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Having thus briefly showed you these things, I shall come, in the next place, to show you, II. WHY SOME THAT, AS TO WORDS, RIGHTLY NAME THE NAME OF CHRIST, DO NOT DEPART FROM INIQUITY.
That it is incident to men to name the name of Christ religiously, and not to depart from iniquity, I have proved already; and now I must show you why it is so, and the reasons are of three sorts. First . Some profess him, yet have not saving faith in him, nor yet have received grace from him. That some profess him that have not faith in him, nor received grace from him, I will make appear first; and then that they do not depart from iniquity, shall be shown afterwards.
That the first is true, consider: Christ says to his (professed) disciples, “There are some of you that believe not.” And again, “For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him.” John 6:46. Now if they believe not, they have none of his grace in them; for faith is the first and head grace, the beginning and leading grace; he, therefore, that is destitute of that, is empty of all the rest. Besides, other scriptures also confirm this truth. James calls some of the professors of Christ that were in his day, vain, or empty men ( James 2:20), that is, men void of grace. And the Apostle suggesteth in the very words below the text, that as in God’s house there are golden and silver saints, so there are also earthy and wooden ones. 2 Timothy 2:20. “For in a great house,” as God’s is, “are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor, and some to dishonor,” — that is some for heaven, and some for hell. Romans 9:20-23.
Now they are these wooden and earthy professors, that he aimeth at in the text; that is, that they should depart from iniquity, or else their profession would do them no good; and these also that he despaireth of in the next words, saying, but, in this great house of God there will not only be golden and silver Christians, but wooden and earthy ones: “And if any man purge himself from these” men’s companies, and from these men’s vices, “he shall be a vessel to honor, sanctified, and meet for the Master’s use, and prepared to every good work.”
From all which it is gathered, that there are some that name the name of Christ in a way of profession, that have neither faith nor grace in them, and so consequently that do not depart from iniquity. For, these want that principle, that holy and blessed principle, that should induce them thereunto; namely the great and principal graces of the Spirit; and they are four: 1. As I have said, they want Faith, that heart-purifying grace; for the heart is purified by faith. Acts 15:9. I have showed you already that departing from iniquity must be with the mind and affections, or with the heart. But how can that be, where the heart is not sanctified and made holy? For an unsanctified mind cannot depart from iniquity, no more than the Ethiopian can change his skin. Jeremiah 13:23. For nothing can purify the heart but faith. Therefore nothing can make a professor depart from iniquity, where faith is wanting. So then, when men professedly name the name of Christ without having holy faith in him, they still abide by their iniquity; they depart not from their iniquity, but rather make of their profession a cloak for their iniquity — for their malice, and for their covetousness, and the like. 1 Thessalonians 2:15; 1 Peter 2:16. It is not profession, but faith, that bringeth God and the soul together; and as long as God and the soul are at a distance, whatever profession is made, there is not a departing, not a heart-departing from iniquity. Wherefore to these professors James writeth thus, “Draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you; cleanse your hands, ye sinners, and purify your hearts, ye double-minded.” James 4:8.
Men, far from God, cannot think reverently of him, nor so speak and profess him, as standeth with the nature of gospel religion; wherefore God saith, “draw near hither,” that is by faith, and again, “let them come near, then let them speak,” then let them profess. Isaiah 41:1. Without faith a man cannot please God, because he cannot without it stand before him in the spotless righteousness of Christ, nor yet depart from iniquity, and live a holy life. Hebrews 11:6.
There are three things in faith, that directly tend to make a man depart from iniquity, (1.) It apprehendeth the truth of the being, and greatness of God, and so it aweth the spirit of a man. (2.) It apprehendeth the love of this God in Christ, and so it conquereth and overcometh the spirit of a man. (3.) It apprehendeth the sweetness and blessedness of the nature of the Godhead, and thence persuadeth the soul to desire here communion with him, that it may be holy, and the enjoyment of him, when this world is ended, that it may be happy in and by him for ever.
