By Adam Clarke
THE CREATION OF MAN .—Let us
figure to ourselves, for we may innocently do it, the state of the
divine nature previously to the formation of the human being.
Infinitely happy, because infinitely perfect and self- sufficient,
the supreme Being could feel no wants;—to him nothing was wanting,
nothing needful. As the "good man is satisfied from himself," from
the contemplation of his conscious rectitude; so, comparing
infinitely great with small things, the divine mind was supremely
satisfied with the possession and contemplation of its own unlimited
excellences. From unmixed, unsullied goodness sprang all the
endlessly varied attributes, perfections, and excellences of the
divine nature; or rather, in this principle all are founded, and of
this each is an especial modification. Benevolence is, however, an
affection inseparable from goodness. God, the All-sufficient, knew
that he could, in a certain way, communicate influences from his own
perfections: but the being must resemble himself to whom the
communication could be made. His benevolence, therefore, to
communicate and diffuse his own infinite happiness, we may naturally
suppose, led him to form the purpose of creating intelligent beings,
to whom such communication could be made. He, therefore, in the
exuberance of his eternal goodness, projected the creation of man,
whom he formed in his own image, that he might be capable of those
communications. Here, then, was a motive worthy of eternal goodness,
the desire to communicate its own blessedness; and here was an
object worthy of the divine wisdom and power, the making an
intelligent creature a transcript of his own eternity, Psalm viii,
5, just less than God; and endowing him with powers and faculties of
the most extraordinary and comprehensive nature.
I do not found these observations on the supposition of certain excellences possessed by man previously to his fall: I found them on what he is now. I found them on his vast and comprehensive understanding; on his astonishing powers of ratiocination; on the extent and endless variety of his imagination or inventive faculty: and I see the proof and exercise of these in his invention of arts and sciences. Though fallen from God, naturally degraded and depraved, he has not lost his natural powers; he is yet capable of the most exalted degrees of knowledge in all natural things; and his "knowledge is power."
Let us take a cursory view of what he has done, and of what he is capable: he has numbered the stars of heaven; he has demonstrated the planetary revolutions and the laws by which they are governed; he has accounted for every apparent anomaly in the various affections of the heavenly bodies, he has measured their distances, determined their solid contents, and weighed the sun!
His researches into the three kingdoms of nature, the animal, vegetable, and mineral, are, for their variety, correctness, and importance, of the highest consideration. The laws of matter, of organized and unorganized beings, and those chymical principles by which all the operations of nature are conducted, have been investigated by him with the utmost success. He has shown the father of the rain, and who has begotten the drops of dew; he has accounted for the formation of the snow, the hailstones, and the ice; and demonstrated the laws by which the tempest and tornado are governed; he has taken the thunder from the clouds; and he plays with the lightnings of heaven!
He has invented those grand subsidiaries of life, the lever, the screw, the wedge, the inclined plane, and the pulley: and by those means multiplied his power beyond conception; he has invented the telescope, and by this instrument has brought the hosts of heaven almost into contact with the earth. By his engines he has acquired a sort of omnipotency over inert matter; and produced effects which, to the uninstructed mind, present all the appearance of supernatural agency. By his mental energy he has sprung up into illimitable space; and has seen and described those worlds which an infinite skill has planned, and an infinite benevolence sustains. He has proceeded to all describable and assignable limits, and has conceived the most astonishing relations and affections of space, place, and vacuity; and yet, at all those limits, he has felt himself unlimited; and still can imagine the possibility of worlds and beings, natural and intellectual, in endless variety, beyond the whole. Here is a most extraordinary power; describe all known or conjectured beings, and he can imagine more; point out all the good that even God has promised, and he can desire still greater enjoyments!
Of no creature but man is it said, that it was made in the image and likeness of God. Neither the thrones, dominions, principalities, powers, cherubim, seraphim, archangels nor angels, have shared this honour. It is possible that only one order of created beings could be thus formed.
