I: The Corruption of the Understanding
The understanding, that leading faculty, is despoiled of its primitive glory, and covered over with confusion. We have fallen into the hands of our grand adversary, as Samson into the hands of the Philistines, and are deprived of our two eyes. ‘There is none that understandeth’ (Rom 3.11). ‘Mind and conscience are defiled’ (Titus 1.15). The natural man’s apprehension of divine things is corrupt. (Psa 50.21), ‘Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself.’ His judgment is corrupt, and cannot be otherwise, seeing his eye is evil: therefore the Scriptures, to show that man did all wrong, says, ‘every one did that which was right in his own eyes’ (Judges 17.6; and 21.25). And his imaginations, or reasonings, must be cast down by the power of the Word, being of a piece with his judgment (2 Cor 10.5). But, to point out this corruption of the mind or understanding more particularly, let these following things be considered:
1: There is a natural weakness in the minds of men with respect to spiritual things. The apostle determines concerning every one that is not endued with the graces of the Spirit, ‘That he is blind, and cannot see afar off’ (2 Pet 1.9). Hence the Spirit of God in the Scriptures clothes, as it were, divine truths with earthly figures, even as parents teach their children, using similitudes (Hosea 12.10). This, though it does not cure, yet it proves this natural weakness in the minds of men. But there are not wanting plain proofs of it from experience. As, 1. How hard a task is it to teach many people the common principles of our holy religion, and to make truths so plain as they may understand them? There must be ‘precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line’ (Isa 28.10). Try the same persons in other things, they will be found ‘wiser in their generation than the children of light.’ They understand their work and business in the world as well as their neighbours; though they are very stupid and unteachable in the matters of God. Tell them how they may advance their worldly wealth, or how they may gratify their lusts, and they will quickly understand these things; though it is very hard to make them know how their souls may be saved, or how their hearts may find rest in Jesus Christ. 2. Consider those who have many advantages beyond the generality of mankind; who have had the benefits of good education and instruction; yea, and are blessed with the light of grace in that measure wherein it is distributed to the saints on earth; yet how small a portion have they of the knowledge of divine things! What ignorance and confusion still remain in their minds! How often are they perplexed even as to practical truths, and speak as children in these things! It is a pitiful weakness that we cannot perceive the things which God has revealed to us; and it must needs be a sinful weakness, since the law of God requires us to know and believe them. 3. What dangerous mistakes are to be found amongst men, in concerns of the greatest weight! What woeful delusions prevail over them! Do we not often see those, who in other things are the wisest of men, the most notorious fools with respect to their souls’ interest? (Matt 11.25), ‘Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent.’ Many that are eagle-eyed in the trifles of time, are like owls and bats in the light of life. Nay, truly, the life of every natural man is but one continued dream and delusion, out of which he never awakes, till either, by a new light darted from heaven into his soul, he come to himself (Luke 15.17), or, ‘in hell he lift up his eyes’ (Luke 16.23). Therefore, in Scripture account, be he never so wise, he is a fool, and a simple one.
