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Whence it is that believers may be brought into depths on account of sin — Nature of the supplies of grace given in the covenant — How far they extend — Principles of the power of sin.
First, The nature of the covenant wherein all believers now walk with God, and wherein all their whole provision for obedience is inwrapped, leaves it possible for them to fall into these depths that have been mentioned. Under the first covenant there was no mercy or forgiveness provided for any sin. It was necessary, then, that it should exhibit a sufficiency of grace to preserve them from every sin, or it could have been of no use at all. This the righteousness of God required, and so it was. To have made a covenant wherein there was no provision at all of pardon, and not a sufficiency of grace to keep the covenanters from need of pardon, was not answerable to the goodness and righteousness of God. But he made man upright, who, of his own accord, sought out many inventions.
It is not so in the covenant of grace; there is in it pardon provided in the blood of Christ: it is not, therefore, of indispensable necessity that there should be administered in it grace effectually preserving from every sin. Yet it is on all accounts to be preferred before the other; for, besides the relief by pardon, which the other knew nothing of, there is in it also much provision against sin, which was not in the other:—
1. There is provision made in it against all and every sin that would disannul the covenant, and make a final separation between God and a soul that hath been once taken into the bond thereof. This provision is absolute. God hath taken upon himself the making of this good, and the establishing this law of the covenant, that it shall not by any sin be disannulled: Jer. xxxii. 40, “I will,” saith God, “make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.” The security hereof depends not on any thing in ourselves. All that is in us is to be used as a means of the accomplishment of this promise; but the event or issue depends absolutely on the faithfulness of God. And the whole certainty and stability of the covenant depends on the efficacy of the grace administered in it to preserve men from all such sins as would disannul it.
2. There is in this covenant provision made for constant peace and 339consolation, notwithstanding and against the guilt of such sins as, through their infirmities and temptations, believers are daily exposed unto. Though they fall into sins every day, yet they do not fall into depths every day. In the tenor of this covenant there is a consistency between a sense of sin unto humiliation and peace, with strong consolation. After the apostle had described the whole conflict that believers have with sin, and the frequent wounds which they receive thereby, which makes them cry out for deliverance, Rom. vii. 24, he yet concludes, chap. viii. 1, that “there is no condemnation unto them;” which is a sufficient and stable foundation of peace. So, 1 John ii. 1, “These things I write unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” Our great business and care ought to be, that we sin not; but yet, when we have done our utmost, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves,” chap. i. 8. What, then, shall poor, sinful, guilty creatures do? Why, let them go to the Father by their advocate, and they shall not fail of pardon and peace. And, saith Paul, Heb. vi. 17, 18, “God is abundantly willing that we might have strong consolation, who fly for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us.” What was his condition who fled of old to the city of refuge for safety, from whence this expression is taken? He was guilty of blood, though shed at unawares; and so as that he was to die for it, if he escaped not to the city of refuge. Though we may have the guilt of sins upon us that the law pronounceth death unto, yet, flying to Christ for refuge, God hath provided not only safety, but “strong consolation” for us also. Forgiveness in the blood of Christ doth not only take guilt from the soul, but trouble also from the conscience; and in this respect doth the apostle at large set forth the excellency of his sacrifice, Heb. x. The sacrifices of the old law, he tells us, could not make perfect the worshippers, verse 1: which he proves, verse 2, because they did never take away, thoroughly and really, conscience of sin; that is, depths or distresses of conscience about sin. “But now,” saith he, “Jesus Christ, in the covenant of grace, ‘hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified,’ verse 14; providing for them such stable peace and consolation, as that they shall not need the renewing of sacrifices every day,” verse 18. This is the great mystery of the gospel in the blood of Christ, that those who sin every day should have peace with God all their days, provided their sins fall within the compass of those infirmities against which this consolation is provided.
3. There is provision made of grace to prevent and preserve the soul from great and enormous sins, such as in their own nature are apt to wound conscience, and cast the person into such depths and 340entanglements as wherein he shall have neither rest nor peace. Of what sort these sins are shall be afterward declared. There is in this covenant “grace for grace,” John i. 16, and abundance of grace administered from the all-fulness of Christ. Grace reigneth in it, Rom. vi. 6, destroying and crucifying “the body of sin.”
