The Sinfulness of Man's Natural State

Thomas Boston


II: The Corruption of the Will

The Will, that commanding faculty, which at first was faithful and ruled with God, is now turned traitor, and rules with and for the devil. God planted it in man, ‘wholly a right seed;’ but now it is ‘turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine.’ It was originally placed in due subordination to the will of God, as was shewn before; but now it is wholly gone aside. However some magnify the power of free-will, a view of the spirituality of the law, to which acts of moral discipline in no wise answer, and a deep insight into the corruption of nature, given by the inward operation of the Spirit, convincing of sin, righteousness, and judgment, would make men find an absolute need of the power of free grace, to remove the bands of wickedness from off their free-will. To open up this plague of the heart, I offer these following things to be considered:

1: There is, in the unrenewed will, an utter inability for what is truly good and acceptable in the sight of God. The natural man’s will is in Satan’s fetters, hemmed in within the circle of evil, and cannot move beyond it, any more than a dead man can raise himself out of his grave (Eph 2.1). We deny him not a power to choose, pursue, and act what, as to the matter, is good; but though he can will what is good and right, he can will nothing aright and well (John Christ says, ‘Without me’ that is, separate from Me, as a branch from the stock, as both the word and context will bear, ‘ye can do nothing;’ which means, nothing truly and spiritually good. His very choice and desire of spiritual things is carnal and selfish (John 6.26). ‘Ye seek me — because ye did eat of the loaves and were filled.’ He not only does not come to Christ, but ‘he cannot come’ (verse 44). And what can he do acceptable to God, who believeth not on Him whom the Father has sent? To prove this inability for good in the unregenerate, consider these two things:

Proof 1: How often does the light so shine before men’s eyes, that they cannot but see the good which they should choose, and the evil which they should refuse; and yet their hearts have no more power to comply with that light, than if they were arrested by some invisible hand! They see what is right, yet they follow, and cannot but follow, what is wrong. Their consciences tell them the right way, and approve of it too, yet their will cannot be brought up to it: their corruption so chains them, that they cannot embrace it, so that they sigh and go backward, not-withstanding their light. If it be not thus, how is it that the Word and way of holiness meet with such entertainment in the world? How is it that clear arguments and reason on the side of piety and a holy life, which seem to have weight even with the carnal mind, do not bring men over to that side? Although the existence of a heaven and a hell were only probable, it were sufficient to determine the will to the choice of holiness, were it capable of being determined thereto by mere reason: but men, ‘knowing the judgment of God, that they who commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them’ (Rom 1.32). And how is it that those who magnify the power of free-will, do not confirm their opinion before the world, by an ocular demonstration in a practice as far above others in holiness, as the opinion of their natural ability is above that of others? Or is it maintained only for the protection of lusts, which men may hold fast as long as they please; and when they have no more use for them, throw them off in a moment, and leap out of Delilah’s lap into Abraham’s bosom? Whatever use some make of that principle, it does of itself, and in its own nature, cast a broad shadow for a shelter to wickedness of heart and life. It may be observed, that the generality of the hearers of the Gospel, of all denominations, are plagued with it, for it is a root of bitterness, natural to all men, from whence spring so much fearlessness about the soul’s eternal state, so many delays and excuses in that weighty matter, whereby much work is laid up for a deathbed by some, while others are ruined by a legal walk, and neglect the life of faith, and the making use of Christ for sanctification; all flowing from the persuasion of sufficient natural abilities. So agreeable is it to corrupt nature.

Proof 2: Let those, who, by the power of the spirit of bondage, have had the law opened before them in its spirituality, for their conviction, speak and tell, if they found themselves able to incline their hearts toward it, in that case; nay, whether the more that light shone into their souls, they did not find their hearts more and more unable to comply with it. There are some who have been brought unto ‘the place of the breaking forth,’ who are yet in the devil’s camp, who from their experience can tell, that light let into the mind cannot give life to the will, to enable it to comply therewith; and could give their testimony here, if they would. But take Paul’s testimony concerning it, who, in his unconverted state, was far from believing his utter inability for good, but learned it by experience (Rom 7.8-13). I own, the natural man may have a kind of love to the letter of the law: but here lies the stress of the matter, he looks on the holy law in a carnal dress, and so, while he embraces the creature of his own fancy, he thinks that he has the law; but in very deed he is without the law, for as yet he sees it not in its spirituality. If he did, he would find it the very reverse of his own nature, and what his will could not fail in with, till changed by the power of grace.

2: There is in the unrenewed will an aversion to good. Sin is the natural man’s element; he is as unwilling to part with it as fish are to come out of the water on to dry land. He not only cannot come to Christ, but he will not come (John 5.40). He is polluted, and hates to be washed (Jer 13.27), ‘Wilt thou not be made clean? when shall it once be?’ He is sick, yet utterly averse to the remedy; he loves his disease so, that he loathes the Physician. He is a captive, a prisoner, and a slave, but he loves his conqueror, his jailor, and master: he is fond of his fetters, prison, and drudgery, and has no liking to his liberty. For proof of the aversion to good in the will of man, I will instance in some particulars:

Proof 1: The untowardness of children. Do we not see them naturally lovers of sinful liberty? How unwilling are they to be hedged in! How averse to restraint! The world can bear witness, that they are ‘as bullocks unaccustomed to the yoke:’ and more, that it is far easier to bring young bullocks tamely to bear the yoke, than to bring young children under discipline, and make them tamely submit to be restrained in sinful liberty. Everybody may see in this, as in a glass, that man’ is naturally wild and wilful, according to Zophar’s observation (Job 11.12), that ‘man is born like a wild ass’s colt.’ What can be said more? He is like a colt, the colt of an ass, the colt of a wild ass. Compare (Jer 2.24), ‘A wild ass used to the wilderness, that snuffeth up the wind at her pleasure; in her occasion who can turn her away?’

Proof 2: What pain and difficulty do men often find in bringing their hearts to religious duties! and what a task is it to the carnal heart to abide at them! It is a pain to it, to leave the world but a little to come before God. It is not easy to borrow time from the many things, to spend it upon the one thing needful. Men often go to God in duties, with their faces towards the world; and when their bodies are on the mount of ordinances, their hearts will be found at the foot of the hill ‘going after their covetousness’ (Ezek 33.31). They are soon wearied of well-doing, for holy duties are not agreeable to their corrupt nature. Take notice of them at their worldly business, set them down with their carnal company, or let them be enjoying a lust, time seems to them to fly, and drive furiously, so that it is gone before they are aware. But how heavily does it pass, while a prayer, a sermon, or a Sabbath lasts! The Lord’s day is the longest day of all the week with many; therefore they must sleep longer that morning, and go sooner to bed that night, than ordinarily they do; that the day may be made of a tolerable length: for their hearts say within them, ‘When will the Sabbath be gone?’ (Amos 8.5). The hours of worship are the longest hours of that day: hence, when duty is over, they are like men eased of a burden, and when sermon is ended, many have neither the grace nor the good manners to stay till the blessing is pronounced, but, like the beasts, their head is away, so soon as a man puts his hand to loose them; and why? because, while they are at ordinances, they are, as Doeg, ‘detained before the Lord’ (I Sam 22.7).

Proof 3: Consider how the will of the natural man rebels against the light (Job 24.13). Light sometimes enters in, because he is not able to keep it out: but he loves darkness rather than light. Sometimes, by the force of truth, the outer door of the understanding is broken up; but the inner door of the will remains fast bolted. Then lusts rise against light: corruption and conscience encounter, and fight as in the field of battle, till corruption getting the upper hand, conscience is forced to turn its back; convictions are murdered, and truth is made and held prisoner, so that it can create no more disturbance. While the Word is preached or read, or the rod of God is upon the natural man, sometimes convictions are darted in upon him, and his spirit is wounded in greater or lesser measure: but these convictions not being able to make him fall, he runs away with the arrows sticking in his conscience, and at length, one way or other, gets them out, and makes himself whole again. Thus, while the light shines, men, naturally averse to it, wilfully shut their eyes, till God is provoked to blind them judicially, and they become proof against His Word and providences too. So, go where they will, they can sit at ease; there is never a word from heaven to them, that goes deeper than their ears. (Hos 4.17), ‘Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone.’

Proof 4: Let us observe the resistance made by elect souls, when the Spirit of the Lord is at work, to bring them from ‘the power of Satan unto God.’ Zion’s King gets no subjects but by stroke of sword, ‘in the day of his power’ (Psa 110.2,3). None come to Him, but such as are drawn by a divine Hand (John 6.44). When the Lord comes to the soul, He finds the strong man keeping the house, and a deep peace and security there, while the soul is fast asleep in the devil’s arms. But ‘the prey must be taken from the mighty, and the captive delivered.’ Therefore the Lord awakens the sinner, opens his eyes, and strikes him with terror, while the clouds are black above his head, and the sword of vengeance is held to his breast. Now, he is at no small pains to put a fair face on a black heart, to shake off his fears, to make head against them, and to divert himself from thinking on the unpleasant and ungrateful subject of his soul’s case. If he cannot so hid himself from them, carnal reason is called in to help, and urges, that there is no ground for such great fear; all may be well enough yet; and if it be ill with him, it will be ill with many. When the sinner is beat from this, and sees no advantage in going to hell with company, he resolves to leave his sins, but cannot think of breaking off so soon; there is time enough, and he will do it afterwards. Conscience says, ‘To-day if ye will hear his voice harden not your hearts:’ but he cries, ‘To-morrow, Lord; to-morrow, Lord;’ and ‘just now, Lord;’ till that now is never like to come. Thus, many times he comes from his prayers and confessions, with nothing but a breast full of sharper convictions; for the heart does not always cast up the sweet morsel as soon as confession is made with the mouth (Judges 10.10-16). And when conscience obliges him to part with some lusts, others are kept as right eyes and right hands, and there are rueful looks after those that are put away; as it was with the Israelites, who with bitter hearts remembered ‘the fish they did eat in Egypt freely’ (Num 11.5). Nay, when he is so pressed, that he must needs say before the Lord that he is content to part with all his idols, the heart will be giving the tongue the lie. In a word, the soul, in this case, will shift from one thing to another, like a fish with the hook in its jaws, till it can do no more, for power is come to make it yield, as ‘the wild ass in her month’ (Jer 2.24).

3: There is in the will of man a natural ‘proneness to evil,’ a woeful bent towards sin. Men naturally are ‘bent to backsliding from God’ (Hos 11.7). They hang, as the word is, towards backsliding; even as a hanging wall, whose breaking ‘cometh suddenly at an instant’. Set holiness and life upon the one side, sin and death upon the other. Leave the unrenewed will to itself, it will choose sin, and reject holiness. This is no more to be doubted, than that water poured on the side of a hill will run downward, and not upward; or that a flame will ascend, and not descend.

Proof 1: Is not the way of evil the first way which the children of men go? Do not their inclinations plainly appear on the wrong side, while yet they have no cunning to hide them? In the first opening of our eyes in the world, we look asquint, hell-ward, not heaven-ward. As soon as it appears that we are rational creatures, it appears that we are sinful creatures (Psa 58.3), ‘The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they be born.’ (Prov 22.15), ‘Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child: but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.’ Folly is bound in the heart, it is woven into our very nature. The knot will not unloose; it must be broken asunder by strokes. Words will not do it, the rod must be taken to drive it away; and if it be not driven far away, the heart and it will meet and knit again. Not that the rod of itself will do this: the sad experience of many parents testifies the contrary; and Solomon himself tells you (Prov 27.22), ‘Though thou shouldest bray a fool in a mortar among wheat with a pestle, yet will not his foolishness depart from him;’ it is so bound in his heart. But the rod is an ordinance of God, appointed for that end, which, like the Word, is made effectual, by the Spirit’s accompanying His own ordinance. This, by the way, shows that parents, in administering correction to their children, have need, first of all, to correct their own irregular passions, and look upon it as a matter of awful solemnity, setting about it with much dependence on the Lord, and following it with prayer for the blessing, if they would have it effectual.

Proof 2: How easily are men led aside to sin! The children who are not persuaded to good, are otherwise simple ones, easily wrought upon: those whom the Word cannot draw to holiness, are ‘led by Satan at his pleasure.’ Profane Esau, that cunning man (Gen 25.27), was as easily cheated of the blessing as if he had been a fool or an idiot. The more natural a thing is, the more easy it is; so Christ’s yoke is easy to the saints, in so far as they are partakers of the divine nature, and sin is easy to the unrenewed man. But to learn to do good is as difficult as for the Ethiopian to change his skin, because the will naturally hangs towards evil, and is averse to good. A child can cause a round thing to run, when he cannot move a square thing of the same weight; for the roundness makes it fit for motion, so that it goes with a touch. Even so, men find the heart easily carried towards sin, while it is as a dead weight in the way of holiness. We must seek for the reason of this from the natural set and disposition of the heart, whereby it is prone and bent to evil. Were man’s will, naturally, but in equal balance to good and evil, the one might be embraced with as little difficulty as the other, but experience testifies it is not so. In the sacred history of the Israelites, especially in the Book of Judges, how often do we find them forsaking Jehovah, the mighty God, and doting upon the idols of the nations about them! But did ever any one of these nations grow fond of Israel’s God, and forsake their own idols? No, no; though man is naturally given to changes, it is but from evil to evil, not from evil to good. (Jer 2.10,11), ‘Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? But my people have changed their glory, for that which doth not profit.’ Surely the will of man stands not in equal balance, but has a cast to the wrong side.

Proof 3: Consider how men go on still in the way of sin, till they are stopped, and that by another hand than their own (Isa 57.17), ‘I hid me, and he went on forwardly in the way of his heart.’ If God withdraw His restraining hand, and lay the reins on the sinner’s neck, he is under no doubt what way to choose; for, observe it, the way of sin is the way of his heart, his heart naturally lies that way, it hath a natural propensity to sin. As long as God suffers them, they walk in their own way (Acts 14.16). The natural man is so fixed in his woeful choice, that there needs no more to show he is off from God’s way, than to say he is upon his own.

Proof 4: Whatsoever good impressions are made on him, they do not last. Though his heart be firm as a stone, yea, harder than the nether-millstone, in point of receiving of them, it is otherwise unstable as water, and cannot keep them. It works against the receiving of them, and, when they are made, it works them off, and returns to its natural bias (Hos 6.4), ‘Your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.’ The morning cloud promises a heavy shower, but, when the sun arises, it vanishes: the sun beats upon the early dew, and it evaporates, so the husbandman’s expectation is disappointed. Such is the goodness of the natural man. Some sharp affliction, or piercing conviction, obliges him, in some sort, to turn from his evil course: but his will not being renewed, religion is still against the grain with him, and therefore this goes off again (Psa 78.34-37). Though a stone thrown up into the air may abide there a little while, yet its natural heaviness will bring it down again: so do unrenewed men return to their wallowing in the mire, because, though they washed themselves, yet their swinish nature was not changed. It is hard to cause wet wood to take fire, hard to make it keep alight, but it is harder than either of these to make the unrenewed will retain attained goodness, which is a plain evidence of the natural bent of the will to evil.

Proof 5: Do the saints serve the Lord now, as they were wont to serve sin, in their unconverted state? Very far from it (Rom 6.20), ‘When ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.’ Sin got all, and admitted no partner; but now, when they are the servants of Christ, are they free from sin? Nay, there are still with them some deeds of the old man, showing that he is but dying in them; and hence their hearts often misgive them, and slip aside unto evil, ‘when they would do good’ (Rom 7.21). They need to watch, and keep their hearts with all diligence; and their sad experience teaches them, ‘That he that trusteth in his own heart is a fool’ (Prov 28.26). If it be thus in the green tree, how must it be in the dry?

4: There is a natural contrariety, direct opposition, and enmity, in the will of man, to God Himself, and His holy will (Rom 8.7), ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.’ The will was once God’s deputy in the soul, set to command there for Him; but now it is set up against Him. If you would have the picture of it in its natural state, the very reverse of the will of God represents it. If the fruit hanging before one’s eye be but forbidden, that is sufficient to draw the heart after it. Let me instance in the sin of profane swearing and cursing, to which some are so abandoned that they take a pride in it, belching out horrid oaths and curses, as if hell opened with the opening of their mouths; or larding their speeches with minced oaths; and all this without any manner of provocation, though even that would not excuse them. Pray, tell me: 1. What profit is there here? A thief gets something for his pains; a drunkard gets a bellyfull; but what do you get? Others serve the devil for pay; but you are volunteers, who expect no reward but your work itself, in affronting Heaven; and if you repent not, you will get your reward in full measure; when you go to hell, your work will follow you. The drunkard shall not have a drop of water to cool his tongue there; nor will the covetous man’s wealth follow him into the other world! You may drive on your old trade there, eternity will be long enough to give you your heart’s fill of it. 2. What pleasure is there here, but what flows from your trampling on the holy law? Which of your senses does swearing and cursing gratify? If it gratify your ears, it can only be by the noise it makes against the heavens. Though you had a mind to give up yourselves to all manner of profanity and sensuality, there is so little pleasure can be strained out of these sins, that we must needs conclude, your love to them in this case is a love to them for themselves, a devilish unhired love, without any prospect of profit or pleasure from them otherwise. If any shall say, these are monsters of men: be it so; yet, alas! the world is full of such monsters, they are to be found almost everywhere. Allow me to say, they must be admitted as the mouth of the whole unregenerate world against heaven (Rom 3.14), ‘Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.’ (Verse 19), ‘Now we know, that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.’

I have a charge against every unregenerate man and woman, young and old, to be proved by the testimony of Scripture, and their own consciences; namely, that whether they be professors or profane, seeing they are not born again, they are heart-enemies to God, to the Son of God, to the Spirit of God, and to the law of God. Hear this, you careless souls, that live at ease in your natural state.

(1) You are enemies to God in your mind (Col 1.21). You are not as yet reconciled to Him; the natural enmity is not as yet slain, though perhaps it lies hid, and you do not perceive it. 1. You are enemies to the very being of God (Psa 14.1), ‘The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.’ The proud man wishes that none were above himself; the rebel, that there were no king; and the unrenewed man, who is a mass of pride and rebellion, that there were no God. He saith it in his heart, he wisheth it were so, though he is ashamed and afraid to speak it out. That all natural men are such fools, appears from the apostle’s quoting a part of this psalm, ‘that every mouth may be stopped’ (Rom 3.10-19). I own, indeed, that while the natural man looks on God as the Creator and Preserver of the world, because he loves his own self, therefore his heart rises not against the being of his Benefactor: but his enmity will quickly appear when he looks on God as the Governor and Judge of the world, binding him, under the pain of the curse, to exact holiness, and girding him with the cords of death because of his sin. Listen in this case to the voice of the heart, and you will find it to be, ‘No God.’ 2. You are enemies to the nature of God (Job 21.14), ‘They say unto God, Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.’ Men set up to themselves an idol of their own fancy, instead of God, and then fall down and worship it. They love Him no other way than Jacob loved Leah, while he took her for Rachel. Every natural man is an enemy to God, as He is revealed in His word. The infinitely holy, just, powerful, and true Being, is not the God whom he loves, but the God whom he loathes. In fact, men naturally are haters of God (Rom 1.30); if they could, they certainly would make Him otherwise than what He is. For, consider it is a certain truth, that whatsoever is in God, is God; therefore His attributes or perfections are not any thing really distinct from Himself. If God’s attributes be not God Himself, He is a compound Being, and so not the first Being, to say which is blasphemous; for the parts compounding, are before the compound itself; but He is Alpha and Omega, the first and the last.

Now, upon this I would, for your conviction, propose to your conscience a few queries. 1. How stand your hearts affected towards the infinite purity and holiness of God? Conscience will give an answer to this, which the tongue will not speak out. If you be not partakers of His holiness you cannot be reconciled to it. The Pagans finding that they could not be like God in holiness, made their gods like themselves in filthiness; and thereby they showed what sort of a god the natural man would have. God is holy; can an unholy creature love His unspotted holiness? Nay, it is the righteous only that can ‘give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness’ (Psa 97.12). God is light; can creatures of darkness rejoice therein? Nay, ‘every one that doeth evil hateth the light’ (John 3.20). ‘For what communion hath light with darkness?’ (2 Cor 6.14). 2. How stand your hearts affected to the justice of God? There is not a man who is wedded to his lusts, as all the unregenerate are, but would be content, with the blood of his body, to blot that letter out of the name of God. Can the malefactor love his condemning judge? or an unjustified sinner, a just God? No, he cannot (Luke 7.47), ‘To whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.’ Hence, as men cannot get the doctrine of His justice blotted out of the Bible, it is such an eye-sore to them, that they strive to blot it out of their minds: they ruin themselves by presuming on His mercy, while they are not careful to get a righteousness, wherein they may stand before His justice; but ‘say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil’ (Zeph 1.12). 3. How stand you affected to the omniscience and omnipresence of God? Men naturally would rather have a blind idol, than the all-seeing God; therefore they do what they can, as Adam did, to hide themselves from the presence of the Lord. They no more love the all-seeing, everywhere present God, than the thief loves to have the judge witness to his evil deeds. If it could be carried by votes, God would be voted out of the world, and closed up in heaven; for the language of the carnal heart is, ‘The Lord seeth us not; the Lord hath forsaken the earth’ (Ezek 8.12). 4. How stand you affected to the truth and veracity of God? There are but few in the world who can heartily subscribe to this sentence of the apostle (Rom 3.4), ‘Let God be true, but every man a liar.’ Nay, truly, there are many who, in effect, hope that God will not be true to His Word. There are thousands who hear the gospel, that hope to be saved, and think all safe with them for eternity, who never had any experience of the new birth, nor do at all concern themselves in the question, Whether they are born again, or not? a question that is likely to wear out from among us at this day. Our Lord’s words are plain and peremptory, ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ What are such hopes, then, but real hopes that God — with profoundest reverence be it spoken — will recall His word, and that Christ will prove a false prophet? What else means the sinner, who, ‘when he heareth the words of the curse, blesseth himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart?’ (Deut 29.19). 5. How stand you affected to the power of God? None but new creatures will love Him for it, on a fair view thereof; though others may slavishly fear Him upon account of it. There is not a natural man, but would contribute, to the utmost of his power, to the building of another tower of Babel, to hem it in. On these grounds I declare every unrenewed man an enemy to God.

(2) You are enemies to the Son of God. That enmity to Christ is in your hearts, which would have made you join the husbandmen who killed the heir, and cast him out of the vineyard, if ye had been beset with their temptations, and no more restrained than they were. ‘Am I a dog?’ you will say, that I should so treat my sweet Saviour? So did Hazael ask in another case; but when he had the temptation, he was a dog to do it. Many call Christ their dear Saviour, whose consciences can bear witness that they never derived as much sweetness from Him as from their sweet lusts, which are ten times dearer to them than their Saviour. He is no other way dear to them, than as they abuse His death and sufferings, for the peaceable enjoyment of their lusts; that they may live as they please in the world, and when they die, be kept out of hell. Alas! it is but a mistaken Christ that is sweet to you, whose souls loathe that Christ who is the ‘brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of His person.’ It is with you as it was with the carnal Jews, who delighted in Him, while they mistook His errand into the world, fancying that He would be a temporal deliverer to them (Mal 3.1). But when He ‘sat as a refiner and purifier of silver’ (verses 2, 3), and rejected them as reprobate silver, who thought to have had no small honour in the kingdom of the Messiah, His doctrine galled their consciences, and they had no rest till they imbrued their hands in His blood. To open your eyes in this point, which you are so averse to believe, I will lay before you the enmity of your hearts against Christ in all His offices.

First, Every unregenerate man is an enemy to Christ in His prophetical office. He is appointed of the Father the great Prophet and Teacher; but not upon the call of the world, who, in their natural state, would have unanimously voted against Him. Therefore, when He came, He was condemned as a seducer and blasphemer. For evidence of this enmity, I will instance two things.

Proof 1: Consider the entertainment which He meets with when He comes to teach souls inwardly by His Spirit. Men do what they can to stop their ears, like the deaf adder, that they may not hear His voice. They ‘always resist the Holy Ghost:’ ‘They desire not the knowledge of His ways;’ and therefore bid Him ‘depart from them.’ The old calumny is often raised upon Him on that occasion (John 10.20), ‘He is mad, why hear ye Him?’ Soul-exercise, raised by the spirit of bondage, is accounted, by many, nothing else but distraction, and melancholy fits. Men thus blaspheme the Lord’s work, because they themselves are beside themselves, and cannot judge of those matters.

Proof 2: Consider the entertainment which He meets with when He comes to teach men outwardly by His Word.

His written Word, the Bible, is slighted. Christ hath left it to us, as the book of our instruction, to show us what way we must steer our course, if we would go to Immanuel’s land. It is a lamp to light us through a dark world, to eternal light. And He has enjoined us to search it with that diligence wherewith men dig into mines for silver and gold (John 5.39). But, ah! how is this sacred treasure profaned by many! They ridicule that holy Word, by which they must be judged at the last day. They will rather lose their souls than their jest, dressing up the conceits of their wanton wits in Scripture phrases, in which they act as mad a part, as one who would dig into a mine, to procure metal to melt, and pour down his own and his neighbour’s throat. Many exhaust their spirits in reading romances, and their minds pursue them, as the flame doth the dry stubble; while they have no heart for, nor relish to, the holy Word, and therefore seldom take a Bible in their hands. What is agreeable to the vanity of their minds is pleasant and taking; but what recommends holiness to their unholy hearts, makes their spirits dull and flat. What pleasure they find in reading a profane ballad, or storybook, to whom the Bible is entirely tasteless! Many lay by their Bibles with their Sabbath-day’s clothes; and whatever use they have for their clothes, they have none for their Bibles, till the return of the Sabbath. Alas! the dust or the finery about your Bibles is a witness now, and will, at the last day, be a witness of the enmity of your hearts against Christ as a Prophet. Besides all this, among those who usually read the Scripture, how few are there that read it as the word of the Lord to their souls, and keep up communion with Him in it! They do not make His statutes their counsellors, nor does their particular case send them to their Bibles. They are strangers to the solid comfort of the Scriptures. And when they are dejected, it is something else than the Word that revives them: as Ahab was cured of his sullen fit, by the obtaining of Naboth’s vineyard for him.

Christ’s Word preached is despised. The entertainment which most of the world, to whom it has come, have always given it, is that which is mentioned (Matt 22.5), ‘They made light of it;’ and for His sake, they are despised whom He employs to preach it; whatever other face men put upon their contempt of the ministry. (John 15.20,21), ‘The servant is not greater than his lord: if they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you: if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for My Name’s sake.’ That Levi was the son of the hated seems not to have been without a mystery, which the world in all ages has unriddled. But though the earthen vessels, wherein God has put the treasure, be turned, with many, into vessels wherein there is no pleasure, yet why is the treasure itself slighted? But slighted it is, and that with a witness, this day. ‘Lord, who hath believed our report? To whom shall we speak?’ Men can, without remorse, make to themselves silent Sabbaths, one after another. And, alas! when they come to ordinances, for the most part it is but to appear, or as the word is, to be seen before the Lord; and to tread his courts, namely, as a company of beasts would do, if they were driven into them (Isa 1.12), SO little reverence and awe of God appear on their spirits. Many stand like brazen walls before the Word, in whose corrupt conversation the preaching of the Word makes no breach. Nay, not a few are growing worse and worse, under ‘precept upon precept;’ and the result of all is, ‘They go and fall backward, and are broken, and snared, and taken’ (Isa 28.13). What tears of blood are sufficient to lament that ‘the gospel of the grace of God,’ is thus received in vain! Ministers are but the voice of one crying; the speaker is in heaven; and speaks to you from heaven by men: why do you ‘refuse Him that speaketh?’ (Heb 12.25). God has made our Master heir of all things, and we are sent to seek for a spouse for Him. There is none so worthy as He; none more unworthy than they to whom this match is proposed; but the prince of darkness is preferred before the Prince of Peace. A dismal darkness overclouded the world by Adam’s fall, more terrible than if the sun, moon, and stars had been for ever wrapt up in blackness of darkness; and there we should have eternally lain, had not this grace of the gospel, as a shining sun, appeared to dispel it (Titus 2.11). But yet we fly like night-owls from it, and, like the wild beasts, lay ourselves down in our dens. When the sun arises, we are struck blind with the light thereof, and, as creatures of darkness, love darkness rather than light. Such is the enmity of the hearts of men against Christ, in His prophetical office.

Secondly, The natural man is an enemy to Christ in His priestly office. He is appointed of the Father a priest for ever, that, by His alone sacrifice and intercession, sinners may have peace with, and access to God. But Christ crucified is a stumblingblock and foolishness to the unrenewed part of mankind, to whom He is preached (I Cor 1.23). They are not for Him as the ‘new and living way;’ nor is He, by the voice of the world, ‘an High-priest over the house of God.’ Corrupt nature goes quite another way to work.

Proof 1: None of Adam’s children are naturally inclined to receive the blessing in borrowed robes; but would always, according to the spider’s motto, ‘owe all to themselves:’ and so climb up to heaven on a thread spun themselves. For they ‘desire to be under the law’ (Gal 4.21), and ‘go about to establish their own righteousness’ (Rom 10.3). Man naturally looks on God as a great Master; and himself as His servant, that must work and win heaven as his wages. Hence, when conscience is awakened, he thinks that, to the end he may be saved, he must answer the demands of the law, serve God as well as he can, and pray for mercy wherein he comes short. And thus many come to duties, that never come out of them to Jesus Christ.

Proof 2: As men naturally think highly of their duties, that seem to them to be well done, so they look for acceptance with God, according as their work is done, not according to the share they have in the blood of Christ. ‘Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not?’ They value themselves on their performances and attainments; yet, on their very opinions in religion (Phil 3.4-7), taking to themselves what they rob from Christ the great High-priest.

Proof 3: The natural man, going to God in duties, will always be found either to go without a mediator, or with more than the one only Mediator, Jesus Christ. Nature is blind, and therefore venturesome; it sets men agoing immediately to God without Christ; to rush into His presence, and put their petitions in His hand, without being introduced by the Secretary of heaven, or putting their requests into His hand. So fixed is this disposition in the unrenewed heart, that when many hearers of the gospel are conversed with upon the point of their hopes of salvation, the name of Christ will scarcely be heard from their mouths. Ask them how they think to obtain the pardon of sin? They will tell you they beg and look for mercy, because God is a merciful God; and that is all they have to confide in. Others look for mercy for Christ’s sake: but how do they know that Christ will take their plea in hand? Why, as the papists have their mediators with the Mediator, so have they. They know He cannot but do it, for they pray, confess, mourn, and have great desires and the like, and so have something of their own to commend them to Him. They were never made poor in spirit, and brought empty-handed to Christ, to lay the stress of all on His atoning blood.

Thirdly, The natural man is an enemy to Christ in his kingly office. The Father has appointed the Mediator, ‘King in Zion’ (Psa 2.6). All to whom the gospel comes are commanded, on their highest peril, ‘to kiss the Son,’ and submit themselves unto him (verse 12). But the natural voice of mankind is, ‘Away with him;’ as you may see (verses 2, 3), ‘They will not have him to reign over them’ (Luke 19.14).

Proof 1: The workings of corrupt nature would wrest the government out of His hands. No sooner was He born, but, being born a King, Herod persecuted Him (Matt 2). And when He was crucified, they ‘set up over his head his accusation written, This is Jesus, the King of the Jews’ (Matt 27.37). Though His kingdom be a spiritual kingdom, and not of this world, yet they cannot allow Him a kingdom within a kingdom, which acknowledges no other head or supreme but the Royal Mediator. They make bold with His royal prerogatives, changing His laws, institutions, and ordinances, modelling His worship according to the devices of their own hearts, introducing new offices and officers into His kingdom, not to be found in ‘the book of the manner of His kingdom;’ disposing of the external government thereof, as may best suit their carnal designs. Such is the enmity of the hearts of men against Zion’s King.

Proof 2: How unwilling are men, naturally, to submit to, and be hedged in by, the laws and discipline of His kingdom! As a king, He is a lawgiver (Isa 33.22), and has appointed an external government, discipline, and censures, to control the unruly, and to keep His professed subjects in order, to be exercised by officers of His own appointment (Matt 18.17,18; I Cor 12.28; I Tim 5.17; Heb 13.17). But these are the great eyesores of the carnal world, who love sinful liberty, and therefore cry out, ‘Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us’ (Psa 2.3). Hence this work is found to be, in a special manner, a striving against the stream of corrupt nature, which, for the most part, puts such a face on the church, as if there were no king in Israel, every one doing that which is right in his own eyes.

Proof 3: However natural men may be brought to feign submission to the King of saints, yet lusts always retain the throne and dominion in their hearts, and they are serving divers lusts and pleasures (Titus 3.3). None but those in whom Christ is formed, do really put the crown on His head, and receive the kingdom of Christ within them. His crown is ‘the crown wherewith his mother crowned him on the day of his espousals.’ Who are they, whom the power of grace has not subdued, that will allow Him to set up, and to put down, in their souls, as He will? Nay, as for others, any lord shall sooner get the rule over them, than the Lord of glory: they kindly entertain His enemies, but will never absolutely resign themselves to His government, till conquered in a day of power. Thus you may see that the natural man is an enemy to Jesus Christ in all His offices.

But O how hard it is to convince men in this point! They are very loath to believe. And, in a special manner, the enmity of the heart against Christ in His priestly office seems to be hid from the view of most of the hearers of the gospel. There appears to be a peculiar malignity in corrupt nature against this office of His. It may be observed, that the Socinians, those enemies of our blessed Lord, allow Him to be properly a Prophet and a King, but deny Him to be properly a Priest. And this is agreeable enough to the corruption of our nature: for, under the covenant of works, the Lord was known as a Prophet or Teacher, and also as a King or Ruler, but not at all as a Priest. So man knows nothing of the mystery of Christ, as the way to the Father, till it is revealed to him, and when it is revealed, the will rises up against it, for corrupt nature is opposed to the mystery of Christ, and the great contrivance of salvation, through the crucified Saviour, revealed in the gospel. For clearing of which weighty truth, let these four things be considered:

(1) The soul’s falling in with the grand scheme of salvation by Jesus Christ, and setting the matters of salvation on that footing before the Lord, is declared by the Scriptures of truth to be an undoubted mark of a real saint, who is happy here, and shall be happy hereafter (Matt 11.6), ‘Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me.’ (I Cor 1.23,24), ‘But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.’ (Phil 3.3), ‘For we are the circumcision which worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.’ Now, how could this be, if nature could comply with that grand device?

(2) Corrupt nature is the very reverse of the gospel plan. In the gospel, God proposes Jesus Christ as the great means of re-uniting man to Himself; He has named Him as the Mediator, one in whom He is well pleased, and will have none but Him (Matt 17.5); but nature will have none of Him (Psa 81.11). God appointed the place of meeting for the reconciliation, namely, the flesh of Christ. Accordingly, God was in Christ (2 Cor 5.19), as the tabernacle of meeting, to make up the peace with sinners, but natural men, although they should die for ever, will not come to Christ (John 5.40), ‘Ye will not come to me that ye might have life.’ In the way of the gospel, the sinner must stand before the Lord in an imputed righteousness, but corrupt nature is for an inherent righteousness; and, therefore, so far as natural men follow after righteousness, they follow after ‘the law of righteousness’ (Rom 9.31,32), and not after ‘the Lord our righteousness.’ Nature is always for building up itself, and to have some ground for boasting, but the great design of the gospel is to exalt grace, to depress nature, and exclude boasting (Rom 3.27). The sum of our natural religion is, to do good from and for ourselves (John 5.44); the sum of the gospel religion is, to deny ourselves, and to do good from and for Christ (Phil 1.21).

(3) Every thing in nature is against believing in Jesus Christ. What beauty can the blind man discern in a crucified Saviour, for which He is to be desired? How can the will, naturally impotent, yea, and averse to good, make choice of Him? Well may the soul then say to him in the day of the spiritual siege, as the Jebusites said to David in another case, ‘Except thou take away the blind and the lame, thou shalt not come in hither’ (2 Sam 5.6). The way of nature is to go into one’s self for all, according to the fundamental maxim of unsanctified morality, ‘That a man should trust in himself;’ which, according to the doctrine of faith, is mere foolishness: for so it is determined (Prov 28.26), ‘He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool.’ Now faith is the soul’s going out of itself for all: and this, nature, on the other hand, determines to be foolishness (I Cor 1.8-23). Wherefore there is need of the working of mighty power to cause sinners to believe (Eph 1.19; Isa 53.1). We see the promises of welcome to sinners, in the gospel covenant, are ample, large, and free, clogged with no conditions (Isa 55.1; Rev 22.17). If they cannot believe His bare word, He has given them His oath upon it (Ezek 33.11); and, for their greater assurance, He has appended seals to His sworn covenant, namely, the holy sacraments: so that no more could be demanded of the most faithless person in the world, to make us believe Him, than the Lord hath condescended to give us, to make us believe Himself. This plainly speaks nature to be against believing, and those who flee to Christ for a refuge, to have need of strong consolation (Heb 6.18), to balance their strong doubts, and propensity to unbelief. Further, also, it may be observed, how in the Word sent to a secure, graceless generation, their objections are answered beforehand, and words of grace are heaped one upon another, as you may read (Isa 55.7-9; Joel 2.13). Why? Because the Lord knows, that when these secure sinners are thoroughly awakened, doubts, fears, and carnal reasonings against believing, will be getting into their breasts, as thick as dust in a house, raised by sweeping a dry floor.

(4) Corrupt nature is bent towards the way of the law, or covenant of works; and every natural man, so far as he sets himself to seek after salvation, is engaged in that way; and will not quit it, till beat from it by divine power. Now the way of salvation by works, and that of free grace in Jesus Christ, are inconsistent. (Rom 11.6), ‘And if by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace; otherwise work is no more work.’ (Gal 3.12), ‘And the law is not of faith; but the man that doeth them shall live in them.’ Wherefore, if the will of man naturally incline to the way of salvation by the law, it lies cross to the gospel plan. And that such is the natural bent of our hearts will appear if these following things be considered:

First, The law was Adam’s covenant; and he knew no other, as he was the head and representative of all mankind, that were brought into it with him, and left under it by him, though without strength to perform the condition thereof. Hence, this covenant is interwoven with our nature; and though we have lost our father’s strength, yet we still incline to the way he was set upon, as our head and representative in that covenant; that is, by doing, to live. This is our natural religion, and the principle which men naturally take for granted (Matt 19.16), ‘What good thing shall J do, that I may have eternal life?’

Secondly, Consider the opposition that has always been made in the world against the doctrine of free grace in Jesus Christ by men setting up for the way of works, thereby discovering the natural tendency of the heart. It is manifest, that the great design of the gospel plan is to exalt the free grace of God in Jesus Christ (Rom 4.16), ‘Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace.’ (See Eph 1.6, and chap. 2.7-9). All Gospel truths centre in Christ: so that to learn the truth is to learn Christ (Eph 4.20), and to be truly taught it, is to be taught as ‘the truth is in Jesus’ (verse 21). All dispensations of grace and favour from heaven, whether to nations or particular persons, have still had something about them proclaiming the freedom of grace, as in the very first separation made by the divine favour, Cain, the elder brother is rejected, and Abel, the younger, accepted. This shines through the whole history of the Bible; but, true as it is, this has been the point principally opposed by corrupt nature. One may well say that, of all errors in religion, since Christ the seed of the woman was preached, this of works, in opposition to free grace in Him, was the first that lived, and, it is likely, will be the last that dies. There have been vast numbers of errors, which have sprung up, one after another, whereof, at length, the world became ashamed and weary, so that they died away. This has continued, from Cain, the first author of this heresy, unto this day, and never wanted some that clave to it, even in the times of greatest light. I do not, without ground, call Cain the author of it; who, when Abel brought a sacrifice of atonement, a bloody offering of the firstlings of his flock (like the publican smiting on his breast, and saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner’), advanced with his thank offering of the fruit of the ground (Gen 4.3,4), like the proud Pharisee with his ‘God, I thank thee,’ &c. For what was the cause of Cain’s wrath, and of his murdering Abel? was it not that he was not accepted of God for his work? (Gen 4.4,5). ‘And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil and his brother’s righteous’ (I John 3.12); that is, done in faith, and accepted, when his were done without faith, and rejected, as the apostle teaches (Heb 11.4). So he wrote his indignation against justification and acceptance with God through faith, in opposition to works, in the blood of his brother, to convey it down to posterity. And, since that time, the unbloody sacrifice has often swimmed in the blood of those that rejected it. The promise made to Abraham, of the seed in which all nations should be blessed, was so overclouded among his posterity in Egypt, that the generality of them saw no need of that way of obtaining the blessing, till God himself confuted their error by a fiery law from Mount Sinai, which ‘was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come’ (Gal 3.19). I need not insist on telling you, how Moses and the prophets had still much ado, to lead the people off from the conceit of their own righteousness. The ninth chapter of Deuteronomy is entirely spent on that purpose. They were very gross in that point in our Saviour’s time. In the time of the apostles, when the doctrine of free grace was most clearly preached, that error lifted up its head in the face of the clearest light; witness the epistles to the Romans and Galatians. And since that time it has not been wanting; Popery being the common sink of former heresies, and the heart and life of that delusion. And, finally, it may be observed, that always as the church declined from her purity otherwise, the doctrine of free grace was obscured proportionably.

Thirdly, Such is the natural propensity of man’s heart to the way of the law, in opposition to Christ, that, as the tainted vessel turns the taste of the purest liquor put into it, so the natural man turns the very gospel into law, and transforms the covenant of grace into a covenant of works. The ceremonial law was to the Jews a real gospel. It held blood, death, and translation of guilt before their eyes continually, as the only way of salvation; yet their very table, that is, their altar, with the several ordinances pertaining thereto (Mal 1.12), was a snare unto them (Rom 11.9), while they used it to make up the defects in their obedience to the moral law; and clave to it so, as to reject Him, whom the altar and sacrifices pointed them to, as the substance of all; even as Hagar, whose duty was only to serve, was, by their father, brought into her mistress’s bed; not without a mystery in the purpose of God, ‘for these are the two covenants’ (Gal 4.24). Thus is the doctrine of the Gospel corrupted by papists, and other enemies to the doctrine of free grace. And indeed, however natural men’s heads may be set right in this point, as surely as they are out of Christ, their faith, repentance, and obedience, such as they are, are placed by them in the room of Christ and His righteousness; and so trusted to, as if by these they fulfilled a new law.

Fourthly, Great is the difficulty, in Adam’s sons, of their parting with the law as a covenant of works. None part with it, in that respect, but those whom the power of the Spirit of grace separates from it. The law is our first husband, and gets every one’s virgin love. When Christ comes to the soul, He finds it married to the law, so as it neither can nor will be married to another, till it be obliged to part with the first husband, as the apostle teaches (Rom 7.1-4). Now, that you may see what sort of a parting this is, consider,

First, It is death (Rom 7.4; Gal 2.19). Entreaties will not prevail with the soul here; it says to the first husband, as Ruth to Naomi, ‘The Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.’ And here sinners are true to their word; they die to the law, before they are married to Christ. Death is hard to every body; but what difficulty, do you imagine, must a loving wife, on her deathbed, find in parting with her husband, the husband of her youth, and with the dear children she has brought forth to him? The law is that husband; all the duties performed by the natural man are these children. What a struggle, as for life, will be in the heart before they are parted? I may have occasion to touch upon this afterwards; in the mean time, take the apostle’s short but pithy description of it (Rom 10.3), ‘For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God.’ They go about to establish their own righteousness, like an eager disputant in schools, seeking to establish the point in question; or, like a tormentor, extorting a confession from one upon the rack. They go about to establish it, to make it stand. Their righteousness is like a house built on the sand, it cannot stand, but they would have it to stand; it falls, they set it up again, but still it tumbles down on them; yet they cease not to go about to make it stand. But wherefore all this pains about a tottering righteousness? Because, such as it is, it is their own. What sets them against Christ’s righteousness? Why, that would make them free grace’s debtors for all; and that is what the proud heart can by no means submit to. Here lies the stress of the matter (Psa 10.4), ‘The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek,’ (to read it without the supplement); in other terms, it means, ‘He cannot dig, and to beg he is ashamed.’ Such is the struggle before the soul dies to the law. But what speaks yet more of this woeful disposition of the heart, nature ofttimes gets the mastery of the disease: insomuch that the soul, which was like to have died to the law while convictions were sharp and piercing, fatally recovers of the happy and promising sickness, and, what is very natural, cleaves more closely than ever to the law, even as a wife brought back from the gates of death, would cleave to her husband. This is the issue of the exercises of many about their souls’ case. They are indeed brought to follow duties more closely, but they are as far from Christ as ever, if not farther.

Secondly, It is a violent death (Rom 7.4), ‘Ye are become dead to the law,’ being killed, slain, or put to death, as the word bears. The law itself has a great hand in this; the husband gives the wound (Gal 2.19), ‘I through the law am dead to the law.’ The soul that dies this death is like a loving wife matched with a rigorous husband; she does what she can to please him, yet he is never pleased, but harrasses and beats her till she breaks her heart, and death sets her free: this will afterwards more fully appear. Thus it is made evident, that men’s hearts are naturally bent to the way of the law, and lie cross to the Gospel method: and the second article of the charge against you that are unregenerate is verified, namely, that you are enemies to the Son of God.

(3) You are enemies to the Spirit of God. He is the Spirit of holiness: the natural man is unholy, and loves to be so, and therefore resists the Holy Ghost (Acts 7.51). The work of the Spirit is to convince the world of ‘sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment’ (John 16.8). But O, how do men strive to ward off these convictions, as much as they ward off a blow threatening the loss of a right eye or a right hand! If the Spirit of the Lord dart them in, so that they cannot avoid them, the heart says, in effect, as Ahab to Elijah, whom he both hated and feared, ‘Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?’ And indeed they treat him as an enemy, doing their utmost to stifle convictions, and to murder these harbingers that come to prepare the Lord’s way into the soul. Some fill their hands with business, to put their convictions out of their heads, as Cain, who set about building a city; some put them off with delays and fair promises, as Felix did; some will sport them away in company, and some sleep them away. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of sanctification; whose work it is to subdue lusts, and burn up corruption. How then can the natural man, whose lusts are to him as his limbs, yea, as his life, fail of being an enemy to Him?

(4) You are enemies to the law of God. Though the natural man desires to be under the law, as a covenant of works, choosing that way of salvation, in opposition to the mystery of Christ; yet as it is a rule of life to him, requiring universal holiness, and forbidding all manner of impurity, he is an enemy to it; ‘is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be’ (Rom 8.7). For, 1. There is no unrenewed man, who is not wedded to some one lust or another, which his heart can by no means part with. Now that he cannot bring up his inclinations to the holy law, he would fain have the law brought down to his inclinations: a plain evidence of the enmity of the heart against it. Therefore, ‘to delight in the law of God after the inward man,’ is proposed in the Word as a mark of a gracious soul (Rom 7.22; Psa 1.2). It is from this natural enmity of the heart against the law that all the pharisaical glosses upon it have arisen, whereby the commandment, which is in itself exceeding broad, had been made very narrow, to the intent that it might be the more agreeable to the natural disposition of the heart. 2. The law, laid home on the natural conscience in its spirituality, irritates corruption. The nearer it comes, nature rises the higher against it. In that case it is as oil to the fire, which instead of quenching it, makes it flame the more: ‘When the commandment came, sin revived,’ says the apostle (Rom 7.9). What reason can be assigned for this, but the natural enmity of the heart against the holy law? Unmortified corruption, the more it is opposed, the more it rages. Let us conclude then, that the unregenerate are heart-enemies to God, His Son, His Spirit, and His law; that there is a natural contrariety, opposition, and enmity in the will of man to God Himself, and His holy will.

(5) There is in the will of man contumacy against the Lord. Man’s will is naturally wilful in an evil course. He will have his will, though it should ruin him; it is with him, as with the leviathan (Job 41.29), ‘Darts are counted as stubble; he laugheth at the shaking of a spear.’ The Lord calls to him by His Word; says to him, as Paul to the jailor, when he was about to kill himself, ‘Do thyself no harm:’ sinner, ‘why will you die?’ (Ezek 18.31). But they will not hearken; every one turneth to his course, ‘as the horse rusheth into the battle’ (Jer 8.6). We have a promise of life, in form of a command (Prov 4.4), ‘Keep my commandments, and live:’ it speaks impenitent sinners to be self-destroyers, wilful self-murderers. They transgress the command of living; as if one’s servant should wilfully starve himself to death, or greedily drink a cup of poison, which his master commands him to forbear: even so do they; they will not live, they will die (Prov 8.36), ‘All they that hate me love death.’ O what a heart is this! It is a stony heart (Ezek 36.26), hard and inflexible as a stone: mercies melt it not, judgments break it not; yet it will break ere it bow. It is an insensible heart. Though there be upon the sinner a weight of sin, which makes the earth to stagger; although there is a weight of that wrath on him, which makes the devils to tremble; yet he goes lightly under the burden; he feels not the weight any more than a stone would, till the Spirit of the Lord quickens him so far as to feel it.

(6) The unrenewed will is wholly perverse, in reference to man’s chief and highest end. The natural man’s chief end is not God, but himself. The being of man is merely relative, dependent, borrowed: he has neither being nor goodness originally from himself; but all he has is from his God, as the first cause and spring of all perfection, natural or moral. Dependence is woven into his very nature, so that if God were totally to withdraw from him, he would dwindle into a mere nothing. Seeing then whatever man is, he is of Him, surely in whatever he is, he should be to Him, as the waters which came from the sea do, of course, return thither again. Thus man was created, directly looking to God, as his chief end: but, falling into sin, he fell off from God, and turned into himself; and, like a traitor usurping the throne, he gathers in the rents of the crown to himself. This infers a total apostasy and universal corruption in man; for where the chief and last end is changed, there can be no goodness there. This is the case of all men in their natural state (Psa 14.2,3), ‘The Lord looked down — to see if there were any that did — seek God. They are all gone aside’ from God; they seek not God, but themselves. Though many fair shreds of morality are to be found amongst them, yet ‘there is none that doth good, no, not one;’ for though some of them in appearance run well, yet they are still off the way; they never aim at the right mark. They are ‘lovers of their own selves’ (2 Tim 3.2), ‘more than God’ (verse 4). Wherefore Jesus Christ, having come into the world to bring men back to God again, came to bring them out of themselves in the first place (Matt 16.24). The godly groan under this woeful disposition of the heart: they acknowledge it, and set themselves against it, in its subtle and dangerous insinuations. The unregenerate, though most insensible of it, are under the power thereof, and whithersoever they turn themselves, they cannot move beyond the circle of self. They seek themselves, they act for themselves; their natural, civil, and religious actions, from whatever springs they come, all run into, and meet in the dead sea of self.

Most men are so far from making God their chief end, in their natural and civil actions, that in these matters, God is not in all their thoughts. Their eating and drinking, and such like natural actions, are for themselves; their own pleasure or necessity, without any higher end (Zech 7.6), ‘Did ye not eat for yourselves?’ They have no eye to the glory of God in these things, as they ought to have (I Cor 10.31). They do not eat and drink to keep up their bodies for the Lord’s service; they do them not because God has said, ‘Thou shalt not kill;’ neither do those drops of sweetness, which God has put into the creature, raise up their souls towards that ocean of delights that is in the Creator; though they be a sign hung out at heaven’s door, to tell men of the fulness of goodness that is in God Himself (Acts 14.17). But it is self, and not God, that is sought in them, by natural men. And what are the unrenewed man’s civil actions, such as buying, selling, working, &c., but fruit to himself? (Hos 10.1). So marrying, and giving in marriage, are reckoned amongst the sins of the old world (Matt 24.38): for they have no eye to God therein, to please Him; but all they had in view was to please themselves (Gen 6.3). Finally, self is natural men’s highest end, in their religious actions. They perform duties for a name (Matt 6.1,2), or some other worldly interest (John 6.26). Or if they be more refined, it is their peace, and at most their salvation from hell and wrath, or their own eternal happiness, that is their chief and highest end (Mart 19.16-22). Their eyes are held, that they see not the glory of God. They seek God indeed, yet not for Himself, but for themselves. They seek Him not at all, but for their own welfare: so their whole life is woven into one web of practical blasphemy, making God the means, and self their end; yea, their chief end.

Thus I have given you a rude draught of man’s will, in his natural state, drawn by Scripture, and men’s own experience. Call it no more Naomi, but Marah; for bitter it is, and a root of bitterness. Call it no more free-will, but slavish lust; free to evil, but free from good, till regenerating grace loosens the bands of wickedness. Now, since all must be wrong, and nothing can be right, where the understanding and will are so corrupt, I shall briefly despatch what remains, as following of necessity, on the corruption of these prime faculties of the soul.


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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