And forgive us our debts.
HAving explained this Petition positively and practically, we come to handle those Questions, which may make to the clearing of that truth, which is contained in the Text. And I shall pitch upon those that are usefull and necessary, not on thorny and perplexed. God indeed once spake out of the thor∣ny bush, but seldom doth truth discover her self in those thick∣ets, which the Schoolmen have made.
The first in order that should be discussed is, What remission of sin is; Or, What is meant, when we say, God doth forgive Page 129 sinne? But before we can come to that, another Doubt must be rouled out of the way, and that is, What sinne is, and what are the proper effects of sinne? For a man can never understand, what it is to have sinne blotted out, or taken away,* unlesse he be first informed, What the nature of sinne is, and what effects it hath wrought upon the sinner. Of this therefore in the first place,
And first,* I shall speak of sinne abstractedly in its own nature.
Secondly, Relatively to the person who sinneth.
Thirdly, The proper effects of it.
Fourthly, The weight or aggravation of every sin.
Let us begin with the former. Sinne in the Scripture hath several names, which do in some measure describe the nature of it. The Hebrew 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 is used commonly for sin,* and it doth in a proper signification, wherein it is once used, denote an aberration from the mark we shoot at, Judg. 20.16. Every one could sling stones at an hairs breadth, and not misse; and from hence metaphorically is signified the nature of sinne, for every mans action is to have an end, which end is manifested by the Scripture; and when a man reacheth not to this, he is said to sinne; answerable unto this word in the Greek is 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, which comes from 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, that is, to erre from the scope: And another word 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, which is going beyond the bounds and limits which are set us. Though a learned Critick, Dieu, doth make 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, not to signifie beyond, but by, as if it did denote a negligent and carelesse passing by the commands of God. A∣nother word is 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 which cometh of a word that properly sig∣nifieth crookednesse and obliquity in the body, and so is applied to the soul, and doth denote perversenesse in him that sinneth, and to this may answer 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 where the particle 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 is not to be understood privatively onely, but adversatively: for a meer want of the Law, may not be a sin alwayes, but a repugnancy must necessarily be. And thus the word is used, 2 Thess. 2.8. 1 Tim. 4.9. The Hebrews also expresse sinne by 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 which is as much as a desection, or falling off from God; and answera∣ble to this in the Greek is 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, which is a falling away from that integrity and purity we either once had, or ought Page 130 still to have. As for the Latine word peccatum, some have deri∣ved it from pellicare, which is to commit adultery, as if a sin were so called in the general, from one kinde of it; and others from pecus, because a man in sin wanders like a beast, or becomes like a beast; yet many conceive the word peccare to be a theme it self, and not derived from any other word.
*As for the definition of sin, What it is; though there have been many disputes about it, and Chemnitius wished for one publike definition of it, to which all Churches should agree; yet certainly that of John is full and comprehensive enough, 1 Joh. 3.4 Sin is the transgression of the Law: Answerable whereunto is that, 2 Sam. 15.24. I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord: Only you must remember not to li∣mit 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, to a meer want of the Law, but as comprehending that which is against it. Now this definition agreeth both to ha∣bitual and actual sins.
To habitual, whether it be that innate and imbred of original sin; or whether it be that habitual voluntarily contracted, you have both the actual and habitual 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, excellently put toge∣ther, Rom. 6.19 As you have yeelded your members servants to ini∣quity unto iniquity: where by the former iniquity is meant ori∣ginal and habitual sin; by the later, actual sin as the fruit of the former. It hath been doubted, how habitual, especially original sin can be called truly sin, because it is not voluntary: for that voluntarinesse should be of the nature of sin, is so universally acknowledged, that neither Doctorum paucitas, nor Indoctorum turba do dissenti•e: neither the few learned men, or the many unlearned did ever gain-say, said Austin: And besides, All sin must be forbidden by a Law, now how are we forbidden to be born without sinne? Would not such a prohibition be ridi∣culous?
Again, The commands of God seem to be for good actions, not for the habits of good actions.
