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and willing to enlighten you: but you must confess, and not cover your sin-you must come to the light, and not shun it-you must be convinced of sin, of righteousness, and of a judgment to come-you must be born again, or you cannot see the kingdom of God.
I. JOHN, iv. 7.-Every one that loveth, is born of God.
THE preceding discourse furnishes a scriptural account of human depravity. It is comprehended in the fact, that men have naturally no religion. If this has not been proved, we must abandon our confidence in the power of language to express ideas, and of evidence to prove matters of fact.
All which is admirable in intellect, or monitory in conscience, or comprehensive in knowledge, or refined in taste, or delicate in sensibility, or powerful in natural affection, may be found in man as the result of constitution, or the effect of intellectual and moral culture: but religion is not found, except as the result of a special divine interposition. The temple is beautiful, but it is a temple in ruins;-the divinity has departed, and the fire on the altar is extinct.
This depravity of man, implied in his destitution of religion, may be described briefly in the following particulars:
1. It is voluntary-A depraved nature is by many understood to mean, a nature excluding choice, and producing sin by an unavoidable necessity; as fountains of water pour forth their streams, or trees produce their fruit, or animals propagate their kind. The mistake lies in supposing that the nature of matter and mind are the same; whereas they are entirely different. The nature of matter excludes perception, understanding, and choice; but the nature of mind includes them all. Neither a holy nor a depraved nature are possible without understanding, conscience, and choice. To say of an accountable creature, that he is depraved by nature, is only to say, that, rendered capable by his Maker of obedience, he disobeys, from the commencement of his accountability. To us it does not belong to say when accountability commences, and to what extent it exists in the early stages of life. This is the prerogative of the Almighty. Doubtless there is a time when man becomes accoun
table, and the law of God obligatory: And what we have proved is, that, whenever the time arrives that it becomes the duty of man to love God more than the creature, he does in fact love the creature more than God-does most freely and most wickedly set his affections on things below, and refuse to set them on things above, and that his depravity consists in this state of the affections. For this universal concurrence of man in preferring the creature to the Creator, there is doubtless some cause or reason: but it cannot be a cause of which disobedience is an involuntary and unavoidable result. Ability to obey, is indispensable to moral obligation; and the moment any cause should render love to God impossible, that moment the obligation to love would cease, and man could no more have a depraved nature, than any other animal. A depraved nature can no more exist without voluntary agency, and accountability, than a material nature can exist without solidity and extension. Whatever effect, therefore, the fall of man may have had on his race, it has not had the effect to render it impossible for man to love God religi ously; and whatever may be the early constitution of man, there is nothing in it, and nothing withheld from it, which renders disobedience unavoidable, and obedience impossible. The first sin in every man is free, and might have been, and ought to have been avoided. At the time, whenever it is, that it first becomes the duty of man to be religious, he refuses, and refuses in the possession of such faculties as render religion a reasonable service, and him inexcusable, and justly punishable. The supreme love of the world is a matter of choice, formed under such circumstances, as that man might have chosen otherwise, and ought to have chosen otherwise, and is therefore exposed to punishment for this his voluntary and inexcusable disobedience. If, therefore, man is depraved by nature, it is a voluntary and accountable nature which is depraved, exercised in disobedience to the law of God. This is according to the Bible-"They have all gone aside,"-each man has been voluntary and active in his transgression. "They go astray as soon as they be born;" that is, in early life-How early, so as to deserve punishment, God only knows. The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God."-Every imagination or exercise of man's heart is evil. NATIVE DEPRAVITY,
THEN, IS A STATE OF THE AFFECTIONS, IN A VOLUNTARY ACCOUNTABLE CREATURE, AT VARIANCE WITH DIVINE REQUIREMENT FROM THE BEGINNING OF ACCOUNTABILITY.