"God made man in his own image, and in his own likeness." Now this must have been what is termed "the moral image of God;" for it cannot be expounded of any formal image or likeness of that infinite Spirit: and from St. Paul, Col. iii, 10, and Eph. iv, 24, we learn that this image consisted in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness. 1. Man had an intellect which God filled with his own wisdom, therefore he was wise; and he had from that wisdom a knowledge of himself, of God, and of his works, far beyond what we can now comprehend. His giving names to the different creatures was one proof of the extent of that knowledge, and of its special power to take in particular, as well as general views. He gave each creature its name; and, as it appears, this name was expressive of some essential characteristic or quality of the creature to which it was applied. The only thing to which this knowledge did not apply, was the knowledge of good and evil; of good, as contradistinguished from evil; and of evil, an implying the opposite of good. This distinction could not have been known but by experience; and such an experience could not comport with the perfection of his state, as it would be the consequence of his transgression of his Maker's command. When he ate of the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he then received a knowledge which God never designed him to have. He knew good lost, and evil got; but, previously, his knowledge was pure, holy, good, clear, and perfective of his being. 2. Righteousness. This word among our ancestors signified the same as "right-wise-ness," thorough wisdom; that which gave a man to distinguish between right and wrong: this is the wisdom which comes from above; and that man is the right-wise man who acts by its dictates. Right is straight; and wrong is crooked. Hence the righteous man is one who goes straight on or forward; acts and walks by line and rule: and the unrighteous is he who walks in crooked paths, does what is wrong, and is never guided by true wisdom. This power, and, with it, the propensity to act aright, was one of the characteristics of the human soul as it came out of the hand of God. It was created in knowledge and righteousness. 3. Holiness, piety toward God; heart worship, pure from hypocrisy and superstition; steady, uniform piety; worshipping God in spirit and in truth. This was another constituent of the image of God in which man was made. And he walked in truth. It was the holiness of truth, unsophisticated piety. Every feeling was a feeling of true piety; and every act of worship flowed from that feeling. This was a state of perfection. He knew every thing that belonged to his being and his duty perfectly; he acted perfectly; he walked in the right way; he went straight forward; he ever did what was lawful and right in the sight of God his Maker; he reverenced him in the highest degree; offered the purest worship from a pure and holy heart; and all was according to truth; there were no semblances, no outsides of piety; all was sterling, all substantial; all such as God could require; and with every act and feeling was the Lord pleased.
It is not enough to say that God made all his works to show forth his glory. He had no need to contemplate his own works to be satisfied with the exertion of his power and wisdom. This would suppose that his gratification depended on his own work. He needs not the exertions of his eternal power and Godhead to minister to, or augment his happiness; for, although he can not but be pleased with every work of his hand, as all that he has created is very good, yet it was not for this end, but it was in reference to a great design, that they were created and still subsist. This design was the formation and eternal beatification of intelligent beings. He therefore made MAN in his own image and in his own likeness: he made him immortal, rational, and holy. He endowed him with intellectual powers of the most astonishing compass. He made him capable of knowing the Author of his being in the glory of his perfections, and of deriving unutterable happiness from this knowledge. But he made him immortal, a transcript of his own eternity; he cannot wholly die—cannot be annihilated, but must exist, and exist intellectually, to all eternity. He has made him holy, that he might be for ever capable of union with HIM who is the Source and Fountain of all purity; and his eternal happiness is to consist in his eternal union with this Being; seeing him as he is, knowing him in his own light, and endlessly receiving additional degrees of knowledge and happiness out of his fulness.
The soul of man was made in the image and likeness of God. Now, as the divine Being is infinite, he is neither limited by parts, nor definable by passions; therefore he can have no corporeal image after which he made the body of man. The image and likeness must necessarily be intellectual; his mind, his soul, must have been formed after the nature and perfections of his God. The human mind is still endowed with most extraordinary capacities; it was more so when issuing out of the hands of its Creator. God was now producing spirit, and a spirit too formed after the perfections of his own nature. God is the Fountain whence this spirit issued: hence the stream must resemble the spring which produced it. God is holy, just, wise, good, and perfect; so must the soul be that sprang from him; there could be in it nothing impure, unjust, ignorant, evil, low, base, mean, or vile. It was created after the image of God; and that image, St. Paul tells us, consisted in righteousness, true holiness, and knowledge. Hence man was wise in his mind, holy in his heart, and righteous in his actions. Were even the word of God silent on this subject, we could not infer less from the lights held out to us by reason and common sense. The text, Gen. i, 26, tells us he was the work of ELOHIM, the divine plurality, marked here more distinctly by the plural pronouns, US and OUR ; and, to show that he was the masterpiece of God's creation, all the persons in the Godhead are represented as united in counsel and effort to produce this astonishing creature.
Both his body and soul are adapted with astonishing wisdom to their residence and occupations; and also the place of their residence, as well as the surrounding objects, in their diversity, colour, and mutual relations, to the mind and body of this lord of the creation. The contrivance, arrangement, action, and reaction of the different parts of the body show the admirable skill of the wondrous Creator; while the various powers and faculties of the mind, acting on and by the different organs of this body, proclaim the soul's divine origin, and demonstrate that he who was made in the image and likeness of God was a transcript of his own excellence, destined to know, love, and dwell with his Maker throughout eternity.
