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SERMON III.1919 Preached September 6, 1676.
N. B. The author begins the third sermon on the subject after
the following manner:
“It will be necessary, after so long an interval, to be somewhat
larger than usual, in the recollection of what has been said from this
scripture.” And accordingly he proceeds to give a large recapitulation of the two former discourses, which he had preached
three months before; of which this is only an abstract.
There is a like interval or chasm, with respect to time, between
the VIII. and IX. of those posthumous sermons, published by Dr.
Evans; and there are several more of the like nature in the manuscript volumes, out of which these discourses are selected.
HAVING told you in the introduction to the First Discourse, that love to God and man, is the summary of our whole duty, I proposed to insist on these three things.
FIRST, that there is a greater difficulty of living in the exercise of love towards God than towards men on this account, that he is not the object of sight, as man is: or, in other words, men are much more disposed to love one another, rather than God, inasmuch as they can see each other.
SECONDLY, that although this is one great reason why men in reality love God so little, yet it is no excuse.
THIRDLY, I proposed also to shew you the manifest falsehood and absurdity of any one’s pretending to love God, who does 25not love his brother also. The FIRST of these we have made some progress in, and, in the handling of it, told you, that it contained these two parts:
I. That it is more difficult to love God than our brother.
II. That one great reason of it is, that we cannot see God as we do one another.
As to the former of these, we have shewn you in several particulars, that how much soever mutual love is wanting in the world; yet it is not so hard a matter to find out instances of kind, goodnatured men, who are friendly and fair in their deportment one to another, as it is to find persons who are kindly affected towards God. In the prosecution of this matter the usual expressions, or evidences of human love were considered. Such as mindfulness, or a kind remembrance of one another; mutual trust; a readiness to be concerned for each other’s interest, and reputation; an earnest study to please, and oblige; and a disposition deeply to regret an offence, though given unwarily; and finally, a love of converse, or delighting in each other’s society, is another expression, as we observed, of that regard, which several persons have for one another. In all which respects it appears from constant observation and experience, that men are more disposed to shew love and respect to one another, than to God.
As to the latter of these propositions, that all this proceeds for the most part from this cause, namely, that God is not seen by men as they are seen by one another, several propositions were first laid down for the explication of this point; and then two considerations for the eviction of it, tending to shew, that it must necessarily be from some great defect in the nature of man, that the most excellent and most amiable objects of all others, should not be generally loved by us. After which, two or three hints by way of use were given you, and so we concluded the last exercise on this subject.
3. I now proceed to a larger and more close application of this important truth.
(1.) Hence we infer, that man is in a very low and lapsed, state. The present state of man, I say, is a lapsed state. He is fallen, and fallen very low indeed, when this is the case with him, that he is less apt to love God than man; and only for this reason, because he cannot see God. It argues, I say, man to be sunk very low, and greatly fallen. And can we hereupon think otherwise? For what! can it ever enter into the imagination of any of us, that God did ever create such a thing as the reasonable intelligent spirit of man, his own off spring, image, and glory, with an original indisposition to the 26 love of himself? Do we think that God gave such a nature to man at first, as was capable of being employed about spiritual objects, and yet with this strange defect or flaw in it, that it should be impossible to this nature of man to love the Author of itself, and the Original of its own life and being? This can not be. It can never be, that a reasonable spirit, the immediate issue of the great Father of spirits, should be so alienated from its own Father; and that it should be so dependent upon sense, as not to be able to love him from whom it came, or anything which is above the sphere of that base principle, which now presumes to give laws to the immortal mind. It is not to be supposed, that God ever created man so, as that his invisibility, which is the excellency of his own being, should be the reason why man should not love him. For he is therefore invisible, because he is excellent. And to think that the nature of man at first was so formed, that the excellency of things should be the reason why they should not be loved, and his own excellence a reason for his creature not to love him, is too absurd for any rational person to imagine. It is therefore plain, that the present state of man is a very lapsed state.
