What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
~ Romans 3:9-19
Human Nature in its Fourfold State, by Thomas Boston. The following is an excerpt from the text.
II. The State of Nature.
1. The Sinfulness of Man’s Natural State
Genesis 6:5. “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
II. Represent this corruption of nature in its several parts.
7. I shall add but one observation more; and that is, that in every man, naturally, the image of fallen Adam appears. Some children, by the features and lineaments of their face, do, as it were, father themselves— and thus we resemble our first parents. Everyone of us bears the image and impression of the fall upon him; and to evince the truth of this, I appeal to the consciences of all, in these following particulars:
(1.) Is not sinful curiosity natural to us? and is not this a print of Adam’s image? Gen. 3:6. Is not man naturally much more desirous to know new things, than to practice old known truths? How much like old Adam do we look in this eagerness for novelties, and disrelish of old solid doctrines? We seek after knowledge rather than holiness, and study most to know those things which are least edifying. Our wild and roving fancies need a bridle to curb them, while good solid affections must be quickened and spurred on.
(2.) If the Lord, by his holy law and wise providence, puts a restraint upon us, to keep us back from anything, does not that restraint whet the edge of our natural inclinations, and makes us so much the keener in our desires? And in this do we not betray it plainly, that we are Adam’s children? Gen. 3:2-6. I think this cannot be denied; for daily observation evinces, that it is a natural principle, that “stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant,” Proverbs 9:17. The very heathens were convinced, that man was possessed with this spirit of contradiction, though they knew not the spring of it. How often do men let themselves loose in those things, in which, had God left them at liberty, they would have bound up themselves! but corrupt nature takes a pleasure in the very jumping over the hedge. And is it not a repeating of our fathers’ folly, that men will rather climb for forbidden fruit, than gather what is shaken off the tree of good providence to them, when they have God’s express allowance for it?
(3.) Which of all the children of Adam is not naturally disposed to hear the instruction that causes to err? And was not this the rock our first parents split upon? Gen. 3:4-6. How apt is weak man, ever since that time, to parley with temptations! “God speaks once, yes twice—yet man perceives it not,” Job 33:14—but he readily listens to Satan. Men might often come fair off, if they would dismiss temptations with abhorrence, when first they appear; if they would nip them in the bud, they would soon die away—but, alas! though we see the train coming at us—yet we stand until it arrives, and we are blown up with its force.
(4.) Do not the eyes in your head often blind the eyes of the mind? And was not this the very case of our first parents? Gen. 3:6. Man is never more blind than when he is looking on the objects that are most pleasing to sense. Since the eyes of our first parents were opened to the forbidden fruit, men’s eyes have been the gates of destruction to their souls; at which impure imaginations and sinful desires have entered the heart, to the wounding of the soul, wasting of the conscience, and bringing dismal effects sometimes on whole societies, as in Achan’s case, Joshua 7:21. Holy Job was aware of this danger, from these two little rolling bodies, which a very small splinter of wood can make useless, “I made a covenant with mine eyes,” Job 31:1.
(5.) Is it not natural to us to care for the body, even at the expense of the soul? This was one ingredient in the sin of our first parents, Gen. 3:6. O, how happy might we be, if we were but at half the pains about our souls, that we bestow upon our bodies! If that question, “What must I do to be saved?” Acts 16:30, ran but near as often through our minds as these questions do, “What shall we eat? What shall we drink? How shall we be clothed?” Matt. 6:31, then many a hopeless case would become very hopeful. But the truth is, most men live as if they were nothing but a lump of flesh—or as if their soul served for no other use—but, like salt, to keep their body from corrupting. “They are flesh,” John 3:6; “they mind the things of the flesh,” Romans 8:5; and “they live after the flesh,” ver. 13. If the consent of the flesh be got to an action, the consent of the conscience is rarely waited for—yes, the body is often served, when the conscience has entered a protest against it.
(6.) Is not everyone by nature discontented with his present lot in the world, or with some one thing or other in it? This also was Adam’s case, Gen. 3:5, 6. Some one thing is always lacking; so that man is a creature given to changes. If any doubt this, let them look over all their enjoyment; and, after a review of them, listen to their own hearts, and they will hear a secret murmuring for lack of something—though perhaps, if they considered the matter aright, they would see that it is better for them to lack, than to have that something. Since the hearts of our first parents flew out at their eyes, on the forbidden fruit, and a night of darkness was thereby brought on the world, their posterity have a natural disease which Solomon calls, “The wandering of the desire,” or, as the word is, “The walking of your soul,” Eccl. 6:9. This is a sort of diabolical trance, wherein the soul traverses the world; feeds itself with a thousand airy nothings; snatches at this and the other created excellency, in imagination and desire; goes here, and there, and everywhere, except where it should go. And the soul is never cured of this disease, until conquering grace brings it back to take up its everlasting rest in God through Christ—but until this be, if man were set again in paradise, the garden of the Lord, all the pleasures there would not keep him from looking, yes, and leaping over the hedge a second time.
(7.) Are we not far more easily impressed and influenced by evil councils and examples, than by those that are good! You will see this was the ruin of Adam, Gen. 3:6. Evil example, to this day, is one of Satan’s master- devices to ruin men. Though we have, by nature, more of the fox than of the lamb; yet that ill property which some observe in this creature, namely, that if one lamb skips into a water, the rest will suddenly follow, may be observed also in the disposition of the children of men; to whom it is very natural to embrace an evil way, because they see others in it before them. Ill example has frequently the force of a violent stream, to carry us over plain duty; but especially if the example be given by those we bear a great affection to—our affection, in that case, blinds our judgment; and what we should abhor in others, is complied with, to humour them. Nothing is more plain, than that generally men choose rather to do what the most do, than what the best do.
(8.) Who of all Adam’s sons needs be taught the art of sewing fig-leaves together, to cover their nakedness? Gen. 3:7. When we have ruined ourselves, and made ourselves naked to our shame, we naturally seek to help ourselves, by ourselves—many poor contrivances are employed, as silly and insignificant as Adam’s fig-leaves. What pains are men at, to cover their sin from their own conscience, and to draw all the fair colors upon it that they can! And when once convictions are fastened upon them, so that they cannot but see themselves naked, it is as natural for them to attempt to cover it by self-deceit, as for fish to swim in water, or birds to fly in the air. Therefore, the first question of the convinced is, “What shall we do?” Acts 2:37. How shall we qualify ourselves? What shall we perform? Not considering that the new creature is God’s own workmanship or deed, Eph. 2:10, any more than Adam considered and thought of being clothed with the skins of sacrifices, Gen. 3:21.
(9.) Do not Adam’s children naturally follow his footsteps–in hiding themselves from the presence of the Lord? Gen. 3:8. We are quite as blind in this matter as he was, who thought to hide himself from the presence of God among the shady trees of the garden. We are very apt to promise ourselves more security in a secret sin, than in one that is openly committed. “The eye of the adulterer waits for the twilight, saying, no eye shall see me,” Job 24:15. Men will freely do that in secret, which they would be ashamed to do in the presence of a child; as if darkness could hide from the all-seeing God. Are we not naturally careless of communion with God; yes, and averse to it? Never was there any communion between God and Adam’s children, where the Lord himself had not the first word. If he were to let them alone–they would never inquire after him. Isaiah 57:17, “I hid myself.” Did he seek after a hiding God? Very far from it—”He went on in the way of his heart.”
(10.) How loath are men to confess sin, to take guilt and shame to themselves? Was it not thus in the case before us? Gen. 3:10. Adam confesses his nakedness, which could not be denied; but says not one word of his sin—the reason of it was, he would gladly have hid it if he could. It is as natural for us to hide sin–as to commit it. Many sad instances thereof we have in this world; but a far clearer proof of it we shall get at the day of judgment, the day in which “God will judge the secrets of men,” Romans 2:16. Many a foul mouth will then be seen which is now “wiped, and says, I have done no wickedness,” Proverbs 30:20.
