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The power of sin farther demonstrated by the effects it hath had in the lives of professors — First, in actual sins — Secondly, in habitual declensions.
We are now to proceed unto other evidences of that sad truth which we are in the demonstration of. But the main of our work being passed through, I shall be more brief in the management of the arguments that do remain.
That, then, which in the next place may be fixed upon, is the demonstration 279which this law of sin hath in all ages given of its power and efficacy, by the woful fruits that it hath brought forth, even in believers themselves. Now, these are of two sorts:— 1. The great actual eruptions of sin in their lives; 2. Their habitual declensions from the frames, state, and condition of obedience and communion with God, which they had obtained; — both which, by the rule of James, before unfolded, are to be laid to the account of this law of sin, and belong unto the fourth head of its progress, and are both of them convincing evidences of its power and efficacy.
1. Consider the fearful eruptions of actual sin that have been in the lives of believers, and we shall find our position evidenced. Should I go through at large with this consideration, I must recount all the sad and scandalous failings of the saints that are left on record in the holy Scripture; but the particulars of them are known to all, so that I shall not need to mention them, nor the many aggravations that in their circumstances they are attended with. Only some few things tending to the rendering of our present consideration of them useful may be remarked; as, —
(1.) They are most of them in the lives of men that were not of the lowest form or ordinary sort of believers, but of men that had a peculiar eminency in them on the account of their walking with God in their generation. Such were Noah, Lot, David, Hezekiah, and others. They were not men of an ordinary size, but higher than their brethren, by the shoulders and upwards, in profession, yea, in real holiness. And surely that must needs be of a mighty efficacy that could hurry such giants in the ways of God into such abominable sins as they fell into. An ordinary engine could never have turned them out of the course of their obedience. It was a poison that no athletic constitution of spiritual health, no antidote, could withstand.
(2.) And these very men fell not into their great sins at the beginning of their profession, when they had had but little experience of the goodness of God, of the sweetness and pleasantness of obedience, of the power and craft of sin, of its impulsions, solicitations, and surprisals; but after a long course of walking with God, and acquaintance with all these things, together with innumerable motives unto watchfulness. Noah, according to the lives of men in those days of the world, had walked uprightly with God some hundreds of years before he was so surprised as he was, Gen. ix. Righteous Lot seems to have been towards the end of his days ere he defiled himself with the abominations recorded. David, in a short life, had as much experience of grace and sin, and as much close, spiritual communion with God, as ever had any of the sons of men, before he was cast to the ground by this law of sin. So was it with Hezekiah in his degree, which was none of the meanest. Now, to set upon such persons, so 280well acquainted with its power and deceit, so armed and provided against it, that had been conquerors over it for so many years, and to prevail against them, it argues a power and efficacy too mighty for every thing but the Spirit of the Almighty to withstand. Who can look to have a greater stock of inherent grace than those men had; to have more experience of God and the excellency of his ways, the sweetness of his love and of communion with him, than they had? who hath either better furniture to oppose sin withal, or more obligation so to do, than they? and yet we see how fearfully they were prevailed against.
