That Opposition against and Abstinence from sin is a Sign of Grace.
1 JOH. 3. 9, 10.
THe Apostle at the first verse having declared the glorious priviledge of be∣ing the sons of God, he doth vers. 3. mention also their Duty: for exter∣nal grace and inherent are inseparably joined together. Their Duty is to avoid sin, which is pressed from several Arguments;
1. From the native filthiness of it, It is a transgression of the Law.
2. From the end of Christs coming, which was To destroy the works of the devil.
3. From a collation or comparison between the two Fountains or Fathers of him that doth sinne, or him that doth righteousnesse; the one is of the Devil, the other is born of God; and this difference my Text amplifieth: So that in the words you read, you may observe five Propositions; first, He that is born of God sinneth not; what it is to be born of God is easily known, viz. to have the image and holiness of God stampt upon us by his Spirit quickning of us; we must not ima∣gine any communicating of the Divine Essence to us; in which sense the second Person is born of the Father, and so called, The Sonne of God; but by participati∣on of those supernaturall graces which make us resemble him; The greater doubt is about the predicate, He sinneth not; which hath much exercised the thoughts of men: some understand it of a perfection attained to in this life, not to sin at all. Thus Papists, Pelagians, some Anabaptists and divers of late; but if this were the meaning, the Apostle within a very little space would expresly contradict himself, for Chap. 1. 8, 10. he saith expresly, If we say we have no sinne we deceive our selves, and make God a liar. Not to sin therefore is not wholly to be without sinne. Others limit it to a certain kinde of sinne, in this sense, He sin∣neth not, viz. unto death, so that he shall be damned; and without question to this purpose the Apostle speaketh Chap. 5. 16, 17, 18. But this seemeth to straiten it too much. Others, as Arminians, he sinneth not, viz. in this respect, and so farre as he is born of God; but what an absurd sense would this be, and who knoweth not that a godly man doth not sinne in that he is godly, or because he Page 73 is born of God. The most genuine and unforced interpretation therefore is, to understand it not universally, but according to the subject matter, he sinneth not, as one who is of the Devil his father, he sinneth not as Cain, all within him is not corrupted; so that he makes sinne his trade, his custom and delight. The very opposition makes this the meaning, I do not ground this opposition upon the phrase 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, as if that did alwaies signifie more then 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, for I grant that that phrase sometimes signifieth no more then barely to sin, not de noting cu∣stom or delight, as Rom. 7.
But my foundation is upon the context, the opposition Paul makes between a righteous and unrighteous man, in respect of the roots whence they are, and then from the second Proposition, which is the reason why he sinneth not, be∣cause the seed abideth in him, by which metaphorically is meant the principle of grace wrought in him by the Spirit of God, and that not only so, for Adam had the seed of grace, yet sinned it away, but because its preserved by the Covenant of grace. This place is brought to prove perseverance in grace, and no strength of wit hath yet been able to overcome it. The third Proposition is higher then the former, for it doth not only deny the act of sin, but the power of it. Nei∣ther can he sin, viz. in the sense before explained; and the fourth Proposition is a ground of the third, because he is born of God. Some make this reason the same with the former, but there seemeth to be this difference, the one signifieth that inward permanent principle of grace: The other that divine resemblance of God which is in us by this regeneration. The first Proposition is, That this difference between the righteous and unrighteous about sinne is a sure sign, whereby the godly man is manifested both to himself and others that he is godly.
That an opposition against and abstinence from sin is a sure sign, by which a man may*be perswaded that he is in the state of Grace.
For there can be no better sign to discover principles by, then their proper incommunicable actions; thus we discover fire by burning, a rational life by speaking, now of all actions, this is most connatural to the permanent habit of grace to encline us to loath and abhorre those things that are destructive to the nature of it, which is only sinne: but because we may easily be deceived about this sign, for every one that is afraid of sin, yea bitterly crieth out of it, and lea∣veth it, is not yet regenerated. Therefore let us diligently consider how it is a sign. And
First, It is a sign, When we perceive a setled fixed frame of heart against sin. As * the reason in the Text implieth; The seed of grace abideth in a man, he is born of God, now these expressions do denote something in us by way of a new nature, whereby we have an enmity and hostility, yea and irreconcilableness with sinne; As some creatures have an antipathy against others; As on the contrary, he that is of the Devil, and so hath a fixed root of ungodlinesse in him, he hath a constant enmity and hatred against godliness, and those that are godly, Why so? Be∣cause their works are good, and his are evil, as John expresseth it; on the contra∣ry the godly cannot agree and delight in evil, or evil men, because their works are evil, and his good; The Apostle Rom. 12. cals it 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, hating sin as hell it self, and the exhortation is to cast away their transgressions, abj̄icere not deponere, because of the loathsomnesse they see in sin; So then, let Pharaoh, let the Israc∣lites in several calamities bewail their Idolatries, and sins against God, yet here is no sign of grace, because their hearts were not stedfast within them. These were sudden transient motions not permanent principles, if thou wouldst take com∣fort from this sign, do not judge of thy self by some fits or seasons, but by the habitual inclination of thy soul. God in regeneration doth first change our na∣tures, new mould us; and from this supernatural principle issue gracious actions.