(11.) Is it not natural for us to extenuate our sin, and transfer the guilt upon others? When God examined our guilty first parents, did not Adam lay the blame on the woman? and did not the woman lay the blame on the serpent? Gen. 3:12, 13. Adam’s children need not be taught this hellish policy; for before they can well speak, if they cannot get the fact denied, they will cunningly lisp out something to lessen their fault, and lay the blame upon another. Nay, so natural is this to men, that in the greatest sins, they will lay the fault upon God himself; they will blaspheme his holy providence under the mistaken name of misfortune or bad luck–and thereby lay the blame of their sin at heaven’s door! And was not this one of Adam’s tricks after his fall? Gen. 3:12, “And the man said, The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” Observe the order of the speech. He makes his apology in the first place; and then comes his confession—his apology is long—but his confession very short; it is all comprehended in one word, “and I did eat.” How pointed and distinct is his apology, as if he was afraid his meaning should have been mistaken! “The woman,” says he, or “that woman,” as if he would have pointed the judge to his own works, of which we read, Gen. 2:22. There was but one woman then in the world; so that one would think he needed not to have been so exact in pointing at her—yet she is as carefully marked out in his defense, as if there had been ten thousand.
“The woman whom you gave me:” here he speaks, as if he had been ruined with God’s gift. And, to make the gift look the blacker, it is added to all this, “whom you gave to be with me,” as my constant companion, to stand by me as a helper. This looks as if Adam would have fathered an ill design upon the Lord, in giving him this gift.
And, after all, there is a new demonstrative here, before the sentence is complete; he says not, “The woman gave me,” but “the woman–she gave me,” emphatically; as if he had said, she, even she, gave me of the tree. This much for his apology.
But his confession is quickly over, in one word, as he spoke it, “and I did eat.” There is nothing here to point out himself, and as little to show what he had eaten. How natural is this black art to Adam’s posterity! he who runs may read it. So universally does Solomon’s observation hold true, Proverbs 19:3, “The foolishness of man perverts his way; and his heart frets against the Lord.” Let us then call fallen Adam, father; let us not deny the relation, seeing we bear his image.
To sum up this point, sufficiently confirmed by concurring evidence from the Lord’s word, our own experience, and observation; let us be persuaded to believe the doctrine of the corruption of our nature; and look to the second Adam, the blessed Jesus, for the application of his precious blood, to remove the guilt of our sin; and for the efficacy of his Holy Spirit, to make us new creatures, knowing that “except we be born again, we cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
II. I proceed to inquire into the corruption of nature in the several parts thereof. But who can comprehend it? who can take the exact dimensions of it, in its breadth, length, height, and depth? “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Jer. 17:9. However, we may quickly perceive as much of it as may be matter of deepest humiliation, and may discover to us the absolute necessity of regeneration. Man in his natural state is altogether corrupt— both soul and body are polluted, as the apostle proves at large, Romans 3:10-18. As for the soul, this natural corruption has spread itself through all the faculties thereof; and is to be found in the understanding, the will, the affections, the conscience, and the memory.
1. Of the corruption of the understanding.
“They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” Ephesians 4:18. “There is no one who understands.” Romans 3:11.
The understanding, that leading faculty, is despoiled of its primitive glory, and covered over with confusion. We have fallen into the hands of our grand adversary, as Samson into the hands of the Philistines, and are deprived of our two eyes. There is none that understands,” Romans 3:11. “Mind and conscience are defiled,” Tit. 1:15. The natural man’s apprehension of divine things is corrupt. Psalm 50:21, “You thought that I was altogether such a one as yourself.” His judgment is corrupt, and cannot be otherwise, seeing his eye is evil—therefore the scriptures, to show that man does all wrong, says, “everyone did that which was right in his own eyes,” Judges 17:6, and 21:25. And his imaginations, or reasonings, must be evil–being of a piece with his judgment, 2 Cor. 10:5. But, to point out this corruption of the mind or understanding more particularly, let these following things be considered:
1. There is a natural weakness in the minds of men with respect to spiritual things. The apostle determines concerning everyone that is not endued with the graces of the Spirit, “That he is blind, and cannot see afar off,” 2 Pet. 1:9. Hence the Spirit of God in the scriptures clothes, as it were, divine truths with earthly figures, even as parents teach their children, using similitudes, Hosea 12:11. This, though it does not cure— yet it proves this natural weakness in the minds of men. But there are not lacking plain proofs of it from experience. As,
(1.) How hard a task is it to teach many people the common principles of our holy religion, and to make truths so plain as they may understand them? There must be “precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line,” Isaiah 28:10. Try the same people in other things, they will be found “wiser in their generation than the children of light.” They understand their work and business in the world as well as their neighbours; though they are very stupid and unteachable in the matters of God. Tell them how they may advance their worldly wealth, or how they may gratify their lusts, and they will quickly understand these things; though it is very hard to make them know how their souls may be saved, or how their hearts may find rest in Jesus Christ.
(2.) Consider those who have many advantages beyond the generality of mankind; who have had the benefits of good education and instruction; yes, and are blessed with the light of grace in that measure wherein it is ascribed to the saints on earth—yet how small a portion have they of the knowledge of divine things! What ignorance and confusion still remain in their minds! How often are they perplexed even as to practical truths, and understand as children in these things! It is a pitiful weakness that we cannot perceive the things which God has revealed to us; and it must needs be a sinful weakness, since the law of God requires us to know and believe them.
(3.) What dangerous mistakes are to be found among men in concerns of the greatest weight! What woeful delusions prevail over them! Do we not often see those, who in other things are the wisest of men–yet these are notorious fools with respect to their soul’s interest? Matt. 9:25, “You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent.” Many who are eagle-eyed in the trifles of time, are like owls and bats in the light of eternal realities. Nay, truly, the life of every natural man is but one continued dream and delusion, out of which he never awakes, until either, by a new light darted from heaven into his soul, he comes to himself, Luke 15:17, or, in hell he lifts up his eyes in torment, chapter 16:23. Therefore, in scripture account, though he be ever so wise, he is a fool, and a simple one.
2. Man’s understanding is naturally overwhelmed with gross darkness in spiritual things. Man, at the instigation of the devil, attempting to break out a new light in his mind, Gen. 3:5, instead of that, broke up the doors of the bottomless pit, so as, by the smoke thereof, to be buried in darkness. When God first made man, his mind was a lamp of light; but now, when he comes to make him over again, in regeneration, he finds it darkness; Eph. 5:8, “You were once darkness.” Sin has closed the windows of the soul, darkness covers the whole—it is the land of darkness and the shadow of death, where the light is as darkness. The prince of darkness reigns there, and nothing but the works of darkness are framed there. We are born spiritually blind, and cannot be restored without a miracle of grace. This is your case, whoever you are, who are not born again. That you may be convinced in this matter, take the following proofs of it:
Proof 1. The darkness which was upon the face of the world, before, and at the time when Christ came, arising as the Sun of Righteousness upon the earth. When Adam by his sin had lost that primitive light with which he was endued at his creation, it pleased God to make a glorious revelation of his mind and will to him, as to the way of salvation, Gen. 3:15. This was handed down by him, and other godly fathers, before the flood—yet the natural darkness of the mind of man prevailed so far against that revelation, as to carry off all sense of true religion from the old world, except what remained in Noah’s family, which was preserved in the ark. After the flood, as men multiplied on the earth, the natural darkness of the mind prevailed again, and the light decayed, until it died away among the generality of mankind, and was preserved only among the posterity of Shem. And even with them it had nearly set, when God called Abraham from serving other gods, Joshua 24:15. God gives Abraham a more full and clear revelation, which he communicates to his family, Genesis 18:19; yet the natural darkness wears it out at length, except that it was preserved among the posterity of Jacob. They being carried down into Egypt, that darkness so prevailed, as to leave them very little sense of true religion; and there was a necessity for a new revelation to be made to them in the wilderness. And many a cloud of darkness got above that, now and then, during the time from Moses to Christ.
