In accordance with my promise of last Sunday. I am now about to refresh your memories upon the leading doctrines of the Word of God.
You all very well know that I am not one to exalt doctrine above practice: they must go hand in hand: yet a clear knowledge of each of the revelations of God is so desirable for him who would aspire to the title of an educated Christian, so necessary for him who would worship God "with the spirit and the understanding also," and so calculated to inflame the love of him who has just begun to see the preciousness of Christ, that I conceive our time will be well spent in reexamining the foundations of our creed on the present occasion, and on the next four Sunday afternoons.
Besides which, as there is a culpable practice, and alas, a very general one, abroad of keeping back from the gaze and admiration of the Church the great truths of God's Word--as there appears to me to be an attempt on the part of certain, so-called, evangelical preachers to mystify what is perfectly plain, to throw a slur upon those who would earnestly contend for the faith as once delivered unto the saints--as there is a manifest confounding of mysteries with facts, of what is revealed with what is not revealed, I feel constrained to "put you in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth." Mysteries, no doubt, there are in God's Word and God's mind, but it is no mystery that man is fallen and corrupt, it is no mystery that God has from all eternity elected a peculiar people for glory, it is no mystery that Christ has died for that people, it is no mystery that the Holy Ghost has undertaken to regenerate them, and that neither men nor devils can rob Jehovah of one of those precious jewels. These things are revealed.
Thus I have more than one good reason for bringing before you those leading truths of the Bible, and I now propose to handle them in due order; (This is not a strictly correct expression in this connection for ELECTION took place before the fall of man, but I deems it expedient, for the sake of clearness, to prove the fall in the first place) and O may the God of all grace and wisdom and truth be with us whilst we meditate upon what He has been pleased to teach us!
I would first descant upon the necessity of having clear ideas upon "the Fall of Man;" secondly, I would prove the fall and ruin of man by Scripture and reason; thirdly, I would make some general remarks upon the whole.
As long as a man has the remotest idea that his health is not seriously impaired, he will never have recourse either to medicine or physician; as long as he believes he is possessed of innate strength, he will never abandon dependence upon himself; as long as he believes he has a personal dignity derivable from his ancestors, or acquired by his own goodness or virtue, he will never cease to carry himself proudly; but once undeceived, once prove to him that he is really ill, without strength, and devoid of honor or nobility, and then there is a fair prospect of him changing his course and his deportment.
It is precisely so with man as regards God. As long as man fancies he can do something towards his own salvation, as long as he thinks he is possessed of power or will to do good, as long as he imagines he can give a helping hand to Christ to save his soul--so long will he occupy a false position, so long will he carry himself presumptuously before God; but once dash man's absurdities to pieces, once prove free will to do good in man to be a lie, a delusion and a snare, once blow to the winds man's notions of health, strength, beauty and dignity, and then there is some prospect of him looking unto Him in whom alone help lies, or, at least, some hope that he will cease to boast.
Mark you, I do not insinuate that a mere intellectual knowledge of man's fall and ruin will bring man to his right mind, or induce him to employ the Great Physician, for it is a truth that no knowledge without the regenerating power of the Spirit of God has any power to lead a soul to Christ; but, speaking after the manner of men, I say it is not at all likely that a man who is without such knowledge would ever go to God, and that it is more than probable that a man with such knowledge would begin to think seriously. Means of themselves are powerless, but the Lord uses means to carry out His purposes; and in the hope of the Lord employing these means, I would boldly, fearlessly, and unmistakably tell man--"You are a fallen, ruined, and powerless creature, and until you know it, you are living without hope, and without God in the world!" (Eph. 2:12)
Be assured, my brethren, that it is the absurd and unscriptural notion of innate power, and strength, and dignity in man, that keeps so many professing Christians in darkness, and hopelessness, and practical infidelity.
"What," says Luther, "if any one intending to compose a poem or an oration, should never think about his abilities, what he could do, and what he could not do, or what the subject he had undertaken required, but should rush upon the undertaking or think thus:--'I must strive to get the work done, it is superfluous to inquire whether the learning I have, the eloquence I have, the force of genius I have, be equal to the task?' or what, if any one desiring to have a plentiful crop, should not trouble himself to examine the nature of the soil, but should rush on at once, thinking of nothing but the work, and plough the sea shore, and cast in the seed wherever the soil was turned up, whether sand or mud? or what, if any one about to make war, and desiring a glorious victory, should not take the trouble to deliberate upon what it was in his power to do--whether the treasury could furnish money, whether the soldiers were fit, etc.--but should rush forward with his eyes blinded and his ears stopped, only exclaiming 'War, war.' What, I ask, would you think of such poets, such husbandmen, such generals?" (Luther on the Bondage of the Will)
If any one going to build a tower sits not down first and counts the cost, whether he has enough to finish it, what does Christ say of him? (Luke 14:28)
And is he not a fit object for mockery? Surely so! Believe me, so is he who sets about the work of reformation in himself, to repent and believe, to build a tower whose top is to reach to heaven, before he knows what ability he possesses for such work.