But without faith these things cannot be apprehended, and therefore those that want it, whatever their profession is, will not depart from iniquity. 2. Repentance is another of the great and principal graces, which the Holy Ghost worketh in the heart. Wherefore, without this also there can be no departing from iniquity. It is in vain to expect it of any man, let his profession be never so stately and great, if he is a stranger to sound repentance. How many are there in our day, since the gospel is grown so common, that catch up a notion of good things, and from that notion make a profession of the name of Christ, get into churches, and obtain the title of a brother, a saint, a member of a gospel congregation, that have clean escaped repentance? I say they have catched up a notion of good things, and have through that adventured to name the name of Christ, quite forgetting to take repentance with them. Repentance should be, and is one of the first steps into true gospel profession, ( Mark 1:15; Proverbs 3:7; Proverbs 16:6), but some know nothing of it, until they come to the end of all, and their repentance will do them no good. Repentance is not but where the true fear of God is; yea, the fear of God is one ground of repentance. Repentance is the scouring grace, it is that which purges.
Repentance is, as I may call it, that bitter pill without the taking, and sound working of which, base and sinful humors will rest unstirred, unpurged, undriven out of the soul. Can repentance be where godly sorrow is not? or can repentance be where the fruits of repentance are not? O the seed of repentance, is thick sown by preachers, but it comes up but thinly! Mark 1:4,5; Romans 6:12; Jeremiah 7:3,5. Where shall the fruits of repentance be found? Confession of sin is one fruit of repentance; shame for sin is another fruit of repentance; restitution for cozening, cheating, defrauding, beguiling thy neighbor, is another fruit of repentance. Luke 19:5-8. Yea, if you would see the fruits of repentance as described by the Holy Ghost, and put together for the further conviction and shame of the impenitent professor, look into 2 Corinthians 7:9-11.
But this is a day that was never read of, a day wherein conversion is frequent without repentance; such a conversion as it is; and therefore doth the church of God now swarm with them, that religiously name the name of Christ, and yet depart not from iniquity.
Alas! all houses, all tables, all shops, have hanging up in them, the sign of the want of repentance. Ecclesiastes 7:27,28. To say nothing of the talk, of the beds and the backs of most that profess, by which of these is it that one of a thousand for men; and for women, one of ten thousand do show that they have repentance? No marvel then that the name of Christ is so frequently mentioned there, where iniquity dwells, yea reigns, and that with the consent of the mind.
I would not be austere, but were wearing of gold, putting on of apparel, dressing up houses, decking of children, learning of compliments, boldness in women, letchery in men, wanton behavior, lascivious words, and tempting carriages, signs of repentance; then I must say, the fruits of repentance swarm in our land. But if these be none of the fruits of repentance, then, O, the multitude of professors, that religiously name the name of Christ, and do not depart from iniquity! But, 3. Love is another of those great and principal graces, which the Holy Ghost worketh in the heart: wherefore let profession be never so high, yet if love be wanting there, to be sure such professors “depart not from iniquity.” 1 Corinthians 13. Hence all profession, and subjecting to profession, are counted nothing, where love is not. Love is counted a most infallible sign that a man is in a state of salvation. He that loveth, dwells in God, is born of God, and knoweth him. 1 John 4:7,16,21. Love divideth itself, to God, and to my neighbor. Love to God, is, that we keep his sayings, his commandments, his laws. “If a man love me, (saith Christ), he will keep my words;” and “he that loveth me not, keepeth not my sayings.” John 14:23,24. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not grievous.” 1 John 5:3. So then, that professor that hath not love, cannot depart from iniquity.
For, (1.) Where no love is, men cannot be tender of the name of God; they are not afflicted because men keep not God’s law. <19B9136> Psalm 119:136; 1 Corinthians 13:5. (2.) Where no love is, men cannot deny themselves of that, which otherwise they might lawfully do, lest the weak should fall, and the world be destroyed. Romans 14:15; Psalm 97:10. (3.) Where love to God is, there is hatred against iniquity. “Ye that love the Lord, hate evil.”
A man cannot love God, that loves not holiness. He loves not holiness, that loves not God’s word; he loves not God’s word, that doth not do it. It is a common thing to find men partial in God’s law, setting much by small things, and neglecting the weightier matters, paying tithe of mint, and anise, and cummin, and neglecting the weightier matters. These turn the tables of God’s book up-side-down; making little laws, of great ones; and great ones, of little ones; counting half an hour’s bodily service, better than a moral life. Love! love is gone out of the country; love to the doctrine of the first table, love to the doctrine of the second table. O how many professors, in God’s eyes, are accounted of no more than ‘sounding brass’ for want of this ornament, love! 1 Corinthians 13.
