RPM, Volume 12, Number 44, October 31 to November 6, 2010

Not Chargeable on God

Part VI

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.

After what is said about our natural desires, it is easy to answer the objections about God's making laws against them; it is only against excess in them, and that excess is graciously forbidden by God, since it is so hurtful to us: it would be so, whether he had forbid it, or not. Excessive love of earthly objects was shown before to be the chief source of earthly trouble; it is in its nature hurtful to our souls and bodies, and makes us hurtful to others; to our souls, by alienating them from our chief good, and only happiness; to our bodies, by the natural fruit of intemperance, anxiety and excessive toil; and to our neighbours, by tempting us to injustice, oppression and strife, and by hindering from charity and beneficence.

It is the very nature of wisdom, not to love any object above its real worth: this is what God's law requires of us; and surely nothing can be more necessary, or more reasonable; it is the way to that true enjoyment of the creatures, which is both most for the honour of God, and our good: and the allowances, which it was shown his law makes for cases of absolute necessity, prove that there is a perfect harmony between his precepts, and as he is the law giver of the world, and his works, as he is the Author of nature.

As to the next objection, viz. That earthly objects continue pleasant, even when abused by sin; it is plain it could not be otherwise, unless God would destroy the nature of his own creatures at every time when men abuse them. It is easy to conceive, that God may have infinitely wise reasons for not taking such measures; for not overturning these laws of his which govern nature, at every time when men violate these laws which should govern their actions; for not breaking the perfect order of his own works, whenever men are guilty of any disorder in theirs. No doubt if we consider God's absolute power, he could (for example) turn the most wholesome food into poison, when it is sinfully procured or enjoyed. But besides the reasons God has for not changing the established order of nature; it is evident that such outward miracles would not prevent inwards disorderly inclination, in which sin and corruption chiefly consists; they would not hinder that immoderate love of the creatures, which is not restrained by other motives, but they would hinder indeed the trial and exercise of graces and virtues by which the moderate love of these objects promote the glory of God, and the good of men. It is plain there would not be so much virtue in justice, if there be no advantage by injustice; that is to say, present advantage; for the rest, taking in all considerations, it was shown already, that God has ordered matters so, that the motives of true profits and pleasure are on the side of holiness and righteousness, both as to this life and the next. And, in a word, not to insist longer on this objection, it is plain it cannot be urged without blaming providence for not working miracles constantly to prevent sin; whereas the design of this discourse is not to show the reasons why God does not infallibly hinder men from all sin, but to show that he does not tempt them to any.

As to the last objection, viz., That we are placed in such circumstances, that we are surrounded with these tempting objects on all hands, and that they make continued impression on our senses. It is true, God has placed us in such circumstances; he has surrounded us with these objects, but he has made these objects all very good; it is we ourselves that make them temptations to evil; any truth that is in the objection amounts only to this, and it is thus it should be expressed, God has surrounded us with necessary and useful objects, displaying his glory, and contributing to our subsistence. He has surrounded us on all hands with the fruits of his bounty, and effects of his power; he has endowed us with senses suitable to these objects to see his glory in them all, and to apply several of them to various good uses, which are motives to love him, and materials for contemplating and adoring him. There is nothing in all this, but what is really ground of praise, and not of censure; it would be the wildest extravagance for men to complain either that these useful objects, are not wholly removed, or that they themselves are not deprived of the senses by which they perceive them, and make use of them. If this objection had any force, it would be against peopling of this world at all; which was considered already. No doubt indeed heaven is an incomparably better place; but that cannot reflect on God, for not making all the rest of the creation a wilderness; if we embraced the terms on which heaven is offered, surely our absence from it is not so long, that we have very much reason to repine at it. The time of our life of faith, and state of trial is not so very tedious. On other occasions men are more ready to complain, their time among the sensible objects of this lower world is rather too short; they who are of a different disposition, and with submission to God, long to be among higher objects, and are weary of earthly things, are the persons who are in least danger of neglecting the former, or abusing the latter; as all are obliged to consider that the true use and tendency of the one, is to lead us up to the other. And since (Rom. 1:20) the invisible things of God may be clearly seen in all the visible creatures, these things sink the deeper into our hearts for this very reason, because the manifestation of them makes continual impression on our senses.

