A Cabinet of Choice Jewels, or,
A Box of Precious Ointment
By Thomas Brooks, 1669
I shall instance in these eleven
I. First, There are some things in regard of SIN, and a Christian's actings about it—which manifests a gracious estate, and which discovers a saving principle of grace to be in the soul.
[1.] First, A universal willingness to be rid of all sin—is an infallible evidence of the truth of grace in a man's soul.[Isaiah 28:15, 18, 30:22; Hoses 14:8; Romans 7:22-24.] "When He comes, He will convict the world about sin." John 16:8. The first saving work of the Spirit upon the soul is the dividing between sin and the soul; it is a making an utter breach between sin and the soul; it is a dissolving of that old league that has been between the sinner and his sin. The first work of the Spirit is to make a man look upon sin as an enemy, and to deal with sin as an enemy, to hate it as an enemy, to loathe it as an enemy, to fear it as an enemy, and to arm against it as an enemy.
When the Holy Spirit takes possession of a soul, from that day forward the soul looks upon sin with as evil and as envious an eye as Saul looked on David when the evil spirit was upon him. Oh, says Saul, that I were but once well rid of this David. And oh, says the gracious soul, that I were but once well rid of this proud heart, this hard heart, this unbelieving heart, this unclean heart, this froward heart, this earthly heart of mine, etc. Look! as the daughters of Heth even made Rebekah weary of her life, Gen. 26:35, so corruptions within makes the gracious soul even weary of his life. "Many a day have I sought death with tears," said blessed Cowper, "not out of impatience, distrust, or perturbation—but because I am weary of sin, and fearful to fall into it."
Look! as when Christ has won the will, he has won the man; so when sin has lost the will, it has lost the man. The will is the heart; "My son, give me your heart," is, My son, give me your will. The will is the fort-royal of the soul; it is that stronghold which stands out stoutest and longest against all the assaults of heaven. When the will is won—all is won—the castle is won—the heart is won. The man is won when the will is won. [Restraining grace does only suppress and abate the acts of sin; it never alters the disposition and will of a man as to sin. You may chain up a lion—but you cannot change the nature of a lion.] A man's judgment and reason may say, I ought to turn from sin; and his conscience may say, I must turn from sin, or it will be bitterness in the end, and yet the work not done, nor the soul won. But when the heart says, the will says, I will turn from sin—then the work is done, and the man is won.
Where reason says these lusts ought to be subdued, and the conscience says these lusts must be subdued, and the will says these lusts shall be subdued—Psalm 65:3, "As for our transgressions, you shall purge them away,"—there is a saving work upon the soul. When the will says to sin, as Ephraim said to his idols, "Get you hence, what have I any more to do with you?" Hosea 14:8, then the work of God is begun in power upon the soul.
A universal willingness to be rid of all sin, speaks the heart to be sound and sincere with God. The enmity which grace works in the heart against sin—is against the whole kind; it is against all sin, as well profitable and pleasurable sins as disparaging and disgracing sins; and as well against small sins as against great sins. True grace strikes at root and branch, at head and members, at father and son. A true Israelite would not have one Canaanite left in the holy land; he would have every Egyptian drowned in the red sea of Christ's blood; Psalm 119:104, "I hate every false way": Psalm 139:24, "Search me, O Lord! and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."
Saving grace makes a man as willing to leave his lusts, as a slave is willing to leave his galley, or a prisoner his dungeon, or a thief his bolts, or a beggar his rags.
But now take a man who is in his natural condition, and he is as unwilling to part with his sins, as Abraham was to turn Hagar and Ishmael out of doors. Ambrose reports of one Theotimus, that having a disease upon his body, the physician told him, That except he did abstain from intemperance, drunkenness, uncleanness, etc., he was likely to lose his eyes; his heart was so desperately set upon his lusts, that he answered, Farewell, sweet light then! He had rather lose his eyes—than leave his sins. So they in Micah 6:6-7, do make very large offers for a dispensation to live in their sins; they offer calves of a year old; they offer thousands of rams, and ten thousand rivers of oil; yes, they offer their firstborn for their transgressions, the fruit of their bodies for the sin of their souls.
