RPM, Volume 12, Number 41, October 10 to October 16, 2010

The Sins of Men
Not Chargeable on God

Part III

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.

It deserves our serious attention, how plainly God's threatenings are revealed to us who have the scriptures. His threatenings are as plainly revealed as his promises. Matt. 25:46, and we have many things from reason and experience, that should confirm our belief of them; particularly God's attributes, his truth, holiness, and justice; the nature of sin which separates from God our only happiness, that part of the divine threatenings, which we see fulfilled already, these samples of misery that are to be seen in the afflictions of life, and pains and terrors of death: if any person inclines to doubt of the eternity of future punishment, unless he saw it, that person seeks such a way of being satisfied about it, as the nature of the thing does not admit: for though a man saw the place of punishment, with his eyes, he could not see that it is eternal, unless he saw the end of eternity, which is impossible; so that a man can never have evidence for this by sight, if he refuse to give faith to God's word, which is surely the best evidence in the world.

As to the eternal reward; though our actions cannot merit it, yet since it is offered to us on the most reasonable terms, through the merits of another; whosoever is not at more pains about these terms, than about any earthly thing, must blame himself as the author of his own misery, and acknowledge that God is infinitely free from the blame of it.

These eternal motives would make a strong argument for the apostle's doctrine, though God had proposed no other motive against sin, but them only; though he had permitted the course of things to fall out so, that there should be vastly more pleasure in sin and trouble in duty that there really is, all this could have no proportion to these rewards and punishments that are eternal. But it is still a further confirmation of the doctrine, that as God has proposed everlasting motives against sin as to the next world, so he is so far from proposing any motives to it, in this world, that his various dispensations in the works of providence as well as of grace, are manifestly calculated for restraining it, and have numberless happy effects that way. It is true, other sinful men lay many motives before us to sin; but we ought no more to blame God for the evil actions of others, than for our own: God is the author of neither, but in numberless instances hinders and restrains both. As to his permission, he has as holy reasons for permitting, what he permits, as for hindering what he hinders: to deny this, is in effect pretending to know all the reasons that a God of infinite knowledge can have for his actions, which is the most extravagant presumption imaginable. We are obliged in justice, as was hinted before, to distinguish God's own actions, and the actions of his creatures: it is the former we are to vindicate, and not the latter; and for this end, the more we consider God's actions in the works of nature and providence, the more we may be satisfied that he is not the author even of any temporal motives to sin, because he has annexed no pleasure to it. He has indeed annexed pleasure to the enjoyment of his own good creatures, but that enjoyment is not sinful, it is on the contrary our duty. These good objects indeed may be obtained by evil means, and enjoyed in an evil manner; but that is no just reflection on God's providence, as shall be made appear more clearly afterwards. To set this matter in a true light, we may reflect on the two different sorts of pleasures we are capable of, that is, the pleasures that are to be had in God himself more immediately, and these that are to be had in his creatures: as to the former, it is plain, we can neither exceed in the desire, not in the enjoyment of them; as to the latter, God himself is the author, and has appointed them all for good ends. This is one of the chief things that show the folly of sin, That the pleasures which men seek after in the ways of sin, are such as may really be had in the way of duty; for it is certain, there is no pleasure in the world peculiar to sin: if it were otherwise, the apostle would not have affirmed so generally, that every creature of God is good, and to be received (that is enjoyed) with thanksgiving; the apostle affirms this, when he is speaking of things sacrificed to idols, which he shows, however they were abused to bad purposes, yet were in themselves good and harmless, being the creatures of a good God, which ought to be enjoyed in a way of obedience and thanksgiving to him. The same may be said of all God's creatures, which however too oft sacrificed to men's lusts and idols, yet are not thereby deprived of that natural goodness and usefulness which God has endowed them with, nor rendered incapable of being enjoyed in a lawful way.

