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The corruption of man’s nature appears by its tendency, in its present state, to an extreme degree of folly and stupidity in matters of religion.
It appears, that man’s nature is greatly depraved, by an apparent proneness to an exceeding stupidity and sottishness in those things wherein his duty and main interest are chiefly concerned. I shall instance in two things, viz. men’s proneness to idolatry; and a general, great disregard of eternal things, in them who live under the light of the gospel.
It is manifest, in the first instance, that man’s nature in its present state is attended with a great propensity to forsake the acknowledgment and worship of the true God, and to fall into the most stupid idolatry. This has been sufficiently proved by known fact, on abundant trial: insomuch as the world of mankind in general (excepting one small people, miraculously delivered and preserved) through all nations, in all parts of the world, ages after ages, continued without the knowledge and worship of the true God, and overwhelmed in gross idolatry, without the least appearance or prospect of its recovering itself from so great blindness, or returning from its brutish principles and customs, till delivered by divine grace.
In order to the most just arguing from fact, concerning the tendency of man’s nature, as that is in itself, it should be inquired what the event has been, where nature has been left to itself, to operate according to its own tendency, with least opposition made to it by anything supernatural; rather than in exempt places, where the infinite power and grace of God have interposed, and extraordinary means have been used to stem the current, and bring men to true religion and virtue. As to the means by which God’s people of old, in the line of Abraham, were delivered and 157 preserved from idolatry, they were miraculous, and of mere grace. Notwithstanding which, they were often relapsing into the notions and ways of the heathen; and when they had backslidden, never were recovered, but by divine gracious interposition. And as to the means by which many gentile nations have been delivered since the days of the gospel, they are such as have been wholly owing to the most wonderful, miraculous, and infinite grace. God was under no obligation to bestow on the heathen world greater advantages than they had in the ages of their gross darkness; as appears by the fact, that God actually did not, for so long a time, bestow greater advantages.
Dr. T. himself observes (Key, p. 1.) That in about four hundred years after the flood, the generality of mankind were fallen into idolatry. And thus it was every where through the world, excepting among that people that was saved and preserved by a constant series of miracles, through a variety of countries, nations, and climates, great enough—and through successive changes, revolutions, and ages, numerous enough—to be a sufficient trial of what mankind are prone to, if there be any such thing as a sufficient trial.
That men should forsake the true God for idols, is an evidence of the most astonishing folly and stupidity, by God’s own testimony, Jer. ii. 12, 13. “Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be ye horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the Lord: for my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and have hewed out to themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” And that mankind in general did thus, so soon after the flood, was from the evil propensity of their hearts, and because they did not like to retain God in their knowledge; as is evident by Rom. i. 28. And the universality of the effect shows that the cause was universal, and not any thing belonging to the particular circumstances of one, or only some nations or ages, but something belonging to that nature, which is common to all nations, and which remains the same through all ages. And what other cause could this great effect possibly arise from, but a depraved disposition, natural to all mankind? It could not arise from want of a sufficient capacity or means of knowledge. This is in effect confessed on all hands. Dr. Turnbull (Chris. Phil. p. 21) says: “The existence of one infinitely powerful, wise, and good mind, the Author, Creator, Upholder, and Governor of all things, is a truth that lies plain and obvious to all that will but think.” And (ibid. p. 245.) “Moral knowledge, which is the most important of all knowledge, may easily be acquired by all men.” And again, (ibid. p. 292.) “Every man by himself, if he would duly employ his mind in the contemplation of the works of God about him, or in the examination of his own frame,—might make very great progress in the knowledge of the wisdom and goodness of God. This all men, generally speaking, might do, with very little assistance; for they have all sufficient abilities for thus employing their minds, and have all sufficient time for it.” Mr. Locke says, (Hum. Und. p. iv, chap. iv, p. 242. edit. 11.) “Our own existence, and the sensible parts of the