When Christ came, the world was divided into Jews and Gentiles. The Jews, and the true light with them, were within an enclosure, Psalm 147:19, 20. Between them and the Gentile world, there was a partition wall of God’s making, namely, the ceremonial law—and upon that was reared up another of man’s own making, namely, a rooted enmity between the parties, Eph. 2:14, 15. If we look abroad outside the enclosure, and except those proselytes of the Gentiles, who by means of some rays of light breaking forth upon them from within the enclosure, having renounced idolatry, worshiped the true God—but did conform to the Mosaic rites, we see nothing but “dark places of the earth, full of the habitations of cruelty,” Psalm 74:20. Gross darkness covered the face of the Gentile world, and the way of salvation was utterly unknown among them. They were drowned in superstition and idolatry, and had multiplied their idols to such a vast number, that above thirty thousand are reckoned to have been worshiped by the men of Europe alone. Whatever wisdom was among their philosophers, “the world by” that “wisdom know not God,” 1 Cor. 1:21, and all their researches in religion were but groping in the dark, Acts 17:27.
If we look within the enclosure, and except a few that were groaning and “waiting for the consolation of Israel,” we shall see gross darkness on the face of that generation. Though “to them were committed the oracles of God,” yet they were most corrupt in their doctrine. Their traditions were multiplied; but the knowledge of those things, wherein the life of religion lies, was lost. Masters of Israel knew not the nature and necessity of regeneration, John 3:10. Their religion was to build on their birth- privileges, as children of Abraham, Matt. 3:9, to glory in their circumcision, and other external ordinances, Phil. 3:2, 3, and to “rest in the law,” Romans 2:17, after they had, by their false glosses, cut it so short, as they might outwardly go well near to the fulfilling of it, Matt. 5.
Thus was darkness over the face of the world, when Christ, the true light, came into it; and so is darkness over every soul, until he as the day-star, arises in the heart. The latter is an evidence of the former. What—but the natural darkness of men’s minds, could still thus wear out the light of external revelation, in a matter upon which eternal happiness depends? Men did not forget the way of preserving their lives—but how quickly they lost the knowledge of the way of salvation of their souls, which are of infinitely more weight and worth! When the teaching of patriarchs and prophets was ineffectual, it became necessary for them to be taught of God himself, who alone can open the eyes of the understanding.
But that it might appear that the corruption of man’s mind lay deeper than to be cured by mere external revelation, there were but very few converted by Christ’s preaching, who spoke as never man spoke,” John 12:37, 38. The great cure remained to be performed, by the Spirit accompanying the preaching of the apostles; who, according to the promise, John. 14:12, were to do greater works. And if we look to the miracles wrought by our blessed Lord, we shall find, that by applying the remedy to the soul, for the cure of bodily distempers, as in the case of “the man sick of the palsy,” Matt. 9:2, he plainly discovered, that his main errand into the world was to cure the diseases of the soul. I find a miracle wrought upon one who was born blind, performed in such a way, as seems to have been designed to let the world see it, as in a glass, their case and cure, John 9:6, “He made clay, and anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay.” What could more fitly represent the blindness of men’s minds, than eyes closed up with earth? Isaiah 44:18, “He has shut their eyes:” the word properly signifies, he has plastered their eyes; as the house in which the leprosy had been, was to be plastered, Lev. 14:42. Thus the Lord’s word reveals the design of that strange work; and by it, shows us, that the eyes of our understanding are naturally shut. Then the blind man must go and wash off this clay in the pool of Siloam— no other water will serve this purpose. If that pool had not represented him, whom the Father sent into the world to open the blind eyes, Isaiah 42:7, I think the evangelist had not given us the interpretation of the name; which, he says, signifies sent, John 9:7. So we may conclude, that the natural darkness of our minds is such as there is no cure for—but from the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ, whose eye-salve only can make us see, Rev. 3:18.
Proof 2. Every natural man’s heart and life is a mass of darkness, disorder, and confusion, however refined he may appear in the sight of men. Says the apostle Paul, “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.” Titus 3:3; and yet, at the time which this text refers to, “he was blameless,” touching the righteousness which is in the law, Phil. 3:6. This is a plain evidence that “the eye is evil, the whole body being full of darkness,” Matt. 6:23.
The unrenewed part of mankind is rambling through the world, like so many blind men, who will neither take a guide, nor can guide themselves; and therefore are falling over this and the other precipice, into destruction. Some are running after their covetousness, until they are pierced through with many sorrows. Some are sticking in the mire of sensuality. Some are dashing themselves on the rock of pride and self- conceit. Every one stumbling on some one stone of stumbling or other; all of them are running themselves upon the sword-point of justice, while they eagerly follow where unmortified passions and affections lead them. And all the while some are lying along in the way, others are coming up, and falling headlong over them. Therefore, “woe unto you” blind “world because of offences,” Matt. 18:7.
Errors in judgment swarm in the world because it is “night, wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth.” All the unregenerate are utterly mistaken in the point of true happiness—for though Christianity has fixed that matter in point of principle—yet nothing less than overcoming grace can fix it in the practical judgment. All men agree in the desire of being happy; but, among the unrenewed men, concerning the way to happiness, there are almost as many opinions as there are men; “each of us having turned to his own way,” Isaiah 53:6. They are like the blind men of Sodom, around Lot’s house, all were seeking to find the door; some grope one part of the wall for it, some another—but none of them could certainly say, he had found it; so the natural man may stumble on any good—but the chief good.
Look into your own unregenerate heart, and there you will see all turned upside down—heaven lying below, and earth at top. Look into your life, there you may see how you are playing the madman, snatching at shadows, and neglecting the substance—eagerly flying after that which is not, and slighting that which is, and will be forever.
Proof 3. The natural man is always as a workman left without light; either trifling or doing mischief. Try to catch your heart at any time you will, and you will find it either weaving the spider’s web, or hatching cockatrice eggs, Isaiah 59:5, roving through the world, or digging into the pit; filled with vanity, or else with vileness; busy doing nothing, or what is worse than nothing. A sad sign of a dark mind.
Proof 4. The natural man is void of the saving knowledge of spiritual things. He knows not what a God he has to do with—he is unacquainted with Christ, and knows not what sin is. The greatest graceless wits are blind as moles in spiritual realities. Yes—but some such can speak of them to good purpose; so might those Israelites of the trials, signs, and miracles, which their eyes had seen, Deut. 29:3; to whom nevertheless, the Lord had “not given a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto that day,” ver. 4. Many a man who bears the name of a Christian, may make Pharaoh’s confession of faith, Exod. 5:2, “I know not the Lord,” neither will he let go what he commands them to part with. God is with them, as a prince in disguise among his subjects, who meets with no better treatment from them than if they were his fellows, Psalm 50:21.
Do they know Christ, or see his glory, and any beauty in him, for which he is to be desired? If they did, they would not slight him as they do—a view of his glory would so darken all created excellence, that they would take him for and instead of all, and gladly close with him, as he offers himself in the gospel, John 4:13; Psalm 9:10; Matt. 13:44-46.