Sinners' hearts are so glued to their lusts, that they will rather part with their nearest, dearest, and choicest enjoyments, than part with their sins; yes, when they are put hard to it, they will rather part with God, Christ, and all the glory of heaven, than they will part with some base bosom lust. Witness that young man in the Gospel, who went away sorrowful, because he had great possessions, Mat. 19:21-22. Look! as a man leaves his wife and children, his country, estate, and trade, with tears in his eyes and sorrow in his heart; so does an unregenerate man leave his lusts, with tears in his eyes and sorrow in his heart.
Very observable is the story of Phaltiel: David had married Michal; Saul injuriously gave her to another. When David came to the crown, and was able to speak a word of command, he sends for his wife Michal; her husband dares not but obey; he brings her on her journey, and then, not without great reluctancy of spirit, takes his leave of her. But what, was Phaltiel weary of his wife that he now forsakes her? Oh no! he was forced to it, and though she was gone—yet he cast many a sad thought after her, and never leaves looking until he sees her as far as Bahurim, weeping and bemoaning her absence, 2 Sam. 3:15-16. And just thus it is with carnal and unregenerate men, who, though for fear, or some other reasons, they part with their sins—yet they have many a longing heart after them; they part—but because they are forced; they part, and yet they are very loath to part asunder.
Look! as the merchant throws away his goods in a storm, because he cannot keep them—just so, carnal men, in times of sickness and distress, or in times of horror and terror of conscience, or when death, the king of terrors, knocks at their doors, or when they see hell gaping to devour them, and God as a solemn judge standing ready to pass an eternal doom upon them—only then they are willing to cast overboard their pleasures, their drunkenness, their swearing, their cursing, their lying, their flesh-pleasing, etc. But not out of any hatred to their lusts—but out of love to themselves, and out of fear of being damned, etc.; for could they but enjoy their sins and heaven too, sin and they would never part.
But now, were there no danger, no wrath, no hell, no damnation, no separation from God attending sin—yet a gracious soul would be heartily willing to part with all sin, and to be rid of all sin, upon the account of the vile nature of sin, upon the account of the defiling and polluting nature of sin. Of all the vile things in the world, sin is the most defiling thing; it makes us red with guilt and black with filth; it is compared to a menstruous cloth, Isaiah 30:22, which of all unclean things in the law was the most unclean, as some observe; and upon this very account a gracious soul would be willingly rid of it.
[2.] Secondly, A constant habitual willingness to be rid of all sin—is an infallible evidence of the truth of grace in the soul.It is not a transient willingness to be rid of sin, when a man is either under some outward trouble, or some inward distress—which speaks out the truth of saving grace—but a permanent, lasting, and abiding willingness to be rid of sin. Pharaoh in a fit, in a fright, when thunder and hail and frogs and flies were upon him, was then willing to let Israel go. But when his fright was over, and the judgments removed, he grew prouder and harder than before.
So many men, when they are a troubled by a sermon, or under some smart pangs of conscience, or under some startling or amazing judgments, oh! Then they will be willing to let Israel go, then they will be willing to let drunkenness go, and pride go, and uncleanness go, and worldliness go, etc. But when their sickness is over, and the pangs of conscience abated, and judgments removed, oh! then they return with the dog to his vomit, and with the sow to the wallowing in the mire again!
There was a man well known to a minister in this city, who, in the time of his sickness, was so terrified in his conscience for his sins, that he made the very bed to shake upon which he lay, and cried out all night long, "I am damned! I am damned! I am damned!" and this man, in the days of his outward and inward distresses, made many and great protestations of amendment of life if God would be pleased to recover him. In a little while he did recover, and being recovered he was as bad and as wicked, if not worse, than he was before, 2 Pet. 2:20-22.