That God made man conditionally immortal cannot, I think, be reasonably doubted. Though formed out of the dust of the earth, his Maker breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living soul; and as there was then nothing violent, nothing out of its place, no agent too weak or too slow on the one hand, or too powerful or too active on the other; so all the operations of nature were only performed in time, in quantity, and in power, according to the exigencies of the ends to be accomplished. So that in number, weight, and measure, every thing existed and acted according to the unerring wisdom and skill of the omnipotent Creator. There could, therefore, be no corruption or decay; no disorderly induration, nor preternatural solution or solubility of any portions of matter; no disorders in the earth; nothing noxious or unhealthy in the atmosphere. The vast mass was all perfect: the parts of which it was composed equally so. As he created, so he upheld all things by the word of his power: and as he created all things, so by him did all things consist; and among these MAN. Every solid had its due consistency; every fluid its proper channel; some for support and strength, others for activity and energy; and the various fluids to conduct to every part the necessary supplies, and to furnish those spirits by whose natural and regular agency life, under God, is sustained.
It would be absurd to suppose that God formed any intelligent beings without a law or rule of life, when we know that he formed them to show forth his glory: which they can do no otherwise than by exhibiting, in actions, those virtues derived from the perfections of God. And those actions must be founded on some prescription or rule. What our blessed Lord calls the "first and greatest commandment," must be the law in question; namely, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength." The very nature of man's creation must show that this was the law or rule of life by which he was called to act. This law is suited to the nature of an intelligent being; and as man was made in the image and likeness of God, this law was suitable to his nature; and the principles of it must have been impressed on that nature.
God gave man a law; the spirit of which was, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul," &c. This was plain, simple, holy, just, and good. 1. It was plain,—so that it could not be mistaken. 2. Simple,—so that it could not perplex nor confound by distinctions and subtleties. 3. Holy,—totally free either from sin or imperfection. 4. Just,—as requiring no obedience but what the creature owed to its Creator. And, 5. Good,—as it led to the continual perfection of the creature, and secured its increasing felicity.
The first positive precept God gave to man was given as a test of obedience, and a proof of his being in a dependent, probationary state. It was necessary that, while constituted lord of this lower world, he should know that he was only God's vicegerent, and must be accountable to him for the use of his mental and corporeal powers, and for the use he made of the different creatures put under his care. The man from whose mind the strong impression of this dependence and responsibility is erased, necessarily loses sight of his origin and end, and is capable of any species of wickedness. As God is sovereign, he has a right to give to his creatures what commands he thinks proper. An intelligent creature without a law to regulate his conduct is an absurdity; this would destroy at once the idea of his dependence and accountableness. Man must ever feel God as his sovereign, and act under his authority, which he cannot do unless he have a rule of conduct. This rule God gives; and it is no matter of what kind it is, as long as obedience to it is not beyond the powers of the creature who is to obey. God says, "There is a certain fruit-bearing tree; thou shalt not eat of its fruit; but of all the other fruits, and they are all that are necessary for thee, thou mayest freely, liberally eat." Had he not an absolute right to say so: And was not man bound to obey?
Let it be observed that such a law to such a being cannot admit of deviations; it requires a full, perfect, and universal obedience; and an obedience performed with all the powers and energies of body and soul.
But does it follow that man, in this pure and perfect state, fulfilling at all times the sublime duty required by this law, could merit an eternal glory by his obedience? No. For he is the creature of God; his powers belong to his Maker: he owes him all the services he can perform; and, when he has acted up to the utmost limits of his exalted nature, in obedience to this most pure and holy law, it will appear that he can make no demand on divine justice for remuneration; he is, as it respects God, an "unprofitable servant;" he has only done his duty, and he has nothing to claim. In these circumstances was not only man in paradise, but also every angel and archangel of God. Throughout eternity, no created being, however pure, holy, submissive, and obedient, can have any demand on its Creator. From him its being was originally derived, and by him that being is sustained; to him, therefore, by right it belongs; and whatever he has made it capable of he has a right to demand. As well might the cause be supposed to be a debtor to the effect produced by it, as the Creator, in any circumstances, to be a debtor to the creature.
THE FALL OF MAN .—Let us review the whole of this melancholy business, the fall and its effects.
1. From the New Testament we learn that Satan associated himself with the creature which we term the serpent, and the original, the nachash, in order to seduce and ruin mankind; 2 Cor. xi, 3; Rev. xii, 9; xx, 2. 2. That this creature was the most suitable to his purpose, as being the most subtle, the most intelligent and cunning of all beasts of the field, endued with the gift of speech and reason, and consequently one in which he could best conceal himself. 3. As he knew that while they depended on God they could not be ruined, he therefore endeavoured to seduce them from this dependence. 4. He does this by working on that propensity of the mind to desire an increase of knowledge with which God, for the most gracious purposes, had endued it. 5. In order to succeed, he insinuates that God through motives of envy had given the prohibition: "God doth know that in the day you eat of it ye shall be like himself," &c. 6. As their present state of blessedness must be inexpressibly dear to them, he endeavours to persuade them that they could not fall from this state: "Ye shall not surely die:"—"Ye shall not only retain your present blessedness, but it shall be greatly increased;" a temptation by which he has ever since fatally succeeded in the ruin of multitudes of souls, whom he persuaded that, being once right, they could never finally go wrong. 7. As he has kept the unlawfulness of the means proposed out of sight, persuaded them that they could not fall from their steadfastness, assured them that they should resemble God himself, and consequently be self-sufficient, and totally independent of him; they listened, and, fixing their eye only on the promised good, neglected the positive command, and, determining to become wise and independent at all events, "they took of the fruit, and did eat."
