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That Sincerity of Desires and Endeavours, which is supposed to excuse in the Non-performance of Things in themselves good, particularly considered.
It is much insisted on by many, that some men, though they are not able to perform spiritual duties, such as repentance of sin, love to God, a cordial acceptance of Christ as exhibited and offered in the gospel, &c. yet may sincerely desire and endeavour after these things; and therefore must be excused; it being unreasonable to blame them for the omission of those things, which they sincerely desire and endeavour to do but cannot. Concerning this matter the following things may be observed.
1. What is here supposed, is a great mistake and gross absurdity; even that men may sincerely choose and desire those spiritual duties of love, acceptance, choice, rejection, &c. consisting in the exercise of the will itself, or in the disposition and inclination of the heart; and yet not be able to perform or exert them. This is absurd, because it is absurd to suppose that a man should directly, properly and sincerely incline to have an inclination, which at the same time is contrary to his inclination for that is to suppose him not to be inclined to that which he is inclined to. If a man, in the state and acts of his will and inclination, properly and directly falls in with those duties, he therein performs them: for the duties themselves consist in that very thing; they consist in the state and acts of the will being so formed and directed. Ifthe
4. Strictly speaking, no events, as such, are the objects of purpose; but rather, the purpose respects the good antecedents, whereby good events, following by necessity of consequence, are infallibly secured. Besides,
5. It is highly absurd, as must appear from the nature of law and obligation, to suppose that the sincerity of legislative or inviting will should depend on the event of compliance or non-compliance. Surely the sincerity of a lawgiver is not affected, whether all obey, or only some, or even none. Legislation is a testimony with sanctions, that the thing prohibited is evil, or the thing commanded is good, to the party. Hence,
6. The consequent, whether good or bad, is objectively established, or hypothetically proposed, by the legislator; and the antecedent is supposed to be within the reach, or, physically considered, placed within the power, of the agent. Therefore,
7. The agent's abuse of his physical power, in reference to the antecedent, constitutes the criminality, and the right use of it constitutes the virtue of an action. And then alone is physical power, in fact, used aright when it is the instrument of moral rectitude, or a right state of mind. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so, every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree (as such) cannot bring forth evil fruit; neither can a corrupt tree (as such) bring forth good fruit.-W.
soul properly and sincerely falls in with a certain proposed act of will or choice, the soul therein makes that choice its own. Even as when a moving body falls in with a proposed direction of its motion, that is the same thing as to move in that direction.
2. That which is called a desire and willingness for those inward duties, in such as do not perform them, has respect to these duties only indirectly and remotely, and is improperly so called; not only because (as was observed before) it respects those good volitions only in a distant view, and with respect to future time; but also because evermore, not these things themselves, but something else that is foreign, is the object that terminates these volitions and desires.
A drunkard who continues in his drunkenness, being under the power of a violent appetite to strong drink, and without any love to virtue; but being also extremely covetous and close, and very much exercised and grieved at the diminution of his estate, and prospect of poverty, may in a sort desire the virtue of temperance; and though his present will is to gratify his extravagant appetite, yet he may wish he had a heart to forbear future acts of intemperance, and forsake his excesses, through an unwillingness to part with his money but still he goes on with his drunkenness; his wishes and endeavours are insufficient and ineffectual; such a man has no proper, direct, sincere willingnesss to forsake this vice, and the vicious deeds which belong to it for he acts voluntarily in continuing to drink to excess: his desire is very improperly called a willingness to be temperate; it is no true desire of that virtue; for it is not that virtue that terminates his wishes; nor have they any direct respect at all to it. It is only the saving of his money, or the avoiding of poverty, that terminates and exhausts the whole strength of his desire. The virtue of temperance is regarded only very indirectly and improperly, even as a necessary means of gratifying the vice of
So a man of an exceedingly corrupt and wicked heart, who has no love to God and Jesus Christ, but, on the contrary, being very profanely and carnally inclined, has the greatest distaste of the things of religion, and enmity against them; yet being of a family, that from one generation to another, have most of them died, in youth, of an hereditary consumption; and so having little hope of living long; and having been instructed in the necessity of a supreme love to Christ, and gratitude for his death and sufferings, in order to his salvation from eternal misery; if under these circumstances he should, through fear of eternal torments, wish he had such a disposition but his profane and carnal heart remaining, he continues still in his habitual distaste of, and enmity to God
and religion, and wholly without any exercise of that love and gratitude, (as doubtless the very devils themselves, notwithstanding all the devilishness of their temper, would wish for a holy heart, if by that means they could get out of hell:) in this case, there is no sincere Willingness to love Christ and choose him as his chief good: these holy dispositions and exercises are not at all the direct object of the will: they truly share no part of the inclination or desire of the soul; but all is terminated on deliverance from torment: and these graces and pious volitions, notwithstanding this forced consent, are looked upon as in themselves undesirable; as when a sick man desires a dose he greatly abhors, in order to save his life. From these things it appears,
3. That this indirect Willingness is not that exercise of the will which the command requires; but is entirely a different one; being a volition of a different nature, and terminated altogether on different objects; wholly falling short of that virtue of will to which the command has respect.
4. This other volition, which has only some indirect concern with the duty required, cannot excuse for the want of that good will itself, which is commanded; being not the thing which answers and fulfils the command, and being wholly destitute of the virtue which the command seeks.
