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SERMON CXXXIII. .
MAN'S INABILITY TO OBEY THE LAW OF GOD.
Romans viii. 7.—Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not sub
ject lo the Law of God, neither indeed can be.
IN a long series of discourses, I have examined the Law of God; or the Preceptive part of the Scriptures. This examination I have distributed into two great divisions : the first involving that Summary of the Law, which, Christ informs us, contains the substance of all that is enjoined in the Old Testament: the second, including the Decalogue ; in which this summary is enlarged from two precepts to ten; and the duties, which it requires, are more particularly exhibited. In both of these divisions I have considered, as I found occasion, those Comments, also, of Christ, the Prophets, and the Apostles, which explain and enforce the various requisitions. The importance of these Precepts does more than justify; it demands the extensive place, allotted to them in this system, and the attempts, which have here been made, to recommend them to the faith, and the obedience, of this Assembly. The end of all useful speculation is practice. The use of all truth is, ultimately, to regulate the conduct of Intelligent beings. Those, which are called the doctrines of the Scriptures, are necessary, and profitable, to mankind in two respects. The first is, that they involve immediate practical duties, to a vast extent: the second is, that by teaching us our character, situation, and rela. tions to God and each other, and the character of God, together with his relations to us, they show us the foundation of all our duty; the reasons of it; the motives to it; and the manner, in which it is to be performed. Most of these things are unfolded to us by the Precepts of the Scriptures. They are also attended by some advantages, which are peculiar to themselves. They declare our duty directly; and declare it in the form of law. An authoritative rule is given in each of them, announcing the Will of the Lawgiver, requiring our obedience, and prohibiting our diso bedience, with rewards and penalties, annexed to every precept: not, indeed, annexed to every precept in form; but so as to be always, easily present to the eyes of those for whom the law was made. Instruction, communicated in this manner, is attended by a force and efficacy, of which all other teaching is incapable.
From these considerations, arises the importance of inculcating much, and often, the preceptive part of the Scriptures, from the Desk. I well know, that preaching of this nature has been opposed, and censured, by individuals, in several classes of Chris
By Antinomians it may be consistently censured. As these men suppose themselves released from the Law of God, as a rule of duty, by the gracious dispensation of the Gospel; they have considered the preaching of the Law as useless, and even as mischievous. Such sermons as have urged the religious and moral duties of man, they have styled “ legal sermons," and those who have delivered them, “ legal preachers.” By this language they have intended to insinuate, or openly to declare, that the design of such preaching was the establishment of the doctrine, that we are justified by works of Law ; and the subversion of the Evangelical doctrine, that we are justified by grace, through faith in the Redeemer. That men have urged obedience to the Precepts of the Scriptures, with this design, I shall not question, any more than that the same men have pursued the same design by descanting on the doctrines of the Scriptures; and even on ihose, which are purely Evangelical. But, that inculcating the practical duties, which are required of mankind in the Scriptures, is, in this sense, legal preaching, I wholly deny. If this is its true character, Christ Himself was a legal preacher. This Glorious Person in his own discourses has given these prccepts, expatiated upon them, and urged obedience to them upon mankind, in a vast multitude of forms, to a great extent, and with unrivalled force and beauty. His Sermon on the Mount is an illustrious, and pre-eminent example of this nature.
This error, it must be owned, has not been confined to Antinomians. Zealous men, enrolled by themselves in other classes of Christians, and deluding themselves, almost of course, by the warmth, and haste, with which they decide concerning every subject, have entertained similar views, and adopted similar language.
I would ask these men, To what purpose were the precepts of the Scriptures given? Why are they so often, so variously, and so forcibly urged upon mankind ?' I would ask them, Whether all Scripture is, or is not, given by inspiration of God; and whether it is, or is not, all profitable, not only for doctrine, reproof, and correction, but also for instruction in righteousness? If this inquiry must be answered affirmatively concerning the Old Testament; it cannot be answered negatively concerning the New.
There are those, who, on the contrary, confine most or all of their discourses from the Pulpit to the precepts of the Scriptures; and either wholly, or chiefly, leave the doctrines, which they contain, out of their preaching. Such preachers are equally censurable with their adversaries. No justification can be pleaded for the conduct of either. This separation cannot lawfully be made VOL. IV.
by either. God has united them: they cannot, therefore, be disjoined by man. He, who prcaches a part of the Gospel, cannot be said to preach the Gospel which Paul preached. Ile may not, indeed, utter doctrines, or precepts, contrary to those of Paul. But he purposely avoids preaching ihe whole Gospel of Paul ; and although not guilty of denying, or subverting, either the truths, or the injunctions, given us by the Apostle, yet, for mutilating the system, ne merits severe reprehension.
Such preachers, as profess the doctrines of the Reformation, have been frequently charged with neglecting, to a great degree, he duty of inculcating the Morality of the Gospel. In solitary intances, the charge may have been deserved. That it is generally pust, there is not a single reason to believe. I regard it as one of those general charges, which fall every where, and rest no where : the refuge of weak and unworthy minds, when they wish to indulge 2 spirit of bitterness by uttering severe imputations, and yet dare noi fasten them upon individuals, for fear of being required to supbort them by evidence. So far as my knowledge of preachers 'xtends, those, who are sometimes called "Evangelical,” inculcate he practical duties of mankind with more frequency, and more earnestness, than most other men. They do not, indeed, preach the morals of Heathen Philosophy. But they preach the cordial, principled morality of the Gospel, springing from the faith, without which it is impossible to please God.