Let us now examine the effects.
1. "Their eyes were opened, and they saw they were naked." They saw what they never saw before,—that they were stripped of their excellence; that they had lost their innocence; and that they had fallen into a state of indigence and danger. 2. Though their eyes were opened to see their nakedness, yet their mind was clouded, and their judgment confused. They seem to have lost all just notions of honour and dishonour, of what was shameful and what was praiseworthy. It was dishonourable and shameful to break the commandment of God; but it was neither to go naked when clothing was not necessary. 3. They seem, in a moment, not only to have lost sound judgment, but also reflection; a short time before
Adam was so wise that he could name all the creatures brought before him according to their respective natures and qualities; now he does not know the first principle concerning the divine nature,—that it knows all things, and that it is omnipresent; therefore he endeavours to hide himself among the trees from the eye of the all-seeing God! How astonishing is this! When the creatures were brought to him he could name them because he could discern their respective natures and properties; when Eve was brought to him he could immediately tell what she was, who she was, and for what end made, though he was in a deep sleep when God formed her; and this seems to be particularly noted, merely to show the depth of his wisdom, and the perfection of his discernment. But, alas! how are the mighty fallen! Compare his present with his past state, his state before the transgression with his state after it; and say, Is this the same creature? the creature of whom God said, as he said of all his works, "He is very good;" just what he should be, a living image of the living God; but now lower than the beasts of the field? 4. This account could never have been credited had not the indisputable proofs and evidences of it been continued by uninterrupted succession to the present time. All the descendants of this first guilty pair resemble their degenerate ancestors, and copy their conduct. The original mode of transgression is still continued, and the original sin in consequence. Here are the proofs:—1. Every human being is endeavouring to obtain knowledge by unlawful means, even while the lawful means and every available help are at hand. 2. They are endeavouring to be independent, and to live without God in the world; hence prayer, the language of dependence on God's providence and grace, is neglected, I might say detested, by the great majority of men. Had I no other proof than this that man is a fallen creature, my soul would bow to this evidence. 3. Being destitute of the true knowledge of God, they seek privacy for their crimes, not considering that the eye of God is upon them, being only solicitous to hide them from the eye of man.
The simple, plain, easy condition on which depended his immortality, man broke; and thus forfeited his life to the blessing with which he was naturally endowed; and thus corruption and decay, and a disorderly course of nature, were superinduced. The air that he breathed became unfriendly to the continual support of life; the seeds of dissolution were engendered in his constitution; and out of these various diseases sprang, which, by their repeated attacks, sapped the foundation of life, till at last the fruit of his dissolution verified the judgment of his Creator; for, after living a dying life, it was at last terminated by death.
There was not only no death before sin, but also no predisposing cause of death: nothing that in the course of nature could bring it about. The ground was fertile, and it seems there were neither noxious nor troublesome productions from the soil; and the benediction of the Most High rested upon the earth, mountains, hills, plains, and valleys. But when sin entered, what a change! The glebe becomes stubborn and intractable noxious and troublesome weeds have their full growth; though the husbandman exerts all his muscular force in painful and exhausting labour, his toil is ill repaid; thorns and thistles—every genus, family, and order of injurious plants spring up with rapid speed into destructive perfection; and often, when the labourer is about to fill his arms with the productions of a painfully earned harvest, a blight vitiates the grain;—tornadoes and tempests shake it out of its husk, and give it to the fowls of the air, or tear up the stalks from the root and scatter them to the winds of heaven;—or land floods carry off the shocks which stood nearly ready to be housed;—and thus the hope of the husbandman perishes. By these, and by various other means, does the righteous God fulfil the purposes of his justice, and accomplish his declaration, "In sorrow shalt thou eat of it;" for on thy account the earth itself is cursed. Thou shalt return to the ground whence thou wert taken. Thou hast forfeited thy natural happiness and immortality; death spiritual has already entered thy soul, and the death of thy body shall soon succeed—THOU SHALT DIE .