Further to illustrate this matter. If a child has a most excellent father that has ever treated him with fatherly kindness and tenderness, and has every way, in the highest degree, merited his love and dutiful regard, and is withal very wealthy; but the son is of so vile a disposition, that he inveterately hates his father; and yet, apprehending that his hatred of him is like to prove his ruin, by bringing him finally to those abject circumstances, which are exceedingly adverse to his avarice and ambition; he, therefore, wishes it were otherwise but yet remaining under the invincible power of his vile and malig nant disposition, he continues still in his settled hatred of his father. Now, if such a son's indirect willingness to love and honour his father at all acquits or excuses before God, for his failing of actually exercising these dispositions towards him, which God requires, it must be on one of these accounts. (1.) Either, That it answers and fulfils the command. But this it does not by the supposition; because the thing commanded is love and honour to his worthy parent. If the command be proper and just, as is supposed, then it obliges to the thing commanded; and so nothing else but that can answer the obligation. Or, (2.) It must be, at least, because there is that virtue or goodness in his indirect willingness, that is equivalent to the virtue required; and so balances or countervails it, and makes up for the want of it. But that also is contrary to the supposition. The willingness the son has merely from a regard
to money and honour, has no goodness in it, to countervail the want of the pious filial respect required.
Sincerity and reality in that indirect willingness, which has been spoken of, does not make it the better. That which is real and hearty is often called sincere; whether it be in virtue or vice. Some persons are sincerely bad; others are sincerely good; and others may be sincerc and hearty in things which are in their own nature indifferent; as a man may be sincerely desirous of eating when he is hungry. But being sincere, hearty, and in good earnest, is no virtue, unless it be in a thing that is virtuous. A man may be sincere and hearty in joining a crew of pirates, or a gang of robbers. When the devils cried out, and besought Christ not to torment them, it was no mere pretence; they were very hearty in their desires not to be tormented; but this did not make their will or desire virtuous. And if men have sincere desires, which are in their kind and nature no better, it can be no excuse for the want of any required virtue.
And as a man's sincerity in such an indirect desire or willingness to do his duty as has been mentioned, cannot excuse for the want of performance: so it is with Endeavours arising from such a willingness. The Endeavours can have no more goodness in them than the will of which they are the effect and expression. And therefore, however sincere and real, and however great a person's Endeavours are; yea, though they should be to the utmost of his ability: unless the will from which they proceed be truly good and virtuous, they can be of no avail or weight whatsoever in a moral respect. That which is not truly virtuous is, in God's sight, good for nothing and so can be of no value, or influence, in his account, to make up for any moral defect. For nothing can counterbalance evil, but good. If evil be in one scale, and we put a great deal into the other of sincere and earnest Desires, and many and great Endeavours; yet, if there be no real goodness in all, there is no weight in it; and so it does nothing towards balancing the real weight, which is in the opposite scale. It is only like subtracting a thousand noughts from before a real number, which leaves the sum just as it was.
Indeed such Endeavours may have a negatively good influence. Those things which have no positive virtue, have no positive moral influence; yet they may be an occasion of persons avoiding some positive evils. As if a man were in the water with a neighbour to whom he had ill will, and who could not swim, holding him by his hand; this neighbour was much in debt to him,--the man is tempted to let him sink and drown -but refuses to comply with the temptation; not from love to his neighbour, but from the love of money, and because by his drowning he should lose his debt; that which he does
in preserving his neighbour from drowning, is nothing good in the sight of God: yet hereby he avoids the greater guilt that would have been contracted, if he had designedly let his neighbour sink and perish. But when Arminians, in their disputes with Calvinists, insist so much on sincere Desires and Endeavours, as what must excuse men, must be accepted of God, &c. it is manifest they have respect to some positive moral weight or influence of those Desires and Endeavours. Accepting, justifying, or excusing on the account of sincere Endeavours (as they are called) and men doing what they can, &c. has relation to some moral value, something that is accepted as good, and as such, countervailing some defect.
But there is a great and unknown deceit, arising from the ambiguity of the phrase, sincere Endeavours. Indeed there is a vast indistinctness and unfixedness in most, or at least very many of the terms used to express things pertaining to moral and spiritual matters. Whence arise innumerable mistakes, strong prejudices, inextricable confusion, and endless controversy. The word sincere is most commonly used to signify something that is good: men are habituated to understand by it the same as honest and upright; which terms excite an idea of something good in the strictest and highest sense; good in the sight of Him, who sees not only the outward appearance, but the heart. And, therefore, men think that if a person be sincere, he will certainly be accepted. If it be said that any one is sincere in his Endeavours, this suggests, that his heart is good, that there is no defect of duty, as to virtuous inclination; he honestly and uprightly desires and endeavours to do as he is required; and this leads them to suppose, that it would be very hard and unreasonable to punish him, only because he is unsuccessful in his Endeavours, the thing endeavoured after being beyond his power.-Whereas it ought to be observed, that the word sincere has these different significations.
1. Sincerity, as the word is sometimes used, signifies no more than reality of Will and Endeavour, with respect to any thing that is professed or pretended; without any consideration of the nature of the principle or aim, whence this real Will and true Endeavour arises. If a man has some real desire either direct or indirect to obtain a thing, or does really endeavour after it, he is said sincerely to desire or endeavour, without any consideration of the goodness of the principle from which he acts, or any excellency or worthiness of the end for which he acts. Thus a man who is kind to his neighbour's wife who is sick and languishing, and very helpful in her case, makes a shew of desiring and endeavouring her restoration to health and vigour; and not only makes such a shew, but there