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The strength of indwelling sin manifested from its power and effects in persons unregenerate.
It is of the power and efficacy of indwelling sin, as it remains in several degrees in believers, that we are treating. Now, I have elsewhere showed that the nature and all the natural properties of it do still remain in them; though, therefore, we cannot prove directly what is the strength of sin in them, from what its power is in those in whom it is only checked and not at all weakened, yet may we, from an observation thereof, caution believers of the real power of that mortal enemy with whom they have to do.
If the plague do violently rage in one city, destroying multitudes, and there be in another an infection of the same bind, which yet arises not unto that height and fury there, by reason of the correction that it meets withal from a better air and remedies used; yet a man may demonstrate unto the inhabitants the force and danger of that infection got in among them by the effects that it hath and doth produce among others, who have not the benefit of the preventives and preservatives which they enjoy; which will both teach them to value the means of their preservation, and be the more watchful against the power of the infection that is among them. It is so in this case. Believers may be taught what is the power and efficacy of that plague of sin which is in and among them by the effects the same plague produceth in and among others, who have not those corrections of its poison and those preservatives from death which the Lord Jesus Christ hath furnished them withal.
Having, then, fixed on the demonstration of the power of sin from the effects it doth produce, and having given a double instance hereof in believers themselves, I shall now farther evidence the same truth or pursue the same evidence of it, by showing somewhat of the power that it acteth in them who are unregenerate, and so have not the remedies against it which believers are furnished withal.
I shall not handle the whole power of sin in unregenerate persons, which is a very large field, and not the business I have in hand; but only, by some few instances of its effects in them, intimate, as I said, unto believers what they have to deal withal:—
1. It appears in the violence it offers to the nature of men, compelling them unto sins fully contrary to all the principles of the reasonable nature wherewith they are endued from God. Every creature of God hath in its creation a law of operation implanted in it, which is the rule of all that proceedeth from it, of all that it doth of its own 304accord. So the fire ascends upwards, bodies that are weighty and heavy descend, the water flows; each according to the principles of their nature, which give them the law of their operation. That which hinders them in their operation is force and violence; as that which hinders a stone from descending or the fire from going upwards. That which forceth them to move contrary to the law of their nature, as a stone to go upwards or the fire to descend, is in its kind the greatest violence, of which the degrees are endless. Now, that which should take a great millstone and fling it upwards into the air, all would acknowledge to be a matter of wonderful force, power, and efficacy.
Man, also, hath his law of operation and working concreated with him. And this may be considered two ways; — either, first, as it is common to him with other creatures; or as peculiar, with reference unto that special end for which he was made. Some things are, I say, in this law of nature common to man with other creatures; as to nourish their young, to live quietly with them of the same kind and race with them, — to seek and follow after that which is good for them in that state and condition wherein they are created. These are things which all brute living creatures have in the law of their nature, as man also hath.
But, now, besides these things, man being created in an especial manner to give glory to God by rational and moral obedience, and so to obtain a reward in the enjoyment of him, there are many things in the law of his creation that are peculiar to him, — as to love God above all, to seek the enjoyment of him as his chiefest good and last end, to inquire after his mind and will and to yield obedience and the like; all which are part of the law of his nature.
Now, these things are not distinguished so, as though a man might perform the actions of the law of his nature, which are common to him with other creatures, merely from the principles of his nature, as they do; but the law of his dependence upon God, and doing all things in obedience unto him, passeth on them all also. He can never be considered as a mere creature, but as a creature made for the glory of God by rational, moral obedience, — rational, because by him chosen, and performed with reason; and moral, because regulated by a law whereunto reason doth attend.
For instance, it is common to man with other creatures to take care for the nourishing of his children, of the young, helpless ones that receive their being by him. There is implanted in him, in the principles of his nature, concreated with them, a love and care for them; so is it with other living creatures. Now, let other creatures answer this instinct and inclination, and be not hardened against them like the foolish ostrich, into whom God hath not implanted 305this natural wisdom, Job xxxix. 16, 17, they fully answer the law of their creation. With man it is not so. It is not enough for him to answer the instinct and secret impulse and inclination of his nature and kind, as in the nourishing of his children; but he must do it also in subjection to God, and obey him therein, and do it unto his glory, — the law of moral obedience passing over all his whole being and all his operations. But in these things lie, as it were, the whole of a man, namely, in the things which are implanted in his nature as a creature, common to him with all other living creatures, seconded by the command or will of God, as he is a creature capable of yielding moral obedience and doing all things for his glory.
