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a pre-existent state, this which you call a second trial, is really no trial at all. As soon as he is born into the world, he is absolutely in the power of his savage parents and relations, who, from the first dawn of reason, train him up in the same ignorance, atheism, and barbarity with themselves. He has no chance, so to speak, he has no possibility of any better education. Whai trial has he then? From the time he comes into the world, till he goes out of it again, he seems to be under a dire necessity of living in all ungodliness and unrighteousness. But how is this ? How can this be the case with so many millions of the souls that God has made ? Art thou not “the God of all the ends of the earth, and of them that remain in the broad sea ?”
2. I desire it may be observed, that if this be improved into an objec tion against revelation, it is an objection that lies full as much against natural, as revealed religion. If it were conclusive, it would not drive us into deism, but into flat atheism. It would conclude, not only against the Christian revelation, but against the being of a God. And yet I see not how we can avoid the force of it, but by resolving all into the unsearchable wisdom of God; together with a deep conviction of our own ignorance, and inability to fathom his counsels.
3. Even among us, who are favoured far above these; to whom are entrusted the oracles of God, whose word is a lantern to our feet, and a light in all our paths; there are st!!! many circumstances in his dispensations, which are above our comprehension. We know not why he suffered us so long to go on in our own ways, before we were convinced of sin. Or why he made use of this or the other instrument, and in this or the other manner: and a thousand circumstances attended the process of our conviction, which we do not comprehend. We know not why he suffered us to stay so long, before he revealed his Son in our hearts; or why this change from darkness to light was accompanied with such and such particular circumstances.
4. It is doubtless the peculiar prerogative of God, to reserve the "times and seasons in his own power.” And we cannot give any reason, why of two persons equally athirst for salvation, one is presently taken into the favour of God, and the other left to mourn for months or years. One, as soon as he calls upon God, is answered, and filled with peace and joy in believing; another seeks after him, and, it seems, with the same degree of sincerity and earnestness, and yet cannot find him, or any consciousness of his favour, for weeks, or months, or years. We know well, this cannot possibly be owing to any absolute decree, consigning one, before he was born, to everlasting glory, and the other to everlasting fire; but we do not know, what is the reason for it: it is enough that God knoweth.
5. There is, likewise, great variety in the manner and time of God's bestowing his sanctifying grace; whereby he enables his children to give him their whole heart; which we can in no wise account for. We know not why he bestows this on some, even before they ask for it; (some unquestionable instances of which we have seen :) on some, after they had sought it but a few days: and yet permits other believers to vait for it, perhaps twenty, thirty, or forty years; nay, and others, till a few hours, or even minutes, before their spirits return to him. For the various circumstances also which attend the fulfilling of that great promise ; "I will circumcise thy heart, to love the Lord thy God, with
all thy heart, and with all thy soul ;" God undoubtedly has reasons; but those reasons are generally hid from the children of men. Once more : some of those who are enabled to love God with all their heart, and with all their soul, retain the same blessing, without any interruption, till they are carried to Abraham's bosom; others do not retain it, although they are not conscious of having grieved the Holy Spirit of God. This also we do not understand : we do not herein“ know the mind of the Spirit.”
IV. Several valuable lessons we may learn from a deep consciousness of this our own ignorance. First, we may learn hence, a lesson of humility; not“ to think of ourselves," particularly with regard to our understanding, “ more highly than we ought to think ;” but “ to think soberly:" being thoroughly convinced, that we are not sufficient of our selves to think one good thought; that we should be liable to stumble at every step, to err every moment of our lives, were it not that we have “ an anointing from the Holy One,” which abideth “ with us;" were it not that he who knoweth what is in man, helpeth our infirmities; that “there is a spirit in man" which giveth wisdom," and the inspiration" of the Holy One which "giveth understanding."
From hence we may learn, secondly, a lesson of faith; of confidence in God. A full conviction of our own ignorance, may teach us a full trust in his wisdom. It may teach us, (what is not always so easy as one would conceive it to be,) to trust the invisible God, farther than we can see him. It may assist us in learning that difficult lesson, to “cast down” our own “imaginations ;” (or reasonings rather, as the word properly signifies;) to "cast down every high thing, that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”. There are, at present, two grand obstructions to our forming a right judgment of the dealings of God with respect to men. The one is, there are innumerable facts relating to every man, which we do not and cannot know. They are, at present, hid from us, and covered from our search by impenetrable darkness. The other is, we cannot see the thoughts of men, even when we know their actions. Still we know not their intentions; and without this, we can but ill judge of their outward actions. Conscious of this, "judge nothing before the time," concerning his providential dispensations; till he shall bring to light “the hidden things of darkness," and manifest "the thoughts and intents of the heart."
