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Ill-disposed affections, both naturally and penally the cause of darkness and error in the judgment.
UPON 2 THESS. II. 11.
And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.
OF all the fatal effects of sin, none looks so dread fully, none strikes so just an horror into considering minds, as that every sinful action a man does naturally disposes him to another; and that it is hardly possible for him to do any thing so ill, but that it proves a preparative and introduction to the doing of something worse. Upon which account, that notable imprecation of the Psalmist, upon his own and the Church’s enemies, in Psal. lxix. 27, namely, that they may fall from one wickedness to another, is absolutely the bitterest and most severe of any extant in the whole book of God, as being indeed the very abridgment of that grand repository of curses, the 28th chapter of Deuteronomy; and that with the addition of something besides, and of so much a more killing malignity, than all of them put together; by how much the evil of sin is confessedly greater, 225the evil of any suffering for it whatsoever. The like instances to which we have in the text now before us, of a sort of men, first casting off the love of the truth, and from thence passing into a state of delusion; and lastly, settling in a steady, fixed belief of a lie. By such wretched gradations is it, that sin commonly arrives at its full ἀκμὴ, or maturity. So that in truth it is the only perpetual motion which has yet been found out, and needs nothing but a beginning to keep it incessantly going on. Accordingly, as every immoral act, in the immediate and direct tendency of it, is certainly a step downwards, and a very large one too, so, in all motions of descent, it is seldom or never found, that a thing so moving makes any stop in its fall, till it is fallen so far, that it is past falling any further. And much the same is the case with a man as to his spirituals; after he has been long engaged in a course of sinning, his progress in it grows infinite, and his return desperate.
Now in the words I have here pitched upon, as they stand in coherence with the precedent and subsequent verse, there are these two things to be considered.
First, A severe judgment denounced against a certain sort of men; namely, that God would send them such strong delusion, that they should believe a lie. And,
Secondly, The meritorious procuring cause of this judgment in the foregoing verse; to wit, their not receiving the love of the truth.
Where it is manifest, that by the words truth and a lie, are not to be here meant all truth and falsehood generally or indefinitely speaking, nor yet more particularly all that is true or false upon a philosophical 226account. For these truths or falsehoods the apostle does not in this place concern himself about; but such only as belong properly to religion, with reference to the worship of Almighty God, and the salvation of men’s souls. In a word, by truth here is meant nothing else but the gospel, or doctrine of Christianity; nothing being more frequent with the inspired penmen of holy writ, than to express the Christian religion by the name of truth; and that sometimes absolutely, and without any epithet or addition, and sometimes with some additional term of specification; as in Titus i. 1, it is called, the truth according to godliness; and in Ephes. iv. 15, the truth as it is in Jesus; with the like in several other places. So that still the great ennobling characteristic of the gospel is truth; truth eminently and transcendently such; and for that cause, by a distinguishing excellency, called the truth; from whence, by irrefragable consequence, it must also follow, that whatsoever is not truth can be no part of Christian religion. A bottom so firm and sure for Christianity to rest upon, that it cannot be placed upon a surer and more unshakeable; besides this further advantage accruing to it thereby, that as truth and goodness, by an eternal, indissoluble union, (as strong as nature, or rather as the God of nature, can make it,) stand essentially and inseparably combined, and even identified with one another: so, upon the same account, we may be assured, that the goodness of the gospel cannot but adequately match and keep pace with the truth of it; both of them being perfectly commensurate, both of them equally properties of it, equally included in and flowing from its very constitution. So that the gospel being thus held forth to the world, 227as the liveliest representation and fullest transcript of those two glorious perfections of the divine nature, to wit, its truth and goodness; it must needs, by the first of them, recommend itself to our understandings, as the most commanding object of our esteem, and by the other to our wills, as the most endearing object of our choice.
Which being thus premised, if we would bring the entire sense of the words into one proposition, it may, I conceive, not unfitly be comprehended in this, viz.
That the not entertaining a sincere love and affection for the duties of religion, does both naturally, and by the just judgment of God besides, dispose men to errors and deceptions about the great truths of religion.
This, I say, seems to me to take in the main, if not whole design of the words; for the better prosecution of which, I shall cast what I have to say upon them under these following particulars: as,
I. I shall shew, how the mind of man can believe a lie.
II. I shall shew, what it is to receive the love of the truth.
III. I shall shew, how the not receiving the love of the truth comes to have such an influence upon the understanding or judgment, as to dispose it to error and delusion.
IV. I shall shew, how God can be properly said to send such delusions.
V. Since his sending them is here mentioned as a judgment, (and that a very great one too,) I shall shew wherein the greatness of it consists. And,228
