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APOSTASY FROM THE HOLINESS OF THE GOSPEL; THE OCCASION AND CAUSE OF IT — OF THAT WHICH IS GRADUAL, ON THE PRETENSE OF SOMEWHAT ELSE IN ITS ROOM.
THERE is, SECONDLY, a falling away from the gospel with respect unto the holiness of its precepts, which are to be the matter , as they are the rule, of our obedience. And this also is of a nature no less perilous, and attended with consequents and effects no less dangerous, than the former, and doth no less than that expose the Son of God to open shame: yea, an apostasy from the holiness of the gospel is, on many accounts, more dreadful and dangerous than a partial apostasy from its truth; for as it is more spreading and catholic than that is, and of less observation or esteem, so it is usually more irrecoverable, most men under it being greatly hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. Besides, commonness hath taken off the sense of its evil and danger. If there be an error broached against the doctrine of the gospel, it is odds but some or other will take notice of it, confute it, and warn all men of the danger wherewith it is attended; but let the whole world, as it were, lie in evil, let the generality of mankind drown themselves in lusts and pleasures, let the lives and conversations of men be as contrary to the rule of the gospel as darkness is to light, so they make no disorder in this or that way of outward worship, and be either good Catholics or good Protestants, or any thing else of that kind, he shall scarcely escape the censure of peevishness and severity (it may be of selfconceitedness and hypocrisy) who shall reflect any great blame on these things. And yet, notwithstanding this partiality in judgment or practice with respect unto these evils, it is generally acknowledged that it is possible that men may please God and be accepted with him, notwithstanding many mistakes, errors, and misconceptions of their minds about spiritual things: but that any one should ever come unto the enjoyment of him who lives and dies impenitently in any sin, against the rule and tenor of that holiness which the gospel requireth, I know as yet none that pleadeth; for, once to pretend that men may live in, and habitually act any known sin, without striving against it, laboring for repentance, and endeavoring its mortification, is all one as avowedly to attempt the overthrow of Christian religion. Wherefore, on these and sundry other considerations, this latter sort of apostasy from the holiness of the gospel is at least as perilous, as much to be opposed and contended against, as that which is from the mystery and doctrine of it, and that whereof the generality of men are more earnestly to be warned, as the evil whereunto they are more obnoxious than to the other. And we do conjoin both these together, not only as those which are of the same tendency, and do alike both ruin the souls of men and put the Lord Christ to oven shame, but also as those concerning which we are forewarned that they shall enter and come into the world together in the “latter times.” And whatever sense the “latter times” mentioned in the Scripture may be taken in, either those of the world and of religion in general, or of the particular churches whereunto men may belong, they are unquestionably come upon us; whose danger and duty, therefore, are declared in these pre-admonitions.
Wherefore of the first our apostle speaketh, 1 Timothy 4:1, “The Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils.”
I doubt not but this prediction had its signal accomplishment in the Papacy, and am well persuaded that the Holy Ghost had respect in particular unto those principles and practices which a learned person of this nation hath laid open, under the title of “The Apostasy of the Latter Times.” But we find also, by woful experience, and that renewed almost every day, that it hath respect unto us also and the times wherein we live.
The entrance and coming of that kind of apostasy which we have now designed to treat of is in like manner foretold, 2 Timothy 3:1-5. The sum of what the apostle there instructeth us is, That in these “latter times,” under an outward profession of the gospel, men should give up themselves unto the pursuit of the vilest lusts and the practice of the most abominable sins. And we fear this prediction is in like manner fulfilled.
Now, although these things are evil and dangerous, both in their own nature and tendency, especially as they come together and make their joint attempt against the honor of Christ and the salvation of the professors of the gospel, yet this prediction of them and pre-admonition concerning them may be of advantage unto them that are sincere and upright, if duly improved. For, — 1. If this twofold ruinous apostasy will and doth press upon us, on whom the ends of the world are come, we ought surely to stand upon our guard, that we be not surprised with it nor overcome by it. How ought we to “pass the time of our sojourning here in fear!” It was the advice of him whose confidence had like to have been his ruin. It is assuredly no time for any to be careless and secure who design, or so much as desire, to be preserved from this fatal evil. However, we cannot any of us plead that we were not warned of our danger, nor called on for that circumspection and watchfulness, that care and diligence, that earnestness for divine help and assistance, which our condition requireth, and which will be a means of deliverance and safety. And, — 2. Being found in the way of our own duty, we need not be greatly moved or “shaken in our minds” when we see these things come to pass. It may be a prospect of the state of religion at this day in the world is ready to terrify the minds of some, at least to fill them with amazement; for if things should always so proceed, they may be afraid lest Christian religion should at length lose all its beauty and glory. But these things are all of them punctually foretold, whereby the efficacy of the temptation from their coming to pass is prevented. Yea, considering that all our faith is resolved into the Scripture, and built on the infallibility of its prophecies and predictions, seeing they are foretold, the temptation would be accompanied with more vigor and efficacy if we saw them not come to pass than it is now we do, seeing it is evident from other circumstances that we are fallen into the “latter times,” which the accomplishment of these predictions renders unquestionable. See Matthew 24:9-13,25; Acts 20:29,30; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; 1 Timothy 4:1-3; <550301> Timothy 3:1-5. And the truth is, there was never any persuasion more pernicious befell the minds of men, than that churches, this or that church, or any church, are not, or is not liable or obnoxious unto these decays, declensions, and apostasies, or that any in them or of them can be preserved from them without the utmost care and diligence in attending unto the means appointed for their preservation. When the Jews fell into such a foolish confidence with respect unto their temple and worship, God was wont to bid them go to Shiloh and see what was become thereof, as assuring them that what fell out in one time and place might do so in another. And we know how it was in this matter with the first Christian churches, and how soon (as hath been declared), Revelation 2:4,5, 3:1-3, 14-17. We may go to them and learn how vain are all the pretenses of outward privileges and exemptions; for assuredly, “unless we repent, we shall all likewise perish.”
