« Prev Lecture XXXVI. Preached October 27, 1694. Next »

LECTURE XXXVI.5252   Preached October 27, 1694.

II. Now I go on to the next conclusion, which is the second in order, namely—That we may be most certain that many things really are, when the manner how they are, or how they came to be, is not understood by the most, or may be of very difficult explication unto any—And to accommodate this to the present purpose I shall proceed by steps.

1. It is very plain that there is a cloud and darkness gene rally sitting upon, or a veil is generally drawn over the inceptions of things of whatsoever kind, as to how things of any sort, do take their first beginnings. It is observable that, usually, a veil is drawn over those things. Look into all the productions of nature, how things do take their first rise, it is generally very inexplicable, and very unconceivable, at least as to the generality. For such substantial beings as are most sensible to us, as we see with our eyes, or touch with our hands; so that there can be no place or room for any doubt, but that such things are; yet how they came to be, who can give an account? We can none of us be in doubt but there are really these heavens over our heads, which our eyes see from day to day; and this earth underneath us, which we may touch when we please. But if God had not given us a general account of the Genesis, of the beginning of the heavens and the earth, at what a loss would men have been every where? And at what a loss generally are they, how man himself began to be in this world, where they have not the ducture of Revelation in the case, to assist and help them? To think what ridiculous accounts, some of the wise and learned philosophers of this world have given of the very inception of mankind, 486it shews there is a veil, especially over the beginnings of things, when of the things themselves, there is the greatest certainty imaginable. As who can make any man doubt whether there be such heavens as we behold, or such an earth as we walk upon, though we should never have known, if God had not told us, how they began. And to go a little further,

2. We are most certain of many acts; and abilities and dispositions thereunto; which actions, how they are performed, very few can give an account; and where the dispositions thereunto did arise, they can as little tell. We know that we can see with our eyes, and that we can hear with our ears; and that such actions are performed by those very organs that are used for these purposes. But how few can tell how this act of vision is performed, or can give an account of the structure of that organ of the eye by which it is performed? And so, how the action of hearing is done, and of the aptitude of the organ of the ear thereunto? But we certainly know that we see, and that we hear; and that we see with our eyes, and not with our hands; and hear with our ears, and not with our feet.

And so, for acts of understanding; we know that we do know; we know, and are certain that we do exert acts of reason, that we use thoughts, but who can tell how a thought arises in a man’s mind, and how men come to have the seeing, and hearing, and speaking, and reasoning power and faculty transmitted from age to age, and from generation to generation? That there should arise still from age to age such a sort of creatures as have these faculties and powers belonging to them, of that we can give as little account, as how grass, and herbs, and flowers do spring up of their proper seeds upon this earth, from year to year. But of the things themselves, we have the greatest certainty that may be. And to proceed further,

3. Concerning sinful acts and dispositions, we can be in as little doubt that such things there really are, though there be here a greater difficulty how they came to be. It is true, that this question vexed some of the wisest, and most learned, and most considering of mankind; before Christianity took place among them; since there was nothing but what was good at first, how should there come to be any such thing as evil in the world? And indeed, the counsel given, was wise and whole some, rather to consider how sin may be got out of the world, than how it came into it. But there is a necessity upon us, to endeavour, to our utmost, the maintaining and keeping up high and honourable thoughts of God, as that upon which all religion 487depends, and without which, men will have a pretence to let it vanish out of the world; yea, and endeavour to make it so to do,

But whatsoever difficulty we may suppose in this case, the matter of fact is plain and evident; that is, we do find that there is such a generation of creatures, that do spring up in the world, from age to age, that are together both reasonable and sinful, as they could not be the latter without being the former. This is plain matter of fact, that a sort of creatures, which do exercise reason, do also sin from age to age, and universally: and that this, their disposition to sin, and their actual sinning, must have a beginning: and it cannot have beginning, but from some common and universal cause, being itself universal; so as that there are no instances to be found where (if there be an opportunity) a disposition to sin, doth not betray itself; so as that men are not more inclined to act rationally, than they are to act irregularly. They act rationally in many instances, they act irregularly in greater instances, and more important, and that constantly, in all times, and all parts of the world. This is plain matter of fact; and men do, therefore, fill their own souls, and fill the world, with confusions and miseries.