(3.) As if God had permitted their falls on set purpose, that we might learn to be wary of this powerful enemy, they all of them fell out when they had newly received great and stupendous mercies from the hand of God, that ought to have been strong obligations unto diligence and watchfulness in close obedience. Noah was but newly come forth of that world of waters, wherein he saw the ungodly world perishing for their sins, and himself preserved by that astonishable miracle which all ages must admire. Whilst the world’s desolation was an hourly remembrancer unto him of his strange preservation by the immediate care and hand of God, he falls into drunkenness. Lot had newly seen that which every one that thinks on cannot but tremble, lie saw, as one speaks, “hell coming out of heaven” upon unclean sinners; the greatest evidence, except the cross of Christ, that God ever gave in his providence of the judgment to come. He saw himself and children delivered by the special care and miraculous hand of God; and yet, whilst these strange mercies were fresh upon him, he fell into drunkenness and incest. David was delivered out of all his troubles, and had the necks of his enemies given him round about, and he makes use of his peace from a world of trials and troubles to contrive murder and adultery. Immediately it was after Hezekiah’s great and miraculous deliverance that he falls into his carnal pride and boasting. I say, their falls in such seasons seem to be permitted on set purpose to instruct us all in the truth that we have in hand; so that no persons, in no seasons, with what furniture of grace soever, can promise themselves security from its prevalency any other ways than by keeping close constantly to Him who hath supplies to give out that are above its reach and efficacy. Methinks this should make us look about us. Are we better than Noah, who had that testimony from God, that he was “a perfect man in his generations,” and “walked with God?” Are we better than Lot, whose “righteous soul was vexed with the evil deeds of ungodly men,” and is therefore commended by the Holy Ghost? Are we more holy, wise, and watchful than David, who obtained this testimony, that he was “a man after God’s own heart?” or better than 281Hezekiah, who appealed to God himself, that he had served him uprightly, with a perfect heart? And yet what prevalency this law of sin wrought in and over them we see. And there is no end of the like examples. They are all set up as buoys to discover unto us the sands, the shelves, the rocks, whereupon they made their shipwreck, to their hazard, danger, loss, yea, and would have done to their ruin, had not God been pleased in his faithfulness graciously to prevent it. And this is the first part of this evidence of the power of sin from its effects.
2. It manifests its power in the habitual declensions from zeal and holiness, from the frames, state, and condition of obedience and communion with God whereunto they had attained, which are found in many believers. Promises of growth and improvement are many and precious, the means excellent and effectual, the benefits great and unspeakable; yet it often falls out, that instead hereof decays and declensions are found upon professors, yea, in and upon many of the saints of God. Now, whereas this must needs principally and chiefly be from the strength and efficacy of indwelling sin, and is therefore a great evidence thereof, I shall first evince the observation itself to be true, — namely, that some of the saints themselves do oftentimes so decline from that growth and improvement in faith, grace, and holiness which might justly be expected from them, — and then show that the cause of this evil lies in that that we are treating of. And that it is the cause of total apostasy in unsound professors shall be after declared. But this is a greater work which we have in hand. The prevailing upon true believers unto a sinful declension and gradual apostasy, requires a putting forth of more strength and efficacy than the prevailing upon unsound professors unto total apostasy; as the wind which will blow down a dead tree that hath no root to the ground will scarcely shake or bow a living, well-rooted tree. But this it will do. There is mention made in the Scripture of “the first ways of David,” and they are commended above his latter, 2 Chron. xvii. 3. The last ways even of David were tainted with the power of indwelling sin. Though we have mention only of the actual eruption of sin, yet that uncleanness and pride which was working in him in his numbering of the people were certainly rooted in a declension from his first frame. Those rushes did not grow without mire. David would not have clone so in his younger days, when he followed God in the wilderness of temptations and trials, full of faith, love, humility, brokenness of heart, zeal, tender affection unto all the ordinances of God; all which were eminent in him. But his strength is impaired by the efficacy and deceitfulness of sin, his locks cut, and he becomes a prey to vile lusts and temptations. We have a notable instance in most of the churches that our Saviour 282awakens to the consideration of their condition in the Revelation. We may single out one of them. Many good things were there in the church of Ephesus, Rev. ii. 2, 3, for which it is greatly commended; but yet it is charged with a decay, a declension, a gradual falling off and apostasy: Verses 4, 5, “Thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works.” There was a decay, both inward, in the frame of heart, as to faith and love, and outward, as to obedience and works, in comparison of what they had formerly, by the testimony of Christ himself. The same also might be showed concerning the rest of those churches, only one or two of them excepted. Five of them are charged with decays and declensions. Hence there is mention in the Scripture of the “kindness of youth,” of the “love of espousals,” with great commendation, Jer. ii. 2, 3; of our “first faith,” 1 Tim. v. 12; of “the beginning of our confidence,” Heb. iii. 14. And cautions are given that we “lose not the things that we have wrought,” 2 John 8. But what need we look back or search for instances to confirm the truth of this observation? An habitual declension from first engagements unto God, from first attainments of communion with God, from first strictness in duties of obedience, is ordinary and common amongst professors.
