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The native depravity of mankind appears, in that there has been so little good effect of so manifold and great means, used to promote virtue in the world.
The evidence of the native corruption of mankind, appears much more glaring, when it is considered that the world has been so generally, so constantly, and so exceedingly corrupt, notwithstanding the various, great, and continual means that have been used to restrain men from sin, and promote virtue and true religion among them.
Dr. T. supposes, that sorrow and death, which come on mankind in consequence of Adam’s sin was brought on them in great favour; as a benevolent father, exercising an wholesome discipline towards his children; to restrain them from sin, by increasing the vanity of all earthly things, to abate their force to tempt and delude; to induce them to be moderate in gratifying the appetites of the body; to mortify pride and ambition; and that men might always have before their eyes a striking demonstration that sin is infinitely hateful to God, by a sight of that, than which nothing is more proper to give them the utmost abhorrence of iniquity, and to fix in their minds a sense of the dreadful consequences of sin, &c. &c. And in general, that they do not come as punishments, but purely as means to keep men from vice, and to make them better.—If it be so, surely they are great means. Here is a mighty alteration: mankind, once so easy and happy, healthful, vigorous, and beautiful, rich in all the pleasant and abundant blessings of paradise, now turned out, destitute, weak, and decaying, into a wide barren world, yielding briers and thorns, instead of the delightful growth and sweet fruit of the garden of Eden, to wear out life in sorrow and toil, on the ground cursed for his sake; and at last, either through long and lingering decay, or severe pain and acute disease, to expire and turn into putrefaction and dust. If these are only used as medicines, to prevent and to cure the diseases of the mind, they are sharp medicines indeed; especially death; which, to use Hezekiah’s representation, is as it 163 were breaking all his bones. And, one would think, should be very effectual, if the subject had no depravity—no evil and contrary bias, to resist, and hinder a proper effect—especially in the old world, when the first occasion of this terrible alteration, this severity of means, was fresh in memory. Adam continued alive near two-thirds of the time before the flood; so that a very great part of those who were alive till the flood, might have opportunity of seeing and conversing with him, and hearing from his mouth, not only an account of his fall, and the introduction of the awful consequences of it, but also of his first finding himself in existence in the new-created world, of the creation of Eve, and what passed between him and his Creator in paradise.
But what was the success of these great means, to restrain men from sin, and to induce them to virtue? Did they prove sufficient?—instead of this, the world soon grew exceeding corrupt; till, to use our author’s own words, mankind were universally debauched into lust, sensuality, rapine, and injustice.
Then God used further means: he sent Noah, a preacher of righteousness, to warn the world of the universal destruction which would come upon them by a flood of waters, if they went on in sin. This warning he delivered with circumstances tending to strike their minds, and command their attention. He immediately went about building that vast structure, the ark, in which he must employ a great number of hands, and probably spent all he had in the world to save himself and his family. And under these uncommon means God waited upon them one hundred and twenty years—But all to no effect. The whole world, for ought appears, continued obstinate, and absolutely incorrigible: so that nothing remained to be done with them, but utterly to destroy the inhabitants of the earth; and to begin a new world, from that single family who had distinguished themselves by their virtue, that from them might be propagated a new and purer race. Accordingly, this was done: and the inhabitants of this new world, Noah’s posterity, had these new and extraordinary means to restrain sin, and excite to virtue, in addition to the toil, sorrow, and common mortality, which the world has been subjected to before, in consequence of Adam’s sin; viz. that God had newly testified his dreadful displeasure for sin, in destroying the many millions of mankind, all at one blow, old and young, men, women, and children, without pity on any for all the dismal shrieks and cries with which the world was filled. They themselves, the remaining family, were wonderfully distinguished by God’s preserving goodness, that they might be a holy seed, being delivered from the corrupting examples of the old world; and being all the offspring of a living parent, whose pious instructions and counsels they had, to enforce these things upon them, to prevent sin, and engage them to their duty. These inhabitants of the new earth, must, for a long time, have before their eyes many evident and striking effects of that universal destruction, to be a continual affecting admonition to them. And besides all this, God now shortened the life of man to about one half of what it used to be. The shortening man’s life, Dr. T. says (p. 68.) “Was that the wild range of ambition and lust might be brought into narrower bounds, and have less opportunity of doing mischief; and that death, being still nearer to our view, might be a more powerful motive to regard less the things of a transitory world, and to attend more to the rules of truth and wisdom.”
And now let us observe the consequence.—These new and extraordinary means, in addition to the former, were so far from proving sufficient, that the new world degenerated, and became corrupt, by such swift degrees, that as Dr. T. observes, mankind in general were sunk into idolatry, in about four hundred years after the flood, and so in about fifty years after Noah’s death, they became so wicked and brutish, as to forsake the true God, and turn to the worship of inanimate creatures.