Man is not what God made him. Were the Scriptures silent on the subject, all reason and common sense would at once declare that it is impossible that the infinitely perfect God could make a morally imperfect, much less a corrupt and sinful being. Yet God is the maker of man, and he tells us that he made him in his own image, and in his own likeness; it follows, then, that man has fallen from that state of holiness and perfection in which he was created. And that his fall took place in the head and root of human nature, before any of the generations of men were propagated on the earth, is evident, not only from the declaration of God himself in his word, but also from this strong commanding fact, that there never was yet discovered a nation or tribe of holy or righteous men in any part of the world; nor is there a record that any such people was ever known. This is a truly surprising circumstance, and a most absolute proof that not only all mankind are now fallen and sinful, but have ever been in the same state: and this fall must have taken place previously to the propagation of mankind; for, had it not taken place in our first parents before they began to propagate and people the earth, the heads of families and their successors who might have been born previously to such fall, could not have partaken of the contagion; and consequently must have been the progenitors of nations doing righteousness, loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength; and their neighbour as themselves. But no such nation exists; no such nation ever did exist. Thus we find that universal experience and knowledge agree with and confirm the account given in the book of Genesis of the fall of man. The root being corrupted, the fruit also must be corrupt; the fountain being poisoned, the streams must be impure. All men coming into the world in the way of natural generation must be precisely the same with him from whom they derive their being. The body, soul, and spirit of all the descendants of Adam must partake of his moral imperfections; for it is an inflexible and invariable law in nature that "like shall produce its like." We, therefore, seeing this total corruption of human nature, no longer hope to gather grapes off thorns or figs off thistles.
Experience not only confirms the great but tremendous truth, that all mankind are fallen from the image of God, but it shows us that man has naturally a propensity to do evil, and none to do good; yea, to do evil, when it is most demonstrably to his own hurt; that the great principles of self-love and self-interest weigh nothing against the sinful propensities of his mind; that he is continually and confessedly running to his own ruin; and has of himself no power or influence by which he can correct, restrain, or destroy the viciousness of his own nature; in short, that he "lieth in the wicked one," with an unavailing wish, yet without any efficient power, to rise. Understanding, judgment, and reason, those so much boasted, strong and commanding powers of the soul, which should regulate all the inferior faculties, are themselves so fallen, enfeebled, darkened, and corrupted, as to spiritual good, that they see not how to command, and feel not how to perform: there is, therefore, no hope that the man can raise himself from the fall, and replace himself in a state of moral rectitude; for the very principles by which he should rise are themselves equally fallen with all the rest. Wishing and willing are all that he can exercise; but those, through want of moral energy, are totally inefficient: God has inspired him with the desire to be saved; and this alone places him in a salvable state. There is, therefore, in the human soul no self- reviviscent power, no innate principle which may develope itself, expand, and arise; all is infirm; all is wretched, diseased, and helpless. This view of the wretched state of mankind led one of the primitive fathers to consider the whole human race as one great diseased man, lying helpless, stretched out over the whole inhabited globe, from east to west, from north to south; to heal whom the omnipotent Physician descended from heaven.
From all the accounts we have of the most eminent, ancient, and celebrated nations, such as the Egyptians, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans, we find them, from their own relations, to have been destitute of the knowledge of the true God, and although cultivating the various arts and sciences, yet fierce, barbarous, and cruel. Their history is a tissue of frauds, aggressions, broken truces, assassinations, revolts, insurrections, general disorder, and insecurity. Their laws despotic and oppressive; their kings and governors tyrants; their statesmen time-servers and oppressors of the common people; their soldiers licensed plunderers, their heroes human butchers; their conquests the blast of desolation and death on empires and nations; their religion superstitious, gross, brutal, and unclean; and their gods, and general objects of their worship, worse in their character and acknowledged practices than the most villanous and execrable of men. And what must be the imitations in their votaries when they had such originals to copy? This was their general state and character.
"But were not the highly cultivated Greeks and the learned and polite Romans illustrious exceptions?" I except none of them from this general censure. Read their own histories: those of the republics of Greece; and what do you find? Treasons, insurrections, crimes, and carnage of all descriptions. Consult also the Roman writers on their republican, consular tribunal, regal and imperial states; and see the portraits which those master painters have sketched; and what do you behold? No caricatures, but likenesses from life—features fell and distorted, scowling through the deep and murky shades which serve to relieve and make them prominent.
Nor has the lapse of time mended the moral condition and character of the heathen nations. Our extensive commercial connections, not only with the nations of Europe and America, but also with the principal heathen kingdoms and states in most parts of the world, have brought us to an intimate acquaintance with the dark places of the earth which are filled with the habitations of cruelty; and what have we seen? Darkness covering every land, and gross darkness the hearts of the people; idolatry the most disgusting, and superstition the most foolish and degrading, closely associated with ridiculous ceremonies and cruel rites; religious suicide; abandonment of the aged to starvation when past labour, or left in the woods to be devoured by wild beasts when in hopeless disease; exposure of infants; burning of widows with the bodies of their deceased husbands, their own children lighting the funeral pyre; the most painful, unmeaning, and lengthened- out pilgrimages; religious fasts, by which health and strength are exhausted; and feasts where the man sinks into the beast:—all these, and more of a similar kind, equally degrading and destructive, prevail among the millions of Asia, and especially among what are called the civilized, mild, and pacific inhabitants of Hindostan.