That, therefore, which we shall now inquire into is, the nature, the causes, and occasions, of that apostasy or falling off from the holiness of the gospel, in churches and by particular persons, which is thus foretold to fall out in the “latter times,” and hath done so accordingly. And we shall have respect herein Both unto that general apostasy of this kind which fell out in former ages under the conduct of the Roman church principally, and that also which, by various ways and means, is at present prevailing in the world. And some things must be premised unto our consideration hereof: — 1. The doctrine of the gospel is a doctrine of holiness. This it teacheth, requireth, and commandeth; this the mysteries and grace of it lead unto; this the precepts of it require; and this the great example of its Author, proposed in it unto us, doth enjoin. And it doth not this as that which is convenient for us, or some way or other necessary unto us, but as that without which we can have no interest in any of its promises. No unholy person hath any ground to expect the least advantage by the gospel, here or hereafter. When all things come to their issue, and shall fall under eternal judgment according to the gospel, all other pleas and pretenses will utterly and for ever fail them who are “workers of iniquity,” Matthew 7:22,23. 2. The holiness which the gospel requireth is an obedience of another nature and kind than what is required by any other doctrine or way of instruction. The law of nature continueth to suggest unto us many important duties towards God, ourselves, and other men; the written law is an exact representation of all those moral duties which were required of us in the state wherein we were created; — but there is a holiness required by the gospel, which, although it include these things within the compass of its law and order, yet (on sundry considerations) is of another kind than what is required by those laws, in the manner wherein it is required in them; for it proceedeth from other principles, on another formal reason and motives, hath other essential properties, acts, duties, and ends, than the obedience by them required hath. This hath been so fully evinced in our discourse of the nature and necessity of gospel holiness that it need not be here again insisted on. 3. Together with the light and doctrine of the gospel, or the preaching of it, there is an administration of the Spirit, to convince men of sin, righteousness, and judgment. This God hath promised, Isaiah 59:21, and this the Lord Christ doth effect wherever the word is orderly dispensed according unto his mind and will, John 16:7-11. Hereby are men wrought upon unto a profession of this holiness, and expression of it in outward duties; for all that religion which hath any thing of truth and reality in it in the world is an effect of the word and Spirit of Christ.
Multitudes in all ages have hereby been made really holy, and many yet continue so to be. These (as we believe) shall never fall utterly from it, but shall be preserved by the power of God through faith unto salvation. But yet such as these also may decay as unto degrees in holiness and the fruitfulness of it; and in every such decay there is a partial apostasy and much dishonor unto Jesus Christ; nor doth any man know in that condition but that in the issue, as to his particular, it may be total, and destructive to his soul. Thus was it with those churches and persons whom our Lord Jesus Christ chargeth to have lost their first faith and love, whom he admonisheth to remember whence they are fallen, and to repent.
And it is principally for the sake of these, that Christ and the gospel be not dishonored by them nor their eternal concernments hazarded, and those who, in the use of means, are in a thriving progress towards the same condition, that the ensuing cautions and warnings are prepared. And others there are who are brought only unto a profession of this holiness in inward convictions and outward duties; and although they are not yet arrived unto a full possession of its power and conformity unto its rule, yet are they in the way of attaining thereunto. Such as these may, on various occasions, first decay in their profession and duties, and afterward utterly fall from them into the open service of sin and the world.
Thus also it is with churches. At their first planting, they were set in a pure and holy state as to the doctrine, professed holiness, and worship of the gospel. They were all planted noble vines, wholly of a right seed, however they turn afterwards “into the degenerate plant of a strange vine.”
They may lose of this order and beauty, part with truth, decay in holiness, and the faithful city thereby become a harlot. How this hath come to pass; how thereby Christianity hath lost its glory, power, and efficacy in the world; how that blessing which it brought along with it unto the nations is lost and forfeited, and by what means, — shall in some principal instances be declared. 4. Where this holiness is professed, and the power of it evidenced in its fruits, there, and then alone, is Christ glorified and honored in the world. It is true, there are other things that belong unto that revenue of glory which our Lord and King requireth of us, — such are the profession of the truth and observance of the worship of the gospel, — but if these things are disjoined and separated (as they may be) from holy obedience, they no way advance the glory of Christ. But where churches and persons professing the gospel are changed and renewed into the image of God; where their hearts are purified within, and their lives made fruitful without; where they are universally under the conduct of a spirit of peace, love, meekness, benignity, self-denial, heavenly-mindedness, and are fruitful in good works, — in which things and others of an alike nature this holiness doth consist, — there do they make a due representation of the gospel and its Author in the world; then do they evidence the power, purity, and efficacy of his doctrine and grace, whereby he is glorified. Herein doth he “see of the travail of his soul and is satisfied;” this is “his portion and the lot of his inheritance” in this world. But where it is otherwise, where men, where churches, are called by his name, and, under a profession of his authority and expectation of mercy and eternal blessedness from him, do come short of this holiness, and walk in paths contrary unto it, there is the holy Son of God “crucified afresh, and put to an open shame.”
These things being premised, way is made for the due consideration of what was before proposed; for whereas there is an open, shameful, manifest apostasy from the holiness of the gospel among the most who are called Christians at this day in the world, it is worth our while to inquire a little into the reasons or causes of it, and the means whereby a stop may be put unto it, or at least particular persons may be preserved from the guilt of it, and the judgments wherein it will issue. If any shall think that there is not such an apostasy in the world, but that the face of things in Europe and among ourselves doth make a due representation of the gospel, and that those things which we hear of and see continually amongst the generality of Christians are the true and genuine effects of the doctrine and principles of our religion, I shall no way contend with them, so as that they will but a little stand out of our way, and not hinder us in our progress.
Now, the apostasy that is in the world from gospel holiness, or evangelical obedience, is of two kinds; for some fall from it as formally such, and others as to the matter of it. Of the first sort are they who would advance another kind of obedience, a course of another sort of duties, or the same as to the substance of them, but as proceeding from other principles and carried on by other motives than what it requireth, in the stead thereof.
Thus it is with many in the world. They pretend unto a strictness in some duties, and a multiplication of others, at least unto a great appearance thereof; but it is hard for any one to discover how that which they do belongeth to evangelical holiness, if its nature depend on evangelical principles and ends. Others fall from it openly and visibly, into a sinful, worldly, flagitious course of life. This is that apostasy which the Christian world groans under at this day, and which, as it is to be feared, will bring the judgments of God upon it. The very profession of piety is much lost, yea, much derided, amongst many. Duties of holiness, strictness of conversation, communication unto edification, are not only neglected, but scorned. It is in many places a lost labor to seek for Christianity among Christians; and the degeneracy seems to be increasing every day. It is the latter of these which I principally intend, as that which is of most universal concernment. But the former also, though under many specious pretenses, being of no less pernicious event unto many, must not be wholly passed by. I shall therefore first give some instances of men’s declension from the holy ways of gospel obedience into paths of pretended duties of their own finding out, and add those reasons of their dislike of the good old way which give them occasion so to do.
