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and spreads in his soul, till faith and love vanish away: He is then capable of committing outward sin, the power of the Lord being departed from him.
10. To explain this by another instance: The Apostle Peter was full of faith and of the Holy Ghost; and hereby keeping himself, he had a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man.
Walking thus in simplicity and godly sincerity, "before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles," knowing that what God had cleansed, was not common or unclean.
But when they were come," a temptation arose in his heart, "to fear those of the circumcision," (the Jewish converts, who were zealous for circumcision and the other rites of the Mosaic law,) and regard the favour and praise of these men, more than the praise of God.
He was warned by the Spirit when sin was near: theless, he yielded to it in some degree, even to sinful fear of man, and his faith and love were proportionably weakened.
God reproved him again for giving place to the Devil. Yet he would not hearken to the voice of his Shepherd; but gave himself up to that slavish fear, and thereby quenched the Spirit.
Then God disappeared, and faith and love being extinct, he committed the outward sin: Walking not uprightly, not "according to the truth of the Gospel," he "separated himself" from his Christian brethren, and by his evil example, if not advice also, "compelled even the Gentiles to live after the manner of the Jews;" to entangle themselves again with that "yoke of bondage," from which "Christ had set them free."
Thus it is unquestionably true, that he who is born of God, keeping himself, doth not, cannot commit sin; and yet, if he keepeth not himself, he may commit all manner of sin with greediness.
III. 1. From the preceding Considerations we may learn, first, To give a clear and incontestable answer to a question which has frequently perplexed many who were sincere of heart: Does sin precede or follow the loss of faith? Does a child of God first commit sin, and thereby lose his faith? Or does he lose his faith first, hefore he can commit sin?'
I answer, some sin of omission, at least, must necessarily
precede the loss of faith; some inward sin: but the loss of faith must precede the committing outward sin.
The more any believer examines his own heart, the more will he be convinced of this: That faith, working by love, excludes both inward and outward sin from a soul watching unto prayer; that nevertheless we are even then liable to temptation, particularly to the sin that did easily beset us; that if the loving eye of the soul be steadily fixed on God, the temptation soon vanishes away: but if not, if we are ežeλzoμevol, (as the Apostle James speaks, chap. i. 14,) drawn out of God by our own desire, and dekengouevo, caught by the bait of present or promised pleasures; then that desire conceived in us, brings forth sin; and, having by that inward sin destroyed our faith, it casts us headlong into the snare of the Devil, so that we may commit any outward sin whatever.
2. From what has been said, we may learn, secondly, What the life of God in the soul of a believer is; wherein it properly consists; and what is immediately and necessarily implied therein. It immediately and necessarily implies, the continual inspiration of God's Holy Spirit; God's breathing into the soul, and the soul's breathing back what it first receives from God; a continual action of God upon the soul, and a re-action of the soul upon God; an unceasing presence of God, the loving, pardoning God, manifested to the heart, and perceived by faith; and an unceasing return of love, praise, and prayer, offering up all the thoughts of our hearts, all the words of our tongues, all the works of our hands, all our body, soul, and spirit, to be an holy sacrifice, acceptable unto God in Christ Jesus.
3. And hence we may, thirdly, infer, the absolute necessity of this re-action of the soul, (whatsoever it be called,) in order to the continuance of the divine life therein. For it plainly appears, God does not continue to act upon the soul, unless the soul re-acts upon God. He prevents us indeed with the blessings of his goodness. He first loves us, and manifests himself unto us. While we are yet afar off, he calls us to himself, and shines upon our hearts. But if we do not then love him who first loved us; if we will not hearken to his voice; if we turn our eye away from him, and will not attend to the light which he pours in upon us; his Spirit will not always strive: he will gradually withdraw, and leave us to the darkness of our own hearts. He will not continue to breathe into our soul, unless our soul broathes toward him again; unless our love, and prayer,
and thanksgiving, return to him, a sacrifice wherewith he is well pleased.
