« AnteriorContinuar »
they do not directly and unavoidably infer in man a power of meriting of God, the world is yet to seek, what the nature and notion of merit is. Accordingly, both Gelasius and Saint Austin, in setting down the points wherein the Catholic church differed from the Pelagians, assign this for one of the chief, that the Pelagians held "gratiam Dei secundum hominum merita conferri." And the truth is, upon their principles a man may even merit the incarnation of Christ: for if there be no saving grace without it, and a man may do that which shall oblige God in justice to vouchsafe him such grace, (as with no small self-contradiction these men use to speak,) then, let them qualify and soften the matter with what words they please, I affirm, that, upon these terms, a man really merits his salvation, and, by consequence, all that is or can be necessary thereunto.
In the meantime, throughout all this Pelagian scheme, we have not so much as one word of man's natural impotency to spiritual things, (though inculcated and wrote in both Testaments with a sunbeam,) nor, consequently, of the necessity of some powerful divine energy to bend, incline, and effectually draw man's will to such objects as it naturally resists and is averse to: not a word, I say, of this, or any thing like it; (for those men used to explode and deny it all, as their modern offspring amongst us also do;) and yet this passed for sound and good divinity in the church in Saint Austin's time; and within less than an hundred years since, in our church too, till Pelagianism and Socinianism, deism, tritheism, atheism, and a spirit of innovation, the root of all, and worse than all, broke in upon us, and by false schemes and models countenanced and encouraged, have given quite a new face to things; though a new face is certainly the worst and most unbecoming that can be set upon an old religion. But,
Secondly, to proceed to another sort of men famous for corrupting Christianity more ways than one; to wit, those of the church of Rome. We shall find, that this doctrine of man's being able to merit of God is one of the chief foundations of Popery also: even the great Diana, which some of the most experienced craftsmen in the world do with so much zeal sacrifice to and make shrines for; and by so doing get their living, and that a very plentiful and splendid one too; as knowing full well, that without it the grandeur of their church (which is all their religion) would quickly fall to the ground. For if there be no merit of good works, then no supererogation; and if no supererogation, no indulgences; and if no indulgences, then it is to be feared that the silversmith's trade will run low, and the credit of the pontifical bank begin to fail. So that the very marrow, the life and spirit of Popery lies in a stiff adherence to this doctrine: the
grand question still insisted upon by these merchants being, Quid dabitis?" and the great commodity set to sale by them being merit. For can any one think, that the Pope and his cardinals, and the rest of their ecclesiastical grandees, care a rush whether the will of man be free, or no, (as the Jesuits state the freedom of it on the one side, and Dominicans and Jansenists on the other,) or that they at all concern themselves about justification and free grace, but only as the artificial stating of such points may sometimes serve them in their spiritual traffic, and now and then help them to turn the penny. No; they value not their schools any farther than they furnish their markets; nor regard any gospel but that of cardinal Palavicini, which professedly owns it for the main design of Christianity, to make men as rich, as great, and as happy as they can be in this world. And the grand instrument to compass all this by is the doctrine of merit. For how else could it be, that so many in that communion should be able to satisfy themselves in doing so much less than they know they are required to do for the saving of their souls, but that they are taught to believe, that there are some again in the world who do a great deal more than they are bound to do, and so may very well keep their neighbour's lamp from going out, by having oil enough both to supply their own, and a comfortable overplus besides, to lend, or (which is much better) to sell, in such a case. In a word, take away the foundation, and the house must fall; and, in like manner, beat down merit, and down goes Popery too. And so at length (that I may not trespass upon your patience too much) I descend to the
Fourth and last particular, proposed at first from the words; which was, to remove an objection naturally apt to issue from the foregoing particulars. The objection is obvious, and the answer to it needs not be long. It proceeds thus,—
If the doctrine hitherto advanced be true, can there be a greater discouragement to men in their Christian course, than to consider, that all their obedience, all their duties and choicest performances, are nothing worth in the sight of God? and that they themselves, after they have done their best, their utmost, and their very all in his service, are still, for all that, useless and unprofitable, and such as can plead no recompense at all at his hands? This, you will say, is very hard; but to it I