"Ah! says some one, "this is vain and curious, and superfluous! Work, work! never mind what you can do, or what you cannot do, but do your best, and leave the result to God."
To this, alas, but too common an exhortation, I reply by asking a plain question: Why should we not exercise ordinary precaution and judgment in sacred things as well as in secular things? Who would think of exhorting any one to do this in either art or science? Suppose it to be a fact (which I shall prove directly) that man can do nothing in the way of working, before God wills to take him in hand--suppose it to be a fact that everything which unconverted man does, or can do, partakes of the nature of sin--how dare I attempt to set him on working? Depend upon it, "God is not mocked! Whatsoever a man sows that shall he reap." (Gal. 6:7) If he sows sin, he shall reap sin; if he sows impenitence he shall reap impenitence; if he sows ignorance, he shall reap ignorance.
"When you enjoin men to become rash workers," said Luther to Erasmus, "and charge them not to be curious about what they can do and what they cannot do in obtaining eternal salvation, this evidently, and in reality, is the sin unpardonable. For while they know not what or how much they can do, they will not know what to do; and if they know not what to do, they cannot repent when they do wrong; and impenitence is the unpardonable sin. To this does that moderate and skeptical theology of yours lead." And again, "If I know not how much I can do myself, how far my ability extends, and what I can do Godwards, I shall be equally uncertain and ignorant how much God is to do, how far His ability is to extend, and what He is to do towards me; whereas it is God that worketh all in all. But if I know not the distinction between our working and the power of God, I know not God Himself; and if I know not God, I cannot worship Him, praise Him, give Him thanks, or serve Him, for I shall not know how much I ought to ascribe unto myself, how much unto God. It is necessary, therefore, to hold the most certain distinction between the power of God and our power, the working of God and our working, if we would live in His fear."
Such, my hearers, is the testimony of a wonderfully taught man, of one who was a giant in his day--a giant in the midst of giants, and in comparison with whom every modern theologian is but a pulling infant. Yet, though giant he was, we do not pin our faith upon his sleeve. It is simply because we believe him to have been taught by the Holy Ghost we quote him, and to remind you that what I am insisting upon was a doctrine of the Reformation.
Believe me, man's amount of ability to do good is nil--actually nothing! and that he can no more get to heaven by anything he can do, than can the blockhead make a poem or an oration, the simpleton get a crop who ploughs the sand, or the fanatic a victory who will go to war without men or money! In short, man by nature is fallen, ruined, and totally incapable of thinking a good thought. And now to the proof.
That man is fallen, most professing Christians grant; but what they mean by the term "fallen" is not very easy to understand. I believe that the general impression upon the subject is that man is now mortal, that he is not in the condition in which he came forth from the forming hand of his Creator, that he is liable to sickness and disease, that he is subject to infirmities which require judicious treatment, and that he is doomed to eat his bread in the sweat of his brow; but that notwithstanding these drawbacks, if he employ his powers to the best of his ability, he will be happy at last.
I fancy that this is the view that nineteen-twentieths of the professingly Christian world hold of the fall of man. Say, is it not the view of many of you? But oh! how short of the truth! How dreadfully delusive are such imperfect conceptions as these! Into what awful error do they lead both ministers and people--preachers and hearers!
Infirmities--sickness-disease--even corporeal death itself, are but comparative trifles in connection with the dreadful fact of man's fall. The dissolution of soul and body is nothing in comparison with destruction from the presence of the Lord! Death with all its gloomy horrors would be but a harmless monster, if separation from the source of purity, holiness and happiness, were not in its wake! Infirmity and lust and passion would be but as thorns to the rose, if incapacity for good, hatred and enmity towards God, were not the chief consequences of the fall of man!
The account of what befell Adam after his fall is so short that much is not to be expected from it; and besides, he was so quickly recovered by the grace of God, and brought to repentance for his sin, and had so early the revelation of the seed of the woman as a Saviour from this and all other sins, that the mischief effected by his fall is not so manifest in him as in his posterity. It is by consulting the Scriptures that we are enabled to comprehend the full extent of this sad and terrible calamity.
