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The great usefulness of the Law or Word of GOD, in order to the Application of CHRIST.
For I was alive without the law once, but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.
The scope of the apostle in this epistle, and more particularly in this chapter, is to state the due use and excellency of the law, which he does accordingly.
First, By denying to it a power to justify us, which is the peculiar honour of Christ.
Secondly, By ascribing to it a power to convince us, and so prepare us for Christ.
Neither attributing to it more honour than belongeth to it, nor yet detracting from it that honour and usefulness which God has given it. It cannot make us righteous, but it can convince us that we are unrighteous; it cannot heal, but it can open and discover the wounds that sin has given us; which he proves in this place by an argument drawn from his own experience, confirmed also by the general experience of believers, in whose persons and names we must here understand him to speak; "For I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." Wherein three particulars are very observable.
First, The opinion Paul had, and all unregenerate men have of themselves before conversion: I was alive once. By life, understand here liveliness, cheerfulness, and confidence of his good estate and condition: he was full of vain hope, false joy, and presumptuous confidence; a very brisk and jovial man.
Secondly, The sense and opinion he had, and all others will have of themselves, if ever they come under the regenerating work of the Spirit in his ordinary method of working: I died. The death he here speaks of, stands opposed to that life before mentioned; and signifies the sorrows, fears, and tremblings that seized upon his soul, when his state and temper were upon the change: the apprehensions he then had of his condition struck him home to the heart, and damped all his carnal mirth: I died.
Thirdly, The ground and reason of this wonderful alteration and change of his judgement, and apprehension of his own condition; the commandment came, and sin revived: The commandment came, i.e. it came home to my conscience, it was fixed with a divine and mighty efficacy upon my heart: the commandment was come before by way of promulgation, and the literal knowledge of it; but it never came till now in its spiritual sense and convincing power to his soul; though he had often read, and heard the law before, yet he never clearly understood the meaning and extent, he never felt the mighty efficacy thereof upon his heart before; it so came at this time, as it never came before. From hence the observations are,
Doct. 1. That unregenerate persons are generally full of groundless confidence and cheerfulness, though their condition be sad and miserable.
Doct. 2. That there is a mighty efficacy in the word or law of God, to kill vain confidence, and quench carnal mirth in the hearts of men, when God sets it home upon their consciences.
We shall take both these points under consideration, and improve them to the design in hand.
Doct. 1. That unregenerate persons are full of groundless confidence and cheerfulness, though their condition be sad and miserable; Rev. 3:17. Because thou sayest I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked; This is the very life that unregenerate men do live.
In opening whereof, I shall shew you,
1. What is the life of the unregenerate.
2. What maintains that life.
3. How it appears that this is the life the generality of the world do live.
4. The danger of living such a life as this: and then apply it.
First, What is the life of the unregenerate, and wherein it consists? Now there being, among others, three things in which the life of the unregenerate does principally consist, viz.
Presumptuous hope, and false joy,
Of these briefly in their order.
First, There is in unregenerate men a great deal of carnal security; they dread no danger; Luke 11:21. "When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are at peace:" There is generally a great stillness and silence in the consciences of such men; when others, in a better condition, are watching and trembling, they sleep securely: so they live, and so ofttimes they die, Psal. 123:4. "They have no bonds in their death," [Hebrew, on knots], no difficulties that puzzle them. It is true, the consciences of few men are so perfectly stupefied, but that some time or other they twang and gird them; but it seldom works to that height, or continues with them so long as to give any considerable interruption to their carnal peace and quietness.
Secondly, The life of the unregenerate consisteth in presumptuous hope: this is the very foundation of their carnal security. So Christ tells the Jews, John 8:54, 53. "Of whom ye say that he is your God, and yet ye have not known him." The world is full of hope without a promise, which is but as a spider's web, when a stress comes to be laid upon it, John 27:8. Unregenerate men are said indeed to be without hope, Ephes. 2:12. but the meaning is, they are without any solid, well-grounded hope; for in scripture- account, vain hope is no hope, except it be a lively hope, 1 Pet. 1: 5. A hope flowing from union with Christ, Col. 1:27. A hope nourished by experience, Rom. 5:4. A hope for which a man can give a reason, 1 Pet. 3:15. a hope that puts men upon heart-purifying endeavours, 1 John 3:5. It is in the account of God a cipher, a vanity, not deserving the name of hope; and yet such a groundless, dead, christless, irrational, idle hope is that which the unregenerate live upon.
Thirdly, The life of the unregenerate consisteth in false joy, the immediate offspring of ungrounded hope, Mat. 13:28. The stony ground receive the word with joy.
There are two sorts of joy upon which the unregenerate live, viz.
1. A sensitive joy in things carnal.
2. A delusive joy in things spiritual.
They rejoice in corn, wine, and oil, in their estates and children, in the pleasant fruitions of the creature; yea, and they rejoice also in Christ and the promises, in heaven and in glory: with all which they have just such a kind of communion as a man has in a dream with a full feast and curious music; and just so their joy will vanish when they awake. Now these three, security, hope, and joy, make up the livelihood of the carnal world.
