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THE SINS OF MEN NOT CHARGEABLE UPON GOD, BUT UPON THEMSELVES.
Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.—James i. 13, 14.
NEXT to the belief of a God, and his providence, there is nothing more fundamentally necessary to the practice of a good life, than the belief of these two principles: that God is not the author of sin; and that every man’s sin lies at his own door, and he hath reason to blame himself for all the evil that he does.
First, That God is not the author of sin, that he is no way accessary to our faults, either by tempting or forcing us to the commission of them. For if he were, they would neither properly be sins, nor could they be justly punished. They would not properly be sins, for sin is a contradiction to the will of God; but supposing men to be either tempted or necessitated thereto, that which we call sin, would either be a mere passive obedience to the will of God, or an active compliance with it, but neither way a contradiction to it. Nor could these actions be justly punished; for all punishment supposeth a fault, and a fault supposeth liberty and freedom from force and necessity; so that no man 509can be justly punished for that which he cannot help, and no man can help that which he is necessitated and compelled to. And though there were no force in the case, but only temptation, yet it would be unreasonable for the same person to tempt and punish. For as nothing is more contrary to the holiness of God, than to tempt men to sin; so nothing can be more against justice and goodness, than first to draw men into a fault, and then to chastise them for it. So that this is a principle which lies at the bottom of all religion, that God is not the author of the sins of men. And then,
Secondly, That every man’s fault lies at his own door, and he has reason enough to blame himself for all the evil that he does. And this is that which makes men properly guilty, that when they have done amiss, they are conscious to themselves it was their own act, and they might have done otherwise; and guilt is that which makes men liable to punishment; and fear of punishment is the great restraint from sin, and one of the principal arguments for virtue and obedience.
And both these principles our apostle St. James does here fully assert in the words which I have read unto you. “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man; but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.”
In which words these two things are plainly contained:
First, That God doth not tempt any man to sin. “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.”510
Secondly, That every man’s fault lies at his own door, and he is his own greatest tempter. “But every man is tempted, when he his drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.”
I. That God doth not tempt any man to sin. “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.” In which words there are three things to be considered.
First, The proposition which the apostle here rejects; and that is, that God tempts men. “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God.”
Secondly, The manner in which he rejects it. “Let no man say” so. By which manner of speaking, the apostle insinuates these two things:—l. That men are apt to lay their faults upon God: for when he says, “Let no man say so, he intimates, that men are apt to say so, and it is very probable that some did say so; and, 2. That it is not only a fault, but an impious assertion, to say that God tempts men. He speaks of it as a thing to be rejected with detestation: “Let no man say;” that is, far be it from us to affirm a thing so impious and dishonourable to God.
Thirdly, The reason and argument that he brings against it; “For God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.”
First, The proposition which the apostle here rejects, and that is, that God tempts men: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God.” Now, that we may the more distinctly understand the meaning of the proposition, which the apostle here rejects, it will be very requisite to consider what temptation is, and the several sorts and 511kinds of it. To tempt a man, is, in general, nothing else but to make trial of him in any kind what he will do. In Scripture, temptation is commonly confined to the trial of a man’s good or bad, of his virtuous or vicious inclinations. But then it is such a trial as endangers a man’s virtue; and, if he be not well resolved, is likely to overcome it, and to make him fall into sin. So that temptation does always imply something of danger the worst way. And men are thus tempted, either from themselves, or by others; by others, chiefly these two ways:
First, By direct and downright persuasions to sin.
Secondly, By being brought into such circumstances as will greatly endanger their falling into it, though none solicit and persuade them to it.
First, By direct and downright persuasions to sin. Thus the devil tempted our first parents, by representing things so to them, as might on the one hand incite them to sin, and on the other hand weaken and loosen that which was the great curb and restraint from it. On the one hand, he represents to them the advantages they should have by breaking God’s command: “God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” On the other hand, he represents the danger of offending not to be so great and certain as they imagined: “The serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die. And the devil had so good success in this way of tempting the first Adam, as to encourage him to set upon the second, our blessed Saviour, in the same manner; for he would have persuaded him to fall down and worship him, by offering him “all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them.” And thus bad men many times 512tempt others, and endeavour to draw them into the same wicked courses with themselves. Solomon represents to us the manner and the danger of it: (Prov. i. 10, 11. 13, 14.) “My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not; if they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause; we shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil: cast in thy lot amongst us, let us all have one purse.” This is the first way of temptation.
