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Sin may give occasion for a great deal of good to be exercised upon it and about it, though there be none inherent in it; and upon that account, when any good is ascribed to it, or affirmed of it, it is purely by an extrinsic denomination, and no more.
Now these distinctions, rightly weighed and applied, will fully and clearly accord the doctrine laid down by us both with the notions of human reason, and the holiness of the divine nature; and consequently render all objections and popular exclamations against either of them empty and insignificant."
Nor, indeed, is it very difficult, and much less impossible, to give some tolerable account, how God delivers a sinner over to farther sins. For it may be very rationally said, that he does it partly by withholding his restraining grace, and leaving corrupt nature to itself, to the full swing and freedom of its own extravagant actings; whereby a man adds sin to sin, strikes out furiously and without control, till he grows obstinate and incurable. And God ay be said to do the same also by adminisring objects and occasions of sin to such or such a sinner, whose corrupt nature will be sure to take fire at them, and so actually to throw itself into all enormities. In all which, God is not at all the author of sin, but only pursues the great works and righteous ends of his providence, in disposing of things or objects in themselves good or indifferent towards the compassing of the same; howbeit, through the poison of men's vicious affections, they are turned into the opportunities and fuel of sin, and made the occasion of their final destruction.
But now, of all the punishments which the great and just God in his anger inflicts, or brings upon a man for sin, there is none comparable to sin itself. Men are apt to go on securely, pleasing themselves in the repeated gratifications of their vice; and they feel not God strike, and so are encouraged in the progress of their impiety. But let them not, for all that, be too confident; for God may strike, though they feel not his stroke, and perhaps the more terribly for their not feeling it. Forasmuch as in judgments of this nature, insensibility always goes deepest; and the wrath of God seldom does such killing execution when it thunders, as when it blasts. He has certainly some dreadful design carrying on against the sinner, while he suffers him to go on in a smooth, uninterrupted course of sinning; and what that design is, and the dreadfulness of it, probably will not be known to him, till the possibilities of repentance are cut off, and hid from his eyes; at present, it looks like the suffering a man to perish and die by a lethargy, rather than jog or awaken him. Believe it, it is a sad case, when the sinner shall never perceive that God is angry with him, till he actually feels the effects of
his anger in another world, where it can neither be pacified nor turned away.
2. The second great consequence from the doctrine hitherto treated of by us, of the naturalness of men's going off from the love of the truth to a disbelief of the same, shall be to inform us of the surest and most effectual way to confirm our faith about the sacred and important truths of religion; and that is, to love them for their transcendent worth and purity; to fix our inclinations and affections upon them; and, in a word, not only to confess, own, and acknowledge them to be truths, but also to be willing that they should be so; and to rejoice with the greatest complacency, that there should be such things prepared for us, as the Scripture tells us there are. For we shall find, that truth is not so much upon terms of courtesy with the understanding, (which upon a clear discovery of itself it naturally commands,) as it is with the will and the affections, which (though never so clearly discovered to them) it is almost always forced to woo and make suit to.
I have been ever prone to take this for a principle, and a very safe one too, namely, that there is no opinion really good, (I mean good in the natural, beneficent consequences thereof,) which can be false. And accordingly, when religion, even natural, tells us, that there is a God, and that he is a rewarder of every man according to his works; that he is a most wise Governor, and a most just and impartial Judge, and for that reason has appointed a future estate, wherein every man shall receive a retribution suitable to what he had done in his lifetime. And moreover, when the Christian religion farther assures us, that Christ has satisfied God's justice for sin, and purchased eternal redemption and salvation for even the greatest sinners, who shall repent of and turn from their sins; and withal has given such excellent laws to the world, that if men perform them, they shall not fail to reap an eternal reward of happiness, as the fruit and effect of the aforementioned satisfaction; as on the other side, that if they live viciously, and die impenitent, they shall inevitably be disposed of into a condition of eternal and insupportable misery. These, I say, are some of the principal things which religion, both natural and Christian, proposes to mankind.