That, then, which shall drive and compel a man to transgress this law of his nature, — which is not only as to throw millstones upward, to drive beasts from taking care of their young, to take from cattle of the same kind the herding of themselves in quietness, but, moreover, to cast off, what lies in him, his fundamental dependence on God as a creature made to yield him obedience, — must needs be esteemed of great force and efficacy.
Now, this is frequently done by indwelling sin in persons unregenerate. Let us take some few instances:—
(1.) There is nothing that is more deeply inlaid in the principles of the natures of all living creatures, and so of man himself, than a love unto and a care for the preservation and nourishing of their young. Many brute creatures will die for them; some feed them with their own flesh and blood; all deprive themselves of that food which nature directs them to as their best, to impart it to them, and act in their behalf to the utmost of their power.
Now, such is the efficacy, power, and force of indwelling sin in man, — an infection that the nature of other creatures knows nothing of, — that in many it prevails to stop this fountain, to beat back the stream of natural affections, to root up the principles of the law of nature, and to drive them unto a neglect, a destruction of the fruit of their own loins. Paul tells us of the old Gentiles that they were ἄστοργοι, Rom. i. 31, “without natural affection.” That which he aims at is that barbarous custom among the Romans, who ofttimes, to spare the trouble in the education of their children, and to be at liberty to satisfy their lusts, destroyed their own children from the womb; so far did the strength of sin prevail to obliterate the law of nature, and to repel the force and power of it.
Examples of this nature are common in all nations; amongst ourselves, of women murdering their own children, through the deceitful reasoning of sin. And herein sin turns the strong current of nature, darkens all the light of God in the soul, controls all natural principles, influenced with the power of the command and will of God. 306But yet this evil hath, through the efficacy of sin, received a fearful aggravation. Men have not only slain but cruelly sacrificed their children to satisfy their lusts. The apostle reckons idolatry, and so, consequently, all superstition, among the works of the flesh, Gal. v. 20; that is, the fruit and product of indwelling sin. Now, from hence it is that men have offered that horrid and unspeakable violence to the law of nature mentioned. So the psalmist tells us, Ps. cvi. 37, 38. The same is again mentioned, Ezek. xvi. 20, 21, and in sundry other places. The whole manner of that abomination I have elsewhere declared.44 See his work entitled, “A Dissertation on Divine Justice,” chap. iv., vol. x. For the present it may suffice to intimate that they took their children and burnt them to ashes in a soft fire; the wicked priests that assisted in the sacrifice affording them this relief, that they made a noise and clamour that the vile wretches might not hear the woeful moans and cries of the poor, dying, tormented infants. I suppose in this case we need no farther evidence. Naturalists can give no rational account, they can only admire the secret force of that little fish which, they say, will stop a ship in full sail in the midst of the sea; and we must acknowledge that it is beyond our power to give an account of that secret force and unsearchable deceit that is in that inbred traitor, sin, that can not only stop the course of nature, when all the sails of it, that carry it forward, are so filled as they are in that of affections to children, but also drive it backward with such a violence and force as to cause men so to deal with their own children as a good man would not be hired with any reward to deal with his dog. And it may not be to the disadvantage of the best to know and consider that they carry that about them and in them which in others hath produced these effects.
(2.) The like may be spoken of all other sins against the prime dictates of the law of nature, that mankind is or hath been stained and defamed withal, — murder of parents and children, of wives and husbands, sodomy, incest, and the like enormities; in all which sin prevails in men against the whole law of their being and dependence upon God.
What [why?] should I reckon up the murders of Cain and Abel, the treason of Judas, with their aggravations; or remind the filth and villany of Nero, in whom sin seemed to design an instance of what it could debase the nature of man unto? In a word, all the studied, premeditated perjuries; all the designed, bloody revenges; all the filth and uncleanness; all the enmity to God and his ways that is in the world, — is fruit growing from this root alone.
2. It evidences its efficacy in keeping men off from believing under the dispensation of the gospel. This evidence must be a little farther cleared:—
307(1.) Under the dispensation of the gospel, there are but few that do believe. So the preachers of it complain, Isa. liii. 1, “Who hath believed our report?” which the apostle interprets of the paucity of believers, John xii. 38. Our Saviour, Christ himself, tells us that “many are called,” — the word is preached unto many, — “but few are chosen.” And so the church complains of its number, Micah vii. 1. Few there be who enter the narrow gate; daily experience confirms this woful observation. How many villages, parishes, yea, towns, may we go unto where the gospel, it may be, hath been preached many years, and perhaps scarce meet a true believer in them, and one who shows forth the death of Christ in his conversation! In the best places, and most eminent for profession, are not such persons like the berries after the shaking of an olive-tree, — two or three in the top of the utmost boughs, and four or five in the highest branches?