What a gradation is here! 1. In our fall from God, our first apparent state is, that we are without strength; have lost our principle of spiritual power, by having lost the image of God, righteousness and true holiness, in which we were created. 2. We are ungodly; having lost our strength to do good, we have also lost all power to worship God aright. The mind which was made for God is no longer his residence. 3. We are sinners; feeling we have lost our centre of rest, and our happiness, we go about seeking rest, but find none. What we have lost in losing God we seek in earthly things; and thus are continually missing the mark, and multiplying transgressions against our Maker. 4. We are enemies; sin indulged increases in strength; evil acts engender fixed and rooted habits; the mind, everywhere poisoned with sin, increases in averseness from good; and mere aversion produces enmity, and enmity acts of hostility, fell cruelty, &c. So that the enemy of God hates his Maker and his service; is cruel to his fellow creatures; "a foe to God was ne'er true friend to man;" and even torments his own soul! Though every man brings into the world the seeds of all these evils, yet it is only by growing up in him that they acquire their perfection: Nemo repente fuit turpissimus, "no man becomes a profligate at once;" he arrives at it by slow degrees; and the speed he makes is proportioned to his circumstances, means of gratifying sinful passions, evil education, bad company, &c., &c. These make a great diversity in the moral states of men. All have the same seeds of evil: Nemo sine vitiis nascitur, "all come defiled into the world;" but all have not the same opportunities of cultivating these seeds. Besides, as God's Spirit is continually convincing the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment, and the ministers of God are seconding its influence with their pious exhortations,—as the Bible is in almost every house, and is less or more heard or read by almost every person,—these evil seeds are receiving continual blasts and cheeks, so that, in many cases, they have not a vigorous growth. These causes make the principal moral difference that we find among men; though in evil propensities they are all radically the same.
This completes their bad character; they are downright atheists, at least practically such. They fear not God's judgments, although his eye is upon them in their evil ways. There is not one article of what is charged against the Jews and Gentiles here that may not be found justified by the histories of both, in the most ample manner. And what was true of them in those primitive times is true of them still. With very little variation, these are the evils in which the vast mass of mankind delight and live. Look especially at men in a state of warfare; look at the nations of Europe, who enjoy most of the light of God; see what has taken place among them from 1792 to 1814; see what destruction of millions, and what misery of hundreds of millions, have been the consequence of Satanic excitement in fallen, ferocious passions! OSIN, what hast thou done! How many myriads of souls hast thou hurried unprepared into the eternal world! Who, among men or angels, can estimate the greatness of this calamity! this butchery of souls! What widows, what orphans are left to deplore their sacrificed husbands and parents, and their own consequent wretchedness! And whence sprang all this? From that, whence come all wars and fightings—the evil desires of men; the lust of dominion; the insatiable thirst for money; and the desire to be sole and independent. This is the sin that ruined our first parents, expelled them from paradise, and which has descended to all their posterity; and proves fully, incontestably proves that we are their legitimate offspring, the fallen progeny of fallen parents, children in whose ways are destruction and misery, in whose heart there is no faith, and before whose eyes there is nothing of the fear of God.
What an awful character does God give of the inhabitants of the antediluvian world! 1. They were fleshly, wholly sensual, the desires of the mind overwhelmed and lost in the desires of the flesh; their souls no longer discerning their high destiny, but ever minding earthly things, so that they were sensualized, brutalized, and become flesh; incarnated so as not to retain God in their knowledge, and they lived seeking their portion in this life. 2. They were in a state of wickedness. All was corrupt within, and all unrighteous without; neither the science nor practice of religion existed. Piety was gone, and every form of sound words had disappeared. 3. This wickedness was great, "was multiplied;" it was continually increasing, and multiplying increase by increase, so that the whole earth was corrupt before God, and was filled with violence; profligacy among the lower, and cruelty and oppression among the higher classes being only predominant. 4. All "the imaginations of their thoughts were evil"—the very first embryo of every idea, the figment of every thought, the very materials out of which perception, conception, and ideas were formed, were all evil; the fountain which produced them, with every thought, purpose, wish, desire, and motive was incurably poisoned. 5. All these were evil "without any mixture of good;" the Spirit of God which strove with them was continually resisted, so that evil had its sovereign sway. 6. They were evil continually; there was no interval of good, no moment allowed for serious reflection, no holy purpose, no righteous act. What a finished picture of a fallen soul! Such a picture as God alone, who searches the heart and tries the spirit, could possibly give. 7. To complete the whole, God represents himself as repenting because he had made them, and as grieving at the heart because of their iniquities! Had not these been voluntary transgressions, crimes which they might have avoided, had they not grieved and quenched the Spirit of God, could he speak of them in the manner he does here? 8. So incensed is the most holy and the most merciful God, that he is determined to destroy the work of his hands: "And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created." How great must the evil have been, and how provoking the transgressions which obliged the most compassionate God, for the vindication of his own glory, to form this awful purpose! "Fools make a mock at sin," but none except fools.