First, that it neither ought nor uses to be any discouragement to a beggar (as we all are in respect of Almighty God) to continue asking an alms, and doing all that he can to obtain it, though he knows he can do nothing to claim it. But
Secondly, I deny, that our disavowing this doctrine of merit cuts us off from all plea to a
recompense for our Christian obedience at the hands of God. It cuts us off, indeed, from all plea to it upon the score of condignity and strict justice; but then should we not, on the other side, consider, whether God's justice be the only thing that can oblige him in his transactings with men? For does not his veracity and his promise oblige him as much as his justice can? And has he not positively promised to reward our sincere obedience? Which promise, though his mere grace and goodness induced him to make, yet his essential truth stands obliged to see performed. For though some have ventured so far as to declare God under no obligation to inflict the eternal torments of hell (how peremptorily soever threatened by him) upon men dying in their sins; yet I suppose none will be so hardy, or rather shameless, as to affirm it free for God to perform or not perform his promise; the obligation of which being so absolute and unalterable, I do here farther affirm, that, upon the truest and most assured principles of practical reason, there is as strong and as enforcing a motive from the immutable truth of God's promise, to raise men to the highest and most heroic acts of a Christian life, as if every such single act could by its own intrinsic worth merit a glorious eternity. For to speak the real truth and nature of things, that which excites endeavour, and sets obedience on work, is not properly a belief or persuasion of the merit of our works, but the assurance of our reward. And can we have a greater assurance of this, than that truth itself, which cannot break its word, has promised it? For the most high and holy One (as we have shewn, and may with reverence speak) has pawned his word, his name, and his honour, to reward the steadfast, finally persevering obedience of every one within the covenant of grace, notwithstanding its legal imperfection.
And therefore, though we have all the reason in the world to blush at the worthless emptiness of our best duties, and to be ashamed of the poorness and shortness of our most complete actions, and, in a word, to think as meanly of them, and of ourselves for them, as God himself does, yet still let us build both our practice and our comfort upon this one conclusion, as upon a rock; that though, after we have done all, we are still unprofitable servants, yet because we have done all, God has engaged himself to be a gracious master.
To whom therefore be rendered, and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.
OF THE LIGHT WITHIN US.
PREACHED AT CHRIST-CHURCH IN OXFORD, BEFORE THE UNIVERSITY, OCTOBER 29, 1693.
"Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness."-LUKE, XI. 35.
As light is certainly one of the most glorious and useful creatures that ever issued from the wisdom and power of the great Creator of the world; so, were the eye of the soul as little weakened by the fall as the eye of the body, no doubt the light within us would appear as much more glorious than the light without us, as the spiritual, intellectual part of the creation exceeds the glories of the sensible and corporeal. As to the nature of which light, to give some account of it before I proceed farther, and that without entering into those various notions of it which some have amused the world with; it is, in short, that which philosophers, in their discourses about the mind of man, and the first origins of knowledge, do so much magnify by the name of recta ratio—that great source and principle (as they would have it) both of their philosophy and religion.
For the better explication of which, I must, according to a common but necessary distinction, (and elsewhere made use of by me,) observe, that this recta ratio may be taken in a double sense.
First, For those maxims or general truths, which, being collected by the observations of reason, and formed thereby into certain propositions, are the grounds and principles by which men govern both their discourse and practice, according to the nature of the objects that come before them: or,
Secondly, It may be taken for that faculty or power of the soul, by which it forms these maxims or propositions, and afterwards discourses upon them. And so, no doubt, it is to be taken here.
For propositions themselves, as to the truth of them, are neither capable of increase or decrease, improvement or diminution; but the powers and faculties of the soul are capable of both; that is, of becoming stronger or weaker, according as men shall use or abuse, cultivate or neglect them. Upon which account this recta ratio can be nothing else but that intellectual power or faculty of the soul which every one is naturally endowed with.
