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Nature of sin farther discovered as it is enmity against God — Its aversation from all good opened — Means to prevent the effects of it prescribed.
Thirdly. We have considered somewhat of the nature of indwelling sin, not absolutely, but in reference unto the discovery of its power; but this more clearly evidenceth itself in its actings and operations. Power is an act of life, and operation is the only discoverer of life. We know not that any thing lives but by the effects and works of life; and great and strong operations discover a powerful and vigorous life. Such are the operations of this law of sin, which are all demonstrations of its power.
That which we have declared concerning its nature is, that it consists in enmity. Now, there are two general heads of the working or operation of enmity, — first, Aversation; secondly, Opposition.
First, Aversation. Our Saviour, describing the enmity that was between himself and the teachers of the Jews, by the effects of it, saith in the prophet, “My soul loathed them, and their soul also abhorred me,” Zech. xi. 8. Where there is mutual enmity, there is mutual aversation, loathing, and abomination. So it was between the Jews and the Samaritans, — they were enemies, and abhorred one another; as John iv. 9.
Secondly, Opposition, or contending against one another, is the next product of enmity. Isa. lxiii. 10, “He was turned to be their enemy, and he fought against them;” speaking of God towards the people. Where there is enmity, there will be fighting; it is the proper and natural product of it. Now, both these effects are found in this law of sin:—
First, For aversation. There is an aversation in it unto God and every thing of God, as we have in part discovered in handling the enmity itself, and so shall not need much to insist upon it again. All indisposition unto duty, wherein communion with God is to be obtained; all weariness of duty; all carnality, or formality unto duty, — it all springs from this root. The wise man cautions us against this evil: Eccles. v. 1, “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God;” — “Hast thou any spiritual duty to perform, and dost thou design the attaining of any communion with God? look to thyself, take care of thy affections; they will be gadding and wandering, and that from their aversation to what thou hast in hand.” There is not any good that we would do wherein we may not find this aversation exercising itself. “When I would do good, evil is present with me;” — “At any time, at all times, when I would do any thing that is spiritually good, 183it is present, — that is, to hinder me, to obstruct me in my duty; because it abhors and loathes the thing which I have in hand, it will keep me off from it if it be possible.” In them in whom it prevails, it comes at length unto that frame which is expressed, Ezek. xxxiii. 31. It will allow an outward, bodily presence unto the worship of God, wherein it is not concerned, but it keeps the heart quite away.
It may be some will pretend they find it not so in themselves, but they have freedom and liberty in and unto all the duties of obedience that they attend unto. But I fear this pretended liberty will be found, upon examination, to arise from one or both of these causes:— First, Ignorance of the true state and condition of their own souls, of their inward man and its actings towards God. They know not how it is with them, and therefore are not to be believed in what they report. They are in the dark, and neither know what they do nor whither they are going. It is like the Pharisee knew little of this matter; which made him boast of his duties to God himself. Or, secondly, It may be, whatever duties of worship or obedience such persons perform, they may, through want of faith and an interest in Christ, have no communion with them; and if so, sin will make but little opposition unto them therein. We speak of them whose hearts are exercised with these things. And if under their complaints of them, and groanings for deliverance from them, others cry out unto them, “Stand off, we are holier than ye,” they are willing to bear their condition, as knowing that their way may be safe, though it be troublesome; and being willing to see their own dangers, that they may avoid the ruin which others fall into.
Let us, then, a little consider this aversation in such acts of obedience as wherein there is no concernment but that of God and the soul. In public duties there may be a mixture of other considerations; they may be so influenced by custom and necessity, that a right judgment cannot from them be made of this matter. But let us take into consideration the duties of retirement, as private prayer and meditation, and the like; or else extraordinary duties, or duties to be performed in an extraordinary manner:—
1. In these will this aversation and loathing oftentimes discover itself in the affections. A secret striving will be in them about close and cordial dealing with God, unless the hand of God in his Spirit be high and strong upon his soul. Even when convictions, sense of duty, dear and real esteem of God and communion with him, have carried the soul into its closet, yet if there be not the vigour and power of a spiritual life constantly at work, there will be a secret loathness in them unto duty; yea, sometimes there will be a violent inclination to the contrary, so that the soul had rather do any thing, embrace any diversion, though it wound itself thereby, than vigorously 184apply itself unto that which in the inward man it breathes after. It is weary before it begins, and says, “When will the work be over?” Here God and the soul are immediately concerned; and it is a great conquest to do what we would, though we come exceedingly short of what we should do.
