« PreviousContinue »
This need not be esteemed a paradox: A person may love a father, or some great friend and benefactor, of a very excellent character, more than some other object, a thousand times less worthy of his esteem and affection, and yet love him ten times less than he ought ; and so be chargeable, all things considered, with a deficiency in respect and gratitude that is very unbecoming and hateful. If love to God prevails above the love of other things, then virtue will prevail above evil affections, or positive principles of sin ; by which principles it is, that sin has a positive power and influence. For evil affections radically consist in inordinate love to other things besides God: And therefore, virtue prevailing beyond these, will have the governing influence. The predominance of the love of God in the hearts of good men, is more from the na. ture of the object loved, and the nature of the principle of true love, than the degree of the principle. The object is one of supreme loveliness ; immensely above all other objects in worthiness of regard ; and it is by such a transcendent excellency, that he is God and worthy to be regarded and adored as God: And he that truly loves God, loves him as God. True love acknowledges him to be divinely and supremely excellent; and must arise from some knowledge, sense, and conviction of his worthiness of supreme respect: And though the sense and view of it may be very imperfect, and the love that arises from it in like manner imperfect; yet if there be any realising view of such divine excellency, it must cause the heart to respect God above all.
2. Another reason why a principle of holiness maintains the dominion in the hearts of good men, is the nature of the covenant of grace, and the promises of that covenant, on which true Christian virtue relies, and which engage God's strength and assistance to be on its side, and to help it against its enemy, that it may not be overcome. The just live by faith. Holiness in the Christian or his spiritual life, is maintained as it has respect by faith to its author and finisher, and derives strength and efficacy from the divine fountain, and by this means overcomes. For, as the apostle says, This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith. It is our faith in him who has promised never to leave nor forsake his people; not to forsake the work of his own hands, nor suffer his people to be tempted above their ability ; that his grace shall be sufficient for them, his strength be made perfect in weakness; and that where he has begun a good work he will carry it on to the day of Christ.
The Corruption of Man's Nature appears by its Tendency, in
its present State, to an extreme Degree of Folly and Stupidity in Matters of Religion,
It appears that man's nature is greatly depraved, by an apparent proneness to an exceeding stupidity and sottishness in those things wherein his duty and main interest are chiefly concerned. I shall instance in two things, viz. men's proneness to idolatry; and a general great disregard of eternal things, in them who live under the light of the gospel.
It is manifest, in the first instance, that man's nature in its present state is attended with a great propensity to forsake the acknowledgment and worship of the true God,
and to fall into the most stupid idolatry. This has been sufficiently proved by known fact, on abundant trial : Insomuch as the world of mankind in general (excepting one small people, miraculously delivered and preserved) through all nations, in all parts of the world, ages after ages, continued without the knowledge and worship of the true God and overwhelmed in gross idolatry, without the least appearance or prospect of its recovering itself from so great blindness or returning from its brutish principles and customs, till delivered by divine grace.
In order to the most just arguing from fact, concerning the tendency of man's nature, as that is in itself, it should be enquired what the event has been, where nature has been left to itself, to operate according to its own tendency, with least opposition made to it by any thing supernatural; rather than in exempt places, where the infinite power and grace of God have interposed, and extraordinary means have been used to stem the current, and bring men to true religion and virtue. As to the means by which God's people of old, in the line of Abraham, were delivered and preserved from idolatry, they were miraculous and of mere grace. Notwithstanding which, they were often relapsing into the notions and ways of the heathen; and when they had backslidden, never were recovered but by divine gracious interposition. And as to the means by which many Gentile nations have been delivered since the days of the gospel, they are such as have been wholly owing to the most wonderful, miraculous, and infinite grace. God was under obli. gation to bestow on the heathen world greater advantages than they had in the ages of their gross darkness; as appears by the fact, that God actually did not, for so long a time, bestow greater advantages.
Dr. T. himself observes, (Key p. 1.) That in about four hundred years after the flood, the generality of mankind were fallen into idolatry. And thus it was every where through the world, excepting among that people that was saved and preserved by a constant series of miracles, through a variety of countries, nations, and climates, great enough, -and through successive changes, revolutions, and ages, numerous enough to be a sufficient trial of what mankind are prone to, if there be any such thing as a sufficient trial.