2: Man’s understanding is naturally overwhelmed with gross darkness in spiritual things. Man, at the instigation of the devil, attempting to break out a new light in his mind (Gen ’3.5), instead of that, broke up the doors of the bottomless pit, so as, by the smoke thereof, he was buried in darkness. When God first made man, his mind was a lamp of light, but now, when He comes to make him over again, in regeneration, He finds it darkness; ‘Ye were sometimes darkness’ (Eph 5.8). Sin has closed the windows of the soul, darkness is over all the region: it is the land of darkness and the shadow of death, where the light is as darkness. The prince of darkness reigns there, and nothing but the works of darkness are framed there. We are born spiritually blind, and cannot be restored without a miracle of grace. This is your case, whoever you are, who are not born again. That you may be convinced in this matter, take the following proofs of it:
Proof 1: The darkness that was upon the face of the world, before, and at the time when Christ came, arising as the Sun of Righteousness upon the earth. When Adam by his sin had lost that primitive light with which he was endued at his creation, it pleased God to make a glorious revelation of His mind and will to him, as to the way of salvation (Gen 3.15). This was handed down by him, and other godly fathers, before the flood: yet the natural darkness of the mind of man prevailed so far against that revelation, as to carry off all sense of true religion from the old world, except what remained in Noah’s family, which was preserved in the ark. After the flood, as men multiplied on the earth, the natural darkness of the mind prevailed again, and the light decayed, till it died away among the generality of mankind, and was preserved only among the posterity of Shem. And even with them it had nearly set, when God called Abraham from serving other gods (Joshua 24.15). God gives Abraham a more full and clear revelation, which he communicates to his family (Gen 18.19); yet the natural darkness wears it out at length, save that it was preserved among the posterity of Jacob. They being carried down into Egypt, that darkness so prevailed, as to leave them very little sense of true religion; and there was a necessity for a new revelation to be made to them in the wilderness. And many a cloud of darkness got above that, now and then, during the time from Moses to Christ. When Christ came, the world was divided into Jews and Gentiles. The Jews, and the true light with them, were within an enclosure (Psa 147.19,20). Between them and the Gentile world, there was a partition wall of God’s making, namely, the ceremonial law: and upon that was reared up another of man’s own making, namely, a rooted enmity betwixt the parties (Eph 2.14,15). If we look abroad without the enclosure — and except those proselytes of the Gentiles, who by means of some rays of light breaking forth upon them from within the enclosure, having renounced idolatry, worshipped the true God, but did not conform to the Mosaical rites — we see nothing but ‘dark places of the earth, full of the habitations of cruelty’ (Psa 74.20). Gross darkness covered the face of the Gentile world, and the way of salvation was utterly unknown among them. They were drowned in superstition and idolatry, and had multiplied their idols to such a vast number, that above thirty thousand are reckoned to have been worshipped by the men of Europe alone. Whatever wisdom was among their philosophers, ‘the world by’ that ‘wisdom knew not God’ (I Cor 1.21), and all their researches in religion were but groping in the dark (Acts 17.27). If we look within the enclosure, and except a few that were groaning and ‘waiting for the consolation of Israel,’ we shall see gross darkness on the face of that generation. Though ‘to them were committed the oracles of God,’ yet they were most corrupt in their doctrine. Their traditions were multiplied; but the knowledge of those things, wherein the life of religion lies, was lost. Masters of Israel knew not the nature and necessity of regeneration (John 3.10). Their religion was to build on their birth-privileges, as children of Abraham (Matt 3.9), to glory in their circumcision, and other external ordinances (Phil 3.2,3), and to ‘rest in the law’ (Rom 2.17), after they had, by their false glosses, cut it so short, as they might outwardly go well nigh to the fulfilling of it (Matt 5).
Thus was darkness over the face of the world, when Christ, the true light, came into it; and so is darkness over every soul, till He, as the day-star, arises in the heart. The latter is an evidence of the former. What, but the natural darkness of men’s minds, could still thus wear out the light of external revelation, in a matter upon which eternal happiness depends? Men did not forget the way of preserving their lives: but how quickly they lost the knowledge of the way of salvation of their souls, which are infinitely more weight and worth! When the teaching of patriarchs and prophets was ineffectual, it became necessary for them to be taught of God Himself, who alone can open the eyes of the understanding. But that it might appear that the corruption of man’s mind lay deeper than to be cured by mere external revelation, there were but very few converted by Christ’s preaching, who spoke as never man spoke (John 12.37,38). The great cure remained to be performed, by the Spirit accompanying the preaching of the apostles, who according to the promise (John 14.12), were to do greater works. And if we look to the miracles wrought by our blessed Lord, we shall find, that by applying the remedy to the soul, for the cure of bodily distempers, as in the case of ‘the man sick of the palsy’ (Matt 9.2), he plainly discovered that his main errand into the world was to cure the diseases of the soul. I find a miracle wrought upon one that was born blind, performed in such a way, as seems to have been designed to let the world see in it, as in glass, their case and cure (John 9.6), ‘He made clay, and anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay.’ What could more fitly represent the blindness of men’s minds, than eyes closed up with earth? ‘Shut their eyes;’ shut them up by anointing or ‘casting them with mortar,’ as the word will bear (Isa 6.10). And (chap 44.18), ‘He hath shut their eyes:’ the word properly signifies, he hath plastered their eyes; as the house in which the leprosy had been, was to be plastered (Lev 14.42). Thus the Lord’s Word discovers the design of that strange work; and by it shows us, that the eyes of our understanding are naturally shut. Then the blind man must go and wash off this clay in the pool of Siloam: no other water will serve this purpose. If that pool had not represented Him, whom the Father sent into the world to open the blind eyes (Isa 42.7), I think the evangelist had not given us the interpretation of the name which, he says, signifies sent (John 9.7). So we may conclude, that the natural darkness of our minds is such as there is no cure for, but from the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ, whose eye-salve only can make us see (Rev 3.18).