This (I say) is all plain matter of fact. We cannot be more certain of any thing, than we are of this; that is, that men have so much reason still remaining, and belonging to their nature, as by which they are capable of knowing they were not self-made, not self-originate, that they came from another, that they owe then? all to an infinitely perfect Being; that must have all perfection in itself, and all being originally in itself, and that their interests are someway or other involved within one another. And they are, thereupon, capable of understanding their own obligation to love God above all; and to love one another as themselves. Very plain it is, if men did but act pursuantly to such apprehensions, whereof it is most apparent their nature is capable, they would pass their days, here in this world, in very great tranquillity and felicity, within themselves, and towards one another; and, that it is impossible that those miseries, and those evils and confusions which fill men’s spirits, and fill the world, should arise from anything else but the inclination that is in them to do otherwise; not to love God with a supreme love, and not to love one another with co-ordinate love. So that this is as plain matter of fact, as that there is a world, or that there are reasonable creatures in it. This hath always been a difficulty, how (as to some particular persons especially) sin should have its beginning, when that it hath its 488continual being in the world proves itself to every one’s sad experience and observation, that doth but take notice of himself and the world. But yet,

4. Though, how sin is transmitted to particular and individual persons, from generation to generation, it cannot be so easily told, yet it may, most certainly, be determined how it is not (which most concerns us with reference to our present purpose, to vindicate the righteousness of God) that is, that it is man’s creature, and not God’s. It is not he that hath infused any thing of evil or malignity into the nature of man, which was originally pure and perfect as it sprang from him, the Author of all nature. This is out of question, that he made man upright, but they have sought and found many inventions. Eccl. vii. 29. This appears, by what that great man, Moses, saith to the people, over whom God had made him a leader and a head, when he was now shortly to take his leave of them; in that much celebrated song which he begins with this, as the design of publishing the name of the Lord, “Because I will publish the name of the Lord, ascribe ye greatness unto our God:” (that, we may take up and accommodate very fully to our own, that is to the common case.) “He is the rock (this is a part of that name of his which he designed to publish in that xxxii. Deut.) his work is perfect, and all his ways are judgment, a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.” But “they have corrupted themselves:” (as in the 4 and; 5 verses of that chapter, and onward:) a self-corrupted generation of creatures they are. And concerning this, we may as sure our hearts; and ought to do so.

When we are in this case to apologize for God, it is indeed an awful thing that is undertaken; but with the profoundest reverence, and with the greatest veneration, and with a deep resentment of the necessity that men should be so prone to arraign the Almighty: and he be (as it were) put to plead his cause at his own creatures’ bar; as the apostle’s reading of the words doth imply; and as the former part, even of that clause in the 4 verse of this psalm is understood to signify too: That thou mightest be justified when thou speakest; when thou speakest by way of apology for thyself. It ought to be done with a sincere design, and with a joyful confidence, that he will always overcome and triumph when he judgeth himself, and when men presume to judge him, and pass their censures upon his ways and methods towards the world.

But it is a thing must be done, because there is a proneness in men’s minds to admit of, and to have thoughts arise and spring up in them which have a reflecting aspect and look, upon 489the Most High, and Most Righteous God. As you see, the apostle, in the place where he quotes this text, (Romans iii. 4, 5.) objects this; “Is God unrighteous, who taketh vengeance?” when he was, in the foregoing and following chapters, proving Jew and Gentile to be all under sin. “.Is God unrighteous, who taketh vengeance? I speak as a man,” humano more, after the manner of men, which implies, so men are apt to speak; that is, to raise questions and doubts in their own minds, “How will this or that stand with the righteousness of God?” Therefore, the apostle thought himself concerned to vindicate God’s righteousness; and he doth it largely, even there in that mentioned chapter, and afterwards in several others of that epistle; and it ought to be done with a pleasant confidence that there will be an universal applause to the righteousness of God at last, by all his intelligent creatures; that all shall agree and conspire together, in saying, “Holy and true art thou O Lord; just and righteous art thou Lord God Almighty, thou King of nations and of saints.”

