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A PRESERVATIVE AGAINST TEMPTATIONS.
PROV. XVIII. 3.
The fining-pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold; but the Lord
trieth the hearts. In the original languages the same words are often used for trial and temptation ; and so it is likewise in our old English. Hence it is, that although St. James tells us,' God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth any man,' yet Moses assures us, that 'God tempted Abraham,' when he commanded him to sacrifice his son. In our language use hath now made it otherwise ; for to try'is taken in a good sense, and may be applied to God; whereas ‘to tempt' is at present always taken in a bad sense, and can only be applied, in strictness, to the devil, or his instruments. The difference between the trier and the tempter lies in this; he who tries, wishes we may resist; whereas he who tempts, wishes we may yield. God, in this latter sense,“ tempteth no man,' that is, leadeth no man into sin; but, in the former sense, he tempteth all men, that is, he tries their faith and obedience, not for his own information, because he knows all men, and foresees all things; but for the exercise of their virtue, and the manifestation of his own justice and mercy. In order to these ends, the wisdom and goodness of which we shall presently perceive, he tries our works,' if we may believe St. Paul, “as by fire,' and lays open, to ourselves or others, both the principles of our minds, and the dispositions of our hearts, by a kind of torture resembling that, wherewith the qualities of “silver are proved in the fining-pot,’and the purity of gold in the furnace.'
There are many of so foolish, so libertine, and so atheistical, a turn of mind, as to argue, that if a Being of infinite wisdom and goodness presided over the world, he must, above all things, provide for the happiness of men; and con
sequently could neither tempt them himself, nor suffer them to be tempted, because temptations might lead them into sin, and sin into misery.
To answer this, it will be proper to shew, that, whether men are tried by God, or tempted by the devil, God is justified in permitting the one, and doing the other.
After this is done, it may be of some use to consider, how we may so think and act under these circumstances of trial and temptation, as to escape the snares of our enemy, and approve ourselves the faithful and worthy servants of God.
That we may, in our own minds, the more fully justify God in trying us himself, or permitting us to be tempted by the devil, or his instruments, let us consider first, that the world must have been a work utterly unworthy of its Creator, had he not given being to rational and moral creatures. Without these, the earth, the sun, the moon, and the stars, had constituted a great and beautiful, but a useless machine. The heavenly bodies would have lent their light, and the earth its fruits, only to beasts and insects. And if
works of his above, still more excellent and glorious than those we see, they must have been known only to himself, and served for a vain experiment of his wisdom and power, had no angels, no cherubims, nor seraphims, been created to enjoy them.
Again, had no rational nor moral characters been made, God himself could never have been known, but to himself; the infinitely wise Being had never given any demonstration of his wisdom ; the Almighty had never shewn his power; the gracious and good God had never shewn mercy, or done good; the most communicative and beneficent Being must for ever have kept all happiness to himself, and never have imparted the least share of it to any other being; and consequently must have been without love or honour to all eternity.
As this had been directly contrary to his whole nature, and all his attributes, we must conclude, that all his other works were made for his enjoyment of rational and moral beings; and that, had not such been created, the only good and wise end of all his lower works had been wanting.
Observe, I join moral with rational, because we know of
there are any
no rational creature, that is not, by the original frame of his nature, so far morally free in fact, as he is rational. Whether God could have endued a creature with reason, and yet made him incapable of a moral choice, as we are not concerned to determine, so we need not stay to inquire. The thing, however, seems impossible. He is not a rational creature, who can neither perceive, nor be taught to perceive, such a difference between a good and evil resolution, as is sufficient to fix his choice. Besides, if neither God, nor his works, could have been known, without the creation of intelligent beings, it is as plain, they could not have been so known, as to answer the ends of infinite wisdom and goodness in giving them understanding, had he not also given them freedom ; for, to what purpose should we know those attributes of God, if it is not that we may love and adore him for the glorious exemplification of both ? And how could either our love or adoration be worth his acceptance, were they forced, were it not in our power to withhold them, or freely and gratefully to pay them for the infinite favours we receive ? It is surely more worthy of God to court, than to compel, the acknowledgments and services of his reasonable creatures. But all must be either insensibility, or compulsion, if his creatures are not free, as well as rational.