Some of the heathen, as we observed before, have acknowledged and lamented this. We find one of them complaining, that the darkness of ignorance clouded his mind, and that this body and flesh was but as a living sepulchre to the man. Another complains of certain bonds and chains, that tied down tire mind of man to the body, and the things of sense. And a third speaking of the excellent state of man at first, says, that he then lived in a sort of familiarity and converse with God, but that now it was become quite otherwise with him. Such things as these we find in the writings of divers of the heathen. And how incongruous a thing is it for us who have all the concerns of our souls, and what relates to our being, so expressly discovered and made known to us; how incongruous a thing is it, I say, that such a malady as this should be so little minded as it is by us! Many have very slight notions of the degeneracy of man, and make a little matter of it, and the most have a much slighter sense thereof in practice. How few are there, who carry it as those who apprehend themselves fallen, and cast down from great excellencies! fallen short, very far short, of the glory of God! we live as if we apprehended no such malady, as if we knew not that there was a disease or distemper inwrought into our natures. Oh, how little is there of the sense of this to be found in the bulk of mankind! And hence I would farther infer,27
(2.) That this depravity or lapsedness of the nature of man consists greatly, in the depression and declination of his mind, and intellectual powers, as to the particular work and office of guiding his passions, his affections, and practical inclinations. This was just mentioned before in the last discourse,2020 See Prop. (6.) p. 17. but shall now be more largely considered. I do not say, with some, that this is all that is meant by the corrupt state of man; but certainly it stands very much in this, that his mind and rational powers are become unfit for their proper business; and, that sense hath got the throne, usurped the reins, and governs his passions and affections. Herein I say, consists, in very great part, the corruption and depravedness of man’s present state. And do not we find it to be so? Do not we see, as to the objects that draw men’s affections daily into a certain course that it is not the mind, but sense which prescribes? Sense dictates and says, “Love here,” and they do accordingly: “Love not there,” and they obey. “Let that be the object of your love, which sense tells you is amiable and lovely; and that which sense says no such thing about, you may slight, neglect, and take no further notice of.” Thus men are dictated to, and they do accordingly. It is plain then, that the depravedness of man’s state stands chiefly in this, that sense takes upon itself to do the business of the mind and intellectual powers, and we consent it should be so.
But is not this a dismal thing? more dismal that it is not laid to heart! Is it not a dismal thing, I say, that the first rank and order of creatures in this sublunary world should be sunk into that low bestial life, so as to be governed by no higher a principle than what is common to them with brutes; and that the incongruity of this should not be reflected upon, and more deeply considered? That men should so seldom consider with themselves the unfitness of their course, or labour to shake off the usurped dominion over them? This, I say, is most sad and doleful to think on, that matters should have gone on thus from age to age, and from generation to generation, in so many successions to this day, and we have heard of so few in all that time, who have regretted to be so imposed upon, and forborne to live the life of beasts and brute creatures through so many ages! One would think it should some time or other have come into the mind of man, to think thus with himself. “What! is it a becoming thing for me, a reasonable and intelligent creature, one formed after the image and likeness of God, one of those creatures made at first for his immediate service and fellowship, 28 that I must now be imposed upon, and dictated to by sense? that vile and base principle of sense, so as to love nothing but what that counts lovely, and neglect every thing which that takes no cognizance or notice of?” It is an amazing thing, that there should not be so much apprehensiveness left among men, as to remember, that they were men, in their original, once at least that they were men, “Remember,” saith the prophet in a like case, “and shew yourselves men.” Isa. xlvi. 8. But alas, how little is there left of a sense of this degeneracy among us! how little resentment of the vile indignity that is done to the whole kind, and which the whole species of men have suffered to come upon them! to be degraded and brought down into an inferior rank and order! to do, to act and live, as if they were also made to die like the beasts that perish!
There are indeed many, in the mean time, who proudly arrogate and give to man that which belongs not to him in his present condition, and which this state does not admit of. They say him to be that which he is not, but in the mean time really see not, nor lament that he is neither what he was, nor what he should or ought to be. And to how little purpose is it to magnify human power, when it is manifest how forlorn the present state of man is? He is fallen very low! And what are these men intent upon, who make it their business now to magnify the nature and power of man in this condition? those parasites of mankind, as I may call them, what mean they by it? When he is become a lost perishing creature, they adorn him with shadows, and think they make up the matter by at tiring him with magnificent titles and attributes. As if when a person is condemned to suffer the execution of the sentence of death passed upon him, one should clothe him with a majestic robe, and bestow great compliments upon him. This is to add scorn to his ruin, and is only insulting over the wretchedness and calamity of the man’s condition. And yet this is the course of them that go about to persuade man, that although the case is thus with him, he can recover his own excellence that he hath lost; that he can anew create himself, or repair the ruins of his decayed and shattered state. This is the way to add incurableness to his misery, by tempting him to neglect the only means of taking it off, and so make him miserable without remedy. But that persons out of a deep concern for the honour and glory of man as the top of the creation, should go about to make him believe himself now in an honourable state, and that he can even now do great things; now unsuitable and insignificant is this, as well as inconsistent with truth! And again,29
(3.) We infer hence, that man is most especially prejudiced and impaired by his lapse or fall, in respect to his disposition and inclinations towards God. The wound is principally in his mind, and consists in the depression and enfeebling of its powers; but the mind itself is most especially hurt and impaired in respect of those inclinations by which it should be guided towards God. For in the state in which he is at present he is indisposed to the love of God; and for this mean reason, because he cannot see him. And that he is not able to love what he cannot see, shews him to be a very mean abject creature, and that his powers are mightily impaired. Surely the time was, that he could have loved what he could not have seen with his bodily eye; and how comes it to pass that be cause he cannot see God, therefore he cannot love him? This shews that his mind is impaired, that he is hurt chiefly in what respects his Creator; and that his propensity, the bent and bias of his spirit towards God is lost.
