« Prev SECTION VII. Generality of mankind, wicked. Next »

That man’s nature is corrupt, appears, in that by far the greater part of mankind, in all ages, have been wicked men.

The depravity of man’s nature appears, not only in its propensity to sin in some degree, which renders a man an evil or wicked man in the eye of the law, and strict justice, as was before shown; but it is so corrupt, that its depravity either shows that men are, or tends to make them to be, of such an evil character, as shall denominate them wicked men, according to the tenor of the covenant of grace.

This may be argued from several things which have been already observed: as from a tendency to continual sin; a tendency to much greater degrees of sin than righteousness, and from the general extreme stupidity of mankind. But yet the present state of man’s nature, as implying, or tending to, a wicked character, may deserve to be more particularly considered, and directly proved. And in general, this appears, in that there have been so very few in the world, from age to age, ever since the world has stood, that have been of any other character.

It is abundantly evident in Scripture, and is what I suppose none that call themselves Christians will deny, that the whole world is divided into good and bad, and that all mankind at the day of judgment will either be approved as righteous, or condemned as wicked: either glorified, as children of the kingdom, or cast into a furnace of fire, as children of the wicked one.

I need not stand to show what things belong to the character of such as shall hereafter be accepted as righteous, according to the Word of God. It may be sufficient for my present purpose, to observe what Dr. T. himself speaks of, as belonging essentially to the character of such. In p. 203. he says, “This is infallibly the character of true Christians, and what is essential to such, that they have really mortified the flesh with its lusts;—they are dead to sin, and live no longer therein; the old man is crucified, and the body of sin destroyed; they yield themselves to God, as those that are alive from the dead, and their members as instruments of righteousness to God, and as servants of righteousness to holiness.”—There is more to the like purpose in the two next pages. In p. 228. he says, “Whatsoever is evil and corrupt in us, we ought to condemn; not so, as it shall still remain in us, that we may always be condemning it, but that we may speedily reform, and be effectually delivered from it; otherwise certainly we do not come up to the character of the true disciples of Christ.”

In p. 248. he says, “Unless God’s favour be preferred 160 before all other enjoyments whatsoever, unless there be a delight in the worship of God, and in converse with him, unless every appetite be brought into subjection to reason and truth, and unless there be a kind and benevolent disposition towards our fellow-creatures, how can the mind be fit to dwell with God, in his house and family, to do him service in his kingdom, and to promote the happiness of any part of his creation.”—And in his Key, § 286. p. 101, 102, &c. showing there, what it is to be a true Christian, he says, among other things, “That he is one who has such a sense and persuasion of the love of God in Christ, that he devotes his life to the honour and service of God, in hope of eternal glory. And that to the character of a true Christian, it is absolutely necessary, that he diligently study the things that are freely given him of God, viz. his election, regeneration, &c. that he may gain a just knowledge of those inestimable privileges, may taste that the Lord is gracious, and rejoice in the gospel-salvation, as his greatest happiness and glory.—It is necessary, that he work these blessings on his heart, till they become a vital principle, producing in him the love of God, engaging him to all cheerful obedience to his will, giving him a proper dignity and elevation of soul, raising him above the best and worst of this world, carrying his heart into heaven, and fixing his affections and regards upon his everlasting inheritance, and the crown of glory laid up for him there.—Thus he is armed against all the temptations and trials resulting from any pleasure or pain, hopes or fears, gain or loss, in the present world. None of these things move him from a faithful discharge of any part of his duty, or from a firm attachment to truth and righteousness; neither counts he his very life dear to him, that he may do the will of God, and finish his course with joy. In a sense of the love of God in Christ, he maintains daily communion with God, by reading and meditating on his Word. In a sense of his own infirmity, and the readiness of the divine favour to succour him, he daily addresses the throne of grace, for the renewal of spiritual strength, in assurance of obtaining it, through the one Mediator Christ Jesus. Enlightened and directed by the heavenly doctrine of the gospel,” &c. 239239    What Dr. Turnbull says of the character of a good man, is also worthy to be observed, Chris. Phil. p. 86, 258, 259, 288, 375, 376, 409, 410

Now I leave every one that has any degree of impartiality, to judge, whether there be not sufficient grounds to think, that it is but a very small part indeed, of the many myriads and millions which overspread this globe, who are of a character that in any wise answers these descriptions. However Dr. T. insists, that all nations, and every man on the face of the earth, have light and means sufficient to do the whole will of God, even they that live in the grossest darkness of paganism.