VI. and lastly, I shall improve the point into some useful consequences and deductions from the whole.
Of each of which in their order. And,
I. For the first of them; to shew, how the mind of man can believe a lie. There is certainly so great a suitableness between truth and an human understanding, that the understanding of itself can no more believe a lie, than the taste rightly disposed can pronounce a bitter thing sweet. The formal cause of all assent is the appearance of truth; and if a lie is believed, it can be so no further, than as it carries in it the appearance of truth. But then, what and whence are these appearances? Appearance, no doubt, is a relative term, and must be between two; for one thing could not be said to appear, if there were not another for it to appear to. So that there must be both an object and a faculty, before there can be an appearance; and consequently, from one of these two must spring all falsehood at any time belonging to it. But the question is, from which of them? And in answer to it, it is certain, that the object itself cannot cause a false appearance of itself. For if so, when the mind has conceived a false apprehension of God, God, who is the object, would be the cause of that false apprehension. But it is certain, that objects operate not efficiently upon the faculties; for if they should, since the object is the same to all, viz. both those who entertain true, and those who entertain false apprehensions of it, it would be impossible for the same thing, so far as it is the same, to produce such contrary effects. It is the same body which appears to one of such a shape, and to another of a quite different. And therefore the difference must needs be 229on the beholder’s side, and rest in the faculty of perception, not in the thing perceived. This we may pronounce confidently and truly, that the object duly circumstantiated is never in fault, why it is not rightly apprehended. Objects are merely passive; and if they were not so, men would certainly be both learneder and better than they are; for neither can learning nor religion thrust itself into the heads or hearts of men, whether they will or no. Truth shews itself to be truth, and falsehood represents itself as falsehood, (and so far is a good representer,) whether men apprehend them so or no. For the object is not to be condemned for the failures of the faculty, any more than a man, who speaks audibly and intelligibly, is to be blamed for not being heard; no body being bound to find words and ears too.
Well then; since a lie cannot be believed, but under the appearance of truth, and since a lie cannot give itself any such appearance, it is evident, that if any man believes a lie, it is from something in himself that he does so. There are lies, errors, and heresies about the world, both plausible and infinite, but then they naturally appear what they are; and if truth be naked to the skin, error is and must be so to the bone; and the fairest falsehood can no more oblige assent, than the best dressed evil can oblige the choice.
And thus having given both falsehood, and the Devil, the father of it, their due, and cleared even the grossest He from being the cause that it is believed, and thereby left it wholly at the door of him who believes it; let us in the next place inquire, what may be the causes on the believer’s part, which make any object, and particularly a lie, appear otherwise 230 to him than really it is, and upon that account gain his belief. Now these are two.
1. An undue distance between the faculty and its proper object.
2. An indisposition in the faculty itself. And,
1. For the first of these. As approximation is one necessary condition of perception; so, too much distance prevents and hinders it, by setting the object too far out of our reach: and if the apprehensive faculty offers at an object so placed, and falls short of the apprehension of it, the fault is not in the object, but in that. And here, by distance, I mean not only an interval in point of local position, which, if too great, certainly hinders all corporeal perception; but likewise a distance, or rather disparity, of natures; such as is between finite and infinite, material and spiritual beings, consisting in the great disproportion there is between one and the other. And from hence it is, that the mind of man is uncapable of apprehending any thing almost of God, or indeed of angels; the distance between their natures being so exceeding great. For though God, as the evangelist St. Luke tells us in Acts xvii. 27, be not far from every one of us; nay, as it is in the next verse, that he is so near, or rather intimate to us, that in him we live, and move., and have our being, so that it is as impossible for us to exclude him, as it is to comprehend him; yet still the vast difference of his nature from ours makes the distance between them so unspeakably great, that neither can our corporeal nor intellectual powers form any true idea of him. And from hence it is, that there is nothing about which the mind and apprehensive faculties of man have so frequently and foully blundered, as about the 231divine nature and persons, and (what is founded upon both) the divine worship. But,
2. The other cause, which makes any object, and particularly a lie, appear otherwise than really it is, is the indisposition of the intellectual faculty; which indisposition, in some degree or other, is sure to follow from sin, both original and actual. For so much as there is of deviation from the eternal rules of right reason or morality in the soul, so much there will of necessity be of darkness in it too; and so much of darkness as there is in it, so far must it be unavoidably subject to pass a false judgment upon most things that come before it. Otherwise there is nothing in reason, considered purely and simply as such, which is or can be unsuitable to religion, or indeed to the nature of any thing; but so much the contrary, that if we could imagine a man all reason, without any bias from his sensitive part, it were impossible but that, upon the first sufficient offer, he should, as we may so express it, with both arms embrace religion. But the case has been much altered since the fall of our first parents, and the fatal blow thereby given to all the powers of men’s mind; besides the further debilitation and distemper brought upon it by many actual and gross sins. So that now the understandings of men are become like some bodily eyes, disabled from an exact discernment of their proper object, both by a natural weakness and a supervening soreness too.
And thus I have accounted for the true cause which sometimes prostitutes the noble understanding of man to the lowest of dishonours, the belief of a lie; namely, either the remoteness of the faculty (whether in point of distance or difference) 232from its object, or some weakness or disorder in it; either of which will be sure to pervert its operation: and then a fault in the first apprehension of any thing will not fail to produce a false judgment, and that a false belief likewise about the same. And so I proceed to the
Second particular proposed, viz. to shew what it is to receive the love of the truth.
And this we shall find implies in it these two things.