Do they know what sin is, who nurse the serpent in their bosom, hold fast their deceit, and refuse to let it go? I own, indeed, that they may have a natural knowledge of these things, as the unbelieving Jews had of Christ, whom they saw and conversed with; but there was a spiritual glory in him, perceived by believers only, John 1:14, and in respect of that glory, “the” unbelieving “world knew him not,” ver. 10. The spiritual knowledge of these things, they cannot have; it is above the reach of the carnal mind. 1 Cor. 2:14, “The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, for they are spiritually discerned.” He may indeed discourse of them—but in no other way than one can talk of honey or vinegar, who never tasted the sweetness of the one, nor the sourness of the other. He has some notions of spiritual truths—but sees not the things themselves, which are wrapped up in the words of truth, 1 Tim. 1:7, “Understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.” In a word, natural men fear, seek, confess–they know not what. Thus you may see man’s understanding naturally overwhelmed with gross darkness in spiritual things.
3. There is in the mind of man a natural bias to evil, whereby it comes to pass, that whatever difficulties it finds while occupied about things truly good–it acts with a great deal of ease in evil, as being in that case in its own element, Jer. 4:22. The carnal mind drives heavily on in the thoughts of holiness—but furiously in the thoughts of evil. While holiness is before it, fetters are upon it; but when once it has got over the hedge, it is as a bird got out of a cage, and becomes a free-thinker indeed. Let us reflect a little on the apprehension and imagination of the carnal mind, and we shall find incontestable evidence of this woeful bias to evil.
Proof 1. As when a man by a violent stroke on the head loses his sight, there arises to him a kind of false light whereby he seems to see a thousand airy nothings; so man, being struck blind to all that is truly good for his eternal interest, has a light of another sort brought into his mind—his eyes are opened, knowing evil; and so are the words of the tempter verified, Gen. 3:5. The words of the prophet are plain—”They are wise to do evil—but to do good they have no knowledge,” Jer. 4:22. The mind of man has a natural dexterity to devise mischief; there are not any so simple as to lack skill to contrive ways to gratify their lusts, and ruin their souls, though the power of everyone’s hand cannot reach to put their devices in execution. No one needs to be taught this black art; but, as weeds grow up of their own accord in the neglected ground, so does this wisdom which is earthly, sensual, devilish, Jam. 3:15, grow up in the minds of men, by virtue of the corruption of their nature.
Why should we be surprised with the product of corrupt wits–their cunning devices to affront Heaven, to oppose and run down truth and holiness, and to gratify their own and other men’s lusts? They row with the stream, no wonder that they make great progress; their stock is within them, and increases by using it, and the works of darkness are contrived with the greater advantage, because the mind is wholly destitute of spiritual light, which, if it were in them in any measure, would so far mar the work.
1 John 3:9, “Whoever is born of God does not commit sin;” he does it wilfully and habitually, for “his seed remains in him.” But, on the other hand, “A fool finds pleasure in evil conduct, but a man of understanding delights in wisdom,” Proverbs 10:23. Evil comes to him easily—and why— but because he is a fool, and has not wisdom, which would mar the contrivances of darkness! The more natural a thing is, the more easily it is done.
Proof 2. Let the corrupt mind have but the advantage of one’s being employed in, or present at, some piece of service for God, that so the device, if not in itself sinful—yet may become sinful by its unseasonableness—it will quickly fall upon some device or expedient, by its starting aside, which deliberation, in season, could not produce. Such a devilish dexterity has the carnal mind in devising what may most effectually divert men from their duty to God.
Proof 3. Does not the carnal mind naturally strive to grasp spiritual things in imagination, as if the soul were quite immersed in flesh and blood, and would turn everything into its own shape? Let men who are used to the forming of the most abstracted notions, look into their own souls, and they will find this bias in their minds. Therefore the idolatry which did of old, and still does, so much prevail in the world, is an incontestible evidence—for it plainly shows, that men naturally would have a visible deity, and see what they worship, and therefore they “changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image,” etc., Romans 1:23. The reformation of these nations, blessed be the Lord for it, has banished idolatry, and images too, out of our churches; but heart- reformation only can break down mental idolatry, and banish the more subtle and refined image worship, and representations of the Deity, out of the minds of men. The world, in the time of its darkness, was never more prone to the former, than the unsanctified mind is to the latter. Hence are horrible, monstrous, and misshapen thoughts of God, Christ, the glory above, and all spiritual things.
Proof 4. What a difficult task is it to detain the carnal mind before the Lord! how averse is it to entertain good thoughts, and dwell in the meditation of spiritual things! If a person be driven, at any time, to think of the great concerns of his soul, it is not harder work to hold in an unruly hungry beast, than to hedge in the carnal mind, that it get not away to the vanities of the world again. When God is speaking to men by his word, or they are speaking to him in prayer, does not the mind often leave them before the Lord, like so many “idols that have eyes—but see not, and ears —but hear not.” The carcass is laid down before God—but the world gets away the heart; though the eyes be closed, the man sees a thousand vanities—the mind, in the meantime, is like a bird got loose out of a cage, skipping from bush to bush; so that, in effect, the man never comes to himself until he is gone from the presence of the Lord.
Say not, it is impossible to get the mind fixed; it is hard, indeed—but not impossible—grace from the Lord can do it, Psalm 108:1; agreeable objects will do it. A pleasant speculation will arrest the minds of the inquisitive; the worldly man’s mind is in little hazard of wandering, when he is contriving his business, casting up his accounts or counting his money; if he answers you not at first, he tells you he did not hear you, he was busy; his mind was fixed. Were we admitted into the presence of a king, to petition for our lives, we should be in no hazard of not paying attention. But this is the case, the carnal mind, employed about any spiritual good, is out of its element, and therefore cannot fix on spiritual realities.
Proof 5. But however hard it is to keep the mind on good thoughts, it sticks like glue to what is evil and corrupt like itself, 2 Pet. 2:14, “Having eyes full of adultery, which cannot cease from sin.” Their eyes cannot cease from sin–that is, their hearts and minds, venting by the eyes what is within, are like a furious beast, which cannot be held in when once it has got out its head. Let the corrupt imagination once be let loose on its favorite object, it will be found hard work to call it back again, though both reason and will are for its retreat. For then it is in its own element; and to draw it off from its impurities, is like drawing a fish out of the water, or rending a limb from a man. It runs like fire set to a train of powder, that rests not until it can get no farther.
Proof 6. Consider how the carnal imagination supplies the lack of real objects to the corrupt heart, that it may make sinners happy–at least in the imaginary enjoyment of their lusts. Thus the corrupt heart feeds itself with imagination-sins. The unclean person is filled with speculative impurities, “having eyes full of adultery”. The covetous man fills his heart with the world, though he cannot get his hands full of it. The malicious person fills his mind with acts of revenge. The envious man, within his own narrow soul, beholds with satisfaction, his neighbor laid low. Every lust finds the corrupt imagination a friend to it in time of need. This the heart does, not only when people are awake—but sometimes even when they are asleep; whereby it comes to pass, that those sins are acted in dreams, which their hearts pant after when they are awake.
I am aware that some question the sinfulness of these things; but can it be thought they are consistent with that holy nature and frame of spirit which was in innocent Adam, and in Jesus Christ, and should be in everyone? It is the corruption of nature, then, which makes filthy dreamers condemned, Jude, ver. 8. Solomon had experience of the exercise of grace in sleep—in a dream he prayed, in a dream he made the best choice; both were accepted of God, 1 Kings 3:5-15. And if a man may, in his sleep, do what is good and acceptable to God, why may he not also, when asleep, do that which is evil and displeasing to God? The same Solomon would have men aware of this, and prescribes the best remedy against it, namely, “the law upon the heart,” Proverbs 6:20, 21. “When you sleep,” says he, ver. 22, “it shall keep you,” that is, from sinning in your sleep–from sinful dreams—for a man’s being kept from sin, not his being kept from affliction, is the immediate proper effect of the law of God impressed upon the heart, Psalm 119:11.