And to be sure God tempts no man this way. He offers no arguments to man to persuade him to sin; he no where proposeth either reward or impunity to sinners; but, on the contrary, gives all imaginable encouragement to obedience, and threatens the transgression of his law with most dreadful punishments.
Secondly, Men are likewise tempted, by being brought into such circumstances, as will greatly en danger their falling into sin, though none persuade them to it; and this happens two ways; when men are remarkably beset with the allurements of the world, or assaulted with the evils and calamities of it; for cither of these conditions are great temptations to men, and make powerful assaults upon them, especially when they fall upon those who are ill disposed before, or are but of a weak virtue and resolution.
The allurements of the world are strong temptations; riches, honours, and pleasures, are the occasions and incentives to many lusts. Honour and greatness, power and authority over others, especially when men are suddenly lifted up, and from a low condition, are apt to transport men to pride and insolency towards others. Power is a strong liquor 513which does easily intoxicate weak minds, and make them apt to say and do indecent things. “Man that is in honour and understands not, is like the beasts that perish;” intimating, that men who are exalted to a high condition, are very apt to forget themselves, and to play the fools and beasts. It requires great consideration, and a well-poised mind, not to be lifted up with one’s condition. Weak heads are apt to turn and grow dizzy, when they look down from a great height.
And so likewise ease and prosperity are a very slippery condition to most men, and without great care do endanger the falling into great sins. So Solomon observes; (Prov. i. 32.) “For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them.” For this reason, Agur maketh his prayer to God, that he would give him neither poverty nor riches, but keep him in a mean condition, because of the danger of both extremes: (Prov. xxx. 8, 9.) “Give me not riches, lest I be full, and deny thee.” Both the eager desire and the possession and enjoyment of riches do frequently prove fatal to men. So our Saviour tells us, else where, very emphatically: (Matt. xix. 23, 24.) “Verily, I say unto you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven: and again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” St. Paul likewise very fully declares unto us the great danger of this condition: (1 Tim. vi. 9, 10.) “But they that will be rid), fall into temptation, and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition; for the love of money is the root of all evil, which while some coveted after, they have erred from 514the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”
But the greatest bait of all to flesh and blood, is sensual pleasures; the very presence and opportunity of these, are apt to kindle the desires, and to in flame the lusts of men, especially where these temptations meet with suitable tempers, where every spark that falls catcheth.
And. on the other hand, the evils and calamities of this world, especially if they threaten or fall upon men in any degree of extremity, are strong temptations to human nature. Poverty and want, pain and suffering , and the fear of any great evil, especially of death, these are great straits to human nature, and apt to tempt men to great sins, to impatience and discontent, to unjust and dishonest shifts, to the forsaking of God, and apostacy from his truth and religion. Agur was sensible of the dangerous temptation of poverty, and therefore he prays against that as well as against riches; “Give me not poverty, lest being poor I steal, and take the name of the Lord my God in vain;” that is, lest I be tempted to theft and perjury. The devil, whose trade it is to tempt men to sin, knew very well the force of these sorts of temptations, when he desires God first to touch Job in his estate, and to see what effect that would have: (Job i. 11.) “But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.” And when he found himself deceived in this, surely he thought, that were he but afflicted with great bodily pains, that would put him out of all patience, and flesh and blood would not be able to withstand this temptation: (chap. ii. 5.) “But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face.” And this 515was the great temptation that the primitive Christians were assaulted withal; they were tempted to forsake Christ and his religion, by a most violent persecution, by the spoiling of their goods, by imprisonment, and torture, and death. And this is that kind of temptation which the apostle particularly speaks of before the text: “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him;” and then it follows, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God.” And thus I have given an account of the several sorts of temptations comprehended under this second head; namely, when men are tempted by being brought into such circumstances as do greatly endanger their falling into sin, by the allurements of this world, and by the evils and calamities of it.
Now the question is, how far God hath a hand in these kind of temptations, that so we may know how to limit this proposition, which the apostle here rejects, that men are tempted of God. “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God.”
