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And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
IT is common to all sects and institutions to have some distinguishing badges and characteristic names, by which they both express and distinguish their profession. But Christ, that came into the world not to imitate, but to correct and transcend both that of the Jews and of the philosophers, sequesters his doctrine from the empty formality of names, reducing it to its inward vigour and spirituality. So that even in respect of the most solemn appellation, we find that Christianity was some time in the world before the name of Christian; perhaps to convince the world, that religion is not a bare name, and that men might be Christians before they were called so; as daily experience demonstrates that they are often called so before they are.
And indeed the name of Christian, without the nature, leaves no more impression upon the soul, than the baptismal water that conveys it does upon the face. Wherefore Christ gives another-guess badge and mark of Christianity; such an one as constitutes the very essence of it; for still it is the same thing that gives both nature and difference to beings. Now this discriminating mark is in short comprised in the crucifixion of the flesh and the lusts thereof.179
For the explication of which words, I shall shew,
I, What is meant by being Christ’s.
II. What by the flesh with the affections and lusts.
I. For the first of these. To be Christ’s is to accept of and have an interest in Christ, as he is offered and proposed in the gospel. Now Christ is offered and held forth to every particular person that expects to be saved by him under three offices; 1. his prophetical, 2. his kingly, and 3. his sacerdotal. In which account I give you not only the number of his offices, but also their order, as they stand related to us. And this order and economy of them is founded upon the very nature of the thing, and the natural order of religious actions. For in the procedure of nature there must be, 1. the knowledge of a duty; 2. the performance of it; 3. the reward. Correspondent to these is the economy of Christ’s offices. For, 1. by Christ’s prophetic office, revealing his mind to us, we come to know his will. 2. Then by his kingly office, ruling and governing us, we come to yield obedience to that will. 3. And thirdly, by his sacerdotal or priestly office, we come to receive the fruit of that obedience in our justification and salvation. For we must not think that our obedience is rewarded with eternal life for its own merit, but it is the merit of Christ’s sacrifice that procures this reward to our obedience.
Some indeed preposterously misplace these, and make us partake of the benefit of Christ’s priestly office in the forgiveness of our sins, and our reconcilement to God, before we are brought under the sceptre of his kingly office by our obedience. But such must know that our interest in Christ as a lord 180 and king to rule us, does precede, if not also cause, our interest in him as a priest to save us. For the gospel perverts not the order of nature; the work must still go before the reward. And those shall never share in the benefit of Christ’s sacrifice, who have not submitted to the rule of his sceptre.
Now therefore, to sum this up into a firm conclusion, he, and he alone, is properly said to be Christ’s, who, upon a sound knowledge of and a sincere obedience to Christ’s will, stands justified and reconciled to God by the merit of his death and sufferings: and thus he is perfectly Christ’s, who has an interest in him considered under every one of his offices. This may serve to overthrow the wild and irrational justification of the antinomians, libertines, and lazy solifidians, who upon this ground only judge themselves to be Christ’s, because they believe they are: a way of justification, for its easiness, rather to be wished true than to be thought so. But easy things in religion are always suspicious, if not false; and such will find, that their belief is not the rule of God’s proceeding.
II. In the next place we are to see what is meant by the flesh, and the affections and lusts. By the first I suppose I need not tell you that it cannot be understood of the corporeal bulk of man, which together with the soul makes up the whole compound; but it is rather a metonymy of the part for the whole, or perhaps more properly, of the subject for the adjunct, the flesh for the sin adherent to the flesh, as shall be made out by and by. In the mean time by flesh we are to understand the whole entire body of sin and corruption, that inbred proneness in our nature to all evil, in one word expressed by concupiscence, 181 usually called by the schoolmen fomes; that fuel, or combustible matter in the soul, that is apt to be fired by every temptation; the womb that conceives and brings forth all actual impurities, styled in the next words affections and lusts. By which we are not to understand only the brutish affections of carnal sensuality, but indifferently all the actual eruptions of that accursed principle, all the streams that issue from that impure fountain; for as by the flesh is denoted the original depraved disposition of the heart, so by the other is signified the drawing forth of that propensity or principle into the several commissions of sin through the course of our lives; flesh is the fuel, and lust the flame.
Having thus given the explication of the words, and shewn what is to be understood by being Christ’s, and what by the flesh and its affections,
We shall lay the further prosecution of the text in these two things.
I. To shew why this vitiosity and corrupt habit of nature comes to have this denomination of flesh.
II. What is imported by the crucifying of it.
For the first of these. The whole depravation of our nature comes to be called flesh for these reasons.