I. The first and most signal instance of this kind is given us by the Romanists. None boast more than they of holiness, — that is, of their church, making its sanctity a note of its truth. But because the wicked and flagitious lives, not only of the body of the people among them, but of many of their chief rulers and guides, is openly manifest, in the defense of their confident claim, as that alone which will give countenance unto it, they betake themselves unto their votaries, or those who dedicate themselves by vow unto more strict exercises in religion than others attain or are obliged unto; and this sort of people have obtained alone the name and reputation of Religious among them. What is their way and manner of life, what the devotion wherein they spend their hours, what the duties they oblige themselves unto in great variety, and the manner wherein they perform them, I shall take for granted, and pass by as generally known.
Many have already discovered the vanity, superstition, and hypocrisy, of the whole outward course wherein they are generally engaged; though they neither do nor ought to judge of the hearts, minds, and state of individuals, unless where by their deeds they manifest themselves. I shall only evince that what at best they pretend unto (though boasted of not only to be all, but more than God requireth of them)is not that holiness or obedience which is prescribed unto us in the gospel, but somewhat substituted in the room of it, and, consequently, in opposition unto it. And, — 1. It hath not that evidence of spiritual freedom and liberty which gospel holiness, in all the duties of it, is accompanied withal. The first effect of the truth upon our minds is to “make us free,” John 8:32. It is the principle of all holiness, and enlargeth the mind and spirit unto it, whence it is called “The holiness of truth,” Ephesians 4:24. So, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” 2 Corinthians 3:17. Men are naturally the “servants of sin,” willingly giving up themselves unto the fulfilling of its lusts and commands, and are only “free from righteousness.” But where the Holy Spirit worketh with the word of truth, men are made “free from sin, and become servants to God, having their fruit unto holiness,” Romans 6:20,22.
So it is said of all believers that they “have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but the Spirit of adoption, whereby they cry, Abba, Father,” Romans 8:15; not “the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind,” 2 Timothy 1:7. The meaning of all these and the like testimonies is, that God by his grace enlargeth, makes free and ready, the hearts of believers unto all gospel obedience, so as that they shall walk in it, and perform all the duties of it, willingly, cheerfully, freely, without that fear and dread which is an effect of the power of the law. They are not in a scrupulous bondage unto outward duties and the manner of their performance, but do all things with delight and freedom. They have by the Spirit of adoption, as the reverential fear of children, so their gracious inclination unto obedience. But in that exercise of devotion, and multiplied outward duties of religion, which the Romanists boast of as their especial sanctity, there are great evidences of a servile bondage or slavish frame of spirit; for they are forced to bind themselves, and to be bound unto it, by especial vows, in whose observation they no more act as their own guardians, or as those who are “sui juris ,” but are under the coercive discipline of others, and outward punishment in case of failure. And those who are so servants of men in religious duties are not God’s freemen, nor have they Christ for their Lord in that cage who have another. The foundation of all these duties, and which alone obligeth them unto their performance, are vows nowhere required by God or our Lord Christ in the gospel; and the principal regard which any have in their strict attendance unto them is the obedience which they owe unto the superintendents of those vows It is easy to apprehend how inconsistent this way is with that spiritual freedom and liberty of mind which inseparably accompanieth true gospel holiness. Besides, the opinion of merit, which not only goeth along with them, but also animates them in all these services, makes them servile in all they do; for they cannot but know that every thing in merit must not only be tried by the touchstone of sincerity, but weighed in the balance to the utmost scruple, to find out what it amounts or comes unto. And this is perfectly destructive of that liberty in obedience which the gospel requireth. So also is that tormenting persuasion which they are under the power of, — namely, That they have no grounds of confidence or assurance that either they are accepted with God here, or shall come to the blessed enjoyment of him hereafter . Hence, in all duties, they must of necessity be acted with a “spirit of fear,” and not “of power and of a sound mind.” 2. The rule of their duties and obedience, as to what is, in their own judgment, eminent therein, is not the gospel , but a system of peculiar laws and rules that they have framed for themselves. So some obey the rule of Benedict, some of Francis, some of Dominic, some of Ignatius, and the like. This utterly casts out their whole endeavor from any interest in gospel holiness; for the formal nature of that consists herein, that it is a conformity unto the rule of the gospel as such, or a compliance with the will of God as manifested therein. Hence do they multiply unrequited duties, yea, the principal parts of their devotion and sanctity consist in them which are of their own devising, for which they have no gospel precept or command; and such, in particular, are those vows which are the foundation of all that they do. In this case, our Savior, reproving the Pharisees for their additional duties beyond the prescript of the word, shows them how they “made the commandment of God of none effect by their tradition,” and that “in vain they worshipped God, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men,” Matthew 15:6,9.
And when they were offended at his rejection of one of their new imposed duties, he replies that “every plant which his heavenly Father hath not planted should be rooted up,” verse 13; so wholly rejecting all those religious duties which they had framed by rules of their own devising. Nor are these of the Roman devotionists of any better constitution; they are plants of men’s own planting, and shall be rooted up accordingly and cast into the fire. Let the number of false invented duties of religion be never so great, let the manner of their performance be never so exact or severe, they serve to no other end but to divert the minds of men from the obedience which the gospel requireth. 3. There is nothing in all that is prescribed by the masters of this devotion, or practiced by the disciples, but it may all be done and observed without either faith in Christ or a sense of his love unto our souls. The obedience of the gospel is the “obedience of faith;” on that and no other root will it grow; — and the principal motive unto it is the “love of Christ,” which “constraineth” unto it. But what is there in all their prescriptions that these things are necessary unto? May not men rise at midnight to repeat a number of prayers, or go barefoot, or wear sackcloth, or abstain from flesh at certain times or always, or submit to discipline from themselves or others, and (if they have bodily strength to enable them) undergo all the horrid, and indeed ridiculous, hardships of standing on a pillar continually, or bearing great logs of wood on their shoulders all the day long, that are told or fabled of the Egyptian monks, without the least dram of saving faith or love? All false religions have ever had some amongst them who have had an ambition to amuse others with these self-inflictions and macerations, wherein the devotions among the Banians do exceed at this day whatever the Romanists pretend unto. 4. The whole of what they do is so vitiated and corrupted with the proud opinion of merit and supererogation as renders it utterly foreign unto the gospel. It is not my present business to dispute against these opinions. It hath been already abundantly manifested (and may be yet so again where it is necessary) that they wholly enervate the covenant of grace, are injurious to the blood and mediation of Christ, and are utterly inconsistent with the fundamental principles of the gospel. Whereas, therefore, these proud imaginations do animate their whole course of duties, the gospel is not concerned in what they do.