Secondly, Then is this a sign, When there is an universal repugnancy in every part*of a man against sin, not only in his reason and conscience, but in his will, affections and Page 74 whole man. For this seed of grace is nothing, but Regeneration diffusing it self into the understanding, will and affections of the whole soul; so that in every part there is that which is regenerate and purified, as well as that which is cor∣rupt and defiled. Paul, Rom. 7. giveth you a large instance of this in himself, He delighted in the Law of God in the inward man, There was the Law of his minde in him (which was the seed of grace diffused through his whole soul) that did en∣cline him to every good thing commanded in the Law; so that although there was at the same time a law of the members, and the body of sinne captivating of him, yet he had also a setled life of grace opposing all those motions of sinne; and this particular is diligently to be marked; There is many a man comforts himself in this, my heart is set against sinne, and if I be overtaken at any time, my consci∣ence checks me for it, and I condemn my self, so that I say with Paul, The good I would not do that I do. Oh take heed thou do not deceive thy self! for there is a vast difference between the check or resistance of conscience against thy corrupt affections and lusts, and between the opposition of the regenerate part in a man against the unregenerate; for the former is only between two particular faculties, the conscience against the affections, but the later is universal, there is the rege∣nerate part of the will and affections against the unregenerate part. So that in such a case a Christian doth not only say, my conscience bids me do otherwise, I know better things, as Aristotle speaks of his incontinent person, but he also saith, I will better things, I love and delight in better things. Oh therefore consi∣der this sign aright! when thy heart crieth out of sinne, Oh thou wilt meddle with it no more! Is this opposition only from conscience enlightned? Is it from that faculty only? Alas if so (as commonly it is no more) thou hast no more sign of grace in thee, then many Heathens have had. When a man is regenera∣ted, not only his conscience is made spiritual to discover the loathsomnesse of sin, but his heart also, his love, his delight, whereby he is carried out in all the power of his soul against sinne; and if this be so, may we not cry out with the Psalmist, Help Lord, for they are few that do truly hate sin.
Thirdly, This is a sign, As hereby it works in a man a difficulty, yea a kinde of an impossibility to sinne with wilfulnesse and purposed continuance. He doth not sinne,*neither can he sinne, saith the Text. There being a root of grace in him, it's im∣possible he should sinne with such an universal content of soul, as wicked men do. There is a two-fold cannot, one moral, and is no more then that which dif∣ficultly is not so. Thus 2 Cor. 13. 8 We cannot do any thing against the truth but for the truth. Act. 4. 10. We cannot but speak the things we have heard and seen. And in this sense, the children of God may be said, They cannot sinne, because they have an aversnesse of heart to it. Secondly, There is a cannot, absolutely, so that the thing can never be, whether easily or difficultly, and in this sense the godly man cannot sinne totally and finally, so as to be wholly deserted of God. As for the instance of Peter, David, and others, and whether the sins of the godly may be called reigning sins, I have already spoken to that matter. This is certain, it's impossible for a godly man so to delight and live in sinne, as that the seed of grace should be quite extinct. Although the grace that is in Gods chil∣dren may for a time make no actual resistance, yet the principle of it by reason of Gods promise will never be fully removed out of the heart. The Apostle Peter, 1 Pet. 1. makes that new nature opposite to all earthly glory and greatnesse, be∣cause that is corruptible and fading, but this abideth for ever. If therefore thou wouldst have any comfort from this sign, see how the seed of grace within thee, doth so affect and overpower thy heart, that thou canst not sin with willingnesse, content, no nor commit the acts of grosse sins, How can I do this and sinne against God? How can I? and by this means you have a palpable discovery of many amongst us, not yet to be in the state of grace; How can I lie, swear, deal un∣justly, neglect Family-duties? Thou wouldst finde such a constraining and over∣ruling power of grace, that thou couldst not do it: and mark if this impossibility Page 75 to sinne ariseth wholly from a kindly work of grace within, otherwise a wicked man cannot sinne sometimes, because God puts a terrible restraint upon his con∣science; Balaam he could not sinne in that wherein he was sollicited, If thou wouldst give me (saith he to Balaak) this house full of gold, I cannot curse them, but must blesse those whom God blesseth. God many times puts a bridle upon the conscience of a wicked man, that he dareth not, nor cannot commit such a sinne, as his heart would carry him to, but this cannot sinne, is farre dif∣ferent from the godlies cannot sinne; The one is a violent motion, the principle is from without, the other is a natural motion, and hath its ground from within it.