1. Because of its situation and place, which is principally in the flesh. Here it is placed, here it is enthroned. Concupiscence, I shew, was the radix of all sin, and all the several kinds of sin, to which men are severally inclined, are only so many modifications or different postures of concupiscence; and concupiscence itself follows the crasis and temperature of the body; as we know the liquor for the present receives the figure of the vessel into which it is infused. 182 If you would know why one man is proud, another cruel, another intemperate or luxurious, you are not to repair so much to Aristotle’s Ethics, or the writings of other moralists, as to those of Galen, or of some anatomists, to find the reason of these different tempers; for doubtless they arise from the different quality of the blood and the motion of the spirits in those several persons; which things themselves depend upon the climate, diet, and air, in which men are born and bred. Hence we see that those of the same climate are usually disposed to the same sin. Whereupon some have presumed to set down the standing characters of several nations; as that the Grecians are false; the Spaniards formal, grave, and proud; the French wordy, fickle, and fantastic; the Italians lustful; and the English mutinous and insolent to governors. And these characters, if true, seem to agree to these several nations, not only for one age, but successively in all generations: as waters of a river running in the same channel always retain the same colour, taste, and breed the same sorts of fish. And it is not to be questioned, but that it was the same humour that raised the barons’ wars, and since acted higher in the late rebellion. I do not believe a transmigration of souls, but surely there is something to be observed that looks very like a transmigration of tempers and manners; so constantly does posterity succeed into the humours, appetites, and ways of their progenitors.
But let not any one gather from what has been said, that I place sin in the body only, not in the soul also: for in the body I place only the first seeds and occasions of it, which immediately, upon the sociation of the soul with the body, communicates and 183transfuses the contagion to that likewise; as we see in stills and alembics, though the fire put under, and the materials put within them, lie in the lower part, yet they send up a steam and exhalation, which settles into drops in the upper part: so all the perturbations of bodily affections, though they are seated in the body, which is the lower part, yet they continually exhale and breathe forth sinful vapours, that leave a guilt and an impurity upon the soul; yea, even upon the top and commanding faculties, the understanding and the will: though, to pursue that similitude a little further, as that which rises from the bottom of the still is but a vapour, and becomes not a drop till it settles upon the upper part of it, so that which comes from the body is but a bare disturbance, and comes not to the proper form and nature of a sin, till consented to and owned by the soul. From what has been laid down, Aristotle observes, that intemperance and luxury about things that affect the body and grosser senses leaves a kind of stupidity and sottishness upon the mind also; as the uppermost part of the chimney is blacked by the fire that burns below.
How the body should affect the soul, that which is material work upon that which is immaterial, is, I confess, a problem hardly resolved in philosophy; but experience shews the truth of the thing by its apparent and undeniable effects: and reason itself will not prove that we ought to reject the thing, because we are ignorant of the manner, unless reason would prove also, that we might know every thing. But where philosophy seems to contradict a divine truth, there it is to be reputed vain, and we are to fetch the decision of the case from faith.184
Divines, in the matter of original sin, which upon good grounds we believe, though I suppose few can explain the way of its propagation; they (I say) acknowledge that the soul, which is by immediate creation infused by God into the body, comes pure, unspotted, and untainted with the least sin; but upon the union and conjunction of it with the body, it contracts a pollution, and so the whole man becomes presently sinful; as the purest water issuing from the fountain, when it slides into a dirty and a muddy kennel, it immediately loses its clearness and virginity, and becomes as filthy as the place in which it runs. This discovers that it is the body that first sullies and besmears the soul; here is the malum propter vicinum malum, this is the unhappy neighbourhood; for no sooner are they joined, no sooner are the body and the soul made brothers, but they are brethren in iniquity.
Conformable to what has been said is the verdict of the holy scripture. Hear the exclamation of St. Paul, Rom. vii. 24, O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death? It was his body that wounded, that, as it were, stifled his soul: hence it cries out, as one sinking in a bog or quagmire, for immediate deliverance. This sociable evil, this treacherous companion, is the enticer and betrayer to all sin. Hence again Paul lays the stress and load of all upon this in the eighteenth verse of the same chapter, In me, that is, my flesh, (says he,) there dwelleth no good thing. He earned his prison about him, nay, his bane, his poison, had he not had an antidote from grace: it was a magazine for the weapons of unrighteousness, a full, endless, inexhaustible storehouse of all filth and corruption.185
This truth, that sin has its first situation and place in the flesh, and that from hence it borrows its name in common dialect of scripture, is yet further clear from this; that the most mortified and sanctified persons in the world cannot by any means wholly discharge themselves from the relicks of sin and concupiscence while they are yet in the body; as having soaked and insinuated itself into the very vital constitution of it: but immediately after they die, and the soul comes to be delivered from the body, we hold that the sanctification of it is then perfect and consummate; so that it sins no more, the very being, as well as the guilt of sin, is then destroyed; the soul is then sprightly, pure, and vigorous, like the spirit or quintessence of a liquor extracted from the dregs and the captivity of matter; or like a pleasant bird that is released from a nasty cage: the soul then finds its activity restored with its purity, and so mounts up to heaven, where it enjoys its Maker by a bright and a clear intuition, and converses with him for ever: and this is an evident demonstration that the vitiosity of our nature is first situate and fixed in the flesh.