1. An high esteem and valuation of the real worth and excellency of it; this is the first and leading act of the mind. Truth must be first enthroned in our judgment, before it can reign in our desires; and as it is the leading faculty, so it is the measure of the rest: for no man’s love of any thing can rise above his esteem of it, nor can his appetites exert themselves upon any object, not first vouched by his apprehensions. For which cause, the Holy Ghost in scripture, the better to advance religion in our thoughts, represents it by things of all others the most highly accounted of in the world, as crowns, thrones, kingdoms, hidden treasure, and the like; all which expressions, though far from being intended according to the strict and philosophical truth of things, but rather as allusions to them, yet still were founded in the universally acknowledged course of nature, which ever was and will be, for men to be first allured by the worth of things, before they can desire the property or possession of them; and to consider the value, before they design the purchase. But, be the matter as it may, our affections, to be sure, will bid nothing for any thing, till our judgment has set the price. Thus St. Paul 233evinces his love to Christ from his transcendent esteem of him; I account all things, says he, but dung and dross, that I may win Christ, Phil. iii. 8. And he who accounts a thing as dung will no doubt trample upon it as such. The rule of contrarieties will be found a clear illustration of the case. For hatred generally begins in contempt, or something very like it; and it is certain in matter of fact, as well as reason, that we leave off to love any thing or person, as soon as we begin to despise them. He who in scorn turns away his eye from looking upon an object, will hardly be brought to reach out his hand after it. Let a man therefore set his understanding faculty on work, and put it to examine and consider, to view and review the intrinsic value of religion, what it is and what it offers, before he proceeds to make it his portion so far, as to be ready to quit all the world for it, should they both come to rival his choice as competitors; let him, I say, by a strict and impartial inquiry, descend into himself, and see whether he can upon these terms (for lower and easier it knows none) judge it absolutely eligible; and if not, let him assure himself, that without a passport from the judgment, it will never gain a free and full admittance into the affections. For still it is through the eye that love enters into the heart: nay, so mighty an influence has the judging faculty in this case, that it is much disputed, whether the last dictate of the judgment about any object does not necessarily determine and draw after it the choice of the will; and perhaps there is scarce any point in moral philosophy of a nicer speculation and an harder decision: for as the affirmation of this, on the one side, seems to border upon stoicism, and to 234intrench upon the freedom of the will; which, after the supposal of all things requisite to its acting, ought nevertheless still to retain a power to exert or not exert an act of volition; so, on the other side, to affirm, that after the understanding has made the last proposal of the object to the will, the will may yet refuse it, and go contrary to it, seems to infer this great inconvenience, that the will, in order to its acting, needs not the preceding act or conduct of the intellect to make a sufficient proposal of the object to it, since after it is so proposed, it may not withstanding divert its actings quite another way; and then, if it can in this manner proceed without a guide, the will is not so blind a faculty as the schools make it. For he who goes one way, when his guide directs him another, manifestly shews that he both can and does go without him. But I shall dispute this point no further; it being, as I conceive, sufficient for our present purpose, that the act of the understanding proposing the object, must of necessity precede, whether the act or choice of the will follow it or no. Though for my own part I cannot see, that the holding the necessity of the will’s following the last dictate or proposal of the understanding, does at all prejudice its freedom, (which is rather opposed to coaction from without, than to a determination from within;) forasmuch as it was in the power of the will to have diverted the understanding from its application to any object, before it came to form its last judgment of it; and consequently, the whole proceeding of the understanding being under the free permission of the will, the act of the will closing with this last determination, was originally and virtually free, though formally and immediately, 235in this latter sense, necessary. As God necessarily does what he first absolutely decreed, and yet the whole act is free, since the decree itself was the free issue and result of his will. But I beg pardon, if I have dwelt too long upon this point. It was, because I thought it requisite to shew what is the part and office, and how great the force and power of the understanding, in recommending the truths of religion to the souls of men; that so they may not acquiesce in a slight, superficial judgment or apprehension of them; which, we may rest satisfied, will never have any considerable effect, or work any thorough change upon the heart; and if so, all will come to nothing; for the foundation is ill laid, and the superstructure cannot be firm. And upon this account, no doubt, it is, that the scripture ascribes so much to faith; indeed, in effect, the whole work of man’s salvation; and yet it is but an act of the understanding, and properly and strictly speaking can be no more: yet nevertheless, of such a mighty and controlling influence upon the will is it, that, if it be strong, vigorous, and of the right kind, it draws the whole soul after it, and works all those wonders which stand recorded of it in the 11th of the Hebrews, which from first to last is but a panegyric upon the invincible strength and heroic achievements of this grace. In a word, if a man, by faith, can bring his understanding to receive and entertain the divine truths of the gospel so as to look upon the promises of it as conveying the greatest good and happiness to man that a rational nature is capable of, and the threatenings of it as denouncing the bitterest and most insupportable evils that a created being can sink under, and both of them as 236things of certain and infallible event; this is for a man truly to value his religion, and to lay such a foundation of it in his judgment, as shall never disappoint or shame his practice. Accordingly, in the
Second place, the other thing implied in and intended by the receiving the love of the truth, is the choice of it, as of a thing transcendently good, and particularly agreeable to our condition. Generals, we commonly say, are fallacious; but it is certain that they are always faint. And therefore it is not merely what is good, as to the general notion of it, (which can minister to little more than bare theory and discourse,) but particularly what is good for me, which must engage my practice. To esteem a thing, we have shewn, is properly an act of the understanding; but to choose it, is the part and office of the will. And choosing is a considerable advance beyond bare esteem; forasmuch as it is the end of it, and consequently perfects it, as the end does every action which is directed to it. It is the most proper, genuine, and finishing act of love. For the great effect of love is to unite us to the thing we love; and the will is properly the uniting faculty, and choice the uniting act, which brings the soul and its beloved object together. Judgment and esteem, indeed, is that which offers and recommends it to the soul; but it is choice which makes the match. For the truth is, the soul of man can do no more, nor reach further, than first to esteem an object, and then to choose it. And therefore, till we have made religion our fixed choice, it only floats in the imagination, and is but the business of talk and fancy. But it is the heart, after all, which must appropriate 237and take hold of the great truths of Christianity for its portion, its happiness, and chief good. And then, and not till then, a man is practically and in good earnest a Christian; and that which before was but notion and opinion, hereby passes into reality and experience; and from a mere name, into the nature and substance of religion. For still, if a man would make his faith or religion a vital principle for him to live and act by, it must be such an one as the apostle tells us works by love; there must be something of this blessed flame to invigorate and give activity to it. But where a man neither loves nor likes the thing he believes, it is odds but in a little time he may be brought also to cast off the very belief itself; and, in the mean while, it is certain, that it can have no efficacy, no operation or influence upon his life or actions; which is worse than no belief at all; for better, a great deal, none, than to no purpose.