But, secondly, What is a rational being? Is it not one that can know God, and, in some degree, understand and enjoy his works? And what is a moral being ? Is it not one, who, knowing God and his duty, is free to perform that duty, or neglect it, to choose good or evil, and to be rewarded or punished, according to its choice? Now, is it not a contradiction in terms to say, there can possibly be a morally free creature, who cannot choose evil, who cannot transgress the rules of his duty? Does not this way of speaking, when applied even to the infinite Being, appear contradictory to our narrow conceptions ?
If then there must be creatures, not only rational, but morally free, those creatures must be fallible, and capable of falling from their duty. Yet nothing can be plainer, than that they could never fall from their duty, nor commit the least sin, were they never tried with any temptation to gin. A rational being never does, never can do, any thing, good or ill, without some motive to incline his will; which,
although it should not be a justifiable motive in itself, yet serves for a reason to him, and so strong a one too, as makes him, in some instances, do that, which he hath other strong reasons for not doing.
It is true, a moral agent may be in himself free, and capable of sinning, when no temptation to sin is thrown in his way; for his moral freedom does not depend on his being, or not being, exposed to temptations, but on the frame and nature of his own mind. Yet it must be granted, that, if he was never tempted, he could never transgress; and, consequently, though in himself a free agent, must for ever act by necessity, and not choice.
Now, let it be considered, thirdly, That, if all temptations to vice were withdrawn, there could be no virtue ; because virtue consists precisely in resisting temptations to vice, and in abstaining from wicked actions, when we are strongly allured to the committal of them; and in doing good ones, when great difficulty and pain throw themselves in the way to deter us. If then it were always easy and delightful to do good, and always difficult and painful to do evil, we should, it is true, be ever employed in good, and never in evil actions, but this would neither argue freedom nor virtue in us; we should no more deserve a reward for this, than we do for eating when we are hungry, or drinking when we are dry.
Thus we see, that if our libertine objectors were to model the world to their minds, they would utterly banish out of it all voluntary goodness and virtue ; and that, on their principles, we are to expect no goodness from them, unless a good action is always made extremely pleasing to them in the very performance, and a bad one extremely painful in the committal; that is, unless they are forced to be virtuous, which is another contradiction in terms. Whence is it, that men, who pretend to idolize liberty and virtue, and plead for liberty without bounds, should be for throwing temptations, and with them all exercise of liberty and virtue, out of the world?
But, fourthly, It will soon appear from another eonsideration, that virtue cannot be tolerated in the world, if vice also is not in some sense tolerated ; which can never be, if all temptations are to be entirely excluded; for then
the exercise of moral freedom must be excluded, and this will make the manifestation of God's justice impossible. A little reasoning will clear up this point. We must either suppose God will make a secret of his justice, will make men happy or miserable, without letting those very men, or others, know why he does so; or else we must believe, he will give them leave so to act, as may convince themselves, and all who know them, that the Judge of all the earth hath done right, and dealt justly by them, in making them happy or miserable. God, as I have already hinted, needs not to be informed by any trials we can undergo, what sort of men we are, or should be, on such trials; but he tries us himself, and suffers us to be tempted by our enemy, that we may know ourselves, and be either conscious of the virtue, for which we are made happy, or self-convicted of the vice for which we are condemned; and that all who know us, may magnify the justice of God by seconding the sentence, be it to life or death, which he shall pronounce upon us.
As, without temptation, there can be no exercise of virtue, so neither can there be any manifestation of it; for how can any one guess what sort of a man he would be, if he were never tried? And how can he be tried, if he is never tempted ? And if, without a trial, he cannot so much as guess,
whether he would be constant, or fickle; virtuous, or vicious; how is it possible for others to be, in any degree, either witnesses or judges of his virtue ? Now, if neither he, nor they, can at all judge, whether he is a good, or a bad man, surely it follows, that they can by no means glorify the justice of God, either for his acquittal or condemnation. If this were the universal practice of God towards angels and men, it could never be known whether God is just or not; and, consequently, virtue could never be honoured, nor vice disgraced, in the sight of either. How far this would tend to diminish the glory of God, and render ineffectual the sanctions of his law, let every rational creature judge. Thus it is plain, that the manifestation of God's justice, on which his honour, and the government of the universe depend, depends itself on the permission of temptation. St. Chrysostom, in his oration concerning Providence, speaks very beautifully, and very sensibly on this subject. He puts the usual foolish objection; “ If God go