Proof 2: Every natural man’s heart and life is a mass of darkness, disorder, and confusion, how refined soever he may appear in the sight of men. ‘For we ourselves also,’ says the apostle Paul, ‘were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures’ (Tit 3.3); and yet, at the time which this text refers to, he was blameless, ‘touching the righteousness which is in the law’ (Phil 3.6). This is a plain evidence that ‘the eye is evil, the whole body being full of darkness’ (Matt 6.23). The unrenewed part of mankind is rambling through the world, like so many blind men, who will neither take a guide, nor can guide themselves; and therefore are falling over this and the other precipice, into destruction. Some are running after their covetousness, till they are pierced through with many sorrows; some sticking in the mire of sensuality; others dashing themselves on the rock of pride and self-conceit: every one stumbling on some one stone of stumbling or other: all of them are running themselves upon the sword-point of justice, while they eagerly follow whither unmortified passions and affections lead them: and while some are lying along in the way, others are coming up, and falling headlong over them. Therefore, ‘woe unto the (blind) world because of offences’ (Matt 18.7). Errors in judgment swarm in the world because it is ‘night, wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth.’ All the unregenerate are utterly mistaken in the point of true happiness: for though Christianity hath fixed that matter in point of principle, yet nothing less than overcoming grace can fix it in the practical judgment. All men agree in the desire of being happy; but, amongst the unrenewed men, concerning the way to happiness, there are almost as many opinions as there are men; they being ‘turned every one to his own way’ (Isa 53.6). They are like the blind men of Sodom, about Lot’s house; all were seeking to find the door; some grope one part of the wall for it, some another, but none of them could certainly say, he had found it; so the natural man may stumble on any good but the chief good. Look into your own unregenerate heart, and there you will see all turned upside down: heaven lying under, and earth at top. Look into your life, there you may see how you are playing the madman, snatching at shadows, and neglecting the substance: eagerly flying after that which is not, and slighting that which is, and will be for ever.
Proof 3: The natural man is always as a workman left without light; either trifling or doing mischief. Try to catch thy heart at any time thou wilt, and thou wilt find it either weaving the spider’s web, or hatching cockatrice’ eggs (Isa 59.5), roving through the world, or digging into the pit; filled with vanity, or else with vileness; busy doing nothing, or what is worse than nothing. A sad sign of a dark mind.
