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Some talk much about the power of our intellectual faculties, as though they were not at all impaired ; as if all the disadvantage of our nature by the entrance of sin, is in the disorder of the affections, the inferior parts of the soul, which are apt to rebel against the pure light of the mind. But it is no difficult undertaking so to demonstrate the depravity of the minds of men by nature, and their impotency to discern spiritual things, as that the proudest of them shall be unable to return a solid answer to it. And herein we plead for nothing but the known doctrine of the ancient catholic church, declared in the writings of the most learned fathers, and determinations of councils against the Pelagians; whose errors are again revived among us by a crew of Socinianised Arminians.
To this purpose we may first consider the testimonies of Scripture :— The people which sat in darkness saw great light, and to them that sat in the region and shadow of death, light is sprung up*.' Before the illumination afforded by the Gospel, the people mentioned sat in darkness,' or lived under the power of it. And in the same sense, when Christ preached the Gospel, 'the light shined into darkness, and the darkness comprehended t not ;'-gave not place to the light of truth. The commission which he gave to Paul, when he sent him to preach the Gospel, was, To open the eyes of men, and to turn them from darkness to light .' Thus the apostle speaks to the Ephesians in chap. v. 8: Ye were darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord.' Ar again to the Colossians, in chap. i. 13: 'Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, as also the apostle Peter, in Epist. ii. 9: " Who hath called us out of darkness into his marvellous light.' Now this darkness of an unregenerate state, is compared by Paul to that which was at the beginning, before the creation of light; when
darkness was upon the face of the deep .' There was no creature that had a visive faculty, there was darkness subjectively in all and there was no light to see by, but all was objectively wrapt in darkness. In this state
of things, God, by an almighty act of his power, created light- God said, Let there be light, and there was light! And thus it is in the new creation. God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, shines into the hearts of men, to give them the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ.' (2 Cor. iv. 6.) Spiritual darkness is upon all men, till God, by an effectual work of the Spirit, shine into them, or create light in them.
To clear our way in this matter, we must consider, first, The nature of this darkness; and, secondly, The power of it in the minds of men.
First. The term Darkness is metaphorical, and borrowed from that which is natural. What natural darkness is, all men know; they know it is that which hinders men from all regular operations which are directed by the outward senses. As, when persons have not light to see by; as in the case of the Egyptians, during the three days darkness that was in their land; they had their visive faculty; but, having no light, they saw not one another, neither rose any from his place. There is also darkness, when men are actually blind; either born 50, or made so. Thus the angel smote the Sodomites with blindness; and Paul the sorcerer. However the sun may shine, it is one perpetual night to the blind.
It is thus with regard to spiritual darkness; for there is an objective darkness; a darkness that is on men; and a subjective darkness; a darkness that is in them. The first consists in the want of those means whereby they may be enlightened,-the word of God, and the preaching of it.
It is the work of the Holy Spirit to dispel this darkness; and this he does by sending the word of the Gospel into any place, as he pleases;-for the Gospel does not get ground in any place, nor is it restrained from any people, by accident, or by the mere endeavours of men; but it is disposed of according to the sovereign will of the Spirit. He forms and sends the preachers of it; and disposes of them, as to the places where they shall dispense it, either by express revelation, as of old, or by the secret operations of his providence and therefore, though ought to care and pray much for the continuance of the
Gospel in any place, and its propagation in others, yet we need not be over-solicitous about it; for the Holy Ghost has taken this work on himself, and will carry it on, according to the counsel of God, and his purposes respecting the kingdom of Christ in the world.
It is subjective darkness which we have more immediately to consider, and which is intended in this natural depravity of the mind as to all spiritual things; for I shall not treat of it with respect to natural or moral concerns; though it were easy to prove from Scripture that the whole rational soul is weakened by the fall, in all its faculties; but it is the impotence and depravity of the mind as to spiritual things only, that we shall now consider.