To which faculty, as there belong two grand and principal offices, to wit, one to inform or direct, and the other to command or oblige,
so the said faculty sustains a different oxέors or denomination, according to each of them. For as it serves to inform the soul, by discovering things to it, so it is called the light of nature; but as it obliges the soul to do this, or forbear that, (which it does, as it is actuated or informed with those forementioned general truths or maxims,) so it is called the law of nature which two offices, though belonging to one and the same faculty, are very different. For the former of them, to wit, its enlightening or informing quality, extends much farther than its obliging virtue does-even to all things knowable in the mind of man; but the latter only to such things as are matter of practice, and so fall under a moral consideration. Besides, that this obliging quality must needs also presuppose the enlightening quality as essentially going before it. For as no law can bind till it be notified or promulged, so neither can this faculty of the soul oblige a man till it has first informed him. By which we see, that the light of nature, according to the essential order of things, precedes the law of nature, and consequently, in strictness of speech, ought to be distinguished from it, how much soever some have thought fit to confound them. And I doubt not but it is this which the text here principally intends by "the light within us."
Nevertheless, since the word conscience takes in both, and signifies as well a light to inform, as it imports and carries with it also a law to oblige us, I shall indifferently express this light by the name of conscience (as a term equivalent to it) in all the following particulars; but still this shall be with respect to its informing, rather than to its obliging office. Forasmuch as it is the former of these only which is the proper effect of light, and not the latter. For though conscience be both a light and (as it commands under God) a law too; yet as it is a light, it is not formally a law. For if it were, then whatsoever it discovered to us, it would also oblige us to. But this is not so; since it both may and does discover to us the indifferent nature of many things and actions without obliging us either to the practice or forbearance of them; which one consideration alone is sufficient to set the difference between the enlightening and the obliging office of conscience clear beyond all objection.
And thus much I thought fit to premise concerning the nature of the light here spoken of by our Saviour, and intended for the subject of the present discourse. Which light, as it is certainly the great and sovereign gift of God to mankind, for the guidance and government of their actions, in all that concerns them with reference to this life or a better; so it is also as certain, that it is capable of being turned into darkness, and thereby made wholly useless for so noble a purpose.
For so much the words of the text import;
nor do they import only a bare possibility that it may be so, but also a very high probability that, without an extraordinary prevention, it will be so. Forasmuch as all warning, in the very reason of the thing, and according to the natural force of such expressions, implies in it these two things: First, some very considerable evil or mischief warned against; and secondly, an equal danger of falling into it: without which all warning would be not only superfluous, but ridiculous.
Now both these, in the present case, are very great; as will appear by a distinct consideration of each of them. And
First, For the evil which we are warned or cautioned against ; to wit, the turning of this light within us into darkness. An evil so inconceivably great and comprehensive, that to give an account of the utmost extent of it, would pose our thoughts, as well as nonplus our expressions. But yet to help our apprehensions of it the best we can, let us but consider with ourselves those intolerable evils which bodily blindness, deafness, stupefaction, and an utter deprivation of all sense must unavoidably subject the outward man to. For what is one in such a condition able to do? And what is he not liable to suffer? And yet doing and suffering, upon the matter, comprehend all that concerns a man in this world. If such an one's enemy seeks his life (as he may be sure that some one or other will, and possibly such an one as he takes for his truest friend) in this forlorn case, he can neither see, nor hear, nor perceive his approach, till he finds himself actually in his murdering hands. He can neither encounter nor escape him, neither in his own defence give nor ward off a blow; for whatsoever blinds a man ipso facto disarms him; so that being thus bereft, both of his sight and of all his senses besides, what such an one can be fit for, unless it be to set up for prophecy, or believe transubstantiation, I cannot imagine.
These, I say, are some of those fatal mischiefs, which corporeal blindness and insensibility expose the body to: and are not those of a spiritual blindness inexpressibly greater? For must not a man labouring under this be utterly at a loss how to distinguish between the two grand governing concerns of life, good and evil? And may not the ignorance of these cost us as dear as the knowledge of them did our first parent? Life and death, vice and virtue, come alike to such an one; as all things are of the same colour to him who cannot see. His whole
soul is nothing but night and confusion, darkness and indistinction. He can neither see the way to happiness, and how then should he choose it? nor yet to destruction, and how then should he avoid it? For where there is no sense of things, there can be no distinction; and where there is no distinction, there ca be no choice.