The papists indeed hold that the souls of the saints, at least of the plebeian and ordinary saints, are not immediately, upon the dissolution of the body, freed wholly from the being and inherency of sin, but are sent into a place called purgatory, where the fire is to calcine and purge off the dross of sin from the soul, before it can be fitted for the society of the blessed. But this is a fabulous and a gross conceit, and, were it not gainful, unworthy the patronage of any learned popish writer. For how can the fire burn the soul? and then how can it burn off 186sin? Do we think that sin sticks upon the soul like rust upon a piece of iron? But these things are so ridiculous and absurd, that to repeat them is to confute them.
2. The vitiosity of our nature is called flesh, because of its close, inseparable nearness to the soul. There is an intimate conjunction and union between the soul and sin; and the intimacy of their coherence is the cause of the intimacy of their friendship. Sin is fixed in the heart, and therefore it lies in the bosom. Hence, to shew the individual estate and the indissoluble tie of matrimony, the Spirit takes a similitude from this, Matthew xix. 5, and says, They two shall be one flesh.
The soul, while it is embodied, can no more be divided from sin, than the body itself can be considered without flesh. The nearness between these two, our soul and our corruption, is so great, that it arises to a kind of identity: hence to deny and conquer our sin is, in scripture language, to deny ourselves, implying that sin adheres so close to us, that it is a kind of second self.
I do not say that the substance of the soul is evil, or that the being and nature of it is sinful; but that the stain of sin contracted by it clings so fast to it, that it is scarce to be fetched off. Blackness is not the substance of the ink, yet it is inseparable from it.
See the nearness of sin to the soul, by observing the ways and means by which God endeavours to part them, and without which they cannot be divided. No less than the blood of the Son of God to wash off the stain of sin; no less than the Spirit of God to subdue the power; nothing but an infinite 187price, joined with an infinite power, can work the division. Hence the effectual sin-conquering force of the word is expressed by this dividing quality, Heb. iv. 12; It is quick and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, of the joints and marrow. Is there any thing more closely united than the joint and the marrow? than the soul and the spirit? Yes, the soul and sin. Hereupon, the word being to disenthral the soul from it, must have the same effect upon it that the sword has upon the body, which is, by penetration and dividing the continuity of the parts; for every wound is properly division, an opening or loosening the compactness and closeness of the thing upon which the impression is made. Wherefore, if the great business of the word is to wound and divide the soul from sin, it follows, that they were once intimately and closely cemented together; the connection between these two is a Gordian knot, that cannot be dissolved but by this spiritual sword.
We misapply the command of loving our neighbour, and misplace our affection; for sin is our nearest neighbour, and we love that most; it cleaves, it adheres, it sticks to us; but it is as the viper did to Paul’s hand. And we may say of it as Christ did of Judas, He that betrays me is with me: sin is, as it were, engrafted into the soul, and thereby made connatural to it, and consequently as a stock upon which another scion is engrafted; the soul does not bring forth its own natural fruit, but the fruit of sin.
They are mutually knit and entwined one within 188the other. Hence the power of remitting sins is in the gospel termed, Matth. xvi. 19, the power of loosing, as the contrary is of binding. Sin has bound itself as close upon the soul as the bonds or fetters that pinion and hold fast an imprisoned malefactor.
The same union is yet further evident from the state of every unsanctified, unregenerate person in his death: at which great change, though he leaves his body, he retains his sin; that still keeps close to his side, and follows him into another world. A man’s corruption, if dying in his sin, is to him like a bad servant or an unfaithful soldier; though it lives with him, yet it will be sure not to die with him. And this may be the second reason of this denomination.
3. A third reason why the vitiosity of our nature is called flesh is, because of its dearness to us. And this founded upon the former, for vicinity is one cause of love. Now there is nothing that we prosecute with a more affectionate tenderness than our flesh; for as the apostle says, Ephes. v. 29, No man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it. How does the soul sympathize with it, either in its sufferings or its comforts! one would think that reason was even swallowed up in sense: how does every change of weather affect the mind! how sensible is it of every winter’s blast, every summer’s heat, of the sweetness of ease and the tortures of pain, as if, by conversing with the body, it even grew corporeal. If any the least member is hurt, what a general auxiliary, what a concurrent help is there from all the rest! the eye bewails, the tongue bemoans, and the hand plasters and foments 189it; and all this to rescue a base carcass from that which will one day certainly attach it, death and dissolution.
But in the mean time the conscience may be wounded, the soul bruised and broke with the fatal blows of sin and temptation, and lie even gasping at the brink of eternal death, and yet we feel no pain there, neither seek for a remedy; it may faint and bleed, and we never ask whether there is any balm in Gilead, any spiritual surgeon to pour oil into our wounds. For see whether it is not the usual custom of men not to think of their souls till their body is given over; nor to send for the divine, till they are left by the physician; so dear is this flesh to us: for if it were not so, could we think the drunkard would ruin his soul to please his palate? would the unclean person pawn eternity for the gratification of a base appetite?
Nay, take a survey of all the arts, the trades, and the most prized inventions in the world, and you will find ten to four found out and employed either to please or adorn the flesh: it is for this that the artificer labours, and the merchant ventures; and we compass sea and land ten times oftener to make a gallant, than to make a proselyte. Justly therefore upon this account also does the Spirit express our sin by the name of flesh, for this has an equal share in our love.