It is in consequence of this darkness that unregenerate men are not able of themselves, by their own reason and understanding, however improved, to discern spiritual things when outwardly revealed to them, without an ef fectual work of the Spirit, inducing a new saving light into them. Suppose the mind of a person be no way hurt or impaired by any personal defect; suppose it free from any contracted habits of vice or voluntary preju dices; yet on the proposal of the doctrine of the Gospel, by the most skilful masters of the assemblies,' with the clearest evidence and demonstration of the truth, it is not able of itself to understand and receive them in a spiritual manner, without the special aid of the Holy Spirit. To evince this truth, we may consider the description of the mind itself, and its operations, given us in Eph. iv. 17, 18: This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.' The apostle here speaks of the Gentiles; but he speaks of them on account of that which is common to all men by nature; for he treats, not of their idolatrous and vicious practices, as some pretend, but of their state and condition with respect to the faculties of their souls, wherein there is no difference naturally among men. And he expresses the powers of the soul by three terms; the Mind, the Understanding, and the Heart; and these are all affected with the darkness of which we treat.
There is the Mind (a vous). This is the leading faculty of the soul; that which looks out after proper objects for the will and affections to receive and embrace. Hereby we have our first apprehensions of all things, whence deductions are made to our practice; and to this is ascribed vanity: They walk in the vanity of their mind.' Things are called vain which are useless and unprofitable hence the apostle calls the idols and religi ous rites of the Gentiles vain things, lying vanities, things that cannot profit.' Now this vanity of the mind includes its natural inclination to vain things, and its own instability. It seeks about to lead the soul to rest and satisfaction, but always to vain things; such as sin, the world, pleasure, and the pride of life. These are called the figments of the hearts of men, which are only evil continually.'* These it frames, producing them abundantly, as the earth does grass, or as a cloud pours out drops of water. And herein, it is unstable; for that which is vain is various, inconstant, light, as the natural mind is. And this has befallen it by the loss of that fixed regularity in which it was created. Man possessed the same faculty of imagination in his original state; but then all its actings were regular. The mind was able to direct them all to their proper end. God was their princi. pal object, and all things in order to him. But now being turned off from him, the mind, in them, engages in all manner of confusion, and they all end in disappointment. They offer their service to the soul to bring it satisfaction; and though they are rejected one after another, as not answering what they pretend to, yet they constantly arise, and keep the whole soul under everlasting disappointments; and hence it is that the mind cannot assent to the common principles of religion, which yet it cannot deny.
2. There is the Understanding; this is the directive, discerning, judging faculty of the soul, that leads it to practice. It guides the soul in the choice of those ideas which it receives by the mind; and this is more corrupt than the mind itself; for the nearer things come to practice, the more prevalent is the power of sin in them. This also is said to be darkened: and being so, it is
*Gen. vi. 5.
in vain to pretend a sufficiency in it to discern spiritual things, without a supernatural illumination. Light, in the dispensation of the Gospel, shines, or throws some rays of itself on this darkened understanding; but it receives it not.*
3. There is the Heart. This is the practical principle of operation, and so includes the will also. Light is received by the mind, applied by the understanding, and used by the heart. On this, says the apostle, there is ⚫ blindness.' It is not mere ignorance, but a stubborn resistance of light and conviction; an obdurate hardness, whence it rejects the impressions of divine truth.
On these accounts, men are said to be darkness. There may be degrees in a moral privation; but when it is expressed in the abstract, it is a sign that it is total and absolute. There is no more disposition in natural men to receive saving knowledge, than there is in darkness itself to receive light; and therefore, when God is pleased to give us a new ability to understand spiritual things, he is said to give us a new faculty, because of the utter disability of our minds naturally to receive them. (1 John v. 20.) Let vain men boast as they please of the ability of their rational faculties; this is their state by nature, according to his judgment that must stand for ever.
And by the way, it may not be amiss to stop a little, and consider that practical exposition which the whole world affords us of this text, concerning the variety of the mind; for this is the source of all the vanity with which the world is filled. Almost all that we see or hear is vain : -all that makes so much bustle in the world is vain. There is a kind of vanity which men bring into things that really exist, and that are in themselves good, useful, or at least indifferent. Thus, they corrupt their habitations, their trade, their wealth, their power, &c.; they join innumerable vanities with them, which render them loathsome and contemptible. But besides this, they invent many things, on purpose to support and nourish vanity. Such are pompous ceremonies in religion, like those of the Church of Rome, calculated only to furnish provision for vain minds;—and such are plays, masquerades; and the whole multitudes of carnal amusements; which are merely theatres for vanity to act itself
* John i. 5.