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Ill-disposed affections both naturally and penally the cause of darkness and error in the judgment.
And far this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.
WHEN I first made an entrance upon these words, I gathered the full sense and design of them, as I judged, into this one proposition, viz.
That the not entertaining a sincere love and affection for the duties of religion naturally, and by the just judgment of God also, disposes men to error and deceptions about the great truths of religion.
Which to me seeming to take in and comprehend the full sense and drift of the words, I then cast what I had to say upon them into these following particulars,
I. To shew, how the mind of man can believe a lie.
II. To shew, what it is to receive the love of the truth.
III. To shew, how the not receiving the love of the truth comes to have such a malign influence upon the understanding, as to dispose it to error and delusion.
IV. To shew, how God can be properly said to send men delusions. And,
V. Since his sending them is here mentioned as a 259judgment, (and a very severe one too,) the next thing I proposed was to shew wherein the extraordinary greatness of it did consist. And,
Sixthly and lastly, to improve the point into some useful consequences and deductions from the whole.
The four first of these I have already despatched in the preceding discourse upon this text and subject, and so shall now proceed to the
Fifth, which was to shew, wherein the extraordinary and distinguishing greatness of this judgment did consist. For it is certain, that the text here accounts and represents it above the ordinary rate of judgments commonly sent by God.
And this, I conceive, will remarkably shew itself to such as shall consider it these two ways,
1. Absolutely in itself.
2. In the consequents of it.
Under the first of which two considerations, the peculiar dreadfulness of this judgment will more than sufficiently appear, upon these two accounts: as,
1. That it is spiritual; and so directly affects and annoys the prime and most commanding part of man’s nature, his soul; that noble copy and resemblance of its Maker, in small indeed, but nevertheless one of the liveliest representations of him, that the God of nature ever drew; and that in some of his greatest and most amiable perfections. And if so, can any thing be imagined to come so like a killing blast upon it, as that which shall at once strip it of this glorious image, and stamp the black portraiture of the foulest of beings in the room of it? Besides, since nothing can either please or afflict to any considerable degree, but by a close and intimate 260application of itself to a subject capable of such impressions, still it must be the spirituality of a judgment, which, entering where body and matter cannot, is the only thing that can strike a man in his principal capacity of being miserable; and, consequently, in that part which enables him (next to the angels themselves) to receive and drink in more of the wrath, as well as love of God, than any other being whatsoever. In a spiritual, uncompounded nature, the capacities of pain and pleasure must needs be equal; though in a corporeal, or compounded one, the sense of pain is much acuter, and goes deeper than that of pleasure is ever found to do. Accordingly, as to what concerns the soul or spirit, no doubt, our chief passive, as well as active strengths are lodged in that; though it being an object too near us to be perfectly apprehended by us, we are not able in this life to know distinctly what a spirit is, and what it can bear, and what it cannot. But our great Creator, who exactly knows our frame, and had the first ordering of the whole machine, knows also where and by what a soul or spirit may be most sensibly touched and wounded, better a great deal than we, who are animated and acted by that soul, do or can. And therefore, where he designs the severest strokes of his wrath, we may be sure, that it is this spiritual part of us which must be the great scene where such tragical things are to be acted. So that, if an angry Providence should at any time smite a sinner in his nearest temporal concerns, we may nevertheless look upon such an infliction, how sharp soever, but as a drop of scalding water lighting upon his hand or foot; but when God fastens the judgment upon the spirit, 261or inner man, it is like scalding lead poured into his bowels, it reaches him in the very centre of life; and where the centre of life is made the centre of misery too, they must needs be commensurate, and a man can no more shake off his misery than he can himself.
Every judgment of God has a force more or less destructive, according to the quality and reception of the thing which it falls upon. If it seizes the body, which is but of a mortal and frail make, and so, as it were, crumbles away under the pressure, why then the judgment itself expires through the failure of a sufficient subject or recipient, and ceases to be predatory, as having nothing to prey upon. But that which comes out of its Creator’s hands, immaterial and immortal, endures and continues under the heaviest stroke of his wrath; and so is able to keep pace with the infliction (as I may so express it) both by the largeness of its perception and the measure of its duration. He who has a soul to suffer in, has something by which God may take full hold of him, and upon which he may exert his anger to the utmost. Whereas, if he levels the blow at that which is weak and mortal, the very weakness of the thing stricken at will elude the violence of the stroke: as when a sharp, corroding rheum falls upon the lungs, that part being but of a spongy nature, and of no hard substance, little or no pain is caused by the distillation; but the same falling upon a nerve fastened to the jaw, or to a joint, (the consistency and firmness of which shall force to the impression,) it presently causes the quickest pain and anguish, and becomes intolerable, cannon bullet will do terrible execution upon 262a castle-wall or a rampart, but none at all upon a woolpack.