Might we to this purpose take a general view of the professors in these nations, — among whom the lot of the best of us will be found, in part or in whole, in somewhat or in all, to fall, — we might be plentifully convinced of the truth of this observation:—
(1.) Is their zeal for God as warm, living, vigorous, effectual, solicitous, as it was in their first giving themselves unto God? or rather, is there not a common, slight, selfish frame of spirit in the room of it come upon most professors? Iniquity hath abounded, and their love hath waxed cold. Was it not of old a burden to their spirits to hear the name, and ways, and worship of God blasphemed and profaned? Could they not have said, with the psalmist, Ps. cxix. 136, “Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because men keep not thy law?” Were not their souls solicitous about the interest of Christ in the world, like Eli’s about the ark? Did they not contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints, and every parcel of it, especially wherein the grace of God and the glory of the gospel was especially concerned? Did they not labour to judge and condemn the world by a holy and separate conversation? And do now the generality of professors abide in this frame? Have they grown, and made improvement in it? or is there not a coldness and indifference grown upon the spirits of many in this thing? yea, do not many despise all these things, and look upon their own former zeal as folly? May we not see many, who have formerly been of esteem in ways of profession, 283become daily a scorn and reproach through their miscarriages, and that justly, to the men of the world? Is it not with them as it was of old with the daughters of Zion, Isa. iii. 24, when God judged them for their sins and wantonness? Hath not the world and self utterly ruined their profession? and are they not regardless of the things wherein they have formerly declared a singular concermnent? yea, are not some come, partly on one pretence, partly on another, to an open enmity unto, and hatred of, the ways of God? They please them no more, but are evil in their eyes. But not to mention such open apostates any farther, whose hypocrisy the Lord Jesus Christ will shortly judge, how is it with the best? Are not almost all men grown cold and slack as to these things? are they not less concerned in them than formerly? are they not grown weary, selfish in their religion; and so things be indifferent well at home, scarce care how they go abroad in the world? at least, do they not prefer their ease, credit, safety, secular advantages before these things? — a frame that Christ abhors, and declares that those in whom it prevails are none of his. Some, indeed, seem to retain a good zeal for truth; but wherein they make the fairest appearance, therein will they be found to be most abominable. They cry out against errors, — not for truth, but for party’s and interest’s sake. Let a man be on their party and promote their interest, be he never so corrupt in his judgment, he is embraced, and, it may be, admired. This is not zeal for God, but for a man’s self. It is not, “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up,” but, “Master, forbid them, because they follow not with us.” Better it were, doubtless, for men never to pretend unto any zeal at all than to substitute such wrathful selfishness in the room of it.
(2.) Is men’s delight in the ordinances and worship of God the same as in former days? do they find the same sweetness and relish in them as they have done of old? How precious hath the word been to them formerly! What joy and delight have they had in attendance thereon! How would they have run and gone to have been made partakers of it, where it was dispensed in its power and purity, in the evidence and demonstration of the Spirit! Did they not call the Sabbath their delight, and was not the approach of it a real joy unto their souls? Did they not long after the converse and corn-mullion of saints, and could they not undergo manifold perils for the attainment of it? And doth this frame still abide upon them? Are there not decays and declensions to be found amongst them? May it not be said, “Grey hairs are here and there upon them, and they perceive it not?” Yea, are not men ready to say with them of old, “What a weariness is it!” Mal. i. 13. It is even a burden and a weariness to be tied up to the observation of all these ordinances. What need we be at all so strict in the observation of the Sabbath? 284What need we hear so often? What need this distinction in hearing? Insensibly a great disrespect, yea, even a contempt of the pleasant and excellent ways of Christ and his gospel is fallen upon many professors.
(3.) May not the same conviction be farther carried on by an inquiry into the universal course of obedience and the performance of duties that men have been engaged in? Is there the same conscientious tenderness of sinning abiding in many as was in days of old, the same exact performance of private duties, the same love to the brethren, the same readiness for the cross, the same humility of mind and spirit, the same self-denial? The steam of men’s lusts, wherewith the air is tainted, will not suffer us so to say.
We need, then, go no farther than this wretched generation wherein we live, to evince the truth of the observation laid down as the foundation of the instance insisted on. The Lord give repentance before it be too late!