Dr. T. in answer to arguments of this kind, very impertinently from time to time objects, that we are no judges of the viciousness of men’s characters, nor are able to decide in what degree they are virtuous or vicious. As though we could have no good grounds to judge, that any thing appertaining to the qualities or properties of the mind, which is invisible, is general or prevailing among a multitude or collective body, unless we can determine how it is with each individual. I think I have sufficient reason, from what I know and have heard of the American Indians, to judge, that there are not many good philosophers among them; though the thoughts of their hearts, and the ideas and knowledge they have in their minds, are things invisible; and though I have never seen so much as a thousandth part of the Indians; and with respect to most of them, should not be able to pronounce peremptorily concerning any one, that he was not very knowing in the nature of things, if all should singly pass before me. And Dr. T. himself seems to be sensible of the falseness of his own conclusions, that he so often urges against others; if we may judge by his practice, and the liberties he takes, in judging of a multitude himself. He, it seems, is sensible that a man may have good grounds to judge, that wickedness of character is general in a collective body; because he openly does it himself. (Key, p. 102.) After declaring the things which belong to the character of a true Christian, he judges of the generality of Christians, that they have cast off these things, that they are a people that do err in their hearts, and have not known God’s ways, p. 259. he judges, that the generality of Christians are the most wicked of all mankind, when he thinks it will throw some disgrace on the opinion of such as he opposes. The like we have from time to time in other places, (as p. 168. p. 258, Key, p. 127, 128.)

But if men are not sufficient judges, whether there are few of the world of mankind but what are wicked, yet doubtless God is sufficient, and his judgment, often declared in his word, determines the matter.Matt. vii. 13, 14. “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat: because strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth to life, and few there be that find it.” It is manifest, that here Christ is not only describing the state of things, as it was at that day, and does not mention the comparative smallness of the number of them that are saved, as a consequence of the peculiar perverseness of that people, and of that generation; but as a consequence of the general circumstances of the way to life, and the way to destruction, the broadness of the one, and the narrowness of the other. In the straitness of the gate, &c. I suppose none will deny, that Christ has respect to the strictness of those rules, which he had insisted on in the preceding sermon, and which render the way to life very difficult. But certainly these amiable rules would not be difficult, were they not contrary to the natural inclinations of men’s hearts; and they would not be contrary to those inclinations, were these not depraved. Consequently the wideness of the gate, and broadness of the way, that leads to destruction, in consequence of which many go in thereat, must imply the agreeableness of this way to men’s natural inclinations. The like reason is given by Christ, why few are saved. Luke xiii. 23, 24. “Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few saved? And he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many I say unto you, shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” That there are generally but few good men in the world, even among them who have the most distinguishing and glorious advantages for it, is evident by that saying of our Lord, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” And if there are but few among these, how few, how very few indeed, must persons of this character be, compared with the whole world of mankind! The exceeding smallness of the number of saints, compared with the whole world, appears by the representations often made of them as distinguished from the world; in which they are spoken of as called and chosen out of the world, redeemed from the earth, redeemed from among men; as being those that are of God, while the whole world lieth in wickedness, and the like.

