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agents, and before they have any holy exercises, then the scriptural doctrine of native depravity has nothing in it absurd or unreasonable. Those who disbelieve and deny the native depravity of children, always deny it on the ground of absurdity. But if they do not become depraved before they become moral agents, where is the absurdity of their having free, voluntary, sinful exercises at that time, any more than at any other period of their lives? Upon their own principle, whenever children become moral agents, let that time be when it will, they are then capable of choosing either good or evil; and there is no more absurdity in the idea of the choosing evil first, than of their choosing good first. It is just as difficult for those who maintain that children exercise free, voluntary, holy affections at first, to account for their having holy exercises before they have sinful, as it is for those who maintain that children have free, voluntary, sinful exercises at first, to account for their having free, voluntary, sinful exercises before they have holy. Both those who deny, and those who maintain, native depravity, allow, that children do not become morally depraved before they become moral agents. And after they become moral agents, both allow that they are capable of having either good or bad moral exercises. There is no absurdity in either of these opinions. If God had determined, notwithstanding Adam's apostacy, that his posterity should begin to be holy as soon as they become moral agents, there would be no absurdity in supposing that they actually do begin to be holy before they begin to be sinful. And since it appears that God has determined, in consequence of Adam's apostacy, that his posterity shall begin to be sinful as soon as they become moral agents, there is no absurdity in believing and maintaining that they do begin to be sinful before they begin to be holy. There can be no solid objection against native depravity, drawn from reason or scripture; but there can be, as we have seen, solid arguments in favor of native depravity drawn from scripture, reason, observation and experience. If those who deny the doctrine of native depravity would maintain their opinion, they must prove that native depravity is inconsistent with free agency, or that it is contrary to scripture and the universal observation and experience of mankind. But this it is believed they never have done, and never can do. For the doctrine of native depravity has been constantly maintained among the great majority of those who have called themselves, and have been called, orthodox christians, from the days of the apostles to this day; notwithstanding all the genius, learning and criticism, which have been employed to refute this scriptural doctrine. The subject is extremely interesting, both in a theoretical and
practical view; and it deeply concerns every individual to understand and approve the truth, in respect to his moral state by nature.
2. It appears from what has been said concerning native depravity, that if children die before they become moral agents, it is most rational to conclude that they are annihilated. As they are totally destitute of moral exercises which are either virtuous or sinful, they do not appear to be proper subjects of praise or blame, reward or punishment. It is certainly supposable that children may exist in this world some space of time, before they become moral agents; but how long that space may be, whether an hour, a day, a month, or a year, or several years, as many suppose, we do not presume to determine. But during that space, whether longer or shorter, they are not moral agents, nor consequently accountable creatures in the sight of God or man. It is rational to conclude, therefore, that God will not treat them as accountable creatures, nor reward or punish them. Of course, we must conclude that they will be annihilated. This was the opinion of Dr. Watts, and it seems to be well founded.* 3. If
any children are saved who die soon after they become moral agents, they are undoubtedly regenerated before they are taken out of the world. They stand in the same relation to and connection with Adam, that the rest of mankind do, and become sinful before they become holy, in consequence of bis apostacy. And for this reason they need to be renewed and sanctified, as well as adult persons, in order to be qualified for the enjoyments and employments of heaven. As they are moral agents, they are capable of having holy, after they have had unholy affections; and God is able to produce holy, as well as unholy, affections in their heart. If he sanctified Jeremiah and John the Baptist from the womb, or as early as they needed to be and could be sanctified, then he is able to sanctify those young children who die soon after they become moral agents, before he takes them out of the world and conducts them to heaven, if he ever does save such. He has not been pleased
The author does not mean to say, nor does he say, that he believes any infants are annihilated. Some have supposed, and Dr. Watts was of the number, that infants live a certain time before they become moral agents. This supposition being admitted us true, the rational conclusion is, that, dying before they become moral agents, they are annihilated. Those who do believe that infants live any time as “ mere animals," and not “men in miniature," must, to be consistent with themselves, believe that those who die during this time are annihilated. This is all the author expresses in this inference. His own belief is, as clearly expressed in the body of the discourse, that they become moral agents as soon as they become natural agents. This note was written before the author's death, and shown to him, and is now added in accordance with a request which he then made.- ED.
to inform us expressly whether he does renew the hearts of the whole, or a part, or none, of those little children who die soon after they become moral agents. As they then become morally depraved, it is plain that, in point of justice, he may then leave them all to perish in their native depravity and guilt
. Or in mercy, he may renew them all. But from all the light we can find in scripture on this subject, it seems to be the most probable opinion that he renews only some of those who die soon after they become morally depraved and guilty. He has indeed given some encouragernents, or conditional promises, to believing parents, that he will renew and save their children if they die soon after they have become sinners. But they must be left in his holy, sovereign and merciful hands.
