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The conception of sin through its deceit — Wherein it consisteth — The consent of the will unto sin — The nature thereof — Ways and means whereby it is obtained — Other advantages made use of by the deceit of sin — Ignorance — Error.
The third success of the deceit of sin in its progressive work is the conception of actual sin. When it hath drawn the mind off from its duty, and entangled the affections, it proceeds to conceive sin in order to the bringing of it forth: “Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin.” Now, the conception of sin, in order unto its perpetration, can be nothing but the consent of the will; for as without the consent of the will sin cannot be committed, so where the will hath consented unto it, there is nothing in the soul to hinder its actual accomplishment. God doth, indeed, by various ways and means, frustrate the bringing forth of these adulterate conceptions, causing them to melt away in the womb, or one way or other prove abortive, so that not the least part of that sin is committed which is willed or conceived; yet there is nothing in the soul itself that remains to give check unto it when once the will hath given its consent. Ofttimes, when a cloud is full of rain and ready to fall, a wind comes and drives it away; and when the will is ready to bring forth its sin, God diverts it by one wind or other: but yet the cloud was as full of rain as if it had fallen, and the soul as full of sin as if it had been committed.
252This conceiving of lust or sin, then, is its prevalency in obtaining the consent of the will unto its solicitations. And hereby the soul is deflowered of its chastity towards God in Christ, as the apostle intimates, 2 Cor. xi. 2, 3. To clear up this matter we must observe, —
1. That the will is the principle, the next seat and cause, of obedience and disobedience. Moral actions are unto us or in us so far good or evil as they partake of the consent of the will. He spake truth of old who said, “Omne peccatum est adeo voluntarium, ut non sit peccatum nisi sit voluntarium;” — “Every sin is so voluntary, that if it be not voluntary it is not sin.” It is most true of actual sins. The formality of their iniquity ariseth from the acts of the will in them and concerning them, — I mean, as to the persons that commit them; otherwise in itself the formal reason of sin is its aberration from the law of God.
2. There is a twofold consent of the will unto sin:—
(1.) That which is full, absolute, complete, and upon deliberation, — a prevailing consent; the convictions of the mind being conquered, and no principle of grace in the will to weaken it. With this consent the soul goes into sin as a ship before the wind with all its sails displayed, without any check or stop. It rusheth into sin like the horse into the battle; men thereby, as the apostle speaks, “giving themselves over to sin with greediness,” Eph. iv. 19. Thus Ahab’s will was in the murdering of Naboth. He did it upon deliberation, by contrivance, with a full consent; the doing of it gave him such satisfaction as that it cured his malady or the distemper of his mind. This is that consent of the will which is acted in the finishing and completing of sin in unregenerate persons, and is not required to the single bringing forth of sin, whereof we speak.
(2.) There is a consent of the will which is attended with a secret renitency and volition of the contrary. Thus Peter’s will was in the denying of his Master. His will was in it, or he had not done it. It was a voluntary action, that which he chose to do at that season. Sin had not been brought forth if it had not been thus conceived. But yet, at this very time, there was resident in his will a contrary principle of love to Christ, yea, and faith in him, which utterly failed not. The efficacy of it was intercepted, and its operations suspended actually, through the violent urging of the temptation that he was under; but yet it was in his will, and weakened his consent unto sin. Though it consented, it was not done with self-pleasing, which such full acts of the will do produce.
3. Although there may be a predominant consent in the will, which may suffice for the conception of particular sins, yet there cannot be an absolute, total, full consent of the will of a believer unto any sin; for, —
253(1.) There is in his will a principle fixed on good, on all good: Rom. vii. 21, “He would do good.” The principle of grace in the will inclines him to all good. And this, in general, is prevalent against the principle of sin, so that the will is denominated from thence. Grace hath the rule and dominion, and not sin, in the will of every believer. Now, that consent unto sin in the will which is contrary to the inclination and generally prevailing principle in the same will, is not, cannot be, total, absolute, and complete.