This I thought fit to say, by way of introduction to what I have further to say to this last mentioned head, that while we may be in some difficulty, how corrupt nature conies to be propagated from man to man, and from age to age, we are yet at a certainty how it is not done; that is, that sin is none of God’s creature, and that he never infuses a sinning disposition into any creature whatsoever. The belief of this we ought to establish and settle in our own hearts, as that by which we shall but give God his due, and consult our own peace, and more flourishing and prosperous state of religion in our own souls; that it may have no damps there, or nothing that may tend to extinguish or deaden it in us. And therefore, this I shall evince to you, by some plain considerations; though one would think, indeed, the thing needed no eviction. As,

(1.) That the purity of God’s nature cannot but abhor it: it is impossible that a thing so repugnant as sin is to the pure and holy nature of God, can spring from that pure and holy nature. Nothing but what is good can come from the first, the original, the essential, the most perfect Good. And,

(2.) That which he hath forbidden, it is impossible that he should cause or procure; that would be such a contradiction as we could never suspect an honest man of, that he should for bid and procure the same thing.

(3.) Much less is it possible that he should cause that which he punisheth, and punisheth with so terrible severity; the proper wages of sin being no less than eternal death. And,

(4.) It is impossible he should cause that which he hates; 490 “Do not the abominable thing which I hate, which my soul hateth.” Of that he can never be the Author and the Cause. And,

(5.) It can never be, that he should be the Cause or Author of that, which is so highly injurious to him, which doth him the greatest injury imaginable. For though, from the perfection of his own nature, it is impossible it should do him any real harm; yet it doth him the greatest wrong. What a disorder hath it introduced into the creation of God! how hath it spoiled his workmanship, in a great master-piece of his creation, the mind and soul of man made after his image! What deformity hath it introduced in the room of so much beauty and glory! How manifest an attempt is it against his throne, even in the very nature of it! What a violation of the sacred constitution of his government! It is sin that hath set his own creatures against him, disaffected it to him: that is, in itself, in its rooted aversion from God, and hatred of God. It is the most unconceivable thing in the world, that God should make his own nature hate himself, disaffect himself. It is sin that hath actually torn away so great and noble a part of his creation from him, and plucked it from his obedience and subjection; even all the generations of men from age to age, and so great a part of the heavenly host, and turned them all into rebels against their Maker and Rightful Lord. It cannot be that he should cause so mischievous a thing.

And it is too faint a vindication of God, in this case, to say, that therefore, he cannot cause, because it is a defect, and so not a causable thing, or capable of any other but a deficient cause. This is very true indeed, but very short, for that is no more than to say, God caused it not, than to say, another caused it not; as a thing that cannot be caused, cannot indeed admit of positive causation. That is very true, but we do not do God right if we do not assert also, that he could not bring it about, that it should be any agency of his; not in respect of the object as being an uncausable thing, but in respect of his own nature, as being repugnant to his holiness, and to his sovereignty, and to the sacredness of his government. And as that which he could not but abhor from, and hate, and hate with utmost detestation. Arid I add to all this,

(6.) To evince that this transmission of sin, cannot be by any direct hand that God hath in it, in that he hath provided so costly a remedy against it, that he should cause that which his own Son came down into our world, and died to destroy. That so wonderful a thing should be, as his descent into this world of ours, “who was the brightness of his Father’s glory, and 491the express image of his person, and who upholds all things by the word of his power, and by whom he made the worlds;” that he should come down and appear once before the end of time, (or upon the declining of time from its fulness,) to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself; (Heb. ix. 25.) that he who sent his own Son to put away sin upon so very expensive terms, by the sacrifice of himself, to throw it out of the world, should have a hand in bringing it into the world, is the most inconceivable thing that can be.

And it is that which all agree in, that however sin came into the world, God was not the Author of it. Every one abhors that thought, men of all sorts, of all persuasions and religions: pagans themselves, in all the descriptions we find in their writings concerning original evil, all agree in this, that God is not the Original of it: all agree to discharge God in the case, though they are put (some of them) upon most absurd imaginations and devices to assoile the matter in themselves; and to avoid one difficulty, run themselves into as great or greater. Some talking, they know not what, of a certain ancient nature, from whence evil must come: some positively asserting two principles, as Manes and his manicheans did, an evil principle, and a good. But this, all have agreed in, by common consent, that God could not be the Author of the sinful evils that have, in so great measure, confounded the world, and spoiled and corrupted the nature of man.

