RPM, Volume 12, Number 42, October 17 to October 23, 2010

Not Chargeable on God

Part IV

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 is still a further confirmation of the doctrine, That God has proposed very rational temporal motives against sin. This will appear by reflecting, that there are even in this life innumerable pleasures peculiar to holiness, and innumerable troubles peculiar to wickedness; both these have been hinted at already: but it is proper here to consider them a little further, though it is scarce possible to enumerate and describe them fully, the subject being in effect inexhaustible; it is sufficient to our purpose, to take a general view of it. The word of God tells us "that the ways of wisdom are the ways of pleasantness and peace: That Christ's yoke is easy, and his burden light: That gladness is sown for the upright in heart: That the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, and peace: That it is the privilege, and should be the practice of believers to rejoice even evermore: That the joy unto which they have access, is a joy unspeakable, and full of glory: that their peace is perfect peace, and a peace that passeth all understanding." Both the prophets and apostles employ the most beautiful images in nature to paint to us the greatness of these joys; as when they speak of the oil of joy, garments of praise, everlasting joy on their heads; the budding and blossoming of the rose; the time of the singing of birds; the joy of banquets and marriage feasts; and they represent the lifeless part of the creation as joining in the triumph of God's people, the mountains and hills breaking forth before them into singing, and all the trees of the fields clapping their hands; besides many other bright images, whose scope is to show, that a life of faith and holiness is the way to the greatest solid joy here, as well as hereafter.

If many sincere believers do not attain to all these joys, yet that cannot weaken the force of the argument in view; they must impute the imperfections of these joys to the weakness of their faith and love. It is sufficient to our purpose, that God proposes such motives to holiness, as should excite men to higher and higher advancements in it. It is certain, all these joys have been attained by some good men, and are offered to all; and even those who never felt any of them, may yet reasonably be persuaded of the reality of them, by considering the nature of faith, and all the duties of the covenant of grace on the one hand, and the promises of it on the other.

If we consider the nature and design of holiness; it is not merely a preparation for happiness, but also an ingredient of it. And it is a very just as well as common observation, That grace is glory in the end; it is an imitation of the disposition and employment of these who are already happy, and consequently has the nearest resemblance to their state. Nothing can be more evident in the nature of the thing, than that the true happiness of the soul must increase in proportion to its union to the infinite Source of all happiness and joy.

Faith in Christ has for its object the gladest tidings we can conceive, and the greatest gift we can desire. The love of God contemplates infinitely amiable excellency and beauty, and lays hold on all-sufficiency. The sincere and gracious love of our neighbour is so delightful a duty, that all the pleasures of society, which even wicked men enjoy, are founded on some resemblances of it. Meekness, humility and disengagement of mind from the world, give such serenity and tranquillity of spirit, as is inestimable. Contemplation is one of the most valuable enjoyments in the world: a great part of holiness consists in the noblest kind of it; all we can know, is either something concerning God or his creatures; and surely the noblest view of the latter in the contemplating of their relation to the former; all of them manifest his glory; and therefore if we were accustomed to consider them in that light, whatever way we turned our view, every sensible object might be matter of spiritual joy. To all which we may add, that the well-grounded hope of eternal happiness, if duly improved, is a greater present pleasure than any earthly enjoyment whatsoever.

If we consider, on the other hand, the promises of the covenant of grace, it is plain that God promises to his people, not only future happiness, but also present peace, pardon of sin, strength to perform duty, acceptance of it, communion with himself, comfort under affliction, returns of prayer; and which comprehends numberless blessings, that he will make all things work together for their good, and let nothing separate them from his love. These are the present encouragements God proposeth to duty; and surely, they are incomparably more important than any other motives which the devil or wicked men can offer against it.

Let us take a short view, in the next place, of the present troubles that natively flow from wickedness, many of which are peculiar to it: this will serve to vindicate God's holiness, and to show his goodness in the frame of our nature in contriving it so, that these things that are contrary to our greatest interest should be at the same time inconsistent with our present ease; which is surely a very rational motive to avoid them; perhaps indeed many of these uneasinesses that attend sin may be the absolutely necessary consequences of it. Thus it is necessary in the nature of the thing, that desires and passions that cannot be fully satisfied, should be exceedingly tormenting; but it is no less certain, that many of the troubles that are inseparable from sin, are not so properly owing to that necessity of the thing, as to a good and wise contrivance for making it more hateful to us.