And we may add unto what hath been remarked already, the consideration of that gross superstition, yea, and idolatry, which they give up themselves unto almost in most of their devotions. This is not the least of their transgressions in these things, but is sufficient to violate all they do besides.
Wherefore, notwithstanding their pretense unto sanctity and a more strict attendance unto duties of obedience than other men, yet it is manifest that the best of them are under a defection from the holiness of the gospel, substituting an obedience unto their own imaginations in the room thereof.
II. Again; others confine the whole of their obedience unto morality, and deride whatever is pleaded as above it and beyond it, under the name of evangelical grace, as “enthusiastical folly.” And the truth is, if those persons who plead for the necessity of gospel grace and holiness, which is more than so, do understand each other, and if somewhat of the same things are not intended by them under different expressions and diverse methods of their management, they are not of the same religion. But if they mistake the meaning of each other, and differ only in the manner of teaching the same truth, I suppose they steer the safest course, and are freest from just offense, who follow and comply with the manner wherein the things intended are taught in the Scripture, rather than those who accommodate their discourses unto the phraseology of heathen philosophers. But the truth is, the difference seems to be real, and the principles men proceed upon in these things are contradictory to each other; for some do plainly affirm that the whole of gospel obedience consists in the observance of moral virtue, which they so describe as to render it exclusive of evangelical grace. This others judge to contain an open declension from and waiving of gospel holiness. It is granted freely, that the performance of all moral duties evangelically, — that is, in the power of the grace of Christ, unto the glory of God by him, — is an essential part of gospel obedience. And whoever they are who (under the pretense of grace or any thing else) do neglect the improvement of moral virtues, or the observance of the duties of morality, they are so far disobedient unto the gospel and the law thereof. And some men do not understand how contemptible they render themselves in the management of their cause, when they charge others with an opposition unto morality or moral virtue, and setting up they know not what imaginary holiness in the room thereof; for those whom they so calumniate are not only immediately discharged from any sense of guilt herein by the testimony of their own consciences, but all other men, so far as the rule of ingenuity is extended, do, from the knowledge of their doctrine and observation of their practice, avouch their innocence. “But is it not so, then, that men do condemn morality, as that which is not to be trusted unto, but will deceive them that rest in or upon it?” I answer, They do so when it is made (as it is by some) the whole of religion, and as it is obtruded into the place of evangelical grace and holiness by others.
They take moral virtue, as it always was taken until of late, for natural honesty, or such a conformity of life unto the light of nature as to be useful and approved among men. But this may be, — men may do what is morally good, and yet never do any thing that is accepted with God; for they may do it, but not for the love of God above all, but for the love of self. And therefore they charge morality with an insufficiency unto the end of religion, or the saving of the souls of men, — 1. Where nothing is intended by it but that whereof the rule and measure is the light of nature: for that doth direct unto every duty that is properly moral; and what it doth not direct unto, what is not naturally by the law of our creation obligatory unto all mankind, cannot be called moral. Now, to confine all religion, as to the preceptive and obediential part of it, unto the light of nature, is to evacuate one half of the gospel. 2. Where it is in practice an effect of conviction only, and performed in the innate strength of the rational faculties of our souls, without the especial supernatural aid of the Spirit and grace of God, Whatever name any thing may be called by that is not wrought in us by the grace of God, as well as by us in a way of duty, is foreign unto evangelical obedience. And those who reject morality as insufficient unto acceptation with God and eternal salvation, intend only what is of that kind performed in the power of our natural faculties externally excited and directed, without any supernatural influence or operation of especial grace; and, indeed, so to place a confidence in such duties is open Pelagianism. 3. Where it proceedeth not from the spiritual, supernatural renovation of our souls. The rule and method of the gospel is, that the tree be first made good, and then the fruit will be so also. Unless a person be first regenerate, and his nature therein renewed into the image and likeness of God, — unless he be endued with a new principle of spiritual life from above, enabling him to live unto God, he can do nothing, of whatsoever sort it be, that is absolutely acceptable unto God. And it is especially under this consideration that any reject morality as not comprehensive of gospel obedience, yea, as that which is apt to draw off the mind from it, and which will deceive them that trust to it, — namely, that it proceedeth not from the principle of grace in a renewed soul; for whatever doth so, though it may be originally of a moral nature in itself, yet from the manner of its performance it becomes gracious and evangelical And we need not fear to exclude the best works of unrenewed persons from being any part of gospel holiness or obedience. 4. Where those in whom it is, or who pretend unto it. are really destitute of the internal light of saving grace, enabling them to discern spiritual things in a spiritual manner, and to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God. That there is such a saving light wrought in the minds of believers by the Holy Ghost, that without it men cannot discern spiritual things, so as to favor, like, and approve of them, hath been elsewhere at large demonstrated. But this belongs not unto the morality contended about. It is not only independent of it, but is indeed set up in competition with it and opposition unto it. No man need fear to judge and censure that morality, as unto its interest in gospel obedience and sufficiency unto the salvation of the souls of men, which may be obtained, practiced, and lived up unto, where God doth not “shine in the hearts of men, to give them the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ;” where no work of spiritual illumination hath been in their minds, enabling them to discern and know the mind of God, which none knoweth originally but the Spirit of God, by Whom it is made [known] unto us, 1 Corinthians 2:11,12. Yet this is that which some men seem to take up withal and rest in, unto the rejection of evangelical obedience.