The judgments which God inflicts upon men are of several sorts, and intended for several ends, and those very different. Some are only probative, and designed to try and stir up those virtues which before lay dormant in the soul. Some again are preventive, and sent to pull back the unwary sinner from the unperceived snares of death, which he is ignorantly approaching to. And some, in the last place, are of a punitive or vindictive nature, and intended only to recompense or revenge the guilt of past sins; as part of the sinner’s payment in hand, and as so many foretastes of death, and earnests of damnation.
Accordingly, we are to observe, that the malignity of spiritual judgments consists chiefly in this, that their end, most commonly, is neither trial nor prevention, but vengeance and retribution. They are corrosives, made not to heal, but to consume. And surely, such an one is the judgment of being sealed up under a delusion. Sampson, we read, endured many hardships and affronts, and yet sunk under none of them; but when an universal sottishness was fallen upon all his faculties, and God’s wonted presence had forsook him, he presently be came, as to all the generous purposes of life and action, an useless and a ruined person.
Whereas, on the other side, suppose, that God should visit a man with extreme poverty; yet still, he, who is as poor as Job, may be as humble, as patient, and as pious as Job too; and such qualities will be always accounted pearls and treasures, though found upon the vilest dunghill: or what if God 263should dash a man’s name and reputation, and make him a scorn and a by-word to all who know him; yet still the shame of the cross was greater, and one may be made the way and passage to a crown, as well as the other. It was so, we are assured, to our great spiritual head; and why may it not, in its proportion, prove the same likewise to his spiritual members? For the conjunction between them is intimate, and the inference natural. Or what again, if God should think fit to smite a man with sores, sickness, and noisome ulcers in his body? yet even these, as offensive as they are, cannot unqualify a Lazarus for Abraham’s bosom. And so for all other sorts of calamities incident to this mortal state; should we ransack all the magazines of God’s temporal judgments, not one of them all, nor yet all of them together, can reach a man in that, which alone can render him truly happy or miserable. For though the mountains (as the Psalmist expresses it) should be carried into the sea, and the whole world about him should be in a flame, yet still (as Solomon says) a wise and a good man shall be satisfied from himself; his happiness is in his own keeping; he has it at home, and therefore needs not seek for it abroad. But,
2. The greatness of the judgment of being brought under the power of a delusion, consists not only in the spirituality of it, whereby it possesses and perverts the whole soul in all the powers and offices of it, but more particularly, that it blasts a man in that peculiar, topping perfection of his nature, his understanding: for ignorance and deception are the very bane of the intellect, the disease of the mind, and the utmost dishonour of reason: there being no 264sort of reproach which a man resents with so keen and so just an indignation, as the charge of folly. The very word fool draws blood, and nothing but death is thought an equivalent to the slander: forasmuch as it carries in it an insulting negative upon that, which constitutes the person so charged properly a man; every degree of ignorance being so far a recess and degradation from rationality, and consequently from humanity itself. Nor is this any modern fancy or caprice lately taken up, but the constant and unanimous consent of all nations and ages. For what else, do we think, could make the heathen philosophers so infinitely laborious, and, even to a miracle, industrious in the quest of knowledge? What was it that engrossed their time, and made them think neither day nor night, nor both of them together, sufficient for study? But because they reckoned it a base and a mean thing to be deceived, to be put off with fallacy and appearance, in stead of truth and reality, and overlooking the substance and inside of things, to take up with mere shadow and surface. It was a known saying of the ancients, ἀπὸ σώματος νόσον, ἀπὸ ψυχῆς ἀμάθειαν. Keep off ignorance from thy soul, as thou wouldest a disease or a plague from thy body. For when a man is cursed with a blind and a besotted mind, it is a sure, and therefore a sad sign, that God is leading such an one to his final doom; it is both the cause and the forerunner of his destruction. For when the malefactor comes once to have his eyes covered, it shews that he is not far from his execution. In a word, he who has sunk so far below himself, as to have debased the governing faculties of his soul, and given up his assent to an imperious, domineering 265error, is fit for nothing but to be trumped and tram pled upon, to be led by the nose, and enslaved to the designs of every bold encroacher, either upon his interest or his reason. And such, he may be sure, he shall not fail to meet with; especially, if his lot casts him upon a country abounding with public, countenanced, religious cheats, both natives and foreigners, broachers of heresies, leaders of sects, tools and under-agents to our Romish back-friends, who can willingly enough allow them all conventicles for the only proper places to serve God in, and the church, if need be, to serve a turn by; of which and the like impostors, it may be truly said, with reference to their abused proselytes, that they wear and carry the trophies of so many captivated reasons about them; that they clothe themselves with the spoil of their wretched intellectuals, and so, in effect, tread the very heads of their disciples under their feet. This is the treatment which they are sure to find from such sanctified deceivers; these the returns, which delusion, submitted to, still rewards her votaries with. And may God, I beseech him, in his just judgment, order matters so, that such practices and such rewards may inseparably accompany and join one another, not only by an occasional, but by a fixed and perpetual communion.
