Of the counterfeit of inherent Grace, viz. Natu∣ral honesty; and why God hath continued in wick∣ed men the use of Conscience.
ROM. 2. 15.
HAving dispatched the nature, properties, and effects of inherent grace, I come (according to my Method) to detect two counterfeits of this, and they are Natural Honesty, and Moral virtue; for these two make a glo∣rious shew, and seem to be like the two great lights in the world, if humane reason may be judge, and I begin with natural honesty out of this Text.
The Apostle in this Chapter brings in an heavy indictment and charge, both a∣gainst Jew and Gentile, wrapping up all mankind in their winding sheet, as being dead in sin and iniquity; and whereas it might be objected verse 14. That the Gen∣tiles cannot be found sinners, because where no law is, there is no transgression: He answereth this objection, informing us, That though the Gentiles were without a Law in some sense, yet not without it in another: They were without a Law writ∣ten and promulged, as the Jews had, but not without a Law ingraffed in their con∣science, whereby they had common dictates about good and evil: Which Natural honesty was a Law to them in many things; And therefore they not having a Law, are a Law to themselves. This being the summ of the Answer, he illustrates this work of God in mens hearts naturally,
1. By the Title, The work of the Law, i. e. The substance of the ten Command∣ments, which do summarily comprehend all duties to be done, and all sins to be a∣voided.
2. By the manner, It is written in their hearts. Though it be implanted, and in∣graffed, yet the Apostle useth this expression of Writing, because the Moral Law was written on Two Tables; onely you must not take this expression like that of Jeremy, Jer. 31. as Pelagius, and others have done, where God makes a Covenant, To write his Law in their hearts; for that is a gracious writing de novo, whereby God insuseth grace into his Children, enabling them to walk in his Commande∣ments with all propensity and delight, from sanctified principles within. But here he speaks of that natural ingraffing which God hath made upon the consciences of men, whereby they judge good to be imbraced, and evil to be abhorred. It is true, there are learned men, and most of the Ancients go that ways also, who expound this of Gentiles, but believers and converted; for it may seem to attribute too Page 335 much to Nature, to say, That Heathens do by nature the things of the Law: but when you hear in what sense they are said to do it, you will quickly perceive that to be no such great matter, as may put them in a capacity of salvation. I shall not trouble you with the interpretation of Flaccius Illyricus, much toyling about the sense of this place, which makes so directly against his opinion about Originall sinne.
Lastly, This Natural honesty imprinted in mens consciences, is described by an external effect, They shew it, viz. in the actions of their lives, abstaining from whore∣dome, injustice, and murther. 2. By Internal effects, The witness and workings of Conscience, sometimes by accusation upon things ill done, sometimes by excuse and approbation, when well done. Interpreters finde some difficulty about the sense of the greek words 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, In the mean while accusing, or excusing one another. That is, as some expound it, They condemn one and another, by reason of the natural light of conscience left in them about ill doing, or well doing. But others, as it is in the Margent, render it between themselves, in this sense, Every man hath a court within in his own heart, where there are accusations or defences according to the nature of the works we do, Every one hath a judge in his breast, and a Tribunal or terrible Bar in his Conscience within, by which he is condemned or acquicted. This exposition I like best; onely I would render 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, not be∣tween, or the mean while, but Alternatim, By change and vicissitude, as the Greek word is sometimes used: So that the Apostles meaning is, That there is such a Law about good and evil in mens hearts, appeareth, in that all Heathens have had their Consciences one while accusing them, and at another time excusing them; one while they have been terrified, and another time comforted and quieted in their Consciences, according as they have deported themselves. Now to the whole exposition of this Text in the sense declared, may be objected all those places of Scripture which say, We are dead in sin: And Chap. 3. 10, 11, 12. &c. that long description of mans Natural filthiness, where none, no not one is said to understand, or to be righteous; especially that famous place seems directly to thwart this, where it is said, That the imaginations of the thoughts of a mans heart are onely evil, and that continually. But here may be easily an happy ac∣cord found out; for those natural impressions and inclinations, which are a∣bout good and evil, are imperfect and insufficient to enable us to do that which is every way good in every circumstance; and it is onely of some particular no∣torious things, and it is onely for the matter done, not the manner of it. There∣fore though Heathens have done good things, yet they never did them well; and though they have abstained from sins, yet they never did it from pure and right grounds. Thus while they did the works of the Law, and their Con∣sciencies were thus busie and active within them, yet they were corrupted and defiled; And therefore as the Apostle argueth, Their very mindes and Consci∣ences were defiled also, Tit. 1. 15.