To speak nothing of the first table, where is he that hath his love manifested by the second? Where are they that feed the hungry, and clothe the naked, and send portions to them for whom nothing is prepared? Where is Paul, that would not eat meat while the world standeth, lest he made his brother offend? 1 Corinthians 8:13. Where is Dorcas, with her garments she used to make for the widow, and for the fatherless? Acts 9:36,39. Yea, where is that rich man that (to his power) durst say what Job does, as recorded in Job 30:25, and Job 31:13, 32? Love! love is gone, and now coveting, pinching, griping, and such things are in fashion: now iniquity abounds, instead of grace, in many that name the name of Christ.
They want love, and therefore cannot depart from iniquity. 4. Hope is another of those great and principal graces, which the Holy Ghost worketh in the heart, and without which let a man be never so high in profession, and so open in naming the name of Christ, he cannot depart from iniquity. As was said before of Faith, so we say now of Hope. “And every one that hath this hope in Him, (Christ), purifieth himself even as He is pure.” 1 John 3:3. Here is that purifieth, it cleanseth a man; it makes him make the Lord Jesus his example, as well as his Savior. He purifieth himself “even as he is pure;” that is, in soul, in body, in spirit, in life and conversation. Hope of life eternal by Christ, makes a man purify himself in obeying the truth through the Spirit. Hope to be with Christ hereafter, will make me strive to be like him here. Hope of being with angels there, will make a man strive to live like an angel here. Alas! alas! there is a company of half-priests in the world, and they cannot, they dare not teach the people the whole counsel of God, because in so doing they will condemn themselves and their manner of living the world. Where is that minister now to be found that dare say to his people, ‘Look on me, and walk as you have me for an example?’ or that dare say, ‘What you see and hear to be in me, do and the God of peace shall be with you.’ Philippians 3:17. Philippians 4:9. These (primitive) men had hope, and hope purified them to an example, till they became patterns to others.
Is not this now far off from some professors in the world? Are they purified? Are they clean that name the name of Christ? Are they weaned from that milk, and drawn from the breasts? No, nor is their profession attended with grace; they name the name of Christ; well, but they do not depart from iniquity. Let a man believe a lie and according to the reality of his belief, such will his obedience be; let a man hope for that, for which he hath no ground to hope, yet his hope will work with him according to the power thereof. And yet we have a generation of men that profess the blessed gospel, which yieldeth the most substantial ground for faith and hope: yea, we have a company of men that will be naming the name of Christ, which is the sweetest, the most taking, and desirable name that is named among the sons of men, and for all that, this gospel, this worthy name, nor yet their naming it, doth make them depart from iniquity. But what’s the reason? Why, they have taken up a profession, but want the grace of Christ; the faith, the repentance, the love, and hope of the gospel.
No marvel, then, if they abide among the wooden sort of professors: nor marvel then, though the iniquity of their heels still follows them, and that it droppeth from them wherever they go! — But so much for the first reason, why men do name the name of Christ, and yet do not depart from iniquity. Secondly . The second reason, why some that name the name of Christ, depart not from iniquity, is, that though they rest not in bare notions, as those forementioned, yet they take up as they, short of the saving grace of God. There are bare notions; there are common workings; and there is a work that is saving, and that will do the soul good to eternity. 1. There are bare notions; and they that have them, are those unto whom the gospel comes in word only. 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 1 Corinthians 4:19,20. Such religion stands in word only, and is not attended with a power suitable: that is, there goeth not along with the word, a power sufficient to subdue, and work over the heart to a cordial and gracious close with that word that comes to them. Yet such is the noise and sound of the word, that they are willing to become professors thereof; there is some kind of musicalness in it, especially, when well handled and fingered by a skillful preacher. And lo, saith God unto such preachers, when their auditory is made up of such kind of hearers, “And lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song (or as one that sings a song of loves) of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not.” Ezekiel 33:30,31,32. 2. But then, besides those, there is another sort, and they go further than those. For to these the word came, not in word only, but also in power: though not in that or in such a power, as is sufficient (absolutely against all attempts whatsoever), to bring the soul to glory. Of these we read in several places; namely, that they have tasted of the powers of the world to come; but not so as to bring them safe to glory. Yet thus far they go. (1.) They attain light or illumination, to see much of their state by nature with. Hebrews 6:4. (2.) This light standeth not in bare speculation, but lets fall upon the conscience, convincing arguments to the bowing and humbling of the spirit. 1 Kings 21:27,28,29. (3.) They submit to these convictions, and reform; and may for a time not only come out from them that live in error, but escape the pollutions of the world, by the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 2:18,19,20; Galatians 3:4; Galatians 4:20. (4.) yea, so powerful will this dispensation be, that it will prevail with them, to do and suffer many things for the vindication of the truth of that gospel which they profess.