The two great sources of our sinful actions, are unruly desires and bitter passions; and they are the great sources of our troubles as well as our sins. As to the former, it was observed already, how they entangle men's minds almost in a constant train of perplexities and disquiet, painful impatience, superfluous toil, anxiety, loathing, grief and vexation. Bitter and malicious passions are no better, but rather worse; they tend to make us enemies to our fellow creatures, and make them so to us; and are the greatest enemies of all themselves. When they exert themselves with vigour, they are like furious storms and tempests, filling the soul with disorder and confusion, and making it like troubled waters, when they cannot rest: when they cannot be satisfied, they frequently rack and harass men's breasts with pains that cannot be described, and that sometimes with such violence, as unhinges the frame of their nature, and ruins soul and body at once. When they are gratified, and obtain their end, if it gives any joy, it is but the joy of devils, and such pleasure as is in hell, that is to say, pleasure in the misery of others: Instead of that, oftentimes they have been observed to turn to a thousand melancholy wishes, that they had been restrained: sometimes one passionate word or action proves the beginning of a long chain of confusion, strife, contention, and all the other wormwood that embitters human life; which would be vastly more tolerable and pleasant than it is, notwithstanding all its other disasters, were it not for those furies in men's own breasts, which not only lead them to misery, but anticipate it, and torment them before the time.

It would be too long to enumerate even all the remarkable present disadvantages that attend wickedness; such as comfortless affliction, and unsatisfying prosperity, dismal fears of death, and confounding fore-thoughts of judgment and eternity (which will be sometimes so importunate as to force their way through all the amusements and diversions that are made use of to keep them out), remorse of conscience, which is a refined sort of pain, when the blood of sprinkling is not applied for curing it. Every vice seems to have some way of punishing itself: Pride makes every affront almost a torment; Envy hinders a man from relishing his own enjoyment, till he see his neighbour's misery; Impiety makes those thoughts and discourses of God (which otherwise would be ravishing) to be uneasy and perplexing. While men entertain such plagues in their souls, it is of little importance to their peace and happiness, that all is right without, when all is wrong within: In the midst of magnificent buildings, sumptuous feasts, gay clothing and all the other fantastic pageantry he can desire, the slave of sin is still but a painted sepulchre, outwardly bright and beautiful, inwardly full of filth and rottenness. From all which it is evident, that God is so far from being the author even of any temporal motives to sin, that he has ordered matters so, that the rational motives against it, even in this life, are incomparably superior to any that can be adduced for it.

Beside the troubles annexed to sin, whose proper tendency is certainly to restrain it, we may observe likewise several principles God has implanted inwardly in the frame of our nature, and several things he has established in the order of providence, that have a very native tendency to the same good end, and in numberless instances are effectual that way. Thus, it is God, that has given us the faculty of reason, by which no doubt men avoid many sinful actions; and, if they improved it right, would hate every sin. We are obliged in justice to thank God for giving us that faculty, and to blame our sins, and not him, for our voluntary abuse or neglect of it. If a poor man receive a thousand talents in a gift, every body will own that he is obliged to acknowledge his benefactor for all the good things he purchases by that money, and to blame himself only, if he misimproves and squanders away any part of it. And indeed, if we inquire narrowly into the nature of sin, we shall find, that every sin is an abuse of some good gift that God has given us, which is in itself good, and might have been improved to excellent purposes.

It is God that has implanted in men that natural conscience, which is, as it were, God's lieutenant or deputy in the soul, and which gives such an indelible sense of the difference between moral good and evil; that they who cherish sin most in themselves, cannot oftentimes but hate it in others, so that a man abhors his own corruptions when he sees them in his nearest friends, or in the child of his bosom. Thus they who are most addicted to pride, oppression, treachery, or ingratitude, do frequently condemn these when practiced by others; and though this natural conscience is far from hindering every sin, yet certainly it hinders and restrains a great many. It is a principal means of hindering the world from running into a chaos; and all its good influence that way is owing to God.

Further; God has implanted in us that thirst after complete happiness, which is the spring of men's actions; and since the above-mentioned faculty of reason shows where that thirst may be satisfied, the direct tendency of both, if duly improved, would be to lead the soul to the eternal fountain of all good. God has also planted in us several principles which should tend to promote our love to him and his creatures; as for instance, that delight in the contemplation of things that are most perfect and excellent in their kind, which, if duly improved, would excite us to the contemplation of God's perfections that are unchangeable and infinite. As to the love of our neighbours, there is that sympathy in human nature, which makes a man in some degree, feel the miseries of others, when he sees them, unless he has acquired such an unnatural temper of mind, as is no small degree of misery itself; beside this, God has laid a very rational foundation for universal friendship, by making all mankind spring from one family, so that they are all united by the ties of blood relation: he has taken care also to cement them by their very necessities; for it is plain, that of all earthly creatures men have most need of mutual help, and of society, in order to their subsistence and comfort.