This may suffice for explication at this time; more may be added hereafter: for this Text doth contain admirable practical matter, being fruitful, and bearing twins as it were.
1. That there is naturally implanted in mens consciences, such common notions*and apprehensions about God, and that which is good and evil; that thereby their consciences are very active within them; and they forbear some sins, and do some good things in their outward conversation.
2. Though these principles and dictates of conscience within, carry men out to never*so much natural honesty, yet it is not Grace.
I shall begin with the first: And for the understanding of it consider, That we may speak of the work of the Law in a mans conscience, according to a mans three-fold estate.
First, That of Perfection and innocency, wherein God made Adam before his Apo∣stacy:Page 336 And thus the work of the Law was perfectly engraven in Adams heart, both for knowledge to discern, and power to perform. This was a Star sure e∣nough to guide Adam to eternal happinesse: Adams soul was not made like a blank paper, for Virtue or Vice to be written on it, in a meer indifferency; but he was made after the image of God, which was righteousnesse, and true holi∣nesse. It was an Image, the whole and universall resemblance of God, and every Lineament was curiously, and accurately drawn. By reason of this, there was no duty to be done, but Adam knew it, there being no ignorance, imprudence, blindeness, or folly in his minde; and hereby he had a propension, in∣clination, facility, and delight in what God commanded, no commandment being an heavy yoke to him.
But Secondly, If we speak of man turned an Apostate, and become a wretched pro∣digall, losing that stock God set him up with; Then though nothing of that holy image be left in him, yet his understanding and conscience being faculties of his reasonable soul, they abide still, else he could not be a man. And although these are wholly corrupted, as to do any thing that is truely good, yet there re∣mains in man fallen, common notions and principles about religion and honestly, which serve for many special uses hereafter to be mentioned: And although in some these have been defaced, and they have grown past feeling, and their sense of God almost extinct, yet for the general these principles have been active in all men.
And Lastly, We may speak of these Divine reliques in man, as reformed and enlight∣ned by Gods word, and furbished by supernatural directions: And herein they are wonderfully furthering godlinesse; for grace doth not put out those little sparks, but enkindleth them to a flame: So that natural principles elevated and perfected by supernatural, carry a man forward to all real godlinesse. Now my discourse shall be limited to natural light and power, while we are corrupted in our sinfull estate; and in the examination of this, we may see discovered, that though nature hath many things laudable and commendable, yet she is not to sit in the Throne of Grace; but * rather nature is graces foot-stool.
In the next place let us consider why God hath left these notions (as so many sparks of fire raked up in ashes) in our hearts.