4. If children are by nature depraved, then they are by nature children of wrath ; and if any of them are saved, they must be saved through the atonement of Christ, as well as any other sinners. They have sinned, and the wages of sin is death. They justly deserve eternal death for their first sinful exercises; and God cannot consistently pardon them on any other ground than the atonement of Christ. Christ, by his sufferings and death on the cross, tasted death for every man, and made atonement for the sins of the whole world. So that God can now consistently forgive or justify every one that is born of the Spirit, and has become holy. Hence says the apostle, “ If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.” As soon as the youngest sinner is born of God, he is a new creature, has a new nature, and is a child of God. Though he cannot exercise repentance towards God, nor faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, yet he may exercise true benevolence, which is true holiness; and God may pardon and save him through the atonement of Christ, on the condition of benevolence as well as on the condition of repentance or faith, or any other exercise of holiness. There is reason to think that many persons were saved before the gospel day, who had no distinct knowledge of Christ, or faith in him. Their hearts indeed were changed, and they loved and obeyed the God of Israel, and believed that an atonement for sin would be made, but had little or no knowledge of him by whom the atonement would be made. God saw Christ as a larnb, slain from the foundation of the world, and for his sake he pardoned all whom he saved before his incarnation and death. And just so he may pardon little children whom he renews and causes to exercise holy affections, though they are ignorant of him and of Christ, for whose sake he forgives and admits them to heaven. It is sufficient for God to know that he pardons and saves them on the ground of Christ's atonement; and when they arrive in heaven, they will love and trust in Christ as their only Saviour.
5. If all mankind are depraved by nature, then the doctrine of native depravity is a primary and fundamental doctrine of the gospel. It was solely because God saw all mankind in a depraved, guilty, and perishing condition, that he formed the plan of redemption, and provided a Saviour for them. Christ said, “ God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting lise.” To execute this gracious design, Christ declares, that he came to seek and save them that are lost. According to these infallible declarations, the native depravily of mankind lies at the foundation of Christianity. It is as necessary to believe this doctrine, as to believe the gospel; and it is as important to maintain this doctrine, as to maintain the gospel. If any one doctrine of the gospel may be said to be more fundamental, essential, and important than any other, it is the doctrine of the native depravity of all mankind, without a single exception. In this important light it has been viewed, believed, and defended, in every age of the christian church. And it is as important now as it ever was, to believe, to approve, and to defend, this humiliating doctrine. For the denial of it directly tends to corrupt the hearts and destroy the souls of men, and to subvert every other fundamental docirine of the gospel. It is well known that there is a tendency in those who deny the doctrine of the native depravity of all mankind, to deny the doctrine of the atonement, ihe doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of regeneration, the doctrine of election, the doctrine of eternal punishment, and the doctrine of the plenary inspiration of the scriptures. When all these doctrines are expunged from the gospel, is there one peculiar, or essential doctrive left? I would not be understood to assert that every one who denies the doctrine of native depravity runs all these lengths in error. Some are not capable of seeing the connection between one error and another. Some are too indolent to trace the connection. And some stop short, through fear of plunging into the abyss of gross infidelity. But this is no evidence that the denial of native depravity does not naturally tend to lead men into all the fatal errors which have been mentioned. It is extremely important, therefore, that the doctrine of native depravity should be plainly taught, properly explained, and firmly supported, to guard men against an approximation towards the errors which are zealously propagated by those who lie in wait to deceive and destroy. It is one evidence of native depravity, that mankind so generally love error better than truth. This led Christ to tell those who rejected the doctrines he taught, “ Ye me believe not, because I tell you the truth."
6. If all men are by nature depraved, then all sinners are in a very guilty and dangerous condition. They have always been totally destitute of the least degree of true holiness. They have never had the love of God in them, nor ever exercised one right affection towards him, or any other object; but every imagination of the thoughts of their hearts has been evil, only evil continually. They began to sin as soon as they were capable of sinning, and have continued sinning without interruption through every day and period of their lives. Their sins have been increasing from childhood to youth, and from youth to manhood, in number, magnitude and aggravation. For they have misimproved and abused their time, their talents, their interests, their influence, and all the means and opportunities they have enjoyed of doing and getting good. All these evil things have fowed from the plague of their hearts, or native depravity. God has been justly angry with them every day, and his wrath still abides upon them; yet nevertheless they rush on " the thick bosses of his bucklers." It is certainly of the Lord's mercies that they have not been consumed. He has always been able to destroy them, while he has been waiting to be gracious to them. Have they not great reason to fear that his patience is nearly exhausted, and that there is but a step between them and temporal and eternal death? There is noihing but their criminal stupidity that now prevents their seeing and realizing their guilty and deplorable condition. This stupidity would be immediately removed, if they would only show themselves men, turn off their eyes from beholding vanities, and look at the plague of their own hearts, and the dreadful effects which have fowed from it, through the whole course of their past lives. Why then do they not look into their own hearts, and realize their guilty and perishing condition? The guilty cause is their native depravity, which blinds their understanding and sears their conscience. But,
7. It appears from what has been said concerning their native depravity, that it affords no excuse for their past transgressions, and is no obstacle in the way of their immediately performing the gracious and condescending conditions of salvation. Their native depravity does not consist in any corrupt nature or dormant principle entailed upon them by Adam, without their knowledge, desire, or consent; but it consists in their own free, voluntary exercises of selfishness, which is the essence of their criminality, and admits of no excuse. They did not begin to sin before they became free, moral agents.