And now, before we come to acknowledge the truth of them, let us seriously and in good earnest examine them, and consider how good, how expedient, and how suitable to all the ends and uses of human life it is, that there should be such things; how unable society would be to subsist without them; how the whole world would sink into another chaos and confusion, did not the awe and belief of these things (or something like them) regulate and control the exorbitances of men's head
strong and unruly wills. Upon a thorough consideration of all which, I am confident, that there is no truly wise and thinking person, who, could he suppose that the forecited dictates of religion should not prove really true, would not however wish at least that they were so. For allowing, (what experience too sadly demonstrates,) that an universal guilt has passed upon all mankind through sin; and supposing withal that there were no hopes or terms of pardon held forth to sinners; would not an universal despair follow an universal guilt? And would not such a despair drive the worship of God out of the world? For certain it is, that none would pray to him, serve, or worship him, and much less suffer for him, who despaired to receive any good from him. And, on the other side, could sinners have any solid ground to hope for pardon of sin, without an antecedent satisfaction made to the divine justice, so infinitely wronged by sin? Or could the honour of that great attribute be preserved without such a compensation? And yet farther, could all the wit and reason of man conceive how such a satisfaction could be made, had not religion revealed to us a Saviour, who was both God and man, and upon that account only fitted and enabled to make it? And, after all, could the benefits of this satisfaction be attainable by any, but upon the conditions of repentance and change of life; would not all piety and holy living be thereby banished from the societies of men? So that we see from hence, that it is religion alone which opposes itself to all these dire consequences, and (like the angel appointed to guard Paradise with a flaming sword) stands in the breach against all that despair, violence, and impiety, which would otherwise irresistibly break in upon and infest mankind in all their concerns, civil and spiritual.
And this one consideration (were there no farther arguments for it, either from faith or philosophy) is to me an irrefragable proof of the truth of the doctrines delivered by it. For that a falsehood (which, as such, is the defect, the reproach, and the very deformity of nature) should have such generous, such wholesome, and sovereign effects, as to keep the whole world in order, and that a lie should be the great bond or ligament which holds all the societies of mankind together, keeping them from cutting throats, and tearing one another in pieces, (as, if religion be not a truth, all these salutary, public benefits must be ascribed to tricks and lies,) would be such an assertion, as, upon all the solid grounds of sense and reason, (to go no farther,) ought to be looked upon as unmeasurably absurd and unnatural.
of the Father, he shall know of my doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." If men could but be brought to look upon the agenda of Christianity as suitable, they would never judge the credenda of it irrational. There is a strange intercourse and mutual corroboration between faith and practice. For as belief first engages practice, so practice strengthens and confirms belief. The body first imparts heat to the garment, but the garment returns it with advantage to the body. God beams in peculiar evidences and discoveries of the truth, to such as embrace it in their affections, and own it in their actions. There may be, indeed, some plausible, seeming arguments brought against the truth, to assault and shake our belief of it: but they generally prevail, not by their own strength, but by our corruption; not by their power to persuade, but by our willingness to be deceived. Whereas, on the contrary, true piety would effectually solve such scruples, and obedience answer all objections. And so I descend now to the
But our Saviour prescribes men an excellent and unfailing method to assure themselves of the truth of his doctrine, (John vii. 17.) "If any one," says he, "will do the will
Third and last of the consequences deducible from the doctrine first proposed by us; and this shall be to give some account of the true cause and original of those two great evils which of late have so disturbed these parts of the world; to wit, atheism and fanaticism. And,
1. For atheism. Most sure it is, that no doctrine or opinion can generally gain upon men's minds, but (let it be never so silly aud fantastical) it must yet proceed from some real cause; and more particularly either from the seeming evidence of the thing forcing a belief of itself upon a weak intellect, or from some strange, unaccountable inclination of the will and the affections to such a hypothesis. For the first of these, I would fain see some of those cogent, convincing arguments, by which any one will own himself persuaded that there is no God, or that he does not govern the affairs of the world so as to take a particular cognizance of men's actions, in designing to them a future retribution, according to the nature and quality of them here; it being all one to the world, whether there be no God, or none who governs it.