Now although it might fairly be maintained, that 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 not 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, the transgression of a Law, and not voluntari∣ness,* is of the nature of a sin; for the Apostle, Rom. 7.15. saith, He doth that which he would not do; and there are many sins of igno∣rance, which must necessarily be without any express act of the Page 131 will, yet we may with Austin call this sin voluntary, taking vo∣luntary, as it comprehends the will of Adam, that universal per∣son, and principle in whom we all willed. And by this means, though Infants are not in themselves capable of any precept, much lesse before they were born, which they were to accom∣plish in their own person, yet they were bound up in a com∣mand, even before they had an actual being in Adam, in whose will they were to fulfill that command, for that command was not given to Adam as a single person, but as an uni∣versal.
Hence it is, that habituall sin, whether remote, or proxime, is forbidden by the Law of God, which requireth not only good things to be done, but also that they flow from a clear and pure fountain within, even an entire perfection of the nature; so that although infused habits of grace come not under a pre∣cept, in respect of the infusing and ingenerating of them, for that is Gods act, and we are not bound to do that, yet they are commanded both before they are infused and after; Before, by the Law, which requireth of us, that inward rectitude, which is now lost; and after they are infused, to be diligent in those pious actions, whereby those habits may be preserved and retained. So that by this we may see a sin to be, what∣soever doth transgresse the Law of God, whether habitually or actually, whether internally or externally, whether by com∣mission, or by omission, and from hence ariseth the curse which the Law pronounceth against sinners, because its broken by them.
In the next place,* if we speak of sin as it relates to the person sinning; so there is not required; first, That a man should not intend sin, and will it as sin, for that is impossible: even as the understanding cannot assent to any thing false as false, but as the object is either true really, or apparently: So neither can the will, desire any thing that is evil, as evil, but as it is apparently good. As the devil appeared in Samuels clothes, so doth sin and evil alwayes under the notion of some good or other. Hence the Apostle saith, Lusts saves, i. do 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, entice a man, as a Fish∣erman doth the silly fish by the bait upon the hook, which the Apostle elswhere cals 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, a deceiving or putting a false Page 132 Syllogism upon our selves. So that they do not sufficiently vin∣dicate the pure providence of God from sin, who say, God doth will the act, but not the deformity, or the evil of it; for so nei∣ther doth man will expresly the evil of the act, although in wil∣ling that act to which sin is necessarily annexed, it be interpre∣tatively to will the sin.
Neither secondly is to sin, to produce sin, as the proper and immediate terminus of our action, for sin being a privation, or at most a relation, it cannot be the immediate effect of any action. Sin is not indeed a meer pure privation, such as blindenesse is, but mixt and compounded, such as sicknesse is, which hath both the inordinacy, and want of a good temperament, and al∣so the ill humours in it. So that a man sinneth by producing or doing that action, to which sin is annexed. And herein neither do they sufficiently clear Gods concourse about sin, in saying it goeth to the material act of sin, but not to the immediate obli∣quity of it. For so neither doth man, and indeed sin being a pri∣vation, or as some, a relation, it is impossible it should be pro∣duced any other way, but by that act unto which it is joyned to, as theft is committed by doing that material action, to which that deformity is inseparably adjoined. Therefore to sin, is to do a thing deficiently from the Law of God, so that God in all those several acts of his about sin, whether they be permissive or ordinative, is gloriously vindicated, because he doth nothing deficienter, as falling from that eternal and immutable Law of righteousnesse; whereas the Angels and man did, missing or coming short of the rule, by which they were to be guided: but because this Discourse is more remote to our present mat∣ter of Pardon of sin, we come to that which doth more nearly concern it.