And thus having shewn what is meant by and implied in the receiving the love of the truth, it may, I conceive, help us to an easy and natural account of its opposite or contrary; to wit, the rejecting, or not receiving the same; the great sin, as we before observed, for which the persons here in the text stand concluded under so severe a doom. For the further explication of which, we may very rationally suppose the condition of those men to have been this, viz. that upon the preaching of Christianity, the truth of it quickly overpowered their as sent, and broke in upon their apprehensions with the highest evidence and conviction; but the searching purity and spirituality of the same doctrines equally encountering their worldly interests and 238their predominant beloved corruptions, soon caused in their minds a secret loathing of the severity of those truths, and so by degrees a direct hatred and hostility against them, as the great disturbers of those pleasures, and interrupters of the caresses of those lusts, which had so bewitched their hearts and seized their affections. It is wonderful to consider what a strange combat and scuffle there is in the soul of man, when clear truths meet with strong corruptions; one faculty or power of it embracing a doctrine, because true; and another, with no less fury, rising up against it, because severe and disagreeable. Thus, what should be the reason that those high and excellent precepts of Christianity, requiring purity of heart, poverty of spirit, chastity of mind, hatred of revenge, and the like, find so cold a reception, or rather so sharp a resentment in the world? Is it because men think they are not truths? By no means; but because they are severe, grating, uneasy truths; they believe them sufficiently, and more than they desire, but they cannot love them; and for that reason, and no other, they are rejected and thrown aside in the lives and practices of men; not because they cannot or do not convince their understandings, but because they thwart and bid defiance to their inclinations. Truth is so connatural to the mind of man, that it would certainly be entertained by all men, did it not by accident contradict some beloved interest or other. The thief hates the break of day; not but that he naturally loves the light, as well as other men; but his condition makes him dread and abhor that, which of all things he knows to be the likeliest means of his discovery. Men may sometimes frame themselves to 239hear and attend to the mortifying truths of Christianity; but then they hear them only as they use to hear of the death of friends, or the story of a lost estate; they are true, but troublesome and vexatious: so often does the irksomeness of the thing reported make men angry with the truth of the report, and sometimes with the very person of the reporter too. And therefore, let none wonder, if God inflicts so signal a judgment upon this sort of sin: for when men shall resolutely reject clear, pregnant, and acknowledged (as well as important) truths, only because they press hard upon their darling sin, and would knock them off from the pleasing embraces of the world and the flesh, and from dying in them; what do they else but sacrifice the glory of their nature, their reason, to their brutality? and make their noblest perfections bow down, and stoop to their basest lusts? What do they, I say, but crush and depress truth, to advance some pitiful, sensual pleasure in the room of it; and so, like Herod, strike off the Baptist’s head, only to reward the dances of a strumpet? This is the great load of condemnation which lies so heavy upon the world, as St. John tells us, that men see the light, but love darkness; bend before the truth of a doctrine, but abhor its strictness and spirituality: the doctrine of Christianity being in this, like that forerunner of Christ just now mentioned by us, who was indeed, as our Saviour himself styled him, a shining, but withal a burning light. And as the shining both of the one and the other, in the glorious evidence of truth beaming out from both, could not but, even in spite of sin and all the powers of darkness, be infinitely pleasing to all who had the sight thereof; so its burning quality 240exerting itself in the searching precepts of self-denial and mortification, was, no doubt, to all vicious and depraved minds, altogether as tormenting and intolerable. And so I proceed to the
Third particular proposed by us; which was to shew, how the not receiving the love of the truth into the will and affections, comes to dispose the understanding to error and delusion. Now, I conceive, it may do it these following ways.