And thus the whole verse is to be understood, as appears from ver. 23, “For the commandment is a lamp, and the law is light, and reproofs of instruction are the way of life.” Now, the law is a lamp and light, as it guides in the way of duty; and instructing reproofs from the law are the way of life, as they keep from sin—they guide not into the way of peace— but as they lead into the way of duty; nor do they keep a man out of trouble—but as they keep him from sin. Remarkable is the particular which Solomon instances, namely, the sin of uncleanness, “to keep you from the evil woman,” etc., ver. 24, which is to be joined to ver. 22, enclosing the 23rd in a parenthesis as some versions have it. These things may suffice to convince us of the natural bias of the mind to evil.
4. There is in the carnal mind an opposition to spiritual truths, and an aversion to receive them. It is as little a friend to divine truths, as it is to holiness. As for the truths of revealed religion, there is an evil heart of unbelief in them, which opposes their entry; and there is an armed force necessary to captivate the mind to the belief of them, 2 Cor. 10:4, 5. God has made a revelation of his mind and will to sinners, concerning the way of salvation; he has given us the doctrine of his holy word—but do natural men believe it indeed? No, they do not; “for he who believes not on the Son of God, believes not God,” as is plain from 1 John 5:10. They believe not the promises of the word; they look on them, in effect, only as fair words—for those who receive them are thereby made “partakers of the divine nature,” 2 Pet. 1:4. The promises are as silver cords let down from heaven, to draw sinners unto God, and to waft them over into the promised land; but they cast them from them. They believe not the threatenings of the word. As men traveling in deserts carry fire about with them, to frighten away wild beasts, so God has made his law a fiery law, Deut. 33:2, surrounding it with threats of wrath—but men are naturally more brutish than beasts themselves; and will needs touch the fiery smoking mountain, though they should be thrust through with a dart.
I doubt not but most, if not all of you, who are yet in the black state of nature, will here plead, Not Guilty! but remember, the carnal Jews in Christ’s time were as confident as you are, that they believed Moses, John 9:28, 29. But he confutes their confidence, roundly telling them, John 5:46, “Had you believed Moses, you would have believed me.” If you believe the truths of God, you dared not to reject, as you do, Him who is truth itself. The very difficulty you find in assenting to this truth, discovers that unbelief which I am charging you with. Has it not proceeded so far with some at this day, that it has steeled their foreheads with impudence and impiety, openly to reject all true religion? Surely it is “out of the abundance of the heart their mouth speaks.” But, though you set not your mouth against the heavens, as they do, the same bitter root of unbelief is in all men by nature, and reigns in you, and will reign, until overcoming grace brings your minds to the belief of the truth. To convince you in this point, consider these three things:
Proof 1. How few are there who have been blessed with an inward illumination, by the special operation of the Spirit of Christ, leading them into a view of divine truths in their spiritual and heavenly luster! How have you learned the truths of religion, which you pretend to believe? You have them merely by the benefit of external revelation, and by education; so that you are Christians, just because you were not born and bred in a Pagan—but in a Christian country. You are strangers to the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the word in your hearts; therefore you are still unbelievers. “It is written in the Prophets, They shall be all taught of God. Every man, therefore, who has heard, and has learned of the Father–comes unto me,” says our Lord, John 6:45. Now, you have not come to Christ, therefore you have not been taught of God— you have not been so taught, and therefore you have not come; you believe not. Behold the revelation from which the faith, even of the fundamental principles in religion, springs, Matt. 16:16, 17, “You are Christ, the Son of the living God. Blessed are you, Simon Barjona; for flesh and blood has not revealed it unto you—but my Father who is in heaven.” If ever the Spirit of the Lord takes you in hand, to work in you that faith which is of the operation of God, it may be, that as much time will be spent in pulling down the old foundation, as will make you find the necessity of the working of his mighty power, to enable you to believe the very foundation-principles which now you think you make no doubt of, Eph. 1:19.
Proof 2. How many professors have made shipwreck of their faith, such as it was, in time of temptation and trial! See how they fall, like stars from heaven, when Antichrist prevails! 2 Thess. 2:12, “God shall send them strong delusions, that they should believe a lie; that they all might be damned, who believed not the truth.” They fall into damning delusions; because they never really believed the truth, though they themselves, and others too, thought they did believe it. That house is built on the sand, and that faith is but ill-founded, which cannot stand—but is quite overthrown, when the storm comes.
Proof 3. Consider the utter inconsistency of most men’s lives with the principles of religion which they profess—you may as soon bring east and west together, as their principles and practice. Men believe that fire will burn them; and therefore, they will not throw themselves into it. But the truth is, most men live as if they thought the gospel was a mere fable, and the wrath of God, revealed in his word against their unrighteousness and ungodliness, a mere scarecrow. If you believe the doctrines of the word, how is it that you are so unconcerned about the state of your souls before the Lord? how is it that you are so little concerned about this weighty point, whether you be born again or not? Most live as they were born– and are likely to die as they live–and yet live in peace. Do such people believe the sinfulness and misery of a natural state? Do they believe that they are children of wrath? Do they believe that there is no salvation without regeneration, and no regeneration but what makes a man a new creature?
If you believe the promises of the word, why do you not embrace them, and seek to enter into the promised rest? What sluggard would not dig for a hidden treasure, if he really believed that he might so obtain it? Men will work and toil for a maintenance, because they believe that by so doing they shall get it; yet they will be at no pains for the eternal weight of glory! Why? Because they do not believe the word of promise! Heb. 4:1, 2. If you believe the threatenings, how is it that you live in your sins; live out of Christ, and yet hope for heaven? Do such people believe God to be the holy and just One, who will by no means clear the guilty? No, no; none believe; none, or next to none, believe what a just God the Lord is, and how severely he punishes.
5. There is in the mind of man, a natural proneness to lies and falsehood, which favour his lusts. “They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies,” Psalm 58:3. We have this, with the rest of the corruption of our nature, from our first parents. God revealed the truth to them—but through the solicitation of the tempter, they first doubted, then disbelieved it–and embraced a lie instead of it. For an incontestable evidence hereof, we may see the first article of the devil’s creed, “you shall not surely die,” Gen. 3:4, which was obtruded by him on our first parents, and by them received, naturally embraced by their posterity, and held fast, until light from heaven obliges them to quit it. It spreads itself through the lives of natural men—who, (unless their consciences are awakened), walk after their own lusts, still retaining the principle, “That they shall not surely die.” And this is often improved to such perfection, that man says, in the face of the denounced curse, “I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of my heart, to add drunkenness to thirst,” Deut. 29:19. Whatever advantage the truths of God have over error, by means of education or otherwise, error has always, with the natural man, this advantage against truth, namely, that there is something within him which says, “O that it were true!” so that the mind lies fair for assenting to it.
The true doctrine is, “the doctrine that is according to godliness,” 1 Tim. 6:3, and “the truth which is after godliness,” Titus 1:1. Error is the doctrine which is according to ungodliness; for there is not an error in the mind, nor an untruth vented in the world, in matters of religion—but has an affinity to the corruption of the heart, according to that saying of the apostle, 2 Thess. 2:12, “They believed not the truth,” but had pleasure in unrighteousness. So that truth and error, being otherwise attended with equal advantages for their reception, error, by this means, has most ready access into the minds of men in their natural state. Therefore, it is not strange that men reject the simplicity of gospel truths–and greedily embrace error and external pomp in religion, seeing these things are so agreeable to the lusts of the heart, and the vanity of the mind of the natural man. Hence also it is, that so many embrace atheistical principles; for none do it but in compliance with their sinful passions; none but those, whose advantage it would be that there were no God.
