That a mans leaving those gross sins he hath lived in is no Sign of Grace.
2 PET. 2. 20.
THis Text may be called like that place in the Israelites travails, Meribah, a place of strife and contention; The Arminian, Papist, and others consident∣ly asserting a total ánd final apostasie from true grace, out of this Text. Nulla orationis suada, nulla argumentorum vis, is required for this, Textus per se lucet, say the Remonstrants. But you have the Orthodox as valiantly beating them out of this ground: What is the true meaning of the Text will appear upon a brief discussion; onely in the general take notice of the excellency of this Cha∣pter wholly spent in describing of false Teachers, manifesting their several evils of sinne, and their several evils of punishment, which is so great that the Apo∣stle Jude hath almost transcribed his whole Epistle out of this, with very little addition: Pulchra sunt bis dicenda, said he. For the understanding of the words, the Apostle used in the precedent verses two excellent similitudes, whereunto he compared false teachers; first to fountains without water; these invite the wearied passenger to drink, but when he cometh near he findeth nothing but clayand mud; so false teachers promise such excellent and wonderfull truths, that were never heard of before, but indeed give noisome filth. 2. He compareth them to clouds without rain driven with the winde, which denoteth two things, First, Their vain o∣stentation, as the cloud seemeth to bring rain, but yet emptieth none; and secondly, their instability, They are clouds driven up and down〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, that is properly an impetuous turbulent winde; and as such clouds do both raise great tempests, and obnubilate the Sunne, so do false teachers make heavy storms and troubles in the Church, and withall bemist the glorious light of the Scripture. A third descri∣ption is from their affectation of great and swelling words. All tumours argue a windy inflammation. In the next place he aggravates their condition by the per∣nicious and damnable effect of their false doctrines, they do not onely damn themselves, but draw a troop of others into hell with them. And this they do in a slie way, they do 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, as the Fisherman or the Fowler, shew the bait, but hide the hook or snare. Whereupon the Apostle enlargeth himself concerning the miserable estate of the seduced persons, as well as the seducers, the followers as well as the guides tumble into the pit of destruction. The misery of seduced persons is aggravated first in my Text, from the greater curse and wrath that will now befall them since their apostasie, then if they had continued in their pristine unbelief and Paganism. So that you have the deceived wretches described by way of supposition;
First, In their former estate.
Secondly, In their fall.
Their former estate is deciphered in what they have done, and the means Page 188 whereby. The matter done by them, is to escape the pollutions of the world, that is, their idolatry and great vices, which formerly they lived in, betaking them∣selves to the true profession of Christ. The word 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 is but once, and that here used in the New Testament, Jer. 32. 34. it is used by the Septuagint of more grievous and grosse crimes, but Ezek. 33. 9. of the pollution of the heart only by covetousnesse. Bude us saith 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 was piaculum, when a man had con∣taminated himself with some grievous crime, contracting such guilt, that he made himself and others obnoxious to the wrath of God in a conspicuous manner: with Physicians the word signifieth those pestilential seminals that are in the corru∣pted air, whereby a general infection is procured; so that the Apostle meaneth whatsoever Idolatry, or the great sins committed by them in Paganism, they had escaped.
