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The third inquiry handled, namely, What is the assurance given us, and what are the grounds thereof, that sin shall not have dominion over us — The ground of this assurance is, that we are “not under the law, but under grace” — The force of this reason shown, namely, How the law doth not destroy the dominion of sin, and how grace dethrones sin and gives dominion over it.
III. And thus much hath been spoken unto the second thing proposed at the entrance of this discourse, — namely, an inquiry, Whether sin have the dominion in any of us or no. I proceed unto that which offers itself from the words, in the third place: What is the assurance given us, and what are the grounds of it, that sin shall not have dominion over us; which lies in this, that we are “not under the law, but under grace.”
Where men are engaged in a constant conflict against sin; where they look upon it and judge it their chiefest enemy, which contends with them for their souls and their eternal ruin; where they have experience of its power and deceit, and through the efficacy of them have been often shaken in their peace and comfort; where they have been ready to despond, and say they shall one day perish under their powers, — it is a gospel word, a word of good tidings, that gives them assurance that it shall never have dominion over them.
The ground of this assurance is, that believers are “not under the law, but under grace.” And the force of this reason we may manifest in some few instances:—
First, The law giveth no strength against sin unto them that are under it, but grace doth. Sin will neither be cast nor kept out of its throne, but by a spiritual power and strength in the soul to oppose, conquer, and dethrone it. Where it is not conquered it will reign; and conquered it will not be without a mighty prevailing power: this the law will not, cannot give.
The law is taken two ways:— 1. For the whole revelation of the mind and will of God in the Old Testament. In this sense it had grace in it, and so did give both life, and light, and strength against sin, as the psalmist declares, Ps. xix. 7–9. In this sense it contained not only the law of precepts, but the promise also and the covenant, which was the means of conveying spiritual life and strength unto the church. In this sense it is not here spoken of, nor is anywhere opposed unto grace. 2. For the covenant rule of perfect obedience: 543“Do this, and live.” In this sense men are said to be “under it,” in opposition unto being “under grace.” They are under its power, rule, conditions, and authority, as a covenant. And in this sense all men are under it who are not instated in the new covenant through faith in Christ Jesus, who sets up in them and over them the rule of grace; for all men must be one way or other under the rule of God, and he rules only by the law or by grace, and none can be under both at the same time.
In this sense the law was never ordained of God to convey grace or spiritual strength unto the souls of men; had it been so, the promise and the gospel had been needless: “If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law,” Gal. iii. 21. If it could have given life or strength, it would have produced righteousness, we should have been justified by it. It discovers sin and condemns it, but gives no strength to oppose it. It is not God’s ordinance for the dethroning of sin, nor for the destruction of its dominion.
This law falls under a double consideration, but in neither of them was designed to give power or strength against sin:—
1. As it was given unto mankind in the state of innocency; and it did then absolutely and exactly declare the whole duty of man, whatever God in his wisdom and holiness did require of us. It was God’s ruling of man according to the principle of the righteousness wherein he was created. But it gave no new aids against sin; nor was there any need that so it should do. It was not the ordinance of God to administer new or more grace unto man, but to rule and govern him according to what he had received; and this it continueth to do forever. It claims and continues a rule over all men, according to what they had and what they have; but it never had power to bar the entrance of sin, nor to cast it out when it is once enthroned.
2. As it was renewed and enjoined unto the church of Israel on Mount Sinai, and with them unto all that would join themselves unto the Lord out of the nations of the world. Yet neither was it then, nor as such, designed unto any such end as to destroy or dethrone sin by an administration of spiritual strength and grace. It had some new ends given then unto it, which it had not in its original constitution, the principal whereof was to drive men to the promise, and Christ therein; and this it doth by all the acts and powers of it on the souls of men. As it discovers sin, as it irritates and provokes it by its severity, as it judgeth and condemneth it, as it denounceth a curse on sinners, it drives unto this end; for this was added of grace in the renovation of it, this new end was given unto it. In itself it hath nothing to do with sinners, but to judge, curse, and condemn them.
544There is, therefore, no help to be expected against the dominion of sin from the law. It was never ordained of God unto that end; nor doth it contain, nor is it communicative of, the grace necessary unto that end, Rom. viii. 3.
