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and the sentence of death followed. If Adam, then destroyed himself and the world, by sinning against the word of God, certainly any particular man may ruin himself after the same example; even though he should give all his goods to feed the poor, and his body to be burned for the benefit of his country.
All will be ready to grant, that no wickedness can be worse than the wickedness of the devil: but let them consider of what kind it is: he is no member of society; and being a spirit, he cannot commit the sins of the body: he is no glutton, no drunkard, no miser, no adulterer: his wickedness is entirely of a spiritual nature; in other words, it is not the wickedness of the body, but of the spirit. It consists in opposing the wisdom of God; perverting his word; accusing his justice; despising his mercy; suggesting evil thoughts to men; promoting heresies and schisms; in dividing the Christian church; and disturbing the kingdoms of the world: in a word, it is the peculiar business of the apostate spirit, to defeat the gracious purposes of the divine spirit, by all the efforts of falsehood, subtilty, pride, malice and contradiction. The whole dispute between the Saviour and the destroyer is a war of spirits; and carnal men are miserably blind and ignorant when they make no account of it: especially when it is considered, that they themselves, as spirits, must be engaged on one side or the other.
The character most acceptable, because most useful to the grand deceiver, is that which comes nearest to his own and for the forming of such a character, he employs the most refined of his temptations. The stupid sot, the profane swearer, the distempered sensualist, are mean examples of vice, the lowest of the devil's adherents; who are sometimes weary of the burden of their sins; and being self-condemned, are
driven by remorse to the amendment of their lives: but the speculative and philosophical sinner is a man of figure; whose pride will never admit of his reformation. The Scribes and Pharisees, conceited of their false logic, could always find some way to make the word of God of no effect; and so remained incorrigi ble in their errors: while the Publican was prevailed upon to renounce his extortion, and the Harlot to wash away her stains with the tears of repentance. The sinner who errs upon principle, and whose mind is in fault, not only departs from the will God, but opposes it meaner sinners transgress the law; but he judges it, and sets himself above it.
Such is the case of those, who, being wise in their own conceit, are lifted up with pride, and fall into the condemnation of the devil. He whose fall is to be great must first be lifted up; he must be carried aloft, above other men, and then his fall will be his destruction. Thus did the tempter place our Saviour on high, upon a pinnacle of the temple, that he might claim an unwarrantable exemption from danger, and cast himself into the air, to meet that ruin which is the consequence of presumption.
But the spirit of man is not exposed to any danger, of which the scripture hath not given us fair warning. We are told, that we are under the peril of being overcome in our Christian warfare by spiritual wickedness in high places; (Eph. vi. 12.) that the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God; that our imaginations are to be cast down, our thoughts to be brought into captivity; as a proud enemy is led in triumph after the chariot of a conqueror: that Satan hath his depths, his mysteries of iniquity, as well as his more gross and shallow deceits; that he has agents to recommend his principles, and bring them into vogue; who are
called false apostles, deceitful workers, manufacturers of fraud; transforming themselves into the Apostles of Christ, and preaching down the Gospel, under the plausible pretence of improving it, and correcting popular mistakes.
These notices ought to alarm us; yet there are few Christians who attend properly to them in this age; and therefore the work of every deceiver is easier now than it used to be. There are a set of fashionable phrases in religion, such as speculative doctrines, liberty of opinion, the moral sense, right of private judgment, with other novel and refined notions, by which the Christian virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity are overborne and superseded: and these have been repeated, till some have nearly lost the idea of impiety, and can see no wickedness in the nation, but such as is condemned in a common court of justice. It is true, the thief, the murderer, the adulterer, will all appear before the tribunal of Christ: but then, the heretic, the idolater, the blasphemer, the sabbathbreaker will be there too: and they will then discover, that what they call moral honesty, however excellent in its proper place, will be no excuse for despising articles of faith, and neglecting the ordinances of the gospel. Immorality is bad enough, and will undoubtedly exclude men from the kingdom of heaven: but contumacy is worse; because it strikes at the authority of God. Sensuality places man among the beasts; but infidelity gives him an alliance with evil spirits. The mind is better than the body in itself; and consequently, according to an established pro verb, worse in its corruption. No obedience can be acceptable to God, without that which is best of all, and first in order, the obedience of the understanding: no courage is so valuable, as that which
contends earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints; no temperance so excellent, as that which refrains from high thoughts and presumptuous imaginations. As the thoughts are the principles of action, and all vice and virtue begins in the heart; the scripture, for a natural reason, hath insisted so particularly on the obedience of the mind, and an humble reception of truth. A sound faith is the seed of a virtuous life; but if there is bitterness in the root, it will extend itself to the branches; and to a discerning palate every leaf will taste of it. All bad principles and irreligious opinions partake of the nature of the place from whence they come; they are not the seeds of grain or of fruit; but the seeds of fire; which from a small spark diffuse themselves abroad into a wide and destructive flame. How short is this proposition -man may know good and evil independent of God! It is a mere spark: yet this has filled the world with misery, ignorance, idolatry and atheism: it is the compendium of all heresy, and of all infidelity.
The nature of the subject requires us now to take a short review of the artifices which are employed to draw men into spiritual wickedness. The first and chief of these is to inflate the mind with a false opinion of its own natural powers. He, who undertakes to persuade us, that a man has a native light by which he can know, and a power by which he can do, the will of God, understands the consequences of his success: he knows, that if we follow him thus far, we shall be prepared to receive the rest of his opinions. Few have written against the Christian doctrines, at least in modern times, who have not first endeavoured to make the mind conceited of its own powers. He, that publishes to corrupted nature the pleasing doctripes of natural liberty, independence, and the self
sufficiency of the human mind, will never want an audience. Pride and indolence will always be glad to hear, that nothing is required of them, on questions of the highest importance in religion, but to look inwards, and consult their own opinions. The private judgment of an individual, rash and inexperienced as it may be, has been allowed to be conclusive against the laws and regulations of society: whence vanity will readily infer, that a private person cannot do justice to his own wisdom, till he contradicts the judgment of the public, and strikes into some by-path of his own.
It has been asserted on the same ground, that no man can fall into condemnation for the errors of his faith; because sincerity in falsehood will be as acceptable to God as truth itself. But might we not as well say, that poison will answer all the purposes of wholesome food, provided it be eaten with a good appetite? Or that darkness may be substituted for light; and that men may direct their steps by one as well as by the other? If this principle is true, the priests of Baal may find a place in heaven, and Jesus Christ need not have come into the world.
Another way of recommending dangerous opinions is to magnify the authors and abettors of them, as persons of superior knowledge, and great worth, profound scholars, and acute reasoners. They are applauded also, yea, they applaud themselves, for the excellence of their temper, their universal candour and benevolence. While honest men are apt to betray the emotions of their indignation, the enemies of their faith prevail upon themselves to practise a sort of political patience, which suppresses its own passions to take advantage of the passions of other men. This patience has nothing of religion in it; but may rather