That the providence of God does order, or at least permit, men to be brought into these circumstances I have spoken of, which are such dangerous temptations to sin, no man ran doubt, that believes his providence to be concerned in the affairs of the world. All the difficulty is, how far the apostle does here intend to exempt God from a hand in these temptations. .Now, for the clearer understanding of this, it will be requisite to consider the several ends and reasons, which those who tempt others may have in tempting them; and all temptation is for one of these three ends, or reasons; either for the trial and improvement of men’s virtues; or by way of judgment 516and punishment for some former great sins and provocations; or with a direct purpose and design to seduce men to sin; these I think are the chief ends and reasons that can be imagined, of exercising men with dangerous temptations.
First, For the exercise and improvement of men’s graces and virtues. And this is the end which God always aims at, in bringing good men, or permitting them to be brought, into dangerous temptations. And therefore St. James speaks of it as a matter of joy, when good men are exercised with afflictions; not because afflictions are desirable for themselves, but because of the happy consequences of them: (ver. 2, 3. of this chapter,) “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations: knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.” And to the same purpose St. Paul: (Rom. v. 3-5.) “We glory in tribulation, knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience;” δοκιμήν· patience trieth a man, and this “trial worketh hope, and hope maketh not ashamed.” These are happy effects and consequences of affliction and suffering, when they improve the virtues of men and increase their graces, and thereby make way for the increase of their glory. Upon this account, St. James pronounceth those blessed who are thus tempted. “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.”
And this certainly is no disparagement to the providence of God, to permit men to be thus tempted, when he permits it for no other end but to make them better men, and thereby to prepare them for a greater reward: and so the apostle assures us, 517(Rom. viii. 17, 18.) “If so be we suffer with him, we shall also be glorified with him; for I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.” And, (ver. 28.) “For we know that all things shall work together for good to them that love God.” And this happy end and issue of temptations to good men the providence of God secures to them (if they be not wanting to themselves) one of these two ways; either by proportioning the temptation to their strength; or, if it exceed that, by ministering new strength and support to them, by the secret and extraordinary aids of his Holy Spirit.
First, By proportioning the temptation to their strength; ordering things so by his secret and wise providence, that they shall not be assaulted by any temptation, which is beyond their strength to resist and overcome. And herein the security of good men doth ordinarily consist; and the very best of us, those who have the firmest and most resolute virtue, were in infinite danger, if the providence of God did not take this care of us. For a temptation may set upon the best men with so much violence, or surprise them at such an advantage, as no ordinary degree of grace and virtue is able to withstand: but where men are sincerely good, and honestly resolved, the providence of God doth ward off these fierce blows, and put by these violent thrusts, and by a secret disposal of things, keep them from being assaulted by these irresistible kinds of temptations.
The consideration whereof, as it is a great encouragement to men to be sincerely good, so likewise a great argument for a continual dependance upon the providence of God, and to take us off from confidence in ourselves, and our own strength. And this 518 use the apostle makes of it: (1 Cor. x. 12.) “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth, (that is, confident that nothing shall be able to shake him, or throw him down) take heed lest he fall; there hath no temptation taken yon, but such as is common to men;” εἰ μὴ ἀνθρώπινος, but what is human; nothing but what a human strength, assisted by an ordinary grace of God, may be able to resist and conquer. But there are greater and more violent temptations than these, which you have not yet been tried with; and when those happen, we must have recourse to God for an extraordinary assistance. And this is the
Second way I mentioned, whereby the providence of God does secure good men in case of extraordinary temptations, which no human strength can probably resist. And this the same apostle assures us of in the very next words: “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above what you are able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.” That is, in case of great and violent temptations (such as the Christians in the height of their persecutions were exposed to), God will secretly minister strength and support equal to the force and power of the temptation. And this God did in an extraordinary manner to the Christian martyrs, and that to such a degree, as made them joyfully to embrace their sufferings, and with the greatest cheerfulness in the world to endure those torments, which no human patience was able to bear. And where God doth thus secure men against temptations, or support them under them, it is no reflection at all upon the goodness or justice of his providence, to permit them to be thus tempted.