When things were come to this dreadful pass, God was pleased, for a remedy, to introduce a new and wonderful dispensation—separating a particular family, and people, from all the rest of the world, by a series of most astonishing miracles, done in the open view of the world; and fixing their dwelling, as it were, in the midst of the earth, between Asia, Europe, and Africa, and in the midst of those nations which were most considerable for power, knowledge, and arts—that might, in an extraordinary manner, dwell among that people, in visible tokens of his presence. There he manifested himself, and thence to the world, by a course of miraculous operations and effects, for many ages; that the people might be holy to God, as a kingdom of priests, and might stand as a city on a hill, to be a light to the world. He also gradually shortened man’s life, till it was brought to about one-twelfth part of what it used to be before the flood; and so, according to Dr. T. greatly diminishing his temptations to sin, and increasing his excitements to holiness.—And now let us consider what the success of these means was, both as to the Gentile world, and the nation of Israel.
Dr. T. justly observes, (Key, p. 24. § 75.) “The Jewish dispensation had respect to the nations of the world, to spread the knowledge and obedience of God in the earth; and was established for the benefit of all mankind.”—But how unsuccessful were these means, and all other means used with the heathen nations, so long as this dispensation lasted! Abraham was a person noted in all the principal nations then in the world; as in Egypt, and the eastern monarchies. God made his name famous by his wonderful, distinguishing dispensations towards him, particularly by so miraculously subduing, before him and his trained servants, those armies of the four eastern kings. This great work of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth, was greatly noticed by Melchizedeck; and one would think, should have been sufficient to awaken the attention of all the nations in that part of the world, and to lead them to the knowledge and worship of the only true God; especially if considered in conjunction with that miraculous and most terrible destruction of Sodom, and all the cities of the plain, for their wickedness, with Lot’s miraculous deliverance; facts which doubtless in their day were much famed abroad in the world. But there is not the least appearance, in any accounts we have, of any considerable good effect. On the contrary, those nations which were most in the way of observing and being affected with these things, even the nations of Canaan, grew worse and worse, till their iniquity came to the full, in Joshua’s time. And the posterity of Lot, that saint so wonderfully distinguished, soon became some of the most gross idolaters; as they appear to have been in Moses’s time. (See Num. xxv.) Yea, and the far greater part even of Abraham’s posterity, the children of Ishmael, Ziman, Joksham, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah, and Esau, soon forgot the true God and fell off to heathenism.
Great things were done in the sight of the nations, tending to awaken them, and lead them to the knowledge and obedience of the true God, in Jacob’s and Joseph’s time; in that God did miraculously, by the hand of Joseph, preserve from perishing by famine, as it were the whole world; as appears by Gen. xli. 56, 57. Agreeably to which, the name that Pharaoh gave to Joseph, Zaphnath-Paaneah, as is said, in the Egyptian language, signifies savior of the world. But there does not appear to have been any good abiding effect of this; no, not so much as among the Egyptians, the chief of all the heathen nations at that day, who had these great works of Jehovah in their most immediate view. On the contrary, they grew worse and worse, and seem to be far more gross in their idolatries and ignorance of the true God, and every way more wicked, and ripe for ruin, when Moses was sent to Pharaoh, than they were in Joseph’s time.
After this, in Moses and Joshua’s time, the great God was pleased to manifest himself in a series of the most astonishing miracles, for about fifty years together, wrought in the most public manner, in Egypt, in the wilderness, and in Canaan, in the view as it were of the whole world; miracles by which the world was shaken, the whole frame of the visible creation, earth, seas, and rivers, the atmosphere, the clouds, sun, moon, and stars were affected; miracles, greatly tending to convince the nations of the world, of the vanity of their false gods, showing Jehovah to be infinitely above them, in the thing wherein they dealt most proudly, and exhibiting God’s awful displeasure at the wickedness of the heathen world. And these things are expressly spoken of as one end of these great 164 miracles; (Exod. lx.14.Numb. xiv. 21.Josh. iv. 23, 24.) However, no reformation followed, but by the scripture account, the nations which had them most in view, were dreadfully hardened, stupidly refusing all conviction and reformation, and obstinately went on in opposition to the living God, to their own destruction.
After this, God from time to time very publicly manifested himself to the nations of the world, by wonderful works wrought in the time of the Judges, of a like tendency with those already mentioned. Particularly in so miraculously destroying, by the hand of Gideon, almost the whole of that vast army of the Midianites, Amalekites, and all the children of the east, consisting of about 135,000 men. (Judg. vii. 12.andJudg. viii. 10.) But no reformation followed this, or the other great works of God, wrought in the times of Deborah and Barak, Jeptha and Samson.