Proof 4: The natural man is void of the saving knowledge of spiritual things. He knows not what a God he has to do with: he is unacquainted with Christ, and knows not what sin is. The greatest graceless wits are blind as moles in these things. Aye, but some such can speak of them to good purpose; so might those Israelites of the temptations, signs, and miracles, which their eyes had seen (Deut 29.3); to whom nevertheless, the Lord had ‘not given a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto that day’ (verse 4). Many a man that bears the name of a Christian may make Pharaoh’s confession of faith (Exod 5.2), ‘I know not the Lord,’ neither will he let go what He commands them to part with. God is with them, as a prince in disguise among his subjects, who meets with no better treatment from them than if they were his fellows (Psa 50.21). Do they know Christ, or see His glory, and any beauty in Him, for which He is to be desired? If they did, they would not slight Him as they do: a view of His glory would so darken all created excellence, that they would take Him for and instead of all, and gladly close with Him, as He offers Himself in the gospel (John 4.10; Psa 9.10; Matt 13.44-46). Do they know what sin is, who nurse the serpent in their bosom, hold fast deceit, and refuse to let it go? I own, indeed, that they may have a natural knowledge of these things, as the unbelieving Jews had of Christ, whom they saw and conversed with; but there was a spiritual glory in Him, perceived by believers only (John 1.14), and in respect of that glory, ‘the world knew him not’ (verse 10). The spiritual knowledge of them they cannot have; it is above the reach of the carnal mind (I Cor 2.14). ‘The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them,. for they are spiritually discerned.’ He may indeed discourse of them, but in no other way than one can talk of honey or vinegar, who never tasted the sweetness of the one, nor the sourness of the other. He has some notions of spiritual truths, but sees not the things themselves that are wrapt up in the words of truth (I Tim 1.7). ‘Understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.’ In a word, natural men fear, seek, confess, they know not what. Thus you may see man’s understanding is naturally overwhelmed with gross darkness in spiritual things.
3: There is in the mind of man a natural bias to evil, whereby it comes to pass, that whatever difficulties it finds while occupied about things truly good, it acts with a great deal of ease in evil, as being in that case in its own element (Jer 4.22). The carnal mind drives heavily on in the thoughts of good, but furiously in the thoughts of evil. While holiness is before it, fetters are upon it; but when once it has got over the hedge, it is as a bird got out of a cage, and becomes a freethinker indeed. Let us reflect a little on the apprehension and imagination of the carnal mind, and we shall find incontestable evidence of this woeful bias to evil.
Proof 1: As when a man by a violent stroke on the head loses his sight, there arises to him a kind of false light whereby he seems to see a thousand airy nothings, so man, being struck blind to all that is truly good for his eternal interest, has a light of another sort brought into his mind, his eyes are opened, knowing evil, and so are the words of the tempter verified (Gen 3.5). The words of the prophet are plain — ‘They are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge’ (Jer 4.22). The mind of man has a natural dexterity to devise mischief; there are not any so simple as to want skill to contrive ways to gratify their lusts, and ruin their souls, though the power of every one’s hand cannot reach to put their devices in execution. No one needs to be taught this black art, but, as weeds grow up of their own accord in the neglected ground, so does this wisdom which is earthly, sensual, devilish (Jas 3.15), grow up in the minds of men by virtue of the corruption of their nature. Why should we be surprised with the product of corrupt wits, their cunning devices to affront Heaven, to oppose and run down truth and holiness, and to gratify their own and other men’s lusts? They row with the stream, no wonder they make great progress; their stock is within them, and increases by using it, and the works of darkness are contrived with the greater advantage, because the mind is wholly destitute of spiritual light. If this light were in them in any measure it would so far mar the work (I John 3.9), ‘Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin;’ he does it not as by art, wilfully and habitually, for ‘his seed remaineth in him.’ But, on the other hand, ‘It is as sport to a fool to do mischief: but a man of understanding bath wisdom’ (Prov 10.23). ‘To do witty wickedness nicely’, as the words import, ‘is as sport or play to a fool;’ it comes off with him easily; and why, but because he is a fool, and has not wisdom, which would mar the contrivances of darkness I The more natural a thing is, the more easily it is done.
Proof 2: Let the corrupt mind have but the advantage of one’s being employed in, or present at, some piece of service for God, that so the device, if not in itself sinful, yet may become sinful by its unseasonableness, it will quickly fall upon some device or expedient, by its starting aside, which deliberation, in season, could not produce. Thus Saul who knew not what to do before the priest began to consult God, is quickly determined when once the priest’s hand was in; his own heart then gave him an answer, and would not allow him to wait an answer from the Lord (I Sam 14.18,19). Such a devilish dexterity has the carnal mind in devising what may most effectually divert men from their duty to God.