In the mean time, if slavery be that which all generous and brave spirits abhor; and to lose the choicest of nature’s freeholds, and that in the most valuable of things, their reason, be the worst of slaveries; then surely it must be the most inglorious condition that can befall a rational creature, to be possessed, rid, and governed by a delusion. For still (as our Saviour has told us in John viii. 32) it 266is the truth which must make us free; the truth only, which must give a man the enjoyment, the government, and the very possession of himself. In a word, truth has set up her tribunal in the soul, and sitting there as judge herself, there can be no exception against her sentence, nor appeal from her authority.
But besides all this, there is yet something further, which adds to the misery of this kind of slavery and captivity of the mind under error; and that is, that it has a peculiar malignity to bind the shackles faster upon it, by a strange, unaccountable love, which it begets of itself, in a man’s affections. For no man entertains an error, but, for the time that he does so, he is highly pleased and enamoured with it, and has a more particular tenderness and fondness for a false notion than for a true, (as some for a bastard, more than for a son;) for error and deception, by all (who are not actually under them) are accounted really the madness of the mind. And madness, it must be owned, naturally keeps off melancholy, (though often caused by it.) For it makes men wonderfully pleased with their own extravagancies; and few, how much soever out of their wits, are out of humour too in bedlam.
Now the reason of this different acceptableness of truth and error in the first offers of them to the mind, and the advantage which the latter too often gets over the former, is, I conceive, from this, that it is natural for error to paint and daub, to trim, and use more of art and dress to set it off to the mind, than truth is observed to do. Which, trusting in its own native and substantial worth, scorns all meretricious ornaments, and knowing the right 267it has to our assent, and the indisputable claim to all that is called reason, she thinks it below her to ask that upon courtesy, in which she can plead a property; and therefore rather enters than insinuates, and challenges possession instead of begging admission. Which being the case, no wonder if error, oiled with obsequiousness, (which generally gains friends, though deserves none worth having,) has often the advantage of truth, and thereby slides more easily and intimately into the fool’s bosom, than the uncourtliness of truth will suffer it to do. But then again, we are to observe withal, that there is nothing which the mind of man has a vehement and passionate love for, but it is so far enslaved, and brought into bondage to that thing. And if so, can there be a greater calamity, than for so noble a being as the soul is, to love and court the dictates of a commanding absurdity? Nothing certainly being so tyrannical as ignorance, where time, and long possession enables it to prescribe; nor so haughty and assuming, where pride and self-conceit bids it set up for infallible.
But now, to close this point, by shewing how vastly the understanding differs from itself, when informed by truth, and when abused by error; let us observe how the scripture words the case, while it expresses the former by a state of light, and the latter by a state of darkness. Concerning both which, as it is evident that nothing can be more amiable, suitable, and universally subservient both to the needs and to the refreshments of the creature, than light: so nothing is deservedly accounted so dismal, hateful, and dispiriting, as darkness is; darkness, I say, which the scripture makes only 268another word for the shadow of death; and always the grand opportunity of mischief, and the surest shelter of deformity. For though to want eyes be indeed a great calamity, yet to have eyes and not to see, to have all the instruments of sight and the curse of blindness together, this is the very height and crisis of misery, and adds a sting and a reproach to what would otherwise be but a misfortune. For nothing envenoms any calamity, but the crime which deserves it.