So in the time of the great plague in king Edward's days, as long as the heat of the plague lasted, all sorts and ranks of people were still a-crying out, "Mercy, good Lord, mercy, mercy, mercy!" Then lords and ladies, and other people of nobility, cried out to the ministers, "For God's sake tell us what we shall do to avoid the wrath of God; take these bags of money; pay so much to such a one whom I have deceived, and so much restore unto another, whom in bargaining I robbed; oh! give so much to the poor, and give so much to such and such pious uses." But after the sickness was over, they were just the same men that they were before!
Men in time of trouble are very ready to cry out, "Arise and save us!" Jer. 2:27. And with them, "Deliver us this time!" Judges 10:15. And with the Samaritans, who when God had sent lions among them, inquired after the manner of his worship, 2 Kings 17:25-26; and yet after all this, remained as vile and wicked as ever! Jer. 2:20, "Long ago I broke your yoke and tore away the chains of your slavery, but still you would not obey me. On every hill and under every green tree, you have prostituted yourselves by bowing down to idols."
A wicked man's willingness to be rid of his sins is transient, not constant; it is like the morning cloud and the early dew—which passes away, Hosea 6:4. The Jews were a very unstable people, a people bent to backsliding, a people who would often start aside like a deceitful bow, Hosea 11:7; Psalm 78:34, 37, 57; Hosea 7:16. Sometimes when the judgments of God were heavy upon them, or when they were under the reign of some good kings—then down went their groves, their altars, their idols, and their high places! But soon after, they are as much set upon idolatry as before. Sometimes they were willing to be rid of their idols, and at other times they were mad to go a-whoring after their idols. But now a godly man, when he is himself, he is never unwilling to be rid of his sins, yes, to be rid of all his sins. The fixed, standing, and abiding disposition and bent of a godly man's soul, of a godly man's will, is to be rid of every sin. And thrice happy is that man who is habitually under such a choice and blessed frame.
[3.] Thirdly, A transcendent willingness, a superlative willingness, an overtopping willingness to be rid of sin—is an infallible evidence of the truth of grace in the soul.When a man's willingness to be rid of his sins overtops his unwillingness; when a man is more willing to be rid of his sins than he is to continue in sin—then his spiritual state is certainly good. A gracious heart had much rather, if it were put to his choice, live without all sin, than to have allowance to wallow in any sin; he had rather live without the least sin, than to have liberty to live in the greatest, or the most flesh-pleasing sin. It is certain that sin is more afflictive to a gracious soul than all the losses, crosses, troubles, and trials that he meets with in the world.
David cries, not "I am undone!" but "I have done foolishly!" 2 Sam. 24:10. He does not cry, "Take away the pestilence!" but, "Take away the iniquity of your servant!"
Daniel does not cry, "Oh we are sadly reproached, we are greatly distressed, we are woefully oppressed!" but, "We have rebelled!" Dan. 9:5. And the church does not cry out, "Take away our captivity!" but, "Take away all iniquity!" It is not, "Take away our chains" but, "Take away our sins!" It is not, "Take away our afflictions!" but, "Take away our pollutions!" It is not, "Take away all our enemies' lives!" but, "Take away the lives of all our lusts!" Hosea 14:2.
And so Paul does not cry out because of his reproaches, or persecutors, or bonds, or chains, or stripes, or perils, or prisons; he rather glories in these. But he cries out of a law of sin in his members, rebelling against the law of his mind, and bringing of him into captivity to the law of sin, which is in his members, 2 Cor. 11:16; Romans 7:23. Paul does not cry out, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from all my sorrows and sufferings?" but "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death?" verse 24.
A sincere heart, when he is himself, had much rather be rid of his sins than of his sufferings, yes, of the least sins than of the greatest sufferings. It was a sweet saying of Bernard: "I had rather," says he, "that God should better my heart than remove his hand; I had rather that God should continue my strokes than my sins." And the same noble spirit was working bravely in Job when he was under the heavy hand of God: Job 34:32, "Teach me what I cannot see; if I have done wrong, I will not do so again." (See Job 7:20, 21.)