That men should forsake the true God for idols is an evidence of the most astonishing folly and stupidity, by God's own testimony, Jer. ii. 12, 13. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be ye horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the Lord: For my people have committed two evils ; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and have hewed out to themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. And that mankind in general did thus, so soon after the flood, was from the evil propensity of their hearts, and because they did not like to retain God in iheir knowledge: as is evident by Rom. i. 28. And the Universality of the effect shews that the cause was universal, and not any thing belonging to the particular circumstances of one, or only some nations or ages, but something belonging to that nature which is common to all nations and which remains the same through all ages. And what other cause could this great effect possibly arise from, but a depraved disposition, natural to all mankind ? It could not arise from want of a sufficient capacity or means of knowledge. This is in effect confessed on all hands. Dr. TURNBULL (Chris. Phil. p. 21.) says: “The existence of one infinitely powerful, wise, and good mind, the Author, Creator, Upholder, and Governor of all things, is a truth that lies plain and obvious to all that will but think." And (ibid. p. 245:) " Moral knowledge, which is the most important of all knowledge, may easily be acquired by all men.” And again, (ibid. p. 292.). Every man by himself
, if he would duly employ his mind in the contemplation of the works of God about him or in the examination of his own frame, might make very great progress in the knowledge of the wisdom and goodness of God. This all men, generally speaking, might do, with very little assistance; for they have all sufficient abilities for thus employing their minds, and have all sufficient time for it.” Mr. Locke says, (Hum. Und. p. iv. chap. iv. p. 242. edit. 11.) “Our own existence and the sensible parts of the universe, offer the proofs of a Deity so clearly and cogently to our thoughts, that I deem it impossible for a considerate man to withstand them. For I judge it as certain and clear a truth as can any where be delivered, that the invisible things of God are clearly seen from the creation of the world, being understood by
the things that are made, even his eternal power and godhead." And Dr. T. himself, (in p. 78.) says, “The light given to all ages and nations of the world, is sufficient for the knowledge and practice of their duty.” And (p. 111, 112,) citing those words of the apostle, Rom. ii. 14, 15, he says, “ This clearly supposes that the Gentiles, who were then in the world, might have done the things contained in the law by nature, or their natural power.” And in one of the next sentences he says, “ The apostle, in Rom. i. 19, 20, 21, affirms that the Gentiles had light sufficient to have seen God's eternal power and godhead in the works of creation ; and that the reason why they did not glorify him as God, was because they became vain in their imaginations, and had darkened their foolish heart; so that they were without excuse. And in his paraphrase on those verses in the 1st of Rom. he speaks of the very heathens that were without a written revelation, as having that clear and evident discovery of God's being and perfections that they are inexcusable in not glorifying him suitably to his excellent nature, and as the author of their being and enjoyments.” And (p. 146. S.) he says, “God affords every man sufficient light to know bis duty." if all ages and nations of the world have sufficient light for the knowledge of God and their duty to hiin, then even such nations and ages, in which the most brutish ignorance and barbarity prevailed, had sufficient light, if they had but a disposition to improve it; and then much more those of the heathen which were more knowing and polished, and in ages wherein arts and learning had made greatest advances. But even in such nations and ages there was no advance made towards true religion; as Dr. Winner observes, (Hist. of Knowl, vol. ii. p. 336.) in the following words :— The pagan religion degen. erated into greater absurdity the further it proceeded; and it prevailed in all its height of absurdity when the Pagan nations were polished to the height. Though they set out with the talents of reason, and had solid foundations of information to build upon, it in fact proved that with all their strengthened faculties and growing powers of reason, the edifice of religion rose in the most absurd deformities and disproportions, and gradually went on in the most irrational, disproportioned, incongruous systems, of which the most easy dictates of reason would have demonstrated the absurdity. They were contrary to all just calculations in moral mathematics." He observes, " that their grossest abominations first began in Egypt, where was an ostentation of the greatest progress in learning and science : And they never renounced clearly any of their abominations, or openly returned to the worship of the one true God, the Creator of all things, and to the original, genuine sentiments of the highest and most venerable antiquity. The Pagan
religion continued in this deep state of corruption to the last. The Pagan philosophers, and inquisitive men, made great improvements in many sciences, and even in morality itself; yet the inveterate absurdities of Pagan idolatry remained without remedy. Every temple smoked with incense to the sun and moon, and other inanimate material luminaries, and earthly elements, to Jupiter, Juno, Mars, and Venus, &c. &c. the patrons and examples of almost every vice. Hecatombs bled on the altars of a thousand Gods, as mad superstition inspired. And this was not the disgrace of our ignorant untaught northern countries only; but even at Athens itself the infamy reigned, and circulated through all Greece, and finally prevailed, amidst all their learning and politeness, under the Ptolemys in Egypt, and the Cæsars at Rome. Now if the knowledge of the pagan world in religion proceeded no further than this; if they retained all their deities, even the most absurd of them all their deified beasts, and deified men, even to the last breath of pagan power: We may justly ascribe the great improvements in the world on the subject of religion to divine revelation, either vouchsafed in the beginning when this knowledge was competently clear and copious; or at the death of paganism, when this light shone forth in its consummate lustre at the coming of Christ."
Dr. T. often speaks of the idolatry of the heathen world as great wickedness, in which they were wholly inexcusable; and yet often speaks of their case as remediless, and of them as being dead in sin and unable to recover themselves. If so, and yet according to his own doctrine, every age, every nation, and every man, had sufficient light afforded to know God and their whole duty to him; then their inability to deliver themselves must be a moral inability, consisting in a desperate depravity and most evil disposition of heart.
And if there had not been sufficient trial of the propensity of the hearts of mankind, through all those ages that passed from Abraham to Christ, the trial has been continued down to this day in all those vast regions of the face of the earth that have remained without any effects of the light of the gospel ; and the dismal effect continues every where unvaried. How was it with that multitude of nations inhabiting South and North America ? What appearance was there when the Europeans first came hither, of their being recovered, or recovering, in any degree, from the grossest ignorance, delusion, and most stupid paganism ? And how is it at this day in those parts of Africa and Asia into which the light of the gospel has not penetrated ?
This strong and universally prevalent disposition of mankind to idolatry, of which there has been such great trial and