|« Prev||Lecture XXVI. Preached April 7, 1694.||Next »|
But that which doth yet give us a fuller and more dreadful account of this state of the case, is, besides the consideration we are to have, what man is in himself, and in his faculties and powers, precisely considered, which do make up the sinfulness of his state, and which might be mentioned under this head, is,
(3.) The aggravations of man’s sinfulness.
[1.] We are to bethink ourselves, therefore, with whom there is a coincidency, and into what society and combination he falls, in this his corrupt state: and so, take the state of the case briefly and summarily thus; that he is, in all this, an accomplice with those apostate, disloyal, infernal spirits, that had revolted, and were fallen from God before: an amazing consideration! In all this, he is in confederation and combination with devils, with the powers of hell and darkness, against his Rightful and Sovereign Lord. And so doth the Scripture most expressly speak in divers places: so far as that the devil comes thereupon, to be stiled, “The god of this world,” who “hath blinded the minds of them which believe not.” 2 Cor. iv. 4.
And O! that we could consider this, according to what it doth import and carry in it of horror and detestableness. It is a thing that we do not yet believe, that a world inhabited by reasonable creatures, God’s own offspring, are universally fallen into a confederacy and combination with another god, with an enemy-god, an adversary-god, against the living and true God. Men have changed their God. And what a fearful choice have they made! fallen into a league with those wicked creatures that were weary of his government before, and that were, thereupon, thrown down into an abyss of darkness, and bound up in the chains thereof, unto the judgment of the great day. But doth the Scripture say this in vain? or hath it not a meaning, when it calls the devil, “The god of this world?” O! with what amazement should it strike our hearts, to think that so it is; that the whole order of creatures is gone off from God, and fallen into a confederacy with the devil and his an gels, against their Rightful, Sovereign Lord.
It is not a thing spoken (as it were) once on the bye; but the Scripture doth industriously represent this as the settled state 387of the case with men. Look to the Ephes. ii. 1. “You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins: wherein we all had our conversation in times past, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” And under whose regimen is this? Why, “according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” They live subject to the government of that prince: and that is a long-continued now, referring to the whole time and state of the apostasy. It speaks the fixed state of this case, that as long as men do remain dead in trespasses and sins, as it is in the 1 verse of that chapter; and all the while that that death lies upon the world, which, as we are told in the text, “hath passed upon all;” all that time, during that long-continued now, all their actions, all their motions, all their designs, are “according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience.” they are led captive by him at his will; 2 Tim. ii. 26. He hath his will of them. “The lusts of your father ye will do.” John viii. 44. That “will” is not a sign of the tense, but a distinct word, “you will;” you will to do the lusts of your father; you have a proneness, a propension of will, or it is grateful to your will, to do the lusts of your father: the devil is become even a father and a god to this apostate world: they are the serpent’s seed: he hath (as it were) impregnated them with all the principles of malignity and disloyalty, against their Rightful, Sovereign Lord.
Methinks, this should make us afraid of ourselves, and even of one another, till there be some appearance of a change in the state of our case. We look upon it as a very terrible thing, to have the body of a man possessed with the devil: but how much more dreadful is it, to have his soul under that possession; acted upon by satan in all his designs through the whole of his course, led captive by the devil at his will! Waiting if God will give repentance: that is represented as the great business of the gospel ministry, and of a gospel minister, as in 2 Tim. ii. 24, 25. to wait with patience, and endeavour with gentleness, that they may be brought to repentance, and enabled to recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are led captive by him at his will. See what his part then is, as a god over this world; he makes them do what he will, he hath his will upon them. “My will is, that you forget God; and they do: that you live in a continual contempt of God; and so they do: that you mind nothing but the affairs of this world, and how to please and gratify your flesh and sense, mind nothing but what shall, or shall not, profit your external part, or ensnare 388and hurt you, and undo you; and they do just as he would have them do, throughout the whole of their course. So that, in this state of the apostasy, they are in a continual confederation as accomplices with devils, those apostate spirits, that were gone off from God before.