universe, offer the proofs of a Deity so clearly and cogently to our thoughts, that I deem it impossible for a considerate man to withstand them. For I judge it as certain and clear a truth, as can any where be delivered, that the invisible things of God are clearly seen from the creation of the world, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and godhead.” And Dr. T. himself (in p. 78.) says, “The light given to all ages and nations of the world, is sufficient for the knowledge and practice of their duty.” And (p. 111, 112.) citing those words of the apostle, Rom. ii. 14, 15. he says, “This clearly supposes that the Gentiles, who were then in the world, might have done the things contained in the law by nature, or their natural power.” And in one of the next sentences he says, “The apostle, in Rom. i. 19, 20, 21. affirms that the Gentiles had light sufficient to have seen God’s eternal power and godhead, in the works of creation; and that the reason why they did not glorify him as God, was because they became vain in their imaginations, and had darkened their foolish heart; so that they were without excuse. And in his paraphrase on those verses in the 1st of Rom. he speaks of the very heathens, that were without a written revelation, as having that clear and evident discovery of God’s being and perfections, that they are inexcusable in not glorifying him suitably to his excellent nature, and as the author of their being and enjoyments.” And (p. 146. S.) he says, “God affords every man sufficient light to know his duty.” If all ages and nations of the world have sufficient light for the knowledge of God, and their duty to him, then even such nations and ages, in which the most brutish ignorance and barbarity prevailed, had sufficient light, if they had but a disposition to improve it; and then much more those of the heathen, which were more knowing and polished, and in ages wherein arts and learning had made greatest advances. But even in such nations and ages, there was no advance made towards true religion; and Dr. Winder observes, (Hist. of Knowl. vol. ii, p. 336.) in the following words; “The pagan religion degenerated into greater absurdity, the further it proceeded; and it prevailed in all its height of absurdity, when the pagan nations were polished to the height. Though they set out with the talents of reason, and had solid foundations of information to build upon, it in fact proved, that with all their strengthened faculties, and growing powers of reason, the edifice of religion rose in the most absurd deformities and disproportions, and gradually went on in the most irrational, disproportioned, incongruous systems, of which the most easy dictates of reason would have demonstrated the absurdity. They were contrary to all just calculations in moral mathematics.” He observes, “that their grossest abominations first began in Egypt, where was an ostentation of the greatest progress in learning and science: and they never renounced clearly any of their abominations, or openly returned to the worship of the one true God, the Creator of all things, and to the original, genuine sentiments of the highest and most venerable antiquity. The pagan religion continued in this deep state of corruption to the last. The pagan philosophers, and inquisitive men, made great improvements in many sciences, and even in morality itself; yet the inveterate absurdities of pagan idolatry remained without remedy. Every temple smoked with incense to the sun and moon, and other inanimate material luminaries, and earthly elements, to Jupiter, Juno, Mars, and Venus, &c. the patrons and examples of almost every vice. Hecatombs bled on the altars of a thousand gods; as mad superstition inspired. And this was not the disgrace of our ignorant untaught northern countries only; but even at Athens itself, the infamy reigned, and circulated through all Greece; and finally prevailed, amidst all their learning and politeness, under the Ptolemies in Egypt, and the Caesars at Rome. Now if the knowledge of the pagan world, in religion, proceeded no further than this; if they retained all their deities, even the most absurd of them all, their deified beasts, and deified men, even to the last breath of pagan power: we may justly ascribe the great improvements in the world, on the subject of religion, to divine revelation, either vouchsafed in the beginning, when this knowledge was competently clear and copious; or at the death of paganism, when this light shone forth in its consummate luster at the coming of Christ.”
Dr. T. often speaks of the idolatry of the heathen world, as great wickedness, in which they were wholly inexcusable; and yet often speaks of their case as remediless, and of them as being dead in sin, and unable to recover themselves. If so, and yet, according to his own doctrine, every age, every nation, and every man, had sufficient light afforded, to know God, and their whole duty to him; then their inability to deliver themselves must be a moral inability, consisting in a desperate depravity, and most evil disposition of heart.