6. Man is naturally high-minded; for when the gospel comes in power to him, it is employed in “casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God,” 2 Cor. 10:5. Humility of mind is not a flower that grows in the field of nature; but is planted by the finger of God in a renewed heart, and learned from the humble Jesus. It is natural to man to think highly of himself, and what is his own—for the stroke which he has got by his fall in Adam, has produced a false light, whereby molehills about him appear like mountains; and a thousand airy beauties present themselves to his deluded mind. “Vain man would be wise,” so he accounts himself, and so he would be accounted by others, “though man be born like a wild donkey’s colt,” Job 11:12. His way is right, because it is his own—for “every way of man is right in his own eyes,” Proverbs 21:2. His state is good, because he knows none better; he is alive without the law, Romans 7:9, and therefore his hope is strong, and his confidence firm. It is another tower of Babel, reared up against heaven; and it will not fall, while the power of darkness can hold it up. The word batters it—yet it stands—one while breaches are made in it—but they are quickly repaired; at another time, it is all made to shake—but still it is kept up; until either God himself by his Spirit raises a heart-quake within the man, which tumbles it down, and leaves not one stone upon another, 2 Cor. 10:4, 5, or death batters it down, and pulls down the foundation of it, Luke 16:23.
And as the natural man thinks highly of himself, so he thinks basely of God, whatever he pretends, Psalm 50:21, “You thought that I was altogether such an one as yourself.” The doctrine of the gospel, and the mystery of Christ, are foolishness to him; and in his practice he treats them as such, 1 Cor. 1:18, and 2:14. He brings the word and the works of God, in the government of the world, before the bar of his carnal reason; and there they are presumptuously censured and condemned, Hos. 14:9.
Sometimes the ordinary restraints of Providence are taken off, and Satan is permitted to stir up the carnal mind—and, in that case, it is like an ant’s nest, uncovered and disturbed; doubts, denials, and hellish reasonings, crowd in it, and cannot be overcome by all the arguments brought against them, until power from on high subdues the mind, and stills the mutiny of the corrupt principles.
Thus much of the corruption of the understanding; which, although the half is not told, may discover to you the absolute necessity of regenerating grace. Call the understanding now, “Ichabod; for the glory is departed from it,” 1 Samuel 4:21. Consider this, you who are in the state of nature, and groan out your case before the Lord, that the Sun of Righteousness may arise upon you, lest you be shut up in everlasting darkness. What avails your worldly wisdom? What do your attainments in religion avail– while your understanding lies wrapped up in its natural darkness and confusion, utterly void of the light of life? Whatever be the natural man’s gifts or attainments, we must, as in the case of the leper, Lev. 13:44, “pronounce him utterly unclean, his plague is in his head.” But that is not all; it is in his heart too—his will is corrupted, as I shall soon show.
2. Of the corruption of the will.
The will, that commanding faculty, which at first was faithful and ruled with God, is now turned traitor, and rules with and for the devil. God planted it in man, “wholly a holy seed;” but now it is “turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine.” It was originally placed in due subordination to the will of God, as was shown before; but now it is wholly gone aside. However some magnify the power of free-will, a view of the spirituality of the law, to which acts of moral discipline in no way answer, and a deep insight into the corruption of nature, given by the inward operation of the Spirit, convincing of sin, righteousness, and judgment, would make men find an absolute need of the power of free grace, to remove the bands of wickedness from off their free-will. To open up this plague of the heart, I offer these following things to be considered:
1. There is, in the unrenewed will, an utter inability for what is truly good and acceptable in the sight of God. The natural man’s will is in Satan’s fetters, hemmed in within the circle of evil, and cannot move beyond it, any more than a dead man can raise himself out of his grave, Eph. 2:1. We deny him not a power to choose, pursue, and act what is good, as to the matter; but though he can will what is good and right, he can will nothing aright and well, John 15:5. Christ says, “Without me,” that is, separate from me, as a branch from the stock, as both the word and context will bear, “you can do nothing;” which means, nothing truly and spiritually good. His very choice and desire of spiritual things, is carnal and selfish, John 6:26, “You seek me–because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” He not only does not come to Christ—but “he cannot come,” ver. 44. And what can he do acceptable to God, who believes not on him whom the Father has sent? To prove this inability for good in the unregenerate, consider these two things:
Proof 1. How often does the light so shine before men’s eyes, that they cannot but see the good which they should choose, and the evil which they should refuse—and yet their hearts have no more power to comply with that light, than as if they were arrested by some invisible hand! They see what is right—yet they follow, and cannot but follow what is wrong. Their consciences tell them the right way, and approve of it too—yet their will cannot be brought up to it—their corruption so chains them, that they cannot embrace it; so that they sigh and go backward, notwithstanding their light. If it be not thus, how is it that the word and way of holiness meet with such poor reception in the world? How is it that clear arguments and reason on the side of piety and a holy life, which seem to have weight even with the carnal mind, do not bring men over to that side? Although the existence of a heaven and a hell were only probable, it would be sufficient to determine the will to the choice of holiness, were it capable of being determined thereto by mere reason—but men, “knowing the judgment of God, that they who commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same—but have pleasure in them that do them,” Romans 1:31.
And how is it that those who magnify the power of free-will, do not confirm their opinion before the world, by an ocular demonstration in a practice as far above others in holiness, as the opinion of their natural ability is above that of others? Or is it maintained only for the protection of lusts, which men may hold fast as long as they please; and when they have no more use for them, throw them off in a moment, and leap out of Delilah’s lap into Abraham’s bosom? Whatever use some make of that principle, it does of itself, and in its own nature, cast a broad shadow for a shelter to wickedness of heart and life. It may be observed, that the generality of the hearers of the gospel, of all denominations, are plagued with it; for it is a root of bitterness, natural to all men—from whence spring so much fearlessness about the soul’s eternal state, so many delays and excuses in that weighty matter, whereby much work is laid up for a deathbed by some, while others are ruined by a legal walk, and neglect the life of faith, and the making use of Christ for sanctification; all flowing from the persuasion of sufficient natural abilities. So agreeable is it to corrupt nature.
Proof 2. Let those, who, by the power of the spirit of bondage, have had the law opened before them in its spirituality, for their conviction, speak and tell, if they found themselves able to incline their hearts toward it, in that case; nay, whether the more that light shone into their souls, they did not find their hearts more and more unable to comply with it. There are some who have been brought unto “the place of the breaking forth,” who are yet in the devil’s camp, who from their experience can tell, that light let into the mind cannot give life to the will, to enable it to comply therewith; and could give their testimony here, if they would. But take Paul’s testimony concerning it, who, in his unconverted state, was far from believing his utter inability for good; but learned it by experience, Romans 7:8-13. I own, the natural man may have a kind of love to the letter of the law—but here lies the stress of the matter, he looks on the holy law in a carnal dress; and so, while be embraces the creature of his own fancy, he thinks that he has the law. But in very deed he is without the law—for as yet he sees it not in its spirituality; if he did, he would find it the very reverse of his own nature, and what his will could not fall in with, until changed by the power of grace.
2. There is in the unrenewed will an aversion to good. Sin is the natural man’s element; he is as unwilling to part with it as fish are to come out of the water on to dry land. He not only cannot come to Christ— but he will not come, John 5:40. He is polluted, and hates to be washed, Jer. 13:27, “Will you not be made clean? when shall it once be?” He is sick —yet utterly averse to the remedy—he so loves his disease–that he loathes the Physician. He is a captive, a prisoner, and a slave–but he loves his conqueror, his jailor, and master—he is fond of his fetters, prison, and drudgery, and has no liking to his liberty. For proof of the aversion to good in the will of man, I will instance in some particulars:
Proof 1. The adverseness of children. Do we not see them naturally lovers of sinful liberty? How unwilling are they to be hedged in! How averse to restraint! The world can bear witness, that they are “as bullocks unaccustomed to the yoke:” and more, that it is far easier to bring young bullocks tamely to bear the yoke, than to bring young children under discipline, and make them tamely submit to be restrained in sinful liberty. Everybody may see in this, as in a glass, that man is naturally wild and wilful, according to Zophar’s observation, Job 11:12, that “man is born like a wild donkey’s colt.” What can be said more? He is like a colt, the colt of an donkey, the colt of a wild donkey. Compare Jer. 2:24, “A wild donkey used to the wilderness, that snuffs up the wind at her pleasure; in her occasion who can turn her away?”