Wherefore, those who are “under the law” are under the dominion of sin. “The law is holy,” but it cannot make them holy who have made themselves unholy; it is “just,” but it cannot make them so, — it cannot justify them whom it doth condemn; it is “good,” but can do them no good, as unto their deliverance from the power of sin. God hath not appointed it unto that end. Sin will never be dethroned by it; it will not give place unto the law, neither in its title nor its power.
Those who are under the law will at some seasons endeavour to shake off the yoke of sin, and resolve to be no longer under its power; as, —
1. When the law presseth on their consciences, perplexing and disquieting them. The commandment comes home unto them, sin reviveth, and they die, Rom. vii. 9, 10; that is, it gives power to sin to slay the hopes of the sinner, and to distress him with the apprehension of guilt and death: for “the strength of sin is the law,” 1 Cor. xv. 56; — the power it hath to disquiet and condemn sinners is in and by the law. When it is thus with sinners, when the law presseth them with a sense of the guilt of sin, and deprives them of all rest and peace in their minds, they will resolve to cast off the yoke of sin, to relinquish its service, that they may be freed from the urgency of the law on their consciences; and they will endeavour it in some instances of duty and abstinence from sin.
2. They will do the same under surprisals with sickness, pain, dangers, or death itself. Then they will cry, and pray, and promise to reform, and set about it, as they suppose, in good earnest. This case is fully exemplified, Ps. lxxviii. 34–37; and it is manifest in daily experience amongst multitudes. There are few who are so seared and profligate but at such seasons they will think of returning to God, of relinquishing the service of sin, and vindicating themselves from under its dominion. And in some it worketh a lasting change, though no real conversion doth ensue; but with the most this “goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.”
3. The same effect is produced in many by the preaching of the word. Some arrow of conviction is fastened in their minds, whereon their former ways displease them, and they judge it is better for them to change the course of their lives, and to relinquish the service of sin. These resolutions for the most part abide with them according to the society which they have or fall into. Good society 545may much help them in their resolves for a time, when by that which is evil and corrupt they are presently extinguished.
4. Sometimes merciful, endearing providences will have the same effect on the minds of men not obdurate in sin. Such are deliverances from imminent dangers, sparing the lives of near relations, and the like.
In such seasons, men under the law will attend unto their convictions, and endeavour for a while to shake off the yoke of sin. They will attend unto what the law saith, under whose power they are, and endeavour a compliance therewith; many duties shall be performed, and many evils abstained from, in order to the quitting themselves of sin’s dominion. But, alas! the law cannot enable them hereunto, — it cannot give them life and strength to go through with what their convictions press them unto; therefore, after a while they begin to faint and wax weary in their progress, and at length give quite over. It may be they may break off from some great sins in particular, but shake off the whole dominion of sin they cannot.
It is otherwise with them that are “under grace.” Sin shall not have dominion over them; strength shall be administered unto them to dethrone it.
“Grace” is a word of various acceptations in the Scripture. As we are here said to be under it, and as it is opposed unto the law, it is used or taken for the gospel, as it is the instrument of God for the communication of himself and his grace by Jesus Christ unto those that do believe, with that state of acceptation with himself which they are brought into thereby, Rom. v. 1, 2. Wherefore, to be “under grace” is to have an interest in the gospel covenant and state, with a right unto all the privileges and benefits thereof, to be brought under the administration of grace by Jesus Christ, — to be a true believer.
But the inquiry hereon is, how it follows from hence that sin shall not have dominion over us, that sin cannot extend its territories and rule into that state, and in what sense this is affirmed.
1. Is it that there shall be no sin in them any more? Even this is true in some sense. Sin as unto its condemning power hath no place in this state, Rom. viii. 1. All the sins of them that believe are expiated or done away, as to the guilt of them, in the blood of Christ, Heb. i. 3, 1 John i. 7. This branch of the dominion of sin, which consists in its condemning power, is utterly cast out of this state. But sin as unto its being and operation doth still continue in believers whilst they are in this world; they are all sensible of it. Those who deceive themselves with a contrary apprehension are most of all under the power of it, 1 John i. 8. Wherefore, to be freed from the dominion of sin is not to be freed absolutely from all 546sin, so as that it should in no sense abide in us any more. This is not to be under grace, but to be in glory.
2. Is it that sin, though it abides, yet it shall not fight or contend for dominion in us? That this is otherwise we have before declared. Scripture and the universal experience of all that believe do testify the contrary; so doth the assurance here given us that it shall not obtain that dominion: for if it did not contend for it, there could be no grace in this promise, — there is none in deliverance from that whereof we are in no danger.