2. The depravity of man, implied in his destitution of religion, is positive depravity. Multitudes are willing to admit the fact, that they have no religion, who cannot be convinced that they are in a state of positive opposition to God. They are not conscious of opposition to God; they have a respect for his word and worship; and desire, they think, to be religious; and do many things with the hope of obtaining religion. But their transgression of the law and of the gospel, in refusing to love, repent, and believe, is voluntary and positive transgression. Not to love, repent, and believe, when these duties are required, is positive disobedience, both to the law, and to the gospel. But, can a subject disobey the fundamental laws of the government under which he lives, and not be opposed to the government, and positively wicked? and can a man disobey in his heart the law of God and his gospel, and not be positively opposed to his Maker and Redeemer? The divine requirement is,
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God," and the man who has no religion refuses. The prohibition is, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me;" but the man without religion, in defiance of this prohibition, does love the creature more than God. Is not this positive disobedience? Were a course of action persisted in, which God forbids, that would be counted positive disobedience. But the obedience of the heart is of all others the most appreciated, and the disobedience of the heart, of all others, regarded as most evil. Some have admitted that they do not love God supremely; but have insisted, that neither are they opposed to God. But this neutral state, if it were possible, would be adding insult to disobedience for the command is, Thou shalt not be indifferent," Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart." Now, what greater insult can be offered to the glorious God, than to refuse him our preference, and hang in equilibrio between the attractions of his infinite glory, and the influence of a perishing world? But neutrality between such objects as God and the world, is impossible. It is the nature of mind to choose, if not prevented by force, as much as it is of matter to be quiescent, if not moved by external powers. To prefer the world, or God, is the unavoidable result of free agency. Not to choose at all, is the attribute of a stock or a stone; but not of a rational, accountable being. Nor is there any practical indication of neutrality. For whatever reverence a man may feel for God, and whatever external respect he may pay to him: his own consciousness will decide, and his course of conduct will confirm the decision, that his affections are set on things below, and his sources of enjoyment are found, not in God, but in the things of time. Here then the great law of the kingdom of God is violated by all who are without religion. But can the fundamental laws of a government be violated without opposition to the government?
This view which we have given of the mind, as excluding neutrality, is confirmed by the Bible. "No man can serve two masters." that is not for me is against me." "The friendship of the world is enmity with God.” Hence, according to the Bible, men are holy or unholy, just or unjust, righteous or wicked, godly or ungodly, penitent or impenitent, believers or unbelievers, in a state of pardon or of condemnation. Therefore, the depravity of the man, who is destitute of religion, is positive depravity.
3. The depravity of man, which is implied in his destitution of religion, is great. Many suppose that although they are not religious, they are not very sinful. Provided they are amiable and conscientious in their moral deportment and useful in their lives, they cannot conceive that God should have much reason to be displeased with them. If they had been guilty of great actual crimes, they would be ready to admit that they were great sinners. But so long as the chief that can be said against them is, that they have no religion, this, if it be a crime at all, is so common, and results, (as they think,) so much from unavoidable necessity, as almost to take away guilt, and leave a fair balance of good deeds and virtues to recommend them to God.
Far different from this, is Heaven's estimation of the guilt of being without religion. According to the Bible, whenever it becomes the duty
of man to love God religiously, it is a duty of the highest obligation, the violation of which constitutes criminality of the highest order. The Being who demands love is worthy; the beings of whom he demands it are able to love; and the affections of his creatures belong to God. He claims them as his right, and declares that he is robbed when they are withheld. The highest good of his subjects for time and eternity, is found in giving their hearts to God, and ruin is the consequence of refusal. The obligation to love according to the law, is therefore superlatively great. It is also constant; so that the sinfulness of man is great in its nature and great in its amount; for it is the violation, constantly, of the highest possible obligation. And when this is done by those who are favoured with the gospel, their sin is immensely aggravated by the consideration of all that God has done to save them from death. They have perverted the means of grace, the mercies of his providence, and the judgments of his rod-they have despised the riches of his goodness, and the fierceness of his wrath. They have trodden under foot the blood of his Son, and done despite to the Spirit of grace :-and is all this criminality of a low degree and small amount, and so neutralized by human inability, as to be more than balanced by amiable dispositions and good actions? As God views the subject, those who do not love him, are sinful to an astonishing degree. Hear, oh heavens! and give ear, oh earth! for the Lord hath spoken it, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me!"