2. It discovers itself in the mind also. When we address ourselves to God in Christ, we are, as Job speaks, to “fill our mouths with arguments,” Job xxiii. 4, that we may be able to plead with him, as he calls upon us to do: Isa. xliii. 26, “Put me in remembrance; let us plead together.” Whence the church is called upon to take unto itself words or arguments in going to God, Hos. xiv. 2. The sum is, that the mind should be furnished with the considerations that are prevailing with God, and be in readiness to plead them, and to manage them in the most spiritual manner, to the best advantage. Now, is there no difficulty to get the mind into such a frame as to lay out itself to the utmost in this work; to be clear, steady, and constant in its duty; to draw out and make use of its stores and furniture of promises and experiences? It starts, wanders, flags, — all from this secret aversation unto communion with God, which proceeds from the law of indwelling sin. Some complain that they can make no work of meditation, — they cannot bend their minds unto it. I confess there may be a great cause of this in their want of a right understanding of the duty itself, and of the ways of managing the soul in it; which therefore I shall a little speak to afterward: but yet this secret enmity hath its hand in the loss they are at also, and that both in their minds and in their affections. Others are forced to live in family and public duties, they find such little benefit and success in private. And here hath been the beginning of the apostasy of many professors, and the source of many foolish, sensual opinions. Finding this aversation in their minds and affections from closeness and constancy in private spiritual duties, not knowing how to conquer and prevail against these difficulties through Him who enables us, they have at first been subdued to a neglect of them, first partial, then total, until, having lost all conscience of them, they have had a door opened unto all sin and licentiousness, and so to a full and utter apostasy. I am persuaded there are very few that apostatize from a profession of any continuance, such as our days abound withal, but their door of entrance into the folly of backsliding was either some great and notorious sin that blooded their consciences, tainted their affections, and intercepted all delight of having any thing more to do with God; or else it was a course of neglect in private duties, arising from a weariness of contending against that powerful aversation which they found in themselves unto them. And this also, through the craft of Satan, hath been improved into many foolish 185and sensual opinions of living unto God without and above any duties of communion. And we find, that after men have for a while choked and blinded their consciences with this pretence, cursed wickedness or sensuality hath been the end of their folly. And the reason of all this is, that the giving way to the law of sin in the least is the giving strength unto it. To let it alone, is to let it grow; not to conquer it, is to be conquered by it.
As it is in respect of private, so it is also in respect of public duties, that have any thing extraordinary in them. What strivings, strugglings, and pleadings are there in the heart about them, especially against the spirituality of them! Yea, in and under them, will not the mind and affections sometimes be entangled with things uncouth, new, and strange unto them, such as, at the time of the least serious business, a man would not deign to take into his thoughts? But if the least loose, liberty, or advantage be given unto indwelling sin, if it be not perpetually watched over, it will work to a strange and unexpected issue. In brief, let the soul unclothe any duty whatever, private or public, any thing that is called good, — let a man divest it of all outward respects which secretly insinuate themselves into the mind and give it some complacency in what it is about, but do not render it acceptable unto God — and he shall assuredly find somewhat of the power and some of the effects of this aversation. It begins in loathness and indisposition; goes on with entangling the mind and affections with other things; and will end, if not prevented, in weariness of God, which he complains of in his people, Isa. xliii. 22. They ceased from duty because they were “weary of God.”
But this instance being of great importance unto professors in their walking with God, we must not pass it over without some intimations of directions for them in their contending against it and opposition to it. Only this must be premised, that I am not giving directions for the mortifying of indwelling sin in general, — which is to be done alone by the Spirit of Christ, by virtue of our union with him, Rom. viii. 13, — but only of our particular duty with reference unto this especial evil or effect of indwelling sin that we have a little insisted on, or what in this single case the wisdom of faith seems to direct unto and call for; which will be our way and course in our process upon the consideration of other effects of it.
1. The great means to prevent the fruits and effects of this aversation is the constant keeping of the soul in a universally holy frame. As this weakens the whole law of sin, so answerably all its properties, and particularly this aversation. It is this frame only that will enable us to say with the Psalmist, Ps. lvii. 7, “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed.” It is utterly impossible to keep the heart in a prevailing holy frame in any one duty, unless it be so in and 186unto all and every one. If sin-entanglements get hold in any one thing, they will put themselves upon the soul in every thing. — A constant, even frame and temper in all duties, in all ways, is the only preservative for any one way. Let not him who is neglective in public persuade himself that all will be clear and easy in private, or on the contrary. There is a harmony in obedience; break but one part, and you interrupt the whole. Our wounds in particular arise generally from negligence as to the whole course; so David informs us, Ps. cxix. 6, “Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments.” A universal respect to all God’s commandments is the only preservative from shame; and nothing have we more reason to be ashamed of than the shameful miscarriages of our hearts in point of duty, which are from the principle before mentioned.
2. Labour to prevent the very beginnings of the workings of this aversation; let grace be beforehand with it in every duty. We are directed, 1 Pet. iv. 7, to “watch unto prayer;” and as it is unto prayer, so unto every duty, — that is, to consider and take care that we be not hindered from within nor from without as to a due performance of it. Watch against temptations, to oppose them; watch against the aversation that is in sin, to prevent it. As we are not to give place to Satan, no more are we to sin. If it be not prevented in its first attempts it will prevail. My meaning is: Whatever good, as the apostle speaks, we have to do, and find evil present with us (as we shall find it present), prevent its parleying with the soul, its insinuating of poison into the mind and affections, by a vigorous, holy, violent stirring up of the grace or graces that are to be acted and set at work peculiarly in that duty. Let Jacob come first into the world; or, if prevented by the violence of Esau, let him lay hold on his heel, to overthrow him and obtain the birthright. Upon the very first motion of Peter to our Saviour, crying, “Master, spare thyself,” he immediately replies, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” So ought we to say, “Get thee gone, thou law of sin, thou present evil;” and it may be of the same use unto us. Get grace, then, up betimes unto duty, and be early in the rebukes of sin.