1. By drawing off the understanding from fixing its contemplation upon a disgusted offensive truth. For though it is not in the power of the will, when the understanding apprehends a truth clearly and distinctly, to countermand its assent to it; yet it has so great an influence upon it, that it is able antecedently to hinder it from taking that truth into a full and thorough consideration. And while the mind is not taken up with an actual attention to the truth proposed to it, so long it is obnoxious to the offers and impressions of the contrary error. For the first adherencies, or rather applications of the soul to truth, are very weak and imperfect, till they are furthered and confirmed by a frequent converse with it, and so by degrees come to have the general notions of reason endeared and made familiar to the mind by renewed acts of attention and speculation; which ceasing, if a falsehood comes recommended to the soul with any advantage, that is to say, with agreeableness, though without argument, it is ten to one but it enters, and takes possession. And then the poison is infused; let the man get it out again as he can. He who will not insist attentively and closely upon the examination of any truth, is never like to have his mind either clearly informed of it, 241or firmly united to it. For want of search is really and properly the keeping off the due approximation of the object, without which a true apprehension of it is impossible. So that if a man has corrupt affections, averse to the purity and excellency of any truth, it is not imaginable that they will suffer his thoughts to dwell long upon it, but will do their utmost to divert and carry them off to some other object, which he is more inclined to and enamoured with; and then, what wonder is it, if, under such circumstances, the mind is betrayed by the bias of the affections, and so lies open to all the treacherous inroads of fallacy and imposture? As for instance, he whose corrupt nature is impatient of any restraint from morality or religion, will be sure to keep his mind off from them as much as possibly he can; he will not trouble himself with any debates or discourses about the truth or evidence of such things as he heartily wishes were neither evident nor true. In a word, he will not venture his meditations upon so unwelcome and so afflicting a subject. And thus having rid himself of such notions, the contrary documents of atheism and immorality still bringing with them a compliance with those affections which all thoughts of religion were so grievous to, will soon find an easy, unresisted admittance into an understanding, naked and unguarded against the several arts and stratagems of the grand deceiver. A man indeed may be sometimes so surprised, as not to be able to prevent the first apprehension and sight of a truth; but he is always able to prevent the consideration of it; without which the other can work upon him very little. For though apprehension 242shews the object, it must be consideration which applies it. But again,
2. A will vitiated, and grown out of love with the truth, disposes the understanding to error and delusion, by causing in it a prejudice and partiality in all its reflections upon and discourses about it. He who considers of a thing with prejudice, has judged the cause before he hears it, and decided the matter, not as really it is, but as it either crosses or comports with the principles which he is already prepossessed with: the understanding, in such a case, being like the eye of the body, viewing a white thing through a red glass; it forms a judgment of the co lour, not according to the thing it sees, but according to that by which it sees. And upon the like account it is, that the will and the affections never pitch upon any thing as odious, but that sooner or later they bribe the judgment to represent it to them as ugly too. We know the miracles, the astonishing works, and excellent discourses of our Saviour could not strike the hearts of those whom he preached to, through the mighty prejudice they had conceived against his person and country. But that they still opposed all, even the most cogent and demonstrative arguments he could bring for his doctrine, with that silly exception, Is not this the carpenter’s son? And that one ridiculous proverb, that no good could come out of Galilee, (as slight as it was,) yet proved strong enough to obstruct their as sent, and arm their minds against that high conviction and mighty sway of evidence, which shined forth in all his miraculous works; so that this senseless saying alone fully answered, or (which was as 243effectual for their purpose) absolutely overbore them all. In like manner, we find it elsewhere observed by our Saviour himself, of that selfish, rotten, and yet demure generation of men, the Pharisees, that they could not believe, because they received honour one of another, John v. 44. They had, it seems, bewitched the people into an extravagant esteem and veneration of their sanctity, and by that means had got no small command over their purses, their tables, and their families; nay, and more than ordinary footing and interest in the Jewish court itself. So that they ruled without control, getting the highest seats in synagogues, that is, in their chief assemblies or consistories; and they loved also to feed as high as they sat, still providing themselves with the best rooms, and not the worst dishes (we may be sure) at feasts. Nor would ever such pretenders have fasted twice a week, but that they knew it afforded them five days besides to feast in; so that having thus found the sweets of a crafty, long-practised hypocrisy, from which they had reaped so many luscious privileges, they could not but have an horrible prejudice against the strictness of that doctrine, which preached nothing but self-denial, humility, and a contempt of the honours and emoluments of the world, which they themselves so passionately doted upon; and therefore no wonder if they threw it off as a fable and an imposture, though recommended with all the attestations of divine power, which had in them a fitness to inform or convince the reason of man. So far did the corruption of their will advance their prejudice, and their prejudice destroy their judgment. But,
The third and last reason which I shall assign 244for proving that the will’s not embracing the love of the truth, betrays the understanding to error and delusion, is from the peculiar malignity which is in every vice, or corrupt affection, to darken and besot the mind, the νοῦς, the great guide and superintendant of all the faculties of the soul; for so near a connection, or rather cognation is there between the moral and intellectual perfection of it, (as I have elsewhere observed,1010 The reader may please to cast his eye upon a sermon in the second volume, p. 261-292, where this subject is more professedly and largely treated of.) that a great flaw in the former never fails in the issue to affect the latter; though possibly how this is done is not so easily accounted for. Nevertheless, that irrefragable argument experience sufficiently proves many things, which it is not able to explain, nor indeed pretends to be so. Aristotle has observed of the vices of the flesh, (and his observation is in a great degree true of all other,) that they do peculiarly cloud the intellect, and debase a man’s notions, emasculate his reason, and weaken his discourse; and, in a word, make him, upon all these accounts, much less a man than he was before. And for this cause, no doubt, has the same author declared young men, in whom the forementioned sort of vices is commonly most predominant, not competent auditors of moral philosophy, as having turned the force of their minds to things of a quite contrary nature. But this mischief reaches much further; for sure it is, that when wise men (be their years what they will) become vicious men, their wisdom leaves them; and there appears not that keenness and briskness in their apprehensive and judging faculties, which had been all along observed 245in them, while attended with temperance, and guarded with sobriety. So that, upon this fatal change, they do not argue with that strength, distinguish with that clearness, nor, in any matter brought into debate, conclude with that happiness and firmness of result, which they were wont to do.
Shew me so much as one wise counsel or action of Marcus Antonius, a person otherwise both valiant and eloquent, after that he had subdued his understanding to his affections, and his affections to Cleopatra. How great was Lucullus in the field, and how great in the academy! But, abandoning himself to ease and luxury, Plutarch tells us that he survived the use of his reason, grew infatuated, and doted long before he died, though he died before he was old.