But now graceless men are much more willing to be rid of their afflictions than to be rid of their sins. Witness Pharaoh, who cries out, Take away the frogs! see Exod. 10:17: Exod. 8:8, "Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, Entreat the Lord, that he may take away the frogs from me, and from my people. And I will let the people go, that they may do sacrifice unto the Lord." It is not, Entreat the Lord, that he would take away this proud heart, or this hard heart, or this besotted heart, or this blind mind, or this perverse will, or this benumbed conscience—that is in me and my people. But Entreat the Lord, that he may take away the frogs from me and my people. A graceless heart is more abundantly willing to be freed from punishment--the effect of sin; than it is willing to be freed from sin--the cause of punishment. A gracious heart sees more filthiness in sin than in frogs, and had rather be rid of his sins than of all the frogs or toads that are in the world.
See what a sad spirit was upon the children of Israel, in Numbers 21:6-7, "Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, 'We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.'" [Heb. burning serpents. Thus they are called from the effect of their biting, which caused a mortal burning, and consequently such an excessive thirst as killed them.] Now, mark, in the fifth verse you have them murmuring against God, and Moses, and divine dispensations, and the manna from heaven, because they came lightly by it; they distrust the providence of God, they let fly at God; their spirit swells against the Holy One of Israel, and they scorn, deride, revile, and vilely and despitefully speak against Moses. And though they had often smarted for these sins—yet they are at them again. "But the people grew impatient along the way, and they began to murmur against God and Moses. 'Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?' they complained. 'There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this wretched manna!'" Numbers 21:4-5.
Upon this, God sends an army of fiery serpents among them, and they bite and devour many of them. And now they run to Moses, who but a little before they had despised, and beg him to pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from them. They do not desire Moses—that God would take away their proud hearts, their distrustful hearts, their murmuring hearts, etc.—but that God would take away the serpents; they were much more desirous to be rid of their serpents than they were to be rid of their sins.
So those in Jer. 30:15, "Why do you cry out over your wound, your pain that has no cure? Because of your great guilt and many sins I have done these things to you." They do not cry out because of their sins—but they cry out because of their afflictions. Why cry out for your affliction? Unsound hearts are more ready and willing to be rid of their afflictions—than they are willing to have their souls bettered, or their lives mended, or their lusts subdued by them.
Pilate was unwilling to condemn Jesus; witness his seeking to release him, and his washing his hands, and his pleading his innocency, etc., Mat. 27:17-18, 22-24. But yet the prevailing part of his will carried him forth to deliver up Jesus to be scourged and crucified, verse 26. Just so, Herod was unwilling to behead John the Baptist; witness that word, "The king was exceeding sorry," Mark 6:26. But yet the prevailing part of his will carried him forth to cut off John's head, verse 27, whose head was more worth than Herod's kingdom. Just so, Darius was very unwilling to cast Daniel into the lions' den; witness his being sore displeased with himself, and witness his setting his heart on Daniel to deliver him, and witness his great unquietness of spirit; for he could neither eat, nor drink, nor sleep, the night after he was cast into the lion's den. And witness his great joy at Daniel's safety, Dan. 6:14, 1820: all which did clearly argue a very great unwillingness that Daniel should suffer. And yet the prevailing part of Darius, his will, carried him forth to sacrifice Daniel to the lions, yes, to that which was worse, namely, the lusts of his enemies, verse 16-17. By all these instances, it is most evident that the prevalent part of a wicked man's will stands most strongly biased towards sin.
