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Men’s extreme blindness manifested by inward experience, and especially in their practices under the gospel.
I come now to show, how this is manifest in those things that are found by inward experience, and are visible in men’s practices under the light of the gospel.
1. This appears in their being so prone to be deceived so many ways, or being liable to such a multiplicity of deceits. There are thousands of delusions in things which concern the affairs of religion, that men commonly are led away with, who yet live under the light of the gospel.—They are many ways deceived about God. They think him to be an exceeding diverse kind of being from what he is; altogether such an one as themselves. 260260 Psal. i. 21. They are deceived about his holiness, they do not realize it, that he is such a holy being as he indeed is, or that he hates sin with such a hatred as he declares he does. They are not convinced of his truth, or that he certainly will fulfil his threatenings or his promises. They are not convinced of his justice in punishing sin, as he does. They have very wrong notions of Christ. They are not convinced of his ability to save them, or of the sufficiency of his sacrifice and righteousness; nor of his willingness to receive them.
Men are commonly subject to a great many errors about their duty. They are ready to bring their principles to agree with their practices, instead of bringing their practices to their principles, as they ought to do. They will put innumerable false glosses on the rules of God’s word, to bend them to a compliance with their lusts; and so they ” put darkness for light, and light for darkness; bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.”
They are subject to deceits and delusions about the things of this world. They imagine that there is happiness and satisfaction to be found in the profits, pleasures, and honours, which are to be had here. They believe all the deluding flatteries and promises of a vain world. And they will hold that deceit and grand delusion, that these things are the highest good; and will act accordingly; will choose these things for their portion..And they will hold and practise upon that error, that these things are of long continuance, and are to be depended upon.
They are greatly deceived about the things of another world. They undervalue that heavenly glory, which is promised to the saints; and are not much terrified with what they hear of the damnation of hell; they cannot realize it, that its torments are so dreadful as they hear; and are very ready to imagine that they are not eternal, but will some time or other have an end.
They are deceived about the state of good men. They think they are not happy, but live a melancholy life. And they are deceived about the wicked. They envy the state of many of them, as accounting them well off. “They call the proud happy, 261261 Mal. iii. 15. and bless the covetous, whom God abhors.” 262262 Psal. x. 3.>/ And they strive a great deal more after such enjoyments as these have, than after such as are the portion of the godly.
They are subject to a thousand deceits and delusions about themselves. They think themselves wise, when they are fools. They are deceived about their own hearts; they think them much better than they really are. They think they see many good things in themselves, when indeed there is nothing good there. They appear lovely in their own eyes, when their hearts are like the inside of a grave, full of dead men’s bones and rotten flesh, crawling worms, and all uncleanness. Or rather, the inward vault of hell, that is a habitation of devils and every foul spirit. Those things in their hearts are highly esteemed by them, which are an abomination in the sight of God.
Men are very prone to be deceived about their own state; to think themselves something when they are nothing; and to suppose themselves ” rich and increased in goods, and to have need of nothing; when they are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” They are greatly deceived about the principles they act from. They think they are sincere in that in which there is no sincerity; and that they do those things from love to God, which they do only from love to themselves. They call mere speculative or natural knowledge, spiritual knowledge; and put conscience for grace; a servile, for a childlike fear; and common affections, that are only from natural principles, and have no abiding effect, for high discoveries, and eminent actings of grace. Yea, it is common with men to call their vicious dispositions by the name of some virtue. They call their anger and malice, zeal for a righteous cause, or zeal for the public good; and their covetousness, frugality.
They are vastly deceived about their own righteousness. They think their affections and performances lovely to God which indeed are hateful to him. They think their tears, reformations, and prayers, sufficient to make atonement for their sins; when indeed if all the angels in heaven should offer themselves in sacrifice to God, it would not be sufficient to atone for one of their sins. They think their prayers and works, and religious doings, a sufficient price to purchase God’s favour and eternal glory; when, as they perform them, they do nothing but merit hell.
They are greatly deceived about their strength. They think they are able to mend their own hearts, and work some good principles in themselves; when they can do no more towards it, than a dead corpse does towards raising itself to life. They vainly flatter themselves, they are able to come to Christ, when they are not. They are greatly deceived about the stability of their own hearts. They foolishly think their own intentions and resolutions of what good they will do hereafter, to be depended on; when indeed there is no dependence at all to be had on them. They are greatly deceived about their opportunities. They think that the long continuance of their opportunity is to be depended on, and that to-morrow it is to be boasted of; when indeed there is the utmost uncertainty of it. They flatter themselves that they shall have a better opportunity to seek salvation hereafter, than they have now; when there is no probability of it, but a very great improbability.
They are greatly deceived about their own actions and practices. Their own faults are strangely hid from their eyes. They live in ways that are very unbecoming Christians, but yet seem not to be at all sensible of it. Those evil ways of theirs, which are very plain to others, are hid from them. Yea, those very things, which they themselves account great faults in others, they will justify themselves in. Those things for which they will be very angry with others, they at the same time do themselves, and oftentimes in a much higher degree, and never once think of it. While they are zealous to pull the mote out of their brother’s eye, they know not that a beam is in their own eye.
Those sins that they commit, which they are sensible are sins, they are woefully deceived about. They call great sins, little ones; and in their own imaginations, find out many excuses, which make the guilt very small; while the many heinous aggravations are hid from their eyes. They are greatly deceived about themselves, when they compare themselves with others. They esteem themselves better than their neighbours, who are indeed much better than themselves. They are greatly deceived about themselves, when they compare themselves with God. They are very insensible of the difference there is between God and them, and act in many things as if they thought themselves his equals; yea, as if they thought themselves above him. Thus manifold are the deceits and delusions that men fall into.