After these things, God used new, and in some respects, much greater means with the heathen world, to bring them to the knowledge and service of the true God, in the days of David and Solomon. He raised up David, a man after his own heart, a most fervent worshipper of the true God, and zealous hater of idols, and subdued before him almost all the nations between Egypt and Euphrates; often miraculously assisting him in his battles with his enemies. And he confirmed Solomon his son in the full and quiet possession of that great empire, for about forty years; and made him the wisest, richest, most magnificent, and every way the greatest monarch that ever had been in the world; and by far the most famous, and of greatest name among the nations; especially for his wisdom, and things concerning the name of his God; particularly the temple he built, which was exceeding magnificent, that it might be of fame and glory throughout all lands; 1 Chron. xxii. 5. And we are told, that there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth; (1 Kings. iv. 34.and1 Kings. x. 24.) And the Scripture informs us, that these great things were done, that the “nations in far countries might hear of God’s great name, and of his out-stretched arm; that all the people of the earth might fear him, as well as his people Israel: and that all the people of the earth might know, that the Lord was God, and that there was none else.” (1 Kings. viii. 41-43, 60.) But still there is no appearance of any considerable abiding effect, with regard to any one heathen nation.
After this, before the captivity in Babylon, many great things were done in the sight of the gentile nations, very much tending to enlighten, affect, and persuade them. As God destroying the army of the Ethiopians of a thousand thousand, before Asa; Elijah’s and Elisha’s miracles; especially Elijah miraculously confounding Baal’s prophets and worshippers; Elisha healing Naaman, the king of Syria’s prime minister, and the miraculous victories obtained, through Elisha’s prayers, over the Syrians, Moabites, and Edomites; the miraculous destruction of the vast united army of the children of Moab, Ammon, and Edom, at Jehoshaphat’s prayer. (2 Chron. xx.) Jonah’s preaching at Nineveh, together with the miracle of his deliverance from the whale’s belly; which was published, and well attested, as a sign to confirm his preaching: but more especially that great work of God, in destroying Sennacherib’s army by an angel, for his contempt of the God of Israel, as if he had been no more than the gods of the heathen.
When all these things proved ineffectual, God took a new method with the heathen world, and used, in some respects, much greater means to convince and reclaim them, than ever before. In the first place, his people, the Jews, were removed to Babylon, the head and heart of the heathen world, (Chaldea having been very much the foundation of idolatry,) to carry thither the revelations which God had made of himself, contained in the sacred writings; and there to bear their testimony against idolatry; as some of them, particularly Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, did, in a very open manner before the king, and the greatest men of the empire, with such circumstances as made their testimony very famous in the world. And God confirmed it with great miracles; which were published through the empire, by order of its monarch, as the mighty works of the God of Israel, showing him to be above all gods: Daniel, that great prophet, at the same time being exalted to be governor of all the wise men of Babylon, and one of the chief officers of Nebuchadnezzar’s court.
After this, God raised up Cyrus to destroy Babylon, for its obstinate contempt of the true God, and injuriousness towards his people; according to the prophecies of Isaiah, speaking of him by name, instructing him concerning the nature and dominion of the true God. (Isa. xlv.) Which prophecies were probably shown to him, whereby he was induced to publish his testimony concerning the God of Israel, as the god. (Ezra i. 2, 3.) Daniel, about the same time, being advanced to be prime minister of state in the new empire, erected under Darius, did in that place appear openly as a worshipper of the God of Israel, and him alone; God confirming his testimony for him, before the king and all the grandees of his kingdom, by preserving him in the den of lions; whereby Darius was induced to publish to all people, nations, and languages, that dwelt in all the earth, his testimony, that the God of Israel was the living God, and steadfast forever, &c.
When, after the destruction of Babylon, some of the Jews returned to their own land, multitudes never returned, but were dispersed abroad through many parts of the vast Persian empire; as appears by the book of Esther. And many of them afterwards, as good histories inform us, were removed into the more western parts of the world; and so were dispersed as it were all over the heathen world, having the Holy Scriptures with them, and synagogues every where, for the worship of the true God. And so it continued to be, to the days of Christ and his apostles; as appears by the Acts of the Apostles. Thus that light, which God had given them, was carried abroad into all parts of the world: so that now they had far greater advantages to come to the knowledge of the truth, in matters of religion, if they had been disposed to improve their advantages.
And besides all these things, from about Cyrus’s time, learning and philosophy increased, and was carried to a great height. God raised up a number of men of prodigious genius, to instruct others, and improve their reason and understanding, in the nature of things: and philosophic knowledge having gone on to increase for several ages, seemed to be got to its height before Christ came, or about that time.