I come now to consider the distinguishing greatness of the judgment of God’s sending men strong delusion, by taking a view of the effects and consequents of it; and we need cast our eyes no further than these two. As,
1. That it renders the conscience utterly useless, as to the great office to be discharged by it in the regulation and supervisal of the whole course of a man’s life. A blind watchman (all must grant) is equally a nuisance and an impertinence. And such a paradox, both in reason and practice, is a deluded conscience, viz. a counsellor who cannot advise, and a guide not able to direct. Nothing can be more close and proper to the point now before us, than that remark of our Saviour in Matth. vi. 23, If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great must that darkness be! Why, as great, no doubt, and of as fatal consequence to the affairs and government of the microcosm, or lesser world, as if, in the greater, God should put out the sun, and establish one great, universal cloud in the room of it; or as if the moon and stars, instead of governing the night, should be governed by it, and the noble influences of the one should, for usefulness, give place to the damps and 269deadening shades of the other. All which would quickly be granted to be monstrous and preposterous things; and yet not more so, than to imagine a man guided by a benighted conscience in the great concerns of eternity; and to have that put out, which God had set up as the sovereign light of the soul, to sit and preside there as the great pilot to steer us in all our choices, and to afford us those standing discriminations of good and evil, by which alone a rational agent can proceed warrantably and safely in all his actions.
As for the will and the affections, they are made to follow and obey, not to lead or to direct. Their office is not apprehension, but appetite; and therefore the schools rightly affirm, that the will, strictly and precisely considered, is caeca potentia, a blind faculty. And therefore, if error has perverted the order and disturbed the original economy of our faculties, and a blind will thereupon comes to be led by a blind understanding, there is no remedy, but it must trip and stumble, and sometimes fall into the noisome ditch of the foulest enormities and immoralities. But now, whether this be not one of the highest instances of God’s vindictive justice, thus to confound a man with an erroneous, deceived conscience, a little reflection upon the miseries of one in such a condition will easily demonstrate. For see the tumult and anarchy of his mind; having done a good and a lawful action, his conscience alarms him with scruples, with false judgments and anxious reflections; and perhaps, on the other hand, having done an act in itself evil and unlawful, the same conscience excuses and acquits him, and sooths him into such complacencies in his sin, as shall prevent his repentance, 270and so ascertain his perdition. But now, what shall a deluded person do in this sad dilemma of sin and misery? For, if the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who can prepare himself for the battle? If it sounds a charge when it should sound a retreat, how can the soldier direct his course? But, being thus befooled by the very methods and means of safety, must of necessity find himself in the jaws of death before he is aware, and betrayed into his enemy’s hands, without any possibility of help or relief from his own. In like manner, where a delusion enters so deep into, and gets such fast hold of the conscience, that it corrupts or justles out the first marks and measures of lawful and unlawful, and thereby overthrows the standing rules of morality; a man, in such a woful and dark estate, can hardly be accounted in the number of rational agents: for if he does well, it is by chance, neither by rule nor principle; nor by choice, but by luck; and if on the contrary he does ill, yet he is not assured that he does so, being acted, in all that he goes about, by a blind impetus, without either forecast or distinction. Both the good and evil of his actions is brutish and accidental, and in the whole course of them he proceeds as if he were throwing dice for his life, or at cross and pile for his salvation. And this brings me to the other killing consequence, wherein appears the greatness of this judgment of being delivered over to a delusion. And that is,
2. Final perdition mentioned by the Apostle in the verse immediately following the text. God, says he, shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie; that they all might be damned who believed not the truth. This is the utmost period to which 271delusion brings the sinner, but no less than what was intended by it from the very first. Every error is in the nature of it destructive. I do not say that it always actually destroys; since the tendency of an action is one thing, but the event another. For as in the body there is hardly any sore or distemper, (how curable soever by art or physic,) but what in the malignity of its nature, and the utmost improvement of that malignity, tends to the ruin and demolition of the whole constitution: so in the soul there is no considerable error which at any time infects it, (especially if it disposes to practice,) but, being suffered to continue and exert its progressive and diffusive quality, will be still spreading its contagion, and by degrees eating into the conscience, till it festers into a kind of spiritual gangrene, and becomes mortal and incurable.