Secondly, The means by which, is through the knowledge of Christ, so that their lives were clean, not by moral precepts, and prudent dictates of nature, but by faith historical or temporary in Christ; now here is the great Question, Whe∣ther these were truly regenerated or no? Those that hold the Saints Apostasie, say the Affirmative, and they presse that word in the verse before 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, they did in∣deed escape; I confesse that is all the probability, but divers have read it 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 or 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 or 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, for a little time, or almost they had escaped, as Agrippa was almost a Christian, and thus reading it would be no advantage, and so we see it in the Margin of our Bibles: But I think it dangerous to depart from universally recei∣ved copies. Others therefore that are Orthodox, say indeed, These were regene∣rated, but their fall was only partial and temporary, for they did recover again as David and Peter: but the Text affordeth no help to such an Assertion: I shall therefore conclude, That although by the Christian Religion there was made a great and wonderfull change in the lives of these men, yet they were not in∣wardly regenerated, and my reason is, because the Apostle compareth them to a washed Swine, which though never so white, yet is a Swine still, her nature is not altered, therefore she will return to her mire again; So these though purifi∣ed in their lives by the profession of the Gospel, yet were indeed in their natu∣ral condition; and therefore when temptations came, they returned to their own natures, therefore vers. 14. are called unstable souls. But you will say, If they were not godly, how are they said indeed to escape the pollutions of the world? Piscator answereth, because in the judgement of charity, and account of belie∣vers they were judged so. Beza better, indeed, that is comparatively with their false teachers, for they lived in all filthinesse, yet counterfeited an holy life, but lastly they did indeed leave the outward acts of wickednesse, as the Sow washed is indeed clean, but yet she is not turned into a Sheep; so these truly and indeed had altered their manners, amended their outward lives, but were Swine, were Dogs still. So that we affirm the Apostle to speak of men not indeed regenera∣ted, but yet changed in their lives from their former wickednesse, and having no inward change, therefore it is that they fall, and falling their later end is worse then their beginning, partly because they sinne with more knowledge and un∣derstanding, and partly because they sinne with greater ingratitude and unthank∣fulnesse for further mercies; and partly because they stand not at a stay till they fall into some foul waies of doctrine or conversation: And thus much for the sense of the words.
That a great change made in a mans life by forsaking those grosse actual sins he*once lived in, doth not presently argue such a mans conversion, or that he is indeed in a state of grace.
A Christian may be a Swine, and yet washed. Thou that wert once a drunkard, a whoremonger, a swearer, maiest have forsaken these sins, and yet this alteration be in externals only, not internals. Though thou hast escaped the pollutions of the world, yet not those of thy heart, and therefore thou art still in the state of gall and wormwood. This is cleared in the foolish Virgins, who are called Vir∣gins, Page 189 because they kept themselves from the Idolatry and pollutions of the world; yet foolish, because they had not oyl. Thus you have the Israelites several times throwing away their Idols, by which they had provoked God against them, and yet returning again to them: We may say, the Israelites did clean escape those I∣dolatrous pollutions, and they did it seriously, they were not grosse dissemblers; but because their hearts were not changed, and they steadfast in this reformation, they were swine washed returning to the mire. Judas throweth away his unjust gain, with great terrour and sorrow of heart, but he is a Goat, not a Sheep in Christs flock. I confesse this sign seemeth to carry much probability with it; and com∣monly such men, who have superseded their lusts, find a great deal of comfort: they rejoyce to see those fetters and chains of their legs, which once lust and the Divel had put on them, taken off. They were sins prisoners, and went up and down in their shackles, but now they are out of this dungeon. *
To open the Doctrine, consider these particulars.
First It cannot be denied but that the Scripture doth frequently comprehend the duty of repentance, and conversion to God, under these words, of forsaking our sinns, casting away our transgressions, turning away from our evil waies, &c. Insomuch that wheresoever there is such a forsaking, such a turning, there seemeth presently to be the whole nature of conversion to God. Hence James calls it, Pure religion and undefiled, to keep our selves unspotted from the world. But all those expressions do but contain part of the duty; for every forsaking, every turning from sin, is not presently, a gracious turning to God, as is to be shewed: Therefore think it not enough, That thou wast indeed once such a prophaner, such a vain person, but now thou hast left all such courses: Do not thou say, Behold a true Israelite in whom there is no guile: Behold a true child of God on whom are the sure works of grace: For though thus outwardly washed, yet inwardly the filth may abound; though the outside be fair, yet the Coar may be rotten within.