Secondly, God permits others to be thus tempted, 519by way of judgment and punishment, for some former great sins and provocations which they have been guilty of. And thus many times God punisheth great and notorious offenders, by permitting them to fall into great temptations, which, meeting with a vicious deposition, are likely to be too hard for them, especially considering how by a long habit of wickedness, and wilful commission of great and notorious sins, they have made themselves an easy prey to every temptation, and have driven the Spirit of God from them, and deprived themselves of those aids and restraints of his grace, which he ordinarily affords, not only to good men, but likewise to those who are not very bad. And thus God is said to have hardened Pharaoh by those plagues and judgments which he sent upon him and his king dom. But if we carefully read the story, it is said that he first hardened himself, and then that God hardened him; that is, he being hardened under the first judgments of God, God sent more, which, meeting with his obstinacy, had this natural effect upon him, to harden him yet more; not that God did infuse any wickedness or obstinacy into him, but by his just judgments sent more plagues upon him, which hardened him yet more, and which were likely to have that effect upon him, considering the ill temper of the man. And it was just by way of punishment that they should. And so likewise, (Joshua xi. 19, 20.) it is said that, the cities of the Canaanites did not make peace with Joshua, because “it was of the Lord to harden their hearts. that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly;” that is, for their former iniquities, the measure whereof was now full, the providence of God did justly bring them into, 520and leave them under, those circumstances, which made them obstinate against all terms of peace; and this proved fatal to them.
And in the like sense we are to understand several other expressions in Scripture, which likewise might seem very harsh. As, (Isaiah vi. 10.) “Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes, lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and convert and be healed;” all which expressions signify no more, but that God, for the former provocations and impenitency of that people, did leave them to their own hardness and blindness, so that they did not desire to understand and make use of the means of their recovery. So likewise, (Rom. i. 24.) God is said to have given up the idolatrous heathen “to uncleanness, to vile and unnatural lusts;” and, (ver. 28.) “to a reprobate and injudicious mind;” that is, as a punishment of their idolatry, he left them to the power of those temptations, which betrayed them to the vilest lusts. And to mention but one text more, (2 Thess. ii. 11.) the apostle threatens those that rejected the truth, that “for this cause God would send them strong delusions (the efficacy of error), that they should believe a lie, and that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness;” that is, as a just punishment for their renouncing the truth, God gave them over to the power of delusion; their error had its full scope at them, to tempt them with all its colours and pretences.
But it is observable, that, in all these places which I have mentioned, God is said to give men up to the power of temptation, as a punishment of some former great crimes and provocations. And it is not unjust 521with God thus to deal with men, to leave them to the power of temptation, when they had first wilfully forsaken him; and in this case God doth not tempt men to sin, but leaves them to themselves, to be tempted by their own hearts lusts; and if they yield and are conquered, it is their own fault, because they have neglected God’s grace, whereby they might have been able to have resisted those temptations; and have forced his Holy Spirit to with draw himself from them, and to leave them open and naked to those assaults of temptation, against which they might otherwise have been sufficiently armed.
Thirdly, The last end of temptation which I mentioned, is to try men, with a direct purpose and intention to seduce men to sin. Thus wicked men tempt others, and thus the devil tempts men. Thus he tempted our first parents, and seduced them from their obedience and allegiance to God. Thus he tempted Job, by bringing him into those circumstances, which were very likely to have forced him into impatience and discontent. And thus he tempted our blessed Saviour: but found nothing in him to work upon, or to give him any advantage over him. And thus he daily tempts men, by laying all sorts of baits and snares before them, going about continually, seeking whom he may seduce and destroy; and as far as God permits him, and his power reacheth, he suits his temptations as near as he can to the humours, and appetites, and inclinations of men, contriving them into such circumstances, as that he may ply his temptations upon them to the greatest advantage: propounding such objects to them, as may most probably draw forth the corruptions of men, and kindle their irregular desires, and inflame their lusts, and tempt their evil inclinations that way, 522which they are most strongly bent. He tempts the covetous man with gain, the ambitious man with preferment, the voluptuous man with carnal and sensual pleasures; and, where none of these baits will take, he stirs up his instruments to persecute those who are steadfast and confirmed in resolutions of piety and virtue, to try if he can work upon their fear, and shake their constancy and fidelity to God and goodness, that way; and all this he doth with a direct design and earnest desire to seduce men from their duty, and to betray them to sin.
But thus God tempts no man; and in this sense it is that the apostle means that “no man when he is tempted, is tempted of God.” God hath no design to seduce any man to sin. He often proves the obedience of men, and suffers them to fall into divers temptations, for the trial of their faith, and exercise of their obedience and other virtues; and he permits bad men to be assaulted with great temptations, and, as a punishment of their former obstinacy and impiety, withdraws the aids and assistances of his grace from them, and leaves them to their own weakness and folly; but not so as to take away all restraint of his grace even from bad men, unless it be upon very high provocation, and a long and obstinate continuance in sin: but God never tempts any man, with any intention to seduce him to sin, and with a desire he should do wickedly. This is the proper work of the devil and his instruments; in this sense it is far from God to tempt any man; and whenever, in the ordinary course, and by the common permission of his providence, men fall into temptation, the utmost that God does, is to leave them to themselves; and he does not do this 523neither, but to those who have highly provoked him to depart from them; that is, to those who have justly deserved to be so dealt withal.