And first, That hereby God might be known and acknowledged in all the world: That though men by nature did but grope in the dark, when they enquired what God was, yet it was clear to them there was a God, whom they conceived su∣preme, and then whom nothing could be better. This the Apostle calls, 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, That which may be known of God, Rom. 1. 19. Indeed this naturall knowledge of God is so confuse, uncertain, and corrupted through carnall imagi∣nations, that in the Scripture phrase they are said to be ignorant of God, and to be without God, and that God is onely known in his Church: But yet that they at∣tain to some kinde of apprehension of him, is plain by Rom. 1. where they are condemned because they did not glorifie God, as they knew God. This is a sure Axi∣ome. That there is no meer natural Atheist in judgement; there may be an Atheist in affection and desire, wishing there were no God to govern and order all things, punishing men for their wickednesse; in which sense the Psalmist saith, The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God, Psal. 14. 1. But to be perswaded in judge∣ment, there are none so by nature, or very rare: God hath set this Candle in the dark places of the belly, to keep men in aw, and to acknowledge a power above them. Men that have not had the glorious Sunne of the word to walk by, yet they have had this Torch to go by in the night. And truly the improvement of this natu∣ral principle, that there is a God, might make every wicked mans joynts to tremble; for if thou canst not rase it out of thy heart, Why dost thou not glorifie him as God? Why art thou not afraid of him as a God? *
Secondly, Therefore these practicall principles of good and evill abide in us, that Page 337 so we might be the more inexcusable: For when men have not lived according to that which the light of nature would have directed them to, their condemnation will be very just, themselves being Judges, and their own consciences bearing witnesse to it. When therefore men live in such sinnes as Nature condemneth, such are uncleannesse, unjust dealings, lying and forswearing; they do not need Moses his Law, nor Pauls Gospel to condemn them; they have that in their own hearts which will accuse and overthrow them. The Apostle many times provoketh to Duty by this, 1. Cor. 11. 14. Doth not even nature teach thee? Oh how often may even Christians be severely rebuked? Doth not even Nature teach thee, that to Lye, Steal, commit Adultery, are horrid sins? How then canst thou break this strong bond in which Natural light hath tyed thee? To be condemned, because we do not believe in Christ, would not be unlesse Christ had been propounded to us: we need supernaturall revelation to some duties; but the Duties enjoyned by Nature, they oblige us, though no Scripture had been written, no Ministers did inform us; though none should bid us fulfill them. Thou hast a Doctor or Teacher in thy own breast, which condemneth thee for what thou doest, therefore art thou greatly inex∣cusable.
Thirdly, God leaveth these practical impressions upon us, that so what is good*may be honoured and praised, what is evill may be matter of shame and reproach. It is an excellent thing to consider, That the things of piety, and justice, and all goodnesse, have a remarkable reverence in the hearts of all men. Who would not be thought to be pious, to be just, to be righteous? Now how could these come to have such Authority amongst men, if there were not something in Na∣ture to approve it? So wickednesse, that is condemned and censured by all mankinde: Now no man is willing to be thought an ungodly man, an unjust man; and whence is all this, but still from this work of the Law written in mens hearts? Hence are those rules, Omnis peccans est ignorans, and Nemo potest velle malum, quâ malum, Evill is forward to come in Goodnesses clothes, else it could not be embraced by any man. This makes much to justifie the nature of what is good and right; for all men, though never so savage or barbarous, they do adore it in the generall, though in the particular they have greatly mi∣staken.
Fourthly, This Law is written in mens hearts, that so kingdomes and common-wealths,*and all humane societies may be preserved: For if there were not Dictates about God and righteousnesse, Kingdomes would presently be turned into rob∣beries, and horrid confusions. We admire, and that justly, the providence of God in bounding the waters, that they do not overwhelm the earth: but much more admirable is Gods power in preserving humane societies, that men are not Wolves and Tygers, committing all bloody outrages. What is the cause of this? No outward power or strength so much, as an inbred apprehension about a God, and a strong conviction of the conscience, what is righteous and just to be done; And therefore whensoever this hedge is broken down, the very flood∣gates of all wickednesse is presently set open; and blessed be God, that hath put such a bridle in the mouth of Man, who by sinne hath made himself so bruitish.