For (1.) The word will be sweet unto them. (2.) Christ, the gift of God, will be relished by them. (3.) The powers of the world to come will be in them. (4.) Some workings of the Holy Ghost will be in them. Hebrews 6:4,5. (5.) And joy, which is as oil to the wheels, will be with their souls. Luke 8:13.
Thus, I say, it is with some professors, who yet cannot be said to depart from iniquity, that is, for all ado, because the things that now are upon them, abide with them but awhile. “For awhile, they believe: they rejoice in the light for a season.” Luke 8:13; John 5:35; 2 Peter 2:21. So they clean escape from them, who live in error for a little, or awhile; and after that, return to their old course, and are again entangled with their iniquities and overcome. This is called, “A turning with the dog to his own vomit again, and with the sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”
And some of these are set forth by this and such like sayings: “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places seeking rest, and finding none. Then he saith I will return into my house, from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there, and the last state of that man is worse than the first.” Matthew 12:43-45.
Now the causes of this declension, returning, or falling away again unto iniquity, are many. First . One is that this work, this work of power that they have been made partakers of, has not been thorough enough upon all the powers of their souls. Their understandings, their judgments and consciences have been dealt with, but the power of God has not been upon their wills and minds, and affections rightly to subdue them to the grace of the gospel. <19B003> Psalm 110:3. Indeed there seems to be a subjection of the will, and an overruling of the mind, and affections also, else they could not for a time lay aside their iniquity, come off from the pollutions of the world, and for a season rejoice in the word and be pleased with the light thereof. But we may consider, that this may be, not that a sound work of God hath passed upon these powers of the soul, but that rather this was by reason of those reflex acts, that the understanding now enlightened, the judgment now informed, and the conscience now convinced, laid upon these other powers of the soul. And I the rather think it so, because willingness, mindfulness of, and affection for this gospel, lasted no longer than the light shined in their understandings, or than the things were relished by their judgment and conscience. So that when the light of their candle went out, and when the taste of this sugar-plumb was out of their mouth, their wills and affections, not being possessed with the fear of God, they returned again to their course, and went away as before with iniquity.
Nor do I, by any thing here discoursed, lay blame or fault at the door of God. For, 1. He is a free agent to do what he pleaseth, and may if he please refuse to give any thing; or if he gives something, why may he not give what he pleases also? He may give special grace to one, and that which is not so to another: he may open Balaam’s eyes, and open Lydia’s heart; he may give some but a taste, and cause some to eat abundantly. Numbers 24:3; Acts 16:14; Hebrews 6; <220501> Cant. 5:1. He may suffer some to fall away, and keep others by his power, through faith unto salvation. 2. Besides, God’s withdrawing those common workings, if they were withdrawn without a cause given, (which yet I question), yet why may they not be withdrawn without from these, as well as from his own peculiar ones? He knows but little, that doth not know that God ofttimes hides his face from his own, and also withdraws from them the light and great influences of the Holy Ghost: and turns them over at least in their own apprehensions to the ungodly, and to fallen angels, for their chastisement, or trial, or instruction, etc. 3. And why may not God, since these rebels had such working with them, as that their minds, by their understandings, — their will and affections, by their judgment and consciences, — were somewhat taken and allured, cause a withdrawing of these for trial, and to see if they would cry after him to return.