The whole world lieth in wickedness—lieth in the wicked one— is embraced in the arms of the devil, where it lies fast asleep and carnally secure, deriving its heat and power from its infernal fosterer. What a truly awful state! And do not the actions, tempers, propensities, opinions, and maxims of all worldly men prove and illustrate this? "In this short expression," says Mr. Wesley, "the horrible state of the world is painted in the most lively colours; a comment on which we have in the actions, conversations, contracts, quarrels, and friendships of worldly men." Yes, their actions are opposed to the law of God; their conversations shallow, simulous, and false; their contracts forced, interested, and deceitful; their quarrels puerile, ridiculous, and ferocious; and their friendships hollow, insincere, capricious, and fickle;—all, all the effect of their lying in the arms of the wicked one; for thus they become instinct with his own spirit; and because they are of their father, the devil, therefore his lusts will they do.
Even the most unconcerned about spiritual things have understanding, judgment, reason, and will. And by means of these we have seen even scoffers at divine revelation become very eminent in arts and sciences; some of our best metaphysicians, physicians, mathematicians, astronomers, chymists, &c., have been known—to their reproach be it spoken and published—to be without religion; nay, some of them have blasphemed it, by leaving God out of his own work, and ascribing to an idol of their own, whom they call "nature," the operations of the wisdom, power, and goodness of the Most High. It is true that many of the most eminent in all the above branches of knowledge have been conscientious believers in divine revelation; but the case of the other proves that, fallen as man is, he yet possesses extraordinary powers, which are capable of very high cultivation and improvement. In short, the soul seems capable of any thing but knowing, fearing, loving, and serving God. And it is not only incapable, of itself, for any truly religions acts; but what shows its fall in the most indisputable manner is its enmity to sacred things. Let an unregenerate man pretend what he pleases, his conscience knows that he hates religion; his soul revolts against it; his "carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be." There is no reducing this fell principle to subjection; it is sin, and sin is rebellion against God; therefore sin must be destroyed, not subjected; if subjected, it would cease to be sin, because sin is in opposition to God: hence the apostle says, most conclusively, it cannot be subjected; that is, it must be destroyed, or it will destroy the soul for ever.
There is a contagion in human nature, an evil principle, that is opposed to the truth and holiness of God. This is the grand hidden cause of all transgression. It is a contagion from which no soul of man is free: it is propagated with the human species; no human being was ever born without it: it is the infection of our nature; is commonly called original sin,—sin, because it is without conformity to the nature, will, and law of God; and is constantly in opposition to all three. The doctrine of original sin has been denied by many, while its opposers, as well as those who allow it, give the most unequivocal proofs that they are subjects of its working. I have seen its opposers and supporters impugn and defend it with an asperity of temper and coarseness of diction, that gave sufficient evidence of a fallen nature; both, Jonahlike, thinking they did well to be angry! A late writer on the subject has excelled in this way; and by his bad tempers spoiled his works. Evil tempers are leprous spots, which sufficiently indicate the deeply radicated contagion in the hearts of those in whose lives they are evident.
The original infection or corruption of nature is the grand hidden cause, source, and spring of all transgression. Iniquity is a seed that has its growth, gradual increase, and perfection. As the various powers of the mind are developed, so it diffuses itself, infecting every passion and appetite through their whole extent and operation.
As a sinner is infected, so is he infectious; by his precept and example he spreads the infernal contagion wherever he goes; joining with the multitude to do evil, strengthening and being strengthened in the ways of sin and death, and becoming especially a snare and a curse to his own household.
That a sinner is abominable in the sight of God and of all good men; that he is unfit for the society of the righteous; and that he cannot, as such, be admitted into the kingdom of God, needs no proof. It is owing to the universality of the evil that sinners are not expelled from society as the most dangerous of all monsters, and obliged to live without having any commerce with their fellow creatures. Ten lepers could associate together, because partaking of the same infection; and civil society is generally maintained, because composed of a leprous community.
All are born with a sinful nature; and the seeds of this evil soon vegetate, and bring forth corresponding fruits. There has never been one instance of an immaculate human soul since the fall of Adam. Every man sins, and sins too after the similitude of Adam's transgression. Adam endeavoured to be independent of God; all his offspring act in the same way: hence prayer is little used, because prayer is the language of dependence; and this is inconsistent with every motion of original sin. When these degenerate children of degenerate parents are detected in their sins, they act just as their parents did; each excuses himself, and lays the blame on another. "What hast thou done?"
"The woman whom thou gavest me,— SHE gave me, and I did eat." "What hast THOU done?" "The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat." Thus, it is extremely difficult to find a person who ingenuously acknowledges his own transgression.
