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LECTURE XXXV.5151   Preached Oct. 20, 1694.

Psalm li. 4, 5.

Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

HAVING discoursed to you at large from that Rom. v. 12. concerning the fall of the first man, and the entrance of sin and death into the world, thereupon,! told you in the conclusion of the last discourse on that subject, my further intention was to say something for the clearing of the Divine Justice, in reference hereunto: and it is a debt, a right that we owe to the Supreme Ruler and Lord of all, not only to confess his righteousness, but, as occasion serves and requires, to vindicate it too. We cannot be just ourselves, if we do not, to our utmost, in all things, justify him.

My design is not, from this scripture, to speak absolutely of the corruption and depravedness of the human nature, which I did before, from that mentioned scripture. But to speak of it relatively and comparatively, in reference to the righteousness of God, or so far as that may appear any way concerned in the 477matter. And indeed, it might be thought, there lay before, a very unexceptionable state of the case between God and man, in that scripture that I last, and so long insisted on; which makes death only to have followed sin into the world. And what can be more natural than the connexion of sin and death, or the consecution of the latter upon the former, that death should only be said to have entered into the world, and to have passed over all, inasmuch as all have sinned.

But men’s curiosity doth not rest here, while they will not pretend to deny the actual consecution of death upon sin; they make a great deal of difficulty to understand how sin should follow upon innocency. And here the difficulty is not so great neither, concerning the lapse of the first man, and the death following upon that as to him; as also the case hath no appearance of difficulty concerning the angels that fell, when (as the case was with the first man) every one offended in his own person, and so was in his own person to answer for the offence. But that that makes the difficulty is, that men should be generally involved in sin and ruin, upon the lapse and fall of one, (their common parent) when they could not help it that they were his children, or that they were born of such progenitors, that all should be undone by a fault which they could not prevent, and unto which they had no accession.

This difficulty hath cast divers men upon distressing thoughts. Some have thereupon denied the corruption and depravity of human nature; and they might as well deny that there are men upon earth. Some would have the souls of men (the only capable subjects of sin) to be propagated as the bodily part is, which would hazard the doctrine of their immortality. Others have had their other conjectures, which I shall not mention.

But, upon the whole, we ought not only to censure with indulgence, but to commend and praise the spirit and practice of such, in reference to this matter, as have, with sincere and unbiassed minds, set their understandings on work, how best to maintain high and honourable thoughts of God; that have been studious to find out, or apt to entertain any hypothesis that might be more suitable unto that. This (I say) is not only to be censured indulgently, but to be commended very highly, provided that men do not, herein, run counter to express Divine Revelation and unto uncontrolable experience. And that they be not so over-officious as to affix characters upon the blessed God, under the name of perfections belonging to his nature, which do not truly or really so belong, and which he never owned or claimed as such.

It is very plain, that this holy Psalmist had seen through this 478difficulty, he saw with better eyes than the most; more sincere, less malevolent; and had digested the matter in his thoughts, otherwise he would never have laid down these two things thus together as we find, “That thou mayest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” He, at least, thought these things very agreeable with one another, if rather, he did not bring in the latter as a proof and demonstration of the former, which the demonstrative particle prefixed (Behold) would lead one to think,

But let us., first, view the words a little in themselves, and we shall discern the schesis and reference to one another, a little better thereby, afterwards. That which is here, in this place, rendered actively, is in the iii. chapter to the Romans, rendered passively, that thou mightest be justified in thy sayings and overcome when thou judgest;” there it is, “when thou art judged,” as we read it, the septuagint being followed (as frequently it is) by the apostle. But I cannot apprehend (as some do note) any need of a different reading in the letter of either text, as some critics take notice, the Hebrew affix being set as there it is, may indifferently be read, either actively or passively. And so may the Greek word, as is most evident, and so we may render either place, either way; and all will come to one and the same sense; that God may appear just, that his justice may be triumphant and victorious, whether it be when he judgeth; or when men judge and censure him, and his proceedings.