(2.) There is not only a general, ruling, prevailing principle in the will against sin, but there is also a secret reluctancy in it against its own act in consenting unto sin. It is true, the soul is not sensible sometimes of this reluctancy, because the present consent carries away the prevailing act of the will, and takes away the sense of the lusting of the Spirit, or reluctancy of the principle of grace in the will. But the general rule holdeth in all things at all times: Gal. v. 17, “The Spirit lusteth against the flesh.” It doth so actually, though not always to the same degree, nor with the same success; and the prevalency of the contrary principle in this or that particular act doth not disprove it. It is so on the other side. There is no acting of grace in the will but sin lusts against it; although that lusting be not made sensible in the soul, because of the prevalency of the contrary acting of grace, yet it is enough to keep those actings from perfection in their kind. So is it in this renitency of grace against the acting of sin in the soul; though it be not sensible in its operations, yet it is enough to keep that act from being full and complete. And much of spiritual wisdom lies in discerning aright between the spiritual renitency of the principle of grace in the will against sin, and the rebukes that are given the soul by conscience upon conviction for sin.
4. Observe, that reiterated, repeated acts of the consent of the will unto sin may beget a disposition and inclinableness in it unto the like acts, that may bring the will unto a proneness and readiness to consent unto sin upon easy solicitations; which is a condition of soul dangerous, and greatly to be watched against.
5. This consent of the will, which we have thus described, may be considered two ways:— (1.) As it is exercised about the circumstances, causes, means, and inducements unto sin. (2.) As it respects this or that actual sin.
In the first sense there is a virtual consent of the will unto sin in every inadvertency unto the prevention of it, in every neglect of duty that makes way for it, in every hearkening unto any temptation leading towards it; in a word, in all the diversions of the mind from its duty, and entanglements of the affections by sin, before mentioned: for where there is no act of the will, formally or virtually, 254there is no sin. But this is not that which we now speak of; but, in particular, the consent of the will unto this or that actual sin, so far as that either sin is committed, or is prevented by other ways and means not of our present consideration. And herein consists the conceiving of sin.
These things being supposed, that which in the next place we are to consider is, the way that the deceit of sin proceedeth in to procure the consent of the will, and so to conceive actual sin in the soul. To this purpose observe:—
1. That the will is a rational appetite, — rational as guided by the mind, and an appetite as excited by the affections; and so in its operation or actings hath respect to both, is influenced by both.
2. It chooseth nothing, consents to nothing, but “sub ratione boni,” — as it hath an appearance of good, some present good. It cannot consent to any thing under the notion or apprehension of its being evil in any kind. Good is its natural and necessary object, and therefore whatever is proposed unto it for its consent must be proposed under an appearance of being either good in itself, or good at present unto the soul, or good so circumstantiate as it is; so that, —
3. We may see hence the reason why the conception of sin is here placed as a consequent of the mind’s being drawn away and the affections being entangled. Both these have an influence into the consent of the will, and the conception of this or that actual sin thereby. Our way, therefore, here is made somewhat plain. We have seen at large how the mind is drawn away by the deceit of sin, and how the affections are entangled; — that which remains is but the proper effect of these things; for the discovery whereof we must instance in some of the special deceits, corrupt and fallacious reasonings before mentioned, and then show their prevalency on the will to a consent unto sin:—
(1.) The will is imposed upon by that corrupt reasoning, that grace is exalted in a pardon, and that mercy is provided for sinners. This first, as hath been showed, deceives the mind, and that opens the way to the will’s consent by removing a sight of evil, which the will hath an aversation unto. And this, in carnal hearts, prevails so far as to make them think that their liberty consists in being “servants of corruption,” 2 Pet. ii. 19. And the poison of it doth oftentimes taint and vitiate the minds of believers themselves; whence we are so cautioned against it in the Scripture. To what, therefore, hath been spoken before, unto the use and abuse of the doctrine of the grace of the gospel, we shall add some few other considerations, and fix upon one place of Scripture that will give light unto it There is a twofold mystery of grace, — of walking with God, and of coming unto God; 255and the great design of sin is to change the doctrine and mystery of grace in reference unto these things, and that by applying those considerations unto the one which are proper unto the other, whereby each part is hindered, and the influence of the doctrine of grace into them for their furtherance defeated. See 1 John ii. 1, 2: “These things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins.” Here is the whole design and use of the gospel briefly expressed. “These