Thus we have considered several arguments, which serve both to confirm the doctrine, and to answer objections against it; and though this doctrine be plainly revealed in scripture, especially in the text, and divine revelation obliges us to believe it, yet there considerations are useful, because, as was shown before, many who profess to believe the scriptures in general, are troubled with hurtful suggestions against this doctrine in particular; and it is good for them if they be troubled for them, and struggle against them. Those who have most of the love of God may sometimes be perplexed with unsuitable thoughts concerning him, but they will use prayers and endeavours for avoiding them. If there are other objections against this doctrine, which the evidences adduced cannot be applied to, we should consider that there may be perplexing objections raised oftentimes, even against demonstrable truths, that the difficulties of this subject are owing to the darkness of our views of God's works, and that intricacy of providence, which is perfectly consistent with the righteousness of it. God's own testimony of his own holiness, is an infallible evidence for it, which no difficulties should hinder our assent to; and the considerations adduced show that his works and actions agree with the testimony of his word. That as he cannot be "tempted to evil, so neither tempteth he any man"; this has been shown at large from the nature of God's works; I shall only add here a few things taken from the nature of sin. Sin is a forsaking of God; it is plain, he cannot tempt us to forsake himself, unless he give us ground to expect more happiness, by forsaking him, than by being united to him; this is impossible; reason and experience, as well as scripture, show that it is an exceeding evil and bitter thing to depart from the living God. Sin is the transgression of his law; how can he be thought to propose motives to us to disobey himself? Sin is a preferring his creatures to himself: how can he be thought to put any thing in the creatures, that should make us hope for more good in the effect, than in the cause.

The use that we should make of this doctrine, was hinted already, in showing the importance of it, and the evidences which prove that these thoughts of God which the text rebukes, though both unreasonable and dangerous, are very common and ordinary. The Spirit of God inculcates this doctrine upon us, and to the end we may adore God's spotless purity, and loath ourselves for our inexcusable wickedness. The truths that have been insisted on, have a very proper tendency this way; it is certain we can scarce consider sin in any light that shows more the madness of it, than the affront it does to God, by preferring his creatures to himself; our giving them that preference is not an honouring them, but a monstrous and unnatural abuse of them. Their beauty and glory consists in manifesting that of their Author. This is the chief end, and true use of them. These visible things which are void of life and reason themselves are constantly importuning us who are privileged with both to employ them in praising and serving him who is their Creator and ours; they offer themselves as steps by which our thoughts may ascend to him. When, instead of this they are made instruments of rebellion against him, these dumb creatures, to allude to the apostle's expression, Rom 8:20-22, groan under the bondage of our corruption, and travail in pain under the oppression of our vanity, to which they are not willingly made subject; they protest and exclaim against the bad use we make of them, contrary to the end of their being, and upbraid and reproach us for our ingratitude to God, our abuse of them, and cruelty to ourselves.

If men could excuse themselves for not placing their chief happiness in God, they might the more easily excuse all their other sins; for in effect, that is the source of all; since we have an inbred thirst after happiness, it is impossible, but we must be seeking after it in something or other, if not in God, then certainly in his creatures; and if so, it is impossible, but that fundamental disorder should put all the powers and affections of our souls into confusion. When a man has fixed his chief affections on creatures, and made them his chief end, it is impossible but he should have an inclination to the means of that end, though contrary to his true interest, and an aversion from things that are opposite to these his chief desires though really never so excellent. Thus the love of sin creates a distaste of God's laws, instructions and revelations, because they are against sin; and by this wretched chain, corruption proves a disease that both leads to death, and begets an aversion to the means of recovery. Thus God's creatures are made occasions and pretences for offending him, though there is nothing in him or them to justify the neglect of the one, or abuse of the other; nothing, on the contrary, but what shows that such a practice is equally destructive and inexcusable.