In the order of providence, God has so contrived things, that most kinds of wickedness are generally attended with present outward shame and punishment. Of all these that practice the greatest wickedness, few dare openly defend it; they rather take all precautions to hide it; hence the apostle judged it proper to recommend to Christians living among heathens, "Whatsoever things were lovely, whatsoever things were of good report"; And hence also it is, that when men are persecuted really for righteousness sake, they must first be branded with wickedness, and generally calumny must pave the way for persecution. To all this we may add, That the divine ordinance of magistracy is plainly owing to the special wisdom and goodness of providence, and it is certainly every where in numberless instances an effectual terror to evil doers.

Beside all these restraints that God has laid upon sin by the present shame and punishment that so frequently attends it, he has laid other very powerful restraints upon it, by the shortness and insignificancy of all the pleasures that can be had by it: this appears from the shortness and uncertainty of human life; but it is not the uncertainty of life only that makes the pleasures of it uncertain; for though we were never so sure of life, that cannot secure us of the enjoyments of it; they are liable to a thousand dangers, which all the precautions human prudence can suggest, are not capable always to prevent. If we consider, that all the pleasures in sin, are pleasures which we are sure to part with at death, and are not sure to retain until then; that let men idolize them never so much, the pleasure of them at its height is very inconsiderable, and, little as it is, naturally decaying; that the pursuit of them is attended with much toil, and the enjoyment of them with much trouble; it is plain, that, when for the sake of such decaying, uncertain, toilsome, troublesome vanities, men offend God, they may be said, in a very proper sense, "To offend him without cause." But what deserves our particular consideration on this subject, is the shortness of life: men are oftentimes very inconsistent with themselves in their peevish complaints about it; sometimes they seem to grudge that it is too short for the great business of it, and yet live as if they thought it too long for that business, since they delay it to the end of it: it is plain, if our present life were much longer, future rewards and punishments, by being more distant, would have probably weaker influence: so it was before the Flood, and the event was answerable: but as matters are ordered at present, the pleasures of sin, and troubles of duty are so uncertain and short-lived, that it is unaccountable how rational creatures are seduced to wickedness for obtaining the one, or avoiding the other.

To all this we may add, That mankind have naturally some sense of justice and gratitude, as well as of interest; and besides the motives in point of interest, God has given the greatest motives in point of justice and gratitude, to excite us to duty, and restrain us from sin: reason teaches us, that, as we should do justice to all, by giving them their own; it is to God we owe ourselves, and all we have. He has manifested to us in his works and word such glorious perfections as in justice deserve the highest esteem, and particularly such goodness as deserves the profoundest gratitude; his long-suffering and abundant goodness in providence, constantly returning good for evil, has the most rational tendency imaginable to melt our hearts with sorrow for sin, and to kindle in us the greatest indignation against it. But nothing can have a more powerful tendency this way, than his mysterious mercy in the work of redemption, the love of God in Christ who died for us; and, after that blessed redemption is wrought for us, the tenderness and earnestness with which God, in a manner, presses it upon us in his word, makes it unaccountable in those who have that word, to give way to these unworthy thoughts of God, which the text rebukes: he not only freely offers us that redemption, but earnestly importunes us to embrace it; bewails our unwillingness, stretches out his hands to us all day; stands knocking at the door of our hearts; condescends to reason with us, that though our sins be as crimson and scarlet, yet he can make them to be as wool and as snow; expostulates with us as an affectionate father with undutiful children, why we spend our money for that which is not bread; draws us with cords of men, and bands of love; swears to us he does not delight in the death of a sinner; argues the case with us, wherein we can bear witness against him, why we should perish and why we will not come to him that we may have life; beseeches us to be reconciled to him; and promises, if we consent, that he will keep us as a seal on his hand, count us as his own jewels, and keep us as the apple of his eye. Surely these and the like expressions of infinite condescension, have the most native tendency possible to dissuade men from offending God, and ruining themselves. This is plainly the design of them, and, on many accounts, is the happiest effect of them; and whatever use men make of them, these manifestations God gives of himself in his word, with the other manifestations of himself in his works, make conjunctly a complete proof of the apostle's doctrine, and show, that God can take heaven and earth to witness that he is infinitely free from the blame of men's sin and misery; that if they perish, the blood of their souls must be upon themselves, and that their ruin is the fruit of their own doings, and not of him.

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.