things,” saith he, “I write unto you.” What things were these? Those mentioned, chap. i. verse 2: “The life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us,” — that is, the things concerning the person and mediation of Christ; and, verse 7, that pardon, forgiveness, and expiation from sin is to be attained by the blood of Christ. But to what end and purpose doth he write these things to them? what do they teach, what do they tend unto? A universal abstinence from sin: “I write unto you,” saith he, “that ye sin not.” This is the proper, only, genuine end of the doctrine of the gospel. But to abstain from all sin is not our condition in this world: verse 8, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” What, then, shall be done in this case? In supposition of sin, that we have sinned, is there no relief provided for our souls and consciences in the gospel? Yes; saith he, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins.” There is full relief in the propitiation and intercession of Christ for us. This is the order and method of the doctrine of the gospel, and of the application of it to our own souls:— first, to keep us from sin; and then to relieve us against sin. But here entereth the deceit of sin, and puts this “new wine into old bottles,” whereby the bottles are broken, and the wine perisheth, as to our benefit by it. It changeth this method and order of the application of gospel truths. It takes up the last first, and that excludes the use of the first utterly. “If any man sin, there is pardon provided,” is all the gospel that sin would willingly suffer to abide on the minds of men. When we would come to God by believing, it would be pressing the former part, of being free from sin; when the gospel proposeth the latter principally, or the pardon of sin, for our encouragement. When we are come to God, and should walk with him, it will have only the latter proposed, that there is pardon of sin; when the gospel principally proposeth the former, of keeping ourselves from sin, the grace of God bringing salvation having appeared unto us to that end and purpose.
Now, the mind being entangled with this deceit, drawn off from its 256watch by it, diverted from the true ends of the gospel, doth several ways impose upon the will to obtain its consent:—
[1.] By a sudden surprisal in case of temptation. Temptation is the representation of a thing as a present good, a particular good, which is a real evil, a general evil. Now, when a temptation, armed with opportunity and provocation, befalls the soul, the principle of grace in the will riseth up with a rejection and detestation of it. But on a sudden, the mind being deceived by sin, breaks in upon the will with a corrupt, fallacious reasoning from gospel grace and mercy, which first staggers, then abates the will’s opposition, and then causeth it to east the scale by its consent on the side of temptation, presenting evil as a present good, and sin in the sight of God is conceived, though it be never committed. Thus is the seed of God sacrificed to Moloch, and the weapons of Christ abused to the service of the devil.
[2.] It doth it insensibly. It insinuates the poison of this corrupt reasoning by little and little, until it hath greatly prevailed. And as the whole effect of the doctrine of the gospel in holiness and obedience consists in the soul’s being cast into the frame and mold of it, Rom. vi. 17; so the whole of the apostasy from the gospel is principally the casting of the soul into the mould of this false reasoning, that sin may be indulged unto upon the account of grace and pardon. Hereby is the soul gratified in sloth and negligence, and taken off from its care as to particular duties and avoidance of particular sins. It works the soul insensibly off from the mystery of the law of grace, — to look for salvation as if we had never performed any duty, being, after we have done all, unprofitable servants, with a resting on sovereign mercy through the blood of Christ, and to attend unto duties with all diligence as if we looked for no mercy; that is, with no less care, though with more liberty and freedom. This the deceitfulness of sin endeavoureth by all means to work the soul from; and thereby debaucheth the will when its consent is required unto particular sins.
(2.) The deceived mind imposeth on the will, to obtain its consent unto sin, by proposing unto it the advantages that may accrue and arise thereby; which is one medium whereby itself also is drawn away. It renders that which is absolutely evil a present appearing good. So was it with Eve, Gen. 3. Laying aside all considerations of the law, covenant and threats of God, she all at once reflects upon the advantages, pleasures, and benefits which she should obtain by her sin, and reckons them up to solicit the consent of her will. “It is,” saith she, “good for food, pleasant to the eyes, and to be desired to make one wise.” What should she do, then, but eat it? Her will consented, and she did so accordingly. Pleas for obedience are laid out of the way, and only the pleasures of sin are taken under consideration. 257So saith Ahab, 1 Kings xxi.; “Naboth’s vineyard is near my house, and I may make it a garden of herbs; therefore I must have it.” These considerations a deceived mind imposed on his will, until it made him obstinate in the pursuit of his covetousness through perjury and murder, to the utter ruin of himself and his family. Thus is the guilt and tendency of sin hid under the covert of advantages and pleasures, and so is conceived or resolved on in the soul.