And if there had not been sufficient trial of the propensity of the hearts of mankind, through all those ages that passed from Abraham to Christ, the trial has been continued down to this day, in all those vast regions of the face of the earth, that have remained without any effects of the light of the gospel; and the dismal effect continues everywhere unvaried. How was it with that multitude of nations inhabiting South and North America? 158 What appearance was there, when the Europeans first came hither, of their being recovered, or recovering, in any degree, from the grossest ignorance, delusions, and most stupid paganism? And how is it at this day, in those parts of Africa and Asia, into which the light of the gospel has not penetrated?
This strong and universally prevalent disposition of mankind to idolatry, of which there has been such great trial, and so notorious and vast proof, in fact, is a most glaring evidence of the exceeding depravity of the human nature; as it is a propensity, in the utmost degree, contrary to the highest end, the main business, and chief happiness of mankind—consisting in the knowledge, service, and enjoyment of the living God, the Creator and Governor of the world—in the highest degree contrary to that for which mainly God gave mankind more understanding than the beasts of the earth, and made them wiser than the fowls of heaven; which was, that they might be capable of the knowledge of God. It is also in the highest degree contrary to the first and greatest commandment of the moral law, That we should have no other gods before jehovah, and that we should love and adore him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The Scriptures are abundant in representing the idolatry of the heathen world, as their exceeding wickedness, and their most brutish stupidity. They who worship and trust in idols, are said themselves to be like the lifeless statues they worship, like mere senseless stocks and stones. (Psalm cxv. 4-8. and Psalm cxxxv. 15-18.)
A second instance of the natural stupidity of mankind, is that great disregard of their own eternal interest, which appears so remarkably, so generally among them who live under the gospel.
Mr. Locke observes, (Hum. Und. vol. i. p. 207.) “Were the will determined by the views of good, as it appears in contemplation, greater or less to the understanding, it could never get loose from the infinite eternal joys of heaven, once proposed, and considered as possible; the eternal condition of a future state infinitely outweighing the expectation of riches or honour, or any other worldly pleasure, which we can propose to ourselves; though we should grant these the more probable to be obtained.” Again, (p. 228, 229.) “He that will not be so far a rational creature, as to reflect seriously upon infinite happiness and misery, must needs condemn himself, as not making that use of his understanding he should. The rewards and punishments of another life, which the Almighty has established, as the enforcements of his laws, are of weight enough to determine the choice, against whatsoever pleasure or pain this life can show. When the eternal state is considered but in its bare possibility, which nobody can make any doubt of, he that will allow exquisite and endless happiness to be but the possible consequence of a good life here, and the contrary state the possible reward of a bad one, must own himself to judge very much amiss, if he does not conclude that a virtuous life, with the certain expectation of everlasting bliss, which may come, is to be preferred to a vicious one, with the fear of that dreadful state of misery, which it is very possible may overtake the guilty, or at least the terrible uncertain hope of annihilation. This is evidently so; though the virtuous life here had nothing but pain, and the vicious continual pleasure; which yet is for the most part quite otherwise, and wicked men have not much the odds to brag of, even in their present possession: nay, all things rightly considered, have I think even the worst part here. But when infinite happiness is put in one scale, against infinite misery in the other; if the worst that comes to the pious man, if he mistakes, be the best that the wicked man can attain to, if he be in the right; who can, without madness, run the venture? Who in his wits would choose to come within a possibility of infinite misery? which if he miss, there is yet nothing to be got by that hazard: whereas, on the other side, the sober man ventures nothing, against infinite happiness to be got, if his expectation comes to pass.”