But the assurance here given is built on other considerations; whereof the first is, that the gospel is the means ordained and instrument used by God for the communication of spiritual strength unto them that believe, for the dethroning of sin. It is the “power of God unto salvation,” Rom. i. 16, that whereby and wherein he puts forth his power unto that end. And sin must be really dethroned by the powerful acting of grace in us, and that in a way of duty in ourselves. We are absolved, quitted, freed from the rule of sin, as unto its pretended right and title, by the promise of the gospel; for thereby are we freed and discharged from the rule of the law, wherein all the title of sin unto dominion is founded, for “the strength of sin is the law:” but we are freed from it, as unto its internal power and exercise of its dominion, by internal spiritual grace and strength in its due exercise. Now, this is communicated by the gospel; it gives life and power, with such continual supplies of grace as are able to dethrone sin, and forever to prohibit its return.
This, then, is the present case supposed and determined by the apostle: “You that are believers are all of you conflicting with sin. You find it always restless and disquieting, sometimes strong and powerful. When it is in conjunction with any urgent temptation, you are afraid it will utterly prevail over you, to the ruin of your souls. Hence you are wearied with it, groan under it, and cry out for deliverance from it.” All these things the apostle at large insists on in this and the next chapter. “But now,” saith he, “be of good comfort; notwithstanding all these things, and all your fears upon them, sin shall not prevail, it shall not have the dominion, it shall never ruin your souls.” But what ground have we for this hope? what assurance of this success? “This you have,” saith the apostle, “ ‘Ye are not under the law, but under grace;’ or the rule of the grace of God in Christ Jesus, administered in the gospel.” But how doth this give relief? “Why, it is the ordinance, the instrument of God, which he will use unto this end — namely, the communication of such supplies of grace and spiritual strength as shall eternally defeat the dominion of sin.”
This is one principal difference between the law and the gospel, 547and was ever so esteemed in the church of God, until all communication of efficacious grace began to be called in question: The law guides, directs, commands, all things that are against the interest and rule of sin. It judgeth and condemneth both the things that promote it and the persons that do them; it frightens and terrifies the consciences of those who are under its dominion. But if you shall say unto it, “What then shall we do? this tyrant, this enemy, is too hard for us. What aid and assistance against it will you afford unto us? what power will you communicate unto its destruction?” Here the law is utterly silent, or says that nothing of this nature is committed unto it of God; nay, the strength it hath it gives unto sin for the condemnation of the sinner: “The strength of sin is the law.” But the gospel, or the grace of it, is the means and instrument of God for the communication of internal spiritual strength unto believers. By it do they receive supplies of the Spirit or aids of grace for the subduing of sin and the destruction of its dominion. By it they may say they can do all things, through Him that enables them.
Hereon then depends, in the first place, the assurance of the apostle’s assertion, that “sin shall not have dominion over us,” because we are “under grace.” We are in such a state as wherein we have supplies in readiness to defeat all the attempts of sin for rule and dominion in us.
But some may say hereon, they greatly fear they are not in this state, for they do not find such supplies of spiritual strength and grace as to give them a conquest over sin. They are still perplexed with it, and it is ready to invade the throne in their minds, if it be not already possessed of it. Wherefore they fear lest they are strangers from the grace of the gospel.
In answer hereunto the things ensuing are proposed:—
1. Remember what hath been declared concerning the dominion of sin. If it be not known what it is and wherein it doth consist, as some may please themselves whilst their condition is deplorable (as it is with the most), so others may be perplexed in their minds without just cause. A clear distinction between the rebellion of sin and the dominion of sin is a great advantage unto spiritual peace.
2. Consider the end for which aids of grace are granted and communicated by the gospel. Now, this is not that sin may at once be utterly destroyed and consumed in us, that it should have no being, motion, or power in us any more. This work is reserved for glory, in the full redemption of body and soul, which we here do but groan after. But it is given unto us for this end, that sin may be so crucified and mortified in us, — that is, so gradually weakened and destroyed, — as that it shall not ruin spiritual life in us, or obstruct its necessary acting in duties, and for prevalency against such sins as would 548disannul the covenant relation between God and our souls. Whilst we have supplies of it which are sufficient unto this end, although our conflict with sin doth continue, although we are perplexed by it, yet we are under grace, and sin shall have no more dominion over us. This is enough for us, that sin shall be gradually destroyed, and we shall have a sufficiency of grace on all occasions to prevent its ruling prevalency.