Lastly, The same censure is to be passed on it wherever it is separable from those fundamental gospel graces which, both in their nature, acts, and objects, are purely supernatural, having no principle, rule, or measure, but truth supernaturally revealed. Such, in particular, is the whole regard we have unto the mediation of Christ, as also unto the dispensation of the Spirit, promised to abide with the church for ever as its comforter, with all the duties of obedience which depend thereon. He is ignorant of the gospel that knows not that in these things do lie the fundamental principles of its doctrine and precepts, and that in the exercise of those graces in a way of duty which immediately concern them, consist the principal parts of the life of God, or of that obedience unto him by Jesus Christ which is indispensably required of all that shall be saved. Whereas, therefore, these things cannot be esteemed merely moral virtues, nor do at all belong unto, but are considered as separate from, all that morality which is judged insufficient unto life and salvation, it is evident that it is not in the least dealt withal too severely, nor censured more harshly than it doth deserve.
III. Some there are who, as unto themselves, pretend they have attained unto perfection already in this world; such a perfection in all degrees of holiness as the gospel is but an introduction towards. But this proud imagination, destructive of the covenant of grace, of all use of the mediation and blood of Christ, contrary to innumerable testimonies of Scripture and the experience of all that do believe, and concerning which their own consciences do reprove the pretenders unto it, needs not detain us in its examination. It is sufficient unto our present design to have given these instances how men may, in a pretended conscientious discharge of many duties of obedience, yet fall off and decline from that which the gospel requireth. The occasions and reasons hereof (supposing those more general before considered with respect unto the truth of the gospel, which all of them take place here, and have their influence upon their dislike of its holiness) may be briefly inquired into and represented; nor shall we confine ourselves unto the instances given, but take in the consideration of every declension from it which on any account befalls them who, having had a conviction of its necessity, yet refuse to come unto its universal practice. And to this end we may observe, — 1. That the holiness which the gospel requireth will not be kept up or maintained, either in the hearts or lives of men, without a continual conflict, warring, contending; and that with all care, diligence, watchfulness, and perseverance therein. It is our warfare, and the Scripture abounds in the discovery of the adversaries we have to conflict withal, their power and subtlety, as also in directions and encouragements unto their resistance. To suppose that gospel obedience will be maintained in our hearts and lives without a continual management of a vigorous warfare against its enemies, is to deny the Scripture and the experience of all that do believe and obey God in sincerity. Satan, sin, and the world, are continually assault-hag of it, and seeking to ruin its interest in us. The devil will not be resisted (which it is our duty to do, 1 Peter 5:8,9) without a sharp contest and conflict; in the management whereof we are commanded to “take unto ourselves the whole armor of God,” Ephesians 6:12,13. “Fleshly lusts” do continually “war against our souls,” 1 Peter 2:11; and if we maintain not a warfare unto the end against them, they will be our ruin. Nor will the power of the world be any otherwise avoided than by a victory over it, 1 John 5:4; which will not be carried without contending. But I suppose it needs no great confirmation unto any who know what it is to serve and obey God in temptations, that the life of faith and race of holiness will not be preserved nor continued in without a severe striving, laboring, contending, warring with diligence, watchfulness, and perseverance; so that I shall at present take it as a principle, notionally at least, agreed upon by the generality of Christians. If we like not to be holy on these terms, we must let it alone; for on any other we shall never be so. If we faint in this course, if we give it over, if we think what we aim at herein not to be worth the obtaining or preserving by such a severe contention all our days, we must be content to be without it. Nothing doth so promote the interest of hell and destruction in the world as a presumption that a lazy, slothful performance of some duties and abstinence from some sins, is that which God will accept of as our obedience. Crucifying of sin, mortifying our inordinate affections, contesting against the whole interest of the flesh, Satan, and the world, and that in inward actings of grace and all instances of outward duties, and that always while we live in this world, are required of us hereunto.
Here lies the first spring of the apostasy of many in the world, of them especially who betake themselves unto and take up satisfaction in another way of duties than what the gospel requireth. They had, it is possible, by their light and convictions, made so near approaches unto it as to see what an incessant travail of soul is required unto its attainment and preservation.
They are like the Israelites travelling in the wilderness towards the land of Canaan. When they came near unto the borders and entrance of it, they sent some to spy it out, that they might know the nature and state of the land and country whither they were going. These, for their encouragement, and to evince the fruitfulness of the earth, bring unto them “a branch with one cluster of grapes,” so great and fair that “they bare it between two upon a staff; and they brought also pomegranates and figs,” Numbers 13:23.
But withal, they told them of the hideous difficulties they were to conflict withal, in that the people were strong, their cities walled, and the Anakims dwelling amongst them, verse 28. This utterly disheartens the carnal people, and, notwithstanding the prospect they had of the “land that flowed with milk and honey,” back again they go into the wilderness, and there they perish.
So it is with these persons. Notwithstanding the near approach they have made, by light and convictions, unto the kingdom of God (as our Savior told the young man, who was as one of them, Mark 12:34), and the prospect they have of the beauty of holiness, yet they turn off from it again, and perish in the wilderness: for upon the view they have of the difficulties which lie in the conflict mentioned, they fall under many disadvantages, which at length utterly divert them from its pursuit; as, — (1.) Weariness of the flesh, not enduring to comply with that constant course of duties continually returning upon it which is required thereunto.