2. The desperate blindness that is natural to men, appears in their being so ignorant and blind in things that are so clear and plain. Thus if we consider how great God is, and how dreadful sin against him must be, and how much sin we are guilty of, and of what importance it is that his infinite Majesty should be vindicated; how plain is it, that man’s righteousness is insufficient! And yet how greatly will men confide in it! how will they ascribe more to it, than can be ascribed to the righteousness of the sinless and glorious angels of heaven. What can be more plain in itself, than that eternal things are of infinitely greater importance than temporal things? And yet how hard is it thoroughly to convince men of it! How plain is it, that eternal misery in hell is infinitely to be dreaded. And yet how few appear to be thoroughly convinced of this! How plain is it, that life is uncertain! And yet how much otherwise do most men think! How plain is it, that it is the highest prudence in matters of infinite concern to improve the first opportunity, without trusting to another! But yet how few are convinced of this! How reasonable is it, considering that God is a wise and just being, to suppose that there shall be a future state of rewards and punishments, wherein every man shall receive according to his works! And yet, how does this seem like a dream to most men!
What can be in itself more plain and manifest, and easily to be known by us, if it were not for a strange blindness, than we are to ourselves, who are always with, never absent from ourselves; always in our own view, before our own eyes; who have opportunity to look into our own hearts, and see all that passes there? And yet what is there that men are more ignorant of, than they are of themselves? There are many vicious practices, the unlawfulness of which is very plain; the sins are gross, and contrary not only to the word of God, but to the light of nature: and yet men will often plead, there is no harm in such sins; such as, many acts of gross uncleanness; and many acts of fraud, injustice and deceitfulness; and many others that might be mentioned.
There is no one thing whatsoever more plain and manifest, and more demonstrable, than the being of a God. It is manifest in ourselves, in our own bodies and souls, and in every thing about us wherever we turn our eye, whether to heaven, or to the earth, the air, or the seas. And yet how prone is the heart of man to call this into question! So inclined is the heart of man to blindness and delusion, that it is prone to even atheism itself.
3. The great blindness of the heart of man appears, in that so little a thing will deceive him, and confound his judgment. A little self-interest, or only the bait of some short gratification of a sensual appetite, or a little stirring of passion, will blind men’s eyes, and make them argue and judge most strangely and perversely, and draw the most absurd conclusion; such as, if they were indifferent, they would see to be most unreasonable. The devil finds easy work to deceive them a thousand ways; an argument of the great weakness and blindness of our minds. As a little child, weak in understanding, is very easily deceived.
4. The woeful blindness that possesses the hearts of men naturally, appears in their being all totally ignorant of that in God, which they had most need to know; viz. the glory and excellency of his nature. Though our faculties, which we have above the beasts, were chiefly given us, that we might know this; and though without this knowledge all other will signify nothing to us; and our faculties are as capable of it, as of any other knowledge whatsoever—and which is as plainly and abundantly manifested as any thing whatsoever, innumerable ways, both in the word and works of God—yet all men naturally are totally ignorant of this; as ignorant as one born blind is of colours. Natural men of the greatest abilities and learning, are as ignorant of it, as the weakest and the most unlearned; yea, as ignorant as the very stocks and stones; for they see, and can see nothing at all of it.
5. It appears, in that they are so blind in those same things in religious matters, which they are sufficiently sensible of in other matters. In temporal things they are very sensible that it is a point of prudence to improve the first opportunity in things of great importance. But in matters of religion, which are of infinitely the greatest importance, they have not this discernment. In temporal matters they are sensible that it is a great folly long to delay and put off, when life is in danger, and all depends upon it. But in the concerns of their souls, they are insensible of this truth. So in the concerns of this world, they are sensible it is prudence to improve times of special advantage, and to embrace a good offer when made them. They are sensible that things of long continuance are of greater importance, than those of short duration; yet in religious concerns, none of these things are sensibly discerned. In temporal things they are sufficiently sensible, that it is a point of prudence to lay up for hereafter, in summer to lay up for winter, and to lay up for their families, after they are dead; but men do not generally discern the prudence of making a proper provision for a future state.—In matters of importance in this world, they are sensible of the wisdom of taking thorough care to be on sure grounds; but in their soul’s concerns they see nothing of this. Our Saviour observed this to be the case with the Jews when he was upon earth. “Ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky, and of the earth: but how is it that ye do not discern this time?” 263263 Luke xii. 56.
6. The desperate blindness that naturally possesses the hearts of men under the gospel, appears in their remaining so stupidly insensible and deceived, under so great means of instruction and conviction. If they were brought up under heathenish darkness, it would not be so full a demonstration of it: but thus they remain, though under the clearest light, under the glorious light of the gospel, where they enjoy God’s own instructions in his word, in a great fulness and plainness, and have the evidence and truth of things set before them from time to time in the plainest manner. They have the arguments of God’s being and perfection; and of another world. They are told how eternal things are of greater importance than temporal; and of what importance it is to escape eternal misery. How much it is worth while to take pains for heavenly glory; and how vain their own righteousness is: but yet to what little purpose!
And they have not only great means of instruction in God’s word, but also in providence. They have the evidence of the shortness and uncertainty of life. “He seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others.” Yet ” their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling-places to all generations: they call their lands after their own names. Nevertheless man being in honour, abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish. This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings.” 264264 Psa. xlix. 10-13. They find the world is vain and unsatisfactory; they find the great instability and treachery of their own hearts; and how their own good intentions and resolutions are not to be depended on. They often find by experience, that their attempts to make them better, fail; but, alas! with what small effect!
Such abundant evidence is there, both in what appears in the open profession of men; and also by what is found in their inward experience, and is evident in their practice, of the extreme and brutish ignorance and blindness, which naturally possess their hearts.
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