In my own view, this preaching is indispensable to mankind. and I cordially unite with the excellent Doddridge in saying, “Hap.y would it be for the Church of Christ, if these important doctrines of practical religion were more inculcated; and less of the zeal of its teachers spent in discussing vain questions, and intricate strifes about words, which have been productive of so much cnvy and contention, obloquy and suspicion.”
The next subject, which offers itself to our consideration in a System of Theology, is the Nature of that Inability to obey the Divine Law, which is commonly acknowledged to be a part of the human character. It is hardly necessary to observe, that scarcely any moral subject has been more a theme of contention, than this. It is no part of my design to recount the clashing opinions, which have been formed concerning it, or the controversies, to which it has given birth. Metaphysical discussion has, for ages, lavished upon it all its subtilties. As I neither claim the reputation, nor enjoy the pleasure, furnished by disquisitions of this nature, I shall not attempt to add any subtilties of my own to the mass, which has already been accumulated. That ingenious men have, in several instances, thrown considerable light upon this difficult topic, I readby admit; and can easily believe, that it may be illumined still urther. It will be a prime part of my own design not to environ it with darkness and perplexity. A plain tale is always attended by this advantage, that it may be easily understood. That, which
I shall utter, will, I hope, be accompanied by the important additional advantage, that it will be true.
In the Text we are informed, that the carnal mind is not subject to the Law of God, neither indeed can be. The words translated the carnal mind, are go ogovnua ons cagxos, the minding of the flesh. To mind, is to regard with attention, respect, or desire. Here it plainly signifies that general course of desires, which is exercised by mankind, in certain circumstances, towards certain objects; and which, in the preceding verse, is declared to be a state of spiritual death; or to terminate in future, everlasting death. It is obviously the prevailing, characteristical course of desire; the whole minding of the flesh. In the Text it is declared to be enmity against God. What is intended by the flesh is explained to us by Christ, John iïi. 6. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. In other words, that which is born of man is possessed of the proper character of man. There are but two kinds of birth, mentioned in the Scriptures; and both these are expressed by our Saviour in this passage : viz. the Natural Birth, and Regeneration. All that, which experiences the Natural Birth, and this only, is declared by Christ to be flesh; as that, which experiences the Spiritual Birth, or Regeneration, is declared to be spirit. The moral character, here intended, is strongly indicated by our Saviour, when he informs us, that, that which is born of the flesh only, cannot, and that, that which is born of the Spirit, can, see the Kingdom of God. This moral character is still more particularly delineated by St. Paul, Galatians v. 19–23. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these : Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. Of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they, which do such things, shall not inherit the Kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. It will hardly need proof, that the former of these classes of affections and actions, and such as these, are characteristical of man in his natural, unrenewed state; nor that the latter are exhibited by the Scriptures as constituting the true character of the Children of God.
That the affections, here mentioned, are not subject to the Law of God, will not admit of a question : since they are the very things forbidden by that Law. That they cannot be thus subject, while they continue to exist, is equally evident. Nor is it less certain from the proofs, given both by Revelation and Experience, that, where the soul is not renewed by the Spirit of God, they continue to exist through life. Revelation teaches us, that, unless a man be horn again of the Spirit of God, he will continue to sustain the fleshly or natural character, while he lives; and that all those, who receite Christ, and become the Children of God, are born, not of
blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. Experience shows, also, with a regular testimony, that the native moral character of man continues, in the ordinary course of things, the same through life.
The Nature of this Inability to obey the Law of God is, in my own view, completely indicated by the word Indisposition, or the word Disinclination. To elucidate this position I observe,
1. That the Divine Law originally requires nothing but Affection.
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart; and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Here love to God and man is the only thing, expressly required. But it hardly needs to be observed, that to be inclined, or disposed to love God and our neighbour, is to possess that character, out of which all direct exercises of Love spring of course. He, therefore, who possessed this character, would, whenever his mind was active at all, exercise the affection, which is here required. He would be, and do, all which the Law enjoins, when considered in this point of view : for his disposition, and his exercises, would be the very things which are enjoined. Indisposition, or disinclination, to obey, then, is the only difficulty in the way of obedience; and, with respect to this subject, the only inability of man.
2. When the Divine Law, in its various Precepts, requires external actions, as affections; if our disposition accord with the Precept, the action will of course be performed.
I speak, here, of such actions, as are in our power: for the Law of God never requires any other.
For example, children are required to honour their Parents; particularly to support them, when, from their age, or infirmity, they are unable to support themselves. It will not be doubted, thai, if Children are disposed thus to support them, they will actually furnish the support. Men are forbidden to steal. The case, it may be confidently affirmed, was never known, and never will be in which a man, inclined upon the whole to obey this Command, or entirely disinclined to steal, was guilty of theft. Mankind are forbidden to murder. No man, absolutely indisposed to murder, ever perpetrated this crime. As in these, so in all other cases; as with respect to these Precepts, so with respect to all others; active obedience follows, inseparably, the disposition to obey. Wherever the inclination accords with the Precept, the tongue, the hands, and the feet, conform of course, and entirely, to its decisions.
3. If an Angel were to descend from Heaven, and reside upon the earth; he would, if he preserved his present disposition, obey the Didine Law as truly and as perfectly as he does now.
If an Angel were in this world, and were to possess exactly the same disposition which he possesses in the Heavenly world; he would obviously feel, and act in the same manner. In other