From these we learn that man by the fall became wholly dead in sin, was made liable to all the miseries of this life, and to death both temporal, spiritual and eternal, and rendered utterly unable to help himself out of that miserable condition.
Listen to the Holy Ghost's description of man through the fall: Mere darkness, Eph. 5:8, and 1 Cor. 2:14; with a heart of stone, Ezek. 36:26; under the dominion of sin and Satan, Acts 26:18; dead in trespasses and sins, Eph. 2:1-5; without strength in spiritual things, Rom. 5:6; whose carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be! (Rom. 8:7) What can be more clear and distinct and unmistakable than this? O think!
Not merely an enemy but enmity itself--enmity personified--enmity in the abstract, evidently denoting an excess! (An enemy may be reconciled, but enmity cannot; a vicious man may become virtuous, but vice cannot.) And see, too, there is clearly a declaration of impotency here--"it is not subject to the law of God, NEITHER CAN IT BE!" and hence man's recovery out of this sad state is expressly termed in scripture a regeneration, a spiritual resurrection, a quickening and raising from the death of sin to a life of grace, a new creation, and God's own workmanship.--(Tit. 3:5; Eph. 2:1; Eph. 2:10; John 5:24,25)
By the fall the very child hates God, as well as the most moral men and the most amiable and virtuous of women; by which I mean, they do not hate God, as He is goodness, but as they apprehend something in Him that is contrary to their own sense of right. We hear continually of men declaring their love for God, adoring the Creator, and declaring their ecstasies and raptures in contemplating His works (the reality of this feeling I am not questioning; I hold it to be an impossibility for any sane man to refuse the expression of his admiration of the works of God;) but I ask, will these parties love and adore God when He is described as He describes Himself--as a Judge, as a Lawgiver who will assuredly punish for the slightest breach of His laws? Will they, can they love God, when they are informed that He is a Sovereign who does according to His own will, giving no account of His matters; that they, with all their wisdom and virtue, and love, and philanthropy, etc. are obnoxious to His wrath for their sin and fall in Adam? Will they, or can they love God, when they find Him curbing them, crossing them, chastening them, afflicting them? Nay, nay,--they will then, doubtless, show their natural, carnal disposition; it is then that the enmity exhibits itself; it was dormant as long as God was what they thought He should be, as long as He suffered them to have their own way, as long as they might, as it were, dictate their own terms of obedience: but now, since they cannot do as they desire, they hate the Lawmaker; and since they have discovered that they are as clay in the hands of the potter, they hate the great Creator, no matter how they may attempt to deceive themselves or us as to the fact.
By the fall, all mankind became subject to him who has the power of death, that is the devil; and in this death, under this condemnation, arising from the disobedience of one (Rom. 5) you and I were begotten in the image of our parents. Thus our nature is entirely perverse and perverted, and our conduct foolish; we are dead in trespasses and sins, without God and without hope in the world, creatures entirely after our kind, nature and constitution, the imaginations of our hearts being only evil, and that continually, altogether carnal with all that is in and belonging to us, with all our faculties and members, body, soul, reason, will, and affections.
Oh! what folly and ignorance it is to suppose that the death consequent upon the fall was mere corporeal death--that the sentence, "Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return," (Gen. 3:19) was the fulfillment of the threat, "in the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die!" (Gen. 2:17)
Death as it is represented in the separation of soul and body, although an emblem of spiritual or moral death, a type of the wrath to come, is something very different from the death which Adam incurred. This is apparent from Christ's declarations--"If a man keep My sayings he shall never see death;" (John 8:51) "Whosover liveth and believeth in Me shall never die;" (John 11:26) for our believing in Christ will not prevent our returning to the dust. And again, "as the blessing promised to obedience, 'Do this and thou shalt live,' (Luke 10:28) certainly meant something much greater than mere animal life," well observes Dr. Hawker, "and implied sweet fellowship and communion with God; so the curse on disobedience, 'dying thou shalt die, as plainly intimated much more than the mere return of the body to the dust out of which it was taken.' As I have already stated, Adam died on the day of his transgression--died to all good--died with regard to God: and his sentence has taken hold of every one of his children, who are in consequence, "all by nature the children of wrath." (Eph. 2:3)
We distinctly affirm that spiritual death, and in consequence eternal death, is the chief and appalling feature of the fall of man; and that every man born into the world is by nature as impotent for real good, as incapable of doing an acceptable work for God, and as thoroughly dead to all truthful impressions, as a stock or a stone, and will ever remain in that condition, going down to the lake beneath, unless God in His might rescue and regenerate him. Adam literally squandered away our stock of ability, and left us, "without strength," (Rom. 5:6) and though ten thousand hells were threatened, we are so vitiated and ruined by the fall, that we could not keep one of God's commandments perfectly for a single hour!
