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Practical inferences and application of the subject.
Having shown how the truth of the doctrine is evident, both by what appears in men’s open profession, and by those things which are found by inward experience, and are manifest by what is visible in men’s practice; I proceed to improve the subject.
I. By this we may see how manifest are the ruins of the fall of man. It is observable in all the kinds of God’s creatures that we behold, that they have those properties and qualities, which are every way proportioned to their end; so that they need no more, they stand in need of no greater degree of perfection, in order well to answer the special use for which they seem to be designed. The brute creatures, birds, beasts, fishes, and insects, though there be innumerable kinds of them, yet all seem to have such a degree of perception and perfection given them, as best suits their place in the creation, their manner of living, and the ends for which they were made. There is no defect visible in them; they are perfect in their kind; there seems to be nothing wanting, in order to their filling up their allotted place in the world. And there can be no reasonable doubt but that it was so at first with mankind. It is not reasonable to suppose, that God would make many thousands of kinds of creatures in this lower world, and one kind the highest of them all, to be the head of the rest; and that all the rest should be complete in their kinds, every way endowed with such qualifications as are proportioned to their use and end: and only this most noble creature of all, left exceeding imperfect, notoriously destitute of what he principally stands in need of to answer the end of his being. The principal faculty by which God has distinguished this noble creature from the rest, is his understanding: but would God so distinguish man in his creation from other creatures, and then seal up that understanding with such an extreme blindness, as to render it useless, as to the principal ends of it; and wholly to disenable him from answering the ends of an intelligent creature, and to make his understanding rather a misery than a blessing to him; and rendering him much more mischievous than useful? Therefore, if the Scripture had not told us so, yet we might safely conclude, that mankind are not now, as they were made at first; but that they are in a fallen state and condition.
II. From what has been said, plainly appears the necessity of divine revelation. The deists deny the Scripture to be the word of God, and hold that there is no revealed religion; that God has given mankind no other rule but his own reason; who is sufficient, without any word or revelation from heaven, to give man a right understanding of divine things, and of his duty. But how is it proved in fact? How much trial has there been, whether man’s reason, without a revelation, would be sufficient or not! The whole world, excepting one nation, had the trial till the coming of Christ. And was not this long enough for trial, whether man’s reason alone was sufficient to instruct him? Those nations, who all that time lay in such gross darkness, and in such a deplorable helpless condition, had the same natural reason that the deists have. And during this time, there was not only one man, or a succession of single persons, that had the trial, whether their own reason would be sufficient to lead them to the knowledge of the truth; but all nations, who all had the same human faculties that we have. If human reason is really sufficient, and there be no need of any thing else, why has it never proved so? Why has it never happened, that so much as one nation, or one city or town, or one assembly of men, have been brought to tolerable notions of divine things, unless it be by the revelation contained in the Scriptures? If it were only one nation that had remained in such darkness, the trial might not be thought so great; because one particular people might he under some disadvantages, which were peculiar. But thus it has been with all nations, except those which have been favoured with the Scriptures, and in all ages. Where is any people, who to this day have ever delivered themselves by their own reason, or have been delivered without light fetched from the Scriptures, or by means of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
If human reason is sufficient without the Scripture, is it not strange that, in these latter ages—since navigation has been so improved, and America and many other parts of the world have been discovered, which were before unknown?no one nation has any where been found already enlightened, and possessed of true notions about the Divine Being and his perfections, by virtue of that human reason they have been possessed of so many thousand years? The many poor, barbarous nations here, in America, had the faculty of reason to do what they pleased with, before the Europeans came hither, and brought over the light of the gospel. If human reason alone was sufficient, it is strange, that no one people were found, in any corner of the land, who were helped by it, in the chief concern of man.
There has been a great trial, as to what men’s reason can do without divine help, in those endless disputes that have been maintained. If human reason alone could help mankind, it might be expected that these disputes would have helped them, and have put an end to men’s darkness. The heathen philosophers had many hundreds of years to try their skill in this way: but all without effect. That divine revelation, which the church of God has been possessed of, has been in the world “as a light shining in a dark place.’’ 265265 2 Peter i. 19.> It is the only remedy which God has provided for the miserable, brutish blindness of mankind, a remedy without which this fallen world would have sunk down for ever in brutal barbarism without any remedy. It is the only means that the true God has made successful in his providence, to give the nations of the world the knowledge of himself; and to bring them off from the worship of false gods.
If human reason be the only proper means, the means that God has designed for enlightening mankind, is it not very strange, that it has not been sufficient, nor has answered this end in any one instance? All the right speculative knowledge of the true God, which the deists themselves have, has been derived from divine revelation. How 254 vain is it to dispute against fact, and the experience of so many thousand years and to pretend that human reason is sufficient without divine revelation, when so many thousand years’ experience, among so many hundreds of nations, of different tempers, circumstances, and interests, has proved the contrary! One would think all should acknowledge, that so long a time is sufficient for a trial; especially considering the miseries that the poor nations of the world have been under all this while, for want of light: the innumerable temporal calamities and miseries—such as sacrificing children, and many other cruelties to others, and even to themselves—besides that eternal perdition, which we may reasonably suppose to be the consequence of such darkness.