And thus I have considered the proposition which the apostle here rejects; namely, that God tempts men; and have shewn, as clearly as I can, how it is to be limited and understood. I now proceed to the second thing which I propounded to consider; viz. the manner in which the apostle rejects this proposition, “Let no man say, when he is tempted, I am tempted of God.” By which manner of speaking, he insinuates two things.
First, That men are apt to lay their faults upon God. For when he says, “Let no man say” so, he intimates that men were apt to say thus; and it is probable some did say so, to excuse themselves for their deserting their religion upon the temptation of persecution and suffering. It is not unlikely that men might lay the fault upon God’s providence, which exposed them to these difficult trials, and thereby tempted them to forsake their religion.
But however this be, we find it very natural to men, to transfer their faults upon others. Men are naturally sensible when they offend, and do contrary to their duty; and the guilt of sin is a heavy burden, of which men would be glad to ease themselves as much as they can; and they think it is a mitigation and excuse of their faults, if they did not proceed only from themselves, but from the violence and compulsion, the temptation and instigation, of others. But, especially, men are very glad to lay their faults upon God, because he is a full and sufficient excuse, nothing being to be blamed that comes from him. Thus Adam did, upon the commission of the very first sin that mankind was guilty of 524When God charged him for breaking of his law, by eating of the fruit of the forbidden tree, he endeavours to excuse himself by laying the fault obliquely upon God; “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me;” he does what he can to derive the fault upon God. And though this be very unreasonable, yet it seems it is very natural. Men would fain have the pleasure of committing sin, but then they would be glad to remove as much of the trouble and guilt of it from themselves as they can.
Secondly, This manner of speech, which the apostle here useth, doth insinuate further to us, that it is not only a false, but an impious assertion, to say that God tempts men to sin. He speaks of it, not only as a thing unfit to be said, but fit to be rejected with the greatest indignation; “Let no man say,” that is, far it be from us to affirm any thing so impious and so dishonourable to God. For no thing can be more contrary to the holy and righteous nature of God, and to those plain declarations which he hath made of himself, than to seduce men to wickedness; and therefore no man, that hath any regard to the honour of God, can entertain the least suspicion of his having any hand in the sins of men, or give heed to any principles or doctrines, from whence so odious and abominable a consequence may be drawn. I proceed to the
Third thing I propounded to consider; namely, The reason or argument which the apostle brings against this impious suggestion; that “God can not be tempted with evil;” and therefore no man can imagine that he should tempt any man to it; “Let no man say, when he is tempted, I am tempted 525of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.” And in speaking to this, I shall,
First, Consider the strength and force of this argument: and,
Secondly, The nature and kind of it.
First, The strength and force of this argument, “God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man;” ἀπείραστός ἐστι κακῶν; he is untemptible by evil; he cannot be drawn to any thing that is bad himself, and therefore it cannot be imagined he should have any inclination or design to seduce others. And this will appear to be a strong and forcible argument, if we consider,
First, The proposition upon which it is grounded, that “God cannot be tempted by evil.”
Secondly, The consequence that clearly follows from it; and that is, that because God cannot be tempted by evil, therefore he cannot tempt any man to it.
First, We will consider the proposition upon which this argument is built, and that is, that “God cannot be tempted by evil.” He is out of the reach of any temptation to evil. Whoever is tempted to any thing, is either tempted by his own inclination, or by the allurement of the object, or by some external motive and consideration: but none of all these can be imagined to have any place in God, to tempt him to evil.
For, first, he hath no temptation to it from his own inclination. The holy and pure nature of God is at the greatest distance from evil, and at the greatest contrariety to it. He is so far from having any inclination to evil, that it is the only thing in the world to which he hath an irreconcilable antipathy. 526This the Scripture frequently declares to us, and that in a very emphatical manner: (Psal. v. 4.) “He is not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness, neither shall evil dwell with him.” The words are a diminution, and less is said than is intended by them; the meaning is, that God is so far from taking pleasure in sin, that he hath a perfect hatred and abhorrence of it: (Hab. i. 12.) “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look upon iniquity.” As when men hate a thing to the highest degree, they turn away their eyes, and can not endure to look upon it. Light and darkness are not more opposite to one another, than the holy nature of God is to sin. “What fellowship hath light with darkness, or God with Belial?”