[2.] It is a further aggravating consideration of this sinfulness, that the understandings of men do all this while remain with them: they have their understandings yet about them. Man is still an intelligent creature, “There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty hath given him understanding,” (Job xxxii. 8.) to distinguish him from a brute. It is very true, indeed, if sin had totally unmanned men, it had brought them into an utter incapacity of sinning any more. If the leading faculty were destroyed quite, he were then no more capable of sin than a log. But this makes the matter beyond all imagination wonderful, that a man should have his understanding remaining, and become such a monster as this; and yet apprehend nothing of it: an understanding that he can use about other matters; he can discourse, reason, project, lay designs, form methods in reference to all things that are of an inferior concernment. We find that in that great transformation of that haughty prince Nebuchadnezzar, (whom God turned to graze among the wild beasts of the field,) a transformation, not of his body, (as we have no reason to think that it was,) but of his mind; and we are told, that at the end of so much time, his understanding returned to him. But in this common case, men’s understandings do remain with them all the while they are under this monstrous transformation: that is, while a reasonable, immortal spirit disaffects his Maker, the Father of spirits; joins itself with clods, the base things of this earth; yea, joins itself to devils, apostate, impure spirits, and falls into confederacy with them against God: and yet men are not aware of their case.
And this makes that transformation which sin hath wrought in the very nature of man, in the soul of man, his reasonable soul, so horrid a thing. If he had been transformed into any other bodily shape, (though never so monstrous,) it had been incomparably a less monstrous translation than this: to make a reasonable, understanding creature, engage in a contest against him that gave him breath, the Author and Parent of his life and being, nothing could be a more monstrous thing. If all these metamorphoses which poets feign, had generally taken place and effect, every where among men; if they had been transformed into trunks of trees and the like, (as hath been feigned concerning divers,) it had been a less strange, a less 389fearful transformation than this; a reasonable, intelligent, immortal spirit turned against his Maker; and intent upon razing out every thing of his holy image out of itself.
Now this understanding still remaining, the persisting in a way and course of sin, is a running counter to that light and knowledge which every man hath, in a degree, remaining in him, though it is but a dubious kind of twilight; light that doth rather admit to be called “darkness.” “If the light that is in you be darkness, how great is that darkness?” that is, it is ineffectual to answer the proper purposes of a directive, practical light: yet what doth remain thereof, doth serve most highly to aggravate the wickedness of them in whom it is.
This is that which is more than intimated, when men are required to shew themselves men; as it is in Isaiah xlvi. 8. You have the proper principles of humanity yet about you, and the great distinguishing principle of reason, that exalts you above inferior creatures: you have it in you, but you do not use it; you are men, but you do not shew it: “Shew yourselves men ye transgressors.” And again, psalm liii.. 4. “Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge?” It is implied that they have it, but they will not use it: the interrogation is a more forcible affirmation; men have knowledge in them, yet transgress: and so keep up a contest and a war against God, and against themselves. And again,
[3.] It is a further most aggravating consideration, that as, in general, they have understanding about them, and still remaining with them, they have also some natural notions of God, all the while they are thus at war with him, and in this defiance against him. Still they have the natural impress of God upon their minds that they cannot raze out; so that they do not fight against him altogether in the dark; “Light shines in the midst of that darkness which comprehends it not.” That light by which God reveals himself, not only round about them, but in them; there is that which might be known of God in every man, as in that Rom. i. 19. That which might be known of God is manifest in them, for God hath revealed it to them.
And there is, hereupon, such a thing as natural religion: for while they have a notion of God in their minds, it is not as of a Being irrelative to them, but it is as an Object of worship; an Object of trust, so as that commonly men, in their last necessities, untaught and uninstructed, do pray to him. As I remember that ancient, (Minutius Foelix,) in opposition to pagan ism, asserting the oneness of the Deity, and that God whom the Christians serve, speaks thus: “You yourselves (saith he) 390when any thing ails you and are in distress, do not you use to lift up your eyes and hands to heaven? vulgi isti naturalis est sermo, this is as a natural kind of prayer, which your own nature doth even constrain you to, whether you will or no; there is a natural susceptibleness of religion. Men are instructed by nature itself, to dread a superior Being, and to place some kind of dependance upon it, and to have some kind of expectation from it, of help and relief in their necessities and distresses, and yet remain, all this while, in an apostasy, in war and rebellion.