Fourthly, This is a sign, in that hereby a godly man in some measure, and by de∣grees,*doth not only leave outward grosse sins, but even conquer and crucifie the inward body of sinne. Gal. 5. He hath crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts thereof; and he is said to crucifie the body of sinne, and the deeds of the flesh; and herein this sign is most eminently significant; for a man cannot simply take comfort from this, he hath indeed once been such and such an ungodly sinner, he hath wallow∣ed in such mire, but now he hath given over all those courses; a man (I say) cannot barely take comfort from this leaving of actual grosse sins, unlesse there be a mortifying of them in the root, in the affections and motions thereunto; for Peter speaks of some, who had escaped the pollution of the world, and that through the knowledge of Christ, yet were Swines and Dogs in their nature. Wherein doth Paul Rom. 7. so passionately bewail his captivity to sinne, but only in respect of the inward motions thereof? Thus David, Psal. 51. staieth not upon his mur∣der and adultery, but goeth to that foul fountain, He was conceived in sins, and intreats God to create in him a clean heart. If therefore thou would fain know whether thou art borne of God or no; See how pure and cleane thou desirest to make thy self within, how doth the fountain of bloud within thee dry up?
Fifthly, This is a sign, When a mans opposition to sinne, and leaving of it, is be∣cause*of the foul nature of sinne. It is contrary to God, it's a transgression of his Law, and upon this spiritual motive he is bent against it. The Apostle (as you heard) giveth this as a reason, why the sons of God should not sinne, because sinne is a transgression of the Law; and David Psal. 51. bewails his sinne, though pardoned, because God was offended thereby; so that though a man pour out flouds of tears for sins, though his conversation outwardly become white as snow, yet this is no symptome of grace, a man can take no comfort from hence, unlesse it be upon this ground, because God is displeased, and his law broken: look over the Scriptures, you may see wonderfull examples of mens remorse and sor∣row about sinne, yet those very tears were so foul that they needed washing; Take Ahab, observe the Jews, consider Judas, how were they cast down about their sinne? with what horrour of conscience did Judas cast away his thirty pie∣ces? Oh men may go very farre in sorrow for sinne, and in reforming of their lives about sinne, and yet this be no sign to them of the truth of grace. Why (you may say) what should work upon them, if it be not grace? Oh there are many other motives that work upon them, terrors of conscience, fear of Gods judgements, and the pressing calamities that lie upon them! Insomuch that true unfeigned hatred of sinne is very rare; I deny not but the judgements of God up∣on a man ought to work in him a sense and feeling of his sins, a severe judging and condemning of himself under Gods hand. But to have this the only ground argueth not the presence of grace in them. They are tied up from sinne as Masti••s and Wolves are, their natures are not changed.
Sixthly, This is a sign, When the inclination and bent of the heart against sin, is uni∣versal*in respect of all sinne: For a man highly in love with some sins, may yet ex∣treamly set against other sins. Therefore as sins run out in several streams, so do their affections proportionably: as there are sins of the heart, and sins of the out∣ward Page 76 man visible to others. The Pharisees who were free from outward wicked∣nesse, yet abounded with heart-defilements, as our Saviour chargeth them. But Paul doth deeply bemoan the evil motions of his heart, and Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart; That pride, unbelief, earthlinesse, and several lusts of soul are discovered by him, and crucified, and we read of no hypocrite that went so farre. Again, There are sins done in secret, which none, or few know, such as theft, uncleannesse, unlawful trading, crafty policies: or pub∣lick, that are as it were upon the Theatre in the eyes of all: now the godly man abhorreth the former as well as the later, he dareth not commit a sin in the eye of Almighty God, which is every where, he feareth Gods knowledge of it more then all the world.
Again, Sins are either of commission, by a positive disobedience unto the Law of God, or of omission, by defect or neglect, such are omission of holy religious du∣ties, neglect, lukewarmnesse and distraction therein; now a gracious heart ab∣horreth not only grosse sins, but defects in holy Ordinances. As God is angry, When we fall from our first love, when we strengthen not the things that are ready to dye, when we are not fervent in Spirit, serving the Lord. So also is a godly man much troubled and grieved herein.