Secondly, Next it concerns us to enquire what are the things that maintain and support this security, hope and joy in the hearts of unregenerate men; and if we consider duly, we shall find that church privileges, natural ignorance, false evidences of the love of God, slight workings of the gospel, self love, comparing themselves with the more profane, and Satan's policy managing all these in order to their eternal ruin, are so many springs to feed and maintain this life of delusion in the unregenerate.
1. First, Church privileges lay the foundation to this strong delusion. Thus the Jews deceived themselves, saying in their hearts, "We have Abraham for our father," Mat. 3:9. This props up the vain hopes that Abraham's blood ran in their veins, though Abraham's faith and obedience never wrought in their hearts.
2. Secondly, Natural ignorance; this keeps all in peace: they that see not, fear not. There are but two ways to quiet the hearts of men about their spiritual and eternal concernments, viz. the way of assurance and faith, or the way of ignorance and self-deceit; by the one we are put beyond danger, by the other beyond fear, though the danger be greater. Satan could never quiet men, if he did not first blind them.
3. Thirdly, False evidences of the love of God is another spring feeding this security, vain hope, and false joy in the hearts of men: see the power of it to hush and still the conscience, Mat. 7:92. "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name?" &c. The things upon which they built their evidence and confidence, were external things in religion; yet they had a quieting power upon them, as if they had been the best evidences in the world.
4. Fourthly, Slight workings of the gospel; such are transient motions of the affections under the word, Heb. 6:8. the working of their desires about spiritual objects. John 6:34. Math. 12:43. the external change and reformation of their ways, Mat. 12:43. all which serve to nourish the vain hopes of the unregenerate.
5. Fifthly, Self-love is an apparent reason and ground of security and false hope, Mat. 7:3. It makes a man to overlook great evils in himself, whilst he is sharp-sighted to discover and censure lesser evils in others: self love takes away the sight of sin, by bringing it too near the eye.
6. Sixthly, Men's comparing themselves with those that are more profane and grossly wicked than themselves, serves notably to quiet and hush the conscience asleep; "God, I thank thee, (said the Pharisee), I am not as other men, or as this publican." O what a saint did he seem to himself, when he stood by those that were externally more wicked.
7. Seventhly, and lastly, The policy of Satan to manage all these things to the blinding and ruining of the souls of men, is another great reason they live so securely and pleasantly as they do, in a state of so much danger and misery, 2 Cor. 4:3, 4. "The god of this world has blinded the minds of them that believe not.
Thirdly, You have seen what the life of the unregenerate is, and what maintains that life. In the next place, I shall give you evidence that this is the life the generality of the world do live; a life of carnal security, vain hope, and false joy; this will evidently appear, if we consider,
First, The activity and liveliness of men's spirits in pursuit of the world. O how lively and vigorous are their hearts in the management of earthly designs! Psal. 6: 4. "Who will shew us any good?" The world eats up their hearts, time, and strength. Now this could never be, if their eyes were but opened to see the danger and misery their souls are in. How few designs for the world run in the thoughts of a condemned man? O if God had ever made the light of conviction to shine into their consciences, certainly the temptations would lie the quite contrary way, even in too great a neglect of things of this life! But this briskness and liveliness plainly shew the great security which is upon most men.
Secondly, The marvellous quietness and stillness that is in the thoughts and consciences of men, about their everlasting concernments, plainly shews this to be the life of the unregenerate: How few scruples, doubts, or fears shall you hear from them? How many years may a man live in carnal families, before he shall hear such a question as this seriously propounded, "What shall I do to be saved?" There are no questions in their lips, because no fear or sense of danger in their hearts.
Thirdly, The general contentedness, and professed willingness of carnal men to die, give clear evidence that such a life of security and vain hope is the life they live; "Like sheep they are laid in the grave," Psal. 49:14. O how quiet and still are their consciences, when there are but a few breaths more between them and everlasting burnings! Had God opened their eyes to apprehend the consequences of death, and what follows the pale horse, Rev. 6:8. it were impossible but that every unregenerate man should make that bed on which he dies shake and tremble under him.
Fourthly, and lastly, The low esteem men have for Christ, and the total neglect of, at least the mere biding with, those duties in which he is to be found, plainly discover this stupid secure life to be the life that the generality of the world do live, for were men sensible of the disease of sin, there could be no quieting them without "Christ the physician," Phil. 3:8. All the business they have to do in this world could never keep them from their knees, or make them strangers to their closets; all which, and much more that might be said of the like nature, gives too full and clear proof of this sad assertion, that this is the life the unregenerate world generally lives.
Fourthly, In the last place, I would speak a few words to discover the danger of such a life as has been described; to which purpose let the following brief hints be seriously minded.
First, By these things souls are inevitably betrayed into hell and eternal ruin; this blinding is in order to damning, 2 Cor. 4:3, 4. "If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost, whose eyes the god of this world has blinded." Those that are turned over into eternal death are thus generally hoodwinked and blinded in order thereunto, Isa 6:9, 10. "And he said go and tell this people, hear ye indeed, but understand not: and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the hearts of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes, lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and convert, and be healed.