Sin is our darling, our Delilah, the queen regent of our affections; it fills all our thoughts, engrosses our desires, and challenges the service of all our actions. Can there be any greater love than the love of a mother to her child? And we know the scripture tells us, that sin is conceived and brought forth 190by the soul, James i. 15. Doubt not therefore but it shall be cherished and beloved as a child; it is the firstborn of the soul, the beginning of its strength; but it is such a firstborn to it as Reuben was to Jacob; such an one as he had for ever cause to curse.
I shall not stand to shew the excessive love that the miserable, bewitched soul of man bears to sin, much less shall I stand to prove it. Let it suffice us to observe, from the constant, uncessant practices of the world, that there is no cost, study, travail, and labour, either to preserve health, to defend life, or to endear friends, which is not with an abundant overplus of charge and expense freely and greedily laid out upon the satisfaction of sin, and that in its most tyrannical and unreasonable demands. What that man in Micah vi. 7 proffers for the expiation, many hundreds would give for the preservation of their sin; thousands of rams, and ten thousands of rivers oil, yea, the fruit of his body for the sin of his soul: so dear does sin usually cost men in this world, though much dearer in another.
This is their paramour, they court it, they go a whoring after it, as the usual scripture expression is: they will not, though you fling the vengeance of God and the fire of hell in their faces, be plucked away, but, maugre all curses or promises, terrors or entreaties, they will even die in the fatal embraces of their dear but killing corruption: and as some will rather rot and perish, and be eat through with a gangrene or an ulcer, than undergo the painful cutting and lancing of their flesh, because they are delicate and tender of it; so the soul will, through the same tenderness to a cruel lust, see itself overgrown, infected, poisoned, and at length ruined by it, rather than remedy 191 and remove it, by the healing severity of a thorough mortification. Let this therefore be the third and last reason why the Spirit has here set forth the pravity and corruption of our nature by the name of flesh.
Now what has been hitherto discoursed of may, by way of inference, suggest these things to our consideration.
1. The deplorable estate of fallen man; whose condition is now such, that he carries his plague about him, and wears it something nearer to him than his shirt; that he encloses a viper in his bowels, feeds and maintains, and is passionately fond of his mortal enemy; and, what is the greatest misery of all, has it not in his power to be otherwise; he has a body that is not so much the instrument, or servant, as the dungeon of his soul: and sin holds him by such bonds of pleasure, so strong, so suitable to his perverted and diseased inclinations, that his ruin is presented to him as his interest, and nothing gratifies, delights, or wins upon him, but that which dishonours his Maker, and certainly destroys himself.
2. The next thing offered from hence to our thoughts is, the great difficulty of the duty of mortification: this is a greater work than men are aware of: it is indeed the killing of an enemy, but of such an enemy as a man thinks his friend, and loves as his child; and how hard it is to put the knife to the throat of an Isaac is easily imaginable. What! part with that that came into the world with me, and has ever since lived and conversed with me, that continually lies down and rises up with me, that has even incorporated itself into my nature, seized all my appetites, and possessed all my faculties, so that it is 192the centre and principle of all my pleasures, and that which gives a relish and a quickness to every object! This is an hard saying, and an harder undertaking. He must be a good orator that should persuade a man to stick daggers and needles in his flesh, to strip his bones, and in a manner to tear his nature over his ears; yet to mortify a sin is something like it: but alas! it would go near to nonplus the most artificial persuader, to bring a man to part with the covering of his body; but how much more with the vestment of his soul!
Surely there is no love to God less than that which will induce a man to lay down his life for God, that can enforce him to mortify a corruption for him; and this, one would think, should awaken those who sacrifice to their own dreams, who spread themselves paths of roses to a fool’s paradise, and design heaven upon those terms of easiness that the gospel knows not of: but it is an attempt that will cost many a smart blow, many a bitter rencounter, and many a passage through the fiery furnace, before the innate filth of our nature can be severed from us. And whatsoever measures a man may propose to himself, he will find, that to mortify a lust, and to be a Christian, is an harder work than now and then to lift up his eyes, to cry, Lord! Lord! or to hear an absolution, which perhaps does not at all belong to him.
3. In the third and last place, this declares to us the mean and sordid employment of every sinner: he serves the flesh, that is, he is a drudge and a scavenger to the most inferior part of his nature. It is a low and an unmanly thing for any person to be laborious and solicitous, and to spend much time in dressing and adorning his body; it shews him to be 193a fop, a trifle, and a mere picture: but then how much more ignoble must it be to attend upon his body, in the dishonourable provisions for the lusts and corruptions of it!
If it be a preferment to handle sores and ulcers, to converse with diseases, and all the filth of a distempered body, then may it pass for a generous employment, to be sedulous in obeying the dictates of sin and the commands of the flesh; but as the service of God is perfect freedom, so the service of the flesh is perfect, entire, complete slavery.
II. I proceed now to the second general thing proposed for the handling of the words, and that is, to shew what is imported by the crucifixion of the flesh; under which I shall do these things.