Now, all these declensions, all these decays, that are found in some professors, they all proceed from this root and cause; — they are all the product of indwelling sin, and all evince the exceeding power and efficacy of it: for the proof whereof I shall not need to go farther than the general rule which out of James we have already considered, — namely, that lust or indwelling sin is the cause of all actual sin and all habitual declensions in believers. This is that which the apostle intends in that place to teach and declare. I shall, therefore, handle these two things, and show, — 1. That this doth evince a great efficacy and power in sin; 2. Declare the ways and means whereby it brings forth or brings about this cursed effect; — all in design of our general end, in calling upon and cautioning believers to avoid it, to oppose it.
1. It appears to be a work of great power and efficacy from the provision that is made against it, which it prevails over. There is in the covenant of grace plentiful provision made, not only for the preventing of declensions and decays in believers, but also for their continual carrying on towards perfection; as, —
(1.) The word itself and all the ordinances of the gospel are appointed and given unto us for this end, Eph. iv. 11–15. That which is the end of giving gospel officers to the church is the end also of giving all the ordinances to be administered by them; for they are given “for the work of the ministry,” — that is, for the administration of the ordinances of the gospel. Now, what is or what are these ends? They are all for the preventing of decays and declensions in the saints, all for the carrying them on to perfection; so it is said, verse 12. In general, it is for the “perfecting of the saints,” carrying on the work of grace in them, and the work of holiness and 285obedience by them; or for the edifying of the body of Christ, their building up in an increase of faith and love, even of every true member of the mystical body. But how far are they appointed thus to carry them on, thus to build them up? Hath it bounds fixed to its work? Doth it carry them so far, and then leave them? “No,” saith the apostle, verse 13. The dispensation of the word of the gospel, and the ordinances thereof, is designed for our help, assistance, and furtherance, until the whole work of faith and obedience is consummate. It is appointed to perfect and complete that faith, knowledge, and growth in grace and holiness, which is allotted unto us in this world. But what and if oppositions and temptations do lie in the way, Satan and his instruments working with great subtlety and deceit? Why, verse 14, these ordinances are designed for our safeguarding and deliverance from all their attempts and assaults, that so being preserved in the use of them, or “speaking the truth in love, we may grow up unto him in all things who is the head, even Christ Jesus.” This is, in general, the use of all gospel ordinances, the chief and main end for which they were given and appointed of God, — namely, to preserve believers from all decays of faith and obedience, and to carry them on still towards perfection. These are means which God, the good husbandman, makes use of to cause the vine to thrive and bring forth fruit. And I could also manifest the same to be the especial end of them distinctly. Briefly, the word is milk and strong meat, for the nourishing and strengthening of all sorts and all degrees of believers. It hath both seed and water in it, and manuring with it, to make them fruitful The ordinance of the supper is appointed on purpose for the strengthening of our faith, in the remembrance of the death of the Lord, and the exercise of love one towards another. The communion of saints is for the edifying each other in faith, love, and obedience.
(2.) There is that which adds weight to this consideration. God suffers us not to be unmindful of this assistance he hath afforded us, but is continually calling upon us to make use of the means appointed for the attaining of the end proposed. He shows them unto us, as the angel showed the water-spring to Hagar. Commands, exhortations, promises, threatenings, are multiplied to this purpose; see them summed up, Heb. ii. 1. He is continually saying to us, “Why will ye die? why will ye wither and decay? Come to the pastures provided for you, and your souls shall live.” If we see a lamb run from the fold into the wilderness, we wonder not if it be torn and rent of wild beasts. If we see a sheep leaving its green pastures and watercourses, to abide in dry barren heaths, we count it no marvel, nor inquire farther, if we see him lean and ready to perish; but if we find lambs wounded in the fold, we wonder at the boldness and rage of 286the beasts of prey that durst set upon them there. If we see sheep pining in full pastures, we judge them to be diseased and unsound. It is indeed no marvel that poor creatures who forsake their own mercies, and run away from the pasture and fold of Christ in his ordinances, are rent and torn with divers lusts, and do pine away with hunger and famine; but to see men living under and enjoying all the means of spiritual thriving, yet to decay, not to be fat and flourishing, but rather daily to pine and wither, this argues some secret powerful distemper, whose poisonous and noxious qualities hinder the virtue and efficacy of the means they enjoy. This is indwelling sin. So wonderfully powerful, so effectually poisonous it is, that it can bring leanness on the souls of men in the midst of all precious means of growth and flourishing. It may well make us tremble, to see men living under and in the use of the means of the gospel, preaching, praying, administration of sacraments, and yet grow colder every day than others in zeal for God, more selfish and worldly, even habitually to decline as to the degrees of holiness which they had attained unto.