And now let it be considered what was the effect of all these things.—Instead of a reformation, or any appearance or prospect of it, the heathen world in general rather grew worse. As Dr. Winder observes, “The inveterate absurdities of pagan idolatry continued without remedy, and increased as arts and learning increased; and paganism prevailed in all its height of absurdity, when pagan nations were polished to the height, and in the most polite cities and countries; and thus continued to the last breath of pagan power.” And so it was with respect to wickedness in general, as well as idolatry; as appears by what the apostle Paul observes in Rom. i.—Dr. T. speaking of the time when the gospel-scheme was introduced (Key, § 289.) says, “The moral and religious state of the heathen was very deplorable, being generally sunk into great ignorance, gross idolatry, and abominable vice.” Abominable vices prevailed, not only among the common people, but even among their philosophers themselves, yea, some of the chief of them, and of greatest genius; so Dr. T. himself observes, as to that detestable vice of sodomy, which they commonly and openly allowed and practised without shame. (See Dr. T.’s note on Rom. i. 27).
Having thus considered the state of the heathen world, with regard to the effect of means used for its reformation, during the Jewish dispensation, from the first foundation of it in Abraham’s time; let us now consider how it was with that people themselves, who were distinguished with the peculiar privileges of that dispensation. The means used with the heathen nations were great; but they were small, if compared with those used with the Israelites. The advantages by which that people were distinguished, are represented in Scripture as vastly above all parallel, in passages which Dr. T. takes notice of (Key, § 54.) And 165 he reckons these privileges among those which he calls antecedent blessings, consisting in motives to virtue and obedience; and says, (Key, § 66.) “That this was the very end and design of the dispensation of God’s extraordinary favours to the Jews, viz. to engage them to duty and obedience, or that it was a scheme for promoting virtue, is clear beyond dispute, from every part of the Old Testament.” Nevertheless, the generality of that people, through all the successive periods of that dispensation, were men of a wicked character. But it will be more abundantly manifest, how strong the natural bias to iniquity appeared to be among that people, by considering more particularly their condition from time to time.
Notwithstanding the great things God had done in the times of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to separate them and their posterity from the idolatrous world, that they might be a holy people to himself; yet in about two hundred years after Jacob’s death, and in less than one hundred and fifty years after the death of Joseph, and while some were alive who had seen Joseph, the people had in a great measure lost the true religion, and were apace conforming to the heathen world. For a remedy, and the more effectually to alienate them from idols, and engage them to the God of their fathers, God appeared, in order to bring them out from among the Egyptians, and separate them from the heathen world, and to reveal himself in his glory and majesty, in so affecting and astonishing a manner, as tended most deeply and durably to impress their minds; that they might never forsake him any more. But so perverse were they, that they murmured even in the midst of the miracles that God wrought for them in Egypt, and murmured at the Red sea, in a few days after God had brought them out with such a mighty hand. When he had led him through the sea, they sang his praise, but soon forgat his works. Before they got to mount Sinai, they openly manifested their perverseness from time to time; so that God says of them, Exod. xvi. 28. “How long refuse ye to keep my commandments, and my laws?” Afterwards they murmured again at Rephidim.
In about two months after they came out of Egypt, they came to mount Sinai; where God entered into a most solemn covenant with the people, that they should be an holy people unto him, with such astonishing manifestations of his power, majesty, and holiness, as were altogether unparalleled. God puts the people in mind, (Deut. iv. 32-34.) “For ask now of the days that are past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth; and ask from one side of heaven unto the other, whether there has been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it. Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live? Or hath God assayed to take him a nation from the midst of another nation?” &c. And these great things were in order to impress their minds with such a conviction and sense of divine truth, and their obligations, that they might never forget them; as God says, (Exod. xix. 9) “Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee for ever.” But what was the effect of all? It was not more than two or three months, before that people, under that very mountain, returned to their old Egyptian idolatry, and were singing and dancing before a golden calf, which they had set up to worship. And after awful manifestations of God’s displeasure for that sin, and so much done to bring them to repentance, and confirm them in obedience, it was but a few months before they came to that violence of spirit, in open rebellion against God, that with the utmost vehemence they declared their resolution to follow God no longer, but to make them a captain to return into Egypt. And thus they went on in perverse opposition to the Most High, from time to time repeating their open acts of rebellion, in the midst of continued astonishing miracles, till that generation was destroyed. And though the following generation seems to have been the best that ever was in Israel, yet notwithstanding their good example, and notwithstanding all the wonders of God’s power and love to that people in Joshua’s time, how soon did that people degenerate, and begin to forsake God, and join with the heathen in their idolatries, till God, by severe means, and by sending prophets and judges, extraordinarily influenced from above, reclaimed them! But when they were brought to some reformation by such means, they soon fell away again into the practice of idolatry; and so from one age to another; and nothing proved effectual for any abiding reformation.