Sin is represented as a king, ruler, or tyrant, who has the desires of the mind and the members of the body under his control; so that by influencing the passions he governs the body. Do not let sin reign, do not let him work; that is, let him have no place, no being in your souls; because wherever he is he governs, less or more: and indeed sin is not sin without this. How is sin known? By evil influences in the mind, and evil acts in the life. But do not these influences and these acts prove his dominion? Certainly, the very existence of an evil thought to which passion or appetite attaches itself, is a proof that there sin has dominion; for without dominion such passions could not be excited. Where-ever sin is felt, there sin has dominion; for sin is sin only as it works in action or passion against God. Sin cannot be a quiescent thing: if it do not work, it does not exist.
After all the proofs of man's natural excellence, we have ten thousand others of his internal moral depravity, and alienation from the divine life. The general tenor of his moral conduct is an infraction of the laws of his Creator. While lord of the lower world, he is a slave to the vilest and most degrading passions; he loves not his Maker; and is hostile and oppressive to his fellows. In a word, he is as fearfully and wonderfully vile, as he was "fearfully and wonderfully made;" and all this shows most forcibly that he stands guilty before God, and is in danger of perishing everlastingly.
Men may amuse themselves by arguing against the doctrine of original sin, or the total depravity of the soul of man; but while there is religious persecution in the world, there is the most absolute disproof of all their arguments. Nothing but a heart wholly alienated from God could ever devise the persecution or maltreatment of a man, for no other cause than that he has given himself up to glorify God with his body and spirit, which are his.
Another proof of the fall and degeneracy of men is their general enmity to the doctrine of holiness; they cannot bear the thought of being sanctified through body, soul, and spirit, so as to "perfect holiness in the fear of God." A spurious kind of Christianity is gaining ground in the world. Weakness, doubtfulness, littleness of faith, consciousness of inward corruptions, and sinful infirmities of different kinds, are by some considered the highest proofs of a gracious state; whereas in the primitive church they would have been considered as evidences that the persons in question had received just light enough to show them their wretchedness and danger, but not the healing virtue of the blood of Christ.
The human heart, left to its own workings, either sinks in the mire, or falls over precipices. What aid has man ever found from what is called natural religion? In comparison with revelation it is a rush light against the sun, however modelled by the inventions of man.
Had man been left just as he was when he fell from God, he, in all probability, had been utterly unsalvable; as he appears to have lost all his spiritual light and understanding, and even his moral feeling. We have no mean proof of this, in his endeavouring to "hide himself, among the trees of the garden," from the presence and eye of Him whom, previously to his transgression, he knew to be everywhere present; to whose eye the darkness and the light are both alike; and who discerns the most secret thoughts of the heart of man. Add to this, it appears as if he had neither self-abasement nor contrition; and therefore he charged his crime upon the woman, and indirectly upon God; while the woman, on her side, charged her delinquency upon the serpent. As they were, so would have been all their posterity, had not some gracious principle been supernaturally restored to enlighten their minds, to give them some knowledge of good and evil, of right and wrong, of virtue and vice, and thus bring them into a salvable state.
The besetting sin— "the well circumstanced sin;" that which has every thing in its favour,—time, and place and opportunity, the heart and the object; and a sin in which all these frequently occur, and consequently the transgression is frequently committed. What we term the "easily besetting sin" is the sin of our constitution, the sin of our trade, that in which our worldly honour, secular profit, and sensual gratification are most frequently felt and consulted. Some understand it of original sin, as that by which we are enveloped in body, soul, and spirit. Whatever it may be, the word gives us to understand that it is what meets us at every turn; that it is always presenting itself to us; that as a pair of compasses describe a circle by the revolution of one leg, while the other is at rest in the centre, so this, springing from that point of corruption within, called "the carnal mind," surrounds us in every place; we are bounded by it, and often hemmed in on every side; it is a circular, well fortified wall, over which we must leap, or through which we must break. The man who is addicted to a particular species of sin (for every sinner has his way) is represented as a prisoner in this strong fortress.
"The unpardonable sin," as some term it, is neither less nor more than ascribing the miracles of Christ, wrought by the power of God, to the spirit of the devil. Many sincere people have been grievously troubled with apprehensions that they had committed the unpardonable sin; but let it be observed that no man who believes the divine mission of Jesus Christ ever can commit this sin; therefore let no man's heart fail because of it from henceforth and for ever. Amen.
If we look on sin in itself, our minds get soon bounded in their views, by particular acts (if transgression, of which we can scarcely perceive the turpitude and demerit, as we neither consider the principle whence they have proceeded, "the carnal mind, which is enmity against God," nor the nature and dignity of that God against whom they are committed. But when we consider the infinite dignity of Jesus, whose passion and death were required to make atonement for sin, then we shall see it as exceeding sinful, that its vitiosity and turpitude are beyond all comparisons and description.