RPM, Volume 12, Number 39, September 26 to October 2, 2010

The Sins of Men
Not Chargeable on God

Part I

By John M'Laurin

M'Laurin (1693-1754) was one of the foremost Scottish doctrinal preachers of the eighteenth century. He took part in the revivals which occurred at Cambuslang about 1742, and in his correspondence with Jonathan Edwards contrived the transatlantic concert of prayer for revival. He was behind the efforts to provide financial relief when Edwards was impoverished after leaving Northampton, and M'Laurin's circle of friends in the Scottish Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge appointed David Brainerd their missionary to the American Indians.

M'Laurin was a man of culture, and in many ways a counterpart to Edwards; his brother Colin was professor of mathematics at Edinburgh University, and a friend and interpreter of Isaac Newton. M'Laurin's sermons, and essays on such topics as grace and faith, have been extolled for their evangelical content, profundity of analysis, apologetic skill, and eloquence of composition. John Brown of Edinburgh commented that, "MacLaurin's thoughts have in a remarkable degree the characteristic mark of original genius — they are singularly pregnant thoughts. They germinate in the mind. . . . There is a depth of spiritual feeling corresponding to the extent and clearness of his spiritual discernment." The present sermon, which was preached about 1720 in his first pastoral charge at Luss, Argyleshire, is from his Sermons and Essays, Glasgow 1755.

"Let no man say, when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil; neither tempteth he any man." James 1:13.

The word of God frequently teaches us, that a principal hindrance of our embracing Christ's righteousness, is want of a due sense of our own unrighteousness. There is a stupidity in this, as unaccountable in its nature, as it is dangerous in its effects. All men are persuaded, that they have broken the precepts of God's law; it might be expected of course, they should be persuaded also, that they have deserved to suffer the penalty of it: but experience makes it evident, that it is otherwise. All men are convinced that they are sinners; but very few are convinced that they deserve to be miserable. The word of God, which searches the heart, unfolds the secret cause of this. In like manner, men are insensible of their ill deserving; not that they absolutely deny their sins, but that they excuse them: nor is this a new artifice; it is as ancient in the world, as sin itself. It is natural for our affections to bias our judgment; and therefore, when sin has polluted the one, no wonder it should pervert the other. The first man on earth was no sooner accused, than, since he could not deny it, he strove to defend it, and heightened his guilt by a presumptuous attempt to extenuate it. We his offspring, to this day, do not more resemble him in committing sin, than in excusing it, when we have done. Generally either men do not regret their sins at all, or else regret them as misfortunes, rather than faults, and as deserving pity, rather than punishment. Prosperous sinners scarce see the harm of sin at all; others, while they feel the harm of it, redoubling to themselves, lay the blame of it on something else. It were less unaccountable if men only justified or excused themselves to their fellow creatures, their partakers in guilt: one sinner may easily find a thousand plausible answers to the upbraiding language of another sinner; for how can a man be at a loss for a defence against those who cannot accuse him without condemning themselves; he may answer them in the apostle's words, Rom 3:1. "Thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art, that judgest another; for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgeth, doest the same things." But the misery of men's self-love, is, that it makes them pretend to vindicate themselves, not only against the oftentimes too partial contempt of their guilty fellow creatures, but also against the most impartial challenges of their offended Creator. When men vindicate themselves only against their associates in guilt, it may be constructed as a pretence only to equality with others; but for men to defend themselves before God, is in effect a pretence to innocency. By this means the chief vexation many have about their most unrighteous practices, is murmuring against God's most righteous precepts, according to the old complaint, "Who can bear these hard sayings?" Many are not so sorry for their sins against God's law, as for the severity of God's law against their sins; and one great cause of it, is, their imagining these temptations that allure them to sin, sufficient excuses for the committing of it; which is surely a disposition of mind that undermines repentance, and saps the very foundation of true religion.