The reason why the Scripture describeth conversion by external leaving of sin, is, because hereby our hatred and loathing of it is made more manifest, and none can say, They cleanse their hearts, who do not also cleanse their lives: It fol∣loweth necessarily, That if the heart be washed, the outward conversation wil also be washed; but not on the contrary, that if the conversation be unpolluted, the heart is.
Secondly, An outward reformation of life, and forsaking of sin, may be from seve∣ral*principles.
1. From the grace of sanctification, which doth wholly alter, and change the nature of a man, putting new and spiritual affections, and inclinations in him, where∣by he is carried out against sin from the pure love of God, and delight in grace; and forsaking sin from this ground, is onely comfortable.
2. Another leaving of sin, is from the restraining power, and providence of God, * whereby bits and bridles are put into mans jaws, that they rush not out so madly into sin as their impetuous lusts would carry them; and such a forsaking of sin, though it be outwardly for the glory of God, his name is not so much blasphem∣ed, others are not so much scandalized; yet it affords no true solid joy to him, that upon these terms only parts with his sins.
3. There is a repressing of sin by the dictates of Nature, and the power of Mo∣ral * precepts instilled into a man. Thus there is a famous story of an Heathen, who was a debauched and prophane man, that went to hear Socrates read his lectures of Morality, with purpose to deride and scoff him; but he was so potently wrought upon by Socrates his precepts, that he went away changed, and never was such a debauched man any more; and no question it was from these natural dictates, with the common help, and assistance of God, that many heathens lived such pure and unblameable lives. So then, if upon these three several stocks, the outward emendation of a mans life may grow, it behoveth every man, who hopes he is Page 190 now turned a penitent and a convert, to enquire from which of all these his change is made upon him.
Thirdly, Mens lusts and sins are for the most part so dear and sweet to them, that it must be some great work either of grace Sanctifying, or grace restraining, that will make a man leave them. We see the Israelites would give all the wealth they had, yea, the very fruit of their womb to Oblations, rather then leave their accu∣stomed sins: This makes our Saviour compare them to a right eye, and a right hand, as those things which are most intimate, and dear unto us: And what is the ground of all that malice, and hatred against the word of God, and soul-searching Truth, but onely mens inordinate love and affection to their sins? Insomuch that when you see any wicked man leave his accustomed sins, you may with wonder cry out, What aileth this Jordan to turn backward, and this Iron to swim? How cometh this Blackamore to a white skin? Though therefore it be no sure sign, yet it is a great duty: we may go out to see it as a great wonder in a parish, Be∣hold! once a Swearer, once a Blasphemer, but now he doth so no more!
Fourthly, Though this outward alteration argue no grace in the heart, yet it is to be acknowledged as a merciful work of God. When the word of God, though it * doth not work to conversion from sin, yet it doth to repression of sin: so that men; though they cease not to be wicked, from holy principles, yet they do from a strong aw and fear which Gods word bringeth upon their consciences: so in that Herod feared John, and was thereby restrained fom many sins, though not from all, is was very laudable. Thus King Josha, that kept from several wicked waies, as long as Jehoiadah the Priest was alive, it was a mercy.
1. For hereby several good issues flow, as God is hereby lesse dishonoured: a * Christian prophane in his life, blasphemes the name of God; thy Oaths, Lusts are a kind of blasphemy against God: where therefore there is a forbearance of these, God is lesse dishonoured, let the grounds be what they will be.
2. Again, hereby Gods wrath is not provoked so quickly against a people, to * destroy them with temporal judgements: Be not evermuch wicked (saith Eccle∣siastes) Why shouldest thou die before thy time? and thus for Oaths, Injustice, and Oppression, the land mourneth: Hence grosse sins, are called crying sins, because they make a noise in Gods ear, importuning for vengeance: now it is a mercy to a place when no such crying sins are committed, when God is not importuned to con∣sume a place.