(2.) There is proposed to men in the preaching of the gospel, as motives unto believing, every thing in conjunction that severally prevails with men to do whatever else they do in their lives. Whatever any one doth with consideration, he doth it either because it is reasonable and good for him so to do, or profitable and advantageous, or pleasant, or, lastly, necessary for the avoidance of evil; whatever, I say, men do with consideration, whether it be good or evil, whether it be in the works of this life or in things that lead to another, they do it from one or other of the reasons or motives mentioned. And, God knows, ofttimes they are very poor and mean in their kind that men are prevailed upon by. How often will men, for a very little pleasure, a very little profit, be induced to do that which shall embitter their lives and damn their souls; and what industry will they use to avoid that which they apprehend evil or grievous to them! And any one of these is enough to oil the wheels of men’s utmost endeavours, and set men at work to the purpose.
But now all these things centre in the proposal of the gospel and the command of believing; and every one of them in a kind that the whole world can propose nothing like unto it:—
[1.] It is the most reasonable thing that can be proposed to the understanding of a man, that he who, through his own default, hath lost that way of bringing glory to God and saving his own soul (for which ends he was made) that he was first placed in, should accept of and embrace that other blessed, easy, safe, excellent way for the attaining of the ends mentioned, which God, in infinite grace, love, mercy, wisdom, and righteousness, hath found out, and doth propose unto him. And, —
[2.] It is the profitablest thing that a man can possibly be invited unto, if there be any profit or benefit, any advantage, in the forgiveness 308of sins, in the love and favour of God, in a blessed immortality, in eternal glory. And, —
[3.] It is most pleasant also. Surely it is a pleasant thing to be brought out of darkness into light, — out of a dungeon unto a throne, — from captivity and slavery to Satan and cursed lusts, to the glorious liberty of the children of God, with a thousand heavenly sweetnesses not now to be mentioned. And, —
[4.] It is surely necessary, and that not only from the command of God, who hath the supreme authority over us, but also indispensably so for the avoidance of eternal ruin of body and soul, Mark xvi. 16. It is constantly proposed under these terms: “Believe, or you perish under the weight of the wrath of the great God, and that for evermore.”
But now, notwithstanding that all these considerations are preached unto men, and pressed upon them in the name of the great God from day to day, from one year to another, yet, as was before observed, very few there are who set their hearts unto them, so as to embrace that which they lead unto. Tell men ten thousand times that this is wisdom, yea, riches, — that all their profit lies in it, — that they will assuredly and eternally perish, and that, it may be, within a few hours, if they receive not the gospel; assure them that it is their only interest and concernment; let them know that God himself speaks all this unto them; — yet all is one, they regard it not, set not their hearts unto it, but, as it were, plainly say, “We will have nothing to do with these things.” They will rather perish in their lusts than accept of mercy.
(3.) It is indwelling sin that both disenableth men unto and hinders them from believing, and that alone. Blindness of mind, stubbornness of the will, sensuality of the affections, all concur to keep poor perishing souls at a distance from Christ. Men are made blind by sin, and cannot see his excellencies; obstinate, and will not lay hold of his righteousness; senseless, and take no notice of their own eternal concernments.
Now, certainly that which can prevail with men wise, and sober, and prudent in other things, to neglect and despise the love of God, the blood of Christ, the eternal welfare of their own souls, upon weak and worthless pretences, must be acknowledged to have an astonishable force and efficacy accompanying it.
Whose heart, who hath once heard of the ways of God, can but bleed to see poor souls eternally perishing under a thousand gracious invitations to accept of mercy and pardon in the blood of Christ? And can we but be astonished at the power of that principle from whence it is that they run headlong to their own destruction? And yet all this befalls them from the power and deceit of sin that dwelleth in them.
3093. It is evident in their total apostasies. Many men not really converted are much wrought upon by the word. The apostle tells us that they do “clean escape from them that live in error,” 2 Pet. ii. 18. They separate themselves from idolatry and false worship, owning and professing the truth: and they also escape the “pollutions of the world,” verse 20; that is, “the corruption that is in the world through lust,” as he expresseth it, chap. i. 4, — those filthy, corrupt, and unclean ways which the men of the world, in the pursuit of their lusts, do walk and live in. These they escape from, in the amendment of their lives and ordering of their conversation according to the convictions which they have from the word; for so he tells us, that all this is brought about “through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,” — that is, by the preaching of the gospel. They are so far wrought upon as to forsake all ways of false worship, to profess the truth, to reform their lives, and to walk answerable to the convictions that are upon them.