And that being so far clear, we may reckon, that a good step is taken towards the mark that we are aiming at, the vindicating of God’s righteousness in reference to this thing. There is the greatest certainty imaginable of the thing itself, while we are uncertain of the manner how sin comes to be transmit ted from age to age, or to take its beginning in particular persons in a continual succession. Though there be (I say) a difficulty as to that, there is no difficulty as to the thing; and there is no difficulty as to this, how it did not, though it remain still a difficulty, how it is. It is not from God, sin is none of his creature.

Then I should here subjoin, in the third place, that next conclusion which I design to speak to, namely,

III. That it is the most unreasonable thing that can be, to object uncertainty against certainty. It being certain, that God is immutably holy and righteous, and that his nature is absolutely perfect; it being certain that man’s nature is now become sinfully imperfect: and it being again plain, that we may be certain of very many things, when how they come to be, is doubtful, and perhaps, to many or the most inexplicable: 492but as to this particular thing, we do not know how the corruption of particular persons began, but we know how it began not; that is, that it is impossible to be any way imputable to God: we thence proceed to shew, how unreasonable a thing it is, to object the things about which we are uncertain, against the things that are most certain, that carry the greatest and plainest evidence with them. And of this we may give you instances enough.

If we should argue against the existence of this world, be cause we have not a particular, distinct account how it took its beginning, how absurd were it? If we may be capable of being puzzled with such questions as these, the great God put to Job. (chapter 38. in several verses of it.) If he should bid us gird up our loins like men, and say he would demand of us, to answer, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if you have understanding, Who hath laid the measures thereof, if ye know? or who hath stretched out the line upon them?” If he should expostulate with us, touching our knowledge of the way, how the sea is shut up as within bars and doors; or how ice, and snow, and rain are generated, and would put us upon giving an account of these things, would it not be the absurdest thing in all the world to deny their being, because we cannot give a distinct account of them? If we cannot give a distinct account, (or it may be,) a satisfactory one to ourselves, how matter was moved yet in the unformed chaos, and when the measuring line was stretched forth of this world, and the foundations laid of this mighty work; if we cannot give an account, how light and darkness were severed; which was the parting place, the utmost boundary of light and darkness; if we cannot give an account how the waters of the sea came to be collected and gathered into one place, and to be confined and shut up there, so as not to return and overflow the earth; if we cannot give an account how the rain was generated by its father: “Hath the rain a father? (as it follows here:) how ice and snow came to be condensed into these several substances, wherein we find them; therefore, to say that none of these things are; to oppose the uncertainties about the production of these things, to the manifest undoubted certainty of their existence, is certainly such an absurdity as we could never prevail upon ourselves to be guilty of.

But (as hath been told you before) we cannot be more certain of any thing that we see with our eyes, or of any faculty or power that belongs to ourselves, than we are, that there is a continual transmission of sin in this world, We cannot be more certain that man is a seeing creature, that he is a hearing 493creature, that he is a reasoning creature, than we can, that he is a living creature. And it would therefore, be the most absurd thing imaginable, to oppose and object that which is uncertain, against that which is so plainly and fully certain. And I might tell you here, of a great many uncertainties, which they must suppose and take for granted to be very great certainties, who should form a disputation in this case, concerning the production of the corrupt and sinful nature in man. But that would be too large a theme to enter upon now. Yet, all will resolve into this in general, that as to what difficulty men do imagine in this case, it is only from their opposing philosophical uncertainty, to theological verity; and tilt philosophers he agreed, in other matters, we have very little reason to regard problems, doubtful problems, that may refer to this particular case; of which 1 may instance at another time, but shall not now. But (I say) let them come to a certainty in other matters first, before they expect to be much regarded in reference to determinate, theological truth, which we reckon, stands unshaken as the foundations of heaven and earth. When they have brought themselves and the world to a certainty about such things as the ebbing and flowing of the sea, the causes of the very centre of our world, the powers of the loadstone; whether it be the sun or the earth, and which it is of these that moves the other about; when they have brought such things as these, and a hundred more that might be mentioned, to a certainty, then, they may, with more pretence, expect to be listened to, as to their determinations which may more directly respect this case.

« Prev Lecture XXXVI. Preached October 27, 1694. Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |