Page images

tions may be blameless, as well as the dispositions themselves; and contrary to the decision of holy scripture, that the thought of foolishness is not sin.

We may go on to distinguish an evil propensity from its exercise, till we use words without ideas; for what is an evil propensity, but an evil bias, or a bias of the soul towards evil? and whether it is possible to conceive of an inactive propensity in a rational being, is doubtful with me. But suppose we may, the common sense of mankind never teach them so to distinguish them as to excuse the one, and place all blame-worthiness in the other. An impure propensity is an impure temper of mind, and a propensity to revenge is the same thing as a revengeful temper; but tempers of this description are so far from being excusable, that there is nothing mankind are more apt to censure. 'Tis true they cannot censure them but as they see them discovered, because they have no other method of knowing the evil stock but by its evil branches; but when they do discover them, they seldom fail to curse both root and branch.*

* 'Tis true, there are certain propensities which constitute a part of our nature as men, and which therefore are simply natu ral; the excessive indulgence whereof is nevertheless sinful. Thus emulation in itself is natural, but carried to excess it becomes pride. Thus also the love of pleasure is in itself natural, but carried to excess it becomes voluptuousness, &c. &c. But P. cannot justly pretend that when he makes blame to consist not in the propensity itself, but in the exercise or indulgence of it, he means these natural propensities; because he speaks of them as derived from Adam's fall, which these are not; and calls them impure, whereas, these, in themselves considered, are a part of human nature in its purest state.

Neither do people think of excusing a churlish, haughty, or covetous temper in any man, because of his father's being so before him. On the contrary, they often turn that very circumstance to his reproach. "You are a villain, say they, by nature, and all your family were so before you." If men offend one against another, strict enquiry is made whether the offence proceeded from an evil disposition, or from mere inadvertency; and according as this is found, allowances are made. But I know not that it is ever asked how the party came by his evil disposition: that is a matter introduced into divinity, where God is the object offended; but it cannot be admitted into the common affairs of life, between man and man. Now if the common sense of mankind never leads them to take this circumstance into consideration in matters between themselves, it is at least a presumptive argument that it will not bear advancing in matters of offence against God. Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant.

That evil dispositions are in themselves blameworthy, notwithstanding their derivation from our first parents, not only accords with the common sense of mankind, but also with the word of God. The word of God requires us to love him with all the heart, soul, mind, and strength; but to love God in this manner supposes the absence of all evil propensity to rebel against him, and of every approach towards a spirit of contrariety to him. It must follow then, so long as this holy law of God is allowed to be an "infallible test of right and wrong," (67.) that

such a propensity is in itself sinful, being directly contrary to its righteous requirements. It is not merely a something which " leads to evil tempers;" (as P. speaks, 66.) but it is itself an evil temper of the mind; a temper that can take no delight in God, or in any thing that bears his holy likeness.

Farther, his idea of blame-worthiness, if I understand it, agrees to nothing but positive acts of sin; the exercise or indulgence of an evil propensity can agree to nothing else. Now according to this, there is no such thing as sin or blame in that universal want of love to God, which has place in all unregenerate men, and to an awful degree in good men; for that strictly speaking, is not so much a positively evil disposition, as it is the absence of a good one. But if the law of God is "the test of right and wrong," this must nevertheless be found sinful; for it is the very reverse of what that law requires. If there is nothing blameworthy in the want of a heart to love God, nor even in a propensity to hate him, then surely the moral law must be abrogated by man's apostacy; and can be no longer to us "the standard of right and wrong."

The law is said to have entered that the OFFENCE might abound; and by the law is the knowledge of sin. The only certain rule, therefore, of determining what is sin, is to enquire into the extent of that unerring rule. Now the law, as given in the decalogue, requires us to love God with all the heart,

* Rom. v. 20. iii. 20.

without making any allowance for our being born destitute of a disposition so to do. It should seem, therefore, that God considered the want of a disposition to love him as offensive: and gave the law which requires such a disposition that that offence might abound, or be made manifest. But if there be nothing blame-worthy in it, there can be nothing offensive; and if no offence exists, none can be made to abound.

P. allows my "reasonings on the extent of the moral law to be very conclusive." This, I should think, is rather extraordinary; but this is not all: he thinks "it would most certainly contribute much, under the blessing of God, to the conversion of sinners, if a due regard were always paid to it." (67.) But according to the reasoning above, I see no such tendency it could have. For the carnal mind of man is enmity against God, and is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be, and they were born in this condition. How then could it promote rational conviction? Whatever tendency it might have to bring them to love the Saviour, it must be at the expence of their regard for the law-giver? Yea, it must fill them with greater enmity against him to hear of his requiring that of them, which it is not reasonable in their present circumstances, should be required. If they are taught to consider the law-giver of the world as resembling a cruel Egyptian task-master, and the Saviour as one who came into the world to deliver them, by repealing his rigorous edicts, then they may love the one, and hate the other. But if

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

the Saviour is viewed in his true character, as not coming to abrogate the law, but to magnify, and make it honourable; to condemn the sinner's conduct, while he saves his soul; then they cannot hate the one, without equally hating the other.

"I do not know, says P. that the scripture ever blames man, much less condemns him, because he is born impure, or because he is the subject of impure propensities." (65.) As to the actual execution of condemnation, it is not for me to say how far the mercy of God will be extended. If those who die before their evil propensities are reduced to action are all saved; I suppose they are saved through the mediation of Christ, and not taken to heaven on the footing of personal innocency. But in respect to blame-worthiness, I remember a man who once took blame and shame to himself for his original impurity; bringing it in amongst his penitential confessions, that he was shapen in iniquity, and conceived in sin; and that surely with an intention not to excuse, but not to aggravate his crimes. In the same psalm, and in the next sentence, after acknowledging the depravity of his nature, the penitent psalmist adds, Thou desirest truth in the inward parts, which I should think must intend the opposite of that in which he had just confessed himself to have been conceived and shapen.* Farther, we are said to have been by nature the children of wrath; but one should suppose there could be no wrath due to us, if no blame were found in us.

⚫ Psal. li. 5, 6.

† Ephes. ii. S.

« PreviousContinue »