All which tends to demonstrate, that such is the nature of vice, that the love thereof entering into the will, and thrusting out the love of truth, it is no wonder, if the understanding comes to sink into infatuation and delusion; the ferment of a vicious inclination lodged in the affections, being like an intoxicating liquor received into the stomach, from whence it will be continually sending thick clouds and noisome steams up to the brain. Filth and foulness in the one will be sure to cause darkness in the other. Was ever any one almost observed to come out of a tavern, an alehouse, or a jolly meeting, fit for his study, or indeed for any thing else, requiring stress or exactness of thought? The morning, we know, is commonly said to be a friend to the muses, but a morning’s draught was never so. And thus having done with the third particular proposed from the text, come we now to the246
Fourth; viz. to shew, how God can be properly said to send men delusions. God, says the apostle, 1 John i. 5, is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. And that which in no respect is in him, cannot, we may be sure, proceed from him. Upon which account, it must needs be very difficult to shew and demonstrate, how God can derive ignorance, darkness, and deception into the minds of men. And the great difficulty of giving a rational and good account of this and such like instances, drove Manes, an early heretic, with his followers, (called all along the Manichees, or Manicheans,) to assert two first, eternal, independent beings, one the cause of all good, the other the cause of all evil; as concluding, that the evil which is in the world must needs have some cause, and that a being infinitely good could not be the cause of it; and consequently, that there must be some other principle from the malignity of whose influence flowed all the ignorance, all the wickedness and villainy, which either is or ever was in the world. But the generally received opinion of the nature of evil, viz. that it is but a mere privation of good, and consequently needs not an efficient, but only a deficient cause, as owing its production and rise, not to the force, but to the failure of the agent; this consideration, I say, has rendered that notion of Manes, of a first independent principle of evil, as useless and impious in divinity, as it is absurd in philosophy.
This principle therefore being thus removed, let us see how it can comport with the goodness and absolute purity of the divine nature, to have such effects ascribed to it, and how, without any derogation to the glorious attribute of God’s holiness, he 247can be said to send the delusions, mentioned in the text, into the minds of men. Now, I conceive, he may be said to do it these four ways.
1. First by withdrawing his enlightening influence from the understanding. This, I confess, may seem at first an obscure, enthusiastic notion to some; but give me leave to shew, that there is sufficient ground for it in reason. And for this purpose, I shall observe to you, that it was the opinion of some philosophers, particularly of Aristotle, and since him of Averroes, Avicenna, and some others, that there was one universal soul belonging to the whole species, or race of mankind, and indeed to all things else according to their capacity: which universal soul, by its respective existence in, and communication of itself to each particular man, did exert in him those noble acts of understanding and ratiocination proper to his nature; and those also in a different degree and measure of perfection, according as the different crasis or disposition of the organs of the body made it more or less fit to receive the communication of that universal soul; which soul only (by the way) they held to be immortal; and that every particular man, both in respect of body and spirit, was mortal; his spirit being nothing else but a more refined disposition and elevation of matter.
Others, detesting the impiety of this opinion, did allow to every individual person a distinct immortal soul, and that also endued with the power and faculty of understanding and discourse inherent in it. But then, as to the soul’s use and actual exercise of this faculty, upon their observing the great difference between the same object, as it was sensible, and affected the sense, and as it was intelligible, and moved 248the understanding, they held also the necessity of another principle without the soul, to advance the object, a gradu sensibili ad gradum intelligibilem, as they speak, and so to make it actually fit to move and affect the intellect. And this they called an intellectus agens; so that although the soul was naturally endued with an intellective power, yet, by reason of the great distance of material, corporeal things from the spiritual nature of it, it could never actually apprehend them, till this intellectus agens did irradiate and shine upon them, and so prepare and qualify them for an intellectual perception. And this intellectus agens, some, and those none of the lowest form in the Peripatetic school, have affirmed to be no other than God himself, that great light which enlightens not only every man, but every thing (according to its proportion) in the world.