I must confess, I cannot imagine that those heretics who err fundamentally, and by consequence damnably, took their first rise, and began to set up with a fundamental error, but grew into it by insensible encroaches and gradual insinuations, inuring, and as it were training up their belief to lesser essays of falsehood, and proceeding from propositions only suspicious, to such as were false, from false to dangerous, and at length from dangerous to downright destructive. Hell is a deep place, and there are many steps of descent to the bottom of it; many obscure vaults to be passed through before we come to utter darkness. But still the way of error is the way to it. And as surely and naturally as the first dusk and gloom of the evening tends to, and at last ends in the thickest darkness of midnight, so every delusion, sinfully cherished and persisted in, (how easily soever it may sit upon the conscience for 272some time,) will, in the issue, lodge the sinner in the deepest hell and the blackest regions of damnation. And so I come to the
Sixth and last thing proposed for the handling of the words; and that was, to draw some useful consequences and deductions from the five foregoing particulars. As,
First of all. Since the belief of a lie is here undoubtedly noted for a sin; and since Almighty God in the way of judgment delivers men to it for not receiving the love of the truth; it follows, by most clear and undeniable consequence, that it is no ways in consistent with the divine holiness to affirm, that he may punish one sin with another. Though the manner how God does so is not so generally agreed upon by all. For some here affirm that sin is said to be the punishment of sin, because in most sinful actions the committer of them is really a sufferer in and by the very sin which he commits. As for instance, the envious man at the same time contracts the guilt and feels the torment of his sin; the same thing defiles and afflicts too; merits an hell hereafter, and withal anticipates one here. The like may be said of theft, perjury, uncleanness, and intemperance; the infamy and other calamities inseparably attending them, render them their own scourges, and make the sinner the minister of God’s justice in acting a full revenge upon himself. All this, I must confess, is true, but it reaches not the matter in question; which compares not the same sin with itself, where of the consequences may undoubtedly be afflictive, but compares two distinct sins together, and in quires concerning these, whether one can properly be the punishment of the other?273
Besides, if we weigh and distinguish things exactly, when the envious man groans under the gnawings and convulsions of his base sin, and the lewd person suffers the brand and disrepute of his vice; in all this, sin is not properly punished with sin; but the evil of envy is punished with the trouble of envy, and the sin of intemperance with the infamy of in temperance; but neither is a state of trouble nor a state of disgrace or infamy properly a state of sin; these are natural, not moral evils; and opposed to the quiet and tranquillity, not to the virtue of the soul; for a man may be virtuous without either ease or reputation. This way therefore is short of resolving the problem inquired into; which precisely moves upon this point, viz. Whether for the guilt of one sin God can, by way of penalty, bring the sinner under the guilt of another?
Some seem to prove that he cannot, and that in the strength of this argument, that every punishment proceeding from God, as the author of it, is just and good; but no sin is or can be so; and therefore no sin can be made by God the punishment of another.
But nevertheless, the contrary is held forth in scripture, and that as expressly as words can well declare a thing; for besides the clear proof thereof, which the very text carries with it, it is yet further proved by those two irrefragable places in Rom. i. 24. The apostle has these very words, Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness; and again in the 26th verse, For this cause God gave them up to vile affections. Besides several other places pregnant to the same purpose, both in the Old Testament and the New. From all which it is certain, that God may 274make one sin the punishment of another. Though still it is to be remembered, that it is one thing for God to give a man over to sin, and quite another for God to cause him to sin; the former importing in it no more than God’s providential ordering of a man’s circumstances so, that he shall find no check or hinderance in the course of his sin; but the latter implying also a positive efficiency towards the commission or production of a sinful act; which God never does nor can do; but the other he both may, and in a judicial way very often does.
To the argument therefore alleged, I answer thus; that it is very consonant both to scripture and reason, to distinguish in one and the same thing several respects; and accordingly in sin, we may consider the moral irregularity of it; and so being in the very nature of it evil, it is impossible that there should be any good in it; or we may consider sin, as to the penal application of it to the person who committed it, and as a means to bring the just judgment of God upon him for what he had done; and so some good may be said to belong to it, though there be none at all in it.
Or to express the same thing otherwise, and perhaps more clearly and agreeably to vulgar apprehensions. Sin may be considered either, 1st, With reference to the proper cause of it, the will of man committing or producing it, and so it is absolutely and entirely evil. Or, 2dly, It may be considered as it relates to the supreme Judge and Governor of the world, permitting, ordering, disposing, and overruling the existence and event of it, to the honour of his wisdom and justice; and so far it may be called good, and consequently sustain the nature of a punishment 275proceeding from God. But you will reply, Can sin be any ways good? I answer, that naturally and intrinsically it cannot, but extrinsically, accident ally, and occasionally, as ordered to a subserviency to God’s glory, it may; and the providence of God is no further concerned about it: that is to say, it is good and just, that God should so order and dispose of an obstinate sinner, (as he did once of Pharaoh,) that he should, through his own corruption, fall into further sin, in order to his further punishment: but surely this does by no means infer, that the sins he thus falls into are good, though God’s ordering of them may be so; and darkness will be darkness still, though God can and often does bring light out of it. That the Jews having rejected the gospel so powerfully preached to them, should be delivered to hardness of heart and final impenitence, was just, and, by consequence, good. But this is far from inferring, that their hardness of heart and impenitence were so too. Sin may give occasion for a great deal of good to be exercised upon it and about it, though there be none inherent in it; and upon that account, when any good is ascribed to it, or affirmed of it, it is purely by an extrinsic denomination, and no more.