(3.) Together with the dispensation of the outward means of spiritual growth or improvement, there are also supplies of grace continually afforded the saints from their head, Christ. He is the head of all the saints; and he is a living head, and so a living head as that he tells us that “because he liveth we shall live also,” John xiv. 19. He communicates of spiritual life to all that are His. In him is the fountain of our life; which is therefore said to be “hid with him in God,” Col. iii. 3. And this life he gives unto his saints by quickening of them by his Spirit, Rom. viii. 11; and he continues it unto them by the supplies of living grace which he communicates unto them. From these two, his quickening of us, and continually giving out supplies of life unto us, he is said to live in us: Gal. ii. 20, “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me;” — “The spiritual life which I have is not mine own; not from myself was it educed, not by myself is it maintained, but it is merely and solely the work of Christ: so that it is not I that live, but he lives in me, the whole of my life being from him alone.” Neither doth this living head communicate only a bare life unto believers, that they should merely live and no more, a poor, weak, dying life, as it were; but he gives out sufficiently to afford them a strong, vigorous, thriving, flourishing life, John x. 10. He comes not only that his sheep “may have life,” but that “they may have it more abundantly;” that is, in a plentiful manner, so as that they may flourish, be fat and fruitful. Thus is it with the whole body of Christ, and every member thereof, Eph. iv. 15, 16, whereby it “grows up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working 287in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” The end of all communications of grace and supplies of life from this living and blessed head, is the increase of the whole body and every member of it, and the edifying of itself in love. His treasures of grace are unsearchable; his stores inexhaustible; his life, the fountain of ours, full and eternal; his heart bounteous and large; his hand open and liberal: so that there is no doubt but that he communicates supplies of grace for their increase in holiness abundantly unto all his saints. Whence, then, is it that they do not all flourish and thrive accordingly? As you may see it oftentimes in a natural body, so is it here. Though the seat and rise of the blood and spirits in head and heart be excellently good and sound, yet there may be a withering member in the body; somewhat intercepts the influences of life unto it, so that though the heart and head do perform their orifice, in giving of supplies no less to that than they do to any other member, yet all the effect produced is merely to keep it from utter perishing, — it grows weak and decays every day. The withering and decaying of any member in Christ’s mystical body is not for the want of his communication of grace for an abundant life, but from the powerful interception that is made of the efficacy of it, by the interposition and opposition of indwelling sin. Hence it is that where lust grows strong, a great deal of grace will but keep the soul alive, and not give it any eminency in fruitfulness at all. Oftentimes Christ gives very much grace where not many of its effects do appear. It spends its strength and power in withstanding the continual assaults of violent corruptions and lusts, so that it cannot put forth its proper virtue towards farther fruitfulness. As a virtuous medicine, that is fit both to check vicious and noxious humours, and to comfort, refresh, and strengthen nature, if the evil humour be strong and greatly prevailing, spends its whole strength and virtue in the subduing and correcting of it, contributing much less to the relief of nature than otherwise it would do, if it met not with such opposition; so is it with the eye-salve and the healing grace which we have abundantly from the wings of the Sun of Righteousness. It is forced oftentimes to put forth its virtue to oppose and contend against, and in any measure subdue, prevailing lusts and corruptions. That the soul receiveth not that strengthening unto duties and fruitfulness which otherwise it might receive by it is from hence. How sound, healthy, and flourishing, how fruitful and exemplary in holiness, might many a soul be by and with that grace which is continually communicated to it from Christ, which now, by reason of the power of indwelling sin, is only not dead, but weak, withering, and useless! And this, if any thing, is a notable evidence of the efficacy of indwelling sin, that it is able to give such a stop and check 288to the mighty and effectual power of grace, so that notwithstanding the blessed and continual supplies that we receive from our Head, yet many believers do decline and decay, and that habitually, as to what they had attained unto, their last ways not answering their first. This makes the vineyard in the “very fruitful hill” to bring forth so many wild grapes; this makes so many trees barren in fertile fields.