Fifthly, God hath left these sacred remnants in us, that there might be a ground*of conversion and regeneration: For howsoever we are said to be dead in sinne, and our hearts are compared to stones, and we resembled to bruit beasts; yet that is in respect of any active capacity or ability to do what is good, other∣wise God dealeth with us in a way of reason and argument, answerable to those Natural Dictates within. Thus when Paul preached of Temperance, righteous∣nesse, and the world to come, Felix trembled, because there were some princi∣ples of reason within him assenting to those Truths which Paul preached. Indeed Page 338 the Papists fouly mistake, who make regeneration to be nothing but the actua∣ting and exciting of those inward principles by grace: As if a man should blow up and inflame some little sparks of fire covered under ashes: and by this means they make Nature co-operate with Grace; this contradicts those expressions where God is said to make an heart of flesh, and write his Law in us; for by these Texts it is apparent, That God infuseth the first power into us, and puts in a Di∣vine strength, and doth not excite, or stir up our Natural strength: So that be∣sides this Natural writing, there must be a Gracious writing, else we certainly perish. But yet these natural principles of religion and honesty, are good foun∣dations to work upon; to preach to men and not to beasts. I speak (saith Paul) to wise men, 1 Cor 10. 15. judge what I say. We preach to men that should have Reason, and Natural Conscience working in them: Now if so, How is it that thou art not converted? That thou hast not left thy sins? Set upon a way of strict Godlinesse? for let thy Naturall conscience work; give it leave to argue; hear it say what it can; Doth not that close with the holy Truths we preach to you? Your affections (happily) do not your love and desire do not, but your Natural conscience, that is terrified; that saith, this is religion, this is just; therefore it must be done: That saith, thy ungodlinesse, thy lusts are sins, and therefore to be avoided. Oh hear what that preacher in thy breast preacheth to thee some∣times: And (beloved) this is the great advantage that the Ministers of the Word have while they rebuke sin, exhort to Duties: Though we make men our enemies, yet their consciences are our friends: While your corrupt affections make you rage and sret at what is good, yet your consciences they speak for it, and approve it. That therefore the word of God might have a subject to work upon, something to close with, there are these fiery sparks of light and Truth burning in mens breasts: So that there is no man we preach unto, but if he would let his Natural Conscience be judge, and determine about his leaving sin, and doing good, the Verdict would be on the Ministers side. Here is the controversie, the word of God commands thee to cast away those sins thou livest in, it threatens thee with all the Curses in the Law. Well, thy corrupt heart pleads to the contrary, these lusts are sweet, are profitable, thou art accusto∣med to them; and then thou hast many carnal prejudices; To do so, would be to live strictly, precisely, singularly; and what repute that hath with the multi∣tude, all know: So that it is against their good name and their credit, they con∣ceive, to be so wary about sin; thus thy corrupt affections plead. Well then, put the issue of this debate to the Naturall light of Conscience, hear what that will say, and presently that will conclude, That which is good and righteous, is to be pre∣ferred before what is pleasant and profitable: That will say, God is to be obey∣ed before man: if you will go on, and live thus, and do thus, I must do my du∣ty; I cannot but accuse you, terrifie you, arraign you: I cannot but give you ma∣ny sharp wounds: And howsoever you may for a while through pleasure, and pride, and earthly affections stop my cry, and stifle my voice, yet one day I shall roar so in thy ears, that for horrour thou wilt not be able to endure it. This is the very 〈◊〉 about every wicked man; and therefore think not to bear it out a∣gainst the word; do not go about to stop the mouth of Natural conscience. Thou mayest for a while •rown the noise of it, and study diversions; but Oh wo, and thousand tin; a wo when it shall tear and devour, and none be able to de∣liver.
Sixthly, God hath imprinted these principles in us, That so Men might abound in civil honesty, and Moral virtues; which although they are not true grace, they * are but copper, and not gold, yet hereby men are lesse wicked, and so God is not so much dishonoured, Camillus is better then Verres: Fabricius then Cata∣line: Mens lives are not so much to the reproach of Gods name, and his exceed∣ing great dishonour; for howsoever it be true, That these principles of Nature Page 339 doe not encline us to good truely, and upon a right ground, yet by them we are curbed from acting all the wickednesse our hearts would accomplish; and so are thereby as Wolves and Tygars tyed up in chains. The Apostle supposeth this, when he saith of the Heathens, Rom. 1. That they detain the truth in unrighteous∣nesse; That is, the natural knowledge which they had of God and righteousnesse, would have provoked them to what is holy and good; but they violently de∣tained this Truth; they kept it from being active, and bursting out like fire in their lives. Is not Medeas case, the case of many men, They see better things, and approve them, but they follow the worst. Oh consider thy self, Doest not thou inwardly think there is a better life to be lived then I live; a better course to be taken for Heaven then I take: But still thy sins and corruptions turn thee out of the way. Oh it is to be feared that this is a reigning universal sin; for Men having lived so long under the Gospel, cannot become so bruitish and stupid in their imaginations, but that they know when they sinne, and when they doe well, How then can they endure to live against Con∣science.