But now the prevalent part of a Christian's will is to be rid of sin. If the Lord should say to a gracious Christian, "Ask what you will, O Christian, and it shall be granted to you." The answer would be: "Lord, rid me of my sins! Lord, take away my iniquities! Lord, mortify my corruptions! Lord, whoever lives, let these lusts die! Lord, drown these Egyptians in the sea of your Son's blood, who have so violently and unweariedly pursued after the blood of my precious soul! Lord, kill and crucify all these sinful evils that have killed and crucified the Lord of life and glory!" "Lord, wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin," Psalm 51:2, 7; "Lord, purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow!" Lord, carnal reason, and flesh and blood, would gladly have such and such pleasurable sins, and such and such profitable sins, indulged and spared. But, Lord, the earnest, the ardent desires of my soul are, that I may be rid of them, and that justice to the height may be done upon them; Lord, be but the death of my sins, and my soul shall say, "My lot is fallen in a pleasant place," and "truly I have a goodly heritage;" Lord, cleanse me but from all filthiness, both of flesh and spirit, and I shall cry, "Hosanna" to you, Mat. 21:9; Lord, let me but outlive my lusts, and follow them to the grave before others follow me to my grave, and I shall say it is enough, Psalm 16:6; 2 Cor. 7:1. And thus every gracious soul is more willing to be rid of his sins than he is to keep his sins. A porter cannot be more willing to be rid of his burden, nor a sick man to be rid of his disease, nor a beggar of his nasty lousy rags, nor a prisoner of his chains, than a gracious soul is willing to be rid of his lusts, etc.
[4.] Fourthly, That soul that does not, nor will not allow himself, or indulge himself in a course of sin, or in the common practice of any known sin—that soul is certainly a gracious soul."The evil that I do, I allow not," Romans 7:15. So Psalm 119:1, 3, "Blessed are the undefiled in the way, that walk in the law of the Lord, they also do no iniquity;" that is, they allow not themselves in the practice of any iniquity. Blessed souls live not in the service of sin, they live not in an ordinary practice of any iniquity: 1 John 3:9, "No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God." He who has the seed of God, the seed of grace and regeneration in him, he cannot allow himself in a way of sin, he cannot give himself over to a voluntary serving of sin, he cannot make a trade of sin.
So Proverbs 16:17, "The highway of the upright is to depart from evil;" that is, it is the ordinary, usual, constant course of an upright man to depart from evil. An honest traveler may step out of the king's highway into a house, a forest, a meadow—but his work, his business is to go on in the king's highway. So the business, the work of an upright man is to depart from evil. It is possible for an upright man to step into a sinful path, or to touch upon sinful things. But his main way, his principal work and business is to depart from iniquity. A bee may land upon a thistle—but her work is to be gathering at flowers. A sheep may slip into the dirt—but its work is to be grazing on the mountains, or in the meadows.
Certainly there is no man in the world so abominable wicked—but that he may now and then, when he is in a good mood, or when he is under distress of conscience, or bleeding under a smarting rod, or beholding the handwriting upon the wall, or under a sentence of death, depart from evil. But this is not his course, this is not his business, this is not his work, this is not his highway. Thieves do but now and then step into the king's highway to take a purse, they do not keep the king's highway. But now the upright man's highway, his common and ordinary course, is to depart from evil, and therefore he cannot allow himself liberty to walk in an evil way.
Titus 2:11-12, "For the grace of God, that brings salvation, has appeared to all men," (without distinction of nations, gender, age, or condition) "teaching us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world." Under the name of ungodliness, he comprises all the breaches of the first table. And under the name of worldly lusts, he comprises all inordinate desires against the second table. And those three words, "soberly, righteously, and godly," have a threefold reference: the first to ourselves, the second to our neighbor, and the third to God. We must live soberly in respect of ourselves, righteously in respect of our neighbors, and godly in respect of God. And this is the sum of a Christian's whole duty.