(4.) Besides the continual supplies of grace that constantly, according to the tenure of the covenant, are communicated unto believers, which keeps them that they thirst no more as to a total indigence, there is, moreover, a readiness in the Lord Christ to yield peculiar succour to the souls of his, according as their occasions shall require. The apostle tells us that he is “a merciful High Priest,” and “able” (that is, ready, prepared, and willing) “to succour them that are tempted,” Heb. ii. 18; and we are on that account invited to “come with boldness to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need,” — that is, grace sufficient, seasonable, suitable unto any especial trial or temptation that we may be exercised withal. Our merciful High Priest is ready to give out this especial seasonable grace over and above those constant communications of supplies of the Spirit which we mentioned before. Besides the never-failing springs of ordinary covenant grace, he hath also peculiar refreshing showers for times of drought; and this is exceedingly to the advantage of the saints for their preservation and growth in grace; and there may very many more of the like nature be added. But now, I say, notwithstanding all these, and the residue of the like importance, such is the power and efficacy of indwelling sin, so great its deceitfulness and restlessness, so many its wiles and temptations, it often falls out that many of them for whose growth and improvement all this provision is made do yet, as was showed, go back and decline, even as to their course of walking with God. Samson’s strength fully evidenced itself when he brake seven new withes and seven new cords, wherewith he was bound, as burning tow and as thread. The noxious humour in the body, which is so stubborn as that no use of the most sovereign remedies can prevail against it, ought to be regarded. Such is this indwelling sin if not watched over. It breaks all the cords made to bind it; it blunts the instruments appointed to root it up; it resists all healing medicines, though never so sovereign; and is therefore assuredly of exceeding efficacy. Besides, believers have innumerable obligations upon them, from the love, the command of God, to grow in grace, to press forward towards perfection, as they have abundant means provided for them so to do. Their doing so is a matter of the greatest advantage, profit, sweetness, contentment unto them in the world. It is the burden, the trouble of their souls, that they do not so do, that they are not more 289holy, more zealous, useful, fruitful; they desire it above life itself. They know it is their duty to watch against this enemy, to fight against it, to pray against it; and so they do. They more desire his destruction than the enjoyment of all this world and all that it can afford. And yet, notwithstanding all this, such is the subtlety, and fraud, and violence, and fury, and urgency, and importunity of this adversary, that it frequently prevails to bring them into the woful condition mentioned. Hence it is with believers sometimes as it is with men in some places at sea. They have a good and fair gale of wind, it may be, all night long; they ply their tackling, attend diligently their business, and, it may be, take great contentment to consider how they proceed in their voyage. In the morning, or after a season, coming to measure what way they have made, and what progress they have had, they find that they axe much backward of what they were, instead of getting one step forward. Falling into a swift tide or current against them, it hath frustrated all their labours, and rendered the wind in their sails almost useless; somewhat thereby they have borne up against the stream, but have made no progress. So is it with believers. They have a good gale of supplies of the Spirit from above; they attend duties diligently, pray constantly, hear attentively, and omit nothing that may carry them on their voyage towards eternity; but after a while, coming seriously to consider, by the examination of their hearts and ways, what progress they have made, they find that all their assistance and duties have not been able to bear them up against some strong tide or current of indwelling sin. It hath kept them, indeed, that they have not been driven and split on rocks and shelves, — it hath preserved them from gross, scandalous sins: but yet they have lost in their spiritual frame, or gone backwards, and are entangled under many woful decays; which is a notable evidence of the life of sin, about which we are treating. Now, because the end of our discovering this power of sin is, that we may be careful to obviate and prevent it in its operation; and, because of all the effects that it produceth, there is none more dangerous or pernicious than that we have last insisted on, — namely, that it prevails upon many professors unto an habitual declension from their former ways and attainments, notwithstanding all the sweetness and excellency which their souls have found in them; — I shall, as was said, in the next place, consider by what ways and means, and through what assistance, it usually prevails in this kind, that we may the better be instructed to watch against it.
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