III. This doctrine should make us sensible, how great a mercy it is to mankind, that God has sent his own Son into the world, to be the light of the world.—The subject shows what great need we stand in of some teacher to be sent from God. And even some of the wiser men among the heathen saw the need of this. They saw that they disputed and jangled among themselves without coming to a satisfying discovery of the truth; and hence they saw, and spoke of, the need there was of a teacher sent from heaven. And it is a wonderful instance of divine mercy that God has so beheld us in our low estate, as to provide such a glorious remedy. He has not merely sent some created angel to instruct us, but his own Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, and of the same nature and essence with him; and therefore infinitely better acquainted with him, and more sufficient to teach a blind world. He has sent him to be the light of the world, as he says of himself, “I am come a light into the world.” 266266 John xii. 46. When he came, he brought glorious light. It was like the day-spring from on high, visiting a dark world, as Zacharias observes. After Christ came, then the glorious gospel began to spread abroad, delivering those “that had sitten in darkness, and in the region of the shadow of death. 267267 Luke i. 77, 78,79. ”
What reason have we to rejoice, and praise God, that he has made such excellent provision for us; and has set so glorious a sun in our firmament, such a ” Sun of righteousness,” after we had extinguished the light which at first enlightened us; and had, as it were, brought the world into that state, in which it was when “without form, and void, and darkness was on the face of it.” 268268 . Jer. iv. 22, 23. —The glory of that light which God has sent into the world, is fully answerable to the grossness of that darkness which filled it. For Christ who came to enlighten us, is truth and light itself, and the fountain of all light. “He is the light, and in him is no darkness at all.” 269269 1 John i. 5.
IV. Hence we may learn, what must be the thing which will bring to pass those glorious days of light, which are spoken of in God’s word.—Though mankind be fallen into such darkness, and the world be mostly in the kingdom of darkness; yet the Scripture often speaks of a glorious day, wherein light shall fill the earth. “For behold the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.” 270270 Isa. lx. 2, 3. “And he will destroy in this mountain, the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations.” 271271 Isa. xxv. 7. “The knowledge of God shall fill the earth, as the waters cover the sea.” 272272 Isa. xi. 9.
By what we have heard, we may on good grounds conclude, that whenever this is accomplished, it will not be effected by human learning, or by the skill or wisdom of great men. What has been before observed of this learned age, is a presumptive evidence of it; wherein spiritual darkness increases with the increase of learning. God will again make foolish the wisdom of this world; and will, as it were, say in his providence, “Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world?”
When this shall be accomplished, it will be by a remarkable pouring out of God’s own Spirit, with the plain preaching of the gospel of his Son; the preaching of the spiritual, mysteriousdoctrine of Christ crucified, which to the learned men of this world are foolishness; those doctrine, which are the stumbling-block of this learned age. ” Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” It will not be by the enticing words of man’s wisdom; but by the demonstration of the Spirit, and of power. Not by the wisdom of this world, nor by the princes of this world, that come to nought: but by the gospel, that contains the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which none of the princes of this world, who have nothing to enlighten them but their own learning, know any thing of.
The Spirit of God, who searches all things, even the deep things of God, must reveal it. For let natural men be never so worldly wise and learned, they receive not the things of the Spirit: they are foolishness to them; nor can they know them, because they are spiritually discerned. This great effect, when it is accomplished, will be a glorious effect indeed: and it will be accomplished in such a manner, as most remarkably to show it to be the work of God, and his only. It will be a more glorious work of God than that which we read of in the beginning of Genesis. “And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters: and God said, Let there be light, and there was light.” 273273 Gen. i. 2, 3. V. Hence we may learn the misery of all such persons, as are under the power of that darkness which naturally possesses their hearts. There are two degrees of this misery.
1. That of which all who are in a natural condition are the subjects. The doctrine shows, that all such as are in a natural condition, are in a miserable condition: for they are in an extremely dark and blind condition. It is uncomfortable living in darkness. What a sorrowful state would we all be in, if the sun should no more rise upon us, and the moon were to withdraw her shining, and the stars to be put out, and we were to spend the rest of our time in darkness! The world would soon perish in such darkness. It was a great plague in Egypt, when they had a total darkness for three days. They who are deprived of sight, are deprived of the most noble of the senses; they have no benefit of external light, one of the most excellent and needful of all the things which God has made in the visible creation. But they who are without spiritual sight and light, are destitute of that which is far more excellent and necessary.
That natural men are not sensible of their blindness, and the misery they are under by reason of it, is no argument that they are not miserable. For it is very much the nature of this calamity to be hid from itself, or from those who are under it. Fools are not sensible of their folly. Solomon says, “The fool is wiser in his own conceit, than seven men that can render a reason.” 274274 Prov. xxvi. 16. The most barbarous and brutish heathens are not sensible of their own darkness; are not sensible but that they enjoy as great light, and have as good understanding of things, as the most enlightened nations in the world.
2. Another degree of this misery, is of those who are judicially given up of God, to the blindness of their own minds. The Scripture teaches us that there are some such. “What then; Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for, but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.” 275275 Rom. xi. 7. “But their minds were blinded; for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away.” 276276 2 Cor. iii. 14. “And he said, Go and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, and understand not; and see ye indeed, and perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and convert and be healed.” 277277 Isa. vi. 6,10. This judgment, when inflicted, is commonly for the contempt and abuse of light which has been offered, for the commission of presumptuous sins, and for being obstinate in sin, and resisting the Holy Ghost, and many gracious calls and counsels, warnings and reproofs.
Who the particular persons are, that are thus judicially given up of God to the blindness of their minds, is not known to men. But we have no reason to suppose that there are not multitudes of them; and most in places of the greatest light. There is no manner of reason to sup-255 pose, that this judgment, which is spoken of in Scripture, is in a great measure peculiar to those old times. As there were many who fell under it in the times of the prophets of old, and of Christ and his apostles; so doubtless there are now also. And though the persons are not known, yet doubtless there may be more reason to fear it concerning some than others. All who are under the power of the blindness of their own minds, are miserable; but such as are given up to this blindness, are especially miserable; for they are reserved, and sealed over to the blackness of darkness for ever.
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