This is the sad and dismal thing that is befallen the nature of man, because God is far beyond the reach of his sight, and he himself is sunk into flesh, lost in earth, and always imposed upon by sense, he cannot see him, cannot lift up the dull heavy eye of his mind to his God, which is the eye he must be seen with by his creatures. So that, as the apostle Paul expresses it, he is become alienated from the life of God, and without God in the world. Eph. ii. 12. And how much is this to be lamented, that man is so fallen off from God! that his original propensity to him is lost and dropped from his nature! If we had heard but of one man since the creation of the world with whom this was the case, it would deserve to be very much lamented. But that this should come upon the whole kind, that it should be thus, as I may speak, with the whole race of men; methinks the sense of it should never wear off from our hearts. Strange! that it should be the course and fashion of this world all over the earth, to live in an oblivion of him that made us, and with hearts devoid of his love, and only because he is so excellent as not to be seen by us with the bodily eye! It was reckoned a sad and terrible day, when a tribe was cut off from Israel; but if we consider what man was made for, what were the design and end of his creation, we see as it were a whole race of beings lost from the creation of God. For what can we think man was made for but to love, admire, triumph, and glory in his great Maker? But to all this he is lost, and abstracting what is done in order to the recovering him again, it had been as well if there had been no men at all, and for themselves unspeakably better. How strange then is it, that 30 such a matter as this is, should ever escape our thoughts! If we speak of the corruption and depravedness of human nature, they are words of course that drop from us now and then, and some slight notions of the matter hover in our minds; but how few are there to whom it is a familiar thing to roll themselves in the dust before the Lord, in the sense of that vile and abject state, which man in common now is in? How few lament that they are by the fall cut off from God; and spoiled as to all their capacities, whereby they were suited to the divine love, service and communion! And yet the most tragical calamities that could possibly have fallen out in the world, or of which we could form any imagination, had been nothing in comparison of this. Nay if all mankind, as to shape, or impossibility of external enjoyments, were the most monstrous and most miserable creatures living, it were nothing when compared to the mischief and misery, which are the fruits of man’s apostacy from his Maker.
(4.) We further infer hence, that man upon all these accounts must necessarily be at a very great distance from true blessedness. Whoever understands, or considers the connexion between blessedness and love, will soon perceive the reasonableness of this inference. It is impossible to be blessed without love; and it is necessary to every one’s satisfaction, that it be a full and sufficient good that is the object of his love. If either of these be wanting, it is impossible it should be satisfying, or a suitable good to me. Or if on the other hand, there be a good never so self-sufficient or all-sufficient, yet if I can not love it, if my heart be averse to it, this also is a sufficient bar to my happiness. The things that are seen, though a man love them never so much, can never satisfy, because they are not sufficient. The infinite incomprehended good is all-sufficient, and fit for every purpose; but this cannot make him happy, because he doth not love it. In the creature therefore man cannot be happy, in God he will not. He cannot in the creature, because that hath not in itself to give; in God he will not, because his heart is disinclined to him, and will not be brought to a closure with him by love.