After things had gone on thus for several hundred years, God used new methods with his people, in two respects: First, he raised up a great prophet, under whom a number of young men were trained up in schools, that from among them there might be a constant succession of great prophets in Israel, of such as God should choose; which seems to have been continued for more than five hundred years. Secondly, God raised up a great king, David, one eminent for wisdom, piety, and fortitude, to subdue all their heathen neighbours, who used to be such a snare to them; and to confirm, adorn, and perfect the institutions of his public worship; and by him to reveal more fully the great salvation, and future glorious kingdom of the Messiah. And after him was raised up his son, Solomon, the wisest and greatest prince that ever was on earth, more fully to settle and establish those things which his father David had begun, concerning the public worship of God in Israel, and to build a glorious temple for the honour of jehovah, and the institutions of his worship, and to instruct the neighbour nations in true wisdom and religion. But what was the success of these new and extraordinary means? If we take Dr. T. for our expositor of Scripture, the nation must be extremely corrupt in David’s time; for he supposes he has respect to his own times, in those words, Psal. xiv. 2, 3. “The Lord looked down from heaven, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God: they are all gone aside: they are together become filthy; there is none that doeth good; no, not one.” But, whether Dr. T. be in the right in this, or not, yet if we consider what appeared in Israel, in Absalom’s and Sheba’s rebellion, we shall not see cause to think, that the greater part of the nation at that day were men of true wisdom and piety. As to Solomon’s time, Dr. T. supposes, as has been already observed, that Solomon speaks of his own times, when he says, he had found but one in a thousand that was a thoroughly upright man.
However, it appears, that all those great means used to promote and establish virtue and true religion, in Samuel’s, David’s, and Solomon’s times, were so far from having any general abiding good effect in Israel, that Solomon himself, with all his wisdom, and notwithstanding the unparalleled favours of God to him, had his mind corrupted, so as openly to tolerate idolatry in the land, and greatly to provoke God against him. And as soon as he was dead, ten tribes of the twelve forsook the true worship of God, and instead of it, openly established the like idolatry that the people fell into at mount Sinai, when they made the golden calf; and continued fully obstinate in this apostasy, notwithstanding all means that could be used with them by the prophets, whom God sent, one after another, to reprove, counsel, and warn them, for about two hundred and fifty years; especially those two great prophets, Elijah and Elisha. Of all the kings that reigned over them, there was not so much as one but what was of a wicked character. And at last their case seemed utterly desperate; so that nothing remained to be done with them, but to remove them out of God’s sight. Thus the scripture represents the matter, 2 Kings xvii.
And as to the other two tribes; though their kings were always of the family of David, and they were favoured in many respects far beyond their brethren, yet they were generally exceeding corrupt. Their kings were, most of them, wicked men, and their magistrates, and priests, and people, were generally agreed in the corruption. Thus the matter is represented in the scripture history, and the books of the prophets. And when they had seen how God had cast off the ten tribes, instead of taking warning, they made themselves vastly more vile than ever the others had done. 2 Kings. xvii. 18, 19. Ezek. xvi. 46, 47, 51. God indeed waited longer upon them, for his servant David’s sake, and for Jerusalem’s sake, that he had chosen; and used more extraordinary means with them; especially by those great prophets, Isaiah and Jeremiah, but to no effect: so that at last, as the prophets represent the matter, they were like a body universally and desperately diseased and 166 corrupted, that would admit of no cure, the whole head sick, and the whole heart faint, &c.
Things being come to that pass, God took this method with them; he utterly destroyed their city and land, and the temple which he had among them, made thorough work in purging the land of them; as when a man empties a dish, wipes it, and turns it upside down; or when a vessel is cast into a fierce fire, till its filthiness is thoroughly burnt out.( 2 Kings. xxi. 13. Ezek. chap. xxiv.) They were carried into captivity, and there left, till that wicked generation was dead, and those old rebels were purged out; that afterwards the land might be resettled with a more pure generation.
After the return from the captivity, and God had built the Jewish church again in their own land, by a series of wonderful providences; yet they corrupted themselves again, to so great a degree, that the transgressors were come to the full again in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes; as the matter is represented in the prophecy of Daniel. (Dan. viii. 23.) And then God made them the subjects of a dispensation, little, if any thing, less terrible, than that which had been in Nebuchadnezzar’s days. And after God had again delivered them, and restored the state of religion among them, by the instrumentality of the Maccabees, they degenerated again: so that when Christ came, they were arrived to that extreme degree of corruption, which is represented in the accounts given by the evangelists.