Secondly, There is no allurement in the object, to stir up any inclination to him towards it. Sin in its very nature is imperfection, and irregularity, crookedness, and deformity; so that, unless there be an inclination to it beforehand, there is nothing in it to move any one’s liking or desire towards it; it hath no attractives or enticements in it, but to a corrupt and ill-disposed mind.
Thirdly, Neither are there external motives and considerations, that can be imagined to tempt God to it. All arguments that have any temptation, are either founded in hope or fear; either in the hope of gaining some benefit or advantage, or in the fear of falling into some mischief or inconvenience. Now the Divine Nature, being perfectly happy, and perfectly secured in its own happiness, is out of the reach of any of these temptations. Men are many times tempted to evil very strongly by these considerations: they want many things to make them happy, and they fear many things which may make 527them miserable; and the hopes of the one and the fears of the other, are apt to work very powerfully upon them, to seduce them from their duty, and to draw them to sin: but the Divine Nature is firm against all these attempts, by its own fulness and security. So that you see now the proposition, upon which the apostle grounds his argument, is evidently true, and beyond all exception, that “God cannot be tempted with evil.” Let us then, in the
Second place, Consider the consequence that clearly follows from it, that because God cannot be tempted with evil, therefore he cannot tempt any man to it. For why should he desire to draw men into that which he himself abhors, and which is so contrary to his own nature and disposition? When men tempt one another to sin, they do it to make others like themselves; and when the devil tempts men to sin, it is either out of direct malice to God, or out of envy to men. But none of these considerations can have any place in God, or be any motive to him to tempt men to sin.
Bad men tempt others to sin, to make them like themselves, and that with one of these two designs; either for the comfort or pleasure of company, or for the countenance of it, that there may be some kind of apology and excuse for them.
For the comfort and pleasure of company. Man does not love to be alone; and for this reason bad men endeavour to make others like themselves, that, agreeing with them in the same disposition and manners, they may be fit company for them. For no man takes pleasure in the society and conversation of those, who are of contrary tempers and inclinations to them, because they are continually warring 528and clashing with one another. And for this reason bad men hate and persecute those that are good. “Let us lie in wait (say they) for the righteous, because he is not for our turn, and he is contrary to our doings; he is grievous unto us even to behold; for his life is not like other men’s, and his ways are of another fashion;” as it is expressed in the Wisdom of Solomon. So that wicked men tempt others to sin, that they may have the pleasure and contentment of their society. But now, for this reason, God cannot be imagined to tempt men to sin, because that would be the way to make them unlike himself, and such as his soul could take no pleasure in.
Another design that bad men have in seducing others to sin, is thereby to give countenance to their bad actions, and to be some kind of excuse and apology for them. Among men, the multitude of offenders does sometimes procure impunity, but it always gives countenance to vice; and men are apt to allege it in their excuse, that they are not alone guilty of such a fault—that they did not do it without company and example; which is the reason of that law, (Exod. xxiii. 2.) “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil;” implying, that men are very apt to take encouragement to any thing that is bad, from company and example. But neither hath this reason any place in God, who, being far from doing evil himself, can have no reason to tempt others to do so, by way of excuse and vindication of himself.
And when the devil tempts men to sin, it is either out of direct malice to God, or out of envy to men. Out of malice to God, to spoil his workmanship, and to pervert that which came innocent and upright 529out of his hands; to rob God of his subjects, and to debauch them from their duty and allegiance to him; to strengthen the rebellion which he has raised against God, and to make him as many enemies as he can. But for this end God cannot tempt any man; for this would be to procure dishonour to himself, and to deface the work of his own hands.
Another reason why the devil tempts men is envy. When he was fallen from God and happiness, and by his own rebellion had made himself miserable, he was discontented to see the happy condition of man, and it grieved him at his very heart; and this moved him to tempt man to sin, that he might involve him in the same misery into which he had plunged himself. It is a pleasure to envy to overturn the happiness of others, and to lay them level with themselves. But the Divine nature is full of goodness, and delights in the happiness of all his creatures. His own incomparable felicity has placed him as much above any temptation to envying others, as above any occasion of being contemned by them. He grudges no man’s happiness, and therefore can not tempt men to sin, out of a desire to see them miserable. So that none of those considerations which move the devil to tempt men to sin, and evil men to tempt one another to do wickedly, can be imagined to have any place in God.