We should consider here the proper tendency, and natural use of all the pleasure that is in the creatures; some of them give us pleasure only by the view and contemplation of them. It is plain, the direct tendency of that is to excite love and esteem of the divine perfections manifested in them; this is one of the chief duties we owe more immediately to God. Others of the creatures give pleasure not merely by the view of them, but by applying them to the subsistence of our bodily life; the direct tendency of that pleasure is to excite mankind to self-preservation; this is a duty we owe more immediately to ourselves, and it is justly enjoined by God: it would be a duty, though there were no pleasure in the means of it; but it is a double act of goodness in God, and consequently a double obligation on us, that he has both furnished us with these means, and made them delightful as well as useful. There is no useless superfluous pleasure in nature; all tends either to promote life and health, or, which is no despicable means of health, innocent and comfortable refreshment. It is evident therefore, that when God makes these objects that are useful to men to be at the same time pleasant, it is a hiring them to what is their duty, and a giving them a present reward in doing what he requires of them for their own good. The direct tendency therefore, and proper use of all the pleasure that is in God's creatures, whether in the contemplation of them, or of the enjoyment of them any other way, is to excite us to adore all God's perfections in general, and particularly his abundant goodness to ourselves; to love him as a kind and bountiful father, who provides for the several living inhabitants of the world, as for one large family; on whom the eyes of all things wait, and who opens his hand liberally, satisfying the desire of every living thing: nothing can be imagined more just on this head, than the apostle's reasoning with the heathens of Lystra, who were about to worship him, That all the good and pleasure in the creatures were witnesses for God, testifying men's obligation to love and praise Him, who filled their hearts with food and gladness. Acts. 14:17.

What we commonly call unlawful pleasures, are nothing else but pleasures in themselves lawful and useful, but procured by wrong means, or enjoyed in a wrong way, either obtained by injustice, or abused by intemperance: but neither injustice nor intemperance have any real pleasure annexed to them; on the contrary, unless a man have a very unnatural temper of mind and body, injustice must be painful to the former, as well as intemperance to the latter.

If this were duly considered, it might convince us, not only that the pleasures in the creatures may be had in a course of obedience to the Creator, but also, that that is incomparably the best way of enjoying them, even as to this life itself; that to live righteously, soberly, and Godly (abstracting from some singular cares, as persecution, or the like) is the way to live joyfully even in this present world; that it is one and the same disposition of mind (that is, holiness and righteousness) that is best adjusted for the true enjoyment both of God and his creatures. Injustice and intemperance argue an immoderate love to temporal pleasure, and that is really the chief source of temporal perplexity and uneasiness. It causes painful impatience in desiring these objects, and painful labour in pursuing them, anxiety in possessing them, because they are always liable to danger; nauseousness and loathing in using them, because their pleasure is less in enjoyment than in expectation; and, little as it is, it is always decaying; and lastly, manifest vexation in losing them; and as such losses in the present state of things are unavoidable, so the uneasiness is always proportionable to the love men bear to uncertain vanities; for so they may be called, though good things in themselves, when an immortal soul places his happiness in them. On the other hand, temperance enables a man to possess earthly objects without anxiety, by being prepared to lose them; to enjoy them without loathing, by using them with moderation; to seek them without impatience, and to lose them without despair.

This the ancient Epicureans were so sensible of, that though they were reckoned patrons of vice, because they placed happiness in pleasure, yet they made temperance an ingredient of happiness, because it gives pleasure a relish. These and many other things, serve to show that the pleasures men seek by a course of sin, may be had, and may be had with advantage, in a course of duty.

To this we may add, that there are many sins, in which there is no real pleasure at all. This is evident of those sins which do not consist in an unlawful enjoyment of the creatures, but in a direct affronting of the Creator. Thus it cannot be alleged, without the greatest absurdity, as well as impiety, that there is any pleasure annexed to the sins of profaneness, blaspheming, mocking religion, censuring God's laws, word or works, or the like; no person ever pretended, that that common sin of cursing and swearing had any tendency to promote his health, or increase his estate: the Author of nature is infinitely free from annexing any pleasure to these unnatural practices: if men have made them in any sort pleasant to themselves by custom, all that this argues is their outrageous contempt of God, (for which he never gave them any cause) which is so great, that they take pleasure in expressing it. The same consideration might be applied, not only to the sins that are most immediately against the love of God, but also to these that are most immediately against the love of our neighbours, as hatred, wrath, malice, etc. These words or actions by which a man wrongs his neighbour's reputation, by backbiting, or disturbs his peace by contention, have no proper tendency to promote a man's own peace or reputation, but the contrary. It is indeed otherwise as to those sins by which a man wrongs his neighbour's interest by injustice; but it is as true, that as the pleasures of intemperance may be had in a greater abundance in a life of sobriety; so the profits of injustice may be had much more safely in a life of industry: nor can any pretend to be under any necessity to injustice; for if a man be in such a condition (which however is very rare) that he can neither get the necessary means of sustenance by his own industry, nor by the charity of others, the indulgent laws of God make some things to be in that case just and lawful, that would not be so otherwise.