Now these distinctions, rightly weighed and ap plied, will fully and clearly accord the doctrine laid down by us both with the notions of human reason, and the holiness of the divine nature; and consequently render all objections and popular exclamations against either of them empty and insignificant.
Nor indeed is it very difficult, and much less impossible, to give some tolerable account, how God delivers a sinner over to further sins. For it may be very rationally said, that he does it partly by withholding 276his restraining grace, and leaving corrupt nature to itself, to the full swing and freedom of its own extravagant actings: whereby a man adds sin to sin, strikes out furiously and without control, till he grows obstinate and incurable. And God may be said to do the same also by administering objects and occasions of sin to such or such a sinner, whose corrupt nature will be sure to take fire at them, and so actually to throw itself into all enormities. In all which, God is not at all the author of sin, but only pursues the great works and righteous ends of his providence, in disposing of things or objects in themselves good or indifferent towards the compassing of the same; howbeit, through the poison of men’s vicious affections, they are turned into the opportunities and fuel of sin, and made the occasion of their final destruction.
But now, of all the punishments which the great and just God in his anger inflicts, or brings upon a man for sin, there is none comparable to sin itself. Men are apt to go on securely, pleasing themselves in the repeated gratifications of their vice; and they feel not God strike, and so are encouraged in the progress of their impiety. But let them not, for all that, be too confident; for God may strike, though they feel not his stroke, and perhaps the more terribly for their not feeling it. Forasmuch as in judgments of this nature, insensibility always goes deep est; and the wrath of God seldom does such killing execution when it thunders, as when it blasts. He has certainly some dreadful design carrying on against the sinner, while he suffers him to go on in a smooth, uninterrupted course of sinning; and what that design is, and the dreadfulness of it, probably will not be 277known to him, till the possibilities of repentance are cut off, and hid from his eyes; at present, it looks like the suffering a man to perish and die by a lethargy, rather than jog or awaken him. Believe it, it is a sad case, when the sinner shall never perceive that God is angry with him, till he actually feels the effects of his anger in another world, where it can neither be pacified nor turned away.
2. The second great consequence from the doctrine hitherto treated of by us, of the naturalness of men’s going off from the love of the truth to a disbelief of the same, shall be to inform us of the surest and most effectual way to confirm our faith about the sacred and important truths of religion; and that is, to love them for their transcendent worth and purity; to fix our inclinations and affections upon them; and, in a word, not only to confess, own, and acknowledge them to be truths, but also to be willing that they should be so; and to rejoice with the greatest complacency, that there should be such things prepared for us, as the scripture tells us there are. For we shall find, that truth is not so much upon terms of courtesy with the understanding, (which upon a clear discovery of itself it naturally commands,) as it is with the will and the affections, which (though never so clearly discovered to them) it is always almost forced to woo and make suit to.
I have been ever prone to take this for a principle, and a very safe one too, viz. that there is no opinion really good, (I mean good in the natural, beneficent sequences thereof,) which can be false. And accordingly, when religion, even natural, tells us, that there is a God, and that he is a rewarder of every 278man according to his works; that he is a most wise Governor, and a most just and impartial Judge, and for that reason has appointed a future estate, where in every man shall receive a retribution suitable to what he had done in his lifetime. And moreover, when the Christian religion further assures us, that Christ has satisfied God’s justice for sin, and purchased eternal redemption and salvation for even the greatest sinners, who shall repent of and turn from their sins; and withal has given such excel lent laws to the world, that if men perform them, they shall not fail to reap an eternal reward of happiness, as the fruit and effect of the forementioned satisfaction; as on the other side, that if they live viciously, and die impenitent, they shall inevitably be disposed of into a condition of eternal and insupportable misery. These, I say, are some of the principal things which religion, both natural and Christian, proposes to mankind.