That disposition of mind which is a propensity to act contrary to reason, is a depraved disposition. It is not because the faculty of reason, which God has given to mankind, is not sufficient fully to discover to them, that forty, sixty, or an hundred years, is as nothing in comparison of eternity—infinitely less than a second of time to an hundred years—that the greatest worldly prosperity is not treated with the most perfect disregard, in all cases where there is any degree of competition of earthly things, with salvation from exquisite, eternal misery, and the enjoyment of everlasting glory and felicity. But is it a matter of controversy, whether men in general show a strong disposition to act far otherwise, from their infancy, till death sensibly approaches? In things that concern their temporal interest, they easily discern the difference between things of a long and short continuance. It is no hard matter to convince men of the difference between being admitted to the accommodations and entertainments of a convenient, beautiful, well-furnished habitation, and to partake of the provisions and produce of a plentiful estate for a day, or a night; and having all given them, and settled upon them, as their own, to possess as long as they live, and to be theirs and their heirs’ forever. There would be no need of preaching sermons, and spending strength and life, to convince them of the difference. Men know how to adjust things in their dealings and contracts one with another, according to the length of time in which anything agreed for is to be used or enjoyed. In temporal affairs, they are sensible, that it concerns them to provide for future time, as well as for the present. Thus common prudence teaches them to take care in summer to lay up for winter; yea, to provide a fund, or an estate, whence they may be supplied for a long time to come. And not only so, but they are forward to spend and be spent, in order to provide for their children after they are dead; though it be quite uncertain, who shall enjoy what they lay up, after they have left the world. And if their children should have the comfort of it, as they desire, they will not partake with them in that comfort, or have any portion in any thing under the sun. In things which relate to men’s temporal interest, they seem very sensible of the uncertainty of life, especially in the lives of others; and to make answerable provision for the security of their worldly interest, that no considerable part of it may rest only on so uncertain a foundation, as the life of a neighbour or friend. Common discretion leads them to take good care, that their outward possessions be well secured, by a good and firm title. In worldly concerns, men discern their opportunities, and are careful to improve them before they are past. The husbandman is careful to plough his ground, and sow his seed, in the proper season; otherwise he knows he cannot expect a crop: and when the harvest is come, he will not sleep away the time; for he knows, if he does so, the crop will soon be lost. How careful and eagle-eyed is the merchant to improve opportunities to enrich himself! How apt are men to be alarmed at the appearance of danger to their worldly estate, or any thing that remarkably threatens great damage to their outward interest! And how will they bestir themselves in such a case, if possible, to avoid the threatened calamity! In things purely secular, and not of a moral or spiritual nature, they easily receive conviction by past experience, when any thing, on repeated trial, proves unprofitable or prejudicial; and are ready to take warning by what they have found themselves, and also by the experience of their neighbours and forefathers.
But if we consider how men generally conduct themselves in things on which their well-being infinitely more depends, how vast is the diversity! In these things how cold, lifeless, and dilatory! With what difficulty are a few, out of multitudes, excited to any tolerable degree of care and diligence, by the innumerable means used, in order to make them wise for themselves! And when some vigilance and activity is excited, how apt is it to die away, like a mere force against a natural tendency! What need of a constant repetition of admonitions and counsels, to keep the heart from falling asleep! How many objections are made! How are difficulties magnified! And how soon is the mind discouraged! How many arguments, often renewed, variously and elaborately enforced, do men stand in need of, to convince them of things that are almost self-evident! As that things which are eternal, are infinitely more important than things temporal, and the like. And after all, how very few are convinced effectually, or in such a manner as to induce them to a practical preference 159 of eternal things! How senseless are men of the necessity of improving their time, as to their spiritual interest, and their welfare in another world! Though it be an endless futurity, and though it be their own personal, infinitely important good, that is to be cared for. Though men are so sensible of the uncertainty of their neighbours’ lives, when any considerable part of their own estates depends on the continuance of them; how stupidly senseless do they seem to be of the uncertainty of their own lives, when their preservation from immensely great, remediless, and endless misery, is risked by a present delay, through a dependence on future opportunity! What a dreadful venture will men carelessly and boldly run, repeat, and multiply, with regard to their eternal salvation; who yet are very careful to have everything in a deed or bond, firm, and without a flaw! How negligent are they of their special advantages and opportunities for their soul’s good! How hardly awakened by the most evident and imminent dangers, threatening eternal destruction, yea, though put in mind of them, and much pains taken to point them forth, show them plainly, and fully to represent them, if possible to engage their attention! How are they like the horse, that boldly rushes into the battle! How hardly are men convinced by their own frequent and abundant experience, of the unsatisfactory nature of earthly things, and the instability of their own hearts in their good frames and intentions! And how hardly convinced by their own observation, and the experience of all past generations, of the uncertainty of life and its enjoyments! Psal. xlix. 11., &c.: “Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever.—Nevertheless, man being in honour, abideth not; he is like the beasts that perish. This their way is their folly; yet their posterity approve their sayings. Like sheep are they laid in the grave.”