And if we look into the Old Testament, we shall find the same testimony given. Prov. xx. 6. “Most men will proclaim every man his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?” By the faithful man, as the phrase is used in Scripture, is intended much the same as a sincere, upright, or truly good man; as in Psal. xii. 1. and Psal. xxxi. 23. and Psal. ci. 6. and other places. Again, Eccl. vii. 25-29. “I applied mine heart to know, and to search, and to find out wisdom, and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness: and I find more bitter than death, the woman whose heart is snares, &c. Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account, which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one man among a thousand have I found: but a woman among all these have I not found. Lo, this only have I found, that God made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.” Solomon here signifies, that when he set himself diligently to find out the account or proportion of true wisdom, or thorough uprightness among men, the result was, that he found it to be but as one to a thousand, &c. Dr. T. on this place, p. 184. says, “The wise man in the context, is inquiring into the corruption and depravity of mankind, of the men and women, that lived in his time.” As though what he said represented nothing of the state of things in the world in general, but only in his time. But does Dr. T. or anybody else, suppose this only to be the 161 design of that book, to represent the vanity and evil of the world in that time, and to show that all was vanity and vexation of spirit in Solomon’s day? That day truly, we have reason to think, was a day of the greatest smiles of Heaven on that nation, that ever had been on any nation from the foundation of the world. Not only does the subject and argument of the whole book show it to be otherwise; but also the declared design of the book in the first chapter; where the world is represented as very much the same, as to its vanity and evil, from age to age. It makes little or no progress, after all its revolutions and restless motions, labours, and pursuits; like the sea, that has all the rivers constantly emptying themselves into it, from age to age, and yet is never the fuller. As to that place, Prov. xx. 6.“A faithful man who can find?” there is no more reason to suppose that the wise man has respect only to his time, in these words, than in those immediately preceding, “Counsel in the heart of a man is like deep waters; but a man of understanding will draw it out.” Or in the words next following, “The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him.” Or in any other proverb in the whole book. And if it were so, that Solomon in these things meant only to describe his own times, it would not at all weaken the argument. For, if we observe the history of the Old Testament, there is reason to think there never was any time from Joshua to the captivity, wherein wickedness was more restrained, and virtue and religion more encouraged and promoted, than in David’s and Solomon’s times. And if there was so little true piety in that nation, the only people of God under heaven, even in their best times, what may we suppose, concerning the world in general, take one time with another?

Notwithstanding what some authors advance concerning the prevalence of virtue, honesty, good neighbourhood, cheerfulness, &c. In the world; Solomon, whom we may justly esteem as wise and just an observer of human nature, and the state of the world of mankind, as most in these days (besides, Christians ought to remember, that he wrote by divine inspiration)—judged the world to be so full of wickedness, that it was better never to be born, than to be born to live only in such a world. Eccl. iv. 1-3. “So I returned and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun; and behold, the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter: and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter. Wherefore, I praised the dead, which were already dead, more than the living, which are yet alive. Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been; who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.“ Surely it will not be said that Solomon has only respect to his time here too, when he speaks of the oppressions of them that were in power; since he himself, and others appointed by him, and wholly under his control, were the men that were in power in that land, and in almost all the neighbouring countries.

The same inspired writer says, Eccles. ix. 3. “The heart of the sons of men is full of evil; and madness is in their heart while they live; and after that they go to the dead.” If these general expressions are to be understood only of some, and those the smaller part, when in general, truth, honesty, good-nature, &c. govern the world, why are such general expressions from time to time used? Why does not this wise and noble prince express himself in a more generous and benevolent strain, and say, wisdom is in the hearts of the sons of men while they live, &c.—instead of leaving in his writings so many sly, ill-natured suggestions, which pour such contempt on human nature, and tend so much to excite mutual jealousy and malevolence, to taint the minds of mankind through all generations after him?