I know that there are people, ay, hosts of people, who do not believe this; who fancy that they are not so fallen, so wretched, so ruined, so sinful as I would represent them. There are many people of irreproachable lives, many of great self-denial, many of amiability and gentleness who do not or will not believe that they are dead to all good. I know too, that many, finding themselves inconveniently pressed by texts of Scripture, have been bold enough to affirm that such and such texts have direct allusions to the impure Romans, the idolatrous Corinthians, the dull and heavy Ephesians, etc, but have no reference to them. But such are blind, having their understanding darkened; (Eph. 4:18) they have never had the straight-edge of the law of God put to their thoughts and deeds, their motives and designs. They have never had a glimpse of the righteousness and spirituality of that law, or the slightest conceptions of the holiness of God. They have never heard the denunciation, "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the law to do them." (Gal. 3:10)
They forget that one act of disobedience, and that unaccompanied and unaggravated by impurity, or idolatry, or ill-feeling toward any creature, was regarded by God as a crime of such magnitude as to call down the denunciation of heaven upon Adam and all his posterity! They forget, if they ever knew, that the seed of every sin is within themselves, and that all that is required to bring that seed to maturity is importunity and opportunity. They forget that the Pharisees of old were a highly moral and religious people; that Paul himself before his conversion would have put a score of modern amiable professors to shame, and yet there are woes pronounced upon all such as "hypocrites," "generation of vipers," and "children of the devil!"
What, I ask, can men mean by either insinuating or affirming that they are not fallen, or sinful, or hell-deserving, when these things stare them in the face? How great must be the blindness of that man who, professing to believe that Adam by his one transgression brought death and damnation into the world, yet denies that he himself (a transgressor in myriads of instances) is on a par with this or that sinner saved by grace!
Suffer me to call your attention to the following argument in further proof of what I am insisting upon. In the 5th of Romans, the apostle institutes a comparison between the two Adams--between what our first parent did and what Christ did. He contrasts obedience with disobedience, life with death, etc. Now the attentive reader must be convinced that the life here spoken of is not temporal life, but eternal life (the antitheses prove this.) It will follow, then, that the death spoken of is not temporal death, but eternal death. But as eternal life is not restricted to the state of glory in heaven, but is begun here below when the sinner is united to Christ, (John 3:36; John 5:24; 1 John 5:11,12) so eternal death is not restricted to the perdition to hell, but is begun here below from our Adam birth. We are dead, then, when we are born; or, in other words, we are separated from the life and love of God from the moment of our birth until united to Jesus Christ, manifestly.
So far for the Scriptures: now for reason. What says reason upon the subject of the fall of man?
Ponder over sin and crime that have befouled the earth since the day in which Adam broke through the hedge by which his Creator had enclosed him, and say whether there has been no fall! Both sacred and profane history inform us that the darkest deeds and the foulest crimes have left their tracks thickly scored upon this earth, from the murder in the first family that ever trod it, till the latest hour of secular enlightenment!
Look at the awful depravity of the world even now. Swindling and wholesale robbery by men of long standing and high character have divided attention with cases of mysterious poisoning and atrocious murder. The calendars of the various assize towns evince a lamentable condition of public morality. The thousand ingenious shapes which crime has assumed in the hands of the regular practitioners are all tokens telling a fearful tale!
"Infidelity has increased to so great a degree as to leave it in doubt whether England may not be the most unbelieving of all the kingdoms in Christendom." So wrote a zealous clergyman of the Church of England, last year. But we see it ourselves--we want no man's testimony to assure us that infidelity is making rapid strides throughout the world. The very religious (so-called) press is manifestly tingled with it! There is a hatred of God and of God's pure Word abroad that is awful to contemplate! Surely there has been a fall--a fearful fall of man from God!
See the skill and ingenuity of man; what inventions he is capable of; what progress he makes in learning, in science and in art! and tell me, does he bend that learning or science to the glory of God, to the exposition of His Word, or to the elucidation of difficulties in connection with it? Nay; but, with few exceptions, does his very best to undermine the old foundations, to throw discredit upon the sacred record, and to make God a liar!
Has there not been a fall--a fearful fall?
Observe the general disinclination to pray, to read the Scriptures, to speak upon serious subjects. Mark that spontaneous mocking smile that passes round nearly all companies when any religious topic is adverted to, and tell me, has there been no fall? Is not man now, as his progenitor Adam, fleeing from God, not wanting communion with Him: for enmity is in his heart towards his Creator?