4. The depravity of man implied in his destitution of religion, is entire. Most men who admit that they have no religion, resist the conclusion, that they are therefore entirely depraved. But to decide the point, we have only to ascertain in what purity of heart or holiness consists, and whether a man who has no religion possesses it. Purity of heart, or holiness, consists in conformity of heart to the law of God, and includes of course, supreme love to God. He, therefore, who has not supreme love to God, possesses no such affections of heart towards God as the law requires; and, so far as his heart is concerned, his depravity is entire. And as to actions, however correct in form they may be, they cannot, without holiness of heart, be regarded as obedience. The entireness of human depravity, therefore, consists in the constant voluntary refusal of man to love the Lord his God, with supreme complacency and good will.
The view we have taken of the character of man, as destitute of religion, illustrates both the nature and necessity of regeneration. The language of the Bible is clear and forcible on this subject; but it is claimed by many, that as there is no such moral defect in man as lays a foundation for the necessity of a universal moral change; those passages which might seem to teach it must be restricted, and understood to teach only the necessity of conversion from paganism, or Judaism, to Christianity, But the course of evidence, in these discourses, has disclosed a universal and appalling moral defect in man, which renders just such a change necessary as the language of the Bible indicates, according to its most direct and obvious import. To be without religion, is to be dead in sin; and to be so renewed by the Spirit as to love God supremely, is to be raised from the dead, and born of God. This is the change without which no man can see the kingdom of God.
This change, so indispensable, must also be a perceptible change. The attention to the means of grace and growing seriousness and solicitude which precede it, are progressive, as is the subsequent increase of holiliness and evidence of the change. But the change itself from selfishness to holiness—from supreme love of the world, to supreme love of God, is not a progressive, but an instantaneous change. This accords with the representations of the Bible. It is a new creation, a resurrection from the dead, &c. I do not say that every Christian perceives, at the time, the moment of transition; or that, perceiving that a change of some kind has taken place, he perceives at once the evidence that it is a saving change. Not unfrequently days and weeks may pass away, before he will dare to hope and sometimes the truly pious, from a misapprehension of their evidence, may for years be afflicted with doubts and fears concerning their state. But that the change is real, and great, and instantaneous, when a sinner, who has loved the world supremely, first sets his affections on things above, is self-evident. It would be ridiculous in the relations of life, to talk of unperceived affection for a father or mother, husband or wife; and equally absurd is the supposition of loving God more than the world, without the occurrence of any perceptible change.
There is, I am aware, a general feeling, that men are not quite prepared to die without becoming better. But this emendation, it is thought by many, is to be attained gradually, by moral culture, and imperceptibly, as the grass grows by rain and sunshine. Any great solicitude, or deep conviction of sin, or sudden peace and joy, it is supposed, are not to be expected, but deprecated as delusion. And some, and even ministers, warn their friends not to be alarmed, and not to expect any sudden and happy change in their views and affections. But if there be with every man a time when he is not religious, there must be a time when he becomes religious. Even were religion the result of natural principles duly cultivated, there must be a time when cultivation has produced its results. If it were produced by the cultivation of some low degrees of goodness in man; still there must be a time when it reaches to the degree of goodness which constitutes religion. Or if, as the scriptures teach, there is no religion in the heart of man by nature, then there must be a moment of time when its existence in the heart begins. For that which once had no existence, and comes into being, must have a begin ning. There is no medium between existence and non-existence, in matter, mind, or morals; no moment in which a thing is neither created nor uncreated, neither in existence nor out of existence.
It is absurd to speak of love as in a process of gradual formation: for what is half-formned love, repentance, faith, or any other trait of Christian character? How long must culture operate to produce the simple and indivisible emotion of love to God? And if the obedience of love must be gradual, and cannot be instantaneous, how is it that the requirements of Heaven should so disregard this constitution of mind, as to command man immediately to love and repent, and warn him of growing hardness of heart as the consequence of delay? As all men, then, are destitute of religion by nature, its commencement in the soul is at all times sudden.