But how pitiful and ridiculous are the grounds upon which such men pretend to account for the very lowest and commonest phenomena of nature, without recurring to a God and Providence! Such as, either the fortuitous concourse of infinite little bodies of
themselves, and by their own impulse (since no other nature or spirit is allowed by these men to put them into motion) falling into this curious and admirable system of the universe; according to which notion, the blindest chance must be acknowledged to surpass and outdo the contrivances of the exactest art; a thing which the common sense and notion of man
kind must, at the very first hearing, rise up against and explode. But if this romance will not satisfy, then in comes the eternity of the world, (the chief and most avowed opinion set up by the atheists to confront and answer all the objections from religion;) and yet, after all these high pretences, so great and inextricable are the plunges and absurdities which these principles cast men into, that the belief of a being distinct from the world, and before it, is not only towards a good life more conducible, but even for the resolution of these problems more philosophical. And I do accordingly here leave that old, trite, common argument, (though nevertheless venerable for being so,) drawn from a constant series or chain of causes, leading us up to a supreme mover, (not moved himself by any thing but himself,) a being simple, immaterial, and incorporeal; I leave this, I say, to our high and mighty atheists to baffle and confute it, and substitute something more rational in the room of it, if they can; and in order thereunto, to take an eternity to do it in.
But if this be the case, why then is it made a badge of wit, and an argument of parts, for a man to commence atheist, and to cast off all belief of Providence, all awe and reverence of religion? Assuredly, in this matter, men's conviction begins not at their understandings, but at their wills, or rather at their brutish appetites; which, being immersed in the pleasures and sensualities of the world, would by no means, if they could help it, have such a thing as a Deity, or a future estate of souls to trouble them here, or to account with them hereafter. No; such men, we may be sure, dare not look such truths as these in the face, and therefore they throw them off, and had rather be befooled into a friendly, favourable, and propitious lie; a lie which shall chuck them under the chin, and kiss them, and at the same time strike them under the fifth rib. To believe that there is no God to judge the world, is hugely suitable to that man's interest, who assuredly knows, that upon such a judgment he shall be condemned; and to assert, that there is no hell, must needs be a very benign opinion to a person engaged in such actions as he knows must certainly bring him thither. Men are atheists, not because they have better wits than other men, but because they have corrupter wills; nor because they reason better, but because they live worse.
2. The next great evil which has of late infested the Christian church, and that part of it in our nation more especially, is fanaticism; that is to say, a pretence to and profession of a greater purity in religion, and a more spiritual, perfect way of worshipping Almighty God, than the national established church affords to those in communion with it. This, I say, was and is the pretence; but
a pretence so utterly false and shamefully groundless, that in comparison of the principle which makes it, hypocrisy may worthily pass for sincerity, and Pharisaism for the truest and most refined Christianity.
But as for those who own and abet such separations, to the infinite disturbance both of church and state, I would fain have them produce those mighty reasons, those invincible arguments which have drawn them from the communion of the church into conventicles, and warranted them to prefer schisms and divisions before Christian unity and conformity. No; this is a thing which we may expect long enough, before they will so much as offer at, and much less perform; there being but little of argument to be expected from men professing nothing but inspiration, and the impulse of a principle discernible by none but by themselves. And for my own part, I must sincerely declare, that upon the strictest search I have been able to make, I could never yet find, that these men had any other reason or argument to defend themselves and their practices by, but that senseless and impolitic encouragement which has been all along given them. But for all that, men who act by conscience, as well as pretend it, will do well to consider, that in human laws and actions it is not the penalty annexed which makes the sin, nor consequently the withdrawing it which takes away the guilt, but that the sanctions of men, as well as the providence of God, may suffer, and even serve to countenance many things in this world, which shall both certainly and severely too be reckoned for in the next.
In the meantime, to give a true but short account of the proceedings and temper of these separatists. It was nothing but a kind of spiritual pride which first made them disdain to submit to the discipline, and from thence brought them to despise and turn their backs upon the established worship of our church; the sober, grave, and primitive plainness of which began to be loathed by such brainsick, fanciful opiniators, who could please themselves in nothing but novelty, and the ostentation of their own extemporary, senseless effusions; fit to proceed from none but such as have the gift of talking in their sleep or dreaming while they are awake.
