« הקודםהמשך »
natural judginent and conscience do still dictate to us what is good, and what we ought to do ; and the impressions of the natural law, as to the great lines of our duty, are still legible upon our hearts. So that the law written in God's word is not contrary to the law written upon our hearts. And therefore it is not truly said, that we are born under one law, and bound to another : but the great disorder is, that our inferior faculties, our sensitive appetite and passions, are broke loose, and have got head of our reason, and are upon all occasions apt to rebel against it; but our judgment still dictates the very same things which the law of God doth injoin.
It is likewise very visible, that the sad effects of this degeneracy do not appear equally and alike in all. Whether from the better or worse temper of our bodies, or from some other more secret caufe, I shall not determine, because I know not. But that there is a difference, is evident. For, though a proneness to evil, and some seeds of it, be in all; yet we may plainly difcover in many, very early and forward inclinations to some kinds of virtue and goodness; which, being cultivated by education, may, under the ordinary influence of God's grace, be carried on with great ease to great perfection.
And there are others who are not fo strongly bent to that which is evil, but that, by good instruction and example in their tender years, they may be swayed the other way, and without great difficulty formed to goodness.
There are some indeed, which is the hardest case, in whom there do very early appear strong propensions and inclinations to evil; especially to foine particular kinds of vice. But the case of these is not desperate; though greater attention and care, and a much more prudent management is required in the education of such persons, to correct their evil tempers, and, by degrees, to bend their inclinations the right way. And, if the seeds of piety and virtue be but carefully sown at first, very much may be done by this means, even in the most depraved natures, towards the altering and changing of them; however to the checking and controuding of their vitious inclinations. And if these persons, when they come to riper years, would pursue these advantages of education, and take some pains with themselves, and earnestly seek the ashitance of God's grace, I doubt not but even these perions, by degrees, might at lalt get the mattery of their unhappy tempers.
For, next to the being and perfections of God, and the immortality of our own souls, there is no principle of religion that I do more firmly believe than this, that God hath that love for men, that, if we do heartily beg his assistance, and be not wanting to ourselves, he will afford it to every one of us, in proportion to our need of it ; that he is always beforehand with us, and prevents every man with the gracious offers of his help. And I doubt not but many very perverse natures have thus been reclaimed. For God, who is the lover of souls, (as the son of Sirach calls him), though he may put fome men under more difficult circumstances of becoming good than others, yet he leaves no man under a fatal necessity of being wicked, and perishing everlastingly. He tenderly considers every man's case and circumstances; and it is we that pull destruction upon ourfelves with the works of our own hands : but, as fure as God is good and juft, no man in the world is ruined for want of having sufficient help and aid afforded to him by God for his recovery.
2dly, It is likewife to be considered, that God did not design to create man in the full poffeffion of happiness at first, but to train him up to it by the trial of his obedience. But there could be no trial of our obedience without some difficulty in our duty, either by reason of powerful temptations from without, or of cross and perverse inclinations from within.
Our first parents, in their state of innocency, had only the trial of temptation without; to which they yielded, and were overcome ; having only a natural power to have resisted the temptation, without any aid of supernatural grace. And that weakness to good, and pronenefs to evil, which they by wilful transgression contracted, is naturally derived to us; and we necessarily partake of the bitternefs and impurity of the fountain from whence we spring. So that we now labour under a dou
ble difficulty ; being assaulted by temptations from without, and incited by evil inclinations from within. But then, to balance these, we have a double advantage; that a greater reward is proposed to us, than, for ought we know, would have been conferred on our first parents, had they continued innocent; and that we are endued with a supernatural power to conflict with these difficulties. So that, according to the merciful dispensation of God, all this conflict between our inclination and our duty does only serve to give a fairer opportunity for the fitting trial of our obedience, and for the more glorious reward of it. .
3dly, God hath provided an universal remedy for this degeneracy and weakness of human nature : so that what we lost by the first Adam, is abundantly, repaired to us by the second. This St. Paul tells us at large, Rom. v. that as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by fin; so the grace of God hath abounded to all men by
Jesus Chrift; and that to such a degree, as effectually to countervail the ill effects of original lin, and really to enable men, if they be not wanting to themselves, to master and subdue all the bad inclinations of nature, even in those who seem to be naturally most corrupt and depraved.