In these things, men who are prudent for their temporal interest, act as if they were bereft of reason: “They have eyes, and see not; ears, and hear not; neither do they understand: they are like the horse and mule, that have no understanding.”—Jer. viii. 7. “The stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle, and the crane, and the swallow, observe the time of their coming: but my people know not the judgment of the Lord.”
These things are often mentioned in Scripture, as evidences of extreme folly and stupidity, wherein men act as great enemies to themselves, as though they loved their own ruin; Prov. viii. 36. Laying wait for their own blood, Prov. i. 18. And how can these things be accounted for, but by supposing a most wretched depravity of nature? Why otherwise should not men be as wise for themselves in spiritual and eternal things, as in temporal? All Christians will confess, that man’s faculty of reason was given him chiefly to enable him to understand the former, wherein his main interest and true happiness consist. This faculty would therefore undoubtedly be every way as fit for understanding them, as the latter, if not depraved. The reason why these are understood, and not the other, is not that such things as have been mentioned, belonging to men’s spiritual and eternal interest, are more obscure and abstruse in their own nature. For instance, the difference between long and short, the need of providing for futurity, the importance of improving proper opportunities, and of having good security, and a sure foundation, in affairs wherein our interest is greatly concerned, &c. these things are as plain in themselves in religious, as in other matters. And we have far greater means to assist us to be wise for ourselves in eternal than in temporal things. We have the abundant instruction of perfect and infinite wisdom itself, to lead and conduct us in the paths of righteousness, so that we may not err. And the reasons of things are most clearly, variously, and abundantly set before us in the word of God; which is adapted to the faculties of mankind, tending greatly to enlighten and convince the mind: whereas, we have no such excellent and perfect rules to instruct and direct us in things pertaining to our temporal interest, nor any thing to be compared to it.
If any should say, It is true, if men gave full credit to what they are told concerning eternal things, and these appeared to them as real and certain things, it would be an evidence of a sort of madness in them, that they show no greater regard to them in practice: but there is reason to think, this is not the case; the things of another world being unseen, appear to men as things of a very doubtful nature, and attended with great uncertainty.—In answer, I would observe, agreeable to what has been cited from Mr. Locke, though eternal things were considered in their bare possibility, if men acted rationally, they would infinitely outweigh all temporal things in their influence on their hearts. And I would also observe, that to suppose eternal things not to be fully believed, at least by them who enjoy the light of the gospel, does not weaken, but rather strengthen, the argument for the depravity of nature. For the eternal world being what God had chiefly in view in the creation of men, this world was made wholly subordinate to the other, man’s state here being only a state of probation, preparation, and progression, with respect to the future state. Eternal things are in effect their all, their whole concern; to understand and know which, it chiefly was, that they had understanding given them; therefore we may undoubtedly conclude, that if men have not respect to them as real and certain things, it cannot be for want of sufficient evidence of their truth: but it must be from a dreadful stupidity of mind, occasioning a sottish insensibility of their truth and importance, when manifested by the clearest evidence.
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