1. I shall shew what is the reason of the use of it in this place.
2. What is the full force, sense, and significance of it.
3. Prescribe some means for enabling us to the duty signified by it.
4. Make some useful corollaries and deductions from the whole.
1. For the first of these: this word is here used by way of allusion to Christ, of whose behaviour and sufferings every Christian is to be a living copy and representation. Christ will have his death an example to excite, as well as a sacrifice to save: and there is no passage in his life and death but is intended for our instruction, as well as our salvation. Upon this score we are bid to put on Christ, as a garment, Rom. xiii. 14. For as in a garment there is an apposite fitness and commensuration of each part of that to every part of the body; so there is 194nothing in the whole series of Christ’s life and death, but ought in some measure to be answered and transcribed by every believer; as affording to us for every action not only a pattern, but a motive.
We read of Christ’s nativity: here every Christian is to turn an history into a precept, and read in himself the necessity of a new birth. We find the passion and the crucifixion of Christ for sin: now what can this better suggest to us, than the crucifying sin, the cause of his crucifixion? We read and admire his resurrection from the dead: certainly this might infer in us a spiritual resurrection from the death of sin and the grave, and stench of corruption.
Nay, if we have that Christian dexterity and skill of a proper application of these passages, we shall find a correspondent, homogeneous quality derived from each. We shall die with him, and we shall rise with him: we shall find something in his cross that shall kill our sins; something in his resurrection that shall revive our graces: for if we transfer and place it even upon a natural cause, what is it else, but for the body to sympathize with the head?
The Socinians indeed place the whole business of our redemption upon a bare imitation; and the truth is, to say no more, (if you will admit the expression,) they do indeed make Christ an example, and that in a much more ignominious way than the Jews did. But now though they place the whole redemption wrought by Christ in a bare following and expressing his example, let not us therefore transgress into the other extreme, and totally exclude this imitation; for undoubtedly Christ in all his sufferings left us a pattern, as well as paid a price.
There is none that seems to have so evangelical 195 and raised a notion of this, as the apostle Paul in Galat. ii. 20, I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. Paul seems to be recovered to his spiritual life, as the youth upon whom Elisha stretched himself. The prophet put his face to the other’s face, his eyes, his mouth, his hands, to the eyes, mouth, and hands of the other; and so, by an adequate application of his body to each part, he brought him at length to enjoy the same life with himself.
Thus Paul as it were stretched himself upon the same cross with Christ, and by exactly conforming to his sufferings and death, was advanced to the similitude of his life. Hence it is said, 2 Tim. ii. 12, If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him. And Paul, in that excellent discourse, Phil, iii. 10, vents an heavenly passionate desire, that he might know the power of Christ’s resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable to his death. And thus to endeavour to be like Christ is a laudable, nay, a dutiful ambition; it is our sin to worship, but our duty to be his picture: for doubtless every Christian is obliged not only to obey, but also to represent his Saviour.
Certainly Paul, in Galat. vi. 14, where he says, that he is crucified to the world, and tells the believing Romans, in Rom. vi. 6, that their old man is crucified with Christ, could have expressed the same thing by other words sufficiently significant, as, that he was mortified, and his worldly desires extinguished, and that their corruptions were abated, weakened, and subdued; but he rather says crucified. The other, indeed, would have expressed his purity, but this, by a peculiar significance imports 196his Christianity, as not only declaring an excellent life, but also the example that caused it. It is like fair writing, with the copy prefixed and set above it. The business of a Christian is not invention, but imitation: and because he is too ignorant to prescribe to himself, all his perfection is to follow, and Christ gives every Christian this comprehensive, summary compendium of his duty, Let him take up his cross and follow me. And if we would abridge all religion into this short dichotomy, the sum of our belief is Christ, and of our obedience conformity.
Having thus shewn the reason of the use of the word here, I proceed now to the second thing, which is,
2. To shew the full force and significance of it.
Crucifying therefore, as it is here applied to the corruption and depraved sinful disposition of our nature, imports these four things:
(1.) The death of it. The cross is the instrument of death, and to crucify is to kill. A few interrupted assaults and combats with a man’s corruption will not suffice; he may give it some blows, and wounds, and bruises, but after all these it may recover; and we know the seed of the woman was not only to bruise, but to break the serpent’s head.
He that will crucify his sin must pursue it to the very death. Many, after they have been something humbled for their sin, and for a while have used the means of mortification, so as to terrify it from a present acting, and have took off something of the edge of its fury, conclude that the day is won, and the enemy routed, when by sad experience they find at length that it is but a retreat, and the return is 197more furious and dangerous than ever. An enemy is never overcome till he is killed; and those only act like wise men who think so.
We are to crucify our corruptions, as the Jews did Christ; the whippings, scourgings, and buffetings were but the forerunners and beginnings of the grand suffering that was intended. It was his life and his blood that they thirsted after. Now it is but for a man to change the scene, and act the same upon his own corruption. Sin stands as a malefactor condemned to death by the law of God; and God has intrusted every man with the execution of his own sin; and God will require life for life; so that if a man lets his sin escape alive, the life of his soul must be its ransom.
