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MAN'S NATURAL BLINDNESS
THINGS OF RELIGION.
PSALM Xciv. 8–11.
Understand, ye brutish among the people: and ye fools, when
will ye be wise? He that planted the ear, shat he not hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see? He that chastiseth the heathen, shall he not correct? He that teacheth man knowledge, shall he not know! The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity*.
In these words the following particulars are to be observed. (1.) A certain spiritual disease charged on some persons, viz. darkness, and blindness of mind, appearing in their ignorance and folly. (2.) The great degree of this disease ; so as to render the subjects of it fools. Ye fools, when will ye be wise? And so as to reduce them to a degree of brutishness. Ye brutish among the people. This ignorance and folly were to such
* This Treatise is a posthumous work, collected from the author's papers. They were drawn up by him in the form of three short sermons, in his usual way of preparation for the pulpit ; but were by no means finished in a manner fit for the public eye. It is presumed, therefore, that the present form is much more suitable to the nature of the subject, than that in which they appeared in the Glasgow edition (1785) of Eighteen Sermons, connected with the Author's Life, by Dr HOPKINS.
This plan we shall adopt occasionally respecting some other courses of sermons, especially posthumous ones ; which we are encouraged to do by several judicious friends, who are well acquainted with the author's writings. And we own, it is no small inducement in our view, to edite them in this manner in a standard edi. tion, they are much more likely to do good at a future period. A tract may be reprinted with much greater probability of acceptance and success, than the same in the form of sermons, unfinished by the author, with divisions, transitions, &c. to which the generality of readers are unaccustomed.-W.
a degree, as to render men like beasts. (3.) The obstinacy of this disease; expressed in that interrogation, When will ye be wise? Their blindness and folly were not only very great; but deeply rooted and established, resisting all manner of cure. (4.) Of what nature this blindness is. It is especially in things pertaining to God. They were strangely ignorant of his perfections, like beasts: and had foolish notions of him, as though he did not see, nor know; and as though he would not execute justice by chastising and punishing wicked men. (5.) The unreasonableness and sottishness of the notion they had of God, that he did not hear, did not observe their reproaches of him and his people, is shown by observing that he planted the ear. It is very unreasonable to suppose that he, who gave power of perceiving words to others, should not perceive them himself. And the sottishness of their being insensible of God's all-seeing eye, and particularly of his seeing their wicked actions, appears, in that God is the being who formed the eye, and gave others a power of seeing. The sottishness of their apprehension of God, as though he did not know what they did, is argued from his being the fountain and original of all knowledge. The unreasonableness of their expecting to escape God's just chas. tisements and judgments for sin, is set forth by his chastising even the heathen, who did not sin against that light, or against so great mercies, as the wicked in Israel did ; nor had ever made such a profession as they. (6.) We may observe, that this dreadful disease is ascribed to mankind in general. - The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity. The Psalmist had been setting forth the vanity and unreasonableness of the thoughts of some of the children of men ; and immediately upon it he observes, that this vanity and foolishness of thought is common and natural to mankind.
From these particulars we may fairly deduce the following doctrinal observation : THAT THERE
EXTREME AND BRUTISH BLINDNESS IN THINGS OF RELIGION, WHICH NATURALLY POSŞEŞSES THE HEARTS OF MANKIND.—This doctrine is not to be understood as any reflection on the capacity of the human nature ; for God hath made man with a noble and excellent capacity. The blindness I speak of, is not a merely negative ignorance; such as in trees and stones, that know nothing. They have no faculties of understanding and perception, whereby they should be capable of any knowledge. And inferior animals, though they have sensitive perception, are not capable of any intellectual views. There is no fault to be found with man's natural faculties. God has given men faculties truly noble and excellent; well capable of true wisdom and divine knowledge. Nor is the blindness 1 speak of like the ignorance of a new born infant which arises from want of necessary opportunity to exert these faculties.
The blindness that is in the heart of man, which is spoken of in the text and doctrine, is neither for want of faculties, nor opportunity to know, but from some positive cause.* There is a principle in his heart, of such a blinding and besotting nature, that it hinders the exercises of his faculties about the things of religion : exercises for which God has made him well capable, and for which he gives him abundant opportunity.
In order to make it appear, that such an extreme brutish blindness, with respect to the things of religion, does naturally possess the hearts of men, I shall show how this is manifest in those things that appear in men's open profession; and how it is manifest in those things that are found by inward experience, and are visible in men's practice,
Man's Natural Blindness in Religion, manifested by those
Things which appear in Men's open Profession. I would now show, how it is manifest that there is a sottish and brutish blindness in the hearts of men in the things of religion, by those things which appear in men's open profession.