3. Live in the faith of this sacred truth, and ever keep alive in your souls expectation of supplies of grace suitable thereunto. It is of the nature of true and saving faith, inseparable from it, to believe that the gospel is the way of God’s administration of grace for the ruin of sin. He that believes it not believes not the gospel itself, which is “the power of God unto salvation,” Rom. i. 16. If we live, and walk, and act, as if we had nothing to trust unto but ourselves, our own endeavours, our own resolutions, and that in our perplexities and surprisals, it is no wonder if we are not sensible of supplies of divine grace; — most probably we are under the law, and not under grace. This is the fundamental principle of the gospel state, that we live in expectation of continual communications of life, grace, and strength, from Jesus Christ, who is “our life,” and from whose “fulness we receive, and grace for grace.” We may therefore, in this case, continually expostulate with our souls, as David doth: “Why go you mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? Why are you cast down? and why are you disquieted within us? Still hope in God; he is the health of my countenance.” We may be sensible of great oppression from the power of this enemy; this may cause us to go mourning all the day long, and in some sense it ought so to do. Howbeit we ought not hence to despond, or to be cast down from our duty or our comfort. Still we may trust in God through Christ, and live in continual expectation of such spiritual reliefs as shall assuredly preserve us from the dominion of sin. This faith, hope, and expectation, we are called unto by the gospel; and when they are not cherished, when they are not kept up unto a due exercise, all things will go backward in our spiritual condition.
4. Make especial application unto the Lord Christ, unto whom the administration of all spiritual supplies is committed, for the communication of them unto you, according unto all especial occasions. Hath sin got the advantage of a powerful temptation, so as that it seems to put hard for dominion in the soul; as it was with Paul under the buffetings of Satan, when he had that answer from the Lord, upon his reiterated prayer, “My grace is sufficient for thee;” — “Sin shall not have dominion over thee”? Hath it, by its deceitfulness, brought the soul into a lifeless, senseless frame, made it forgetful of duties, negligent in them, or without spiritual delight in their performance? 549Hath it almost habituated the soul unto careless and corrupt inclinations, unto the love of, or conformity to, the world? Doth it take advantage from our darkness and confusion, under troubles, distresses, or temptations? On these and the like occasions it is required that we make especial fervent application unto the Lord Christ for such supplies of grace as may be sufficient and efficacious to control the power of sin in them all. This, under the consideration of his office and authority unto this end, his grace and readiness from special inducements, we are directed unto, Heb. iv. 14–16.
5. Remember always the way and method of the operation of divine grace and spiritual aids. It is true, in our first conversion to God, we are as it were surprised by a mighty act of sovereign grace, changing our hearts, renewing our minds, and quickening us with a principle of spiritual life. Ordinarily, many things are required of us in a way of duty in order thereunto; and many previous operations of grace in our minds, in illumination and the sense of sin, do materially and passively dispose us thereunto, as wood when it is dried is disposed to firing: but the work itself is performed by an immediate act of divine power, without any active co-operation on our part. But this is not the law or rule of the communication or operation of actual grace for the subduing of sin. It is given in a way of concurrence with us in the discharge of our duties; and when we are sedulous in them, we may be sure we shall not fail of divine assistance, according to the established rule of the administration of gospel grace. If, therefore we complain that we find not the aids mentioned, and if at the same time we are not diligent in attendance unto all the duties whereby sin may be mortified in us, we are exceedingly injurious to the grace of God.
Wherefore, notwithstanding this objection, the truth stands firm, that “sin shall not have dominion over us, for we are not under the law, but under grace;” because of the spiritual aids that are administered by grace for its mortification and destruction.
Secondly, The law gives no liberty of any kind; it gendereth unto bondage, and so cannot free us from any dominion, — not that of sin, for this must be by liberty. But this we have also by the gospel. There is a twofold liberty:— 1. Of state and condition; 2. Of internal operation; and we have both by the gospel.