Now if the grace of God, which brings salvation, teaches saints to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts; then certainly saints who are taught by that grace cannot live, nor allow themselves in ungodliness or worldly lusts. Without all question, heaven is for that man, and that man is for heaven—who can appeal to heaven that he allows not himself in the practice of any known sin. Thus David did: "Search me, O Lord," says he, "and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me," Psalm 139:24. It is a most sure sign, that sin has not gained a man's heart nor consent—but committed a rape upon his soul, when he allows not himself in it—but cries out bitterly to God against it, as Paul did, Romans 7. If the ravished virgin under the law cried out, she was guiltless, Deut. 22:25-27. Certainly such as cry out of their sins, and that would not for all the world allow themselves in a way of sin, such are guiltless before the Lord. That which a Christian does not allow himself in—that he does not do in divine account, etc.
But now the whole trade, the whole life of formal and carnal professors, is nothing else but one continued web of wickedness; there is no wicked unregenerate person in the world—but lives in the daily practice of some known sin or other--but allows himself in some trade or way of wickedness or other, as you may evidently see by comparing of these following scriptures together, Proverbs 1:20-33; Jer. 5:3, 44:16-19, 9:3-6, 7:8-16; Psalm 50:16-17; Isaiah 66:3; Mat. 7:23; Romans 6:12-13, 19, 8:5; Luke 13:27; Ephes. 2:2-3; Philip. 4:19; Titus 3:3; 2 Peter 2:14. Sin is a sinner's absolute work, it is his main work, and the sinner is besides himself, besides his calling, as it were, when he is besides his sin.
[5.] Fifthly, He who conflicts most with heart-sins, and is most affected with spiritual sins, and who laments and mourns most over secret sins, invisible sins—sins that lie most hidden and remote from the eyes of the world—he is certainly a gracious soul.[Psalm 19:12, "Cleanse me from my hidden faults." Psalm 119:113, "I hate vain thoughts."] "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life." Psalm 139:23-24
Grace in truth, and grace in power, will rise and conflict, and make headway against the most inward and secret vanities of the soul, as against secret self-love; and secret hardness of heart, Isaiah 63:17; and secret unbelief, Mark 9:24; and secret carnal confidence; and secret hypocrisy; and secret envy; and secret malice, and secret vain-glory; and secret fretting and murmuring; and secret lustings, and secret runnings-out of the soul after worldly vanities; and secret pride. Hence Hezekiah humbles himself for the pride of his heart. And so David, he humbles himself for the pride of his heart in numbering of the people, 2 Chron. 32:25, 2 Sam. 24:10. And how does the same prophet chide himself for sinful dejection of spirit: "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted in me?" Psalm 42:11. And how does he at another time befool himself, and be-beast himself, for his secret grudging and fretting at the prosperity of the wicked: "So foolish was I and ignorant, I was as a beast before you," Psalm 73:22.
And so Paul was most affected and afflicted with a law in his members rebelling against the law of his mind. Inward pollutions and defilements did sit closest and saddest upon his spirits. And the same apostle in that 2 Cor. 7:1, is for keeping down the filthiness of the spirit, as well as the filthiness of the flesh; he is for inward cleansing, as well as for outward cleansing: "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God," 2 Cor. 7:1.
Just so, Mr. Bradford was a man who had attained to so great and eminent a height of holiness; Taylor, the martyr, calls him "that saint of God, John Bradford;" and yet, oh how sadly does he bewail his secret hypocrisy. True grace makes opposition as well against the being of sin in a man's nature, as against the breakings out of sin in a man's life, Col. 3:5. True grace will make war against the corruptions of the heart, as well as against the excursions of the feet; it is as willing and desirous to be rid of a polluted heart, as it is willing and desirous to be rid of a polluted hand. It would gladly have, not only sinful acts—but also sinful dispositions, and not only irregular actions—but also inordinate affections, mortified and subdued.
O friends! heart sins are root sins; they are the springs which set all the wheels a-going; the fountain which sets all the streams a-running; the fire which sets the furnace a-smoking; the bellows which sets the fire a-burning. Certainly a proud heart has more of Satan in it than a proud look, and a wanton heart is more vile than a wanton eye, and a murderous or adulterous heart is worse than a murderous or adulterous act, etc. And therefore true grace makes war against heart sins, against spiritual sins, against the most inward secret sins, against those very sins that lie not within the reach of reason, or the sword of the magistrate, or the piercing eye of the most knowing or observing man in the world—but are only obvious to an omniscient eye!