The result and application of which discourse to my present purpose is this; that certainly1111 For it is ascribed to no less persons than to Plato, and Aristotle after him, (as borrowing it from him,) and that by several of the most eminent interpreters of the latter, both ancient and modern; all of them proceeding upon this ground, that in order to the actual intellection of any object, there is a spiritual, intellectual light necessary to enable the object to move or affect the intellective faculty, which yet the object cannot give to itself, nor yet strike or move the said faculty without it. And therefore they say, that there is required an intellectus agens, or being distinct both from the object and the faculty too, which may so advance and spiritualize the object, by casting an higher light upon it, as to render it fit and prepared thereby for an intellectual perception. And forasmuch as every thing which is such or such secondarily, and by participation from another, supposes some other to be so primarily and originally by and from itself; and since God is the primum intelligibile in the intellectual world, as the sun is the primum visibile in the sensible and material world; they affirm the same necessity of a superior and intellectual light issuing from God, in order to move the intellect, and form in it an intellectual apprehension of things, which there is of a light beaming from the sun, for the causing an act of vision in the visive faculty. And this they insist upon, not only as a similitude for illustration, but as a kind of parallel case, as to this particular instance, how widely soever the things compared may differ from one another upon many other accounts. This, I say, was held by several of the most noted of the Peripatetic tribe; though others, I know, who are professedly of the same, do yet in this matter go quite another way; allowing indeed that there is and must be an intellectus agens, but that it is no more than a different faculty of the same soul, or a different function of the same faculty; but by no means an agent, or intelligent being distinct from it. This, I confess, is of very nice speculation, and made so by the arguments producible on both sides, and consequently not so proper to make a part in such a popular discourse as I am here engaged in; nor should I have ever mentioned it barely as a philosophical point, but as I conceived it improvable into a theological use, as I have endeavoured to improve it in the discourse itself; to which therefore I have chose rather to annex this by way of annotation, than to insert it into the body thereof. those 249great masters of argument and knowledge could not but have some weighty and considerable reasons thus to interest an external principle in the intellectual operations of man’s mind. And so much of reason do I, for my part, reckon to be at the bottom of this opinion, that I have been often induced to think, that if we should but strip things of mere words and terms, and reduce notions to realities, there would be found but little difference (so far as it respects man’s understanding) between the intellectus agens asserted by some philosophers, and the universal grace, or common assistances of the Spirit, asserted by some divines, (and particularly by John Good win, calling it, the pagans’ debt and dowry;) and that the assertors of both of them seem to found their several assertions upon much the same ground; namely, upon their apprehension of the natural impotence of the soul of man, immersed in matter, to raise itself 250to such spiritual and sublime operations, as we find it does, without the assistance of some higher and divine principle. And accordingly, this being admitted, that the soul is no otherwise able to exert its intellectual acts, than by a light continually flowing in upon it, from the great fountain of light, (whether that light assists it by strengthening the faculty itself, or brightening the object, or both, it matters not, since the result of both, as to the main issue of the action, will be the same;) I say, this being admitted, that God beams this light into man’s understanding, and that, as a free agent, by voluntary communications; so that he may withdraw or suspend what he thus communicates, as he pleases; how natural, how agreeable to reason is it to conceive, that God, being provoked by gross sins, may deliver the sinner to delusion and infatuation, by a suspension and substraction of this light? For may not God blast the understanding of such an one, by shut ting up those influences which were wont to enliven his reason in all its discourses and argumentations. Certain it is, that this frequently happens; and that the wit and parts of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness, are often blasted, so that there is a visible decay of them, a strange unusual weakness and failure in them; and this not to be ascribed to any known cause in the world, but to the just judgment of God, stopping that eternal fountain from which they had received their continual supplies. This to me seems very intelligible, and equally rational: and accordingly may pass for the first way, by which God may be said to send delusion into the minds of men. But,
2. God may be said to do the same, by giving commission 251to the great deceiver, and spirit of falsehood, to abuse and seduce the sinner. A signal and most remarkable example of which we have in 1 Kings xxii. 22. When Ahab was grown full ripe for destruction, we find this expedient for his ruin pitched upon; viz. that he was to be persuaded to go up to Ramoth-gilead, to fall there. But how and by what means was this to be effected? Why, the text tells us, that there came forth a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will persuade him. And the Lord said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And God said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so. We see here the evil spirit sent forth, and fully empowered by Almighty God to accomplish his delusions upon a bold, incorrigible sinner. And what method God took then, we cannot deny, or prove it unreasonable, but that he may take still, where the same sins prepare and fit men for the same perdition.
How the Devil conveys his fallacies to the minds of men, and by what ways and arts he befools their understandings, I shall not here dispute; nor, being sure of the thing itself, from the word of God, that it is so, shall I be much solicitous about the manner how. But thus much we may truly, and, by consequence, safely say, that since it is too evident that the Devil can make false resemblances and representations of things pass before our bodily eyes, so that we shall be induced to believe that we see that, which physically and indeed we do not see; why may he not also suggest false images of things both to the imagination and to the intellectual eye of the mind, (as different as they are from one another,) 252and so falsify our notions, and disorder our apprehensions? It is plainly asserted, in 2 Cor. iv. 4, that the God of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not. The great sophister and prince of darkness (God permitting him) can strangely blindfold our reason and muffle our understanding; and, no doubt, the chiefest cause that most of the obstinate, besotted sinners of the world are not sensible that the Devil blinds and abuses them is, that he has indeed actually done so already.
For how dreadfully did God consign over the heathen world to a perpetual slavery to his deceits! They worshipped him, they consulted with him, and so absolutely were they sealed up under the ruling cheat, that they took all his tricks and impostures for oracle and instruction. And the truth is, when men, under the powerful preaching of the gospel, (such as the church of England has constantly afforded,) will grow heathens in the viciousness of their practices, it is but just with God to suffer them (by a very natural transition) to grow heathens too in the grossness of their delusions.
3. A third way by which God may be said to send men delusions is, by a providential disposing of them into such circumstances of life, as, through a peculiar suitableness to their corruption, have in them a strange efficacy to delude and impose upon them. God, by a secret, unobserved trace of his providence, may cast men under an heterodox, seducing ministry, or he may order their business and affairs so, that they shall light into atheistical company, grow acquainted with heretics, or possibly meet with pestilent books, and with arguments subtilly and speciously urged against the truth: all which falling 253in with an ill-inclined judgment and worse-ordered morals, will wonderfully recommend and set off the very worst of errors to a mind thus prepared for their admission; no guard being sufficient to hinder their entering, and taking possession, but where caution and virtue keep the door. The want of which quality has been the grand, if not sole cause, which in all ages has brought so many over to, and in the issue settled and confirmed them in some of the foulest sects and absurdest heresies that ever infested the Christian church; and so deeply have the wretches drank in the delusion, that they have lived and died in it, and transmitted the surviving poison of it to posterity. And yet, as far and wide as such heresies have reigned and raged in their time, and as woful an havock as they have made of souls, they have been often taken up at first by mere accident, or upon some slight, trivial, unprojected occasion, no less unperceivable in their rise, than afterward formidable in their progress. But as what is said of affliction in Job v. 6, may with equal truth and pertinence be said of every notable event, bad as well as good, namely, that it comes not out of the dust, so the direction of all such small and almost undiscernible causes to such mighty effects as often follow from them, can proceed from nothing but that all-comprehending Providence which casts its superintending eye and governing influence over all, even the most minute and inconsiderable passages in the world; inconsiderable indeed in themselves, but in their consequences by no means so.