Various pleas will be made for an exemption from them, at least in some troublesome instances; and the carnal mind will not want pretenses to countenance the flesh in its weariness. Hereon one duty after another is first omitted and then utterly foregone. Neglect of a vigorous constancy in subduing the body and bringing of it into subjection, commended by the apostle in his own example, 1 Corinthians 9:27, is with many the beginning of this kind of apostasy. These things, I say, will ofttimes fall out, that through the weariness and aversation of the flesh, countenanced by various pretenses of the carnal mind, sundry duties will be omitted. But this is the faith and trial of the saints; here is the difference between sound believers and those who are acted only by convictions: Those of the first sort will, sooner or later (for the most part speedily), be humbled for such omissions, and recover their former diligence, according to the prayer of the psalmist, <19B9176> Psalm 119:176; but where this ground is won by the flesh, and men grow satisfied under the loss of any duty, it is an evidence of a hypocritical, backsliding heart. (2.) When men are come unto the height of their convictions, and proceed no farther, indwelling sin, with its lusts and corrupt affections (which have for a while been checked and mated by light), will insensibly prevail, and weary the mind with solicitations for the exercise of its old dominion; for the spring of it being not dried, the bitter root of it being not digged up nor withered, it will not cease until it hath broke down all the bounds that were fixed unto it, and bear down convictions with force and violence. (3.) Ignorance of the true way of making application unto the Lord Christ for grace and supplies of the Spirit, to bring them unto or preserve them in a state of gospel holiness, is of the same importance. Without this, to dream of being holy according unto the mind of God is to renounce the gospel. We need not look farther for men’s apostasy than this, if they are satisfied with such a holiness, such an obedience, as is not derived unto us by the grace of Christ, nor wrought in us by the Spirit of Christ, nor preserved in us by the power of Christ. The way hereof such persons are always ignorant of, and at length do openly despise; yet may men as well see without the sun or light, or breathe without the air, or live without natural spirits, as engage into or abide in the practice of gospel holiness without continual applications unto Christ, the fountain of all grace, for spiritual strength enabling thereunto. The way and means hereof these persons being ignorant of and unacquainted withal, the holiness which the gospel requireth becomes unto them a thing strange and burdensome; which therefore they desert and refuse. If, therefore, it be true that without Christ we can do nothing, — that in our life unto God he liveth in us, and efficiently is our life; if from him, as the head, nourishment is supplied unto every living member of the body; if the life which we lead be by the faith of the Son of God; and if the only way of deriving these things and all supplies of spiritual strength from him be by the exercise of faith in him, — it follows unavoidably that all those who are unacquainted with this way, who know not how to make their application unto him for this end and purpose, can never persevere in a pursuit of gospel holiness. So hath it fallen out and no otherwise with them concerning whom we speak. As ignorance of the righteousness of God, or of Christ being the end of the law for righteousness unto them that do believe, is the reason why men go about to establish a righteousness of their own, and will not submit to the righteousness of God; so ignorance of the grace which is continually to be received from Christ in a way of believing, that we may be holy with gospel holiness, is the reason why so many turn off from it unto another kind of holiness of their own framing, which yet is not another, because it is none at all. But many are so far from endeavoring after or abiding in gospel holiness on this foundation of continual supplies of grace from Jesus Christ to that end, as that they avowedly despise all holiness and obedience springing from that fountain or growing on that root; in which case God will judge. In the meantime, I say (and the matter is evident) that one principal reason why men turn off from it upon the prospect of the difficulties that attend it, and the oppositions that are made unto it, is their unbelief and ignorance of the way of making application unto Christ by faith for supplies of spiritual strength and grace. (4.) Unacquaintedness with the true nature of evangelical repentance is another cause hereof. This is that grace which comfortably carrieth the souls of believers through all their failings, infirmities, and sins; nor are they able to live to God one day without the constant exercise of it. They find it as necessary unto the continuance of spiritual life as faith itself. It is not only a means of our entrance into, but it belongs essentially unto, our gospel state and our continuance therein. Hereunto belongs that continual humble self-abasement, from a sense of the majesty and holiness of God, with the disproportion of the best of our duties unto his will, which believers live and walk in continually; and he that is not sensible of a gracious sweetness and usefulness therein knows not what it is to walk with God. Hereby doth God administer several encouragements unto our souls to abide in our way of obedience, notwithstanding the many discouragements and despondencies we meet withal. In brief, take it away, and you overthrow faith, and hope, and all other graces. Those, therefore, who are unacquainted with the nature and use of this grace and duty, who can taste no spiritual refreshment in all its sorrows, who know nothing of it but legal troubles, anguish, fear, and distraction, will not endure the thought of living in the practice of it all their days; which yet is as necessary unto gospel holiness as faith itself. Men, I say, falling into this condition, finding all these difficulties to conflict withal, and lying under these disadvantages, if any thing will offer itself in the room of this costly holiness, will readily embrace it. Hence, as some betake themselves unto a pretense of morality (which as unto many is a mere pretense, and made use of only to countenance themselves in a neglect of the whole of that obedience which the gospel openly requireth), so others do, under other expressions, retreat unto the mere duties of their own light, and these as only required therein, with some peculiar reliefs unto the flesh in what is burdensome unto it. As, for instance: There is nothing that the flesh more riseth up in a dislike of and opposition unto than constancy in the duty of prayer, in private, in families, on all occasions, especially if attended unto in a spiritual manner, as the gospel doth require; but in itself, and as to the substance of it, it ia a duty which the light of nature exacteth of us; — but whereas this may prove burdensome to the flesh, a relief is borrowed from a pretense of gospel light and liberty, that men need not pray at any time unless their own spirits or light do previously require it of them: which is to turn the grace of God into an occasion of sinning. By this means some have gotten a holiness, wherein, for the most part, it seems indifferent to them whether they pray at any time or no. And other instances of the like kind might be given. Upon the whole matter, to free themselves from this state, so uneasy to flesh and blood, so contrary unto all the imaginations of the carnal mind, some men have betaken themselves unto another, wherein they have, or pretend to have, no conflict against sin, nor to need any application unto the Lord Christ for supplies of spiritual strength; which belongs not unto that holiness which the gospel requires and which God accepts.
It may be said that in some of the instances before given, especially in that of the Papacy, there is an appearance of a greater conflict with and more hardships put on the flesh than in any other way of obedience that is pleaded for; and there is indeed such an appearance, but it is no more. The oppositions that arise against their austerities are from without, or from nature as it is weak, but not as it is carnal It is possible that sin may not be concerned in what they do, neither in its power nor reign; yea, so far as it is leavened by superstition, it acts itself therein no less than it doth in others by fleshly lusts. But it is an internal, spiritual, immediate opposition unto its being and all its actings, that it riseth up with such rage against as to weary those who have not that living principle of faith whereto) the victory over it doth peculiarly appertain. 2. This evangelical holiness will not allow of nor will consist with the constant, habitual omission of any one duty, or the satisfaction of any one lust of the mind or of the flesh. As we are, in all instances of duty, to be “perfecting holiness in the fear of God,” 2 Corinthians 7:1, so “no provision is to be made for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof,” Romans 13:14. This is that which loseth it so many friends in the world.