There is nothing that betrays and ruins men, as to the great concerns of their eternal happiness, so much as half and imperfect mortifications of their sin, but supposed to be perfect and complete: for they give sin rather a respite than a ruin; a time of breathing and of re-collecting its strength, and a more prevailing insinuation upon the heart, upon the vicissitude and the return: so that a man is strangely baffled and set backwards in the main work of repentance, while he sees all his endeavours unravelled, and his sin grow upon him afresh, like weeds only cropt and cut, whereas they should have been rooted up.
If a man thinks that he has given a shrewd blow to his lust, let him know that this is an argument for him to pursue his advantage, and to redouble his strokes upon it, to a perfect conquest, rather than to acquiesce, as if he had achieved something sufficient to acquit himself in the combat. The utmost cruelty 198 to an inveterate enemy is always successful, if sufficiently powerful; but if a man shall content himself to have given such an adversary a scratch on the hand, when he might and should have stabbed him to the heart, let him thank himself, if in the issue he fall by a recovered fury, and dies by that strength that he spared to his own ruin.
Wherefore when we are thus commanded to crucify the flesh, let every one understand the full latitude of this precept; and remember that he is charged to kill his corruption. God’s hatred is directed to the life and being of sin; and for a man to spare that, is to be absurdly cruel to his own soul. To strike it, to war against it, without designing its death, is but hypocrisy. A Saul may captivate and imprison an Agag, but a pious Samuel will slay him.
(2.) As it implies death, so it further imports a violent death. Sin never dies of age. It is as when a young man dies in the full fire and strength of his youth by some vehement distemper; it as it were tears and forces and fires his soul out of his body. He that will come and fight it out with his corruption to the last, shall find, that it will sell its life at a dear rate; it will strive and fight for it, and many a doubtful conflict will pass between that and the soul. It may give a man many a wound, many a foil, and many a disheartening blow: for, believe it, the strong man will fight for his possession.
Never think to dispossess him by a bare summons, or imagine that a man can recover the mastery of his heart and his affections by a few prayers and broken humiliations. No, such a mortifying course must be taken, and such constant violences and severities 199used, as shall try and shake every power of the soul, before a corruption can be despatched. The conquest had need be glorious, for it will be found, by sharp experience, that the combat will be dangerous.
The soul is engaged with such an enemy as will require both the onsets of force and the stratagems of art. Sin will never quit its hold quietly; but, like the Devil, who if we hear is conjured down, it is always in a storm. That man that allows himself in his sin, and humours his corruption, let him consider, that if God ever intend to save him from it, what it will cost him to conquer it; kill it he must, but then it will not be killed like a lamb, which resists not the knife, but like a wolf or a wild boar; he must run it down and conquer it, before he can kill it; and though God do give him the grace to conquer it in the issue, yet he must go the hazard and the dubious adventure of being conquered himself. When a man is put to effect any thing with violence, it is troublesome to him that does, as well as grievous to him that suffers it. This therefore is the second thing implied in the crucifixion of sin, to despatch it by a violent death.
(3.) To crucify the flesh with the affections of it imports a painful, bitter, and vexatious death. Let us but reflect upon our Saviour: he was nailed to the tree, and that through those parts which were most apprehensive of pain, the hands and the feet; which members, by reason of the concurrence of the nerves and sinews there, must needs be of quickest sense: thus he hung, in the extremity of torture, till, through the unsupportable pressures of pain, he at length gave up the ghost.200
Now we are still to take the former observation along with us, that the occasion of the use of this expression here is an allusion to Christ’s crucifixion: so that the crucifying the flesh must express the pain also, or the resemblance would not be perfect. This supposed, it would be well that such as are quick and forward to profess the name and undertake the rigour of a Christian course, would first sit down and calculate and ponder the difficulties, the hard, grating, and afflicting contrariety that it bears to the flesh. They are to live as upon the rack; to hear the cries of a tormented, dying corruption, without relenting; when our greatest desires thirst and beg for satisfaction, they are to be answered only with renewed exercises of mortification; when we have got them upon the cross, we are to treat them as the Jews did Christ; when they thirst and call out for their former pleasures, to give them the vinegar and the gall of sharper and sharper severities. The cravings of our dearest and most beloved affections are to be denied; and what a torment is it when desire is upon the career, to separate between the enjoyment and the appetite! It is like rending the skin from the flesh, or the flesh from the bone: yet this is to be done; nor are we to be surprised with wonder at it; for certainly no man was ever crucified without pain.
The punishment of the cross is of all others the quickest and the most acute; it is the universal stretching of all the limbs from the joints, so universal, that there is not the least part, sinew, or fibre in the body, but it is distended. So the mortification of sin is to be so general and diffused, as not only to fix upon the bulk and body of sin, but to 201stretch the inquisition to every the least desire, the most lurking and secret affection; for assuredly there is something more than ordinary implied in this expression of crucifying sin: it cannot but import the most rugged, cruel, and remorseless dealing with it that is imaginable. And however men are nice and favourable to their corruption, yet did they consider what endless pains, what unspeakable torments, their corrupt affections and lusts prepare for them, even self-love could not but be religion enough to make them prevent such miseries, by first inflicting them upon the author.
Every man should remember, that for all his indulgence to sin, sin will not spare him; even that corruption that lies in his bosom will prosecute him, and cry out for justice against him at the judgment of the great day. Besides, why should we grudge at the painfulness of this duty, when it is confessed, that every wound given to sin cannot but pain the sinner; but then if we consider withal, that God has decreed to pardon and save none, without giving them some taste of the smart and bitter fruit of sin, we have cause to adore his mercy in this, that the pain we take in mortifying sin, will be the only pain that we shall ever endure for it.
(4.) In the fourth and last place, crucifixion denotes a shameful and a cursed death; it is such an one as was marked out and signalized with a peculiar malediction, even of old, by God himself, Deut. xxi. 23, He that is hanged on a tree is accursed of God; and for the shame of it, it is so great amongst all nations, that the infamy were a sufficient punishment, without the pain: so that the Romans used it to slaves only, and the vilest malefactors. Hence, 202 in Heb. vi. 6, such apostates as are said by their unworthy behaviour to crucify Christ, are said also to put him to an open shame.
Thus therefore must the corruption and vitiosity of our nature be dealt with. God has doomed it to death, without the benefit of so much as dying honourably. If there be any scorn, loathing, and detestation due to a dying offender, certainly it is much more due to the sin that made him so. Hereupon God has provided one great instrument for the mortifying of sin, which is the irksome shame of confession: I do not mean the auricular, pickpocket confession of the papists, but public confession, such an one as David exercised, when he confessed his sins before the whole congregation; and such an one as the primitive Christian church required of scandalous excommunicate persons, before they were readmitted into its communion. And indeed if we consider the temper of man’s mind, confession is of all other penalties the most shameful; shameful I mean to sin, though glorious to the confessing sinner.
Hence also humiliation for sin is expressed by taking shame to ourselves. And certainly if shame is not judicially awarded as the punishment, it will naturally follow as the fruit and effect of sin. See all the cursed deaths, the confusion and consternation that attends malefactors: it is all to be ascribed to this cursed cause, that they would not shame their sin, and therefore their sin has now shamed and confounded them. Considering therefore how sin has stained the beauty of our nature, and covered it with the shames and dishonours of corruption, whatsoever we do or can inflict upon it of this kind, 203it is not so much a punishment from the law of God, as a proper retaliation from ourselves.
Having thus shewn what is imported by the crucifying of sin, I proceed now to the third thing proposed.
3. Which is, to prescribe some means for the enabling of us to the performance of this duty. Two therefore I shall mention as conducible to this crucifixion of the flesh, with its affections and lusts.
(1.) The first is a constant and pertinacious denying them in all their cravings for satisfaction. A man by fasting too long may come to lose his stomach; so an affection abridged and tied up from its proper gratification comes by degrees to be chastised and even wearied into sobriety; for frequent disappointments in a thing eagerly desired will at length leave a kind of indifference in the desires as to that thing. As on the contrary, every gratification of a corrupt appetite exasperates, calls forth, and enlarges it to new, and greater, and more restless expectations.
Let a man therefore begin the crucifixion of his flesh in these negative mortifications; that is, when his voluptuous humour is clamorous for pleasure, let him not answer any of those calls: if he would not maintain it, let him not feed it: he will find that so much as it wants of food, it will lose of its fierceness. This is the course taken for the taming of wild beasts, to reduce and order them by the disciplines of hunger, by long and frequent frustrations of their ravenous appetites.
And the reason of this course is founded in a natural cause. For though the design of every appetite is to purvey for nature, and to derive strength to that by receiving such and such objects; yet by 204the same means it first feeds and strengthens itself. It being like some collectors of public monies, who indeed are employed and intended to serve the exchequer, but yet in the mean time use to be very kind to themselves. In a word, the defraudation of the appetites of sin weakens the whole body of sin and themselves also; as on the other side all satisfaction corroborates and inflames them.
And he that takes up a resolution to crucify his intemperance, luxury, or uncleanness, yet when they call for their usual refection, and a fair occasion knocks at his door, or his companions call upon him, has no power to deny either the entreaty of his appetite within, or to slight the invitation of tempting objects from without, he may as well expect to tame a wolf by feeding him, or to extinguish a flame by heaping fuel upon it, as to mortify a sin upon these terms. His attempt is absurd, his success desperate, and his lust must and will prevail.
2. The other means to crucify a corrupt affection, is to encounter it by actions of the opposite virtue. This differs from the former thus: that that was only the denying of fuel to a fire, but this a pouring water upon it, and so vanquishing it by the prevalence of a contrary element. He that is profane, let him subdue his profaneness by the exercise of prayer and meditation. He that is covetous, let him dispossess his mind of that vice by actions of charity and liberality: for as vicious actions frequently repeated produce a vicious habit, that infects and ferments the whole soul; so the like frequent repetition of virtuous actions does by degrees loosen, and at length totally unfix and drive out that habit of vice. Now this is both the nobler and 205the speedier way of conquest: as it is more glorious to break open than to starve a city, and to take it by force than by surrender. Both indeed are equally conquests, but the latter is the greater triumph.
And thus much for the means by which we may be enabled to crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts.
4. Come we now to the fourth and last thing, viz. To see what may be drawn by way of consequence and deduction from what has hitherto been delivered.
(1.) First of all then we collect the high concernment and the absolute necessity of every man’s crucifying his carnal, worldly affections. I know no work so difficult and unpleasing, but its necessity is an abundant argument to enforce it. And I suppose every one will grant, that it is necessary for him to be a Christian: yet unless he has crucified the flesh he cannot be so, and his assuming that title is only a nullity and an usurpation.
Upon this small hinge therefore turns the grand determination of our eternal estate, whether as to happiness or misery. The whole round of man’s happiness, from the first dawnings of it in the revelations of grace, to the last consummation of it in glory, runs solely and entirely upon this. Without this, not so much as the blessing of word and sacraments, but it is poisoned with a curse. For first, he that comes to Christ’s table who is not Christ’s, is in God’s esteem only as a dog catching at the children’s bread. He that prays to Christ, and yet is not Christ’s, is but as a rebel presenting a petition; if he intrudes into the participation of ordinances, and the society of the saints, he is a guest without either 206invitation or wedding garment, where his best entertainment will be the imprisonment of a malefactor, instead of the welcome of a guest. On the other hand, take all the solid happiness of this life, and the hopes of a better, the privileges of the sanctified, and the eternal fruitions of the glorified, and they are all compendiously but fully couched in this one word, to be Christ’s.
(2.) In the next place, we gather a standing and infallible criterion, by which to distinguish those that are not Christ’s from those that are, and consequently to convince us how few Christians there are in the world; or, to speak more closely, how few Christians there are in Christendom; and that the common use and acceptation of this word is much larger than its real signification. Much the greater number and proportion of men lie wallowing in all the filth and the pollutions of the flesh. But I suppose the precedent discourse has been a sufficient demonstration, that he and he alone has a right to this glorious appellative of a Christian, and to the privileges that attend it, who has mastered his depraved nature, cashiered his corrupt inclinations, and offered violence to his dearest, when sinful affections; so that he overcomes and triumphs, and sees his sin bleeding at his feet. In sum, he only is Christ’s who has executed the utmost of that pious cruelty upon his sin, that we have seen hitherto imported by crucifixion.
But it will be replied, that this is an hard and a discouraging assertion, that none should be reputed Christ’s, unless he has fully crucified and destroyed his sin.
But to this I answer, that we must here distinguish 207 of a twofold destruction of sin, 1. In respect of a total abolition: thus every one that is Christ’s must have destroyed his sin in design and purpose; this he must intend, whatsoever God enables him to effect; this must be aimed at, whatsoever is reached. 2. In respect of a sincere, though imperfect indication: and thus every one must actually destroy his sin; that is, he must actually begin and be about the work. Where we may observe, that this is properly, nay, with an emphatical significance, implied by crucifixion; for a man is not dead as soon as crucified. We know our Saviour and the two thieves hung some hours upon the cross before they breathed their last: so sin, though it is not immediately dead, yet it is truly crucified if it is a dying. It may struggle for life, indeed, yet for all that it may be under the pangs and power of death.
But to shew what is the least degree of the crucifixion of sin indispensably required to entitle a man to this transcendent privilege of being Christ’s, I shall lay down this position, viz. that he in a true evangelical sense is to be reputed Christ’s, who has crucified his sin, as to an active resolution against it; I say active resolution; where this term active does not illustrate, but imply the nature of it. There is a kind of identity in these terms active resolution, as when we say, a rational man, where the predicate does not describe, but include the subject.
Which, by the way, is a sure, unfailing rule for men to try the sincerity of their resolutions by. Many are prone to think, that they are resolved against sin, when indeed they only deceive and abuse themselves, and are not so: for that is no resolution that is not seconded with vigorous, suitable 208 endeavours: if it is not active, it is not so much as resolution. But he that pursues, and backs, and follows home purpose with endeavour, resolution with action, he has given his corruption its deathblow; he has crucified it; and if he does not intermit this course, he shall see his victory completed in the death of his adversary. And thus I affirm, that the crucifixion of sin realized in a sincere though partial mortification of it, makes a man a believer, instates him in grace, entitles him to glory, and, in a word, renders him truly Christ’s.
And indeed, if this does not, we may conclude, according to that of our Saviour, though in a different sense, when the Son of man comes will he find faith upon the earth? For if this be rejected as no sufficient condition to interest a man in the merits of Christ’s death, and the redemption he has purchased, as God indeed has limited the number of saints to very few, so I am afraid that upon these terms we shall reduce it almost to none, and make the passage to heaven yet narrower than ever God made it; who, even in the midst of a sinner’s condemnation, is the God that delights to save, and not to condemn.
To which God be rendered and ascribed, &c.209
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