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cordingly, believers are continually exhorted to watch against the flesh, as well as the world and the devil. And to this agrees the constant experience of the children of God. While they feel this witness in themselves, they feel a will not wholly resigned to the will of God. They know they are in him, and yet find a heart ready to depart from him, a proneness to evil in many instances, and a backwardness to that which is good. The contrary doctrine is wholly new : never heard of in the church of Christ, from the time of his coming into the world, till the time of Count Zinzendorf. And it is attended with the most fatal consequences. It cuts off all watching against our evil nature, against the Delilah, which we are told is gone, though she is still lying in our bosom. It tears away the shield of weak believers, deprives them of their faith, and so leaves them exposed to all the assaults of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
2. Let us, therefore, hold fast the sound doctrine delivered to the saints, and delivered down by them, with the written word, to all succeeding generations: that, although we are renewed, cleansed, purified, sanctified, the moment we truly believe in Christ, yet we are not then renewed, cleansed, purified altogether: but the flesh, the evil nature still remains (though subdued) and wars against the Spirit. So much the more, let us use all diligence in “fighting the good fight of faith.” So much the more earnestly let us “ watch and pray,” against the enemy within. The more carefully let us take to ourselves, and “put on the whole armour of God:” that, although “ we wrestle” both « with flesh and blood, and with principalities, and powers, and wicked spirits in high places,” we may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
THE REPENTANCE OF BELIEVERS.
MARK i. 15.
“ Repent ye, and believe the Gospel."
1. IT is generally supposed, That Repentance and Faith are only the Gate of Religion; that they are necessary only at the beginning of our Christian course, when we are sete ting out in the way to the kingdom. And this may seem to be confirmed by the great Apostle, where, exhorting the Hebrew Christians to “ go on to perfection," he teaches them to leave these “ first principles of the doctrine of Christ : not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith towards God;" which must at least mean, that they should comparatively leave these, that at first took up all their thoughts, in order to “press forward toward the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
2. And this is undoubtedly true, that there is a Repentance and a Faith, which are, more especially, necessary at the beginning. A Repentance, which is a conviction of our utter sinfulness, and guiltiness, and helplessness: and which precedes our receiving that kingdom of God, which our Lord observes, is “ within us,” and a Faith, whereby we receive that kingdom, even “ righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”
3. But, notwithstanding this, there is also a Repentance and a Faith, (taking the words in another sense, a sense not quite the same, nor yet entirely different,) wbich are requisite after we have “ believed the Gospel;” yea, and in every subsequent stage of our Christian course, or we cannot run the race which is set before us.” And this Repentance and Faith are full as necessary, in order to our continuance and growth in grace, as the former Faith and Repentance were, in order to our entering into the kingdom of God.
But in what sense are we to repent and believe, after we are justified? This is an important question, and worthy of being considered with the utmost attention.
I. And, first, In what sense are we to repent? 1. Repentance frequently means, an inward change, a change of mind from sin to boliness. But now we speak of it in quite a different sense, as it is one kind of Self-knowledge, the knowing ourselves sinners, yea, guilty, helpless sinners, even though we know we are children of God.
2. Indeed when we first know this, when we first find redemption in the blood of Jesus, when the Love of God is first shed abroad in our hearts, and his Kingdom set up therein, it is natural to suppose that we are no longer sinners, that all our sins are not only covered but destroyed. As we do not then feel any evil in our hearts, we readily imagine none is there. Nay, some well-meaning men have imagined this not only at that time, but ever after ; having persuaded themselves, that when they were justified, they were entirely sanctified. Yea, they have laid it down as a general rule, in spite of Scripture, Reason, and Experience. These sincerely believe and earnestly maintain, that all sin is destroyed when we are justified, and that there is no sin in the heart of a believer, but that it is altogether clean from that moment. But though we readily acknowledge," he that believeth is born of God," and " he that is born of
God doth not commit sin:" yet, we cannot allow that he does not feel it within : it does not reign, but it does remain. And a conviction of the sin which remains in our heart, is one great branch of the repentance we are now speaking of.
3. For it is seldom long, before he, who imagined all sin was gone, feels there is still Pride in his heart. He is convinced both that in many respects he has thought of himself more highly than he ought to think, and that he has taken to himself the praise of something he had received, and gloried in it as though he had not received it. And yet he knows, he is in the favour of God. He cannot, and ought not, to cast away his confidence. The Spirit still witnesses with his spirit, that he is a child of God.
4. Nor is it long before he feels Self-will in his heart, even a Will contrary to the Will of God. A Will every man must inevitably have, as long as he has an Understanding. This is an essential part of human Nature, indeed of the nature of every intelligent Being. Our blessed Lord himself had a Will as a man: otherwise he had not been a man. But his human Will was invariably subject to the Will of his Father. At all times, and on all occasions, even in the deepest affliction, he could say, “ Not as I will, but as thou wilt.” But this is not the case at all times, even with a true believer in Christ. He frequently finds his will more or less exalting itself against the Will of God. He wills something, because it is pleasing to nature, which is not pleasing to God. And he nills, (is averse from,) something, because it is painful to nature, which is the will of God concerning him. Indeed, suppose he continues in the faith, he fights against it with all his might. But this very thing implies, that it really exists, and that he is conscious of it.
5. Now Self-will, as well as Pride, is a species of Idolatry: and both are directly contrary to the Love of God. The same observation may be made, concerning the “ love of the world.” But this likewise even true believers are liable to feel in themselves; and every one of them does feel it, more or less, sooner or later, in one branch or another. It is true, when he first “ passes from death unto life,” he desires nothing more but God. He can truly say, “ All my desire is unto thee, and unto the remembrance of thy name.” 66 Whom have I in heaven but thee, and there is none upón earth that I desire beside thee!" But it is not so always. In process of time he will feel again, though perhaps only for a few moments, either “ the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye, or the pride of life." Nay, if he do not continually watch and pray, he may find Lust reviving ; yea, and thrusting sore at him that lie may fall, till he has scarcely any strength left in him. He may feel the assaults of inordinate Affection, yea, a strong propensity to “ love the creature more than the Creator:" whether it be a child, a parent, a husband or wife, or “ the friend that is as his own soul." He may feel, in a thousand various ways, a desire of earthly things or pleasures. In the same proportion he will forget God, not seeking his happiness in him, and consequently being a “ lover of pleasure more than a lover of God."
6. If he do not keep himself every moment, he will again feel “ the Desire of the Eye,” the desire of gratifying his imagination, with something great, or beautiful, or uncommon. In how many ways does this desire assault the soul? Perhaps with regard to the poorest trifles, such as dress, or furniture: things never designed to satisfy the appetite of an immortal Spirit. Yet, how natural is it for us, even after we have “ tasted of the powers of the world to come,” to sink again into these foolish, low desires of things, that perish in the using! How hard is it, even for those who know in whom they have believed, to conquer but one branch of the desire of the eye, Curiosity! Constantly to trample it under their feet! To desire nothing, merely because it is new ?
7. And how hard is it even for the children of God wholly to conquer the Pride of Life? St. John seems to mean by this nearly the same with what the world terms the sense of honour. This is no other than a desire of, and de