Proof 3: Does not the carnal mind naturally strive to grasp spiritual things in imagination, as if the soul were quite immersed in flesh and blood, and would turn every thing into its own shape? Let men who are used to the forming of the most abstracted notions look into their own souls, and they will find this bias in their minds, whereof the idolatry which did of old, and still does, so much prevail in the world, is an incontestable evidence. For it plainly shews that men naturally would have a visible deity, and see what they worship, and therefore they ‘changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image’ (Rom 1.23). The reformation of these nations (blessed be the Lord for it) has banished idolatry, and images too, out of our churches; but heart-reformation only can break down mental idolatry, and banish the more subtle and refined image worship, and representations of the Deity, out of the minds of men. The world, in the time of its darkness, was never more prone to the former than the unsanctified mind is to the latter. Hence are horrible, monstrous, and misshapen thoughts of God, Christ, the glory above, and all spiritual things.
Proof 4: What a difficult task is it to detain the carnal mind before the Lord! how averse is it to entertain good thoughts, and dwell in the meditation of spiritual things! If a person be driven, at any time, to think of the great concerns of his soul, it is not harder work to hold in an unruly hungry beast, than to hedge in the carnal mind, that it get not away to the vanities of the world again. When God is speaking to men by His word, or they are speaking to Him in prayer, does not the mind often leave them before the Lord, like so many ‘idols that have eyes, but see not, and ears, but hear not.’ The carcase is laid down before God, but the world gets away the heart. Though the eyes be closed, the man sees a thousand vanities; the mind, in the mean time, is like a bird got loose out of a cage, skipping from bush to bush, so that, in effect, the man never comes to himself till he is gone from the presence of the Lord. Say not, it is impossible to get the mind fixed — it is hard, indeed, but not impossible; grace from the Lord can do it (Psa 108.1), agreeable objects will do it. A pleasant speculation will arrest the minds of the inquisitive; the worldly man’s mind is in little hazard of wandering, when he is contriving his business, casting up his accounts, or counting his money; if he answers you not at first, he tells you he did not hear you, he was busy, his mind was fixed. Were we admitted into the presence of a king to petition for our lives, we should be in no hazard of gazing through the chamber of presence. But here lies the case; the carnal mind, employed about any spiritual good, is out of its element, and therefore cannot fix.
Proof 5: But however hard it is to keep the mind on good thoughts, it sticks like glue to what is evil and corrupt like itself (2 Pet 2.14), ‘Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin.’ Their eyes cannot cease from sin (so the words are constructed), that is, their hearts and minds, venting by the eyes what is within, are like a furious beast, which cannot be held in when once it has got out its head. Let the corrupt imagination once be let loose on its favourite object, it will be found hard work to call it back again, though both reason and will are for its retreat. For then it is in its own element, and to draw it off from its impurities is like drawing a fish out of the water, or rending a limb from a man. It runs like fire set to a train of powder, that rests not till it can get no further.