1. It appears in the grossness of that ignorance and those delusions, which have appeared among mankind. Man has faculties given him whereby he is well capable of inferring the being of the Creator from the creatures. The invisible things of God are very plainly and clearly to be seen by the things that are made; and the perfections of the divine Being, his eternal power and Godhead, are very manifest in the works of his hands. And yet grossly absurd notions concerning the Godhead have prevailed in the world. Instead of acknowledging and worshiping the true God, they have fallen off to the worship of idols. Instead of acknowledging the one only true God, they have made a multitude of deities. Instead of worshipping a God, who is an almighty, infinite, all-wise and holy Spirit, they have worshipped the hosts of heaven, the sun, moon and stars; and the works of their own hands, images of gold and silver, brass and iron, wood and stone; gods that can neither hear nor see, nor walk, nor speak, nor do, nor know any thing. Some in the shape of men, others in the shape of oxen and calves; some in the shape of serpents, others of fishes, &c.
The sottishness of men in thus worshipping the lifeless images which they themselves have made, is elegantly and forcibly represented by the prophet Isaiah. The smith with the tongs both worketh in the coals, and fashioneth it with hammers, and worketh it with the strength of his arms. Yea he is hungry, and his strength faileth; he drinketh no water, and is faint. The carpenter stretcheth out his rule ; he marketh it out with a line: he fitteth it with planes, and he marketh it out with the compass, and maketh it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man, that it may remain in the house. He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress and the oak, which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest; he planteth an ash, and the rain doth nourish it. Then shall it be for a man to burn; for he will take thereof and warm himself; yea, he kindleth it, and baketh bread ; yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it: he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto. He burneth part thereof in the fire: with part thereof he eateth flesh: he roasteth roast, and is satisfied : yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire. And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and pray eth unto it, and saith, deliver me, for thou are my god. They have not known, nor understood : for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see, and their hearts, that they cannot understand. And none considereth in his heart, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire, yea, also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh, and eaten it, and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination ? shall I fall down to the stock of a tree ?"*
* This is meant in a popular not a philosophical sense : and is expressive of active, wilful perverseness, rather than the abstract nature of sin, or the obliquity of the natural act.-W.
Many of the images which the heathen worshipped were made in the most monstrous and terrible shapes they could devise ; and the more hideous and frightful they appeared, the better they supposed they would serve their turn for gods. Some of their images were made so as to be the most unclean representations; images of men openly exposing their nakedness. These unclean images, they judged, appeared in a god-like manner, and worthy to be worshipped. Many, instead of worshipping a holy and good God, and infinitely perfect Being, ascribed vices to many of the gods which they worshipped. One god they reckoned notorious for drunkenness ; others notorious for uncleanness : to others they ascribed lying and stealing ; to others cruelty; and yet looked upon them worthy to be worshipped as gods ! Many worshipped devils, who appeared to them, and whom they themselves reckoned to be evil spirits ; but yet built temples, and offered sacrifices to them, because they were afraid of them. Many worshipped beasts, and birds, and fishes ; and the most hateful and loathsome animals were most worshipped ; particularly, serpents were more commonly worshipped, than
Isai. xliv, 12-19.
any other beast. Many worshipped rivers, and trees, and mountains. They worshipped many diseases. There is scarcely any thing of which men have not made gods.
And so far has that principle of blindness prevailed, with respect to the things of religion, that it has in a great measure extinguished all light in the minds of many, even in matters of morality, and things that have but a distant relation to religion. So that many whole nations have professedly approved of many things directly contrary to the light of nature; and the most horrid vices and immoralities have been esteemed harmless, yea accounted virtues among them; such as revenge, cruelty and incest. Many nations have openly allowed the practice of sodomy. And with some it has been accounted commendable to marry their nearest relations. Many have even worshipped their gods in their temples with acts of drunkenness and whoredom, and the most abominable lewdness. And the more filthy they were in their uncleanness, they thought their gods the more pleased and delighted with it.
Many nations have been so under the influence of mental blindness, that they have been void of all civility, and have been reduced to a state very little above the beasts in their common customs, and ordinary way of living; and in a great many things far below the beasts : being, if I may so speak, much more beastly than the beasts themselves. Now this has not been, because these men, with whom this has been the case, have not had the same faculties that we have. That we are not as ignorant as they, is not because we have better natural understandings, or that our minds are by nature more clear, and our eyes more discerning; or that our hearts are not naturally so inclined to sottishness and delusion as theirs. But only because God has not left us so much to ourselves, as he has them. He has given us more instruction to help us against our delusions. God has so ordered it in his providence, that we should have his good word to instruct us; and has caused that we should grow up from our infancy under christian instruction.
2. The extreme blindness and sottishness in things of religion, which is naturally in the hearts of men, appears not only in embracing and professing those errors that are very great, but also those that are so unnatural. They have not only embraced errors which are very contrary to truth, but very contrary to humanity ; not only against the light of nature, but against the more innocent inclinations of nature. Such has been, and still is, the blindness of many nations in the world, that they embrace those errors which do not only exclude all true virtue, all holy dispositions ; but those that have swallowed up the more harmless inclinations of human nature.