Further, There are sins against the moral Commandments of God, which are of good things intrinsecally so; and against positive commands, which are only good, be∣cause commanded. A sanctified person feareth the sinne against the one, as well as against the other; thus he feareth to prophane the Sabbath, to use any false worship, to come to the Sacrament in an unprepared manner, as well as to be unjust and oppressive.
Lastly, There are sins that become endeared by custome, education, complexion, by profit or pleasures. Now notwithstanding all these temptations, the godly man throweth them away like menstruous cloth, yea the sins they have been most enticed with, they manifest the greatest zeal against, and desire in all things to shew themselves approved. Oh (Beloved) if these marks and signs be in you, then may your joy abound. Do not henceforth argue thus, He must needs be a god∣ly man, for he hath such revelations, such enlargements in duties; he hath had such experimental workings upon him, he is of such opinions, for such a Church-government. These are nothing, Is he a man that dareth not sin? Is he a man that is afraid to offend God in any of those waies mentioned? This man is godly by Scripture-judgement, whereas the other may be only in the sight of themselves and others. And Oh that the good old Scripture-way of bringing men more into the sight of sinne, the loathing of it, were more preached and ur∣ged amongst us. If Jehu be not afraid to sinne, if Judas be not afraid to sinne, let them have all the glorious appearances of godlinesse that can be, they carry not a true badge of holinesse upon them.
Seventhly, This frame of heart against sinne, is so real and operative, that al∣though it cannot wholly dry up the fountain of corruption within them, yet it doth all*the foggy and miery puddles of grosse and enormous courses. The Apostle saith, The fruits of the flesh are uncleannesse, lasciviousnesse, idolatry, wrath, envyings, drun∣kennesse, revelling, with such like; and that they which do these things shall not inhe∣rit the Kingdom of heaven. Therefore an habituall, constant prophane person, cannot say, He is born of God. Oh do thou tremble, who livest and wallowest in thy gore bloud! Thy prophane Oaths, thy malicious hatred of the things that are good, do they not discover thou art in the gall of bitternesse and worm∣wood? Be not deceived, there are but two sorts of men, Either the children of light or of darknesse, of God, or of the devil. There is not any hearer this day, but is either in the state of grace, one of Christs sheep, or in the state of sinne, one of Christs goats; Now in which number art thou? Doe not actions betray some? Do not words betray others? Do not commissions some? Do not omis∣sions others? Oh that the word of God might fall like fire into your brests! why Page 77 sit you still? Why are not your consciences reflecting upon you? What am I, Lord, and what is my way?
Eighthly, This is a sign, as it doth not only oppose it in our selves, but set against*it in others. For being born of God, we now (though with great disproportion) re∣semble him; and therefore as God is of purer eyes then to behold iniquity; and he is angry with the wicked all the day long; such is a godly man in respect of his zeal against sinne where he liveth. Thus David, I hate them that hate thee, with a perfect hatred: And Lot, His just soul was tormented with seeing and hearing the wicked actions of the Sodomites. If therefore thou art born of God, thou wilt not bear ungodlinesse in thy family, the zeal of Gods house will make * thee see it be not a den of thieves; Oh that men in great place and power would put forth such a divine Indoles against sinne. What a shame is it to shew animosities, and an high spirit in a carnal way, and not able to de∣monstrate an heroick spirit against sinne, and the workes of Satan every where!
Ninthly, It is a sign, as it putteth a man upon the choosing of any outward affli∣ction*rather then to sinne against God. Job was charged to choose sinne rather then affliction, but herein he was wronged. It is a true touchstone of the pow∣erfull work of grace, that it makes a man fear the evil of sinne, because it depri∣veth us of an infinite good, rather then the evil of punishment, which takes away a finite good; Hence where this work of grace is, though storms and tempests arise, yet they are built upon a rock; They fear not miseries, death, they fear only to sin against God.
The Use is of Exhortation, To lay this sign close upon your hearts. Are you * such that cannot, that dare not, that have an habitual aversnesse from sinne, that are of God, hating evil as he hateth? behold what a sure evidence here is of thy eternal Salvation. But alas, where are the men? how few are they of whom this Text is true, They sinne not, neither can they sinne? The contrary is true, They love not that which is holy, neither can they, because they are of the wicked one. Naturae sequitur semina quisque suae. Fortes creantur fortibus; See an excellent Antithesis, John 8. 38, 39, 40, 41, 44, 45. How did the Pharisees see the devil do that which they did? They thought not so, for they said, They were of Abraham, but because they expressed in their lives such wickednesse as was in the devil. No doubt but many will take it ill to be said, They are of the devil, but their actions demonstrate it.