4. Let us learn, lastly, to follow that direction of the great Apostle, "Be not high-minded, but fear." Let us fear sin, more than death or hell. Let us have a jealous (though not painful) fear, lest we should lean to our own deceitful hearts. "Let him that standeth take heed lest he fall." Even he who now standeth fast in the grace of God, in the faith that overcometh the world, may nevertheless fall into inward sin, and thereby "make shipwreck of his faith." And how easily then will outward sin regain its dominion over him! Thou, therefore, O man of God! watch always; that thou mayest always hear the voice of God! Watch, that thou mayest pray without ceasing, at all times, and in all places, pouring out thy heart before him! So shalt thou always believe, and always love, and never commit sin.
THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS:
THE CHAPEL IN WEST-STREET, SEVEN DIALS,
ON SUNDAY, Nov. 24, 1765.
"This is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS," Jer. xxiii. 6.
1. How dreadful, and how innumerable are the contests which have arisen about religion! And not only among the children of this world, among those who knew not what true religion was, but even among the children of God; those who had experienced "the kingdom of God within them;" who had tasted of "righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." How many of these, in all ages, instead of joining together against the common enemy, have turned their weapons against each other, and so not only wasted their precious time, but hurt one another's spirits, weakened each other's hands, and so hindered the great work of their common Master! How many of the weak have hereby been offended! -how many of the lame turned out of the way!-how many sinners confirmed in their disregard of all religion, and their contempt of those that profess it!-and how many of "the excellent ones upon earth" have been constrained to " weep in secret places!"
2. What would not every lover of God and his neighbour do, what would he not suffer, to remedy this sore evil; to remove contention from the children of God; to restore or preserve peace among them? What but a good conscience would he think too dear to part with, in order to promote this valuable end? And suppose we cannot "make [these] wars to cease in all the world," suppose we cannot reconcile all the children of God to each other, however let each do what he can, let him. contribute, if it be but two mites, toward it. Happy are they who are able, in any degree, to promote "peace and good will among men;" especially among good men; among those
that are all listed under the banner of "the Prince of Peace;" and are, therefore, peculiarly engaged, " as much as lies in them, to live peaceably with all men.'
3. It would be a considerable step toward this glorious end, if we could bring good men to understand one another. Abundance of disputes arise purely from the want of this; from mere misapprehension. Frequently neither of the contending parties understands what his opponent means; whence it follows, that cach violently attacks the other, while there is no real difference between them. And yet it is not always an easy matter to convince them of this; particularly when their passions are moved it is then attended with the utmost difficulty. However, it is not impossible; especially when we attempt it, not trusting in ourselves, but having all our dependence upon Him, with whom all things are possible. How soon is He able to disperse the cloud, to shine upon their hearts, and to enable them both to understand each other, and "the truth as it is in Jesus!"
4. One very considerable article of this truth is contained in the words above recited, "This is his name whereby he shall be called, The LORD our RIGHTEOUSNESS;" a truth this, which enters deep into the nature of Christianity, and, in a manner, supports the whole frame of it. Of this, undoubtedly, may be affirmed, what Luther affirms of a truth closely connected with it; it is, Articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiæ; the christian church stands or falls with it. It is certainly the pillar and ground of that Faith, of which alone cometh salvation; of that Catholic or Universal Faith which is found in all the children of God, and which "unless a man keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly."
5. Might not one, therefore, reasonably expect that, however they differed in others, all those who name the name of Christ should agree in this point? But how far is this from being the case! There is scarce any wherein they are so little agreed; wherein those who all profess to follow Christ, seem so widely and irreconcileably to differ. I say seem; because I am thoroughly convinced, that many of them only seem to differ. The disagreement is more in words than in sentiments: they are much nearer in judgment than in language. And a wide difference in language there certainly is, not only between Protestants and Papists, but between Protestant and Protestant ; yea, even between those who all believe Justification by Faith;