Изображения страниц

judge of actions as perfectly to ascertain their motives. He is the God of knowledge, by whom actions are weighed.

It is right, no doubt, that children should be dutiful to their parents, parents affectionate to their children, and that every relation of life should be filled up with fidelity and honor. But these duties require to be discharged in the love of God, not without it: nor is there any duty performed, strictly speaking, where the love of God is wanting. Read those parts of Paul's Epistles, where he exhorts to relative duties, and you will find that he admonishes children to obey their parents in the Lord; parents to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; servants to obey their masters in singleness of heart as unto Christ; and masters to be just and kind unto their servants, as having an eye to their Master in heaven; adding, And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily as to the Lord, and not unto men. Ephes. vi. 1–9. Col. iii. 23. Now all those persons, whose behavior may appear to be amiable in such relations, but who have not the love of God in them, do what they do merely as unto men, and consequently fly in the face of the apostolic exhortation, instead of complying with it, even in the least degree,

It may be asked, if a merely external compliance with relative duties be a sin, would the omission of them be any better? I answer, No; but worse. There are, as hath been allowed before, different degrees of sin: to perform an action which tends to the good of society from a wrong motive, is sin; but to neglect to perform it, or to perform one of an opposite tendency, is a greater sin. In the one case we sin against God; in the other against both God and our neighbor.

Thirdly, you allege, that "every man is possessed of conscience, which bears witness to him in numberless instances of what is right and wrong; and this witness is known to have considerable influence even on wicked men, so as to impel them to the performance of many good actions, and to deter them from others which are evil." To this I answer, 1. Conscience, though necessary to the performance of both good and evil, does not partake of either the one or the other. Conscience is that branch of the intellectual faculty which takes cognizance of the good and evil of our own actions; but itself is distinct from both. It is simple knowledge, essential indeed to moral agency, being one of the principal things by which we are distinguished from the brute creation; but, as all duty is contained in love, good and evil must consist entirely in the temper or dis position of the heart, and the mere dictates of conscience including no such dispositions, neither good nor evil can, strictly speaking, be predicated of them. Both men and devils will never cease to possess consciences, witnessing to them what is good and evil, even in a world of misery, when, as all must allow, they will be utterly destitute of moral virtue. We read, it is true, of a good conscience, and an evil conscience, of a conscience seared as with an hot iron, &c.; and so we read of an evil eye, of eyes full of adultery, that cannot cease from sin; but as there is neither good nor evil in the sight of the eye, only as it is under the influence of the temper or disposition of the soul, neither is there in the dictates of conscience. If there be any virtue or goodness in wicked men, it consists not in their know 1edge of the difference between good and evil, but in

complying with the one, and avoiding the other. 2. That compliance with the dictates of conscience, of which wicked men are the subjects, has nothing of the tove of God in it, and consequently no real virtue. While conscience suggests what is duty, a variety of motives may induce men to comply with it, or rather with those actions which are usually the expressions of it; such as self-interest, a sense of honor, the fear of reproach in this world, and of Divine wrath in another: and while they act in this manner, they are considered as acting conscientiously; but if love be the fulfilling of the law, where love is wanting, the law is not fulfilled, no not in the least degree.

Fourthly, you allege, that "if all the actions of unregenerate men be not only mixed with sin, but are in their own nature sinful, then, whether they eat or drink, or whatsoever they do, they sin against God; but eating and drinking in moderation appear to be mere natural actions, and to contain neither moral good nor moral evil." When I affirm all the actions of unregenerate men to be sinful, I would be understood by actions to mean all voluntary exercises capable of being performed to a good end; and whatever is capable of being so performed is not a mere natural, but a moral action. That eating, and drinking, and every other voluntary exercise, are moral actions, is evident; for that we are exhorted, whether we eat or drink or whatsoever we do, to do all to the glory of God. In an irrational being it is true these would be mere natural actions; but in a a moral agent they are not so, and the manner in which they are attended to renders them either good or evil. Every rational creature performs these actions either

to the glory of God, that is, that he may be strengthened to serve the Lord, and do good in his generation, or he does not. If he does, they are virtuous; if not, there is a criminal defect in the end of them; and as the end or intent of an action is that which determines its nature, that which would otherwise have been lawful and laudable becomes sinful. To plough the soil is as much a natural action as eating and drinking, yet as all such actions are performed by wicked men for mere selfish purposes, without any regard to God and the general good, they become sinful in the sight of God, and hence we read that the ploughing of the wicked is


Lastly, you allege, "that if these principles be true, there can be no ground for a ministerial address, no motive on which to exhort unregenerate men to cease from evil, and do good, nor any encouragement for them to comply with any thing short of what is spiritually good." If you mean to say that ministers, on this account, can entertain no well founded hope of success from the pliability of men's hearts, I fully grant it. Our expectations must rest upon the power and promise of God, and these alone, or we shall be disappointed. But if you mean to suggest that therefore all addresses to unregenerate sinners exhorting them to do good, are unreasonable, this is more than can be admitted. If a total depravity would take away all ground for rational address, a partial one would take it away in part; and then in proportion as we see men disinclined to goodness, we are to cease warning and expostulating with them! But this is self-evident absurdity. The truth is, while men are rational beings, they are accountable for

all they do, whatever be the inclination of their hearts; and so long as they are not consigned to hopeless perdition they are the subjects of a Gospel address. Nor can it be affirmed with truth that there are no motives for them on which they can be exhorted to cease to do evil, or learn to do well: the motives to these thing exist in all their native force independent of the incli nation or disinclination of their hearts to comply with them. Nor is the use of them in the Christian ministry thereby rendered improper: on the contrary, it is highly necessary; as much so as it is for the sun to keep his course, and go on to shine, notwithstanding it may prove the occasion of a filthy dunghill emitting a greater stench. If any means be adapted to do good to wicked men, they are such as tend to fasten conviction upon them; but there is no mean more adapted to this end than putting them upon trial. A sinner is exhorted to repent and believe in Christ, he feels hardened in insensibility, he cannot repent; he has no desire after Christ. A consciousness of this kind, if it operate according to its native tendency, will lead him to reflect, "What a state must I be in! Invited to repent and believe in Christ for the salvation of my soul, and cannot comply! Mine surely is the very heart of the devil!" Let a sinner be brought to such a state of mind, and there is some hope concerning him.

You seem to feel sorry that there should be no encouragement held out to sinners to comply with any thing but what is spiritually good; and many who have sustained the character of Christian ministers have felt the same; and considering that poor sinners cannot comply with duties of this kind, have contented themselves.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »