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Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.
THE apostle in this chapter endeavours to comfort the saints from a consideration of the transcendent greatness of God’s love, which appeared in those excellent privileges that accrued to them from it. The first of which the saints enjoy even in this life, namely, to be the sons of God, the adopted children of the Almighty, to be admitted into the nearest and dearest relation to the great Creator and Lord of heaven and earth. Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God! The second great privilege is to be enjoyed by the saints in the life to come, and that is no less than a likeness to Christ himself in glory; a participation of those grand, sublime prerogatives that Christ is endowed withal. We know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him in glory, ver. 2. Now because this great enjoyment was as yet future, and so visible but at a distance, and consequently not so pregnant and bright an argument of comfort, he tells them, that the saints could view it as present in the glass of their hopes, by which they could draw from it a real comfort, with an actual fruition.
It is indeed the nature of earthly comforts to afford more delight in their hopes than in their enjoyment. 519But it is much otherwise in heavenly things, which are of that solid and substantial perfection, as always to satisfy, yet never to satiate; and therefore the delight that springs from the fruition of those is still fresh and verdant; nay, we may add this yet further, that the very expectation of heavenly things, if rational and well grounded, affords more comfort than the possession and enjoyment of the greatest earthly contents whatsoever.
The apostle having thus told them of their hope, and what a real hold it took of the things hoped for, that he might prevent mistake, and dash presumption, tells them also, that an assured hope of future glory did not at all lead men to present security, but was so far from ministering to sloth, that it did rather quicken and excite them to duty; so that he that has this hope in him purifieth himself: he does not lie still, and acquiesce in this, that he shall be happy and glorious in the world to come, and therefore in the mean time forgets to be virtuous in this; but it raises him to a pursuit of a more than ordinary strain of duty and perfection; he purifies himself., even as Christ is pure; this is his hope, this is his design; he expects to be like Christ in the brightness of his glory, and therefore he exerts his utmost diligence to resemble him in the purity of his life too.
Now before we proceed any further, there are two things that offer themselves in the very entrance of the words, and require some resolution. As first,
1. Is it possible for any man to purify himself? Is it not the Spirit of God that must work in us both to will and to do? For are we not naturally dead in trespasses and sins? And who can bring a 520 clean thing out of an unclean? How then can so great a work be ascribed to us?
To this I answer, that we must distinguish of a twofold work of purification.
1. The first is, the infusing of the habit of purity or holiness into the soul, which is done in regeneration or conversion; and in this respect no man living can be said to purify himself. For in this he is only passive, and merely recipient of that grace, that the Spirit of God, the sole agent, infuses into him; antecedently to which we are said to be dead in trespasses and sins, and consequently in this condition can by no means contribute to this work, so as to purify ourselves.
2. The other work of purification is the exercising of that habit or grace of purity which a man received in conversion; by the acting or exercising of which grace he grows actually more pure and holy. And in this respect a man may be said in some sense to purify himself, yet not so as if he were either the sole or the prime agent in this work; for God is the principal agent, who first moves us, and then we act and move, and are said to be coworkers with God; and so are these words to be understood. God, without any help or procurement of our own, first gave us a talent, which afterwards we improve, yet not that entirely by our own strength, but by his assistance. In short, that which has been said in explication of this thing, amounts to no more than that known and true saying, That God who made, and since converted, that is, new made us, without ourselves, will not yet save us without ourselves. And thus much for the first query.
2. But, 2dly, admitting that a man may purify 521himself in the sense mentioned, yet can he do it to that degree as to equal the purity of Christ himself? to purify himself, even as he is pure? of whom it is expressly said, that he is fairer, that is, holier and purer, than the sons of men, and that the Spirit has anointed him with the oil of gladness, that is, with all divine graces, above his fellows.
To this also I answer, that this term, even as, denotes here only a similitude of kind, not an equality of degree; that is, he that hopes for glory, gets \ his heart purified with the same kind of holiness that is in Christ, though he neither does nor can reach it in the same measure of perfection; he gets the same meekness, the same spiritual mindedness and love to the divine precepts, that is, the same for kind; forasmuch as there is no perfection in Christ’s humanity, but the very same for kind is also to be found in his members, though, we confess, in a much lower degree; as the same kind of blood that runs in the head runs also in the hand and in the foot, though as it is in the head, it is attended and heightened with quicker and finer spirits, than as it is diffused into the inferior members. But yet further, though we should grant that he that has this hope in him pursues not only after the same kind, but also after the same degree of purity that is in Christ, yet it follows not hence that he ever attains to the same; for we must distinguish of holiness as it is absolutely perfect in the pattern, and as it is imperfect in our imitation.
