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Of man's inability, God's grace, and Prayer to
him for it.
I HAVE now proceeded, in the course of these Lectures, to the end of the Commandments; and explained the nature of that repentance, faith, and obedience, which were promised for us in our baptism, and which we are bound to exercise, in proportion as we come to understand the obligations incumbent on us. You cannot but see by this time, that the duties, which God enjoins us, are not only very important, but very extensive. And, therefore, a consideration will almost unavoidably present itself to our minds in the next place, what abilities we have to perform them. Now the question our Catechism decides, without asking it, by a declaration, extremely discouraging in appearance, that “we are not able, of ourselves, s to walk in the Commandments of God, and to to serve him."
Indeed, had we ever so great abilities, we must have them not of ourselves, but of our Maker; from whom all the powers of all creatures are derived. But something further than this is plainly meant here; that there are no powers belonging to human nature in its present state, sufficient for so great a purpose.
The law of God “ is spiritual, but we are carnal, sold under sin.” And that such is our condition, will appear by reflecting, first, what it was at our birth; secondly, what we have made it since.
1. As to the first, we all give proofs, greater or
(1) Rom. vii. 14.
less, of an inbred disorder and wrongness in our understandings, will, and affections. Possibly one proof, that some may give of it, may
be backwardness to own it. But they little consider, how severe a sentence they would pass, by denying it, on themselves, and all mankind. Even with our natural bad inclinations for some excuse, we are blameable enough for the ill things that we do. But how much more should we be so, if we did them all, without the solicitation of any inward depravity to plead afterwards in our favour? In point of interest, therefore, as well as truth, we are concerned to admit an original proneness to evil in our frame; while yet reason plainly teaches, at the same time, that whatever God created, was originally, in its kind, perfect and good.
To reconcile these two things, would have been a great difficulty, had not Revelation pointed out the way, by informing us, that man was, indeed, “ made upright,"? but that the very first of human race lost their innocence and their happiness together ; and tainting, by wilful transgression, their own nature, tainted, by consequence, that of their whole posterity. Thus,“ by one man, sin “ entered into the world, and death by sin ; and “ so death passed upon all men, for that all have “ sinned."3" We find, in fact, however difficult it may be to account for it in speculation, that the dispositions of parents, both in body and mind, very commonly descend, in some degree, to their children. And, therefore, it is entirely credible, that so great a change in the minds of our first parents from absolute rightness of temper to presumptuous wickedness ; accompanied with an equal change of body, from an immortal condition to a mortal one, produced, perhaps, in part by the physical effects of the forbidden fruit; that these
(2) Eccl. vii. 19.
(3) Rom. v. 12.
things, I say, should derive their fatal influences to every succeeding generation. For though God will never impute any thing to us, as our personal fault, which is not our own doing ; yet he may very justly withhold from us those privileges, which he granted to our first parents only on condition of their faultless obedience, and leave us subject to those inconveniencies which followed of course from their disobedience; as in multitudes of other cases, we see children in far worse circumstances, by the faults of their distant forefathers, than they otherwise would have been And, most evidently, it is no more a hardship upon us to become such as we are by means of Adam's transgression, thari to suffer what we often do for the transgressions of our other ancestors; or to have been created such as we are, without any one's transgression; which last, all, who disbelieve original sin, must affirm to be our case.
But unhappily for us as the failure of the first man was, we should be happy in comparison, if this were all that we had to lament. Great as the native disorder of our frame is, yet either the fall of Adam left in it, or God restored to it, some degree of disposition to cbedience, and strength against sin; so that though “in us, that is, in " our flesh, dwelleth no good thing-yet, after the “inward man, (the mind) we delight in the law “ of God;"4 and there are occasions on which
“the Gentiles which have not the law, do “ by nature the things contained in the law,5 though neither all, nor any, without fault. And on us Christians our heavenly Father confers, in our Baptism, the assurance of much greater strength to obey his commands, than they have. But, then, if we consider,
2. What we have made our condition since, we
(1) Rom. vii. 18, 22, 23.
Rom. ii. 11.
shall find, that instead of using well the abilities which we had, and taking the methods which our Maker hath appointed for the increase of them, we have often carelessly, and too often wilfully, misemployed the former, and neglected the latter. Now, by every instance of such behaviour, we displease God, weaken our right affections, and add new strength to wrong passions; and by habits of such behaviour, corrupting our hearts, and blinding our understandings, we bring ourselves into a much worse condition than that in which we were born; and thus become doubly incapable of doing our duty. This experience proves but too plainly, though Scripture did not teach, as it doth, that “the imagination of man's “ heart is evil from his youth;"1 " that we were
shapen in iniquity, and in sin did our mother conceive us;'')
93 so that the carnal mind is en“ mity against God;"9 that without Christ we có can do nothing ;' 66 and that we are not suffi“ cient to think any thing, as of ourselves."2
Yet, notwithstanding this, we feel within us an obligation of conscience to do every thing that is right and good. For that obligation is in its nature unchangeable ; and we cannot be made happy otherwise, than by endeavouring to fulfil it; though God, for the sake of our blessed Redeemer, will make fit allowances for our coming short of it. But, then, we must not hope for such allowances as would really be unfit. Our original weakness, indeed, is not our fault; but our neglect of being relieved from it, and the additioris that we have made to it, are. And whatever w might have had the power of doing, if we would, it is no injustice to punish us for not doing ; especially when the means of enabling ourselves con
(7) Gen. viii. 21. (8) Psalm li. 5. (9) Rom. viii. 7. (1) John xv, 5.
(2) 2 Cor. iji. 5.
tinue to be offered to us through our lives. Now, in fact, the whole race of mankind, I charitably hope and believe, have, by the general grace or favour of God, the means of doing so much, at least, as may exempt them from future sufferings. But Christians, by the special grace mentioned in this part of the Catechism, are qualified to do so much more, as will entitle them, not for their own worthiness, but that of the holy Jesus, to a distinguishing state of future reward.
Now, the special grace of the Gospel consists, partly in the outward revelation, which it makes to us, of divine truths; partly in the inward assistance, which it bestows on us for obeying the divine will. The latter is the point here to be considered.
That God is able, by secret influences on our minds, to dispose us powerfully in favour of what is right, there can be no doubt; for we are able, in some degree, to influence one another thus. That there is need of his doing it, we have all but too much experience; and that, therefore, we may reasonably hope for it, evidently follows. He interposes continually by his providence, to carry on the course of nature in the material world; is it not thea very likely, that he should interpose in a case, which, as far as we can judge, is yet more worthy of his interposition; and incline and strengthen his
poor creatures to become good and happy, by gracious impressions on their souls, as occasions require ? But still, hope and likelihood are not certainty; and God, “whose ways are “past finding out,"' might have left all men to their own strength, or rather, indeed, to their own weakness. But whatever he doth in relation to others, which is not our concern, he hath clearly promised to us Christians, that “his grace shall
(3) Rom. xi. 33.