By this means do they gain the reputation of professors: “They have a name to live,” Rev. iii. 1, and are made “partakers” of some or all of those privileges of the gospel that are numbered by the apostle, Heb. vi. 4, 5.
It is not my present business to show how far or wherein a man may be effectually wrought upon by the word, and yet not be really wrought over to close with Christ, or what may be the utmost bounds and limits of a common work of grace upon unregenerate men. It is on all hands confessed that it may be carried on so far that it is very difficult to discern between its effects and productions and those of that grace which is special and saving.
But now, notwithstanding all this, we see many of these daily fall off from God, utterly and wickedly; some into debauchery and uncleanness, some to worldliness and covetousness, some to be persecutors of the saints, — all to the perdition of their own souls. How this comes about the apostle declares in that place mentioned. “They are,” saith he, “entangled again.” To entice and entangle, as I have showed before from James i. 14, 15, is the proper work of indwelling sin; it is that alone which entangles the soul, as the apostle speaks, 2 Pet. ii. 18, 20. They are allured from their whole profession into cursed apostasy through the lusts of the flesh.
It prevails upon them, through its deceit and power, to an utter relinquishment of their profession and their whole engagement unto God. And this several ways evinces the greatness of its strength and efficacy:—
(1.) In that it giveth stop or control unto that exceeding greatness of power which is put forth in the word in their conviction and reformation. We see it by experience that men are not easily wrought 310upon by the word; the most of men can live under the dispensation of it all the days of their lives, and continue as senseless and stupid as the seats they sit upon, or the flint in the rock of stone. Mighty difficulties and prejudices must be conquered, great strokes must be given to the conscience, before this can be brought about. It is as the stopping of a river in his course, and turning his streams another way; the hindering of a stone in his falling downwards; or the turning away of the wild ass, when furiously set to pursue his way, as the prophet speaks, Jer. ii. 24. To turn men from their corrupt ways, sins, and pleasures; to make them pray, fast, hear, and do many things contrary to the principle of flesh, which is secretly predominant in them, willingly and gladly; to cause them to profess Christ and the gospel, it may be under some trials and reproaches; to give them light to see into sundry mysteries, and gifts for the discharge of sundry duties; to make dead, blind, senseless men to walk, and talk, and do all the outward offices and duties of living and healthy men, with the like attendancies of conviction and reformation, are the effects and products of mighty power and strength. Indeed, the power that the Holy Ghost puts forth by the word, in the staggering and conviction of sinners, in the wakening of their consciences, the enlightening of their minds, the changing of their affections, the awing of their hearts, the reforming of their lives and compelling them to duties, is inexpressible.
But now unto all these is there check and control given by indwelling sin. It prevails against this whole work of the Spirit by the word, with all the advantages of providential dispensations, in afflictions and mercies, wherewith it is attended. When sin is once enraged, all these things become but like the withes and cords wherewith Samson was bound before his head was shaven. Cry but to it, “The Philistines are upon thee; there is a subtle, a suitable temptation; now show thy strength and efficacy,” — all these things become like tow that has smelt the fire; conscience is stifled, reputation in the church of God despised, light supplanted, the impressions of the word cast off, convictions digested, heaven and hell are despised: sin makes its way through all, and utterly turns the soul from the good and right ways of God. Sometimes it doth this subtilely, by imperceptible degrees, taking off all force of former impressions from the Spirit by the word, sullying conscience by degrees, hardening the heart, and making sensual the affections by various workings, that the poor backslider in heart scarce knows what he is doing, until he be come to the very bottom of all impiety, profaneness, and enmity against God. Sometimes, falling in conjunction with some vigorous temptation, it suddenly and at once plunges the soul into a course of alienation from God and the profession of his ways.
311(2.) It takes them off from those hopes of heaven which, upon their convictions, obedience, and temporary faith or believing, they had attained. There is a general hope of heaven, or at least of the escaping of hell, of an untroublesome immortality, in the most sottish and stupid souls in the world, who, either by tradition or instruction from the word, are persuaded that there is another state of things to come after this life; but it is, in unconvinced, unenlightened persons, a dull, senseless, unaffecting thing, that hath no other hold upon them nor power in them but only to keep them free from the trouble and perplexity of contrary thoughts and apprehensions. The matter is otherwise with them who by the word are so wrought upon as we have before declared; their hope of heaven and a blessed immortality is ofttimes accompanied with great joys and exultations, and is a relief unto them under and against the worst of their fears and trials. It is such as they would not part withal for all the world; and upon all occasions they retreat in their minds unto it for comfort and relief.