Yet this is not the highest pitch the arrogance of sinners arrives at, in defending their sins. It is indeed high enough presumption in one, who has times without number, offended God without cause, to justify himself, when God accuses him; but it is still a far higher pitch of presumption, when a sinner not only defends himself before God, but also defends himself, by accusing God, discharging himself of the blame of his sin, and laying it over upon God: in this likewise men seem to copy after their first parent Adam; the scripture tells that God gave him a help meet for him, which was, no doubt, an act of goodness on God's part; yet when he sinned against God without cause, rather than want a defence altogether, he made the gift, he received from God, an excuse for his disobedience to him; that is, he made God's goodness to him an excuse for his ingratitude to God.

It is easy to observe how truly this conduct of his is imitated by his posterity. God has placed us in a beautiful world, where we are surrounded with a variety of useful and delightful objects, his good creatures; all of them display his glory, many of them are for supplying our necessities, others of them for our innocent gratification and comfort; all of them therefore are favours from God, and consequently should be effectual motives to love him. Instead of this, they are first made occasions of departing from him, and afterwards excuses for so doing. As there is something of this perverse disposition in the corrupt nature of all men, so it has appeared in all ages; and that it discovered itself in the days of the apostles, is evident from this text, which was designed to check it, "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God," etc.

In which words, it is useful to observe these two things. First, A rebuke to the arrogance of men, that would lay the blame of their sins on God. Secondly, A strong assertion of God's untainted holiness and purity, as a God who is infinitely free from tempting others and from being tempted by others to any thing that is evil.

1. The words contain a check to the impious arrogance of men, that would lay the blame of their sins on God; "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God"; that is, Let no man say it with his mouth, or imagine it in his heart; let no man dare to commit such an outrage against the holiness of God, as to charge him with the blame of his sin, in whole, or in part. The apostle here assures us, that if we entertain such thoughts in our hearts, God will justly look upon it as a heinous violation of that homage and respect we owe him: it is one of the chief things that distinguishes the laws of God from those of men; that whereas the latter reach only our outward actions, the former reach our thoughts. One principal part of that holiness which the law of God requires of us, is to entertain just thoughts of him, that is, high and exalted thoughts, such as shall represent him what he truly is, perfectly pure and infinitely lovely. Nothing can be more contrary to this, than to blame him for our sin; and when God's law forbids such thoughts, it is a certain evidence that they are false, and that we are under the strongest obligations to reject them. God's truth is infallible, and therefore whatever natural corruption suggests, it can suggest nothing that should come in competition with that evidence.

Secondly, To strengthen our impression of this, the apostle adds a strong assertion of God's spotless and incorruptible purity. His assertion consists of two parts.

1. He teaches us, that "God cannot be tempted with evil," that is, That there is nothing in his own nature, that can incline him to any thing but what is perfectly good and just; and that there is no outward object that can make any impression, or have any influence on him, to bias him from these eternal laws of justice and righteousness, by which he always did, and ever will govern the world. The word, tempting, is sometimes taken in another sense, when it signifies not perverting God to do any evil action himself, but provoking him to punish the evil actions of others; thus the Israelites are said to have tempted him in the wilderness: in such cases, though that, by which men tempt, or provoke God, be evil, that which he is provoked to do, is always just and good. Men are said to tempt God, when they carry themselves towards him, as if they desired and expected he should transgress these laws, which himself has established, whether in the works of nature, or of grace: the God of order works by means in both, and when men expect or pray for the end, without using the appointed means, they are said to tempt him; because indeed they behave, as if they thought they could tempt him, that is, prevail with him to violate the perfect order that himself hath established. But since all their thoughts and desires can have no influence upon him, that way, the apostle affirms justly, that God cannot be tempted with evil, because he cannot be perverted, or corrupted with it.