Secondly, As damning is the event of blinding, so nothing makes hell a more terrible surprise to the soul than this does. By this means the wrath of God is felt before its danger be apprehended; a man is past all hope, before he begins to have any fear: his eternal ruin, like a breach ready to fall, swelling out in a high wall, cometh suddenly at an instant, Isa. 30: 13. and as it damns surely and surprisingly, so,
Thirdly, Nothing more aggravates a man's damnation than to sink suddenly into it, from amidst so many hopes, and high confidence of safety: For a man to find himself in hell, when he thought and concluded himself within a step of heaven O what a hell will it be to such men! The higher vain hopes lifted them up, the more dreadful must their fall be, Matth. 7:22. And as it damns surely, surprisingly, and with highest aggravations, so,
Fourthly, This life of security and vain hope frustrates all the means of recovery and salvation, in the only season wherein they can be useful and beneficial to us: By reason of these things the word has no power to convince men's consciences, nothing can bring them to a sight and sense of their condition: Therefore Christ told the self-confident and blind Jews, Matth. 21:21. "That the publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of God before them:" And the reason is, because their hearts lie more open and fair to the strokes of conviction and compunction for sin than those do, who are blinded by vain hopes and confidences.
Inference 1. Is this the life that the unregenerate world lives? Then it is not to be wondered at that the preaching of the gospel has so little success: "Who has believed our report? (saith the prophet) and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" Isa. 53: 1. Ministers study for truths apt to awaken and convince the consciences of them that hear them, but their words return again to them: They turn to God, and mourn over the matter; we have laboured in vain, and spent our strength for nought: And this security is the cause of all, vain hopes bar fast the doors of men's hearts against all the convictions and persuasions of the word. The greater cause have they to admire the grace of God, who have found, or shall find the convictions of the word sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the dividing asunder of the soul and spirit; to whose hearts God brings home the commandment by an effectual application.
Inf. 2. If this be the life of the unregenerate world, what deadly enemies are they that nourish and strengthen the groundless confidences and vain hopes of salvation in men. This the scripture calls the healing of the hurt of souls slightly, by crying, "Peace, peace, when there is no peace," Jer. 6:14. The sewing of pillows under their arm-holes, Ezek. 13:18. That they may lie soft and easy under the ministry; and this is the doctrine which the people love: but oh, what wilt the end of these things be! And what an account have those men to give to God for the blood of those souls by them betrayed to the everlasting burnings! Such flattery is the greatest cruelty: Those whom you bless upon earth, will curse you in hell, and the day in which they trusted their souls to your conduct.
Inf. 3. How great a mercy is it to be awakened out of that general sleep and security which is fallen upon the world! You cannot estimate the value of that mercy, for it is a peculiar mercy. O that ever the Spirit of the Lord should touch thy soul under the ministry of the word, startle and rouse thy conscience, whilst others are left in the dead sleep of security round about thee! When the Lord dealt with thy soul much after the same manner he did with Paul in the way to Damascus, who not only saw a light shining from heaven, which those that travelled with him saw as well as he, but heard that voice from heaven which did the work upon his heart, though his companions heard it not. Besides, it is not only a peculiar mercy, but it is a leading introductive mercy, to all other spiritual mercies that follow it to all eternity. If God had not done this for thee, thou hadst never been brought to faith, to Christ, or heaven. From this act of the Spirit all other saving acts take their rise; so that you have cause for ever to admire the goodness of God in such a favour as this is.
Inf. 4. Lastly, Hence it follows that the generality of the world are in the direct way to eternal ruin; and whatever their vain confidences are, that cannot be saved "Narrow is the way, and strait is the gate that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." Hear me all you that live this dangerous life of carnal security and vain hope, whatever your persuasions and confidences are, except you give them up, and get better grounds for your hope, you cannot be saved. For,
3:3. in all that shall be saved. And this order shall never be altered for any man's sake.
Secondly, If such as you be saved, all the threatenings in scripture must be reversed, which lie in full opposition to your vain hopes, Mark 16:16. John 3:16. Rom. 3:8, 9. Either the truth of God, in these threatenings must fail, or your vain hopes must fail.
Thirdly, If ever such as you be saved, new conditions must be set to all the promises; for there is no condition of any special promise found in any unregenerate person. Compare your hearts with these scriptures, Matth. 5:3, 4, 5, 6. Psal. 24:4. Psal. 84:11. Gen. 17:1, 2.
Fourthly, If ever such a hope as yours bring you to heaven, then the saving hope of God's elect is not rightly described to us in the scriptures. Scripture-hope is the effect of regeneration, 1 Pet. 1:3. And purity of heart is the effect of that hope, 1 John 3: 3. Nay.
Fourthly, The very nature of heaven is mistaken in scripture, if such as you be subjects qualified for its enjoyment: For assimilation, or the conformity of the soul to God in holiness, is, in the scripture account, a principal ingredient of that blessedness: By all which it manifestly appears that the hopes of most men are in vain, and will never bring them to heaven.
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