It may be observed here in general, that the Jews, though so vastly distinguished with advantages, means, and motives to holiness, yet are represented, from time to time, as more wicked in the sight of God, than the very worst of the heathen. As, of old, God swore by his life, that the wickedness of Sodom was small, compared with that of the Jews; (Ezek. xvi. 47, 48, &c. also chapter Ezek. v. 5-10.) So, Christ speaking of the Jews, in his time, represents them as having much greater guilt than the inhabitants of Tyre and Sydon, or even Sodom and Gomorrah.
But we are now come to the time when the grandest scene was displayed that ever was opened on earth. After all other schemes had been so long and so thoroughly tried, and had so greatly failed of success, both among Jews and Gentiles; that wonderful dispensation was at length introduced—the greatest scheme for suppressing and restraining iniquity among mankind, that ever infinite wisdom and mercy contrived—even the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. “A new dispensation of grace was erected (to use Dr. T.’s own words, p. 239, 240.) for the more certain and effectual sanctification of mankind, into the image of God; delivering them from the sin and wickedness, into which they might fall, or were already fallen; to redeem them from all iniquity, and bring them to the knowledge and obedience of God.” In whatever high and exalted terms the Scripture speaks of the means and motives which the Jews enjoyed of old; yet their privileges are represented as having no glory in comparison of the advantages of the gospel. Dr. T.’s words (p. 233.) are worthy to be here repeated. “Even the heathen (says he) knew God, and might have glorified him as God; but under the glorious light of the gospel, we have very clear ideas of the divine perfections, and particularly of the love of God as our Father, and as the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We see our duty in the utmost extent, and the most cogent reasons to perform it: we have eternity opened to us, even an endless state of honour and felicity, the reward of virtuous actions; and the Spirit of God promised for our direction and assistance. And all this may and ought to be applied to the purifying of our minds, and the perfecting of holiness. And to these happy advantages we are born; for which we are bound for ever to praise and magnify the rich grace of God in the Redeemer.” And he elsewhere says, 242242 Key, § 167. “The gospel-constitution is a scheme the most perfect and effectual for restoring true religion, and promoting virtue and happiness, that ever the world has yet seen.” And 243243 Note on Rom. i. 16. admirably adapted to enlighten our minds, and sanctify our hearts. And 244244 Pref to Par, on Rom. p 145, 47 never were motives so divine and powerful proposed, to induce us to the practice of all virtue and goodness.
And yet even these means have been ineffectual upon the far greater part of them with whom they have been used; of the many that have been called, few have been chosen.
As to the Jews, God’s ancient people, with whom they were used in the first place, and used long by Christ and his apostles, the generality of them rejected Christ and his gospel, with extreme pertinacity of spirit. They not only went on still in that career of corruption which had been increasing from the time of the Maccabees; but Christ’s coming, his doctrine and miracles, the preaching of his followers, and the glorious things that attended the same, were the occasion, through their perverse misimprovement, of an infinite increase of their wickedness. They crucified the Lord of glory, with the utmost malice and cruelty, and persecuted his followers; they pleased not God, and were contrary to all men; they went on to grow worse and worse, till they filled up the measure of their sin, and wrath came upon them to the uttermost; and they were destroyed, and cast out of God’s sight, with unspeakably greater tokens of the divine abhorrence and indignation, than in the days of Nebuchadnezzar. The greater part of the whole nation were slain, and the rest were scattered abroad through the earth in the most abject and forlorn circumstances. And in the same spirit of unbelief and malice against Christ and the gospel, and in their miserable dispersed circumstances, do they remain to this day.
And as to the gentile nations, though there was a glorious success of the gospel amongst them, in the apostles’ days; yet probably not one in ten of those that had the gospel preached to them embraced it. The powers of the world were set against it, and persecuted it with insatiable malignity. And among the professors of Christianity, there presently appeared in many a disposition to abuse the gospel to the service of pride and licentiousness. The apostles foretold a grand apostasy of the christian world, which should continue many ages; and observed, that there appeared a disposition to such an apostasy, among professing Christians, even in that day. (2 Thess. ii. 7.) The greater part of the ages now elapsed, have been spent in that grand and general apostasy, under which the christian world, as it is called, has been transformed into what has been vastly more dishonourable and hateful to God, and repugnant to true virtue, than the state of the heathen world before: which is agreeable to the prophetical descriptions given of it by the Holy Spirit.
