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for ever? In attempting a solution of this difficulty, some well-meaning persons, from a too earnest desire to render the counsels of God more acceptable to the narrow apprehensions of unsanctified reason, have given up the ground they ought to have maintained, and made such concessions, as (if extended to their just consequence) would amount to all that the most hardened infidel can desire. The most direct and proper answer is suggested by St. Paul on a similar occasion, "Who art thou, O man, that repliest against God?" That the will and wisdom of the Creator should direct and limit the inquiries of his rational creatures, is a principle highly consonant to right reason itself. And there can hardly be a stronger proof of human depravity, than that this argument is so generally esteemed inconclusive. But waving this, a sufficient answer may be made, from the premises already advanced.
God was not a debtor to sinful men." He might have left them all to perish (as he left the sinning angels), without the least impeachment of his goodness. But his mercy interposed, and he spared not his own Son, that sinners might be saved in a way consistent with his perfections. But though, in compassion to us, he provided the means of salvation; we cannot wonder, that, in justice to himself, he laid the
Rom. ix. 20. It is observable in this passage, that the apostle foresees and states the great objection which would be made to his doctrine; but does not attempt to answer it any farther, than by referring all to the will of him who formed the whole mass, and has a right to dispose of it. Had succeeding writers and teachers imitated his example, declared the plain truth in plain words, and avoided vain and endless reasonings, how many offences would have been prevented!
plan in such a manner as might most clearly illustrate the riches of his own grace, and most effectually humble and silence the pardoned offenders; to prevent their boasting and trusting in themselves, and to give them the most affecting views of his unmerited goodness. We may, therefore, humbly conceive one reason, why Christ was no sooner manifested in the flesh, to have been, that the nature, effects, and inveteracy of sin might be more evidently known; and the insufficiency of every other means of relief demonstrated, by the universal experience of many ages.
What is the history of mankind, but a diffusive exemplification of the Scripture doctrines, concerning the dreadful nature and effects of sin, and the desperate wickedness of the heart of man! We are accustomed from our infancy to call evil good, and good evil. We acquire an early prejudice in favour of heroes, conquerors, and philosophers. But if we consider the facts recorded in the annals of antiquity, divested of the false glare and studied ornaments with which the vanity of writers has disguised them, they will afford but a dark and melancholy review. The spirit of the firstborn Cain appears to have influenced the whole human race the peace of nations, cities, and families, has been continually disturbed by the bitter effects of ambition, avarice, revenge, cruelty, and lust. The general knowledge of God was soon lost out of the world; and, when his fear was set aside, the restraints, dictated by the interests of civil society, were always too weak to prevent the most horrid evils. In a word, the character of all ages and countries before the coming of Christ (a few excepted, where the light of revelation was afforded) is strongly, though briefly drawn
by St. Paul'. "Foolish" and infatuated to the highest degree, "disobedient" to the plainest dictates of nature, reason, and conscience, "enslaved to divers" disho→ nourable "lusts and pleasures, living in malice and 66 envy, hateful" and abominable in themselves, and incessantly "hating" and worrying "one another."
It would be more easy than pleasant to make out this charge by a long induction of particulars. And, without having recourse to the most savage and uncultivated, the proof might be rested on the character, of the two most celebrated and civilized nations, and at the time of their greatest refinement, the Greeks and the Romans. St. Paul has given us the result of their boasted improvements in arts and sciences, in war and commerce, in philosophy and literature; and he says no more than is abundantly confirmed by their own poets and historians. Notwithstanding the marks and fruits of fine taste and exalted genius which were found amongst them, they were habitually abandoned to the grossest vices. Devoted to the most stupid "idolatry," they worshipped the works of their own hands; nay, erected altars to their follies and passions. Their moral characters were answerable to their principles. "Without natural affection," they frequently exposed their helpless infants to perish. They burned with "lusts" not to be named without horror; and this
Titus, iii. 3.
f" Enslaved." So the original term may be emphatically rendered; at the control of various and opposite passions, hurried about by them all in their turns, and incapable of resisting or refusing the motions of any.
Rom. i. from v. 21. to the end. An affecting comment on this passage might be collected from Horace, Juvenal, Sallust, and Suetonius.
not the meaner sort only, or in secret, but some of their finest spirits and most admired writers were sunk so low as to glory in their shame, and openly avow themselves the disgrace of humanity. In their public concerns (notwithstanding their specious pretences) they were "covenant-breakers, implacable, unmerciful," and unjust." Guilty of the severest oppression, while they boasted highly of equity and moderation'; as was particularly manifested on the destruction of Carthage and Corinth two memorable instances of the spirit of a government, so undeservedly admired in after-times. And as the Roman power, so the Grecian eloquence was perverted to the worst purposes; to palliate crimes, to consecrate folly, and to recommend falsehood under the guise and semblance of truth.
Such was the character of the people, reputed the wisest and the best of the heathens; and particularly so at the birth of Christ, when the Roman empire was at the summit of authority and splendour. A long experience had shown the general depravity to be not only inveterate, but incurable. For, during several preceding ages, a reformation had been desired and attempted. The principal leaders in this commendable design were called philosophers, and many of their writings are still extant. It must be acknowledged, that
See Virgil. Eclog. ii.
i See Acts, xxvii. 42. The soldiers would have killed all the prisoners, right or wrong, rather than one of them should have a possibility of escaping and in this, without doubt, they consulted their own safety, and the spirit of their laws. Why, then, were the Romans so much admired? Could there be a greater proof of cruelty and injustice found amongst the most barbarous nations, than to leave prisoners, who possibly might be innocent, exposed to the wanton caprice of their keepers?
some of them had a faint view of several important truths; but, as they neither knew the cause and extent of the disorder, nor the only effectual remedy, they met with little success. Their schemes were various, inconsistent, and even opposite; and each party more successful in opposing the fallacy of other sects, than in maintaining their own. Those who came nearest the truth, and were in earnest to promote it, were very few. Even these were ignorant of some things absolutely necessary to the attainment of the desired end. The best of them were restrained by the fear of men, and a regard to established customs. What they could and did propound, they had not sufficient authority, or influence, to impress upon the consciences of men. And if, in a few instances, they seemed to succeed, the advantage was only imaginary. Where they prevailed on any to relinquish intemperance, they made them full amends, by gratifying their pride. The business passed from hand to hand, from sect to sect, but all to no purpose. After innumerable disputations, and volumes, concerning the supreme good, the beauty of virtue, the fitness of things, and other high-sounding topics, they left matters as bad or worse than they found them. They could not effectually inculcate their doctrine upon a single village or family. Nay, they were but half persuaded themselves, and could not act up to their own principles, when they most needed their support*.
A still more affecting view of the degeneracy of human nature we have in the history of the Israelites, whom God was pleased to set apart from the rest of mankind, for several important purposes. He revealed
* Witness the prevarication of Socrates, and the irresolution of Cicero, towards the close of their lives.