This makes this monster of an apostate creature to be so much the more monstrous, beyond comparison; even beyond all that can be thought. The case being thus with them, that such sentiments of God as they have about them, they cannot erase, and yet, cannot obey; they can never get them out of them, nor comply with them: this is their case. So monstrous a thing as an unregenerate creature that remains yet in the apostate state. They carry about a notion of God with them in their minds wherever they go: and so have not only reason left them, but somewhat of religion; which some take to be a more distinguishing property in man than reason itself, it being less disputable whether it do peculiarly belong to man; to inferior creatures it manifestly doth not: and in great measure it is evident that it doth belong to all men. For those that have been the most diligent inquirers into the state of the world, in former ages, among the pagans themselves, have taken notice that it was even an impossible thing to hear of a man any where that had not somewhat of religion, or some sense of a Deity in him. As, I remember, Plutarch saith: “It is not impossible to find cities without walls, without government, without coin:” but to find a city without religion, he thought to be altogether impossible. “And it were (saith he) as easy a thing to build a city without a foundation, without ground to set it on, as to form a society of men without religion.” This was the apprehension of such knowing men as he and others, even among heathens themselves, in former times.
And this is the general matter of God’s controversy with the world, when we are told in that Romans i. 18. that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” What that truth is, we are to collect from what follows in the 19 ver. before mentioned: for that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath revealed it to them. He hath so inwrought his name, his own idea, into the spirits of men, that there it remains as an indelible impress, not quite 391to be razed out. And therefore, they who have been more avowed atheists, have been so, more in endeavour than in fact; endeavouring to extinguish those notions of God out of their minds, which yet they could never rid themselves of. “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” He hath said it in his heart: not with his mouth, not in his mind, but in his heart; which implies it rather a wish than an assertion. And so, the hebrew text doth lead us to understand: for there is not the copula to make it an assertion: The fool hath said in his heart, “no God;” not that there is none, that is not in the text, but—“no God;” let there be none: or, O! that there were none: I wish there were none. It is rather a wish than an assertion with these fools. And these fools, they are the generality of the apostate world.
But that men should carry that notion in their minds about them, up and down the world; have (as it were) God so much in view, (if they will but look into themselves and commune with their own minds,) and yet should be continually warring and fighting against him, when they could not but at the same time conceive him to be God, but conceive him too, to be the very Author of their life and being; “He in whom (as the apostle quotes a heathen poet saying) they live and move and have their being;” and another saying, “Whose offspring they are:” his very offspring; and yet in a continual, general rebellion against him; this aggravates the matter beyond all measure. And again,
[4.] They have in them also, the practical principles of right and wrong, in reference to one another. In this state of apostasy from God, they have, I say, practical principles; that is, principles that ought to govern practice, telling them what is right, and what is wrong, in reference to one another, as well as in reference to God: and yet, there is nothing else but aversion, hating of one another, and designing against one another, and every one labouring to tear the world in pieces, that they may grasp into their own hands, what yet lies in other men’s. They do so far know what is right and wrong in reference to one another, that they can no sooner hear of the general measures of right and wrong among them, but their minds do inwardly consent to the reasonableness of such a constitution. As that great maxim of our Saviour; “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you do ye so to them,” as being that which sums up the law and the prophets. A saying so taken, even among heathens themselves, that it is known, that the emperor Alexander Severus, caused it to be inscribed on the gates of his palace, as if it were the most suitable, 392agreeable thing to the minds of men, and to the necessities of human society, that could be thought. And,
[5.] Yet further, they have all this while a most connatural desire of their own felicity. This is a further aggravation, that every man naturally desires to be happy, when yet, he is continually engaged in a way and course of sin, against his Sovereign, Rightful Lord, which so directly tends to involve him in all misery: and so, is doing perpetual violence to himself, and even to the law of his own nature; for there cannot be a more radical principle in any man, or even in the nature of man, gene rally considered, than to desire to be happy. “Who will shew us any good?” is the common vogue, according to that of the Psalmist in the 4, psalm. All the world is full of craving desires after felicity, after a happy state, and yet running on in a continued course directly counter hereunto; fighting every where against the desire of their own hearts.