And so the current of this discourse of the Psalmist will be plain and clear: “I acknowledge mine iniquity, and my sin is ever before me; against thee only have I sinned: that thou mayest be justified when thou speakest”—that is, referring to the 3 verse, “I acknowledge.” (as here I do,) then the acknowledgment follows, “that thou mayest be justified.” “I make my acknowledgments so and so, that thou mayest be justified when thou speakest, or mayest overcome when thou judgest, or when men presume or take upon them to censure thy proceedings towards me; though thou shouldest proceed with all the severity that thou hast threatened by the prophet sent unto me: for not only have I done this particular evil against thee, and in thy sight, but I have been an impure creature, even from my own original: thou hast much against me, not only for this single instance, but as I came a sinful polluted creature into the world: I was shapen in iniquity, formed, turned therein; as soon as I grew warm in the womb, (as the word signifies) so soon sin did insinuate into my very praemordia, into the very principles of my being.”


And to the same purpose is this passage quoted by the apostle, in that mentioned Romans iii. 4. for when he had been charging sin, before, upon all the world, on the Gentiles, in the i. chapter, and on the Jews, in the ii. he only puts a question in the beginning of the iii. chapter, “What advantage then hath the Jew, if all be found equally under sin?” And he only admits them to have an advantage in order to their recovery, but none at all as to their degeneracy. In reference to their recovery they had a great advantage, inasmuch, as to them were committed the Oracles of God, the discovery of his counsel and way for the reconciling and saving lost sinners. But he considers nothing, in reference to what he had asserted of their part and share in the common depravation and apostasy; they were as bad as the best.

Then he immediately lays down what is quoted from the Psalmist, and makes that his scope and mark in all the rest of the chapter, that is, to justify God; that he might be justified, and overcome in all his pleadings and judgings: or when man should implead or take upon him to censure God, that still his justice might be victorious and triumphant. This is the mark, that he aims at manifestly, in all his following discourse; shewing at large, the universal depravation and corruption of human nature every where; having proved (as he saith at the 9th verse) concerning both Jews and Gentiles (which did then divide the world) that they were all under sin.

Indeed, the immediate subjoining of this unto the mention of the design in this psalm, seems to carry this aspect with it, that the Psalmist intended to speak or introduce the mention of this depravedness and corruption of human nature, (even as It was in himself) as a proof and evidence of the divine justice, as that which might tend to clear it so much the more. But at least, it must he collected from his subjoining the mention of the latter to the former, that he looked upon them as very consistent, and very reconcileable things, as things that carried no repugnancy in them to one another. And even this, will serve my present purpose and design. So that all which I shall observe from this context, and the connexion of these two, herein, shall be this,—

That it is very consistent with the justice of God, and very reconcileable to it, most reconcileable to it, that men, born of human ‘parentage, do universally come into this world impure and polluted creatures, even from the womb.—

The Psalmist did not so much as imagine (you may see) an inconsistency between the corruption of nature in man, and the justice of God, in that he so lays them down by one another. 480Surely (thinks he) these cannot quarrel, no man can reasonably think they will; they are to be looked upon, and ought to be looked upon, as sociable truths, that can agree well together, even these two, that man from the womb is an impure, sinful creature: and God is everlastingly and immutably a holy and righteous God.

Now, in speaking to this, I shall reduce all that I intend, unto a Four-fold Conclusion. And shall gather up all, under these four; As,

I. There can be no real opposition between truth and truth. And so, that whatsoever we are convinced of is truth, another truth that we are equally as certain of, cannot be opposite thereunto. If there be any such appearance, it is but a false appearance, it is only a seemingness of opposition and contrariety, but really there can be no such thing. And,

II. That we may be most certain, that many things are, when, how they are, or come to be as they are, is by us unexplicable and unaccountable. And,

III That it would be very unreasonable to oppose and object dubious and uncertain things, against what is sure and plain, and most certain. And,

IV. That it will be, especially, most unreasonable to oppose uncertain to certain things, when there are many considerations capable of being alleged that will break the force of such objections. But nothing can be alleged to shake the certainty and firmness of the foresaid truths. Then it will be most of all unreasonable.

Unto these four conclusions, I shall reduce what I intend, and what 1 think reasonable to be said to this matter.

I. That truth can never be opposite to truth: and that therefore, what things we are most certain of as true, they can lie in no opposition to one another. But whatsoever of such appearance there may be, must be a false appearance. I instance, here, in these two things, that we are concerned to reconcile,—the perfection of the Divine Nature (comprehending his justice) and—the sinful imperfection and pravity of the human nature. These are both most certain truths; and, therefore, it is impossible they can be really opposite to one another.