Proof 2. What pain and difficulty do men often find in bringing their hearts to pious duties! and what a task is it to the carnal heart to abide at them! It is a pain to it–to leave the world but a little to come before God. It is not easy to borrow time from the many things–to spend it upon the one thing needful. Men often go to God in duties, with their faces towards the world; and when their bodies are on the mount of ordinances, their hearts will be found at the foot of the hill “going after their covetousness,” Ezek. 33:31.
They are soon wearied of well-doing; for holy duties are not agreeable to their corrupt nature. Take notice of them at their worldly business, set them down with their carnal company, or let them be enjoying a lust; time seems to them to fly, and drive furiously, so that it is gone before they are aware. But how heavily does it pass, while a prayer, a sermon, or a Sabbath lasts! The Lord’s day is the longest day of all the week, with many; therefore, they must sleep longer that morning, and go sooner to bed that night, than ordinarily they do; that the day may be made of a tolerable length—for their hearts say within them, “When will the Sabbath be gone?” Amos 8:5. The hours of worship are the longest hours of that day—hence, when duty is over, they are like men eased of a burden; and when sermon is ended, many have neither the grace nor the good manners to stay until the blessing is pronounced—but, like the beasts, their head is away, as soon as a man puts his hand to loose them; and why? because, while they are at ordinances, they are, as Doeg, “detained before the Lord,” 1 Sam. 22:7.
Proof 3. Consider how the will of the natural man rebels against the light, Job 24:13. Light sometimes enters in, because he is not able to keep it out—but he loves darkness rather than light. Sometimes, by the force of truth, the outer door of the understanding is broken up; but the inner door of the will remains fast bolted. Then lusts rise against light— corruption and conscience encounter, and fight as in the field of battle, until corruption getting the upper hand, conscience is forced to turn its back; convictions are murdered, and truth is made and held prisoner, so that it can create no more disturbance. While the word is preached or read, or the rod of God is upon the natural man, sometimes convictions are darted in upon him, and his spirit is wounded in greater or lesser measure—but these convictions not being able to make him fall, he runs away with the arrows sticking in his conscience; and at length, one way or other, gets them out, and makes himself whole again. Thus, while the light shines, men, naturally averse to it, and willfully shut their eyes– until God is provoked to blind them judicially, and they become proof against his word and providences too—so, go where they will, they can sit at ease; there is never a word from heaven to them, that goes deeper than their ears. Hos. 4:17, “Ephraim is joined to idols—let him alone.”
Proof 4. Let us observe the resistance made by elect souls, when the Spirit of the Lord is at work, to bring them from “the power of Satan unto God.” Zion’s King gets no subjects but by stroke of sword, “in the day of his power,” Psalm 110:2, 3. None come to him—but such as are drawn by a divine hand, John 6:44. When the Lord comes to the soul, he finds the strong man keeping the house, and a deep peace and security there, while the soul is fast asleep in the devil’s arms. But “the prey must be taken from the mighty, and the captive delivered.” Therefore, the Lord awakens the sinner, opens his eyes, and strikes him with terror, while the clouds are black above his head, and the sword of vengeance is held to his bosom. Now, the sinner is at great pains to put a fair face on a black heart, to shake off his fears, to make headway against them, and to divert himself from thinking on the unpleasant and ungrateful subject of his soul’s case. If he cannot so rid himself from them, carnal reason is called in to help, and urges, that there is no ground for such great fear; all may be well enough yet; and if it be ill with him, it will be ill with many.
When the sinner is beat from this false reasoning, and sees no advantage in going to hell with company–he resolves to leave his sins—but cannot think of breaking off so soon; there is time enough, and he will do it afterwards. Conscience says, “Today if you will hear his voice harden not your hearts;” but he cries, “Tomorrow, Lord; tomorrow, Lord;” and “not just now, Lord;” until that now is never likely to come. Thus many times he comes from his prayers and confessions, with nothing but a bosom full of sharper convictions; for the heart does not always cast up the sweet morsel, as soon as confession is made with the mouth, Judges 10:10-16. And when conscience obliges him to part with some lusts–other lusts are kept as right eyes and right hands, and there are rueful looks after those that are put away; as it was with the Israelites, who with bitter hearts remembered “the fish they freely ate in Egypt,” Numb. 11:5. Nay, when he is so pressed, that he must needs say before the Lord, that he is content to part with all his idols; the heart will be giving the tongue the lie. In a word, the soul, in this case, will shift from one thing to another; like a fish with the hook in its jaws, until it can do no more, for power is come to make it yield, as “the wild donkey in her month,” Jer. 2:24.
3. There is in the will of man a natural “proneness to evil,” a woeful bent towards sin. Men naturally are “bent to backsliding from God,” Hos. 11:7. They hang, as the word is, towards backsliding; even as a hanging wall, whose breaking comes suddenly at an instant. Set holiness and life upon the one side, sin and death upon the other; and leave the unrenewed will to itself, it will choose sin, and reject holiness. This is no more to be doubted, than that water, poured on the side of a hill will run downward, and not upward; or that a flame will ascend, and not descend.
Proof 1. Is not the way of evil the first way which children go? Do not their inclinations plainly appear on the wrong side, while yet they have no ability to hide them? In the first opening of our eyes in the world, we look asquint, hell-ward, not heaven-ward. As soon as it appears that we are rational creatures it appears that we are sinful creatures, Psalm 58:3, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they be born.” Proverbs 22:15, “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child— but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” Folly is bound in the heart, it is woven into our very nature. The knot will not unloose; it must be broken asunder by strokes. Words will not do it, the rod must be taken to drive it away; and if it be not driven far away, the heart and it will meet and knit again. Not that the rod of itself will do this—the sad experience of many parents testifies the contrary; and Solomon himself tells you, Proverbs 27:22, “Though you grind a fool in a mortar, grinding him like grain with a pestle, you will not remove his folly from him;” it is so bound in his heart. But the rod is an ordinance of God, appointed for that end; which, like the word, is made effectual by the Spirit’s accompanying his own ordinance.
This, by the way, shows that parents, in administering correction to their children, have need, first of all, to correct their own irregular passions, and look upon it as a matter of great solemnity, setting about it with much dependence on the Lord, and following it with prayer for the blessing, if they would have it effectual.
Proof 2. How easily are men led aside to sin! Those who are not persuaded to be holy, are otherwise simple ones, easily wrought upon— those whom the word cannot draw to holiness, are “caught in the Devil’s trap, having been captured by him to do his will.” 2 Timothy 2:26. Profane Esau, that cunning man, Gen. 25:27, was as easily cheated of the blessing as if he had been a fool or an idiot. The more natural a thing is, the more easy it is—so Christ’s yoke is easy to the saints, in so far as they are partakers of the divine nature—and sin is easy to the unrenewed man; but to learn to be holy, is as difficult as for the Ethiopian to change his skin; because the will naturally hangs towards evil, and is averse to good.
A child can cause a round thing to roll, when he cannot move a square thing of the same weight; for the roundness makes it fit for motion, so that it goes with a touch. Even so, men find the heart easily carried towards sin, while it is as a dead weight in the way of holiness. We must seek for the reason of this from the natural bent and disposition of the heart, whereby it is prone and bent to evil. Were man’s will, naturally— but in equal balance to holiness and evil, the one might be embraced with as little difficulty as the other; but experience testifies it is not so. In the sacred history of the Israelites, especially in the Book of Judges, how often do we find them forsaking Jehovah, the mighty God, and doting upon the idols of the nations about them! But did ever any one of these nations grow fond of Israel’s God, and forsake their own idols? No, no; though man is naturally given to changes, it is but from evil to evil, not from evil to good. Jer. 2:11, 12 “Has any nation ever exchanged its gods for another god, even though its gods are nothing? Yet my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols! The heavens are shocked at such a thing and shrink back in horror and dismay, says the Lord.” Surely the will of man stands not in equal balance—but has a strong bent to the wrong side.