And now, before we come to acknowledge the truth of them, let us seriously and in good earnest examine them, and consider how good, how expedient, and how suitable to all the ends and uses of human life it is, that there should be such things; how unable society would be to subsist without them; how the whole world would sink into another chaos and confusion, did not the awe and belief of these things (or something like them) regulate and control the exorbitances of men’s headstrong and unruly wills. Upon a thorough consideration of all which, I am confident, that there is no truly wise and thinking person, who, could he suppose that the forecited dictates of religion should not prove really true, would not however wish at least that 279they were so. For allowing, (what experience too sadly demonstrates,) that an universal guilt has passed upon all mankind through sin; and supposing withal that there were no hopes or terms of pardon held forth to sinners; would not an universal despair follow an universal guilt? And would not such a despair drive the worship of God out of the world? For certain it is, that none would pray to him, serve, or worship him, and much less suffer for him, who despaired to receive any good from him. And, on the other side, could sinners have any solid ground to hope for pardon of sin, without an antecedent satisfaction made to the divine justice, so infinitely wronged by sin? Or could the honour of that great attribute be preserved without such a compensation? And yet further, could all the wit and reason of man conceive how such a satisfaction could be made, had not religion revealed to us a Saviour, who was both God and man, and upon that account only fitted and enabled to make it? And, after all, could the benefits of this satisfaction be attainable by any, but upon the conditions of repentance and change of life; would not all piety and holy living be thereby banished from the societies of men? So that we see from hence, that it is religion alone which opposes itself to all these dire consequences, and (like the angel appointed to guard paradise with a flaming sword) stands in the breach against all that despair, violence, and impiety, which would otherwise irresistibly break in upon and infest mankind in all their concerns, civil and spiritual.
And this one consideration (were there no further arguments for it, either from faith or philosophy) is to me an irrefragable proof of the truth of the doctrines 280delivered by it. For that a falsehood (which, as such, is the defect, the reproach, and the very deformity of nature) should have such generous, such wholesome, and sovereign effects, as to keep the whole world in order, and that a lie should be the great bond or ligament which holds all the societies of mankind together, keeping them from cutting throats, and tearing one another in pieces, (as, if religion be not a truth, all these salutary, public benefits must be ascribed to tricks and lies,) would be such an assertion, as, upon all the solid grounds of sense and reason, (to go no further,) ought to be looked upon as unmeasurably absurd and unnatural.
But our Saviour prescribes men an excellent and unfailing method to assure themselves of the truth of his doctrine, John vii. 17. If any one, says he, will do the will of the Father, he shall know of my doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. If men could but be brought to look upon the agenda of Christianity as suitable, they would never judge the credenda of it irrational. There is a strange intercourse and mutual corroboration between faith and practice. For as belief first engages practice, so practice strengthens and confirms belief. The body first imparts heat to the garment, but the garment returns it with advantage to the body. God beams in peculiar evidences and discoveries of the truth, to such as embrace it in their affections, and own it in their actions. There may be, indeed, some plausible, seeming arguments brought against the truth, to assault and shake our belief of it: but they generally prevail, not by their own strength, but by our corruption; not by their 281power to persuade, but by our willingness to be deceived. Whereas, on the contrary, true piety would effectually solve such scruples, and obedience answer all objections. And so I descend now to the
Third and last of the consequences deducible from the doctrine first proposed by us; and this shall be to give some account of the true cause and original of those two great evils which of late have so disturbed these parts of the world; to wit, atheism and fanaticism. And,
1. For atheism. Most sure it is, that no doctrine or opinion can generally gain upon men’s minds, but (let it be never so silly and fantastical) it must yet proceed from some real cause; and more particularly either from the seeming evidence of the thing forcing a belief of itself upon a weak intellect, or from some strange, unaccountable inclination of the will and the affections to such an hypothesis. For the first of these, I would fain see some of those co gent, convincing arguments, by which any one will own himself persuaded that there is no God, or that he does not govern the affairs of the world so as to take a particular cognizance of men’s actions, in designing to them a future retribution, according to the nature and quality of them here: it being all one to the world, whether there be no God, or none who governs it.
But how pitiful and ridiculous are the grounds upon which such men pretend to account for the very lowest and commonest phenomena of nature, without recurring to a God and Providence! Such as, either the fortuitous concourse of infinite little bodies of themselves, and by their own impulse (since no other nature or spirit is allowed by these 282men to put them into motion) falling into this curious and admirable system of the universe: according to which notion, the blindest chance must be acknowledged to surpass and outdo the contrivances of the exactest art: a thing which the common sense and notion of mankind must, at the very first hearing, rise up against and explode. But if this romance will not satisfy, then in comes the eternity of the world, (the chief and most avowed opinion set up by the atheists to confront and answer all the objections from religion;) and yet, after all these high pretences, so great and inextricable are the plunges and absurdities which these principles cast men into, that the belief of a being distinct from the world, and before it, is not only towards a good life more conducible, but even for the resolution of these problems more philosophical. And I do accordingly here leave that old, trite, common argument, (though nevertheless venerable for being so,) drawn from a constant series or chain of causes, leading us up to a supreme mover, (not moved himself by any thing but himself,) a being simple, immaterial, and incorporeal; I leave this, I say, to our high and mighty atheists to baffle and confute it, and substitute some thing more rational in the room of it, if they can; and in order thereunto, to take an eternity to do it in.
