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well nigh slipped. He was at the very brink of unbelieving despairing thoughts and conclusions about God's providence in the government of the world ; from whence he was recovered, as he afterward declares. So is it with many a believer, he is oftentimes at the very brink, at the very door of some folly or iniquity, when God puts in by the efficacy of actually assisting grace, and recovers them to an obediential frame of heart again. And this is a peculiar work of Christ, wherein he manifests and exerts his faithfulness towards his own. Heb. ii. 18. · He is able to succour them that are tempted. It is not an absolute power, but a power clothed with mercy that is intended. Such a power as is put forth from a sense of the suffering of poor believers under their temptations. And how doth he exercise this merciful ability towards us ? chap. iv. 16. He gives forth and we find in him 'grace to help in a time of need ; seasonable help and assistance for our deliverance, when we are ready to be overpowered by sin and temptation. When lust hath conceived, and is ready to bring forth, when the soul lies at the brink of some iniquity, he gives in seasonable help, relief, deliverance, and safety. Here lies a great part of the care and faithfulness of Christ towards his poor saints; he will not suffer them to be worried with the power of sin, nor to be carried out unto ways that shall dishonour the gospel, or fill them with shame and reproach, and so render them useless in the world; but he steps in with the saving relief and assistance of his grace, stops the course of sin, and makes them in himself more than conquerors. And this assistance lies under the promise, 1 Cor. x. 13. • There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man : but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.' Temptation shall try us, it is for our good; many holy ends doth the Lord compass and bring about by it. But when we are tried to the utmost of our ability, so that one assault more would overbear us, a way of escape is provided. And as this may be done several ways, as I have elsewhere declared, so this we are now upon is one of the most eminent, namely, by supplies of grace to enable the soul to bear up, resist, and conquer. And when once God
begins to deal in this way of love with a soul, he will not cease to add one supply after another, until the whole work of his grace and faithfulness be accomplished. An example hereof we have, Isa. lvii. 17, 18. Poor sinners there are so far captivated to the power of their lusts, that the first and second dealings of God with them are not effectual for their delivery ; but he will not give them over, he is in the pursuit of a design of love towards them, and so ceaseth not until they are recovered. These are the general heads of the second way whereby God hinders the bringing forth of conceived sin, namely, by working on the will of the sinner. He doth it either by common convictions or special grace, so that of their own accord they shall let purpose and will of sinning that they are risen up unto. And this is no mean way of his providing for his own glory, and the honour of his gospel in the world, whose professors would stain the whole beauty of it, were they left to themselves to bring forth all the evil that is conceived in their hearts.
(3dly.) Besides these general ways, there is one yet more special, that at once worketh both upon the power and will of the sinner; and this is the way of afflictions, concerning which one word shall close this discourse. Afflictions, I say, work by both these ways in reference unto conceived sin. They work providentially on the power of the creature.
When a man hath conceived a sin, and is in full purpose of the pursuit of it, God oftentimes sends a sickness and abates his strength, or a loss cuts him short in his plenty, and so takes him off from the pursuit of his lusts, though it may be his heart is not weaned from them. His power is weakened, and he cannot do the evil he would. In this sense it belongs to the first way of God's obviating the production of sin. Great afflictions work sometimes, not from their own nature immediately and directly, but from the gracious purpose and intendment of him that sends them. He insinuates into the dispensation of them that of
power, of love and kindness, which shall effectually take off the heart and mind from sin. Psal. cxix. 07. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now have I learned thy commandments.' And in this way, because of the predominancy of renewing and assisting grace, they belong unto the latter means of preventing sin.
And these are some of the ways whereby it pleaseth God to put a stop to the progress of sin, both in believers and unbelievers, which at present we shall instance in; and if we would endeavour farther to search out his
unto perfection, yet we must still conclude that it is but a little portion which we know of him.
The power of sin farther demonstrated by the effects it hath had in the lives
of professors. First, in actual sins. Secondly, in habitual declensions. We are now to proceed unto other evidences of that sad truth which we are in the demonstration of. But the main of our work being past through, I shall be more brief in the management of the arguments that do remain.
That then which in the next place may be fixed upon, is the demonstration which this law of sin hath in all ages given of its power and efficacy, by the woful fruits that it hath brought forth, even in believers themselves. Now these are of two sorts. 1. The great actual eruptions of sin in their lives. 2. Their habitual declensions from the frames, state, and condition, of obedience and communion with God, which they had obtained; both which by the rule of James, before unfolded, are to be laid to the account of this law of sin, and belong unto the fourth head of its progress, and are both of them convincing evidences of its power and efficacy.