Proof 3. Consider how men go on still in the way of sin, until they are stopped, and that by another hand than their own; Isaiah 57:17, “I was enraged by his sinful greed; I punished him, and hid my face in anger, yet he kept on in his wilful ways.” If God withdraws his restraining hand, it is no doubt what way he will choose; for, observe it, the way of sin is the way of his heart—his heart naturally lies that way; it has a natural propensity to sin. As long as God allows them, they walk in their own way, Acts 14:16. The natural man is so fixed in his woeful choice, that there needs no more to show he is off from God’s way, than to say he is upon his own.
Proof 4. Whatever good impressions are made on him, they do not last. Though his heart be firm as a stone, yes, harder than the nether-millstone in point of receiving of them; it is otherwise unstable as water, and cannot keep them. It works against the receiving of them; and, when they are made, it works them off, and returns to its natural bias; Hos. 6:4, “Your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goes away.” The morning cloud promises a heavy shower—but, when the sun arises, it vanishes; the sun beats upon the early dew–and it evaporates; so the husbandman’s expectation is disappointed. Such is the goodness of the natural man. Some sharp affliction, or piercing conviction, obliges him, in some sort, to turn from his evil course—but his will not being renewed, piety is still against the grain with him, and therefore this goes off again, Psalm 78:34-37. Though a stone thrown up into the air may abide there a little while—yet its natural heaviness will bring it down again—so do unrenewed men return to their wallowing in the mire; because, though they washed themselves—yet their swinish nature was not changed. It is hard to cause wet wood to take fire, hard to make it keep alight; but it is harder than either of these to make the unrenewed will retain attained goodness; which is a plain evidence of the natural bent of the will to evil.
Proof 5. Do the saints serve the Lord now, as they were accustomed to serve sin, in their unconverted state? Very far from it, Romans 6:20, “When you were the servants of sin, you were free from righteousness.” Sin got all, and admitted no partner; but now, when they are the servants of Christ, are they free from sin? Nay, there are still with them some deeds of the old man, showing that he is but dying in them; and hence their hearts often migive them, and slip aside unto evil, “when they would do good,” Romans 7:21. They need to watch, and keep their hearts with all diligence; and their sad experience teaches them, “That he who trusts in his own heart is a fool,” Proverbs 28:26. If it be thus in the green tree, how must it be in the dry?
4. There is a natural contrariety, direct opposition, and enmity, in the will of man, to God himself, and his holy will, Romans 8:7, “The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” The will was once God’s deputy in the soul, set to command there for him; but now it is set up against him. If you would have the picture of it in its natural state, the very reverse of the will of God represents it. If the fruit hanging before one’s eye is but forbidden, that is sufficient to draw the heart after it. Let me instance in the sin of profane swearing and cursing, to which some are so abandoned, that they take a pride in it, belching out horrid oaths and curses, as if hell opened with the opening of their mouths; or larding their speeches with minced oaths; and all this without any manner of provocation, though even that would not excuse them. Pray, tell me,
(1.) What profit is there here? A thief gets something for his pains; a drunkard gets a belly-full; but what do you swearers get? Others serve the devil for pay; but you are volunteers, who expect no reward but your work itself, in affronting Heaven; and if you repent not, you will get your reward in full measure; when you go to hell, your work will follow you. The drunkard shall not have a drop of water to cool his tongue there; nor will the covetous man’s wealth follow him into the other world! you may drive on your old trade there; eternity will be long enough to give you your heart’s fill of it.
(2.) What pleasure is there here—but what flows from your trampling on the holy law? Which of your senses does swearing and cursing gratify? If it gratifies your ears, it can only be by the noise it makes against the heavens. Though you had a mind to give up yourselves to all manner of profanity and sensuality, there is so little pleasure can be strained out of these sins of swearing, that we must needs conclude, your love to them, in this case, is a love to them for themselves, a devilish unhired love, without any prospect of profit or pleasure from them otherwise. If any shall say, these are monsters of men—be it so; yet, alas! the world is full of such monsters; they are to be found almost everywhere. Allow me to say, they must be admitted as the mouth of the whole unregenerate world against heaven, Romans 3:14, “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” Ver. 19, “Now we know, that whatever things the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.”
I have a charge against every unregenerate man and woman, young and old, to be proved by the testimony of Scripture, and their own consciences; namely, that whether they be professors or profane, seeing they are not born again, they are heart enemies, (1.) to God; (2.) to the Son of God; (3.) to the Spirit of God; and (4.) to the law of God. Hear this, you careless souls, who live at ease in your natural state.
(1.) You are enemies to GOD in your mind, Col. 1:21. You are not as yet reconciled to him; the natural enmity is not as yet slain, though perhaps it lies hidden, and you do not perceive it.
[1.] You are enemies to the very being of God, Psalm 14:1, “The fool has said in his heart, there is no God.” The proud man wishes that none were above himself; the rebel, that there were no king; and the unrenewed man, who is a mass of pride and rebellion, that there were no God. He says it in his heart, he wishes it were so, though he is ashamed and afraid to speak it out. That all natural men are such fools, appears from the apostle’s quoting a part of this psalm, “That every mouth may be stopped,” Romans 3:10-19. I own, indeed, that while the natural man looks on God as the Creator and Preserver of the world, because he loves his own self, therefore his heart rises not against God being his Benefactor—but his enmity will quickly appear when he looks on God as the Governor and Judge of the world, binding him, under the pain of the curse, to exact holiness, and girding him with the cords of death, because of his sin. Listen in this case to the voice of the heart, and you will find it to be, “there is no God!”
[2.] You are enemies to the nature of God, Job 21:14, “They say unto God–Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways!” Men set up for themselves, an idol of their own fancy, instead of the true God, and then fall down and worship it. They love him no other way than Jacob loved Leah, while he mistook her for Rachel. Every natural man is an enemy to God, as he is revealed in his word. The infinitely holy, just, powerful, and true being, is not the God whom he loves—but the God whom he loathes. In fact, men naturally are haters of God, Romans 1:30; if they could, they certainly would make him otherwise than what he is. Now, upon this I would, for your conviction, propose to your conscience a few queries.
1st, How are your hearts affected towards the infinite purity and holiness of God? Conscience will give an answer to this, which the tongue will not speak out. If you are not partakers of his holiness, you cannot be reconciled to it. The Pagans finding that they could not be like God in holiness, made their gods like themselves in filthiness; and thereby they show what sort of a God the natural man would have. God is holy; can an unholy creature love his unspotted holiness? Nay, it is the righteous only that can “give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness,” Psalm 97:12. God is light; can creatures of darkness rejoice therein? Nay, “everyone that does evil hates the light,”
John 3:20. “For what communion has light with darkness?” 2 Cor. 6:14.
2nd, How are your hearts affected towards the justice of God? There is not a man, who is wedded to his lusts, as all the unregenerate are—but would desire to blot out the God of justice. Can the malefactor love his condemning judge? or an unjustified sinner, a just God? No, he cannot, Luke 7:47, “To whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” Hence, as men cannot get the doctrine of his justice blotted out of the Bible, it is such an eye-sore to them, that they strive to blot it out of their minds— they ruin themselves by presuming on his mercy, while they are not careful to get a righteousness, wherein they may stand before his justice; but “think he will do nothing at all to them,” Zeph. 1:12.
3rd, How are your hearts affected towards the omniscience and omnipresence of God? Men naturally would rather have a blind idol, than the all-seeing God; therefore, they do what they can, as Adam did, to hide themselves from the presence of the Lord.