« AnteriorContinuar »
ness, of theft, and, above all, of undutifulness to parents, (which being a thing so much against nature, nothing in nature can be said for it;) these, I say, and the like capital, soulwasting sins, even in any one single act or commission of them, have a strangely efficacious power to cloud and darken the conscience. Some of the schoolmen are of opinion, that one single act, if great and extraordinary, has in it the force of many ordinary and lesser acts, and so may produce a habit : which opinion, how true soever it may be of an act of demonstration producing a habit of science in the intellect, yet I can not think it true of any moral habits whatsoever. For it is not to be thought that St. Peter's denying and forswearing his Lord left behind it a habit of unbelief; nor that David's murder and adultery rendered him habitually murderous and adulterous. For no doubt it was not so.
But this I say, that every single gross act of sin is much the same thing to the conscience that a great blow or fall is to the head ; it stuns and bereaves it of all use of its senses for a time. Thus in the two forementioned sins of David, they so mazed and even stupefied his conscience, that it lay as it were in a swoon, and void of all spiritual sense for almost a whole year. For we do not find that he came to himself, or to any true sight or sense of his horrid guilt, till Nathan the prophet came and roused him up with a message from God; nor did Nathan come to him till after the child, begotten in that adultery, was born. Such a terrible deadness and stupefaction did those two sins bring upon his soul for so many months together, during which time, whatsoever notion of murder and adultery David might have in general, yet no doubt he had but very slight and superficial thoughts of the heinousness of his own in particular. And what was the reason of this ? Why, his conscience was cast into a dead sleep, and could not so much as open its eyes, so as to be able to look either upwards or inwards. This was his sad and forlorn estate, notwithstanding that long course of piety and converse with God, which he was now grown old in. For he had been an early practicer, and an eminent proficient in the ways of God, and was now past the fiftieth year of his age; and yet we see that one or two such gross sins dulled and deadened the spiritual principle within him to such a degree,
that they left him for a long time, as it were, dozed and benumbed, blind and insensible; and, no doubt, had not a peculiar grace from God raised him up and recovered him, he had continued so to his life's end.
For this is most certain, and worth our best observation; that whatsoever carries a man off from God, will, in the natural course and tendency of it, carry him still further and further, till at length it leaves him neither will nor power to return. For repentance is neither the design nor work of mere nature, which, immediately after the commission of sin, never puts a man upon disowning or bewailing it, but upon studying and casting about him how to palliate and extenuate, and, rather than fail, how to plead for and defend it. This was the course which Adam touk upon the first sin that ever man committed : and the same course in the same case will be taken by all the sons of Adam (if left to themselves) as long as the world stands.
Secondly, The frequent and repeated practice of sin has also a mighty power in it to obscure and darken the natural light of conscience. Nothing being more certainly true, nor more universally acknowledged, than that custom of sinning takes away the sense of sin; and we may add, the sight of it too. For though the darkness consequent upon any one gross act of sin be, as we have shown, very great, yet that which is caused by custom of sinning is much greater, and more hardly curable. Particular acts of sin do, as it were, cast a mist before the eye of conscience, but customary sinning brings a kind of film upon it, and it is not an ordinary skill which can take off that. The former only closes the eye, but this latter puts it out; as leaving upon the soul a wretched impotence, either to judge or to do well ; much like the spots of the leopard, not to be changed, or the blackness of an Ethiopian, not to be washed off. For by these very things the Spirit of God, in Jer. xiii. 23, expresses the iron invincible force of a wicked custom.
Now the reason, I conceive, that such a custom brings such a a darkness upon the mind or conscience, is this : that a man naturally designs to please himself in all that he does; and that it is impossible for him to find any action really pleasurable, while he judges it absolutely unlawful; since the sting
of this must needs take off the relish of the other, and it would be an intolerable torment to any man's mind, to be always doing, and always condemning himself for what he does. And for this cause a man shuts his eyes and stops his ears against all that his reason would tell him of the sinfulness of that practice which long custom and frequency has endeared to him. So that he becomes studiously and affectedly ignorant of the illness of the course he takes, that he
the more sensibly taste the pleasure of it. And thus, when an inveterate, imperious custom has so overruled all a man's faculties as neither to suffer his eyes to see, nor his ears to hear, nor his mind to think of the evil of what he does; that is, when all the instruments of knowledge are forbid to do their office, ignorance and obscurity must needs be upon the whole soul. For when the windows are stopped up, no wonder if the whole room be dark.