A man destitute of this directing and distinguishing light within him, is and must be at the mercy of every thing in nature, that would impose or serve a turn upon him. So that whatsoever the devil will have him do, that he must do. Whithersoever any exorbitant desire or design hurries him, thither he must go. Whatsoever any base interest shall prescribe, that he must set his hand to, whether his heart goes along with it, or no. If he be a statesman, he must be as willing to sell, as the enemy of his country can be to buy. If a churchman, he must be ready to surrender and give up the church, and make a sacrifice of the altar itself, though he lives by it; and, in a word, take that for a full discharge from all his subscriptions and obligations to it, to do as he is bid. Which being the case of such as steer by a false light, certainly no slave in the galleys is or can be in such a wretched condition of slavery, as a man thus abandoned by conscience, and bereft of all inward principles that should either guide or control him in the course of his conversation. So that we see here the transcendent greatness of the evil which we stand cautioned against. But then, Secondly, If it were an evil that seldom happened, that very hardly and rarely befell a man, this might in a great measure supersede the strictness of the caution: but, on the contrary, we shall find, that as great as the evil is which we are to fence against, (and that is as great as the capacities of an immortal soul,) the greatness of the danger is still commensurate for it is a case that usually happens; it is a mischief as frequent in the event, as it is or can be fatal in the effect. It is as in a common plague, in which the infection is as hard to be escaped, as the distemper to be cured: for that which brings this darkness upon the soul is sin. And as the state of nature now is, the soul is not so close united to the body, as sin is to the soul: indeed, so close is the union between them, that one would even think the soul itself (as much a spirit as it is) were the matter, and sin the form, in our present constitution. In a word, there is a set combination of all without a man and all within him, of all above ground and all under it, (if hell be so,) first to put out his eyes, and then to draw or drive him headlong into perdition. From all which, I suppose, we must needs see reason more than sufficient for this admonition of our Saviour," Take heed that the light which is in thee be not darkness," -an admonition founded upon no less a concern, than all that a man can save, and all that he can lose to eternity. And thus having shewn both the vastness of the evil itself, and the extreme danger we are in of it; since no man can be at all the wiser or the safer barely for knowing his danger, without a vigorous application to prevent it; and since the surest and most rational preventive of it is to know
by what arts and methods our enemy will encounter us, and by which he is most likely to prevail over us, we will inquire into and consider those ways and means by which he commonly attempts, and too frequently effects, this so dismal a change upon us, as to strip us even of the poor remains of our fallen nature, by turning the last surviving spark of it, this "light within us," into darkness.
For this must be acknowledged, that no man living, in respect of conscience, is born blind, but makes himself so. None can strike out the eye of his conscience but himself; for nothing can put it out, but that which sins it out. And upon this account it must be confessed, that a man may love his sin so enormously much, as, by a very ill application of the apostle's expression, even to" pluck out his own eyes, and give them to it ;" as indeed every obstinate sinner in the world does.
Our present business, therefore, shall be (and that as a completion of what I discoursed formerly upon conscience in this place) to shew how and by what courses this divine light, this candle of the Lord, comes first to burn faintand dim, and so, by a gradual decay, fainter and fainter, till at length, by a total extinction, it quite sinks to nothing, and so dies away. And this I shall do, first, in general, and secondly, in particular.
And first in general, shall lay down these two observations,—
First, that whatsoever defiles the conscience, in the same degree also darkens it.
As to the philosophy of which, how and by what way this is done, it is hard to conceive, and much harder to explain. Our great unacquaintance with the nature of spiritual, immaterial beings leaving us wholly in the dark as to any explicit knowledge, either how they work, or how they are worked upon. So that in discoursing of these things, we are forced to take up with analogy and allusion instead of evidence and demonstration. Nevertheless, the thing itself is certain, be the manner of effecting it never so unaccountable.
Yet thus much we find, that there is something in sin analogous to blackness, as innocence is frequently in Scripture expressed and set forth to us by whiteness. All guilt blackens (or does something equivalent to the blackening of) the soul; as where pitch cleaves to any thing, it is sure to leave upon it both its foulness and its blackness together; and then we know, that blackness and darkness are inseparable.
Some of the ablest of the Peripatetic school (not without countenance from Aristotle himself, in the fifth chapter of his third book, Tepi uxs) hold, that besides the native, inherent light of the intellect, (which is essential to it, as it is a faculty made to apprehend, and take in its object after a spiritual way,) there is also another light, in the *** of a
medium, beaming in upon it by a continual efflux and emanation from the great fountain of light, and irradiating this intellectual faculty, together with the species or representations of things imprinted thereupon. According to which doctrine, it seems with great reason to follow, that whatsoever interposes between the mind and those irradiations from God, (as all sin more or less certainly does,) must needs hinder the entrance and admission of them into the mind; and then darkness must by necessary consequence ensue, as being nothing else but the absence or privation of light.