In these latter ages of the christian church, God has raised up a number of great and good men, to bear testimony against the corruptions of the church of Rome, and by their means introduced that light into the world, by which, in a short time, at least one-third part of Europe was delivered from the more gross enormities of Anti-christ: which was attended at first with a great reformation, as to vital and practical religion. But how is the gold become dim! To what a pass are things come in protestant countries at this day, and in our nation in particular! To what a prodigious height has a deluge of infidelity, profaneness, luxury, debauchery, and wickedness of every kind, arisen! The poor savage Americans are mere babes, if I may so speak, as to proficiency in wickedness, in comparison of multitudes in the christian world. Dr. T. himself, as before observed, represents, that the generality of Christians have been the most wicked, lewd, bloody, and treacherous of all mankind; and (Key, § 388) that “The wickedness of the christian world renders it so much like the heathen, that the good effects of our change to Christianity are but little seen.”
With respect to the dreadful corruption of the present day, it is to be considered, besides the advantages already mentioned, that great advances in learning and philosophic knowledge have been made in the present and past century; affording great advantage for a proper and enlarged exercise of our rational powers, and for our seeing the bright manifestation of God’s perfection in his works. And it is to observed, that the means and inducements to virtue, which this age enjoys, are in addition to most of 167 those which were mentioned before, as given of old; and among other things, in addition to the shortening of man’s life to 70 or 80 years, from near a thousand. And, with regard to this, I would observe, that as the case now stands in christendom, take one with another of those who ever come to years of discretion, their life is not more than forty or forty-five years; which is but about the twentieth part of what it once was: and not so much in great cities, places where profaneness, sensuality, and debauchery, commonly prevail to the greatest degree.
Dr. T. (Key, § 1.) truly observes, That God has from the beginning exercised wonderful and infinite wisdom, in the methods he has, from age to age, made use of to oppose vice, cure corruption, and promote virtue in the world; and introduced several schemes to that end. It is indeed remarkable, how many schemes and methods were tried of old, both before and after the flood; how many were used in the times of the Old Testament, both with Jews and heathens, and how ineffectual all these ancient methods proved, for 4000 years together, till God introduced that grand dispensation, for redeeming men from all iniquity, and purifying them to himself, a people zealous of good works; which the Scripture represents as the subject of the admiration of angels. But even this has now so long proved ineffectual, with respect to the generality, that Dr. T. thinks there is need of a new dispensation; the present light of the gospel being insufficient for the full reformation of the christian world, by reason of its corruptions: (Note on Rom. i. 27.)—And yet all these things, according to him, without any natural bias to the contrary; no stream of natural inclination or propensity at all, to oppose inducements to goodness; no native opposition of heart, to withstand those gracious means, which God has ever used with mankind, from the beginning of the world to this day; any more than there was in the heart of Adam, the moment God created him in perfect innocence.
Surely Dr. T.’s scheme is attended with strange paradoxes. And that his mysterious tenets may appear in a true light, it must be observed that—at the same time he supposes these means, even the very greatest and best of them, to have proved so ineffectual, that help from them, as to any general reformation, is to be despaired of—that he maintains all mankind, even the heathen in all parts of the world, yea, every single person in it, (which must include every Indian in America, before the Europeans came hither; and every inhabitant of the unknown parts of Africa and Terra Australis,) has ability, light, and means sufficient to do their whole duty; yea, many passages in his writings plainly suppose, to perform perfect obedience to God’s law, without the least degree of vice or iniquity. 245245 See p. 259. 63, 64, 72. S.
But I must not omit to observe, that Dr. T. supposes, the reason why the gospel-dispensation has been so ineffectual, is, that it has been greatly misunderstood and perverted. In his Key (§ 389.) he says, “Wrong representations of the scheme of the gospel have greatly obscured the glory of divine grace, and contributed much to the corruption of its professors.—Such doctrines have been almost universally taught and received, as quite subvert it. Mistaken notions about nature, grace, election and reprobation, justification, regeneration, redemption, calling, adoption, &c. have quite taken away the very ground of the christian life.”
But how came the gospel to be so universally and exceedingly misunderstood? Is it because it is in itself so very dark and unintelligible, and not adapted to the apprehension of the human faculties? If so, how is the possession of such an obscure and unintelligible thing, so glorious an advantage?—Or is it because of the native blindness, corruption, and superstition of mankind? But this is giving up the thing in question, and allowing a great depravity of nature. Dr. T. speaks of the gospel as far otherwise than dark and unintelligible; he represents it as exhibiting the clearest and most glorious light, calculated to deliver the world from darkness, and to bring them into marvelous light. He speaks of the light which the Jews had, under the Mosaic dispensation, as vastly exceeding the light of nature, which the heathen enjoyed; and yet he supposes that even the latter was so clear, as to be sufficient to lead men to the knowledge of God, as their whole duty to him. He speaks of the light of the gospel as vastly exceeding the light of the Old Testament; and says of the apostle Paul in particular, “That he wrote with great perspicuity; that he takes great care to explain every part of his subject; that he has left no part of it unexplained and unguarded; and that never was an author more exact and cautious in this.” 246246 Pref. To Par. On Rom. p. 146, 48. Is it not strange, therefore, that the Christian world, without any native depravity, should be so blind in the midst of such glaring light, as to be all, or the generality, agreed, from age to age, so essentially to misunderstand that which is made so very plain?