1. Consider the fearful eruptions of actual sins that have been in the lives of believers, and we shall find our position evidenced. Should I go through at large with this consideration, I must recount all the sad and scandalous failings of the saints that are left on record in the holy Scripture. But the particulars of them are known to all ; so that I shall not need to mention them, nor the many aggravations that in their circumstances they are attended with. Only some few things tending to the rendering of our present consideration of them useful, may be remarked. As,
(1.) They are most of them in the lives of men that
were not of the lowest form or ordinary sort of believers, but of men that had a peculiar eminency in them on the account of their walking with God in their generation. Such were Noah, Lot, David, Hezekiah, and others. They were not men of an ordinary size, but higher than their brethren by the shoulders and upwards in profession, yea, in real holiness. And surely that must needs be of a mighty efficacy that could hurry such giants in the ways of God into such abominable sins as they fell into. An ordinary engine could never have turned them out of the course of their obedience. It was a poison that no athletic constitution of spiritual health, no antidote could withstand.
(2.) And these very men fell not into their great sins at the beginning of their profession, when they had had but little experience of the goodness of God, of the sweetness and pleasantness of obedience, of the power and craft of sin, of its impulsions, solicitations and surprisals, but after a long course of walking with God, and acquaintance with all these things, together with innumerable motives unto watchfulness. Noah, according to the lives of men in those days of the world, had walked uprightly with God some hundreds of years before he was so surprised as he was. Gen. ix. Righteous Lot seems to have been towards the end of bis days, ere he defiled himself with the abominations recorded. David, in a short life, had as much experience of grace and sin, and as much close, spiritual communion with God, as ever had any of the sons of men, before he was cast to the ground by this law of sin. So was it with Hezekiah in his degree, which was none of the meanest. Now to set upon such persons, so well acquainted with its power and deceit, so armed and provided against it, that had been conquerors over it for so many years, and to prevail against them, it argues a power and efficacy too mighty for every thing but the Spirit of the Almighty to withstand. Who can look to have a greater stock of inherent grace than those men had; to have more experience of God, and the excellency of his ways, the sweetness of his love, and of communion with him, than they had ? who hath either better furniture to oppose sin withal, or more obligation so to do, than they? and yet we see how fearfully they were prevailed against.
(3.) As if God had permitted their falls on set purpose, that we might learn to be wary of this powerful enemy, they all of them fell out when they had newly received great and stupendous mercies from the hand of God, that ought to have been strong obligations unto diligence and watchfulness in close obedience. Noah was but newly come forth of that world of waters wherein he saw the ungodly world perishing for their sins, and himself preserved by that astonishable miracle which all ages must admire. Whilst the world's desolation was an hourly remembrancer unto him of his strange preservation by the immediate care and hand of God, he falls into drunkenness. Lot had newly seen that which every one that thinks on cannot but tremble. He saw, as one speaks, hell coming out of heaven upon unclean sinners, the greatest evidence, except the cross of Christ, that God ever gave in his providence of the judgment to come. He saw himself and children delivered by the special care and miraculous hand of God; and yet, whilst these strange mercies were fresh upon him, he fell into drunkenness and incest. David was delivered out of all his troubles, and had the necks of his enemies given him round about, and he makes use of his peace from a world of trials and troubles to contrive murder and adultery. Immediately, it was, after Hezekiah’s great and miraculous deliverance, that he falls into his carnal pride and boasting. I say, their falls in such seasons, seem to be permitted on set purpose, to instruct us all in the truth that we have in hand; so that no persons, in no seasons, with what furniture of grace soever, can promise themselves security from its prevalency, any other ways than by keeping close constantly to him, who hath supplies to give out that are above its reach and efficacy. Methinks this should make us look about us.
Are we better than Noah, who had that testimony from God, that he was a perfect man in his generation, and walked with God? Are we better than Lot, whose righteous soul was vexed with the evil deeds of ungodly men, and is thereof commended by the Holy Ghost? Are we more holy, wise, and watchful than David, who obtained this testimony, that he was a man after God's own heart?' or better than Hezekiah, who appealed to God himself, that he had served him uprightly, with a perfect heart?