3. Though it do its worst, yet be sure it never prevail to a conquest. Be sure you be not wearied out by its pertinacity, nor driven from your hold by its importunity; do not faint by its opposition. Take the apostle’s advice, Heb. vi. 11, 12, “We desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: that ye be not slothful.” Still hold out in the same diligence. There are many ways whereby men are driven from a constant holy performance of duties, all of them dangerous, if not pernicious to the soul. Some are diverted by business, some by company, 187some by the power of temptations, some discouraged by their own darkness; but none so dangerous as this, when the soul gives over in part or in whole, as wearied by the aversation of sin unto it, or to communion with God in it. This argues the soul’s giving up of itself unto the power of sin; which, unless the Lord break the snare of Satan therein, will assuredly prove ruinous. Our Saviour’s instruction is, that “we ought always to pray, and not to faint,” Luke xviii. 1. Opposition will arise, — none so bitter and keen as that from our own hearts; if we faint, we perish. “Take heed lest ye be wearied,” saith the apostle, “and faint in your minds,” Heb. xii. 3. Such a fainting as attended with a weariness, and that with a giving place to the aversation working in our hearts, is to be avoided, if we would not perish. The caution is the same with that of the same apostle, Rom. xii. 12, “Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing instant in prayer;” and in general with that of chap. vi. 12, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.” To cease from duty, in part or in whole, upon the aversation of sin unto its spirituality, is to give sin the rule, and to obey it in the lusts thereof. Yield not, then, unto it, but hold out the conflict; wait on God, and ye shall prevail: Isa. xl. 31, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” But that which is now so difficult will increase in difficulty if we give way unto it; but if we abide in our station, we shall prevail. The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
4. Carry about a constant, humbling sense of this close aversation unto spiritualness that yet lies in our nature. If men find the efficacy of it, what should, what consideration can, be more powerful, to bring them unto humble walking with God? That after all the discoveries that God hath made of himself unto them, all the kindness they have received from him, his doing of them good and not evil in all things, there should yet be such a heart of unkindness and unbelief still abiding as to have an aversation lying in it to communion with him, — how ought the thoughts of it to cast us into the dust! to fill us with shame and self-abhorrency all our days! What have we found in God, in any of our approaches or addresses unto him, that it should be thus with us? What iniquity have we found in him? Hath he been a wilderness unto us, or a land of darkness? Did we ever lose any thing by drawing nigh unto him? nay, hath not therein lain all the rest and peace which we have obtained? Is not he the fountain and spring of all our mercies, of all our desirable things? Hath he not bid us welcome at our coming? Have we not received from him more than heart can conceive or tongue express? 188What ails, then, our foolish and wretched hearts, to harbour such a cursed secret dislike of him and his ways? Let us be ashamed and astonished at the consideration of it, and walk in an humbling sense of it all our days. Let us carry it about with us in the most secret of our thoughts. And as this is a duty in itself acceptable unto God, who delights to dwell with them that are of an humble and contrite spirit, so it is of exceeding efficacy to the weakening of the evil we treat of.
5. Labour to possess the mind with the beauty and excellency of spiritual things, that so they may be presented lovely and desirable to the soul; and this cursed aversation of sin will be weakened thereby. It is an innate acknowledged principle, that the soul of man will not keep up cheerfully unto the worship of God unless it have a discovery of a beauty and comeliness in it. Hence, when men had lost all spiritual sense and savour of the things of God, to supply the want that was in their own souls, they invented outwardly pompous and gorgeous ways of worship, in images, paintings, pictures, and I know not what carnal ornaments; which they have called “The beauties of holiness!” Thus much, however, was discovered therein, that the mind of man must see a beauty, a desirableness in the things of God’s worship, or it will not delight in it; aversation will prevail. Let, then, the soul labour to acquaint itself with the spiritual beauty of obedience, of communion with God, and of all duties of immediate approach to him, that it may be rifled with delight in them. It is not my present work to discover the heads and springs of that beauty and desirableness which is in spiritual duties, in their relation to God, the eternal spring of all beauty, — to Christ, the love, desire, and hope of all nations, — to the Spirit, the great beautifier of souls, rendering them by his grace all glorious within; in their suitableness to the souls of men, as to their actings towards their last end, in the rectitude and holiness of the rule in attendance whereunto they are to be performed. But I only say at present, in general, that to acquaint the soul throughly with these things is an eminent way of weakening the aversation spoken of.
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