But we will let these things pass, and call you again to remembrance of what is in hand. We are now showing that there be them that name the name of Christ, “that yet depart not from iniquity,” and in showing the cause of their not so doing, one was that the gospel came to them in word only; and the other was that though it came to others in power, yet not in full power, or in that power, that effectually keepeth some to salvation.
Upon this second reason I now am, and am showing how it comes to pass that they that are under the power of the things that we have afore discoursed, should notwithstanding that, return to their vomit again. One cause of this declension, or going back to iniquity, I have just now touched upon, and we have some more behind. Secondly . Therefore, such persons upon the withdrawing of those influences that at present are mighty upon them, do forthwith forget, both what they had, and what work it made upon them. Straightway they forget what manner of men they were. It is said of Israel, “they sang his praises, but they soon forgot his word.” So these forget. 1. They forget what light and what conviction they had. 2. They forget what sorrow for sin they had. 3. They forget what tastes of Christ and his word they had. 4. They forget what joy and comfort they had. 5. They forget how fair for heaven they were. 6. And they forget how cleansed once they were. “They have forgotten that they were purged from their old sins.” 2 Peter 1:9.
Now forgetfulness makes things that are past as nothings; and if so, then it can lay no obligations upon the mind, to engage it to the delight of them, and to the enjoying of them, no not in the thoughts of them, as if they were remembered by us. Forgetfulness is a very dangerous thing; it makes preaching vain, profession vain, faith vain, and all to no purpose. <461501> Corinthians 15:1, 2. Such profession is but a dream, and the professors but as dreamers; all vanishes in the morning. This made Paul so to caution the Corinthians, that they forgot not the preaching; and the author of the Hebrews, so earnestly call them, in their backsliding, back to the remembrance of former days, and to the recollecting of what it was that then had made them so willingly endure their great fight of affliction. Hebrews 10:32,33.
Forgetfulness, I say, makes things nothings; it makes us as if things had never been; and so takes away from the soul, one great means of stay, support, and encouragement. When holy David was dejected, the remembrance of the hill Hermon was his stay; when he was to go out against Goliath, the remembrance of the lion and the bear was his support; so we those that have had the power of the things of God upon them, can think of this; when they are withdrawn, it will, even the thinking of it, will have some kind of operation upon the soul. And therefore you shall find, that the recovering of a backslider, usually begins at the remembrance of former things. “Remember therefore, from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do thy first works.” Revelation 2:5.
It is marvellous to see how some men are captivated with this forgetfulness. Those that sometimes have prayed, cried, groaned, and sighed for eternal life: those that sometimes thought no pains too much, no way too far, no hazards too great to run, for eternal life; those who sometimes were captivated with the word, and with the comforts and joy thereof, and that, had it been possible, could have pulled out their eyes, and have given them to a gospel minister, so dear and sweet were the good tidings which they brought to such. Galatians 4:14,15. I say, it is marvellous to see how such men are captivated with the forgetfulness of this. They are as if they never had been those men; they are as if they had never had such things; or, as if they had never thought about them. Yea, they are strange, and carry it strangely to all those that still are under the power of that word, and of that mighty hand, by which sometimes themselves were guided.
Should one say to some, ‘Art not thou the man that I once saw crying under a sermon, that I once heard cry out, What must I do to be saved? and, that some time ago, I heard speak well of the holy word of God?’ how, askew, will they look upon one! Or if they will acknowledge that such things were with them once, they do it more like images and rejected ghosts, than men. They look as if they were blasted, withered, cast out and dried to powder, and now fit for nothing, but to be cast into the fire, and burned. John 15. The godliness from which they are departed has left no trace, and the iniquity unto which again they have joined themselves, has so altered, so metamorphosed and changed their heart, and mind, and ways.