These things being thus cleared off, I cannot perceive any thing more of difficulty in the words; the prosecution of which shall lie in the discussion of these two things.522
I. To shew what is implied and included in a man’s purifying of himself, here spoken of in the text.
II. To shew how the hopes of heaven come to have such an influence upon the effecting of this work.
And first for the first of these. To purify is a term of alteration, and imports the removal of the filth or pollution of any thing, by introducing the contrary qualities of purity or cleanness. Now that which a man is to remove, and to purify himself from, is sin, in which there are two things to be carried off by a thorough purification.
1. The power of sin. 2. The guilt of sin.
As for the first, the purifying of ourselves from the power of sin, I shall shew,
1. Wherein it consists.
2. By what means it is to be effected. It consists of these three things.
1. A most serious and hearty bewailing of all the past acts of sin, by a continually renewed repentance. Every day, every hour, will afford fresh matter for a penitential sorrow; for sin will still increase and multiply; so that Christ has taught us a daily prayer for the forgiveness of sins; and the very nature of the thing will teach us to mingle prayer with humiliation; since to pray God to forgive that for which we are not humbled, is but further to provoke him, and to procure a penalty instead of a pardon. We are told that the righteous man falls seven times a day; and I am sure if he falls by so often sinning, he cannot rise but by as often repenting.
Some are apt to deceive themselves, and to think 523that once repenting is sufficient for all their sins; so that when this is done, they think themselves be forehand with God for all the sins that they shall commit for the future: but such must know, that repentance is still to follow sin; and he that does not repent continually, never repented so much as once truly. What needed the prophet Jeremy to have wished his head a fountain in order to his weeping for sin, did not that require such a stream as was to follow without intermission? A fountain of sin may well require a fountain of sorrow. For repentance cannot be effectual, but as it bears some proportion to sin; and unless one be as continual as the other, there is no proportion between them.
It is an excellent thing so to manage our spiritual accounts, as not to let our debts run on too far. That soul that is careful to make scores even between God and itself by a daily fresh repentance, has a mighty advantage over its corruption, and will by degrees weary it out; the very thought of a subsequent humiliation is enough to embitter and discommend the sweetest offers of sin.
Repentance has a purifying power, and every tear is of a cleansing virtue; but these penitential clouds must be still kept dropping, one shower will not suffice; for repentance is not one single action, but a course. We may here compare the soul to a linen cloth; it must be first washed, to take off its native hue and colour, and to make it white; and afterwards it must be ever and anon washed, to preserve and to keep it white. In like manner the soul must be cleansed first from a state of sin by a converting repentance, and so made pure, and afterwards, by a daily repentance, it must be purged from those actual 524 stains that it contracts, and so be kept pure. It is an enjoyment and a privilege reserved for heaven, not to need repentance; and the reason of this is, because the cause of it will then be taken away. But here this pitch of perfection is not to be hoped for. We cannot expect that God should totally wipe these tears from our eyes, till he has taken all sin out of our hearts. Till it be our power and privilege not to sin, it is still our duty to repent.
2dly, The purifying ourselves from the power of sin consists in a vigilant prevention of the acts of sin for the future. If we would keep our garment clean, it is not sufficient to wash it only, unless we have also a continual care to keep it up from drailing in the dirt. After the use of healing physic, by which we are freed from our distemper for the present, we must also use preventing physic, to se cure us from the returns of it hereafter. Repentance bewails those sins that a man has committed, and bewares of those which as yet he has not; it has a double aspect, looking upon things past with a weeping eye, and upon the future with a watchful. I know the bare suppressing of sin from breaking out into act, is not able to mortify or extinguish the power; yet in this sense, at least, it may be said to weaken it, that it hinders it from growing stronger. For a restraint of ourselves from the committing of sin bereaves the power of sin of that strength that it would certainly have acquired by those commissions. Sin indeed, while it lies quiet, still is sin, but when it rages in outward actions, it is more sinful. While a beast is kept in, and shut up, he still retains his wild nature; but when he breaks out and gets loose, his wildness is much more hurtful and outrageous.525
Now for the keeping of sin from an actual breaking out, a man should observe what objects and occasions are apt to draw it forth, and accordingly avoid them. When there are some impressions of holiness made upon the heart, if we yet venture it amongst the allurements of enticing objects, those will quickly again deface them. As when we have stamped a piece of wax with the print of a seal, if we put the wax to the fire again, that will presently melt out the impression.
He that would keep the power of sin from running out into act, must restrain it from conversing with the object. For when that has once cast the bait before the heart, so that the heart begins to look upon it, and by degrees to delight in it, and to feed its imagination with pleasure, then let a man beware, for the tempter is then hammering and framing out a sinful action; sin is then conceiving; and if we do not fright it by humiliation, so far as to make it prove abortive, it will certainly bring forth; and we know that when the heart has brought forth sin, sin will be sure to bring forth death.
In vain therefore is any endeavour to purify the heart, unless we watch. A Christian should be always in a posture of caution. If the former part of our life has been stained, let us endeavour to keep that, at least, that is to come, pure and unpolluted. And then, though abstinence from sin cannot of itself take away the power of it, yet it will put the heart in a good preparedness for grace to take it away. On the contrary, every new actual transgression exceedingly heightens our account. For this is most certainly true, that whatsoever adds to the guilt of sin, increases also the power.526
The purifying ourselves from the power of sin consists in a continual mortifying and weakening the very root and principle of inherent corruption. The power of sin is properly the root, and the actual commission of it are the branches; and our purifying work cannot be perfect, unless, as we lop off the branches, so we also strike at the root. There is a principle of sin conveyed to us from our very being, and it continues with us as long as our being, that is, in this state of mortality. And there is no man living but has wrapt up in his nature the seeds of all impurity; so that in this respect we are said to have a body of sin, Rom. vi. 6. Sin is not only a scar or a sore, cleaving to one part or member, but it has incorporated itself into the whole man. In respect of which also it is said, How can he be clean that is born of a woman? Job xxv. 4. A man draws so much filth from his very conception and nativity, that it is now made almost as natural and essential to him to be a sinner, as to be a man.
Now the chief work of purification lies in the disabling and mortifying this sinful faculty. The power of godliness must be brought into the room of the power of sin. A man must plant all his endeavours for the battering down of this strong hold. A man must be perpetually striving as for his life, and for eternity, to get the conquest over his inbred enemy. All ways and courses must be taken to pluck out this core, or the wound cannot be cured. All endeavours to purify ourselves from actual sins, unless we also work out the principle of sin, is only to wash and scour the outside of the vessel, while the inside is full of all kind of filth and noisomeness. As long as this remains in us, it will be fighting; and if it be not 527mortified, it will be victorious. It is continual and restless in all its workings, like the troubled sea, continually casting forth mire and dirt. Every day it casts new defilements upon the soul, fresh pollutions upon the conscience. Justly therefore are we to direct our purifying work against this, forasmuch as this is the cause, and, as it were, the parent of all those actual abominations that swarm in our lives.
Having thus shewn the particulars of which this work of purifying ourselves from the power of sin does consist, I come now to the next thing, which is, to shew the means by which it is to be effected: three I shall mention, as having a most sovereign force and influence for the compassing of this great work.
1. The first is, with all possible might and speed to oppose the very first risings and movings of the heart to sin; for these are the buds that produce that bitter fruit; and if sin be not nipped in the very bud, it is not imaginable how quickly it will shoot forth. There be sudden sallies out of inherent corruption in these first motions, which, though at first they are not so easily prevented, yet may be easily suppressed; and these may be working in the heart, when there is no noise of any outward enormity in the actions. The fire may burn strongly and vehemently, though it does not flame. The bees may be at work, and very busy within, though we see none of them fly abroad.
Now these sins, though they may seem small in themselves, yet are exceedingly pernicious in their effects. These little foxes destroy the grapes as much or more than the greater, and therefore are to be diligently sought out, hunted, and killed by us, if we 528 would keep our hearts fruitful. We should deal with these first streamings out of sin, as the Psalmist would have the people of God deal with the brats of Babylon; happy shall he be who taketh and dasheth those little ones against the stones. And with out doubt most happy and successful will that man prove in his spiritual warfare, who puts on no bowels of pity even to his infant corruptions, but slays the small as well as the great; and so not only conquers his enemies by opposing their present force, but also by extinguishing their future race. The smallest children, if they live, will be grown men; and the first motions of sin, if they are let alone, will spread into great, open, and audacious presumptions.
But if a man is always upon his guard, and, as it were, stands perdu at his heart, to spy when sin begins to peep out in these first inclinations, and then with much force and courage beats them back again; the very power of sin will by degrees languish; for as frequent working improves the power, so a long disuse and intermission of working will insensibly weaken it. The first motions of sin lie nearest to the faculty itself; whereupon he who vigorously fights against these, must by consequence also wound that; as he that strikes that part that is next to the root, by the same blow weakens also the root itself.
As often therefore as a man finds his corruption renewing its assaults, let him set upon it with a renewed opposition. As often as that stirs, let him strike, at no hand suffering it to get ground of him; for every motion of it not resisted gives it an advance. And we know that after it has made some progress, it is then harder to be subdued than at the first repulsed. When an enemy is but rising, it is easy to 529knock him to the ground again, but when he is up, and stands upon his legs, he is not then so easily thrown down. It is less difficult to hinder and prevent, than to stop and restrain the course of sin.
2dly, A second way to purify ourselves from the power of sin, is to be frequent in severe, mortifying duties, such as watchings and fastings, the use of which directly tends to weaken the very vitals of our corruption. For they are most properly contrary to the flesh; and whatsoever opposes that, proportionably weakens sin. Yet still I recommend not these practices as if they were any ways meritorious, or of themselves able to subdue sin, but only as spiritual instruments which God sanctifies, and the Spirit often employs and makes successful about this great work. And so far as, under God, they are instrumental and conducing to the taming of the flesh, they have been of singular use to the saints of God in all ages: and those who are not in some measure acquainted with the exercise of such austerities, it is to be feared, are but novices in piety, and strangers to the arts of mortification. He that would lay the axe to the root of his sin must use it coarsely, and strike it boldly. Courtship to an enemy is but cruelty to ourselves. Better were it for a man to restrain an unruly appetite, and to stint himself in the measures of his very food and his sleep, than by a full indulgence of himself in these, to pamper up his corruption, and give it strength and activity to cast off all bonds, till at length it becomes unconquerable. Sin has now so insinuated itself into our nature, that we cannot freely cherish that, but we must by unhappy consequence nourish and feed our sin too. For which cause it is, that such as have had experience 530 what it is to walk with God, and what are the chief impediments to such a course, have been always fearful of pleasing the flesh, though in things lawful or indifferent. And every man’s conscience can best resolve him, whether or no a full allowance of himself, even in things not forbid, has not indisposed him to a more near and spiritual converse with God. He that would maintain such a strict communion with himself, must bind that excellent advice of the apostle upon his heart, Gal. v. 13, not to use liberty for an occasion to the flesh. For did but men well consider how apt the flesh is to encroach upon the spirit, and how ready to turn every thing into an occasion of sin, they would keep it under with the severest discipline, and deny it in all its importunate cravings, as knowing that they have to deal with a rebel, who is rather bound up and restrained than throughly subdued and conquered; and therefore, when he has opportunity, wants not will to renew his rebellion. It is not in vain, therefore, that the apostle, Rom. xiii. 14, warns men not to make provision for the flesh. For God knows that is too apt to provide for itself, and to prog and purvey for the satisfaction of its vile desires.
There are two things in the body, both of which contend to have its service, and the interest of both is totally different, namely, sin and the soul. And if we would break the dominion that sin usurps over it, and make it subservient to the operations of the soul, and the spiritual commands of the understanding, we must be sure to rule and feed it like a sturdy slave, inure and accustom it to flesh-displeasing performances. And a constant, faithful practice of this will at length enfeeble the forces of sin, and keep 531them from making an insurrection against the spirit. Our bodies are unhappily made the weapons of sin; and therefore, if we would overcome that, we must, by an austere course of duty, first wring these weapons out of its hands.
3dly, A third way to purify ourselves from the power of sin, is to be frequent and fervent in prayer to God for fresh supplies of sanctifying grace. There is no conquest to be had over sin but by grace, nor is grace any way so effectually to be procured as by prayer. For surely, if we would obtain any thing from a prince, it must be by way of petition.
We find a defiling power of sin within us; and perhaps we strive against it, but still it is strong; we contend with it, but still it prevails. And now what should we do, but call in help and assistance from above? Come unto me, says Christ, all ye that are heavy laden, and I will give you ease. Christ calls upon us to come, and I am sure the best way is to come upon our knees; we cannot make our addresses to him more acceptably than by humble, frequent, and importunate supplications.
It is a truth both clear from scripture, and ratified by the experience of all believers, that there was never any one, were his entanglements in sin never so great, his corruptions never so raging, but if he was enabled to wait upon mercy in an earnest, constant use of prayer for the removal of his sin, be came in the end a conqueror, the issue was glorious, and the success comfortable. Prayer is the only expedient that we have always in readiness to procure help in the time of spiritual distress. To describe the virtue, efficacy, and excellency of this duty, is not the business of the present discourse; but thus 532 much I shall say of it, that it is that which enables every believer like a prince to prevail with God. It has (as I may speak with reverence) a kind of omnipotence; for it even overpowers him that is al mighty. It is this that has often tied God’s hands from the inflicting of judgments, and opened them for the bestowing of blessings.
And now, if this be the force and energy of prayer, when we find the power of sin to grow violent, and the workings of it, by any strength of our own, irresistible, why do we not fly to this remedy, and cry mightily to God, that he would create clean hearts, and renew right spirits within us? Why do we not make that request to our Saviour that the leper did; Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean? It is but one word of his power dispensing out purifying grace, and we shall be pure. And surely Christ could not but vouchsafe a gracious answer to every such petition. For if he was of such tenderness and compassion as to heal the leprosy and distemper of the body upon asking, do we not think that he will be much readier to commiserate and heal the dangerous, loathsome leprosy of the soul, which is sin, upon the vehement entreaties of a sincere heart? Certainly he that was so tender to the bodies of men, must needs be much more compassionate of their souls.
Now we are to observe yet further, that as prayer is of such sovereign force to procure sanctifying grace from God, so there is a certain cleansing, purifying power in the very duty itself. And we may appeal to the experience of any pious person, who has accustomed himself to be earnest and spiritual in prayer, whether he has not found his heart in a very 533different frame and posture after the performance of it, from what it used to be at other times. How have his inclinations to sin been, as it were, stupified, the dislike of his corruption renewed! How has his love to holiness been inflamed! How much stronger has he found himself to encounter a temptation! I believe there is none who ever kneeled down to this duty with a good heart, and performed it well, but rose up with a better. If he came to it with desires against his sin, he went away with strength added to his desires.
Whosoever, therefore, would give a speedy des patch to his corruption, let him continually engage his prayers against the power of it. It is reported of Alexander, that when he was beset round by his enemies, and sorely wounded, he yet bore up his spirit, and fought upon his knees. So a Christian, when all the powers of darkness do encompass him, and his sin has given him many wounds, yet if he can but hold out praying and fighting against it upon his knees, he may in the end vanquish and overcome it. A praying heart naturally turns into a purified heart.
And thus much for the first thing from which we are to purify ourselves, namely, the power of sin, as also for the ways and means by which it is to be effected. From all which we gather how vain and successless that method of purifying the heart from sin must needs prove, which is used by two sorts of men.
1. Such as direct their humiliations and penitential cleansings only to some great actual sin that has broke out in their lives, but in the mean time never to the power and root of sin, which is the cause of 534 all these actual rebellions. These indeed are most conspicuous in our lives, but the other is the most dangerous and hurtful to our souls. For this is that spring-head that lies under ground, and sends forth all those streams of impurity that flow in our actions. Now that should most humble us that most provokes God; but it is the sinful frame of the heart, the inclination and disposition of the whole man to wickedness, that renders us so loathsome in the pure eyes of God. We indeed take more notice of a sinful action than of a sinful heart, because that does more vex and disquiet us, and is more visible to ourselves and others. But when repentance is sincere and effectual, where it resolves to kill sin, it gives the first stab to the heart. Thus David, an excellent pattern of true penitence, when he would humble himself for those actual sins of murder and adultery, he pursues them to their first cause, which was his sinful nature, Psalm li. 5. In sin, says he, was I conceived; and verse 10, he cries out for a clean heart. Those actual sins he made only occasions to discover to him the sin of his nature. They indeed made a greater noise and clamour in the world, and procured him more trouble and shame from men; but he knew that the power of sin in his heart was most odious, and consequently most deserved his sorrow.
From whence we may take an excellent infallible note of difference between a forced, unsincere, and a true, spiritual repentance; that the first humbles us chiefly for actual sins, and that because they are the most troublesome; the latter humbles us chiefly for the sin of our hearts and natures, and that because it is the most sinful. For that it is so, is clear from 535this consideration; because the sin of our natures makes our state and condition sinful, which a bare actual transgression does not. No wonder, therefore, if many poor deluded persons, who spend much time and labour to purify themselves from sin, yet after all are not purified. For they fasten their repentance upon some one actual sin, but overlook the power. But certainly this is to take the wrong way, and to labour in the fire; this is to plaster a pimple upon the cheek or face, while a malignant humour is to be purged out of the whole body. For still it is the body of sin, and not so much this or that particular sin, that is like to be the sinner’s destruction. It is not a sore or a bruise upon his hand or arm, though perhaps that may pain him most, but it is his consumption, though it does not so much pain him, that endangers his life. Whosoever therefore would be throughly purified, must begin the work here, strike at the foundation, stop the fountain, block up that place from whence sin receives all its supplies; otherwise all labour, all sorrow and humiliation, will avail nothing. For after it has beat back sin from one place, it will break out in another; when one actual sin disappears in a man’s life, another will presently start forth. The only sure and infallible way of destroying the effect, is first to remove the cause.
2dly, The other ineffectual course to purify the heart from sin is, when men rest only in complaints of the evil of their natures, without a vigorous endeavour to amend the particular enormities and misdemeanour of their actions. This course is directly contrary to the former, which pursues the reformation of particular actions, without regarding the purification of the heart. Both ways are equally unsuccessful. 536 For to purge the actions before the heart, is preposterous; and to complain of the heart, with out reforming of the actions, is vain and superfluous. Many complain and cry out very tragically of the wretchedness of their hearts, their total indisposition to all good, and exceeding propensity to all sin. All which may be very true. But while they are complaining of their hearts, perhaps they freely allow themselves in some known course of disobedience, they frequently renew wounds upon their consciences by the repeated commission of actual sin; and this surely is not the way ever to get themselves purified; thus to complain of sin, and to commit sin; to confute their complaints by their practices; to cry out of the body of sin, and yet to take no notice of actual impieties; this is both a provocation of God, and an abuse to themselves. Their business is to turn complaint into endeavour, words into action, and vigorously to oppose every particular temptation, to stifle every sinful suggestion. For certainly none ever truly hated the sinfulness of his heart, who did not in some measure reform the sinfulness of his actions.
I proceed now to the other thing from which we are to purify ourselves, and that is, the guilt of sin. In speaking of which I shall shew,
1. Negatively, what cannot purify us from the guilt of sin. 2. Positively, what alone can.
1. For the first of these. No duty or work within the power and performance of man, as such, is able to expiate and take away the guilt of sin. In this matter we must put our hands upon our mouths, and be silent for ever. He that thinks and attempts by his own goodness to satisfy God’s justice, does by this the more incense it; and by endeavouring to remove 537his guilt, does indeed increase it. His works of satisfaction for sin are the greatest sins, and stand most in need of the satisfaction of Christ.
We know how miserably the deluded papists err in this point, how they wander in the maze of their own inventions about works of penance, deeds of charity, pilgrimages, and many other such vain ways, found out by them to purge and purify guilty consciences. A man perhaps has committed some gross sin, the guilt of which lies hard and heavy upon his conscience; and how shall he remove it? why, peradventure, by a blind devotion; he says over so many prayers, goes so many miles barefoot, gives so much to holy uses, and now he is rectus in curia, free and absolved in the court of heaven. But certainly the folly of those that practise these things is to be pitied; and the blasphemy of those that teach them to be detested. For do they know and consider what sin is? and whom it strikes at? Is it not the breach of the law? Is it not against the infinite justice and sovereignty of the great God? And can the poor, imperfect, finite services of a sinful creature ever make up such a breach? Can our pitiful, broken mite discharge the debt of ten thousand talents? Those that can imagine the removal of the guilt of the least sin feasible, by the choicest and most religious of their own works, never as yet knew God truly, nor themselves, nor their sins; they never understood the fiery strictness of the law, nor the spirituality of the gospel.
Now though this error is most gross and notorious amongst the papists, yet there is something of the same spirit, that leavens and infects the duties of most professors; who, in all their works of repentance, 538 sorrow, and humiliation for sin, are too, too apt secretly to think in their hearts, that they make God some amends for their sins. And the reason of this is, because it is natural to all men to be self-justiciaries, and to place a justifying power in themselves, and to conceive a more than ordinary value and excellency in their own works, but especially such works as are religious.
But this conception is of all others the most dangerous to the soul, and dishonourable to God, as being absolutely and diametrically opposite to the tenor of the gospel, and that which evacuates the death and satisfaction of Christ; for it causes us, while we acknowledge a Christ, tacitly to deny the Saviour. And herein is the art and policy of the Devil seen, who will keep back the sinner as long as he can from the duties of repentance and humiliation; and when he can do this no longer, he will endeavour to make him trust and confide in them. And so he circumvents us by this dilemma: he will either make us neglect our repentance, or adore it; throw away our salvation by omission of duty, or place it in our duties: but let this persuasion still remain fixed upon our spirits, that repentance was enjoined the sinner as a duty, not as a recompence; and that the most that we can do for God cannot countervail the least that we have done against him.
2. In the next place therefore, positively, that course which alone is able to purify us from the guilt of sin, is by applying the virtue of the blood of Christ to the soul by renewed acts of faith. We hold indeed, that justification, as it is the act of God, is perfect and entire at once, and justifies the soul from all sins both past and future; yet justification and pardoning 539mercy is not actually dealt forth to us after particular sins, till we repair to the death and blood of Christ by particular actings of faith upon it; which actings also of themselves cleanse not away the guilt of sin, but the virtue of Christ’s blood conveyed by them to the soul; for it is that alone that is able to wash away this deep stain, and to change the hue of the spiritual Ethiopian: nothing can cleanse the soul, but that blood that redeemed the soul.
The invalidity of whatsoever we can do in order to this thing is sufficiently demonstrated in many places of scripture; Job ix. 30, 31, If I wash myself with snow water, and make my hands never so clean; yet shalt thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me. He that has no thing to rinse his polluted soul with, but his own penitential tears, endeavours only to purify himself in muddy water, which does not purge, but increase the stain. In Christ alone is that fountain that is opened for sin and for uncleanness; and in this only we must wash and bathe our defiled souls, if ever we would have them pure. 1 John i. 7, The blood of Christ cleanseth us from all sin. It is from his crucified side that there must issue both blood to expiate, and water to cleanse our impieties. Faith also is said to purify the heart, Acts xv. 9. But how? Why certainly, as it is instrumental to bring into the soul that purifying virtue that is in Christ. Faith purifies, not as the water itself, but as the conduit that conveys the water. Again, Rev. i. 5, Christ is said to have washed us from our sins in his own blood. There is no cleansing without this. So that we may use the words of the Jews, and convert an imprecation into a blessing, and pray, that his blood may 540 be upon us and upon our souls; for it is certain that it will be one way upon us, either to purge or to condemn us. Every soul is polluted with the loathsome, defiling leprosy of sin. And now for the purging off of this leprosy, if the Spirit of God bids us go and wash in the blood of Christ, that spiritual Jordan, and assures us that upon such washing our innocence shall revive and grow anew, and our original, lost purity return again upon us, shall we now in an huff of spiritual pride and self-love, run to our own endeavours, our own humiliations, and say, as Naaman did, Are not the rivers of Damascus better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? Are not my tears, my groans, and my penitential sorrows, of more efficacy to cleanse me, than the blood and death of Christ? may I not use these, and be clean, and purified from sin? I answer, No; and after we have tried them, we shall experimentally find their utter insufficiency. We may sooner drown than cleanse ourselves with our own tears.
I have now finished the first general thing proposed for the handling of the words, which was, to shew what is implied in the purifying of ourselves here spoken of in the text. I proceed now to the other;
II. Which is, to shew how the hope of heaven and a future glory comes to have such a sovereign influence upon this work.
It has so upon a double account, natural and moral.
1st, And first upon a natural account; this hope purifies, as being a special grace infused into the heart by the Holy Ghost, and in its nature and operation 541directly contrary to sin: as heat is a quality both in nature and working, contrary to, and destructive of cold. All grace is naturally of a sin-purging virtue; as soon as ever it is infused into the soul, it is not idle, but immediately operative. And its operation is to change and transform the soul into its own nature; for the effecting of which it must work out that principle of corruption that does intimately possess it. When leaven is cast into the lump, it presently begins to work and to ferment, till by degrees it has throughly changed the whole mass. In like manner every grace will be incessantly working, till it has wrought over the heart to its own likeness.
Now hope is one of the principal graces of the Spirit, so that we have it marshalled with faith and charity, and placed immediately after faith, in regard of the method of its operation, which is immediately consequent upon that of faith. For what faith looks upon as present in the promise, that hope looks upon as future in the event. Faith properly views the promise, hope eyes the performance. But the scripture tells us, that faith purifies the heart, and casts out the filth and corruption naturally inherent in it: and if these are the effects of faith, they must needs be ascribed also to hope, which is sown in the heart by the same eternal Spirit, and consequently is of the same quality and operation with that. For that it springs not from mere nature, but from an higher principle, is most manifest. Since it is the Spirit of God alone that proposes to the soul the grounds of hope, and lays before it the object of hope, and then, by an immediate, al mighty power, enables the soul fiducially to close 542 with and rest upon that object, upon those grounds. Flesh and blood cannot rise so high; bare reason cannot furnish the heart with such a support. It may indeed cause us to presume, but it can never cause us truly to hope.
2dly, The hope of future glory has an influence upon this work of purifying ourselves upon a moral account; that is, by suggesting to the soul such arguments, as have in them a persuasive force to engage it in this work. Of which sort I shall reckon four.
1. And the first shall be drawn from the necessary relation that this work has to the attainment of heaven, as the use of the means to the acquisition of the end. Our way to happiness does indispensably lie through holiness; and God has so ordered things, that we cannot arrive at one, but through the other. Now when the purification of our hearts is the proper way and means appointed, and consigned by God’s own institution, for our obtaining of everlasting felicity with himself; is it not the highest strain of folly and madness that is imaginable, for a man to pretend that he does earnestly hope for this happiness, and yet in the mean time totally neglects that course by which alone it is attainable? Should we take such a course in worldly things, how cheap, how unreasonable, and ridiculous would our hope appear! For does any one hope to reap, when he never sows, and expect treasure from a far country, with which he holds no traffic or commerce? Certainly, notwithstanding all words and protestations, we should conclude that such persons did not really hope for the things they pretended; or if they did hope for them, that they were incurably mad and 543besotted, and past all hope, at least as to the recovery of their reason. The apostle most rationally warns men in Gal. vi. 7, 8, not to think that they can mock God because they can deceive themselves. For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. For as it is absurd to hope to reap, and yet not to sow, so it is equally unreasonable to sow one kind, of grain, and to expect a crop of another; to sow tares, and yet hope to reap wheat. There is no reaping of life everlasting, (as the apostle’s phrase is,) but by sowing to the Spirit; this is the only proper way to attain it. For this is an eternal truth, that the works of the Spirit have a necessary subordination to the rewards of the Spirit.
2. The second argument by which the hope of future glory persuades the soul to purify itself, shall be taken from this consideration, that it is purity alone that can fit and qualify the soul for so holy a place. He that is clothed in filth and rags is not a fit person to converse and live in a court; nor is there any one who designs the course of his life in such a place, but will adorn and dress himself accordingly. David proposes and resolves the question in Psalm xxiv. 3, 4, Who shall ascend into thy holy hill? Even he that hath clean hands and a pure heart. And again in Psalm xciii. 5, Holiness becometh thine house, O Lord, for ever. And therefore as God said to Moses, Pull off thy shoes, for the place on which thou standest is holy ground; so may we say to every one that hopes for heaven, Take away that filth, that enormity and corruption that 544 cleaves to thy life; for the place whither thou art going is holy, and therefore requires and admits of none but holy inhabitants. In Revel, xxi. 27, it is said, that nothing shall enter into the new Jerusalem that is polluted, or that maketh a lie. It is with the new Jerusalem as it was heretofore with the old, where all the filth, the offscourings, and whatsoever was noisome in the city, was carried to a place without, and there burnt. And we all know, that there is a deep and dismal place without the new Jerusalem, where every noisome, wicked, and polluted thing shall be cast and burnt with everlasting flames.
Nay further, purity and holiness does not only fit us for heaven, so that without it we can have no entrance or admittance there; but it also so fits us, that if it were possible for us to enter into heaven void of it, heaven would be no place of happiness to us in that condition, but a place of trouble, torment, and vexation. As for instance, it is impossible for a beggar in his rags to be admitted to the society and converse of princes and noblemen; but put the case that he were, yet his beggarly condition would never suffer him to enjoy himself in that company, in which he could be nothing but a mock and a derision. In like manner, heaven bears no suitableness to an impure, unsanctified person. For a sinful heart must have sinful delights and sinful company, and where it meets not with such, in the very midst of comforts and company, it finds a solitude and a dissatisfaction. The business we shall be put to in heaven, is for ever to praise and admire the great God for the infinite beauty of his holiness, and the glorious perfections of his nature; but this surely 545is an employment no ways either fit for, or desirable to a sinner. It is indeed a blessed thing to see God, but it is so only to the pure in heart; for to the wicked and impure, the vision of God himself could not be beatifical. Those that live in any country must conform to the habit of the country. Those that are citizens of the new Jerusalem must have the clothing and the garb of such citizens, even the long white robes of a pure, unspotted righteousness. In a word, no hope can give us a title to heaven, but such an one as also gives us a fitness for it.
3. The third argument, by which the hope of heaven persuades the soul to purify itself, shall be drawn from the obligation of gratitude. For surely if I expect so great a gift at God’s hands as eternal happiness, even humanity and reason cannot but constrain me to pay him at least a temporary, short obedience. For shall I hope to be saved by him, whom I strike at and defy? Or can I expect that he should own me in another world, when I reject, despise, and trample upon his commands in this?
God gives us righteous precepts, and endears them to us by glorious promises; and now can it stand with the principles, not of piety only, but of common ingenuity, to balk the duty, and yet to snatch at the reward? to expect the highest favours from God’s mercy, and to offer the greatest indignities to his holiness? When Christ had promised paradise to the thief upon the cross, would it not have been a prodigious piece of ingratitude for him to have joined with his fellow thief in cursing and reviling him, by whose favour he expected presently to exchange his cross for a crown?546
God promises to us a kingdom, and makes the condition of our passage to it, only the cleansing ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit. A work that is our privilege as well as our duty; and shall we not obey him in this one command? A command so reasonable for him to enjoin, and so advantageous for us to perform? For shall he be willing to make us glorious, and we grudge to make ourselves pure? Shall he hold forth such vast wages, and we not find in our hearts to set about the work? These things are absurd and disingenuous, and such as the world would cry out of in common converse. And therefore let no man think, that that disposition can commend him to God, that would justly make him abhorred by men.
4thly and lastly, The fourth argument, by which the hope of heaven persuades the soul to purify itself, shall be taken from this consideration; that purity is the only thing that can evidence to us our right and interest in those glorious things that we profess ourselves to hope for. It is infinitely fond and presumptuous for a man to hope to inherit that estate, to which he can shew no title. The reasonableness of our hopes of heaven depends upon the sure right and claim that we have to it; and prove this we cannot in the court of our own conscience, much less in the court of heaven, but only by the obedience and purity of our lives, and their strict conformity to the excellent precepts of the gospel. No man can ascertain himself that he is an heir of glory, unless he can prove himself to be a son; and he shall never be able to find that he is a son, till holiness makes him like his heavenly Father; for where 547there is this relation, there will be also some resemblance.
And now, I suppose, that from what has been discoursed upon this subject, every one does, or at least may, gather a certain mark or criterion, by which to judge of his hopes and pretences as to the happiness of his future estate. It is grace only that ends in glory. And he that hopes for heaven in earnest, will be as active in his repentance as he is serious in his hopes. Who almost is there that does not own himself a candidate and an expectant of future glory, nay, even amongst those whose present glory is only in their shame? But if such persons did not wretchedly prevaricate with themselves, how could there be so much of heaven in their hopes, and yet so little of it in their conversation? How comes their heart to be in one place, and their treasure in another?
It is evident that the very hope and religion of every profane and vicious liver is but mockery and pretence. For can any one of common sense really expect to be saved in the constant practice of those enormities, for which the God of truth himself assures him he shall be damned? It is infinitely vain for a man to talk of heaven while he trades for hell, or to look upwards while he lives downwards; yet thousands do so, and it is the common practice of the deluded world; which shews how much men trifle in the grand business of their eternal condition. They profess an hope of that, of which they have scarce a thought; and expect to enjoy God hereafter, though they live wholly without him here. But the issue will be accordingly; neither 548 they nor their hopes can ever stand before the pure eyes of him, with whom live only the spirits of just men made perfect.
To whom be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.
END OF VOL. IV.549
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