Secondly, As God cannot be perverted to transgress his own laws himself, neither does he pervert any other to do so. As he cannot be tempted with evil, "neither tempteth he any man," i.e. he neither deceives any man's judgment, nor perverts his will, nor corrupts his affections, nor does any thing else whatsoever that can charge him with the blame of men's sins. But for understanding this and the like expressions; we should consider, that tempting sometimes signifies, not seducing men from good to evil, but discovering what is in men, whether it be evil or good. In Abraham's case, the temptation was not an allurement to sin, but a trial of grace. It is true, God needs no means to discover to himself what is in men; but he uses means for discovering men to themselves, and to others, for ends worthy of infinite wisdom, and in a manner agreeable to spotless holiness. Even men oftentimes find it their duty to discover the good or evil that is in others; and though in some of these cases, the disposition of mind, which is discovered, be evil, the action by which it is discovered may be good: in the trials men make of one another, it is oftentimes so; in the trials God makes of men, it is always so. The actions by which God proves the good that is in men, do not tend to lessen it, but to increase it, and to perfect it; the actions by which he discovers the evil that is in men, do not tend to increase, but to lessen it, and ofttimes effectually cure it.

From all which it is evident, that these scriptures, where God is said to tempt or try men, contain nothing inconsistent with the apostle's doctrine in the text; that is, that however their corrupt hearts may be too much inclined to blame God for their sins: yet that imputation is really as contrary to truth and justice, as it is to the honour of God, who is as free from tempting or corrupting others with evil, as he is uncapable of being corrupted with it himself. That branch of the doctrine, which affirms that God cannot be tempted with evil himself, is what there is least need to insist upon, after what has been considered already; because it is, what men are least troubled with prejudices against. The design of this discourse is to consider that important truth, which is evidently the apostle's principal scope, That whatsoever dishonourable thoughts, sinful men may have of God to the contrary, yet it is a certain evident truth, that God is infinitely free from the blame of their sins.

It is useful here to observe the great importance of this doctrine, which, beside other reasons, is evident from the great pains the scriptures take to inculcate it upon us. It is plain, this doctrine is in effect maintained in every scripture that maintains God's perfect holiness: and it is no less obvious to these who read the scriptures, that of all God's attributes, his holiness is that which is most frequently asserted, and the belief of which is most earnestly inculcated upon us. That blessed name of purity is represented as thrice repeated in the hallelujahs of the heavenly host, Holy, Holy, holy, Lord God almighty, Isa. 6, Rev. 4.

The same doctrine is presented to our minds, in a beautiful variety of expressions near the beginning of the heavenly song of Moses, Deut. 32:4. "He is the rock, his work is perfect, his ways are judgment, a God of truth, and without iniquity, just and right is he." But there is one remarkable scripture, that deserves our special consideration on this subject, because it makes the right knowledge of this doctrine (together with the knowledge of God's goodness) the only thing in the world we are allowed to glory in; that is, Jer. 9:20-21. This should excite in us a holy curiosity, to be well versed in the knowledge of a doctrine which we are commanded to glory in, almost to the exclusion of every thing else. It should excite us to join prayers and endeavours in order to have a firm persuasion of it rooted in our minds, and an habitual lively impression of it fixed upon our hearts.

To set this matter in its true light, let it be observed, that as it is one main end of divine revelation in scripture, to give us the true knowledge of God, and of ourselves; so the impression it endeavours all along to give us of him, and of ourselves, is, that his holiness is unblameable, and our sin unexcusable, that so we may ascribe the glory of perfect righteousness to him, and take shame and confusion of face to ourselves; that is, to use the words of the Psalmist, Ps. 51:4, and of the apostle, Rom. 4:19. "That he may be just when he judgeth, and righteous when he speaketh"; and, on the other hand, "Every mouth may be stopped, and we and the world be guilty before him." It is an indispensable duty on all rational creatures to love God; but sin has brought an additional obligation on us who are guilty creatures, not only to love God, but also to loath ourselves; without this, we can neither know his righteousness, nor his lovingkindness, which he bids us glory in; his righteousness in all we suffer, his lovingkindness in all we enjoy; how unworthy we are of the one, how richly we have deserved the other; that is, without a right sense of the doctrine in the text, we can neither practice due submission in our afflictions, nor due gratitude for our comforts; and consequently run the greatest risk of losing the one, and having the other multiplied upon us.

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

Subscribe to RPM

RPM subscribers receive an email notification each time a new issue is published. Notifications include the title, author, and description of each article in the issue, as well as links directly to the articles. Like RPM itself, subscriptions are free. To subscribe to RPM, please select this link.