If we consider the various successive parts and periods of the duration of the world, it will, if possible, be yet more evident, that by far the greater part of mankind have, in all ages, been of a wicked character. The short accounts we have of Adam and his family are such as lead us to suppose, that the greater part of his posterity in his life-time, yea, in the former part of his life, were wicked. It appears, that his eldest son Cain, was a very wicked man, who slew his righteous brother Abel. And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years before Seth was born: and by that time, we may suppose, his posterity began to be considerably numerous: when he was born, his mother called his name Seth; for God, said she, hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel. Which naturally suggests this to our thoughts; that of all her seed then existing, none were of any such note for religion and virtue, as that their parents could have any great comfort in them, or expectation from them, on that account. And by the brief history we have, it looks as if—however there might be some intervals of a revival of religion, yet—in the general, mankind grew more and more corrupt till the flood. It is signified that when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, wickedness prevailed exceedingly, Gen. vi. 1, &c. And that before God appeared to Noah, to command him to build the ark, one hundred and twenty years before the flood, the world had long continued obstinate in great and general wickedness, and the disease was become inveterate. The expressions (Gen. vi. 3, 5, 6.) suggest as much: “And the Lord said, my spirit shall not always strive with man.—And God saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every imagination of the thought of his heart was evil, only evil continually; and it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” And by that time, “all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth,” (Gen. vi. 12.) And as Dr. T. himself observes, (p. 122.) “Mankind were universally debauched into lust, sensuality, rapine, and injustice.”

And with respect to the period after the flood, to the calling of Abraham; Dr. T. says, as already observed, that in about four hundred years after the flood, the generality of mankind were fallen into idolatry; which was before all they were dead who came out of the ark. And it cannot be thought, the world went suddenly into that general and extreme degree of corruption, but that they had been gradually growing more and more corrupt; though it is true, it must be by very swift degrees—however soon we may suppose they began—to get to that pass in one age.

And as to the period from the calling of Abraham to the coming of Christ, Dr. T. justly observes as follows: (Key, p. 133): “If we reckon from the call of Abraham to the coming of Christ, the Jewish dispensation continued one thousand nine hundred and twenty-one years; during which period, the other families and nations of the earth, not only lay out of God’s peculiar kingdom, but also lived in idolatry, great ignorance, and wickedness.” And with regard to the Israelites, it is evident that wickedness was the generally prevailing character among them, from age to age. If we consider how it was with Jacob’s family, the behavior of Reuben with his father’s concubine, the behavior of Judah with Tamar, the conduct of Jacob’s sons towards the Shechemites, and the behaviour of Joseph’s ten brethren in their cruel treatment of him; we cannot think, that the character of true piety belonged to many of them, according to Dr. T.’s own notion of such a character; though it be true, they might afterwards repent. And with respect to the time the children of Israel were in Egypt; the Scripture, speaking of them in general, or as a collective body, often represents them as complying with the abominable idolatries of the country 240240    Levit. xvii.7. Josh. v.9.and Josh. xxiv.14. Ezek. xx. 7, 8. and Ezek. xxii.3. . And as to that generation which went out of Egypt, and wandered in the wilderness, they are abundantly represented as extremely and almost universally wicked, perverse, and children of divine wrath. And after Joshua’s death, the Scripture is very express, that wickedness was the prevailing character in the nation, from age to age. So, it was till Samuel’s time. 1 Sam. viii. 7, 8. “They have rejected me, that I should not reign over them; according to all their works which they have done, since the day that I brought them out of Egypt, unto this day.” Yea, so it was till Jeremiah’s and Ezekiel’s time. (Jer. xxxii. 30, 31.) “For the children of Israel, and the children of Judah, have only done evil before me from their youth; for the children of Israel have only provoked me to anger with the work of their hands, saith the Lord: for this city hath been to me a provocation of mine anger, and of my fury, from the day they built it, even unto this day.” 162 (Compare Jer. v. 21, 23. and Jer. vii. 25, 26, 27.) So Ezek. ii. 3, 4. “I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation, that hath rebelled against me, they and their fathers have transgressed against me, even unto this very day: for they are impudent children, and stiff-hearted.” And it appears by the discourse of Stephen; (Acts vii.), that this was generally the case with that nation, from their first rise, even to the days of the apostles. After this summary rehearsal of the instances of their perverseness from the very time of their selling Joseph into Egypt, he concludes, ( ver. 51-53.) “Ye stiff-necked, and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost. As your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them which showed before of the coming of that just One, of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.”