The truth is, such an habitual frequency of sinning does, as it were, bar and bolt up the conscience against the sharpest reproofs and the most convincing instructions ; so that when God, by the thunder of his judgments and the voice of his ministers, has been ringing hell and vengeance into the ears of such a sinner, perhaps, like Felix, he may tremble a little for the present, and seem to yield and fall down before the overpowering evidence of the conviction; but after a while, custom overcoming conscience, the man goes his way, and though he is convinced and satisfied what he ought to do, yet he actually does what he uses to do; and all this because, through the darkness of his intellect, he judges the present pleasure of such a sinful course an overbalance to the evil of it.
For this is certain, that nature has placed all human choice in such an essential dependence upon the judgment, that no man does any thing, though never so vile, wicked, and inexcusable, but, all circumstances considered, he judges it, pro hic et nunc, absolutely better for him to do it than not to do it. And what a darkness and delusion must conscience needs be under, while it makes a man judge that really best for him which directly tends to, and generally ends in, his utter ruin and damnation! Custom is said to be a second nature, and if by the first we are already so bad, by the second, to be sure, we shall be much worse.
Thirdly, Every corrupt passion or affection of the mind will certainly pervert the judging, and obscure and darken the discerning power of conscience. The affections, which the Greeks call múbn, and the Latins affectus animi, are of much the same use to the soul, which the members are of to the body; serving as the proper instruments of most of its actions; and are always attended with a certain preternatural motion of the blood and spirits peculiar to each passion or affection. And as for the seat or fountain of them, philosophers both place them in and derive them from the heart. But not to insist upon mere speculations : the passions or affections are, as I may so call them, the mighty flights and sallyings out of the soul upon such objects as come before it and are generally accompanied with such vehemence that the Stoics reckoned them, in their very nature and essence, as so many irregularities and deviations from right reason, and by no means incident to a wise or good man.
But though better philosophy has long since exploded this opinion, and Christianity, which is the greatest and the best, has taught us that we may be angry, and yet not sin, Ephes. iv. 26, and that godly sorrow is neither a paradox nor a contradiction, 2 Cor. vii. 10, and consequently, that in every passion or affection there is something purely natural, which may both be distinguished and divided too from what is sinful and irregular; yet, notwithstanding all this, it must be confessed that the nature of the passions is such, that they are extremely prone and apt to pass into excess, and that, when they do so, nothing in the world is a greater hinderance to the mind or reason of man, from making a true, clear, and exact judgment of things, than the passions thus wrought up to any thing of ferment or agitation. It being as impossible to keep the judging faculty steady in such a case, as it would be to view a thing distinctly and perfectly through a perspective glass, held by a shaking, paralytic hand.
When the affections are once engaged, the judgment is always partial and concerned. There is a strong bent or bias upon it, it is possessed and gained over, and as it were fed and retained in their cause, and thereby made utterly unable to carry such an equal regard to the object as to consider truth nakedly, and stripped of all foreign respects; and as such to make it the rigid, inflexible rule, which it is to judge by; especially where duty is the thing to be judged of. For a man will hardly be brought to judge right and true, when by such a judgment he is sure to condemn himself.
But this being a point of such high and practical importance, I will be yet more particular about it, and show severally, in several corrupt and vicious affections, how impossible it is for a man to keep his conscience rightly informed, and fit to guide and direct him in all the arduous perplexing cases of sin and duty, while he is actually under the power of any of them. This, I know, men generally are not apt to believe, or to think, that the flaws or failures of their morals can at all affect their intellectuals. But I dorbt not but to make it not only credible, but undeniable.
Now the vicious affections which I shall single and cull out of those vast numbers which the heart of man, that great storehouse of the devil, abounds with, as some of the principal which thus darken and debauch the conscience, shall be these three :
First, Sensuality. Secondly, Covetousness. Thirdly, Ambition.
Of each of which I shall speak particularly: and,
First, for sensuality, or a vehement delight in and pursuit of bodily pleasures. We may truly say of the body, with reference to the soul, what was said by the poet of an ill neighbor, Nemo tam prope tam proculque : None so nearly joined in point of vicinity, and yet so widely distant in point of interest and inclinations.
The ancient philosophers, generally holding the soul of man to be a spiritual, immaterial substance, could give no account of the several failures and defects in the operations of it, (which they were sufficiently sensible of, but from its immersion into, and intimate conjunction with matter, called by the Greeks in. And accordingly all their complaints and accusations were still leveled at this õin, as the only cause of all that they found amiss in the whole frame and constitution of man's nature. In a word, whatsoever was observed by them, either irregular or defective in the workings of the mind, was all charged upon the body, as its great clog and impediment.