Proof 6: Consider how the carnal imagination supplies the want of real objects to the corrupt heart, that it may make sinners happy, at least in the imaginary enjoyment of their lusts. Thus the corrupt heart feeds itself with imagination-sins, the unclean person is filled with speculative impurities, ‘having eyes full of adultery.’ The covetous man fills his heart with the world, though he cannot get his hands full of it; the malicious person with delight acts his revenge within his own breast; the envious man, within his own narrow soul, beholds with satisfaction his neighbour laid low; and every lust finds the corrupt imagination a friend to it in time of need. This the heart does, not only when people are awake, but sometimes even when they are asleep, whereby it comes to pass, that those sins are acted in dreams, which their hearts pant after when they are awake. I am aware that some question the sinfulness of these things, but can it be thought they are consistent with that holy nature and frame of spirit which was in innocent Adam, and in Jesus Christ, and should be in every man? It is the corruption of nature, then, that makes filthy dreamers condemned (Jude, verse 8). Solomon had experience of the exercise of grace in sleep; in a dream he prayed, in a dream he made the best choice; both were accepted of God (I Kings 3.5-15). And if a man may, in his sleep, do what is good and acceptable to God, why may he not also, when asleep, do that which is evil and displeasing to God? The same Solomon would have men aware of this, and prescribes the best remedy against it, namely, ‘the law upon the heart’ (Prov 6.20,21). ‘When thou sleepest,’ says he (verse 22), ‘it shall keep thee,’ to wit, from sinning in thy sleep, that is, from sinful dreams: for a man’s being kept from sin, not his being kept from affliction, is the immediate proper effect of the law of God impressed upon the heart (Psa 119.11). And thus the whole verse is to be understood, as appears from verse 23. ‘For the commandment is a lamp, and the law is light, and reproofs of instruction are the way of life.’ Now, the law is a lamp and light, as it guides in the way of duty, and instructing reproofs from the law are the way of life, as they keep from sin; they guide not into the way of peace, but as they lead into the way of duty; nor do they keep a man out of trouble, but as they keep him from sin. Remarkable is the particular which Solomon instances, namely, the sin of uncleanness, ‘to keep thee from the evil woman,’ &c. (verse 24, which is to be joined to verse 22, enclosing the 23rd in a parenthesis, as some versions have it). These things may suffice to convince us of the natural bias of the mind to evil.
4: There is in the carnal mind an opposition to spiritual truths, and an aversion to receive them. It is as little a friend to divine truths, as it is to holiness. The truths of natural religion, which do, as it were, force their entry into the minds of natural men, they hold prisoners in unrighteousness (Rom 1.18). As for the truths of revealed religion, there is an evil heart of unbelief in them, which opposes their entry; and there is an armed force necessary to captivate the mind to the belief of them (2 Cor 10.4,5). God has made a revelation of His mind and will to sinners, concerning the way of salvation; He has given us the doctrine of His holy Word, but do natural men believe it indeed? No, they do not; ‘for he that believeth not on the Son of God, believeth not God,’ as is plain from I John 5.10. They believe not the promises of the Word; they look on them, in effect, only as fair words, for those who receive them are thereby made ‘partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Pet 1.4). The promises are as silver cords let down from heaven, to draw sinners unto God, and to waft them over into the promised land, but they cast them from them. They believe not the threatenings of the Word. As men travelling in deserts carry fire about with them, to frighten away wild beasts, so God has made His law a fiery law (Deut 33.2), surrounding it with threats of wrath: but men are naturally more brutish than beasts themselves and will needs touch the fiery smoking mountain, though they should be thrust through with a dart. I doubt not but most, if not all of you, who are yet in the black state of nature, will here plead, Not Guilty; but remember, the carnal Jews in Christ’s time were as confident as you are, that they believed Moses (John 9.28,29). But He confutes their confidence, roundly telling them (John 5.46), ‘Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me.’ If you believe the truths of God, you dare not reject, as you do, Him who is truth itself. The very difficulty you find in assenting to this truth, discovers that unbelief which I am charging you with. Has it not proceeded so far with some at this day, that it has steeled their foreheads with impudence and impiety, openly to reject all revealed religion? Surely it is ‘out of the abundance of the heart their mouth speaketh.’ But, though you set not your mouth against the heavens, as they do, the same bitter root of unbelief is in all men by nature, and reigns in you, and will reign, till overcoming grace brings your minds to the belief of the truth. To convince you in this point, consider these three things:
Proof 1: How few are there who have been blessed with an inward illumination, by the special operation of the Spirit of Christ, leading them into a view of divine truths in their spiritual and heavenly lustre! How have you learned the truths of religion, which you pretend to believe? You have them merely by the benefit of external revelation, and by education; so that you are Christians, just because you were born and bred not in a Pagan, but in a Christian country. You are strangers to the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in your hearts, and so you cannot have the assurance of faith, with respect to the outward divine revelation made in the Word (I Cor 2.10-12); therefore you are still unbelievers. ‘It is written in the Prophets, They shall be all taught of God. Every man, therefore, that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father cometh unto me,’ says our Lord (John 6.45). Now, you have not come to Christ, therefore you have not been taught of God: you have not been so taught, and therefore you have not come; you believe not. Behold the revelation from which the faith, even of the fundamental principles in religion, springs (Matt 16.16,17), ‘Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. — Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but ’my Father which is in heaven.’ If ever the Spirit of the Lord take you in hand, to work in you that faith which is of the operation of God, it may be, that as much time will be spent in razing the old foundation, as will make you find the necessity of the working of His mighty power, to enable you to believe the very foundation-principles, which now you think you make no doubt of. (Eph 1.19).