But this provision in the covenant of grace against peace-ruining, soul-perplexing sins, is not, as to the administration of it, absolute. There are covenant commands and exhortations, on the attendance whereunto the administration of much covenant grace doth depend. To watch, pray, improve faith, to stand on our guard continually, to mortify sin, to fight against temptations, with steadfastness, diligence, constancy, are everywhere prescribed unto us; and that in order unto the insurance of the grace mentioned. These things are on our part the condition of the administration of that abundant grace which is to preserve us from soul-entangling sins. So Peter informs us, 2 Epist. i. 3, “The divine power of God hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness.” We have from it an habitual furnishment and provision for obedience at all times. Also, saith he, verse 4, “He hath given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these we might be partakers of the divine nature.” What, then, is in this blessed estate and condition required of us, that we may make a due improvement of the provision made for us, and enjoy the comforting influence of those promises that he prescribes unto us? Verses 5–7, “Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly-kindness, and to brotherly-kindness charity;” that is, carefully and diligently attend to the exercise of all the graces of the Spirit, and unto a conversation in all things becoming the gospel. What, then, shall be the issue if these things are attended unto? Verse 8, “If these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is not enough that these things be in you, that you have the seed and root of them from and by the Holy Ghost; but you are to take care that they flourish and abound: without which, though the root of the matter may be in you, and so you be not wholly devoid of spiritual life, yet you will be poor, barren, sapless, withering creatures all your days. But now, suppose that these things do abound, and we be made fruitful thereby? Why then, saith he, verse 10, “If ye do these things, ye shall never fall.” What! never fall into sin? Nay, that is not in the promise; and he that says, when he hath done all, “that he hath no sin, he is a liar.” Or is it never fall totally from God? No; the preservation of the elect, of whom he speaks, from total apostasy, is not suspended on such conditions, especially not 341on any degree of them, such as their abounding imports. But it is that they shall not fall into their old sins, from which they were purged, verse 9, — such conscience-wasting and defiling sins as they lived in, in the time and state of their unregeneracy. Thus, though there be, in the covenant of grace through Jesus Christ, provision made of abundant supplies for the soul’s preservation from entangling sins, yet their administration hath respect unto our diligent attendance unto the means of receiving them appointed for us to walk in.
And here lies the latitude of the new covenant, here lies the exercise of renewed free-will. This is the field of free, voluntary obedience, under the administration of gospel grace. There are extremes which, in respect of the event, it is not concerned in. To be wholly perfect, to be free from every sin, all failings, all infirmities, that is not provided for, not promised in this covenant. It is a covenant of mercy and pardon, which supposeth a continuance of sin. To fall utterly and finally from God, that is absolutely provided against. Between these two extremes of absolute perfection and total apostasy lies the large field of believers’ obedience and walking with God. Many a sweet, heavenly passage there is, and many a dangerous depth, in this field. Some walk near to the one side, some to the other; yea, the same person may sometimes press hard after perfection, sometimes be cast to the very border of destruction. Now, between these two lie many a soul-plunging sin, against which no absolute provision is made, and which, for want of giving all diligence to put the means of preservation in practice, believers are oftentimes overtaken withal.
4. There is not in the covenant of grace provision made of ordinary and abiding consolation for any under the guilt of great sins, or sins greatly aggravated, which they fall into by a neglect of using and abiding in the fore-mentioned conditions of abounding actual grace. Sins there are which, either because in their own nature they wound and waste conscience, or in their effects break forth into scandal, causing the name of God and the gospel to be evil spoken of, or in some of their circumstances are full of unkindness against God, do deprive the soul of its wonted consolation. How, by what means, on what account, such sins come to terrify conscience, to break the bones, to darken the soul, and to cast it into inextricable depths, notwithstanding the relief that is provided of pardon in the blood of Christ, I shall not now declare; that they will do so, and that consolation is not of equal extent with safety, we know. Hence God assumes it to himself, as an act of mere sovereign grace, to speak peace and refreshment unto the souls of his saints in their depths of sin-entanglements, Isa. lvii. 18, 19. And, indeed, if the Lord had not thus provided that great provocation should stand in need of special reliefs, it might 342justly be feared that the negligence of believers might possibly bring forth much bitter fruit.