The first consists in our deliverance from the law and its curse, with all things which claim a right against us by virtue thereof; that is, Satan, death, and hell. Out of this state, from whence we can never be delivered by the law, we are translated by grace into a state of glorious liberty; for by it the Son makes us free. And we receive the Spirit of Christ; now, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” 2 Cor. iii. 17. This liberty Christ proclaims in the gospel 550unto all that do believe, Isa. lxi. 1. Hereon they who hear and receive the joyful sound are discharged from all debts, bonds, accounts, rights, and titles, and are brought into a state of perfect freedom. In this state sin can lay no claim to dominion over any one soul. They are gone over into the kingdom of Christ, and out from the power of sin, Satan, and darkness. Herein, indeed, lies the foundation of our assured freedom from the rule of sin. It cannot make an incursion on the kingdom of Christ, so as to carry away any of its subjects into a state of sin and darkness again. And an interest in this state ought to be pleaded against all the attempts of sin, Rom. vi. 1, 2. There is nothing more to be detested than that any one who is Christ’s freeman, and dead to the power of sin, should give place again unto any of its pretences to or endeavours for rule.
Again, there is an internal liberty, which is the freedom of the mind from the powerful inward chains of sin, with an ability to act all the powers and faculties of the soul in a gracious manner. Hereby is the power of sin in the soul destroyed. And this also is given us in the gospel. There is power administered in it to live unto God, and to walk in all his commandments; and this also gives evidence unto the truth of the apostle’s assertion.
Thirdly, The law doth not supply us with effectual motives and encouragements to endeavour the ruin of the dominion of sin in a way of duty; which must be done, or in the end it will prevail. It works only by fear and dread, with threatenings and terrors of destruction; for although it says also, “Do this, and live,” yet withal it discovers such an impossibility in our nature to comply with its commands, in the way and manner wherein it enjoins them, that the very promise of it becomes a matter of terror, as including the contrary sentence of death upon our failure in its commands. Now, these things enervate, weaken, and discourage, the soul in its conflict against sin: they give it no life, activity, cheerfulness, or courage, in what they undertake. Hence those who engage themselves into an opposition unto sin, or a relinquishment of its service, merely on the motives of the law, do quickly faint and give over. We see it so with many every day. One day they will forsake all sin, their beloved sin, with the company and occasions inducing them thereunto. The law hath frightened them with divine vengeance. And sometimes they proceed so far in this resolution that they seem escaped from the pollutions of the world; yet soon again they return to their former ways and follies, 2 Pet. ii. 20–22. Their “goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.” Or if they do not return to wallow in the same mire of their former pollutions, they betake themselves to the shades of some superstitious observances, as it is in the Papacy: for they openly succeed into the room 551of the Jews, who, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and not submitting thereunto, went about variously to establish their own righteousness, as the apostle speaks, Rom. x. 3, 4; for in that apostate church, where men are wrought on by the terrors of the law to relinquish sin and set themselves in opposition unto its power, finding themselves altogether unable to do it by the works of the law itself, which must be perfectly holy, they betake themselves to a number of superstitious observances, which they trust unto in the room of the law, with its commands and duties. But the law makes nothing perfect, nor are the motives it gives for the ruin of the interest of sin in us able to bear us out and carry us through that undertaking.
But the motives and encouragements given by grace to endeavour the utter ruin of sin in a way of duty are such as give life, cheerfulness, courage, and perseverance; they continually animate, relieve, and revive the soul, in all its work and duty, keeping it from fainting and despondency: for they are all taken from the love of God and of Christ, from the whole work and end of his mediation, from the ready assistances of the Holy Ghost, from all the promises of the gospel, from their own with other believers’ experiences; all giving them the highest assurance of final success and victory. When the soul is under the influence of these motives, whatever difficulty and opposition it meets withal from soliciting temptations or surprisals “it will renew its strength, it will run and not be weary, it will walk and not faint,” according to the promise, Isa. xl. 31.
Fourthly, Christ is not in the law; he is not proposed in it, not communicated by it, — we are not made partakers of him thereby. This is the work of grace, of the gospel. In it is Christ revealed; by it he is proposed and exhibited unto us; thereby are we made partakers of him and all the benefits of his mediation. And he it is alone who came to, and can, destroy this work of the devil. The dominion of sin is the complement of the works of the devil, where all his designs centre. This “the Son of God was manifested to destroy.” He alone ruins the kingdom of Satan, whose power is acted in the rule of sin. Wherefore, hereunto our assurance of this comfortable truth is principally resolved. And what Christ hath done, and doth, for this end, is a great part of the subject of gospel revelation.
The like may be spoken of the communication of the Holy Spirit, which is the only principal efficient cause of the ruin of the dominion of sin; for “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” and nowhere else. But we receive this Spirit not “by the works of the law,” but “by the hearing of faith,” Gal. iii. 2.
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