And therefore, as we find it expressed of him who kills a man unwillingly, and by some undesigned 254stroke or accident, that God delivers that man into his hands, Exod. xxi. 13, so when a man, by such odd, unforeseen ways and means as we have before mentioned, comes to be drawn into any false, erroneous belief or persuasion, it may, with as true and solid consequence, be affirmed, that by all this God sends such a man a delusion. As for instance, when, by the special disposal of God’s providence, Hushai the Archite suggested that counsel to Absalom, in 2 Sam. xvii. 11, 12, which he believed, and followed to his destruction, we may say, and that neither improperly nor untruly, that God sent him that deception; for it is expressly added, in the fourteenth verse, that God had appointed to defeat the counsel of Ahithophel, to the intent that he might bring evil upon Absalom. Likewise how emphatically full and pregnant to the same purpose is that instance of a false prophet accustomed to deceive himself and others, in Ezek. xiv. 9. If the prophet, says God, be deceived when he has spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet. God here names and appropriates the action to himself by a way of proceeding incomprehensible indeed, but unquestionably just.
Let this therefore pass for a third way by which God delivers over a sinner to error and circumvention. Which point I shall conclude with those exclamatory words of St. Paul, so full of wonder and astonishment, in Rom. xi. 33, How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! So many windings and turnings, so many untraceable meanders are there in the providence of God, to carry on the delusion of those sinners who have been first so sedulous and industrious to delude themselves. 255In all which passages, nevertheless, (how unaccountable soever they may be to us,) still the delusion is in him alone who embraces it a sin, but in God, who sends it, undoubtedly a judgment only, and a very righteous one too. And now, in the
Fourth and last place; we are not to omit another notable way of God’s delivering sinners to delusion, which is mentioned in the ninth verse of the chapter from whence our text is taken; namely, his permitting lying wonders to be done before them. A miracle, in a large and general sense, is no more but effectus aliquis manifestus, cujus causa ignoratur; a manifest effect, of which the cause is not understood: but, in a more restrained and proper sense, it is denned a work or effect evident to sense, and exceeding the force of natural agents. Now, whether such an one can be done to confirm and give credit to a falsehood proposed to men’s belief, God lending his power for the trial of men, to see, or rather to let the world see, whether they will be drawn off from the truth or no, may well be disputed; though that place in Deut. xiii. 1, 2, seems shrewdly to make for the affirmative.
But as for that former sort of miracles, which indeed are only strange things causing wonder, and so may proceed from mere natural causes applying activa passivis, there is no question, but such as these may be done to confirm a false doctrine or assertion. Thus, when Pharaoh hardened his heart against the express command and declared will of God, God permitted him to be confirmed in his delusion by the enchantments and lying wonders of the magicians; all which were done only by the power the Devil. Forasmuch as angels, both good and 256bad, having a full insight into the activity and force of natural causes, by new and strange conjunctions of the active qualities of some with the passive capacities of others, can produce such wonderful effects as shall generally amaze and astonish poor mortals, whose shorter sight is not able to reach into the causes of them.
The church of Rome has, in this respect, sufficiently declared the little value she has for the old Christian truth, by the new, upstart articles she has superadded to it; and besides this, to confirm one error with another, she further professes a power of doing miracles. So that, laying aside the writings of the apostles, we must, it seems, resolve our faith into legends; and old wives fables must take place of the histories of the evangelists. And the truth is, if non sense may pass for miracle, transubstantiation has carried her miracle-working gift far above all the miracles that were ever yet wrought in the world. But as for the many other miraculous feats which she and her sons pretend to and boast of, I shall only say thus much of them, that though I doubt not but most of them are the impudent cheats of daring, designing persons, set afoot and practised by them to defy God, as well as to delude men; yet it is no ways improbable, but that God may suffer the Devil to do many of them above what a bare human power is able to do, and that in a judicial and penal way, thereby to fix and rivet both the deceivers and deceived in a belief of those lies and fopperies, which, in opposition to the light of reason and conscience, they had so industriously enslaved their understandings to.
And now, I think, it is of as high concernment to 257every man, as the salvation of his soul ought to be, to reflect with dread upon these severe and fearful methods of divine justice. We, through an infinite and peculiar mercy, have yet the truth set before us; the pure, unmixed truth of the gospel, with great light and power held forth to us. But if we shall now obstinately shut our eyes against it, stave it off, and bolt it out of our consciences; and all this only from a secret love to some base minion lust or corruption, which that truth would mortify, and root out of our hearts; let us remember, that this is the very height of divine vengeance, that those who love a lie should be brought at length to believe it, and, as a natural consequent of both, to perish by it too.
Which God, the great Fountain of truth, and Father of lights, of his infinite compassion prevent. To whom be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and do minion, both now and for evermore. Amen,258
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