And for this cause, no doubt, God, in his just and severe judgment, delivered them over to their own sanctified and adored nonsense, to confound and lose themselves in an endless maze of error and seduction: so that, as soon as they had broke off from the church, (through the encouragement given them by a company of men which had overturned all that was settled in the nation,) they first ran into presbyterian classes, from thence into independent congregations: from independents they improved into anabaptists; from ana
baptists into quakers: from whence being able to advance no farther, they are in a fair way to wheel about to the other extreme of popery a religion and interest the most loudly decried, and most effectually served by these men, of any other in the world besides.
But whosoever, in the great concerns of his soul, would pitch his foot upon sure ground, let him beware of these whirlpools, and of turning round and round, till he comes to be seized with such a giddiness, as shall make him fall finally and irrecoverably, not from the church only, but even from God himself, and all sense of religion. And therefore, to prevent such a fatal issue of things, let a man, in the next place, consider, that the way to obtain a settled persuasion of the truth of religion, is to bring an honest, humble, and unbiassed mind, open to the embraces of it; and to know withal, that if he chooses the truth in simplicity, God will confirm his choice with certainty and stability.
To which God, the Father of lights, and the Fountain of all truth, be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.
COVETOUSNESS PROVED NO LESS AN ABSURDITY IN REASON, THAN A CONTRADICTION TO RELIGION, NOR A MORE UNSURE WAY TO RICHES, THAN RICHES THEMSELVES TO HAPPINESS.
"And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth."-LUKE, xii. 15.
the absolute commandress of fleets and armies, and, which is more, very often of their commanders too. So hard has common experience found it for some to draw their swords heartily even against an enemy, who has first drawn his purse to them; such an universal influence has this mighty vice: a vice which, by a kind of amphibious quality, is equally strong by sea and land, and consequently never out of its element, whatsoever place, station, or condition it may be in. From which and too many the like instances, it will, I fear, prove but too evident, that let philosophers argue and rhetoricians declaim never so much against this always decried, but yet always practised vice, covetousness will hardly ever lose its reputation and credit in men's minds, (whatsoever it may in their mouths,) so long as there shall be such a thing in the world as money, to hold them fast by.
The words contain in them these two general parts.
I. A dehortation or dissuasive from covetousness,- "Take heed and beware of covet
IN these words our Saviour cautions his disciples, and the rest of his hearers, against covetousness; a vice, which, by striking in with some of the most active principles of our nature, and at the same time perverting them too, has ever yet been, and will no doubt ever be too hard for all the rules and arguments brought against it from bare morality. So that as a grammarian once answered his prince, offering to enter into a dispute with him upon a grammatical point, "that he would by no means dispute with one who had twenty legions at his command;" so as little success is like to be found in managing a dispute against covetousness, which sways and carries all before it in the strength of that great queen regent of the world, money;
II. A reason enforcing it, and coupling the latter part of the text with the former, by the causal particle for; for "a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth."
If we take the whole complex of the dehortation and the reason of it together, as they are joined in the text, we shall find that they are intended as an answer to a tacit argumentation, apt to be formed by the minds of men in the behalf of covetousness, and founded upon these three principles:
1. That it is natural (and I may add also, allowable) for every man to endeavour to make his condition in this life as happy as lawfully he can.
2. That to abound with the good things of this world seems the direct and ready way to procure this happiness. And,
3. That covetousness is the and proper effectual means to acquire to a man this abundance.
Upon these three principles, I say, is built that plea or discourse, with which the heart of every worldling upon the face of the earth endeavours to satisfy itself of the reasonableness of covetousness. It being impossible, without some pretence of reason, for a rational agent to maintain a quiet mind in any ill course or practice whatsoever; no man ever doing any thing, which, at the time of his doing it, he does not actually judge that he has reason to do the same, whether that judgment be right or wrong, true or false. And therefore, since our Saviour, in the text we are upon, first supposes, and then sets himself to coufute this plea, by overthrowing some of those sophistical, or sophistically applied, principles upon which it leaned, the
particular knowledge of them was regularly to be premised by us, as the basis and groundwork of the whole prosecution of the subject now before us. In which we shall begin with the first general part of the text, to wit, the dehortation itself; and so confining our discourse wholly to this at present, we will consider in it these three following particulars.