Thus it appears, that wickedness was the generally prevailing character in all nations, till Christ came. And so also it appears to have been since his coming to this day. So in the age of apostles. There was a great number of persons of a truly pious character in the latter part of the apostolic age, when multitudes of converts had been made, and Christianity was as yet in its primitive purity; but what says the apostle John of the church of God at that time, as compared with the rest of the world? (1 John v. 19. ) “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.” And after that Christianity came to prevail to that degree, that Christians had the upper hand in nations and civil communities, still the greater part of mankind remained in their old heathen state; which Dr. T. speaks of as a state of great ignorance and wickedness. And besides, this is noted in all ecclesiastical history, that as the Christians gained in power and secular advantages, true piety declined, and corruption and wickedness prevailed among them.—And as to the state of the Christian world, since Christianity began to be established by human laws, wickedness for the most part has greatly prevailed; as is very notorious, and is implied in what Dr. T. himself says: In giving an account how the doctrine of original sin came to prevail among Christians, he observes (p. 167. S.) “That the christian religion was very early and grievously corrupted, by dreaming, ignorant, superstitious monks.” In p. 259. he says, “The generality of Christians have embraced this persuasion concerning original sin; and the consequence has been, that the generality of Christians have been the most wicked, lewd, bloody, and treacherous of all mankind.”

Thus, a view of the several successive periods of the past duration of the world, from the beginning to this day, shows, that wickedness has ever been exceeding prevalent, and has had vastly the superiority in the world. And Dr. T. himself in effect owns, that it has been so ever since Adam first turned into the way of transgression. “It is certain (says he, p. 168.) the moral circumstances of mankind, since the time Adam first turned into the way of transgression, have been very different from a state of innocence. So far as we can judge from history, or what we know at present, the greatest part of mankind have been, and still are, very corrupt; though not equally so in every age and place.” And lower in the same page, he speaks of Adam’s posterity, as having sunk themselves into the most lamentable degrees of ignorance, superstition, idolatry, injustice, debauchery, &c.

These things clearly determine the point, concerning the tendency of man’s nature to wickedness, if we may be allowed to proceed according to such rules and methods of reasoning, as are never denied or doubted to be good and sure, in experimental philosophy; 241241    Dr. Turnbull, though so great an enemy to the doctrine of the depravity of nature, yet greatly insists upon it, that the experimental method of reasoning ought to be adopted in moral matter, and things pertaining to the human nature; and should chiefly be relied upon, in moral as well as natural philosophy. See Introduc. to Mor. Phil. or may reason from experience and facts, in that manner which common sense leads all mankind to in other cases. If experience and trial will evince anything at all concerning the natural disposition of the human heart, one would think the experience of so many ages, as have elapsed since the beginning of the world, and the trial made by hundreds of different nations together, for so long a time, should be sufficient to convince all, that wickedness is agreeable to the nature of mankind in its present state.

Here, to strengthen the argument, if there were any need of it, I might observe, not only the extent and generality of the prevalence of wickedness in the world, but the height to which it has risen, and the degree in which it has reigned. Among innumerable things which confirm this, I shall now only observe, The degree in which mankind have from age to age been hurtful one to another. Many kinds of brute animals are esteemed very noxious and destructive, many of them are fierce, voracious, and many very poisonous, and the destroying of them has always been looked upon as a public benefit: but have not mankind been a thousand times as hurtful and destructive as any one of them, yea, as all the noxious beasts, birds, fishes, and reptiles in the earth, air, and water, put together, at least of all kinds of animals that are visible? And no creature can be found anywhere so destructive of its own kind as man is. All others, for the most part, are harmless and peaceable, with regard to their own species. Where one wolf is destroyed by another wolf, one viper by another, probably a thousand men are destroyed by those of their own species. Well therefore might our blessed Lord say, when sending forth his disciples into the world, (Matt. x. 16, 17.) “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves;—but, beware of men.“ Why do I say wolves? I send you forth into the wide world of men, that are far more hurtful and pernicious, and of whom you had much more need to beware, than of wolves.

It would be strange indeed, that this should be the state of mankind, distinguished by reason, for that very end, that they might be capable of religion, which summarily consists in love, if men, as they come into the world, are in their nature innocent and harmless, undepraved, and perfectly free from all evil propensities.

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