« AnteriorContinua »
And he quotes a worthy ancient divine as saying; "If any way could have been supposed, how Adam could have been bereft of that holiness he was created in, without a precedaneous act of sinning as the cause, then indeed we might have said that privation of holiness should not have been reckoned sin either to himself or his posterity in that case." That is, if Adam had not sinned before he was unholy, his being unholy would have been no sin! But, after this quotation, our modern author adds; "That Adam should be subject to an habitual inability with respect to his duty, and yet be held bound to the performance of it, is not so hard to conceive. But that this inability and corruption should be propagated to his posterity, and have the same effects and consequences in them, is a point of vast difficulty; and is perhaps the Gordian-knot in revealed religion. And yet the experience of the world in all ages has extorted a general acknowledgment of the depravity of human nature: and the scriptures plainly assert and constantly suppose it. They represent man in his natural state as destitute of both a will and power for such acts as are spiritually good that he is unable to will and do duties in a holy manner, until by supernatural and special grace he is enabled and persuaded thereto; and yet charge him with sin and guilt for every deviation from that perfection which the divine law requires. Upon the testimony of God in his word, my faith rests satisfied, without pretending to see through those difficulties, which the sacred writers have not, that I remember, once attempted to solve."
Such modesty undoubtedly becomes us, in regard to those mysteries of revealed religion which we cannot comprehend. We had much better suspect the inadequateness of our shallow reason, than disbelieve plain revelation, because we cannot see its consistenсу. Were all hearers of the gospel as modest as this, they would not censure and ridicule preachers,
as they frequently do, for exhorting the unregenerate to duties, which they have just before told them are not in their power: since in both the one and the other they have the warrant of the express word of God, and do no more than our Saviour and his apostles plainly did.
It is, however, a great unhappiness, not to be able to instruct them that oppose themselves to the Bible itself, as well as to the preachers of it, on so important a point as this. It is a great unhappiness, when we would convince men of sin because they believe not, or because they do not repent, to be obliged to tell them, that though our faith rests satisfied they are to blame for not repenting and not believing, yet we cannot see why or wherefore. It would certainly be much better, in these practical matters, and matters respecting which, self-condemnation is so essentially necessary in order to the salvation of sinners, if we could, by manifestation of the truth, commend the plain law and gospel to every man's conscience. And why we cannot, I must confess myself unable to conceive. My faith rests satisfied, that this Gordian-knot in revealed religion is fairly untied, by the simple distinction of natural and moral inability. By pointing out the plain difference between being unable to do good works, through the want of rational or animal powers; and merely through the want of a willing mind, or of an honest and good heart. And by making it evident that the latter, is the only inability, in even the unregenerate, to do the whole duty which God requires of man.
But the learned author last quoted thinks, "this does not touch the core of the matter." And he tells us of three kinds of inability in man with respect to supposed actions: natural; consisting in the want of rational powers or bodily strength: moral, consisting in a present unwillingness, when one is neither destitute of natural capacity, nor of an habitual inclination; and may be made willing by
moral suasion. The other is called, Ethico-physical; consisting in such a permanent total want of a disposition, that one cannot be made willing without having a new principle of action created in him. The first, all are agreed is a full excuse for not doing ; the second, this author agrees, is no excuse; but why the last, (which is the inability of the unregenerate, respecting spiritual duties,) does not render men excusable, he cannot see. But why it should be any better an excuse to be totally wicked, than only partially so, I am as unable to conceive. The man who has only a present unwillingness, which moral suasion might remove, can no more be willing to do a good action until a proper motive is set before him, than an unregenerate sinner can before a new heart is given him. And why, between that unwillingness to do well which arises only from not seeing any good reason, in a particular case; and that which is owing to the total want of every good principle, there should be thought such a mighty difference in favor of the latter sinner, appears to me not less difficult to solve or unravel, than any Gordian-knot in revealed religion.
Were men destitute of understanding to know what is right; or destitute of power to choose, according to their own disposition; or destitute of members to act, according to their own choice; they would so far not be proper subjects of commands, and no blame could lie upon them for not obeying. But no such powers of moral agency, are the things wanting in natural men. They have hands and heads sufficiently good; and a sufficient power to will, whatever is agreeable to them. All they want is a good heart. Their inability is therefore their sin, and not their excuse. If any one doth not do well, when all that hinders him is not being well dis posed, sin lieth at his own door. The want of a good disposition is in itself sinful. It is the essence, the root, the fountain of all sin. While a man's
disposition is perfectly good, however ignorant he may be, or whatever mistakes he may commit, it is impossible he should be blameworthy. Whenever a man's disposition is not good, however invincibly indisposed he may be to alter it, it is impossible he should not be to blame. Nor is a man the less sinful, the more depraved his heart is; and the more impracticable it is, for that reason, to persuade him to any thing that is good. On the contrary, every degree of this depravity is sin; and being thus total. ly depraved-destitute of every principle of goodness, is to be perfectly wicked,
These are plain, self-evident propositions. Propositions acknowledged by all mankind, except when in the dust of this dispute; or except when they are engaged to get away from the light, which would condemn them. Then they will suppose that sin, is not at all sinful; and that the more a man has of it, the less he is to blame. Then they will assert that moral depraivity, in a depraved creature, is no moral evil. Then they can find no blameable sin, in any man but Adam; nor in him, any longer than he was perfect in holiness. Then they will distinguish, with such refinement of metaphysical subtilty, as to make out, that though a man may be inexcusable for a little accidental unwillingness to do good, when he might easily be persuaded to do it; yet when one has once such a very depraved heart, that no arguments-no motives-no entreaties, can persuade him to a single good action, he ceases to have any wickedness, and has a sufficient excuse for the neglect of all duty. Such is the turning of things upside down, among fallen men. "Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them because of the blindness of their heart ;" is a description of mankind, applicable more extensively than to the heathen Gentiles.
A brief application will end the present discourse, both because it has been very long, and because the useful inferences naturaly arising from this subject, are much the same as from many others.
1. Let those who have been brought out of marvellous darkness, into the glorious light of the law and gospel; and recovered from their native depravity, to righteousness and true holiness, be hence led to consider the wonderful things which God hath done for them, and to adore the riches of his sovereign grace. You have certainly nothing of your own works, nor superior wisdom, to boast of, as what made you to differ, from those who are yet in the dark regions of spiritual death. It must be wholly ascribed to God, who is rich in mercy; to his great love wherewith he loved you, when dead in sin; and to the exceeding greatness of his power, according to the working of his mighty power in Christ, when he raised him from the dead. In such a world as this-so full of erroneous reasonings and strong delusions; and with such minds as all have by nature -so exceedingly liable to be blinded by the deceitfulness of sin, it must be a great thing for any one to be made to know the plague of his own heart, in the light of legal, genuine conviction: but a greater thing still, to have the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, caused to shine in one's heart, by the renewing of the Holy Ghost. Remember the grateful acknowledgment of the Saviour of such miserable sinners; Matt. xi. 25, 26,
I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight."
2. Let those who entertain a hope of having been converted, be hence cautioned not hastily to conclude, with confident assurance, that they have really been