1. The author of this dehortation, who was Christ himself; the great instructor, as well as Saviour of the world.
2. The thing he dehorts us from; to wit, the meanest and most sordid of all vices, covetousness. And,
3dly and lastly, The way prescribed by him as the most sovereign and effectual preservative from it; to wit, a constant guard and a watchful eye over it. "Take heed," says he, "and beware of it ;" the present danger and the consequent mischief making the utmost caution against it no more than sufficient.
All which particulars put together, namely, the quality of the person dehorting us, the nature of the thing he dehorts us from, and the certainty of the remedy he advises us to, make it disputable whether we are to take the words of the text as the absolute command of a legislator, or the endearing counsel of a friend. I think we have great reason to account them both, and that the text will sufficiently justify the assigning a double ground of the precept, where the doubling of that must needs also double our obligation to the practice; while as a counsel we ought to follow it, and as a command we are bound to obey it.
To proceed, therefore, upon the fore-mentioned particulars; we shall treat of each of them in their order. And,
1. For the great author of the dehortation or dissuasion here set down, who was Christ himself. "He said unto them, Beware of covetousness." That is, he emphatically, he with a peculiar significance. For in all persuasions to, or dissuasions from any thing, the arguments enforcing both, must be either founded upon the authority of the person proposing them, or the reason and evidence of the thing proposed. As to the first of which, can any thing in nature be imagined more convincing, than the assertion or word of one, whose infinite knowledge makes it impossible for him to be deceived, and whose infinite goodness makes it equally impossible for him to deceive? The first of which must be abuudantly sufficient to oblige our belief, and the other to claim our obedience. But both of them inseparably accompanied the words of our Saviour; who, as the evangelist tells us, speaking as one having authority," and, by the very testimony of his enemies, " as none ever spoke before him," could not sink below this high character in his discourses upon any occasion or subject whatsoever; but upon
none more eminently did he or could he shew it, than upon this of covetousness; where nothing but the superlative abilities of the speaker could reach the compass of the subject spoken to, nor any thing but the unblemished virtue of the reprover put the thing reproved out of countenance, or all defence of itself imaginable. For it is innocence which enables eloquence to reprove with power; and guilt attacked flies before the face of him who has none. And therefore, as every rebuke of vice comes or should come from the preacher's mouth, like a dart or arrow thrown by some mighty hand, which does execution proportionably to the force or impulse it received from that which threw it; so our Saviour's matchless virtue, free from the least tincture of any thing immoral, armed every one of his reproofs with a piercing edge and an irresistible force; so that truth, in that respect, never came naked out of his mouth, but either clothed with thunder, or wrapped up in all the powers of persuasion; still his person animated and gave life and vigour to his expression; all his commands being but the transcript of his own life, and his sermons a living paraphrase upon his practice; thus, by the strongest way of argumentation, confuting and living down covetousness long before he preached against it. For though it is most true, that in hearing the word men should consider only the nature of the matter delivered tothem, (which, if it contains a duty, will be sure to make good its hold upon them, be the quality of him who delivers it what it will;) yet since also the nature of man is such, that in all addresses to him, the person himself will be still as much considered as his discourse, and perhaps more; and since the circumstances of his condition will always have a mighty, determining influence upon the credibility of his words, we will consider our Saviour discoursing against covetousness under these two qualifications:
1. As he was Lord of the universe. And, 2. As he was depressed to the lowest estate of poverty.
By the former of which he possessed "the fulness of the Godhead bodily;" by the latter, he humbled, and (according to the apostle's phrase) "even emptied himself to the abject estate of a servant." For he who was the first, or rather only begotten of the Almighty, and consequently, by all rights, heir of all things, and so had an universal, unlimited claim to all that was great or glorious within the whole compass of nature, yet had so little of this claim in possession, that he tells us he was in a poorer and more forlorn condition than the very "foxes of the field or the fowls of the air," as to the common accommodations of life. It was a saying in the Jewish church, and received with an universal reverence, both by the learned and unlearned,