Mark, too, in professedly religious company, though the Scriptures may be discussed, and though prayer is wont to be made, what an awkwardness of manner, what a hesitation in speech, what a shifting of the subject, are manifested when the doctrines of sovereign grace are introduced; when the words "electing love," or "predestinating grace," or "ordination to eternal life" are let drop! Ah! how the apparent gold is transmuted! how the professed love becomes changed! how the paint and varnish of nature vanish! Poor man, at enmity with God, flees from His presence, and tries to hide himself in the trees of his own planting!
Has there been no fall?
Lastly. Notice those evil thoughts,--those questionable actions,--those wanderings in prayer,--that coldness in the affections towards God and the brethren, many a time and oft experienced by the saints themselves, and say has there been no fall? "Oh! how the depth of our lost condition comes clearly to the view in the very act of prayer! Alas! we know not what to pray for as we ought; and even when the Spirit helpeth our infirmities, when we cannot utter a word or even a sigh, and without words deeply groan in the spirit; then these infirmities cry out as testimony against us that we are undone, and fallen from God!" Oh! is it not true--is it not proved that "the carnal mind is enmity against God, and is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be?" It exists in the very saints, and continually reminds them of their fall in Adam!
And now I ask in all solemnity--
If what has been stated is truth, what is the meaning of man-power, or free-will-to-do-good? If man is fallen, so fallen as to be dead to all good, what can those harangues mean for men to be up and stirring and make their peace with God, of which we so often hear?
How can that endeavor to do good which is death? How can that power which is contrary to God, and which makes Him a liar, endeavor after that which is good? How can a man "dead in trespasses and sins" consult his own eternal interest? "Is it rational," "to think to set fallen man with his corrupt nature to work the same way with innocent Adam? This is to set beggars on a level with the rich, lame men on a journey with them that have limbs."
OBJECTION--But we are to preach, to exhort, and to threaten.
ANSWER--Yes, doubtless, but we must see in the first instance that what we preach is the Word of God. (2 Tim. 4:2) We must place man in his proper position, in the mire and in the pit. We must tell him of God's purpose to rescue a people from that awful position. We must not exhort until we think we can see signs of life. And as for the threatening, we must take care that we tell all the truth, that it is the Sovereign Jehovah that threatens; that though man can contribute nothing to his own regeneration, yet God commands to flee from the wrath to come; and that though this seems contradictory to poor short-sighted mortals, we must not dare reply to God, as if we, by our sophistry, could catch and entangle the Almighty. Unconverted man must be told distinctly that the sins from which he is unwilling to be freed, will justly damn him; but no man must be suffered to suppose for a moment that he has any free-will power to do good.
Cavilers against the doctrines of grace are often insinuating that if these things are so, there can be no use in preaching. They forget that "it has pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save those that believe"--that it is by the Word souls are caught, and that it is either a "savour of life unto life, or of death unto death." (2 Cor. 2:16)
OBJECTIONS--"But all men are not so fallen as you would make it appear. Abel, and Enoch, and Noah, and Abraham, etc, were not thus fallen."
ANSWER--This is to contradict the Scriptures. "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (Rom. 3:23) "There is none that doeth good, no, not one." (Rom. 3:12) It was free grace that made the difference between Abel and Cain, Isaac and Ishmael, etc. "The Lord had mercy" is, and will be, the motto upon the hatchment of every individual fallen asleep in Christ. "There is no difference," says Wisius, "but what God Himself makes. All, I grant, are not equally vicious, but even this difference arises from the secret dispensations of God's providence which restrain the affections of men more or less; but all are equally fallen from God, and to whatever length any, before regeneration, have advanced in honesty or virtue, they nevertheless remain on the confines of death, in which there is no preparation for life."
OBJECTION--"Though a man is fallen from God, he can pray, and thus get aid, and become changed."
ANSWER--I want to be informed, how can a man pray to that God whom he hates? Man, by nature, is at enmity with God. Surely prayer where there is no love must be hypocrisy, lying, and mockery!
OBJECTION--"But when God is described to fallen man as being ready to hear, and as being love, etc, man's sense will enable him to fall in love with God, and see that He is for his good."
ANSWER--This is again to contradict the Scriptures, which assert that "the natural man cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God" (1 Cor. 2:14) no matter how his fellow man may describe them. Besides which, instead of a faithful description of God making a favorable impression upon the mind of a natural man, it would have the direct contrary effect, unless God were to make him willing by His power. It is the universal experience of the Church that the more faithfully the Word of God is preached the more determinately do the heathen rage.