrary to the Word of God.
I answer, If it be indeed so, that there is more sin, consisting in defect of required holiness, than there is of holiness, in good men in this world; yet it will not follow, that sin has the chief government of their heart and practice, for two reasons.
1. They may love God more than other things, and yet there may not be so much love, as there is want of due love; or in other words, they may love God more than the world, and therefore the love of God may be predominant, and yet may not love God near half so much as they ought to do. This need not be esteemed a paradox: A person may love a father, or some great friend and benefactor, of a very excellent character, more than some other object, a thousand times less worthy of his esteem and affection, and yet love him ten times less than he ought; and so be chargeable, all things considered, with a deficiency in respect and gratitude, that is very unbecoming and hateful. If love to God prevails above the love of other things, then virtue will prevail above evil affections, or positive principles of sin; by which principles it is, that sin has a positive power and influence. For evil affections radically consist in inordinate love to other things besides God: and therefore, virtue prevailing beyond these, will have the governing influence. The predominance of the love of God in the hearts of good men, is more from the nature of the object loved, and the nature of the principle of true love, than the degree of the principle. The object is one of supreme loveliness; immensely above all other objects in worthiness of regard; and it is by such a transcendent excellency, that he is God, and worthy to be regarded and adored as God: and he that truly loves God, loves him as God. True love acknowledges him to be divinely and supremely excellent; and must arise from some knowledge, sense, and conviction of his worthiness of supreme respect: and though the sense and view of it may be very imperfect, and the love that arises from it in like manner imperfect; yet if there be any realizing view of such divine excellency, it must cause the heart to respect God above all.
2. Another reason, why a principle of holiness maintains the dominion in the hearts of good men, is the nature of the covenant of grace, and the promises of that covenant, on which true christian virtue relies, and which engage God’s strength and assistance to be on its side, and to help it against its enemy, that it may not be overcome. The just live by faith. Holiness in the Christian, or his spiritual life, is maintained, as it has respect by faith to its author and finisher, and derives strength and efficacy from the divine fountain, and by this means overcomes. For, as the apostle says, This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith. It is our faith in him who has promised never to leave nor forsake his people; not to forsake the works of his own hands, nor suffer his people to be tempted above their ability; that his grace shall be sufficient for them, his strength be made perfect in weakness; and that where he has begun a good work he will carry it on to the day of Christ.
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