For the farther illustration of which notion, we may observe, that the understanding, the mind, or conscience of man, (which we shall here take for the same thing,) seem to bear much the same respect to God, which glass or crystal does to the light or sun: which appears, indeed, to the eye a bright and a shining thing; nevertheless this shining is not so much from any essential light or brightness existing in the glass itself, (supposing that there be any such in it,) as it is from the porousness of its body, rendering it diaphanous, and thereby fit to receive and transmit those rays of light, which, falling upon it, and passing through it, represent it to common view as a luminous body. But now let any thing of dirt or foulness sully this glass, and so much of the shine or brightness of it is presently gone, because so much of the light is thereby hindered from entering into it, and making its way through it. But if, besides all this, you should also draw some black colour or deep dye upon it, either by paint, or otherwise; why then no brightness could be seen in it at all, but the light being hereby utterly shut out, the glass or crystal would shine or glister no more than a piece of wood or a clod of earth.
In like manner, every act of sin, every degree of guilt, does in its proportion cast a kind of soil or foulness upon the intellectual part of the soul, and thereby intercepts those blessed irradiations which the divine nature is continually darting in upon it. Nor is this all, but there are also some certain sorts and degrees of guilt, so very black and foul, that they fall like a huge thick black upon this faculty; and so sinking into it, and settling within it, utterly exclude all those illuminations which would otherwise flow into it, and rest upon it from the great "Father of lights;" and this not from any failure or defect in the illumination itself, but from the indisposition of the object, which, being thus blackened, can neither let in nor transmit the beams that are cast upon it.
I will not affirm this to be a perfect exemplification of the case before us, but I am sure it is a lively illustration of it, and may be of no small use to such as shall thoroughly con
sider it. But however, (as I shewed before,} the thing itself is certain and unquestionable, guilt and darkness being always so united, that you shall never find darkness mentioned in Scripture in a moral sense, but you shall also find it derived from sin, as its direct cause, and joined with it as its constant companion; for, by a mutual production, sin both causes darkness, and is caused by it. Let this, therefore, be our first general observation, That whatsoever pollutes or fouls the conscience, in the same degree also darkens it.
Secondly, Our other general observation shall be this, That whatsoever puts a bias upon the judging faculty of conscience, weakens, and, by consequence, darkens the light of it. A clear and a right-judging conscience must be always impartial; and that it may be so, it must be perfectly indifferent: that is to say, it must be free and disencumbered from every thing which may in the least sway or incline it one way rather than another, beyond what the sole and mere evidence of things would naturally lead it to. In a word, it must judge all by evidence, and nothing by inclination.
And this our blessed Saviour, with admirable emphasis and significance of expression, calls the singleness of the eye, in the verse immediately before the text. "If thine eye," says he, "be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." That is, nothing extraneous must cleave to or join with the eye in the act of seeing, but it must be left solely and entirely to itself, and its bare object; as naked as truth-as pure, simple, and unmixed as sincerity. Otherwise, the whole operation of it unavoidably passes into cheat, fallacy, and delusion. As, to make the case yet more particular, if you put a muffler before the eye, it cannot see; if any mote or dust falls into it, it can hardly see; and if there be any soreness or pain in it, it shuns the light, and will not see. And all this, by a very easy, but yet certain and true analogy, is applicable to the eye of the soul, the conscience; and the instance is verifiable upon it, in every one of the alleged particulars.
In short, whatsoever bends or puts a bias upon the judging faculty of conscience, represents things to it by a false light; and whatsoever does so, causes in it a false and erroneous judgment of things. And all error or falsehood is, in the very nature of it, a real, intellectual darkness; and consequently must diffuse a darkness upon the mind, so far as it is affected and possessed with it. And thus much for our second general observation.
From whence we shall now pass to particulars. In the assigning and stating of which, as I shewed before, that sin in general was the general cause of this darkness, so the particular causes of it must be fetched from the particular kinds and degrees of sin.