If we kept our love of outward things within such bounds, as to do no prejudice to the love of God and our neighbour, or even to the true love of ourselves; this would be that true mortification which God requires, and for which the grace of Jesus Christ is offered to us; it is only superstition, and particularly that of the church of Rome that commands men to abstain from things that God made to be received with thanksgiving: the apostle foretold this as one of the errors of the last days. No doubt, abstinence even from things in themselves lawful, has its own use on many occasions; but excessive austerity that way, is the extreme most men are least liable to. In the meantime we may observe, that he whose life should be the pattern of ours as to temperance and all other duties, though he was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, did not refuse to join with men for their good in the use of the lawful comforts as well as necessaries of life. This indeed exposed his spotless character to the censure of morose hypocrites, because he did not affect that useless austerity, on which they valued themselves so much: but it shows, that spiritual comforts and temporal comforts are far from being inconsistent. But wretched is their case, who abuse that liberty they have from God into an occasion of bringing themselves under bondage to his creatures. They can give no pleasure or trouble independently of him; whatever pleasure they give, it is him they should make us love; whatever trouble they give, it is him they should make us fear; and our love and fear should not hinder, but help each other; because as we cannot abuse his goodness, without rendering ourselves obnoxious to his justice, we should consider that perfect goodness and perfect justice are so far from being inconsistent, that they are inseparable.

The truths that have been insisted on, afford various motives for adoring both these glorious attributes. As to God's justice, some of the observations that have been proposed, might be usefully applied by many, for convincing their hearts, through God's grace, both of the righteousness of future punishments, and the certainty of them. Wickedness affronts God, and abuses his creatures; it makes men incapable of the enjoyment of the former at all, or of the latter with true satisfaction; and therefore since it both wrongs God, and his creatures, and makes a man incapable of happiness in him, or real contentment in them, it deserves the loss of both, and naturally tends to it; they who entirely neglect God here, surely have no ground to expect to enjoy him hereafter. And as to his creatures, they may find it hard to persuade themselves, if they consider it, that God will be eternally multiplying on them those benefits in the next world, which they so heinously abused in this. Now it is evident, that even supposing God should put no positive punishment on wicked men, but only deprive them for ever of all his favours which they have abused, That itself would be enough to cause such everlasting anguish and melancholy, as cannot well be described or conceived. To be left to our own natural emptiness, to violent desires, without any objects to satisfy them, to suffer the total loss of God, and all his good creatures, is both a loss very terrible in itself, and is so evidently the just demerit and native fruit of final impenitence, that it is a wonder how wicked men can overcome the apprehensions of it.

This may contribute to illustrate the principal use of this doctrine, which (as was hinted formerly) is to help us to a right sense of God's infinite mercy in the work of redemption; this we can never have without a persuasion of his righteousness in the works of providence. While men's hearts blame him for their sins, they can never love him aright for his mercies, particularly for his greatest mercy, which is deliverance from sin, and its fruits: whereas on the other hand, to entertain just thoughts of God, and of ourselves (that is, to take all the blame of our sin and misery to ourselves) and to acknowledge sincerely that he is perfectly free from it, is the way through God's grace, to such gratitude to him for his unspeakable gift, as makes the most rational and happiest disposition of mind, that redeemed sinners are capable of.

It is worth the observing here, that many who are prejudiced against revealed religion, acknowledge that natural religion is very plain and rational. It is evident the difficulties against the apostle's doctrine are difficulties of natural religion; it is not the Scripture only that tells us we are sinful, guilty, corrupt creatures; experience tells it, and reason teaches us, that an infinitely perfect God must be perfectly free, both from the blame of our sin, and the misery which it tends to; experience and reason teach us, that we are sinners and deserve punishment; it is the gospel that teaches us the remedy. It is unreasonable to make the difficulties of natural religion prejudices against revealed religion; the subject insisted on serves to give a right impression of both, by giving a just view of God's actions, and of those of his creatures; if that view of them were familiar to us, through God's grace the love of his creatures, instead of hindering our love to him, would be a help to it. This would be a happy stratagem for turning these earthly things, which corruption makes our enemies, to be really our friends; all the pleasures in these streams, would make us love the fountain; and all the trouble in them would make us long for him, long for that unmixed, unqualified bliss, where there is no more need of temperance, because there is no possibility of excess; where desire will not be checked, nor enjoyment restrained; where our joys will have none of that alloy that always cleaves to our joys here; where our honour will be without envy, our friendship without strife, our riches without care, our pleasures without mixture, without interruption; and, which crowns all, without end.

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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