Would it barter with the flesh, would it give and take allowances in any kind, or grant indulgence unto any one sin, multitudes would have a kindness for it which now bid it defiance. Every one would have an exemption for that sin which he likes best, and which is most suited to his inclinations and carnal interests. And this would be virtually a dispensation for all unholiness whatever. But these are the terms of the gospel: No one duty is to be neglected, no one sin is to be indulged; and they are looked upon as intolerable. Naaman would not give himself up unto the worship of the God of Israel but with this reserve, that he might also bow in the house of Rimmon, whereon his power and preferment did depend. Many things the young man in the Gospel boasted himself to have done, and was doubtless willing to continue in the performance of them; but yet, through his whole course, the love of the world had the prevalency in him, and when he was tried in that instance, rather than relinquish it he gave up the whole. But this is the law of the gospel.
Although it provide a merciful relief against those daily sins which we are overtaken withal by our frailty and weakness, or surprised into by the power of temptations, against the bent of our minds and habitual inclination of our wills, 1 Peter 4:1,2, yet it alloweth not the cherishing or practice of any one sin whatever, internal or external. An habitual course in any sin is utterly inconsistent with evangelical obedience, 1 John 3:6-9, yea, it requireth indispensably that we be engaged, in our minds and wills, in an opposition unto all sin, and in a constant endeavor after its notbeing in us, either in the root or in the fruit thereof. It will not connive at or comply with any inordinate affection, any habitual sinful distemper, nor the first motions of sin that are in the flesh. This is that perfection which is required in the new covenant, Genesis 17:l, that sincerity, integrity, freedom from guile, walking after the Spirit, and not after the flesh, and that newness of life, which the gospel everywhere prescribeth unto us. On no other terms but universality in obedience and opposition unto sin will it approve of us, 1 John 3:7-10.
And this occasioneth the turning aside of many from the pursuit of an endeavor to be holy, according unto the rule of the gospel. When by light and convictions they come to take a view of what is required thereunto, it disliketh them, they cannot bear it; and therefore they either at once or gradually give over all ways of pursuing their first design. And men break with the gospel on this account by the means ensuing: — (1.) They cannot make the same judgment of sin that the gospel doth, nor will judge all those things to be sin and evil which the gospel declares so to be; yea, we have some come unto that pharisaism, that they scarce think any thing to be sinful or worth taking notice of unless it be openly flagitious. Under this darkness and ignorance, all sorts of filthy, noisome lusts may be cherished in the hearts of men, keeping them at as great and real a distance from the holiness of truth as the most outrageous outward sins can do. And this neglect or refusal to comply with the rule of the gospel before laid down is grounded in and promoted by two occasions: — [1.] They have a willing insensibility of the guilt of some unmortified lust.
This they will abide in and cherish; for their minds being habituated unto it, they find no great evil in it, nor do see any cogent reason why they should forego it. So was it with the young man with respect unto the love of the world. He was sorry that he could not be evangelically obedient whilst he retained it; but seeing that could not be, he did not discern any such evil in, nor was sensible of any such guilt from it, nor could apprehend any such equality in or necessity of gospel holiness, that he should renounce the one for the embracing the other. So will it be when any lust is made familiar unto the mind; it will not be terrified with it, nor can see any great danger in it. It is between such a soul and sin as it is between the devil and the witch, or one that hath a familiar spirit, as we render the Hebrew “ob” [ bwOa ] and “yideoni,” [ yni[OD]yi ]. At the first appearance of the devil, be it in what shape it will, it cannot but bring a tremor and fear on human nature, but after a while he becomes a familiar; and when alone he is to be feared, he is not feared at all. The poor deceived wretch then thinks him in his power, so that he can use or command him as he sees good, whereas he himself is absolutely in the power of the devil.
Men may be startled with sin in its first appearance, on their first convictions, or its first dangerous efforts; but when it is become their familiar, they suppose it a thing in their own power, which they can use or not use as they see occasion, though indeed themselves are the servants of corruption, being overcome thereby and brought into bondage. Hence it is inconceivable how little sense of guilt in some sins men find after they are habituated unto them. In some sins, I say, for with respect unto sins absolutely against the light of nature, conscience will not easily be bribed not to condemn them. It will not in such cases be speechless, until it be seared and made senseless. But there are sins not accompanied with so great an evidence, yet attended with no less guilt than those which directly militate against the light of nature. In this case, when the word of the gospel comes as it is “living and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of the soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, as a discoverer and judge of the thoughts and intents of the heart;” when it comes and discovers the secret frames, figments, imaginations, and inclinations of the mind, and condemneth what is in the least measure or manner irregular; when it will not be put off, nor accept of any composition or compensation by the most strict and rigid profession in other things, — men are ready to withdraw themselves to the rule of their own light and reason, which they find more gentle and tractable. [2.] A dereliction of the gospel on this account, with respect unto the inwardness, spirituality, and extent of its commands, is much increased under the influence of corrupt opinions. And of this nature are all those which tend unto the extenuation of sin; for some there are who suppose that there is not such a provoking guilt, such a spiritual outrage in sin, as others pretend. Hence multitudes, as they judge, are needlessly troubled and perplexed about it. “A generous mind, free from superstitious fears and dark conceits imbibed in education, will deliver the mind of man from the trouble of such apprehensions; — a great sense of the guilt of small sins is an engine to promote the interest of preachers, and those who pretend to the conduct of conscience; — the filth and pollution of sin is a metaphor which few can understand, and none ought to be concerned in; — that the power of the remainders of indwelling sin is a foolish notion; and that the disorderly frames of the heart and the mind, through darkness, deadness, spiritual indisposition, or other secret irregularities, are fancies, not sins, which we need not be troubled at ourselves, nor make any acknowledgment of unto God;” — these and the like opinions are the pharisaical corban of our age, corrupting the whole law of our obedience.