*Therefore in the third place, there is the proper effect, and consequent of sin, which is to make guilty, and oblige to eter∣nall wrath. To omit the many things that are in sinne, Divines doe acknowledge two things in every sinne, the Macula, or filth, and the Reatus, the guilt; which guilt some do again di∣stinguish into the guilt of sin, which they call the inward digni∣ty and desert of damnation, which they make inseparable from sinne, even as heat is from the fire; and the guilt of pu∣nishment Page 133 which they make separable: For the present, let us examine, What is that effect of sinne, whereby a man when a sinne is committed is truly denominated a sinner, for seeing Remission is a taking away of sin in that respect, whereby we are adjudged and accounted of as sinners, it is necessary to know what that is, which doth so constitute a sinner: As for example, David after his adultery, Peter after his denial, have contracted such a guilt upon them, whereby they are account∣ed as sinners, though the acts of their sins be gone and passed; and in this condition they stand, till remission or forgivenesse come, which takes away their sins. For the understanding of this, consider this foundation, That every sin committed by a man, though the sin be transient, and quickly passeth away, yet it doth still continue, and is as it were still in acting, till by remission it be removed. And this consideration is of great practical use. A man is apt to look upon his sins committed a long while ago, as those which are passed, and are no more to be thought upon; but you must know, that there is something which doth remain after a sin is committed, which is somewaies the same with the action of sin: so that not figuratively, but properly the sin it self is said to continue. Thus the Scripture cals something by the name of sin, that doth continue, when yet the commission of the sin is past. As David many moneths after he had sinned, praieth God, To blot out his sinne: why, where was his sin? It was committed long before, and it was a transient act, but yet David by this doth acknowledge that there is something which doth continue that act of sin, whereby David is as much bound up in his conscience, as if he had been in the very commission of it. Consider therefore that till there be a pardon of sin, though thy sins have been com∣mitted fourty or fifty years ago, yet they are continued still, and thou art truly a sinner, though so many years after, as thou wast at the first committing of them. Sin is not taken away by length of time, but by some gracious act of God vouchsa∣fed unto us: How justly may it be feared, that many a mans sins do still lie at his doors! Thou art still in thy sins, and looked up∣on as so by God; though it may be thou hast left such sins many years ago. Thy youthfull sins it may be, thou hast left them Page 134 along while ago, yet thou art still in them, and they are conti∣nued upon thee, till by remission they are taken away. It is not thy other course of life and abstinence from sin, that makes a sin not to be, but there must be some gracious act on Gods part, removing of this. Consider therefore of it, that thy soul re∣maineth as polluted and guilty twenty years after a sin, yea a thousand of years, if thou couldst live so long, as when it was in the very first act of sin. Remember the action of sinne doth passe away, but not the sinne; you may therefore ask, Where∣in doth the sin continue still? What is that which makes me still to be reputed of as if I were a sinner in the very act? It is com∣monly out of the Schoolmen determined,* That after a sinne is committed, there doth remain a Macula, a blot in the soul, and that continuing, the sinner doth thereby remain obliged unto eternal wrath. That there is such a filth and blot remaining because of sinne,* I see generally acknowledged by our Divines: only that learned Wootton doth much oppose it, and saith, the Schoolmen have been five hundred years labouring to declare, what it is, and are not able to do it. Indeed he grants, That in Adams sin we may well conceive a blot remaining after the sin was committed, because he was endowed with grace; but now in a man grown up that hath grace, no sinne that he com∣mits takes away his grace, and therefore he is not deprived of that beauty by the blot of sinne. And as for wicked men, they have no beauty at all in them; and therefore how can sinne make such a blot in them? There must be beauty in them by grace, which is nitor animae, the lustre of the soul, be∣fore there can be Macula, which is the deformity of it. For the right conceiving of this, know, 1. That it is one thing to ac∣knowledge such a defilement and impurity by sinne absolutely; and another to acknowledge it so, That justifying grace, or re∣mission of sin must take that blot away. Herein the Papists erre, That they hold sin leaveth such a stain, which remission of sin taketh away; whereas indeed there is such a filth by sin, but that is ta∣ken away by sanctifying grace, not justifying; so that it is a dan∣gerous errour to speak of such a defilement by sin, and then to say, God by pardoning takes it away; This were to confound Justification and Sanctification.