These things serve to prove, that there is no pleasure in nature peculiar to sin; it is no less certain that there is no trouble peculiar to duty: any man may fully satisfy himself of this, by taking a particular view of the several parts of true holiness. The love of God, and of our neighbour, which is the fulfilling of the law, is so far from having any trouble annexed to it, that is the pleasantest disposition the mind of man is capable of; and is a demonstration of what the apostle John teaches us, that God's commandments are not grievous. Many indeed have a strange aversion from these duties; particularly from the serious exercises of the love of God, which they avoid, as if it were a disease: but these are the exercises of heaven, where no trouble can enter, and are real foretastes of it, as well as preparations for it. The antipathy men have to these duties, the more it is considered the more it will appear unaccountable. No man can pretend, that the love of God tends to impair his health or waste his fortune, as the love of lusts and idols oftentimes do.

If a man's charity to his neighbour sometimes impairs his interest, yet it does not ruin but rather tends to secure it; and it is certain, there never were so many impoverished by charity, as have been by debauchery and extravagancies, or even by covetousness, which so frequently loses what it has, by grasping at more. Faith, and reliance on Christ Jesus, do not cause such shameful disappointments, as commonly flow from reliance on the world and the flesh. To be heavenly-minded does not eat away a man's flesh, as worldly anxiety does. Temperance does not lead to diseases, nor industry to poverty, nor humility to contention, nor honesty to shame. Meekness and kindness do not make a man pine away, as envy does; nor will a man blush for being found true to his word, and just in his dealings. It were easy, by taking a view of the other duties of a holy life, to show, that not only there is no peculiar trouble in them, but that really in their own nature they have no tendency to trouble at all, but rather the contrary, as will be considered more directly afterwards.

There are perhaps only two particular duties, that may be objected, against this assertion, viz. repentance for sin, and suffering persecution for righteousness sake, when called to it. As to repentance, It cannot be denied, but that both sorrow for sin, and mortifying corruption have some trouble and uneasiness in them; but that trouble is neither the native fruit of duty and obedience, but of sin, nor is it peculiar to duty, and the pleasure of it surpasses its trouble; the uneasiness that is in repentance, is not the fruit of obedience, but disobedience; because had mankind continued in their duty, there would have been no occasion for repentance; nor is the trouble, that is in this duty, peculiar to it; for impenitent sinners have consciences, which, like serpents in their breasts, can sting them, and cause more uneasiness oftentimes, than the deepest humiliation can give a believing penitent. Faithless remorse was far more painful to Judas, than godly sorrow was to Peter. There are some kinds of melancholy, which human nature takes pleasure in; and surely the noblest, and most rational melancholy in the world is, melancholy for these unworthy actions, by which we have lost the chief perfection of our nature, the image of God; by which we have made such unbecoming returns to his infinite kindness, and forfeited his inestimable favour, presence, and friendship; no wonder such a melancholy, as this, should have something of a sublime pleasure in it, since it is plainly an exercise of the love of God: besides, we should consider that that gospel repentance, which we are obliged to, ought to be joined with hope in God's mercy through the merits of his Son; and hence it is, that by the exercise of the love of God, and hope in his mercy, (which are the sources of this sorrow, and the concomitants of it,) those that have most experience of it, when they attain to the greatest melting of heart that way, find such satisfaction that they desire more of it; their sin is the cause of their sorrowing, which is their duty, and that duty gives them pleasure and comfort: not that it can merit it, but that it is a mean of it.