And it were easy to manifest how perilous and ruinous they are unto the souls of men; what powerful instruments in the hand of Satan to eclipse the glory of the grace of Christ on the one hand, and to promote apostasy from holiness in the hearts and lives of men on the other. I shall only say, set the corrupt heart of men by any means at liberty from an awe and reverence of the holiness of God and his law with respect unto the inward actings and frames of the soul, with a sense of guilt where they are irregular, and a necessity of constant humiliation before God thereon, and an equally constant application of itself unto the Lord Christ for grace and mercy, and it is wholly in vain to think of fixing any bounds unto the progress of sin. The ignorance hereof is that which hath produced in some the proud imagination of perfection, when they are far enough from bringing their consciences and lives to the rule of the gospel, but only aggravate their guilt by attempting to bend that inflexible rule unto their own perverse and crooked minds. (2.) In this case, carnal interest, which takes in and compriseth all the circumstances of men, calls for an indulgence unto some one sin or other, which the gospel will not admit of. Pride or ambition, covetousness or love of this present evil world and the perishing things of it, uncleanness or sensuality in eating and drinking, self-exaltation and boasting, vain-glory, idleness, one or other must be spared. One thing or other, I say, on the account of carnal interest, — either because small, or useful, or general, or suited unto a natural temper, or, as is supposed, made necessary by the occasions of life, — must be reserved. Where this resolution prevails, as men are absolutely excluded from any real interest in gospel holiness, which will admit of no such reserves, so it will not fail to lead them into open apostasy of one kind or other; for, — [1.] Such persons are unapproved of God in all that they do, and so have no ground for expectation of his blessing or assistance; for the allowance of the least sin is such an impeachment of sincerity as casteth a man out of covenant communion with God. This is that “offending in one point” which ruins a man’s obedience, and renders him guilty against the whole law, James 2:10. Any one actual sin makes a man guilty of the curse of the whole law as it contains the covenant of works; and the willing allowance of a man’s self in any one sin habitually breaks the whole law as it contains the rule of our obedience in the covenant of grace. And if in this disapproved condition men meet with outward prosperity in the world, their danger will be increased as well as their guilt aggravated. And the utmost care of professors is required in this matter; for there seems to be among many an open indulgence unto habitual disorders, which hazards their whole covenant interest, and must fill them with uncertainty in their own minds. High time it is for all such persons to shake off “every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset them, and to run with redoubled diligence” the remainder of “the race that is set before them.” [2.] This indulgence unto any one sin will make way in the minds, consciences, and affections of men, for the admission of other sins also. It will be like a thief that is hidden in a house, and only waits an opportunity to open the doors unto his other companions; to this end he watcheth for a season of sleep and darkness, when there is none to observe his actings.
Let a person who thus alloweth himself to live in any sin fall into temptation whilst he is a little more than ordinary careless, his allowed corruption shall open his heart unto any other sin that offers for admission. “Look not,” saith the wise man, “upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his color in the cup, when it moveth itself aright.
One sin liked and loved will make way for every other. There is a kindred and alliance between sins of all sorts, and they agree in the same end and design. Where any one is willingly entertained, others will intrude themselves beyond all our power of resistance. [3.] It will divert the soul from the use of those means whereby all other sins should be resisted, and thereby apostasy prevented; for there is no means appointed or sanctified by God for the resistance or mortification of sin, but it opposeth sin as sin, and consequently every thing that is so, and that because it is so. Wherefore, whoever willingly reserves any one sin from the efficacy of the means God hath appointed for its mortification doth equally reserve all. And as those means do lose their power and efficacy towards such persons, so they will insensibly fall off from a conscientious attendance unto any of those ways and duties whereby sin should be opposed and ruined. 3. Many of the graces in whose exercise this evangelical holiness doth principally consist are such as are of no reputation in the world. The greatest moralists that ever were, whether Pharisees or philosophers, could never separate between their love and practice of virtue on the one hand, and their own honor, glory, and reputation on the other. There was in them, as the poet expresseth it in one instance, — “amor patriae, laudumque immensam cupido.” Hence they always esteemed those virtues the most excellent which had the best acceptation and the greatest vogue of praise among men. And it seems to be ingrafted in the nature of man to have some kind of desire to be approved in what men judge themselves to do well and laudably.
Neither is this desire so evil in itself but that it may be managed in subordination unto the glory of God; which nothing that is absolutely evil, or in its own nature or any considerations or circumstances, can be. But when at any time it swells into an excess, and the pharisaical leaven of being seen and praised of men puffeth it up, it is the worst poison that the mind can be infected withal. In what degree soever it be admitted, in the same it alienates the mind from gospel holiness; and it doth so effectually, — I mean this self-love and love of the praise of others doth so, — for the reason mentioned, namely, that the graces in whose exercise it doth principally consist are of no reputation in the world. Such are meekness, gentleness, self-denial, poverty of spirit, mourning for sin, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, mercy and compassion, purity of heart, openness and simplicity of spirit, readiness to undergo and forgive injuries, zeal for God, contempt of the world, fear of sin, dread of God’s judgment for sin, and the like. These are those adornings of the inner man of the heart which with God are of great price. But as unto their reputation in the world, “weakness, softness of nature, superstitious folly, madness, hypocritical preciseness,” is the best measure they meet withal. When men begin to discern that as unto this holiness of the gospel, its principal work lies within doors, in the heart and mind, in the things that no mortal eye seeth and few commend so much as in the notion of them, and which in their outward exercise meet with no good entertainment in the world, they betake themselves unto and rest in those duties which make a better appearance and meet with better acceptance; and many of them are such as, in their proper place, are diligently to be attended unto, provided they draw not off the mind from an attendance unto those despised graces and their exercise wherein the life of true holiness doth consist. And it is well if we are all sufficiently aware of the deceits of Satan in this matter. In the beginnings of the general apostasy from the power and purity of Christian religion, to countenance all sorts of persons in a neglect of the principal graces of the gospel, the necessity of regeneration, and a heavenly principle of spiritual life, they were put wholly on outward splendid works of piety and charity, as they were esteemed. Let their minds be defiled, their lusts unmortified, their hearts un-humbled, their whole souls unfurnished of spiritual and heavenly graces, yet (as they would have it) these outward works should assuredly bring them all unto a blessed immortality and glory! But this face of the covering, this veil that was spread over many nations, being now in many places (particularly among us) rent and destroyed, both wisdom and much circumspection are required, that, either under a pretense or under a real endeavor after the inward spiritual graces of Christ and their due exercise, we do not countenance ourselves in the neglect of those outward duties which are any way useful unto the glory of God and the good of mankind.
These are some of the causes, and others there are of an alike nature, from the powerful influence whereof upon their minds men have changed gospel holiness for other ways of obedience, which also they give other names unto.