1. The absolute perfection of the Divine Nature, comprehending his justice, which must be one great perfection be longing thereunto. It is that indeed which, by the ducture of the text, we are principally concerned to vindicate, and so we re, indeed, any divine perfection against which the doctrine afterwards assented may seem to militate. Everyone will grant, that acknowledgeth a God, that justice must be a perfection 481belonging to his nature. And we may, these two ways, be most absolutely ascertained hereof.

(1.) That whatsoever doth belong to God, belongs to him essentially: his nature can receive no additions nor diminutions, and consequently is immutably so; can no more cease to be so, than he can lie, or do any ill thing; nor this, more than he can cease to be; because all perfection (and that of justice among the rest) belongs unto him essentially. So that he can no more cease to be just, than cease to be God. And,

(2.) Of this we may be ascertained further, thus, that where as, justice is a virtue inclining a person to give to every one his due, that which is owing to him, rightly belongs to him, God cannot be a debtor to his creature, otherwise than by voluntary obligation that he takes upon himself. No one can be a debtor to another but one of these two ways; either naturally, or by some other sort of contract. He is, indeed, naturally a debtor who is possessed of somewhat that doth belong to another, that was originally his, and to which he retains a right: a man is in this case naturally a debtor to such a one by the immediate law of nature, to give him his own, or a full equivalent that he shall be satisfied is so. But so it is altogether impossible that God can be a debtor to his creature, who, (as the apostle speaks, upon another account, xvii. Acts,) hath given to all life and breath, and all things. They can be proprietors of nothing, in opposition to him or against him, that are not masters of themselves, or of their own being. They owe him their all; to them there can be owing nothing; that is, not from him, to whom they themselves owe their very all. It is a just challenge, therefore, that is given to all the world by the apostle; Rom. xi. 35. “Who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?” Produce me the man that can say, “God is a debtor, that he hath given him this or that, for which he is owing to him, let any man produce his claim, and it shall be recompensed to him again.” So that, naturally, God cannot be a debtor to his creatures.

And then, if we speak of the second way of his being a debtor, God hath never obliged himself to keep sin out of the creation, so as that he should break with his creatures, and do them wrong, in not doing all that was possible to omnipotency to make them impenable. Shew the obligation, produce the bond, Where is it? If this were to be alleged, Be broke with his reasonable creatures at first, in making them free, in infecting liberty into their natures: why he never laid himself under any obligation against this. And therefore, it is every way most evident, that God must be immutably and unalterably 482just in all his dispensations; and particularly in this, in not hindering that sin should come into the world, and draw death after it, and spread itself through the world, (as we find it hath done,) still drawing on, and attracting death. And,

2. On the other hand, it is a most clear and certain truth, that as the nature of God is most absolutely and unalterably perfect, including all perfection, and that of justice unalterably among the rest; so, the nature of man is, in this present state, and from the very original of individual persons, sinfully imperfect; and they come into the world impure and polluted creatures from the womb. The justice of God is not to be solved that way, by denying that there is such a corruption and depravity of nature, transmitted even with the nature of man itself from age to age, as therein is comprehended both a negative part, a disinclination to all good; and a positive, an inclination to all evil. And that this also may be in our minds as a certain truth, I shall insist a little, and but a little, upon it. It not being my design (as I said) to do what hath been already done, to insist purposely upon the corruption of human nature absolutely, but only relatively and comparatively, according to what reference this matter may bear to the righteousness of God’s dealings with men. And to evince this,

(1.) It is the most plain and express language of the Scripture. And what ought to determine in such a case? what could determine us but that? There is not another tolerable sense to be put on these words, “I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” It is most unreasonable and absurd, to pretend this to be only a particular acknowledgment of David concerning himself: as if he had the most unhappy procreation of all mankind; as if there were more corruption, or another way to convey corruption to him from his parents, than was with all the rest of men. It can carry no meaning, but that he doth involve his own in the common case, that it was only with him, in this respect, as it is with all others, that they are, (as the expression is in John ix. 34,) altogether born in sin, all unclean. And it was, therefore, impossible that any thing clean should come out of them. t( Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one.” And you have the same thing more expressly asserted in general terms, in the lviii. psalm; “The wicked are estranged from the womb, they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.” And sure, every man is wicked till he is converted, till he be regenerate and turn to God. Therefore, it must be an affirmation concerning all mankind, that they are estranged from the very womb, averse and disaffected to every thing that is good; and propense 483to that which is evil, as the following words signify: they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies; made up of falsehood, even from their original. And,