[6.] It is a further aggravating consideration too, that, in all this time, they have some apprehension with them generally of a future state in another world, the soul of man having a secret consciousness of its own immortality inwrought into it. So that (as you have heard) mere irreligion hath been a thing very rarely to be known in the world, and never but as men have pretended and endeavoured to erase and root out the principles of religion out of their own souls; but without total effect. So there hath been no sort of religion in the world that hath not proceeded upon the supposition of a future immortality. Not only christians and jews, but mahometans and the grosser pagans, have all agreed in this one sentiment, that “there is a life to come,” and a state after this. And yet, they are continually taking the way that takes hold of hell, and leads, down to the chambers of death; though that sentiment is not more natural, more common, that there is another state, another world, a life to come, than the sentiment is, of the connexion between goodness and blessedness, and between wickedness and misery. They have generally apprehended so, as the apostle, in the close of the first chapter of this epistle (referring to the gentile world) saith: “They did know the righteous judgment of God, and that they who did those things were worthy of death, and yet, not only did the same, but took pleasure in them.” They did apprehend a connexion between wickedness and death, between sin and misery, and yet run the course which corrupt inclination carried them unto, without resistance. And again,
[7.] There is in them all this while, a self-reflecting power, by which they are capable of taking knowledge of themselves, 393of looking in upon their own minds. “The spirit of a man is the candle of the Lord, searching into the innermost parts of the belly;” that is, searching into his most inward penetralia, into all the secret recesses of itself, even to the very centre. It is such a kind of light as can invert its beams, and turn them inward upon itself; being therein a nobler sort of eye, than this external bodily one is. For this exterior bodily eye of ours that sees all other things, cannot see itself; but the mind, the intellectual eye, cannot only see other things, but can see itself too, is capable of contemplating itself. That conscience that is in man, that natural conscience, it is not only the conservatory of natural principles, the seat of them, that shew what men are to do, and what they are not to do, (as was told you before, under the former head,) but it is also a self-reflecting principle, that which is called properly and more strictly, συνειδησις, by which a person is conscious to himself what he is, and what he doth; what his dispositions are, and what the series and tendency of his actions are.
And yet, this principle is rarely used; rarely, in reflecting upon actions, and in reflecting upon their states; scarcely ever in reflecting upon their actions, very rarely; so that, among a people professing the name of God, he may long hearken, and hear none saying, What have I done? “I hearkened and heard: no man spake aright; no man said, What have I done?” Jer. viii. 6. Though they have that self-reflective principle in them, by which they are capable of taking cognizance of their own actions, they never do it, never allow themselves to say, What have I done? in a long continued tract of time. But every following day passeth as former days have done; and seldom, from morning till night, is there a self-reflecting thought.
Indeed, where natural light hath been improved, even among some heathens, they tell us it should be otherwise: Vir bonus et sapiens; a good, a wise man, will not go to bed at night, will not compose himself to rest, before he hath revolved with himself the actions of the day. So we are taught by a heathen instructor. But, though there have been some such instances, they are very rare, of those that allow themselves to reflect upon their actions; but much more rare, of those that reflect upon their state, that bethink themselves, or say, a In what state am I? How do things stand between God and me, whose creature I am, and under whose government I live?” And yet, again,
[8.] It doth more highly aggravate all this wickedness, to consider, how inflexible men are, and averse to compliance with any means and methods for their reduction, whether they that 394are without the gospel, or they that live under it. For those that are without it, that have no gospel, no verbal gospel, among them, such an aversion to all the methods of recovery doth very sufficiently appear: for, otherwise, if that were not the common temper of the world, even where the gospel is not yet come, it would soon be among them, and nothing could have hindered it from spreading over all the world many ages ago, but an indisposition and opposition in the minds and spirits of men to the progress and diffusion of it. For there hath been no nation where the gospel was, but they that were hitherto destitute of the gospel, some or other of them, must have lain next to that nation where the gospel was, so that it was impossible for them not to have heard the sound thereof: and, if there were not an indisposition in them, even in the minds of men, and a contrariety and disaffection, they would, at least, have been inquisitive; they would have examined—“Is such a declaration from God, or is it not?” which, if they had, it carries with it such undeniable characters of divinity, that inquiring minds could not long have been ignorant; but prejudice and disaffection have kept off the inquiry; which, if it had taken effect in one country, it would soon have reached another, and so another, till the world had been leavened with the gospel long ago. There fore, such aversion and disaffection to the gospel appears even where there hath no gospel yet come.