Only, this must be observed by the way, that what is spoken relates to the sense of sinners in their own souls, and not to the nature of the thing itself. There is in the gospel consolation provided against the greatest as well as the least sins. The difference ariseth from God’s sovereign communication of it, according to the tenor of the covenant’s administration, which we have laid down. Hence, because under Moses’ law there was an exception made of some sins, for which there was no sacrifice appointed, so that those who were guilty of them could no way be justified from them, — that is, carnally, as to their interest in the Judaical church and polity, — Paul tells the Jews, Acts xiii. 38, 39, that “through Jesus Christ was preached unto them the forgiveness of sins: and that by him all that believe axe justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses.” There is now no exception of any particular sins as to pardon and peace; but what we have spoken relates unto the manner and way wherein God is pleased to administer consolation to the souls of sinning believers.
And this is the evidence which I shall offer to prove that the souls of believers, after much gracious communion with God, may yet fall into inextricable depths on the account of sin; whence it is that actually they oftentimes do so shall be farther declared.
The principles of this assertion axe known, I shall therefore only touch upon them:—
First. The nature of indwelling sin, as it remains in the best of the saints in this life, being a little considered, will evidence unto us from whence it is that they are sometimes surprised and plunged into the depths mentioned; for, —
1. Though the strength of every sin be weakened by grace, yet the root of no sin is in this life wholly taken away. Lust is like the stubborn Canaanites, who, after the general conquest of the land, would dwell in it still, Josh. xvii. 12. Indeed, when Israel grew strong they brought them under tribute, but they could not utterly expel them. The kingdom and rule belongs to grace; and when it grows strong it brings sin much under, but it will not wholly be driven out. The body of death is not utterly to be done away, but in and by the death of the body. In the flesh of the best saints there “dwelleth no good thing,” Rom. vii. 18; but the contrary is there, — that is, the root of all evil: “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit,” as “the Spirit lusteth against the flesh,” Gal. v. 17. As, then, there is a universality in the actings of the Spirit in its opposing all evil, so also there is a universality in the actings of the flesh for the furtherance of it.
3432. Some lusts or branches of original corruption do obtain in some persons such advantages, either from nature, custom, employment, society, or the like circumstances, that they become like the Canaanites that had iron chariots; it is a very difficult thing to subdue them. Well it is if war be maintained constantly against them, for they will almost always be in actual rebellion.
3. Indwelling sin though weakened retaineth all its properties. The properties of a thing follow its nature. Where the nature of any thing is, there are all its natural properties. What are these properties of indwelling sin I should here declare, but that I have handled the whole power and efficacy, the nature and properties of it, in a treatise to that only purpose. In brief, they are such as it is no wonder that some believers are by them cast into depths; but it is indeed that they do escape them. But thereof the reader may see at large my discourse on this particular subject.11 See previous treatise in this volume, p. 153.
Secondly. Add hereunto the power and prevalency of temptation; which, because also I have already, in a special discourse to that purpose,22 See also this volume, p. 87. insisted on, I shall not here farther lay open.
Thirdly. The sovereign pleasure of God in dealing with sinning saints must also be considered. Divine love and wisdom work not towards all in the same manner. God is pleased to continue peace unto some with a “non-obstante,” for great provocations. Love shall humble them, and rebukes of kindness shall recover them from their wanderings. Others he is pleased to bring into the depths we have been speaking of. But yet I may say generally, signal provocations meet with one of these two events from God — First, Those in whom they are are left into some signal barrenness and fruitlessness in their generations; they shall wither, grow barren, worldly, sapless, and be much cast out of the hearts of the people of God. Or, secondly, They shall be exercised in these depths, from whence their way of deliverance is laid down in this psalm. Thus, I say, God deals with his saints in great variety; some shall have all their bones broken, when others shall have only the gentle strokes of the rod. We are in the hand of mercy, and he may deal with us as seems good unto him; but for our parts, great sins ought to be attended with expectations of great depths and perplexities.
And this is the state of the soul proposed in this psalm, and by us, unto consideration. These are the depths wherein it is entangled; these are the ways and means whereby it is brought into these depths. Its deportment in and under this state and condition lies next in our way. But before I proceed thereunto, I shall annex some few things unto what hath been delivered, tending to the farther opening 344of the whole case before us. And they are, — 1. What are, or of what sort those sins are, which usually cast the souls of believers into these depths; and then, 2. Insist on some aggravations of them.
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