3. It is good, because hereby godlinesse hath a repute, and an esteem, and wick∣ednesse * hath a discouragement and brand upon it. The Scriptures speaks of an whores fore-head, and a face that could not be ashamed: Now it is well when Gods Mini∣stry hath brought sin into such an Odium, and matter of shame, that none of any in∣genuity, any care, dareth commit any vile sin: and Oh that in all our congregati∣ons, if there were not such sanctifying grace, yet such ingenuous dispositions wrought in men by the light of the Word, that men would say, I am taught better, I know better, I scorn and am ashamed to serve any lust, or commit any known sin: those that are drunk (saith the Apostle) are drunk in the night, and so those that steal, steal in the night. Thus let Ashkelon and Gath, let Sodom and Gomorrah, who are in the night and dark, have wickednesse committed amongst them; but let not Je∣rusalem, or Sion, who is in the light, thus stumble in the day and fall. How much is it to be deplored, that where the Gospel is received, and the word of God read, and preached, every prophane person should not be as much ashamed to shew his head, as a theif when he is taken?
4. Here is this good comes by forsaking of sin, though not upon right principles, * that others are not encouraged to imitate and do the like. Sins in the Text are cal∣led pollutions contagions, they have a pestilential infection with them; and be∣cause so, how good is it when this arrow doth not walk abroad that would destroy at mid-day! Certainly if we praise God heartily for the abating of the plague, or Page 191 sword, which have such open mouths to devour, may we not much rather blesse God for freedom from grosse sins in the place where thou livest? If thou lovest thy self, thy family, thy relations, thou canst not but rejoyce to live, where they shall learn from others to do that, which is according to God and his Law.
5. It is a mercy, because where such great impieties are restrained, there is less * grief, and trouble to the Godly. Esai cryeth out, Wo be to me, because I live among men of polluted lips: and David, Wo be to me, because I live in the wildernesse of Meshech: And the same good man bewailed his exile among those that knew not God. Lot was tormented as in hell, with seeing, and hearing the ungodly practi∣ces of the Sodomites: So that where God doth not work to regeneration, if yet he doth to restraining and binding up of mens corruptions, that their wicked∣nesse doth not make the place an hell to live in, the godly do much praise him for it.
Lastly, Though leaving of sin do not alway argue an interest in Christ, and an * evidence for heaven, yet such men shall have less torments in hell; their judgement will be easier. Thus Austin said, Camillus will be less punished in hell then Catali•e; and so a wicked man forsaking his •ear lusts and sins, though not upon Sanctified principles, shall have more Temporal blessings here and lesse punishment hereafter, then those that wilfully persevere in them.
Let us in the next place consider, Why a meer forsaking of sin, or a reformati∣on in externals, is not enough: and this will be manifest from several demon∣strations.
First, Because (as was intimated) sin may be left from forced principles without,*not sanctified grace within. Forced principles are terrors of conscience, grievous judgements of God, whereby a man is taken off from his sins, as a mastive is pul∣led off from worrying a sheep, and sucking its sweet blood, by putting red hot Iron in his mouth. Nothing but a flaming fiery sword can keep him off from sin, which he accounted paradise: But that which is comfortable reforming of a mans life, is when a supernatural principle is infused within, whereby we are made new creatures; and so from the love of God, and his holiness, ariseth all our hatred and loathing of sin. Thus the Apostle abhors that which is evil, cleaves to that which is good, Rom. 12. When our hating of sin like hell, ariseth from a sweet intimate cleaving to good as glue, (for so the word implies) this is matter of rejoycing. We see in nature, operations follow the nature and essence of a thing; therefore departing from evil is not kindly, till it come from a pure, and sanctified na∣ture.