Consider man according to this state of his case, and you must look upon him as one, who by his very constitution and present temper of his soul, is formed for misery; I say so long as he continues in his present situation. His heart inclines him truly to visible things, and to love the objects of sense, which can never make him happy. The good that is unseen hath enough in it to make him blessed, but then he will not love it. He will not apply himself to love God, merely because 31he is out of sight. You must needs think then that it is a great thing that must work the cure of man, who is thus involved in so great an abyss of depravedness and misery. And therefore I must add,
(5.) That there is a very great necessity of much gospel-preaching in order to persuade men to the love of God. For what is the design of the gospel, but to render God amiable to men? What is it but a method of rendering God lovely, and of restoring men’s love to God? And since his loveliness is not the object of sight, there needs such a supplemental representation of himself, to supply the want of vision. And since the things that court our senses are obvious, and occur to us every day, yea every hour of the day, it is needful that we should be frequently put in mind of God; and that those discoveries of him which tend to beget the love of him in our hearts, should be very much urged and inculcated upon us. For otherwise what should countervail sense, or what shall we set against the sight of our own eyes? “No man hath seen God, at any time.” What is it then that must supply that defect, and be in the stead of the sight of God to us? Why, “the only begotten Son of God, he hath declared him.” John i. 18. So that we have now a revelation of God himself. And our Lord Jesus Christ, who lay in his bosom, and came from thence to declare the Father to the world, has ordained that this revelation, of which he is the prime Author, shall be held out before us from time to time, by the use of inferior and subservient instruments.
I have often considered the strange prevarication, and sophistry, which some men use in stating things that are necessary to salvation; and the use they make of that state. That is, because they can make a shift to gather up the main principles of religion into a little compass, as they may very easily, they say, “Here is all that is necessary to salvation. And therefore since in that way, or in that church all things necessary to salvation are taught, what need is there of any more? why should not we come over thither? or why should we separate from it?” Methinks it were an obvious easy thing to most people to detect the fallacy. They state what is objectively necessary to salvation, without considering the condition of the subject, and what is necessary for that subject. That is, they state what is necessary to be known and believed in order to our being saved, but consider not what is necessary to bring men to this knowledge and belief of these necessary things, so as to make a due impression of them upon their hearts. If, for instance, you were to prescribe to a sick languishing person a 32 remedy for the taking off his distemper; would you only tell him of such and such good substantial food that you would have him eat? and would you then think you had done the business? Alas! the poor man is sick; he desires nothing, can take nothing, can digest nothing, and casts up all you give him. Why then do you talk to him of such things as will make wholesome and substantial food, when he can neither receive nor retain it! So in like manner in the present case and exigence of man, considered as a fallen creature, if the bare proposal of the sundry heads of religion, necessary to be known and believed were sufficient; then to have a sermon once in a man’s life time might do the business; or a mere system of the principal parts of the Christian religion would do what it is urged for, and answer the exigence of the case. This, I say, were a thing easily to be granted, if it were really so with men, that a doctrine would be understood as soon as proposed, and received when understood, and so beget its due and proper impression, upon the hearts of men. But truly the case is manifestly otherwise, since man is fallen into so depraved a state. And to talk thus, is to speak of a scheme of divinity suitable only to innocent men in paradise; when no more was needful to be done than barely to propound things with respect to the clearness of the understanding, the rectitude of the will, the agreeableness of the powers one to another, together with the truth and goodness of their objects. But to say that this is all that is requisite, that there is enough held forth or laid before men, the knowledge and belief of which is sufficient to save them, is just as if one should say, that such and such things proposed to a sick man would do him good if lie were not sick. So in like manner this way of propounding the gospel would serve the turn for men, if they were such as when they were at first created. Indeed it were no gospel, if it were only enough to save men from sin, who as yet were no sinners. The very notion implies a contradiction. For doth not the same sin which makes them stand in need of a gospel for the reconciling them to God, disaffect at the same time their hearts unto God, and make them unwilling to close with him? Therefore they need to have precept upon precept, and line upon line; here a little, and there a little. And they that preach the gospel to men, are urged “to be instant in season and out of season, to admonish, exhort, reprove:” (2 Tim. iv. 2.) and all little enough, indeed all too little.
Surely then there is somewhat else to be considered in the matter. When we consider what is objectively necessary, it is also to be considered what will bring men to believe these 33necessary things. And in order to that there is need of their being frequently inculcated, inasmuch as things that are seen are more the objects of our love, than the things which are not seen; and what we ought to set our hearts most upon, are out of sight. God himself is the great Object men are to be directed to, and to whom they must be united, or they are lost. He is invisible, and they are apt, as you have heard again and again, to mind nothing but what is seen. There fore it is a strange unapprehensiveness of the real state and condition of mankind, which those are guilty of, who decry preaching as a needless thing. Surely they that do so, have little studied the nature of man! There are several other things that remain to be spoken to, which I cannot insist upon at this time.34
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