This therefore is the second thing which shows, why some that have been under something of the power of things, are again with iniquity, entangled and overcome. Thirdly . Another thing that frights these enlightened ones, that they continue not to depart from iniquity, is the persecution that always attends the word. For persecution always attends the word; that of the tongue, or that of the sword. Now these men that were once enlightened, though they cannot remember what they were themselves, yet Satan helps them think that their neighbors remember what they were; and having now lost the savor, the sense of what they once had, and sinned away that Spirit that brought it to them, they grow weak; yea, are above all men the most unable to stand up, to abide the shock and trial, that for their profession is coming upon them. Wherefore, by and by they are offended; that is, with their own profession; and call themselves an hundred fools, for being so heedless, so witless, and unwary, as to mind God’s holy things in such a time and day. Matthew 4:16,17; Luke 8:13. Then they bethink with themselves, how to make an honorable retreat, which they suppose they usually do, by finding fault, first with their own unadvisedness, and of the overpersuasiveness of others; they also now begin to say, Farewell to conscience, yea, to God and heaven and all; and join in confederacy with the world again. Thus are they “in fear, where no fear is;” and “the sound of a shaken leaf doth chase them.” And there are four things are the cause of this. First , That, notwithstanding the former power that attended the word to their hearts, their hearts did still abide so hard as a rock; there was no true and sound breaking, nor softening in that: wherefore there the word wanted “depth of earth,” as our Lord is pleased to call it; and anon when the sun was up, that which remained was presently scorched, and so withered away. Secondly , Notwithstanding what they had sometimes enjoyed, yet the grace of the fear of God was wanting in them; ( Ecclesiastes 7:16-18); so wanting, that what should hinder but that they should return, to go as they came, and leave Christ, the gospel, and the people of God to shift as well as they can for themselves. Thirdly , All that they enjoyed did not estrange their heart from their lusts, though, when they were in the power of holy things, they were deader to them than formerly; I say than formerly. Psalm 78:30,36,37. And it is even with such, as with them, who are for a time taken off from what yet they love, by some new employ in which they are engaged. Saul went out to look for David to kill him, but when he came at Naioth, in Ramah, the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied. 1 Samuel 19:18,24.
But this lasted but for a while. Saul soon returned again to his old envy against the holy man. Fourthly , It comes upon them even of judgment and wrath; for since they so soon give way to sin, and forget, God suffereth them to fall into the fear of men, and to force their hearts to comply with bad things, even as Judas and Demas did; till they are swallowed up of that gulf, into which the ungodly descend. “As for such as turn aside unto their own crooked ways, the Lord shall lead them forth with the workers of iniquity.” <19C505> Psalm 125:5.
When once God is angry with a people, he can deal with them; he can give them up to those lusts in judgment, that they will not be separated from by mercy. Yea, he can make a way for his anger to overtake them that have made a way, by the deceits of their hearts, to go a whoring from under him.
And these are the causes why those that were once enlightened, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, return with the god to his own vomit again; and so, though they have named or do name the name of Christ, yet they depart not from iniquity. Thirdly . A third reason, why they that name the name of Christ do not depart from iniquity, may be, because grace is weak, and corruption strong.
I speak now of them that are truly gracious: for as those that never had nothing but notion, did never at all depart from iniquity; and as those that never had saving grace, though common workings were with them, do but a little depart from iniquity; so those that yet have the grace of God in them in truth, do not, as they should, depart from iniquity. Wherefore the exhortation is as much to them, as it is to any body else; and let them that name the name of Christ, with gracious lips, depart from iniquity. For though there is a great difference betwixt these, and the two sorts that I mentioned before, these having the true principles of holiness in them, but the other nothing thereof; yet they, even they, also have need of this exhortation: for they do not, as they should, depart from iniquity. Their graces, as I said, are weak, and that is the reason thereof.
That these do not depart from iniquity as they should, is clear, 1. Because their highest acts of holiness, are tainted therewith, and made imperfect thereby. Isaiah 64:6; <19E302> Psalm 143:2; Hebrews 13:15; Matthew 6:12. This is manifest, because they still are afraid to show themselves before God in their own works, and because the betake them for acceptation with God, to the priestly office of Christ, and pray by him, “forgive us our trespasses.” 2. This is clear also, because we are, while in this world, no where by the word, said to have attained to the mark and point of absolute perfection; but are bid to grow, to follow on, to press forward, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God. 2 Peter 3:18; Hebrews 6:12; Philippians 3:12-14; 2 Corinthians 7:1. Yea, the best of us all, even the apostles and prophets, have not only made it manifest by their imperfections, that as yet they have not departed from iniquity as they should; but they have confessed, and denied not, that they were yet in the pursuit of righteousness, and had not already attained. 3. This is clear also, because the righteousness, by the which the best of saints are justified in the sight of God, is a righteousness of another, not their own; the righteousness of another man; for there is not any upon earth that doeth good and sins not. And what need we pray, “forgive us our trespasses,” approach God in the perfections of another, and be bid to perfect holiness, if we had already attained, or were already perfect, or were so departed from iniquity as we should? 4. Alas, the complaints of God concerning this matter, do sufficiently testify the truth of what I say. When God came to his people in Egypt, and bid them forsake the idols of Egypt, they did not. But “they rebelled against me,” says he, and would not hearken unto me; they did not, every man, cast away the abominations of his eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt.” Well, he saved them out of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness, and said to them there, Obey my laws, and my commandments; “but the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness, they walked not in my statues, they despised my judgments.