And thus you see the force of the apostle’s argument, that because “God cannot be tempted to evil,” therefore he can tempt no man. None tempt others to be bad, but those who are first so themselves. I shall now, in the
Second place, Consider the nature and kind of the argument which the apostle here useth: “Let 530no man say, when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.” He does not reject this impious proposition barely upon his own authority; but he argues against it from the nature and perfection of God; and therein appeals to the common notions of mankind concerning God. We might very well have rested in his authority, being an apostle commissioned by our Saviour, and extraordinarily assisted and witnessed to, by the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost, wherewith he was endowed: but he condescends to give a reason of what he says, and appeals to the common principles of mankind. For all men will readily agree to this, that God hath all imaginable perfection: but it is a plain imperfection to be liable to be tempted to evil, and therefore, “God cannot be tempted to evil.” And, if so, it is as impossible that he should tempt others to it; for none can have either an inclination or interest to seduce others to evil, but those who have been first seduced to it themselves.
Now, in this method of arguing, the apostle teacheth us one of the surest ways of reasoning in religion; namely, from the natural notions which men have of God. So that all doctrines plainly contrary to those natural notions which men have of God are to be rejected, what authority soever they pretend to; whatever plainly derogates from the goodness or justice of God, or any other of his perfections, is certainly false, what authority soever it may claim from the judgment of learned and pious men; yea, though it pretend to be countenanced from the texts and expressions of Holy Scripture: because nothing can be entertained as a Divine revelation, which plainly contradicts the 531common natural notions which mankind have of God. For all reasoning about Divine revelation, and whether that which pretends to he so be really so or not, is to be governed by those natural notions. And if any thing that pretends to be a revelation from God, should teach men that there is no God, or that he is not wise, and good, and just, and powerful; this is reason enough to reject it, how confident soever the pretence be, that it is a Divine revelation.
And if any thing be, upon good groundsill reason, received for a Divine revelation (as the Holy Scriptures are amongst Christians), no man ought to be regarded, who from thence pretends to maintain any doctrine contrary to the natural notions which men have of God; such as clearly contradict his holiness, or goodness, or justice, or do, by plain and undeniable consequence, make God the author of sin, or the like; because the very attempt to prove any such thing out of Scripture, does strike at the Divine authority of those books. For if they be from God, it is certain they can contain no such thing. So that no man ought to suffer himself to be seduced into any such opinions, upon pretence that there are expressions in Scripture which seem to countenance them. For if they really did so, the consequence would not be the confirming of such opinions, but the weakening of the authority of the Scripture itself. For just so many arguments as any man can draw from Scripture for any such opinion, so many weapons he puts into the hands of atheists inst the Scripture itself.
I do not speak this as if I thought there were any ground from Scripture for any such doctrine; I am very certain there is not. And if there be any particular 532expression, which to prejudiced men may seem to import any such thing, every man ought to govern himself in the interpretation of such passages, by what is clear and plain, and agreeable to the main scope and tenor of the Bible, and to those natural notions which men have of God, and of his perfections. For when all is done, this is one of the surest ways of reasoning in religion; and whoever guides himself, and steers by this compass, can never err much: but whoever suffers himself to be led away by the appearance of some more obscure phrases in the expressions of Scripture, and the glosses of men upon them, without regard to this rule, may run into the greatest delusions, may wander eternally, and lose himself in one mistake after another, and shall never find his way out of this endless labyrinth, but by this clue.
If St. James had not been an apostle, the argument which he useth would have convinced any reasonable man, that God tempts no man to sin, because he “cannot be tempted with evil” himself; and therefore it is unreasonable to imagine he should tempt any man. For he argues from such a principle, as all mankind will, at first hearing, as sent to.
And thus I have done with the first thing asserted by the apostle here in the text, that God tempts no man to sin; “Let no man say, when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted of evil, neither tempteth he any man.” Before I proceed to the second assertion, that every man is his own greatest tempter, I should draw some useful inferences from what has been already delivered: but I reserve both the one and the other to the next opportunity.533
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