Proof 2: How many professors have made shipwreck of their faith, such as it was, in time of temptation and trial! See how they fall, like stars from heaven, when Antichrist prevails! (2 Thess 2.11-12), ‘God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie; that they all might be damned, who believed not the truth.’ They fall into damning delusions because they never really believed the truth, though they themselves, and others too, thought they did believe it. That house is built on the sand, and that faith is but ill-founded, that cannot stand, but is quite overthrown, when the storm comes.
Proof 3: Consider the utter inconsistency of most men’s lives with the principles of religion which they profess; you may as soon bring east and west together, as their principles and practice. Men believe that fire will burn them, and therefore they will not throw themselves into it, but the truth is, most men live as if they thought the Gospel a mere fable, and the wrath of God, revealed in His Word against their unrighteousness and ungodliness, a mere scarecrow. If you believe the doctrines of the Word, how is it that you are so unconcerned about the state of your souls before the Lord? how is it that you are so little concerned about this weighty point, whether you be born again or not? Many live as they were born, and are likely to die as they live, and yet live in peace. Do such persons believe the sinfulness and misery of a natural state? Do they believe that they are children of wrath? Do they believe that there is no salvation without regeneration, and no regeneration but what makes a man a new creature? If you believe the promises of the Word, why do you not embrace them, and seek to enter into the promised rest? What sluggard would not dig for a hid treasure, if he really believed that he might so obtain it? Men will work and toil for a maintenance, because they believe that by so doing they shall get it, yet they will be at no tolerable pains for the eternal weight of glory! why, but because they do not believe the word of promise? (Heb 4.1,2). If you believe the threatenings, how is it that you live in your sins; live out of Christ, and yet hope for mercy? Do such persons believe God to be the holy and just One, who will by no means clear the guilty? No, no; none believe; none, or next to none, believe what a just God the Lord is, and how severely He punishes.
5: There is in the mind of man a natural proneness to lies and falsehood, which favours his lusts: ‘They go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies’ (Psa 58.3). We have this, with the rest of the corruption of our nature, from our first parents. God revealed the truth to them, but through the solicitation of the tempter, they first doubted, then disbelieved it, and embraced a lie instead of it. For an incontestable evidence hereof, we may see the first article of the devil’s creed, ‘ye shall not surely die’ (Gen 3.4), which was obtruded by him on our first parents, and by them received, naturally embraced by their posterity, and held fast, till light from heaven obliges them to quit it. It spreads itself through the lives of natural men who, till their consciences are awakened, walk after their own lusts, still retaining the principle, ‘That they shall not surely die.’ And this is often improved to such perfection, that man says, in the face of the pronounced curse, ‘I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of my heart, to add drunkenness to thirst’ (Deut 29.19). Whatever advantage the truths of God have over error, by means of education or otherwise, error has always, with the natural man, this advantage against truth, namely, that there is something within him which says, ‘O that it were true!’ so that the mind lies fair for assenting to it. And this is the reason of it: the true doctrine is, ‘the doctrine that is according to godliness’ (I Tim 6.3), and the truth which is after godliness’ (Titus 1.1). Error is the doctrine which is according to ungodliness; for there is not an error in the mind, nor an untruth vented in the world, in matters of religion, but has an affinity with one corruption of the heart or another; according to that saying of the apostle (2 Thess 2.12), ‘They believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.’ So that truth and error, being otherwise attended with equal advantages for their reception, error, by this means, has most ready access into the minds of men in their natural state. Wherefore, it is not strange that men reject the simplicity of Gospel truths and institutions, and greedily embrace error and external pomp in religion, seeing they are so agreeable to the lusts of the heart, and the vanity of the mind of the natural man. Hence also it is, that so many embrace atheistical principles, for none do it but in compliance with their irregular passions, none but those whose advantage it would be that there were no God.