But if this be the case, why then is it made a badge of wit, and an argument of parts, for a man to commence atheist, and to cast off all belief of Providence, all awe and reverence of religion? Assuredly, in this matter, men’s conviction begins not at their understandings, but at their wills, or rather at their brutish appetites; which being immersed in 283the pleasures and sensualities of the world, would by no means, if they could help it, have such a thing as a Deity, or a future estate of souls to trouble them here, or to account with them hereafter. No; such men, we may be sure, dare not look such truths as these in the face, and therefore they throw them off, and had rather be befooled into a friendly, favour able, and propitious lie; a lie which shall chuck them under the chin, and kiss them, and at the same time strike them under the fifth rib. To believe that there is no God to judge the world, is hugely suitable to that man’s interest, who assuredly knows, that upon such a judgment he shall be condemned; and to assert, that there is no hell, must needs be a very benign opinion to a person engaged in such actions as he knows must certainly bring him thither. Men are atheists, not because they have better wits than other men, but because they have corrupter wills; nor because they reason better, but because they live worse.
2. The next great evil which has of late infested the Christian church, and that part of it in our nation more especially, is fanaticism; that is to say, a pretence to and profession of a greater purity in religion, and a more spiritual, perfect way of worshipping Almighty God, than the national established church affords to those in communion with it. This, I say, was and is the pretence; but a pretence so utterly false and shamefully groundless, that in comparison of the principle which makes it, hypocrisy may worthily pass for sincerity, and Pharisaism for the truest and most refined Christianity.
But as for those who own and abet such separations, to the infinite disturbance both of church and 284state, I would fain have them produce those mighty reasons, those invincible arguments which have drawn them from the communion of the church into conventicles, and warranted them to prefer schisms and divisions before Christian unity and conformity. No; this is a thing which we may expect long enough, before they will so much as offer at, and much less perform; there being but little of argument to be expected from men professing no thing but inspiration, and the impulse of a principle discernible by none but by themselves. And for my own part, I must sincerely declare, that upon the strictest search I have been able to make, I could never yet find, that these men had any other reason or argument to defend themselves and their practices by, but that senseless and impolitic encouragement which has been all along given them. But for all that, men who act by conscience, as well as pretend it, will do well to consider, that in human laws and actions it is not the penalty annexed which makes the sin, nor consequently the withdrawing it which takes away the guilt, but that the sanctions of men, as well as the providence of God, may suffer, and even serve to countenance many things in this world, which shall both certainly and severely too be reckoned for in the next.
In the mean time, to give a true but short account of the proceedings and temper of these separatists. It was nothing but a kind of spiritual pride which first made them disdain to submit to the discipline, and from thence brought them to despise and turn their backs upon the established worship of our church; the sober, grave, and primitive plainness of which began to be loathed by such brainsick, 285fanciful opiniators, who could please themselves in nothing but novelty, and the ostentation of their own extemporary, senseless effusions; fit to proceed from none but such as have the gift of talking in their sleep, or dreaming while they are awake.
And for this cause, no doubt, God, in his just and severe judgment, delivered them over to their own sanctified and adored nonsense, to confound and lose themselves in an endless maze of error and seduction: so that, as soon as they had broke off from the church, (through the encouragement given them by a company of men which had overturned all that was settled in the nation,) they first ran into presbyterian classes, from thence into independent congregations: from independents they improved into anabaptists; from anabaptists into quakers: from whence being able to advance no further, they are in a fair way to wheel about to the other extreme of popery: a religion and interest the most loudly decried, and most effectually served by these men, of any other in the world besides.
But whosoever, in the great concerns of his soul, would pitch his foot upon sure ground, let him be ware of these whirlpools, and of turning round and round, till he comes to be seized with such a giddiness, as shall make him fall finally and irrecoverably, not from the church only, but even from God himself, and all sense of religion. And therefore, to prevent such a fatal issue of things, let a man, in the next place, consider, that the way to obtain a settled persuasion of the truth of religion, is to bring an ho nest, humble, and unbiassed mind, open to the embraces of it; and to know withal, that if he chooses 286 the truth in simplicity, God will confirm his choice with certainty and stability.
To which God, the Father of lights, and the Fountain of all truth, be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for ever more. Amen.287
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