Page 135But in the second place, we may according to Scripture, say, not only in Adams sinne, but in every sin we commit there is a blot and stain made upon the soul, Matth. 15.20. These things that come from the heart defile a man, Ephes. 5.27. Sin is com∣pared to a spot and wrinkle. So Rom. 3.12. All by nature are said to become unprofitable. The Hebrew word in the Psalm, out of which this is taken, signifieth corruption or putrefacti∣on, for such sin is to the soul, not that you may conceive that the essence of the soul is naturally corrupted by sin, as rust doth the iron, and moths the garment; but in a moral sense, by sin the soul in its faculties is disenabled from doing its duty. Thus the Apostle cals sins dead works, Heb▪ 9.14. not in that sense, as if they did bring death to a man, for that the Apostle expresseth otherwise, killing us, when he speaks of the Law; but he cals them dead works, because they defile man, as dead carcases in the old Testament: For the Apostle, vers. 1. spake of cleansing by the bloud of an heifer, which was to be used when a man had toucht any dead thing, which made him legally unclean. Thus (saith he) Christs bloud will cleanse from sin that conta∣minateth a man. Neither is it necessary that grace must really have been in the soul before, and then sin by depriving the soul of it, so to stain it: for its enough that the soul ought to have grace in it, though it were not present before: as when a man doth not believe Gods Word, though this unbelief do not de∣prive him of the beauty and grace of faith, which he had, yet it doth of that beauty of faith, which he ought to have.* And thus as particular actual sins are multiplied: so are particular stains and defilements also encreased; we therefore must grant a stain by sin, though this be not that which is removed by re∣mission. Therefore that which continueth a man a sinner in Gods account, and is to be removed by remission, is that obli∣gation to eternall wrath appointed by God; for as soon as a man hath sinned, there doth accrue to God a moral right (as we may speak with reverence) and power, being a Judge, as thereby he may inflict vengeance upon a sinner; and in this re∣spect sin is called an offence, because it doth provoke him, who is a just Judge, unto anger and vengeance. This then is that, which makes a sin to continue still as if it were in act, because up∣on Page 136 the sinne committed there is an obligation by Gods appoint∣ment to everlasting punishment, and when this is taken off, then is God said to forgive, and till it be, sinne is alive, crying for vengeance, as fiercely, as if it were newly committed. So that the act once committed that causeth the obligation to pu∣nishment, and this obligation continuing, God doth not for∣give. When a sinne is committed it may remain in Gods minde, and in our minde. In our minde, by way of guilt and trouble; as David said, His sin was alwayes before him; or else in Gods minde, so that he doth will the punishment of such. Now when God doth forgive, he blots sins out of his minde, and remem∣bers them no more. He doth not will the obligation of them to punishment, being satisfied thorow Christ, and the party be∣lieving in him. By all this you may see, That after a sin is com∣mitted there remaineth obligation in the will and minde of God to eternal punishment, and God when he doth forgive, cancel∣leth this debt or obligation. This being cleared, we may the ea∣silier judge with what act God doth forgive sinne, but of that hereafter.
*Let us consider the aggravation of sin, as it is an offence to God, which may the more instigate us to pardon. In sin we may consider two things; First, The deprivation of that rectitude which ought to be in every thing we do: in which sense, sin is a moral monster, as there are natural monsters, for the soul in sin doth not bring forth fruit answerable unto reason and the Law of God; this consideration may much humble us; but there is another thing in sin which doth more aggravate it, and that is as it is a dishonour, and an offence to God, and by this means it becometh above our power ever to satisfie God for it. There∣fore in every sin besides the particular considerations, look up∣on that general one, which is in all, viz. That peculiar deformi∣ty it hath,* as it is an offence against God. Its disputed, Whe∣ther sin have an infinite evil and deformity in it? To answer this, If a sin be considered in its kinde, so its not infinite, because one sin is so determined to its kinde, that it is not another sin, as theft is not murder.
Neither secondly can sin be said to be infinite evil, in respect of the being of it, for it cometh from finite creatures, who are Page 137 not able to do any thing infinite; and therefore sin is not infinite, as Christs merits are infinite, which are so, because of the dignity and worth of the person, though the actions themselves had a finite being. Besides, if sins were infinite in such a sense, then no sin could be greater then another, because that which is truly infi∣nite cannot be made more or lesse.
Therefore thirdly, Sins are said to have infinite evil in them, in respect of the object or person against whom they are com∣mitted, viz. God, who is an infinite object. For seeing the aggra∣vation of a sinne ariseth from the worth of the person against whom it is committed; if the person offended be of infinite ho∣nor and dignity, then the offence done against such an one, hath an infinite evil and wickedness in it. So that the infiniteness of sin ariseth wholly from the external consideration of God against whom it is. But of this more when we speak of the necessity of Christs satisfaction to Gods justice by his death.
Let the Use be to inform thee, That every sin committed,* con∣tinueth as fresh to cry vengeance many years after, as if it were but lately done, till remitted by God. Think not therefore that time will wear it out, though they may wear out of thy consci∣ence, yet they cannot out of Gods minde. Consider that of Job 14.17. Thou sealest up my transgression as in a bag, and thou sowest up mine iniquity. So that what the Apostle speaks of some, 2 Pet. 2. is true of all impenitent sinners, Their damnation slumbereth not, nor doth it linger. Therefore till the mercy of God hath taken off this guilt, thou art to be in as much fear and trembling, as if the very sins were still committed by thee.