6: Man is naturally high-minded; for when the Gospel comes in power to him, it is employed in ‘casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God’ (2 Cor 10.5). Lowliness of mind is not a flower that grows in the field of nature; but is planted by the finger of God in a renewed heart, and learned of the lowly Jesus. It is natural to man to think highly of himself, and what is his own: for the stroke which he has got by his fall in Adam, has produced a false light, whereby mole-hills about him appear like mountains, and a thousand airy beauties present themselves to his deluded fancy. ‘Vain man would be wise,’ so he accounts himself, and so he would be accounted by others, ‘though man be born like a wild ass’s colt’ (Job 11.12). His way is right, because it is his own: for ‘every way of a man is right in his own eyes’ (Prov 21.2). His state is good, because he knows none better; he is alive without the law (Rom 7.9), and therefore his hope is strong, and his confidence firm. It is another tower of Babel, reared up against heaven; and it will not fall while the power of darkness can hold it up. The Word batters it, yet it stands; one while breaches are made in it, but they are quickly repaired; at another time, it is all made to shake, but still it is kept up, till either God Himself by His Spirit raises a heart-quake within the man, which tumbles it down, and leaves not one stone upon another (2 Cor 10.4,5), or death batters it down, and razes the foundation of it (Luke 16.23). And as the natural man thinks highly of himself, so he thinks meanly of God, whatever he pretends (Psa 50.21), ‘Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself.’ The doctrine of the Gospel, and the mystery of Christ, are foolishness to him, and in his practice he treats them as such (I Cor 1.18, and 2.14). He brings the Word and the works of God, in the government of the world, before the bar of his carnal reason, and there they are presumptuously censured and condemned (Hosea 14.9). Sometimes the ordinary restraints of Providence are taken off, and Satan is permitted to stir up the carnal mind: and, in that case, it is like an ants’ nest, uncovered and disturbed; doubts, denials, and hellish reasonings crowd in it, and cannot be overcome by all the arguments brought against them, till a power from on high subdue the mind, and still the mutiny of the corrupt principles.
Thus much of the corruption of the understanding, which, although the half be not told, may discover to you the absolute necessity of regenerating grace. Call the understanding now, ‘Ichabod; for the glory is departed from it’ (1 Sam 4.21). Consider this, you that are yet in the state of nature, and groan out your case before the Lord, that the Sun of Righteousness may arise upon you, lest you be shut up in everlasting darkness. What avails your worldly wisdom? What do your attainments in religion avail, while your understanding lies wrapt up in its natural darkness and confusion, utterly void of the light of life? Whatever be the natural man’s gifts or attainments, we must, as in the case of the leper (Lev 13.44), ‘pronounce him utterly unclean, his plague is in his head.’ But that is not all, it is in his heart too; his will is corrupted, as I shall soon shew.
Born into relative obscurity in 1676 in Duns, Berwickshire, Thomas Boston died in 1732 in the small parish of Ettrick in the Scottish Borders. But his 56 years of life, 45 of them spent in conscious Christian discipleship, lend credibility to the spiritual principle that it is not where, a Christian serves, but what quality of service he renders, that really counts.
It is as a loving, faithful, rigorously self-disciplined Christian pastor, and one deeply committed to the grace of God, that Boston is best remembered. Leaving his first charge at Simprin (where he served 1699-1707), he settled in Ettrick for a 25-year ministry that saw the number of communicants rise from 60 (in 1710) to 777 (in 1731). There he constantly taught them in season and out of season, in pulpit and in home.
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