Secondly, A meer leaving of sin, is not perfectly a touchstone of grace, because it may be done unwillingly, with great grief that we cannot keep our lusts still: And * this is a consequent from the former particular; for when we leave sin from forced principles, there is a great deal of reluctancy: Thus Pharaoh and the Israelites under Gods judgements, they go from sin as Phaltiel was taken from his wife, They run crying after them to have them again. Oh, this is the wretched temper of too many; they have an heart to do thus, to live thus, and they are grieved their lusts cannot be accomplished, but other things keep them they dare not; as Paul said, The evil he would not do, yet he did it, but still he delighted in the Law of God in the inner man. So these, the good they would not do, yet they are compelled to do; and therefore still they delight in the law of sin, and with their mindes they serve it: do not many cast away their sins, as the Marriners did Jonah out of the ship in the sea? they used first all the means they could to keep him in, and when that could not be, then with great trouble of spirit they threw him away. Thus ma∣ny use all means secretly, publickly to keep their sins, plead for the lawfulness of them, excuse the committing of them, till a tempest of Gods wrath is so violent upon them, that they cannot hold them any longer: Oh, therefore if thou wer't once so and so, but now washed, now no such ulcers and sores are upon thee, con∣sider Page 192 with what willingnesse, delight, and joy in God this is done, if otherwise, say not, Grace is in thee.
Thirdly, Therefore may not leaving of actual sin, be a good testimony, because this*is not accompanied with mortifying sin in the root, and in the body of it; For that on∣ly is the true forsaking of sin, which goeth to the very bottom of all, which layeth the Ax to the root of the tree, which endeavors to kill the dam with the young ones, which would destroy sin as they did Jericho, never to be built again. Thus David repenting of those gross actual sins, goeth to the Fountain, his polluted na∣ture and unclean, bitterly bewailing that: hence also the Apostle calleth for cru∣cifying of the flesh, as well as the lusts of sin. The Scripture speaks of the body of sin, as well as members thereof, and exhorts to the mortifying of one, as well as another: And Paul, Rom. 7. In that great combat and conflict, he fights not with small sins or great, but the king, Original pollution. Sampson did but cut his hair, and when that grew, all his strength grew up again; if it had been pulled up by the root, then he had recovered his power no more, so it is here. If actual sins be onely circum∣cised, pared off, and not a pulling them up by the roots, they all increase to their former prevalency again. Know then, it is not enough to dry up the streams, un∣less the fountain also be: see how the root and seed-plot of all lust, and sin in thy heart is consumed, and then there is hopes thou biddest thy sins be gone upon right terms; otherwise this falling out of lovers, will be the renewing of love; or as water cast upon the Iron, makes it burn the more vehemently, so will this for∣bearance a while from sin afterward inflame thee seven times the hotter: and certainly here ought our sorrow and hatred to be most vigorous, because here sin is in its strength and power.
Fourthly, Therefore may we not take comfort from meer external reformation, be∣cause it may be nothing but the change of grosse sins, into a channel of Spiritual, and*more refined sins. Now this is onely to change such Tyrant-sins, but not the Ty∣ranny of sin. The Pharisees they carefully avoided all gross Publican sins: they thank God, they are no drunkards, publicans, adulterers; but what then? they are proud, covetous, superstitious; they avoid gross sin corporally, but they greatly de∣file themselves with other sins spiritually. A man diseased with distillation of humours, if the Physitian do not remove the humour, but divert it to some other part, that is more vital and dangerous, he doth not cure, but kill his patient; and thus it is here, that flux of blood, that noisom sore of sin, which did run out in a bodily way, is turned now into a mental way of pride, self-confidence, self-righte∣ousness; and thus as many times the drying up of sores and issues, strikes present∣ly to the heart, and kils immediately, so doth the forsaking of gross sins fill thy heart with self-love selfd-elight, & hereby thy estate is more dangerous then ever.