Well, then, he had them from the wilderness to Canaan, and then said to them, Keep my laws. Ezekiel 20. But when he had brought them into the land, then they also polluted themselves, and sinned against him as before.
To be short, what says Paul in the seventh to the <450701> Romans? What says James in the third chapter of his epistle? James 3:2. And what says John in his first epistle, and first chapter? 1 John 1:9. Do they not all confess, though themselves were Apostles, and so for grace and gifts beyond any that breathe in this world, that sin and iniquity was yet with them: and so consequently, that there was not as yet that departing by them therefrom, as there should.
And the reason, as I have said, is, because grace is weak, weak in the best and strongest of the saints of God. Hence the greatest saints use to complain, when much assaulted with corruptions, or attended with very hard service for God, of their weakness and insufficiency as to a completeness of doing the will of God.
Moses, when God did but bid him nourish and succor Israel in the wilderness, and carry them in his bosom, as the nursing-father beareth the sucking child, was stricken with such fear of miscarrying, through the weakness of his graces and the power of his corruptions, that he cried to God, saying, “I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, and let me not see my wretchedness.” Numbers 11:11-15.
Job, when he was, for a proof of his integrity, to be exercised a while with some of the judgments of God, cries out, in a sense of his weakness to bear them, and to go through as he should, “Is my strength the strength of stones, or is my flesh brass?” And again, “Am I a sea, or a whale, that thou settest a watch over me? Wilt thou break a leaf driven to and fro? And wilt thou pursue the dry stubble?” Job 6:12; Job 7:12; Job 13:24,25.
So Daniel, when he was but to stand and talk with the angel, how weak did he find himself! “There remained,” saith he, “no strength in me; and, O my Lord, by the vision my sorrows are turned upon me, and I have retained no strength. For how can the servant of this my Lord, talk with this my Lord?
For as for me, straightway there remaineth no strength in me, neither is breath left in me.” Daniel 10. Some may say, but this is natural weakness. But I ask, how come nature to be so weak, but through sin? the remains whereof abiding still upon the best of saints, make them, notwithstanding their graces, unable to do any thing as they should.
Paul, a man of men, who had so much grace, revelation of grace and communion with Christ, that sometimes he knew not whether he was in or out of the body, yet you find him making bitter complaint of the weakness of his grace, and of the power of his corruptions. “I am carnal, (saith he), and what I hate, that do I. How to perform that which is good I find not; when I would do good, evil is present with me. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin, which is in my members. O wretched man that I am,” etc. What complaints, what confessions, what bewailings of weakness are here? And what need was there of any of this, if Paul could, as he would, have departed from iniquity?
I have instanced in these four men, because as to failings and miscarriages they are as free (by what the holy record saith) as any four of whose lives you shall read in all the Bible; but you see they were too weak to do, and depart from iniquity as they would.
Grace may be said to be weak, either when a lower or less degree thereof, is compared with a higher and greater degree of the same; or it may be said to be weak when, in what degree of it you will, it shall be engaged by, or engage itself against sin, etc. 1. There are degrees of grace in the world; some have less, and some bigger measures thereof; and according to the measure of grace received, so is a Christian capable of action. He that has little, acts but weakly; he that has much, acts more strongly; and he of the saints that has most, acteth best of all: but yet none of these three can act so as they should and would, and, consequently, do not so depart from iniquity as is their duty. Witness those four that I mentioned but now, for they are among the first rate of saints, yet you see what they did, and hear what they said. 2. Sin is a mighty enemy; it is also installed in our flesh, and has moreover that in it which suiteth with whatever is sensual in us. The flesh relisheth it well, though the spirit of the Christian is against it.