(2.) The Scripture doth, in multitudes of places, speak of the universal actual sinfulness of the world: and whence should that come? In that iii. chapter of Romans, how often it is inculcated. I have proved (saith the apostle) Jews and Gentiles to be all under sin: and they were all the world. And all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; (afterwards in the same chapter 19,) and, that every mouth may he stopped, and all the world become guilty before God. Now, this being plainly asserted in the word of truth, how should this actual sinfulness begin with every one, so as to be universal? If it were only by imitation and example, it is strange that all should imitate the sin, but none follow the better examples, which, when renewing grace hath done its work, do come to be extant and appear in view, so as that many do carry it (through the grace of God) without visible scandalous enormities. But that which is so universally common, must have some common cause. The reason of the thing speaks itself: when there is not an instance to be found of any one that hath lived without sin, how should this be, but that it hath and must have sprung up with them? must have come with their nature, their very nature itself? for it is as common as their nature. And we may,

(3.) Argue from experience, that such a corruption and pravity as this, doth spring up with men and all human creatures, that come into this world, the ordinary way: that is, we cannot name the time when such are capable of acting electively or rationally, but they are of acting sinfully as soon. Doth not every one’s experience tell him so? That there are disinclinations to that which is good, and inclinations to that which is evil, appearing most early; peevishness, crossness, pride, strife, falsehood, a disposition to lie, to be revengeful and vindictive; nothing is plainer; so that to deny the pravity of nature, even from men’s primordia, is all one, as to say there are not such natures in being. And then,

(4.) We may argue, too, from the manifest subjection and liableness of infants, even in their infancy, unto punitive strokes; sickness, pains, and death itself. Wherein is this, that the infant age is not exempt, if it be innocent, if it hath nothing of impurity and pravity adhering to it? If here it be said by way of reply to this, that “we find the inferior creatures, brute creatures are liable to the same thing; sickness, and pain, and death, but that doth not prove them to be 484sinful, or that they have any sinfulness adhering to them;” why the case is so manifestly different, that it is an easy matter for the objector, if he please, (whosoever he be,) to answer himself. It is plain, death was never a threatening to them: it is plain that the brute creatures, as they grow up, do not come to sin at last, they never sin, nor are ever capable of it. And if, therefore, it should be said, that such infirmities, ails, maladies and mortality itself, are afflictions only, and not penalties, I would fain know whether that do not equally reflect upon the divine justice, (of which such do seem to be so tender,) and a great deal more, to afflict a creature which is at the same time asserted to be innocent, every way innocent; doth not carry a worse face, a worse aspect with it, than to assert this creature to be nocent? And to say, these things are not punitive, but afflictive, is but a notional difference; and the notion doth neither do them good nor harm; neither makes the affliction less or more. But sure, it is more honourable for God to say, that, observing the impure and depraved state of human nature, even from its very original, he animadverts upon that impurity. As why should not the holy God express a displeasancy with every impurity wherever he finds it? And no man accuseth another of any injustice if he do destroy a creature as soon as it begins to live, that is known to be noxious, hurtful and mischievous; as the crushing of serpents in the very egg; when this is so apparent, that there are so noxious qualities, which there is nothing but want of opportunity and time that hinders their exertion in noxious and hurtful acts. To express a displeasancy towards the innate disposition, can be no way unworthy of God. But that we shall have occasion to speak of more hereafter.

In the mean time, this is the First Head proposed—that truth cannot be opposite to truth.—And therefore, we being ascertained of this twofold truth, that God is most perfectly and unalterably just, and that man is sinfully imperfect and impure, from his original, that is, the original of the individuals, these two cannot be opposite to one another: one truth cannot destroy another truth, or impart any repugnancy thereunto. And therefore, if there be any appearance of contrariety between these two, it must be but a false appearance. For of these things we are most certain; they are undoubted truths. There fore, to solve the phenomenon, we must look another way, and there will be opportunity for that, in speaking to the following conclusions. In the meantime, let these two things be inlaid deeply in our souls, that God is absolutely and every way perfect, so as that, that perfection of his must include the 485most unalterable eternal righteousness and justice; but that we for our parts are, from our original, impure and polluted creatures, that there may be, accordingly, suitable dispositions in us to acknowledge and adore his righteousness: and to own and abhor our own impurities: to walk humbly in the sense of them as long as we live, and to have so much the more disposition to admire that grace, which hath its exercise towards such creatures as we, when in point of justice there was enough against us to have produced, for ever, all the exercises of such grace.

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