Fifthly, Take not comfort presently from thy leaving of sin, for it may be only a par∣tial*and limited leaving, not an absolute and universal. There is many a man hath made a wonderful change in his life, and hath cast away all those visible sins, that others observe in him; but yet some secret, pleasant, profitable lust he keeps, by which means he is still under the dominion of sin, and in Satans snares. Thus He∣rod, he did many things, but one thing he would not do: Now I know thou lovest me (saith God) when thou hast parted with thy onely son Isaak, and then God know∣eth thou truly lovest him, when thou leavest thy own personal •iniquities; when thou canst say, Lord, I have willingly parted with that which I was most addicted to, which I have been long accustomed to which I would have desired of all to have spared: Thou mayest with Saul, kill many a petty sin, but wilt thou kill Agag? Wilt thou part with the fat cattle, as well as the lean? be impartial in this point.
Sixthly, Escaping of worldly pollutions, is not alwaies an argument of a renewed*nature, because sin may drive out sin, even as Divines say about popish exorcismes, when the priest calls out divels from men possessed, it is by collusion: the divel re∣cedes not, because those exorcismes are of divine efficacy, but because hereby he would confirm people more in believing a lye. Thus a man that hath propounded Page 193 to himself any great worldly end, of profit, pleasure, or advancement, he must for a while be a saint, that he may be a divel. Thus divers Hereticks have been men of unblamable, and excellent lives, that their seeming Sanctity may stamp the greater reputation upon their Heresies. It is Machiave's counsel to his great ones, That by all means they should get the name and repute of virtue 〈◊〉 though the thing it self be a burthen; see then whether thy reformation of life, be not subor∣dinate to carnal designs; if so, thou art but a serpent with a glistering colour, but a body full of poyson.
Lastly, This amendment of life is not satisfactory, because the means by which it is wrought, is not durable, rooted, and firm: It is said in the Text, by the know∣ledge of Christ: howsoever some would lay much upon the word 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, yet that is many times no more then a bare 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, an historical knowledge of Divine things, with some light impression upon the heart. Our Saviour differenceth the foolish and the wise builder, by the depth of the foundation they lay, and its the knowing of the Truths as they are in Jesus, that makes a man put off the old man with all its lusts: Therefore examine, by what means art thou perswaded thus to reform? how cometh it about that thou darest not do as thou hast dore? If it be onely general, historical faith of matters contained in the Scripture, this is too weak and languishing; it is one thing to leave sin from meer illumination in the head, and another from a powerful inflammation, and renovation of the heart; thou must with thy heart, and soul, and strength love God, and leave sin, as well as with the mind.
Use of Instruction, How manifestly and evidently they have no hopes of heaven, * or grace, who live in the constant, common practice of gross sins; yet even such men would judge it hard to be told, That they are of their Father the Divel, that they are in a state of darkness, and bitterness; yet what is more clear? You need not have one from heaven come and tell you, your state is damnable, neither one from hell, with hell flames upon him, crying out, for such sins as you dayly com∣mit, Behold, I lye roaring and yelling to all eternity: If therefore any that is called a Christian, a believer, be thus a prophane, an ungodly person, let him see the wrath of God written against him so evidently, that though he runneth he may read it. What is a Swine, though washed, under the sad doom of Gods wrath? What then is the Swine wallowing in its mire, and tumbling in its dirt? And such an one art thou, who committest gross sins with greediness.
Use of Exhortation, Not onely to leave your sins, but upon such right grounds as will be of everlasting comfort: Cast away your iniquities, saith the Prophet; * That implieth willingness, readiness, vehement detestation, never to receive them any more; but thy sins are pulled from thee, thy heart is the same, thy love is the same, unless God hedgeth thy way with thorns, that thou canst not follow thy lusts. Hast thou therefore left off all those evil waies thou once livedst in upon Scripture ends, with such a love of Godliness, that though sin come like Josephs Mistress, in all her loveliness, pleasure, and importunate temptation, saying, Come, and lye with me: yet thou leavest garment and all, saying, How can I do this, and sin against God? Take heed thou art not like that man out of whom divels were cast, but he cometh with seven worse afterwards, and findes it garnished and swept, prepared for him; a sheep washed, loves not to go into the mire again, though a Sow doth.