Now, all this by the power of sin are they prevailed withal to forego. Let heaven go if it will, a blessed immortality with the enjoyment of God himself, sin must be served, and provision made to fulfil the lusts thereof.
If a man, in the things of this world, had such a hope of a large inheritance, of a kingdom, as wherein he is satisfied that it will not fail him, but that in the issue he shall surely enjoy it, and lead a happy and a glorious life in the possession of it many days; if one should go to him and tell him, “It is true, the kingdom you look for is an ample and honourable dominion, full of all good things desirable, and you may attain it; but come, cast away all hopes and expectations of it, and come join with me in the service and slavery of such or such an oppressing tyrant;” — you will easily grant he must have some strange bewitching power with him, that should prevail with a man in his wits to follow his advice. Yet thus it is, and much more so, in the case we have in hand. Sin itself cannot deny but that the kingdom of heaven, which the soul is in hope and expectation of, is glorious and excellent, nor doth it go about to convince him that his thoughts of it are vain and such as will deceive him, but plainly prevails with him to cast away his hopes, to despise his kingdom that he was in expectation of, and that upon no other motive but that he may serve some worldly, cruel, or filthy and sensual lust. Certainly, here lies a secret efficacy, whose depths cannot be fathomed.
(3.) The apostle manifests the power of the entanglements of sin in and upon apostates, in that it turns them off from the way of righteousness after they have known it, 2 Pet. ii. 21. It will be found at the last day an evil thing and a bitter that men live all 312their days in the service of sin, self, and the world, refusing to make any trial of the ways of God, whereunto they are invited. Though they have no experience of their excellency, beauty, pleasantness, safety; yet, having evidence brought unto them from God himself that they are so, the refusal of them will, I say, be bitterness in the latter end. But their condition is yet far worse, who, as the apostle speaks, “having known the way of righteousness,” are by the power of indwelling sin “turned aside from the holy commandment.” To leave God for the devil, after a man hath made some trial of him and his service, — heaven for hell, after a man hath had some cheering, refreshing thoughts of it, — the fellowship of the saints for an ale-house or a brothel-house, after a man hath been admitted unto their communion, and tasted of the pleasantness of it; to leave walking in pure, clear, straight paths, to wallow in mire, draughts and filth; — this will be for a lamentation: yet this doth sin prevail upon apostates unto; and that against all their light, conviction, experiences, professions, engagements, or whatever may be strong upon them to keep them up to the known ways of righteousness.
(4.) It evinces its strength in them by prevailing with them unto a total renunciation of God as revealed in Christ, and the power of all gospel truth, — in the sin against the Holy Ghost. I do not now precisely determine what is the sin against the Holy Ghost, nor wherein it doth consist. There are different apprehensions of it. All agree in this, that by it an end is put to all dealings between God and man in a way of grace. It is a sin unto death. And this doth the hardness and blindness of many men’s hearts bring them to; they are by them at length set out of the reach of mercy. They choose to have no more to do with God; and God swears that they shall never enter into his rest: so sin brings forth death. A man by it is brought to renounce the end for which he was made, wilfully to reject the means of his coming to the enjoyment of God, to provoke him to his face, and so to perish in his rebellion.
I have not mentioned these things as though I hoped by them to set out to the full the power of indwelling sin in unregenerate men; only by a few instances I thought to give a glimpse of it. He that would have a fuller view of it had need only to open his eyes, to take a little view of that wickedness which reigneth, yea, rageth all the world over. Let him consider the prevailing flood of the things mentioned by Paul to be “the fruits of the flesh,” Gal. v. 19–21, — that is, among the sons of men, in all places, nations, cities, towns, parishes; and then let him add thereunto but this one consideration, that the world, which is full of the steam, filth, and blood of these abominations, as to their outward actings of them, is a pleasant garden, a paradise, compared to the heart of man, wherein they are 313all conceived, and hourly millions of more vile abominations, which, being stifled in the womb by some of the ways before insisted on, they are never able to bring forth to light; — let a man, I say, using the law for his light and rule, take this course, and if he have any spiritual discerning, he may quickly attain satisfaction in this matter.
And I showed in the entrance of this discourse how this consideration doth fully confirm the truth proposed.
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