As the mind being withdrawn, so the affections being enticed and entangled do greatly further the conception of sin in the soul by the consent of the will; and they do it two ways:—
[1.] By some hasty impulse and surprisal, being themselves stirred up, incited, and drawn forth by some violent provocation or suitable temptation, they put the whole soul, as it were, into a combustion, and draw the will into a consent unto what they are provoked unto and entangled withal. So was the case of David in the matter of Nabal. A violent provocation from the extreme unworthy carriage of that foolish churl stirs him up to wrath and revenge, 1 Sam. xxv. 13. He resolves upon it to destroy a whole family, the innocent with the guilty, verses 33, 34. Self-revenge and murder were for the season conceived, resolved, consented unto, until God graciously took him off his entangled, provoked affections surprised his will to consent unto the conception of many bloody sins. The case was the same with Asa in his anger, when he smote the prophet; and with Peter in his fear, when he denied his Master. Let that soul which would take heed of conceiving sin take heed of entangled affections; for sin may be suddenly conceived, the prevalent consent of the will may be suddenly obtained; which gives the soul a fixed guilt, though the sin itself be never actually brought forth.
[2.] Enticed affections procure the consent of the will by frequent solicitations, whereby they get ground insensibly upon it, and enthrone themselves. Take an instance in the sons of Jacob, Gen. xxxvii. 4. They hate their brother, because their father loved him. Their affections being enticed, many new occasions fall out to entangle them farther, as his dreams and the like. This lay rankling in their hearts, and never ceased soliciting their wills until they resolved upon his death. The unlawfulness, the unnaturalness of the action, the grief of their aged father, the guilt of their own souls, are all laid aside. That hatred and envy that they had conceived against him ceased not until they had got the consent of their wills to his ruin. This gradual progress of the prevalency of corrupt affections to solicit the soul unto sin the wise man excellently describes, Prov. xxiii. 31–35. And this is the common way of sin’s procedure in the destruction of souls which seem to have made some good engagements in the ways of God:— When it hath entangled them with one 258temptation, and brought the wilt to some liking of it, that presently becomes another temptation, either to the neglect of some duty or to the refusal of more light; and commonly that whereby men fall off utterly from God is not that wherewith they are first entangled. And this may briefly suffice for the third progressive act of the deceit of sin. It obtains the will’s consent unto its conception; and by this means are multitudes of sins conceived in the heart which very little less defile the soul, or cause it to contract very little less guilt, than if they were actually committed.
Unto what hath been spoken concerning the deceitfulness of indwelling sin in general, which greatly evidenceth its power and efficacy, I shall add, as a close of this discourse, one or two particular ways of its deceitful actings; consisting in advantages that it maketh use of, and means of relieving itself against that disquisition which is made after it by the word and Spirit for its ruin. One head only of each sort we shall here name:—
1. It makes great advantage of the darkness of the mind, to work out its design and intendments. The shades of a mind totally dark, — that is, devoid utterly of saving grace, — are the proper working-place of sin. Hence the effects of it are called the “works of darkness,” Eph. v. 11, Rom. xiii. 12, as springing from thence. Sin works and brings forth by the help of it. The working of lust under the covert of a dark mind is, as it were, the upper region of hell; for it lies at the next door to it for filth, horror, and confusion. Now, there is a partial darkness abiding still in believers; they “know but in part,” 1 Cor. xiii. 12. Though there be in them all a principle of saving light, — the day-star is risen in their hearts, — yet all the shades of darkness are not utterly expelled out of them in this life. And there are two parts, as it were, or principal effects of the remaining darkness that is in believers:—
(1.) Ignorance, or a nescience of the will of God, either “juris” or “facti” of the rule and law in general, or of the reference of the particular fact that lies before the mind unto the law.