From a consciousness of our ignorance we may learn, thirdly, a lesson of resignation. We may be instructed to say, at all times, and in all instances, “ Father, not as I will; but as thou wilt.” This was the last lesson which our blessed Lord, as man, learned while he was upon earth. He could go do higher than, “Not as I will, but as thou wilt," till he bowed his head and gave up the ghost. Let us also herein be made conformable to his death, that we may know the full " power of his resurrection !"
SERMON LXXV.The Case of Reason Impartially considered
" Brethren, be not children in understanding : howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men,” 1 Cor. xiv, 20.
1. It is the true remark of an eminent man, who had made many observations on human nature; “ If reason he against a man, a man will always be against reason. This has been confirmed by the experience of all ages. Very many have been the instances of it in the Christian, as well as the heathen world: yea, and that in the earliest times. Even then there were not wanting well meaning men, who, not having much reason themselves, imagined that reason was of no use in religion: yea, rather, that it was a hinderance to it. And there has not been wanting a succession of men, who have believed and asserted the same thing. But never was there a greater number of these in the Christian church, at least in Britain, than at this day.
2. Among them that despise and vilify reason, you may always expect to find those enthusiasts, who suppose the dreams of their own imagination to be revelations from God. We cannot expect that men of this turn will pay much regard to reason. Having an infallible guide, they are very little moved by the reasonings of fallible men. In the foremost of these we commonly find the whole herd of Antinomians ; all that, however they may differ in other respects, agree in “making void the law through faith.” If you oppose reason to these, when they are asserting propositions ever so full of absurdity and blasphemy, they will probably think it a sufficient answer to say, i Oh, this is your reason;" or, “ your carnal reason :" so that all arguments are lost upon them : they regard them no more than stubble or rotten wood.
3. How natural is it for those who observe this extreme, to run into the contrary! While they are strongly impressed with the absurdity of undervaluing reason, how apt are they to overvalue it! So much easier it is to run from east to west, than to stop at the middle point ! Accordingly we are surrounded with those (we find them on every side) who lay it down as an undoubted principle, that reason is the highest gift of God. They paint it in the fairest colours; they extol it to the skies. They are fond of expatiating in its praise; they make it little less than divine. They are wont to describe it, as very near, if not quite infallible. They look upon it as the all-sufficient director of all the children of men; able, by its native light, to guide them into all truth, and lead them into all virtue.
4. They that are prejudiced against the Christian revelation, who do not receive the Scriptures as the oracles of God, almost universally run into this extreme; I have scarce known any exception ; so do all, by whatever name they are called, who deny the Godhead of Christ. (Indeed some of these say, they do not deny his Godhead; but only his supreme Godhead. Nay, this is the same thing; for in denying him to be the supreme God, they deny him to be any God at all: unless they will assert that there are two gods; a great one, and a little one!) All these are vehement applauders of reason, as the great unerring guide. To these overvaluers of reason we may generally add, men of eminently strong understanding; who, because they do know more than most other men, suppose they can know all things. But we may like
wise add, many who are in the other extreme; men of eminently weak understanding; men in whom pride (a very common case) supplies the void of sense; who do not suspect themselves to be blind, because they were always so.
5. Is there, then, no medium between these extremes ; undervaluing and overvaluing reason ? Certainly there is. But who is there to point it out ?-to mark down the middle way? That great master of reason, Mr. Locke, has done something of the kind, something applicable to it, in one chapter of his essay concerning human understanding. But it is only remotely applicable to this; he does not come home to the point. The good and great Dr. Watts has wrote admirably well, both concerning reason and faith. But neither does any thing he has written point out the medium between valuing it too little and too much.
6. I would gladly endeavour, in some degree, to supply this grand defect; to point out, first, to the undervaluers of it, what reason can do; and then to the overvaluers of it, what reason cannot do.