Sin is of a polluting and defiling nature, and what grace soever it toucheth it staineth, and in staining makes it weaker, than were it not so defiled it would be. Besides, not a grace, nor an act of grace in the soul, can escape untouched. Unbelief stands ready to annoy Faith in the grace, as well as in the act of faith. Hardness of heart will not let Love so affectionately, and sympathisingly act as it should. Sense and Reason being polluted, will not let Hope be so steadfastly fixed upon unseen things as it should. pride will not let us be so humble as we ought, nor Self so self-denying. Passion often interrupts our patience, and angry motions our meekness. By these and more that might be named it appears, that sin is in us, opposeth our graces, and hindereth them from acting as they should; and because this sin has part of ourself in its possession, therefore, though our more noble part be utterly against it, yet we depart not from it as we should.
God chargeth Moses with rash and unadvised words, and so he doth Job also. Numbers 20:12; <19A632> Psalm 106:32; Job 38:2; Job 42:6. Daniel did wear unwillingly the name of an idol God, and Paul freely confesseth himself infirm. Daniel 4:8; Romans 7:24.
Nor may what hath now been said be applied only to those that are weak in faith, and so in every other grace; for the strongest grace, when acted as well as we can, cannot cause that we depart from iniquity as we should. 1. Because the strongest grace cannot act without opposition from the world, or from Satan. 2. Because we that are the actors are lame, infirm, and made weak by sin that dwells in us. 3. Because grace and a state of grace is not that wherein the perfections designed for us doth lie, for that is in another world. For (1.) This is a place to act faith in. (2.) This is a place to labor and travail in. (3.) This is a place to fight and wrestle in. (4.) This is a place to be tried in. And therefore this is no place of perfection, and consequently no place, where God’s people can depart from iniquity as they should.
Now there is a twofold way of departing from iniquity. (1.) One is when the mind is set against it, and withdrawn from the love and liking of it. (2.) The other is when the practice of it is shunned by the whole man.
The first of these ways, the saints (though they truly do depart from iniquity), yet depart not from it as they should. For, 1. Their understanding sees not the utmost baseness that is in it. 2. Their judgment is not informed about the vileness of it to perfection. 3. The conscience has not yet been convinced of all the evil that is in it.
Then, (1.) How should the soul abhor it as it should? (2.) How should the desires depart from it with that fervency as they should? (3.) And the will and affections so turn away from it as they should?
Secondly, As to the shunning of the acts of sin, there we also come wonderfully short.
We shun not the sins of others as we should. This is made to appear, 1. For we shun not the company of base men as we should. 2. Nor shun or refuse to imitate them in their evil, as we should. How easily are good men persuaded to comply with bad men’s ways! Yea, Jehosaphat himself said to Ahab that base one; “Behold, I am as thou art, my people as they people, my horses as thy horses.” 1 Kings 22:4.
Joseph could learn in Pharoah’s court, to swear by Pharoah’s life. Genesis 42:15,16. Peter also, when dissembling was in fashion among the people, could learn to dissemble likewise. Galatians 2:11-14.
Christians learn to be proud one of another, to be covetous one of another, to be treacherous and false one of another, to be cowardly in God’s matters one of another, to be remiss and negligent in Christian duties one of another.
Besides, If I should go about to show here, how Christians will hide iniquity, as David, ( 2 Samuel 12:12), how they will excuse it, as did Aaron, ( Exodus 32:22-24), how they will plead for it, as did the men of the city of Joash for Baal, ( Judges 6:29-31), and the like, I might soon make it abundantly appear, that Christians do not depart from iniquity as they should. And therefore the exhortation stands good, and of use to the best of saints on earth, “that they, and every of them, should depart from iniquity.” Yea, the observation also that they do not do it as they should, doth still stand good against us. “For in many things we all offend?” James 3:2.
Wherefore, as it is true in those that have nothing but notion, and as it is true in those that are wrought upon but not effectually, so it is true, upon those that are truly gracious. Observation proves it, fears of damnation prove it, the outcry of the world proves it, and the confession of the best men proves it.