Besides that, even there, though there be no verbal gospel, there is somewhat of a real one, that God shews himself placable, or no implacable, no inflexible, no irreconcilable enemy. He doth not carry it with men generally as one seeking their destruction, leaves not himself without witness, in that he doth good, and gives them rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with food and gladness, as in Acts xiv. and xvii. So the apostle speaks of God, in reference to his dispensations towards the pagan world; and he saith it unto pagans: “He makes his sun to shine on the just and on the unjust:” and requires of us, upon that very ground, to love our enemies, because he shews so very, much philanthropy, and good will towards men. “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you, that you may be the children of your Father, which is in heaven;” (Matt. v. 44, 45.) that you may appear such, that you may represent herein a Godlike nature; for God doth so, making his goodness diffuse and spread itself through the world: so that, “the whole earth is full of his goodness;” 395though it be so full of men’s wickedness. And, Romans ii. 4. “Despisest thou the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” As we have copiously shewn from that text, that there is a manifest, discernible leadingness and ducture in the continued exercise of God’s goodness, and particularly of his patience and forbearance, unto repentance.
But where the gospel is, there, this disaffection and prejudice doth most apparently and conspicuously shew itself. Not only were the pagans of old accused to be “God-haters,” (Rom. i. 30,) where he speaks of the Gentile world, but the very Jews too, where God’s light did shine, and where his grace and saving design did appear, and were most expressly testified; even of them our Saviour saith, “Ye have both seen and hated me and my Father,” John v. 24. And hence came these complaints, even where the gospel is: “I have laboured in vain, and spent my strength for nought and in vain.” Isaiah xlix. 4. And, “Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” Isaiah liii. 1. quoted by the apostle, Romans x. 16. “Have they all obeyed the gospel?”—No; far from that; for Isaiah saith, “Who hath believed our report?” And in the close of that chapter, “All the day long have I spread forth my hands to a gainsaying and rebellious people.”
The experienced unsuccessfulness of the gospel, which we generally so much see cause to complain of and bemoan, speaks this continually. What representations have we of God, in Christ, intent upon a reconciling design! But how few are won! How few hearts touched! So that men are gone off from God, and there they affect to abide; they have chosen distance from God, and seem resolved to continue it, say we to them what we will or can. We speak to them in the name of the Lord, but they will not hear; and for the sake of their own souls, but they regard it not. And, which is still,
[9.] More aggravating, that is, it is a further addition to the load of aggravations, and adds unspeakably to it; men are all this while certain they must die; they are in no doubt concerning that; they know the things they are fallen in with, in opposition to God, can be enjoyed by them but a little while; they see not only that the fashion of this world passeth away, but they find themselves passing away; changes are upon them. It is a thing concerning which they can be in no doubt; they have no instance of any one that escaped death. And yet here is generally no consideration what shall become of them hereafter. They find they are not happy here, they are still 396crying and seeking to be happy, but obtain it not: and yet they have no concern to be happy hereafter; though they know they must be gone, and their places on earth will, in a little while, know them no more. They have continual instances before their eyes, of other wicked ones like themselves driven away in their wickedness, torn up by the roots, plucked from their dwelling place and gone: they know it must shortly be so with them too; and yet have chosen a state of distance from God; they never look after him, till (it may be) their last vain dying breath is uttered in some such unreasonable desire as this: “Lord have mercy upon me:” when they can live and sin no longer, then they cry to God for mercy.
These are all most fearful aggravations of this common wickedness that prevails in every one; and serves farther to represent to us the sinfulness of man in his fallen state. I should next come to speak of the death that hereupon passeth over all men, as we have spoken of death as it befel that one, as it stood in the commination, and as it stood in the sentence. It requiring a further, and, somewhat, a distinct consideration, with reference to the universality of man, whose case doth (though not substantially, yet in very great and important circumstances) differ from him who was the first transgressor. But before I come to that, some use of this representation which hath been made of the sinfulness of man’s state, should intervene.
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