But before either the one or the other can be done, it is absolutely necessary to define the term; to fix the precise meaning of the word in question. Unless this is done, men may dispute to the end of the world, without coming to any good conclusion. This is one great cause of the numberless altercations which have been on the subject. Very few of the disputants thought of this ; of defining the word they were disputing about. The natural consequence was, they were just as far from an agreement at the end, as at the beginning.
I. 1. First, then, reason is sometimes taken for argument. So, “Give me a reason for your assertion.” So in Isaiah : « Bring forth your strong reasons ;” that is, your strong arguments. We use the word nearly in the same sense, when we say, "He has good reasons for what he does.” It seems here to mean, he has sufficient motives; such as ought to influence a wise man. But how is the word to be understood, in the celebrated question concerning the reasons of things?” Particularly when it is asked, An rationes rerum sint æterna? Whether the reasons of things are eternal? Do not the “reasons of things” here mean, the relations of things to each other? But what are the eternal relations of temporal things ? Of things which did not exist till yesierday ? Could the relations of these things exist, before the things themselves had any existence ? Is not, then, the talking of such relations, a flat contradiction? Yea, as palpable a one as can be put into words.
2. In another acceptation of the word, reason is much the same with understanding : it means a faculty of the human soul : that faculty which exerts itself in three ways : by simple apprehension, by judge ment, and by discourse. Simple apprehension is barely conceiving a thing in the mind; the first and most simple act of the understanding. Judgment is the determining that the things before conceived, either agree with, or differ from each other. Discourse, strictly speaking, is the motion or progress of the mind, from one judgment to another. The faculty of the soul which includes these three operations, I here mean by the term reason.
3. Taking the word in this sense, let us now impartially consider, first, What is it that reason can do ? And who can deny that it can do much, very much, in the affairs of common life? To begin at the lowest point: it can direct servants how to perform the various works wherein they are employed ; to discharge their duty either in the meanest offices, or in any of a higher pature. It can direct the husbandman at what time and in what manner, to cultivate his ground; to plough, to sow, to reap, to bring in his corn, to breed and manage his cattle, and to act with prudence and propriety in every part of his employment. It can direct artificers how to prepare the various sorts of apparel, and a thousand necessaries and conveniences of life, not only for themselves and their households, but for their neighbours, whether nigh or afar off. It can direct those of higher abilities, to plan and execute works of a more elegant kind. It can direct the painter, the statuary, the musician, to excel in the stations wherein providence has placed them. It can direct the mariner to steer his course over the bosom of the great deep. It enables those who study the laws of their country, to defend the property, or life, of their fellow subjects; and those who study the art of healing, to cure most of the maladies to which we are exposed in our present state.
4. To ascend higher still : it is certain, reason can assist us in going through the whole circle of arts and sciences: of grammar, rhetoric, logic, natural and moral philosophy, mathematics, algebra, metaphysics. It can teach whatever the skill or industry of man has invented for some thousand years. It is absolutely necessary for the due discharge of the most important offices; such as are those of magistrates, whether of an inferior or superior rank; and those of subordinate or supreme governors, whether of states, provinces, or kingdoms.
5. All this, few men in their senses will deny. No thinking man can doubt, but reason is of considerable service, in all things relating to the present world. But suppose we speak of higher things; the things of another world; what can reason do here? Is it a help or a hinder ance of religion? It may do much in the affairs of men ; but what can it do in the things of God?
6. This is a point that deserves to be deeply considered. If you ask, What can reason do in religion ? I answer, It can do exceeding much, both with regard to the foundation of it, and the superstructure.
The foundation of true religion stands upon the oracles of God. It is built upon the prophets and apostles, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone. Now of what excellent use is reason, if we would either understand ourselves, or explain to others, those living oracles ? And how is it possible without it, to understand the essential truths contained therein ? A beautiful summary of which we have in that which is called the apostles' creed. Is it not reason (assisted by the Holy Ghost) which enables us to understand what the Holy Scriptures declare, concerning the being and attributes of God ?-concerning his eternity and immensity; his power, wisdom, and holiness? It is by reason that God enables us, in some measure, to comprehend his method of dealing with the children of men; the nature of his various dispensations, of the old and new covenant, of the law and the gospel. It is by this we understand (his Spirit opening and enlightening the eyes of our understanding) what that repentance is, not to be repented of; what is that faith whereby we are saved; what is the nature and the condition of justification; what are the immediate, and what the subsequent fruits of it. By reason we learn what is that new birth, without which we