And, if this be true, we may, without any reflexion upon God, acknowledge, that though he did not at first create man sick and weak; yet, he having made himself so, his posterity are born so. But then God hath not left us helpless in this weak and miserable state, into which, by wilful transgression, mankind is fallen : but, as he commands us to be found, so he affords us fufficient aids of his grace by Jesus Christ for our recovery.
And though there is a law in our members, warring a. gainst the law of our minds, and captivating us to the law of lin and death; i.e. though our sensitive appetite and passions are apt to rebel against the reason of our minds, and the dictates of our natural conscience; yet every Christian may say with St. Paul, Thanks be to God, who hath given us the villory through our Lord Jesus Chrift; i.e. hath not left us deftitute of a sufficient aid and strength to enable us to conquer the rebellious motions
of sin, by the powerful assistance of that grace which is so plentifully offered to us in the gospel. And this is the case of all those who live under the gospel. As for others, as their case is best known to God; so we have no reason to doubt, but that his infinite goodness and mercy takes that care of them which becomes a merciful creator; though both the measures and the methods of his mercy towards them, are secret, and unknown to us.
4thly, The hardest contest between man's inclination and duty, is in those who have wilfully contracted vitious habits, and by that means rendered their duty much more difficult to themselves; having greatly improved the evil inclinations of nature by wicked practice and custom. For the scripture plainly supposeth, that men may debauch even corrupt nature, and make themselves tenfold more the children of wrath, and of the devil, than they were by nature.
This is a case fadly to be deplored, but yet not utterly to be despaired of: and therefore those who, by a long progress in an evil course, are plunged into this fad condition, ought to consider, that they are not to be rescued out of it by an ordinary resolution, and a common grace of God. Their case plainly requires an extraordinary remedy. For he that is deeply engaged in vice, is like a man laid fast in a bog, who, by a faint and lazy struggling to get out, does, but spend his strength to no purpose, and links himself the deeper into it. The only way is, by a resolute and vigorous effort to spring out, if possible, at once. And therefore in this case, to a vigorous resolution, there must be joined an earnest application to God for his powerful grace and assistance, to help us out of this miserable state. And if we be truly sensible of the desperate danger of our condition, the presling necessity of our case will be apt to inspire us with a mighty resolution : for power and necessity are neighbours, and never dwell far asunder. When men are sorely urged and pressed, they find a power in themselves which they thought they had not : like a coward driven up to a wall, who, in the extremity of distress and despair, will fight terribly, and perform wonders; or like a man lame of the gout, who, being assaulted by a present and terrible danger, forgets
his disease, and will find his legs rather than lose his life.
And in this I do not speak above the rate of human nature, and what men thoroughly roused and awakened to a sense of their danger, by a mighty resolution, may morally do, through that divine grace and allistance which is ever ready to be afforded to well-resolved minds, and such as are sincerely bent to return to God and their duty. More than this I cannot say for the encouragement of those who have proceeded far in an evil course : and they who have made their case fo very desperate, ought to be very thankful to God that there is any reniedy left for them.
Sthly, From all that hath been said, it evidently appears, how malicious a suggestion it is, that God seeks the destruction of men, and hath made his laws on purpose so difficult, and cross to our inclinations, that he might have an advantage to ruin us for our disobedience to them. Alas! we are so absolutely under the power of God, and so unable to withstand it, that he may destroy us when he pleaseth, without seeking pretences for it : for who hath resisted his will ?. If goodness were not his nature, he hath power enough to bear out whatever he hath a mind to do to us. But our destruction is plainly of ourselves, and God is free from the blood of all
And he hath not made the way to eternal life fo difficult to any of us, with a design to make us miferable; but that we, by a vigorous resolution, and an unwearied diligence, and a patient continuance in well-doing, might win and wear a more glorious crown, and be fit to receive a more ample reward from his bounty and goodness : yea, in some fenfe, I may fay, from his justice; for God is not unrighteous, to forget our work and labour of love. He will fully consider all the pains that any of us take in his service, and all the difficulties that we struggle with, out of love to God and goodness. So that this objection, from the clashing of our duty with our inclination, is I hope fully answered; since God hath provided so powerful and effectual a remedy against our natural impotency and infirmity, by the grace of the gospel. And though, to those who have wilfully contracted