As to that part of repentance, which consists in the mortifying of corruption, neither is the trouble of this duty peculiar to it. A wicked man ofttimes cannot gratify one corruption without mortifying another: the graces of God's Spirit are linked together by a golden chain that cannot be dissolved; but the corruptions of nature are full of contradictions and inconsistencies, and make the soul that is enslaved by them a Babel of confusion. The love of riches, the love of honour, and pleasures, pride, covetousness, vanity, and luxury, justle and interfere in a thousand various rencounters. They are justly compared by Solomon to the daughter of the horse leech, Prov. 30:15. Ever crying, "give, give," and to the grave, that never says, "it is enough"; so that if mortifying our corruptions be uneasy, the satisfying them, is absolutely impossible.

As to that part of repentance, which consists in the mortifying of corruption, neither is the trouble of this duty peculiar to it. A wicked man ofttimes cannot gratify one corruption without mortifying another: the graces of God's Spirit are linked together by a golden chain that cannot be dissolved; but the corruptions of nature are full of contradictions and inconsistencies, and make the soul that is enslaved by them a Babel of confusion. The love of riches, the love of honour, and pleasures, pride, covetousness, vanity, and luxury, justle and interfere in a thousand various rencounters. They are justly compared by Solomon to the daughter of the horse leech, Prov. 30:15. Ever crying, "give, give," and to the grave, that never says, "it is enough"; so that if mortifying our corruptions be uneasy, the satisfying them, is absolutely impossible.

As to the other duty, viz. Suffering for righteousness sake, when called to it; this is neither a just objection against the doctrine, nor against the particular arguments adduced to confirm it. This will appear, by reflecting on what was hinted before, namely that we are obliged in justice to distinguish carefully between God's actions, and those of his creatures; and that the same reasons which prove we cannot lame God for our own sins, prove also, that we cannot blame God for our own sins, prove also, that we cannot blame him for the sins of others. The reasons already adduced show that God is infinitely free from the blame of these evil inclinations in wicked men, that make them persecute others who are more righteous than themselves; and therefore it is the height of injustice in men to blame him for the persecutions they suffer; though, after all, the best men know, that they suffer infinitely less than they deserve: God is so far from being the author of persecutions, that in numberless instances he entirely prevents and hinders them in a very remarkable manner, and always restrains them, overruling them at the same time for the good of them that love him. We are not competent judges of the reasons why God does not hinder all as well as some of these, or the like fruits of sin; yet this much we may know of many persecutions by their visible effects, that, of all the events in the world, there are few, perhaps, by which, religion, that is the true interest of mankind, has reaped more benefit, considering how they have been overruled by Providence, for promoting those very ends, against which, evil men designed them, that is, the propagating and confirming of the truth, promoting the power of godliness, the trial, exercise, triumph and splendor of grace in the saints of God, which are among the brightest events that have adorned the theatre of the world, and history of mankind. Besides all this, it is plain, whatever troubles good men may suffer for the testimony of a good conscience, they are but troubles that others suffer ofttimes without the testimony; and therefore these troubles are no just objection against holiness, unless we were certain to be secured from trouble by wickedness: but this is so false, that it is evident God keeps up such order in the world, that men suffer much oftener by sin, than by duty; and, what with the justice of magistrates, the special judgments of Providence, and the native effect of sin; it is certain, that all that some men have ever suffered for righteousness, is incomparably less than what others have suffered for wickedness. It may perhaps be objected, that besides the case of persecution, even in the ordinary course of things, several duties of a holy life expose men to various injuries and affronts, as meekness, humility, forgiveness, and the like. In answer to this, we should reflect, That these duties are misunderstood, if they be imagined to hinder self-defence; when duty is practiced instead of being hindrances, they are helps to it; if sometimes they expose men to injuries, the contrary vices are no security against such injuries; the vain-glorious are oftentimes affronted as well as the humble; and proud oppressors have generally far more enemies than the meek and the just. The like may be said of many other sins and duties, when compared together: and nothing is more certain, than, that as there is no pleasure peculiar to sin, so there is no trouble peculiar to duty; and that as the pleasures that may be sometimes had in sin, are pleasures which have not a necessary or direct tendency to excite to it, so the troubles that sometimes attend holiness, are troubles which holiness itself has no natural tendency to produce. From all which it appears, that as God is the author of eternal motives against sin, so he is the author of no temporal motives to it.

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.

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