(2.) Error and mistakes positively; taking that for truth which is falsehood, and that for light which is darkness. Now, of both of these doth the law of sin make great advantage for the exerting of its power in the soul.
(1.) Is there a remaining ignorance of any thing of the will of God? sin will be sure to make use of it, and improve it to the uttermost. Though Abimelech were not a believer, yet he was a person that had a moral integrity with him in his ways and actions; he declares himself to have had so in a solemn appeal to God, the searcher of all hearts, even in that wherein he miscarried, Gen. xx. 5. But being ignorant that fornication was a sin, or so great a sin as that it became 259not a morally honest man to defile himself with it, lust hurries him into that intention of evil in reference unto Sarah, as we have it there related. God complains that his people “perished for lack of knowledge,” Hos. iv. 6. Being ignorant of the mind and will of God, they rushed into evil at every command of the law of sin. Be it as to any duty to be performed, or as to any sin to be committed, if there be in it darkness or ignorance of the mind about them, sin will not lose its advantage. Many a man, being ignorant of the duty incumbent on him for the instruction of his family, casting the whole weight of it upon the public teaching, is, by the deceitfulness of sin, brought into an habitual sloth and negligence of duty. So much ignorance of the will of God and duty, so much advantage is given to the law of sin. And hence we may see what is that true knowledge which with God is acceptable. How exactly doth many a poor soul, who is low as to notional knowledge, yet walk with God! It seems they know so much, as sin hath not on that account much advantage against them; when others, high in their notions, give advantage to their lusts, even by their ignorance, though they know it not.
(2.) Error is a worse part or effect of the mind’s darkness, and gives great advantage to the law of sin. There is, indeed, ignorance in every error, but there is not error in all ignorance; and so they may be distinguished. I shall need to exemplify this but with one consideration, and that is of men who, being zealous for some error, do seek to suppress and persecute the truth. Indwelling sin desires no greater advantage. How will it every day, every hour, pour forth wrath, revilings, hard speeches; breathe revenge, murder, desolation, under the name perhaps of zeal! On this account we may see poor creatures pleasing themselves every day; as if they vaunted in their excellency, when they are foaming out their own shame. Under their real darkness and pretended zeal, sin sits securely, and fills pulpits, houses, prayers, streets, with as bitter fruits of envy, malice, wrath, hatred, evil surmises, false speakings, as full as they can hold. The common issue with such poor creatures is, the holy, blessed, meek Spirit of God withdraws from them, and leaves them visibly and openly to that evil, froward, wrathful, worldly spirit, which the law of sin hath cherished and heightened in them. Sin dwells not anywhere more secure than in such a frame. Thus, I say, it lays hold in particular of advantages to practice upon with its deceitfulness, and therein also to exert its power in the soul; whereof this single instance of its improving the darkness of the mind unto its own ends is a sufficient evidence.
2. It useth means of relieving itself against the pursuit that is made after it in the heart by the word and Spirit of grace. One also of its wiles, in the way of instance, I shall name in this kind, and 260that is the alleviation of its own guilt. It pleads for itself, that it is not so bad, so filthy, so fatal as is pretended; and this course of extenuation it proceeds in two ways:—
(1.) Absolutely. Many secret pleas it will have that the evil which it tends unto is not so pernicious as conscience is persuaded that it is; it may be ventured on without ruin. These considerations it will strongly urge when it is at work in a way of surprisal, when the soul hath no leisure or liberty to weigh its suggestions in the balance of the sanctuary; and not seldom is the will imposed on hereby, and advantages gotten to shift itself from under the sword of the Spirit:— “It is not such but that it may be let alone, or suffered to die of itself, which probably within a while it will do; no need of that violence which in mortification is to be offered; it is time enough to deal with a matter of no greater importance hereafter;” with other pleas like those before mentioned.
(2.) Comparatively; and this is a large field for its deceit and subtlety to lurk in:— “Though it is an evil indeed to be relinquished, and the soul is to be made watchful against it, yet it is not of that magnitude and degree as we may see in the lives of others, even saints of God, much less such as some saints of old have fallen into.” By these and the like pretences, I say, it seeks to evade and keep its abode in the soul when pursued to destruction. And how little a portion of its deceitfulness is it that we have declared!
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