Dr. T. says (p. 167. S.) “It is my persuasion, that the christian religion was very early and grievously corrupted by dreaming, ignorant, superstitious monks, too conceited to be satisfied with the plain gospel; and has long remained in that deplorable state.”—But how came the whole christian world, without any blinding depravity, to hearken to these ignorant foolish men, rather than unto wiser and better teachers? especially, when the latter had plain gospel on their side, and the doctrines of the other were (as our author supposes) so very contrary not only to the plain gospel, but to men’s reason and common sense? or were all the teachers of the Christian church nothing but a parcel of ignorant dreamers? If so, this is very strange indeed, unless mankind naturally loves darkness rather than light; seeing in all parts of the christian world, there was a great multitude in the work of the ministry, who had the gospel in their hands, and whose whole business it was to study and teach it; and therefore had infinitely greater advantages to become truly wise, than the heathen philosophers. But if, by some strange and inconceivable means, notwithstanding all these glorious advantages, all the teachers of the christian church through the world, without any native evil propensity, very early became silly dreamers—and also in their dreaming, generally stumbled on the same individual monstrous opinions, and so the world might be blinded for a while—yet, why did not they hearken to that wise and great man, Pelagius, and others like him, when he plainly held forth the truth to the christian world? Especially seeing his instructions were so agreeable to the plain doctrines, and the bright and clear light of the gospel of Christ, and also so agreeable to the plainest dictates of the common sense and understanding of all mankind; but the other so repugnant to it, that (according to our author) if they were true, it would prove understanding to be no understanding, and the word of God to be no rule of truth, nor at all to be relied upon, and God to be a Being worthy of no regard?
Besides, if the inefficacy of the gospel to restrain sin and promote virtue, be owing to the general prevalence of these doctrines, which are supposed to be so absurd and contrary to the gospel, here is this further to be accounted for; namely, Why, since there has been so great an increase of light in religious matters (as must be supposed on Dr. T.’s scheme) in this and the last age, and these monstrous doctrines of original sin, election, reprobation, justification, regeneration, &c. have been so much exploded, especially in our nation, there has been no reformation attending this great advancement of light and truth: but on the contrary, vice, and every thing opposite to practical Christianity, has gone on to increase, with such a prodigious celerity, as to become like an overflowing deluge; threatening, unless God mercifully interposes, speedily to swallow up all that is virtuous and praiseworthy.
Many other things might have been mentioned under this head—the means which mankind have had to restrain vice, and promote virtue—such as wickedness being many ways contrary to men’s temporal interest and comfort, and their having continually before their eyes so many instances of persons made miserable by their vices; the restraints of human laws, without which men cannot live in society; the judgments of God brought on men for their wickedness, with which history abounds, and the providential rewards of virtue; and innumerable particular means, 168 that God has used from age to age to curb the wickedness of mankind, which I have omitted. But there would be no end of a particular enumeration of such things. They that will not be convinced by the instances which have been mentioned, probably would not be convinced, if the world had stood a thousand times so long, and we had the most authentic and certain accounts of means having been used from the beginning, in a thousand times greater variety; and new dispensations had been introduced, after others had been tried in vain, ever so often, and still to little effect. He that will not be convinced by a thousand good witnesses, it is not likely that he would be convinced by a thousand thousand.
The proofs that have been extant in the world, from trial and fact, of the depravity of man’s nature, are inexpressible, and as it were infinite, beyond the representation of all similitude. If there were a piece of ground which abounded with briers and thorns, or some poisonous plant, and all mankind had used their endeavors, for a thousand years together, to suppress that evil growth—and to bring that ground by manure and cultivation, planting and sowing, to produce better fruit, all in vain; it would still be overrun with the same noxious growth—it would not be a proof, that such a produce was agreeable to the nature of that soil, in any wise to be compared to that which is given in divine providence, that wickedness is a produce agreeable to the nature of the field of the world of mankind. For the means used with it have been various, great, and wonderful, contrived by the unsearchable and boundless wisdom of God; medicines procured with infinite expense, exhibited with a vast apparatus; a marvelous succession of dispensations, introduced one after another, displaying an incomprehensible length and breadth, depth and height, of divine wisdom, love, and power, and every perfection of the godhead, to the eternal admiration of principalities and powers in heavenly places.
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