The causes of the Senselesnesse, Silence, and Stupidity of the Consciences of most Men.
BUt you will say, If God hath left these principles in us, How comes it a∣bout that in many men they are asleep? Do not all Men almost runne into those sins which the Law of Nature forbids? How is it that Men swear; lye, commit whoredomes, and do injustice, if they have such a School-master within to teach them? Who would not say by the lives of most men, That these are overwhelmed and quite buried? and if it were among Heathens, it were no great wonder; but that it should be amongst Christians, is the great amazement: For they have not onely this Natural light inbred in them, but supernatural light also revealed unto them. So that for men under the Gospell, to become so sottish and senselesse about what is good, and what is sin, is beyond all expression intollerable.
The grounds of this senselesnesse and stupifaction of Conscience may be these.
First, Ill education, and long continued custome in evill, for these things be∣come * a second nature quickly; and the first Nature is obliterated as it were. Men that live constantly by great Noyses, they regard them not; but strangers are much disquieted with them: So what men have been brought up in; they saw nothing but wickednesse and prophannesse in their parents lives, and in the families where they were taught; this takes away the horror of sinne: They see their Ancestours, and learned men, and great men, they have made no matter of Godlinesse, but sinned as they pleased; this roots out all aw of sinne in the Conscience: Some Heathens banished out all Poets, and Comedies, and Tragoedies upon this ground, because their Gods were brought in, doing some wickednesse or other: Now they well argu∣ed, That men would be much more hardened in their impieties, when they had their Gods for a pattern.
And thus it is here, Children, for the most part, and servants, they have no other God then their Parents or Masters; and if they observe them to drink, and swear, and be naught, they immediately conclude, they may do it also: so that if you ask, How is it that so many men live without any sense of a God, or Conscience about sinne, enquire into their Education; ask how they Page 340 have been brought up: Did not their Parents, their Ancestors, did not their Fa∣milies they lived in abound in sin; and then without Gods miraculous grace upon them, they cannot come to be of another judgement: and this is the reason, Why the Scripture doth so often call upon Parents to teach their Children the fear of God, and to bring them up in his knowledge; for if that be neglected, those na∣turall sparks of honesty will quickly be put out. And much like to Education is Cu∣stome, men habituated in evill wayes are past all feeling presently. Those who at first had some checks of Conscience, and akings of heart, when once plunged into sinne, they fear nothing, they feel nothing, they apprehend neither heaven or hell; but as the Salt water of the Sea when it hath over-flowed the Banks, and covered some grounds, leaveth such a saltish, brackish disposition in the ground, that it can never be got out again, or return to its former nature. Thus Custome in any pro∣phane way takes away all sense and feeling, so far, that they never come to that ingenuity and tendernesse of conscience which once they had. How is it that once thou daredst not omit prayer, private, or in family? That once thou couldest not give way to unchast company? Thou couldest not endure the company of ungodly men: But now these things are never any trouble to thee; they are no torment to thee. This is a custome, this is a prophane use upon thy spirit: Oh then put out the sparks of fire before it be kind∣led; stop the leak at first, before the ship be filled with water; resist the principles of sinne: Of all sorts of people we have least hope of doing good unto them, who are setled in a sinfull way; that can sinne without fear, or any regret of Conscience: For these men have not that foundation in them, which we should work upon: For our preaching doth good to those who set Conscience a work, that let Natural light close with what is delivered.