But now carnal men, as they make little of outward sins, so they make nothing of heart sins, of spiritual sins. If they are not drunkards, nor swearers, nor extortioners, nor whoremasters, nor cursers, nor cheaters, nor oppressors, nor liars, nor persecutors, Mat. 19:16-27; if they are good negative professors, ("God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers." Luke 18:11), then they think themselves very good saints, and in a very fair way for heaven, and that no man can say evil is their eye. But their hearts are as full of evil thoughts and secret lusts, as ignorance, atheism, unbelief, pride, envy, discontent, anger, formality, hypocrisy, indifference, lukewarmness, deadness, and hardness, etc., as the sun is full of light, or as hell is full of darkness.
Restraining grace, common grace—only makes headway against gross enormities, against overt vanities—as you may see in the scribes and pharisees. But saving grace makes headway against heart sins, against spiritual sins. Common grace is all for washing the outside—but saving grace is for washing the inside as well as the outside. Common grace is only for washing the feet and the head—but saving grace is for washing both feet, head, and heart, Mat. 23, John 13:9-10. Look! as in a dark night we can only see those stars which are of the greatest magnitude; so by the starlight of natural conscience, the natural man can only see those sins which are more great and gross.
Natural convictions can reach no further than natural light—but spiritual convictions can reach to the most inward, secret, spiritual, and undiscernible sins. Certainly that is a sincere heart, a heart more worth than gold, that smites a man for inward sins as well as for outward sins; for sins done in a corner, as well as for sins acted upon the house-top; for spiritual sins, as well as for fleshly sins; for sins against the soul, as well as for sins against the body; for sins committed in a closet, as well as for sins committed on the most public stage.
Certainly that trouble and grief that springs from heart sins, from spiritual sins, from secret sins, bears a more immediate relation to the holy God—who alone observes them, and is offended by them; and so is a most sure and infallible evidence of saving grace, and of the work of the Spirit in power upon the soul. When open commissions do humble and abase the heart, and secret inclinations to sin do even break and burst the heart asunder, then the heart is certainly sincere with God.
A Christian will readily grant that his God is a good God, and that Jesus Christ is the chief of ten thousand, and that the gospel is a glorious gospel, and that the promises are precious promises, and that the ordinances are blessed ordinances, and that the lively communion of saints is the sweetest communion in all the world. But yet he will say, I have such a proud heart, such a hard heart, such a vain heart, such a carnal heart, etc., and I am so vexed and molested with sinful notions, and with sinful imaginations, and with sinful inclinations, and with atheistical risings, and with private murmurings, and with secret unbelievings, and that in despite of all my conflictings, and strivings, and prayings, and mournings, and sighings, and groanings, and complainings, that I am oftentimes even weary of my life. And if this does not speak out Christ within, and grace within, and the Spirit within such a soul, I know nothing.
O friends! remember this once for all, namely, that the main battle, the main warfare of a Christian lies not in the open field, it lies not in visible skirmishes. But his main quarrels and conflicts are most within, and his worst and greatest enemies are those of his own house, they are those of his own heart. A little grace at first conversion may reform an evil life—but it must be a great deal of grace that must reform an evil heart. A little grace may make a man victorious over outward gross sins—but it must be a great deal of grace that must make a man victorious over inward sins, secret sins, spiritual sins, heart sins! Yes, a thorough conquest of these sins will keep a man in battle all his days. But,
[6.] Sixthly, He who abstains from sin, he whose heart rises against sin, he who sets himself against sin, because of the evil nature of sin, because of that vileness and filthiness that is in sin—he certainly has a principle of grace, a seed of God in him.He who refrains from sin, and whose heart rises more against sin, because of the purity of the law which forbids sin, rather than because of the severity of the law which condemns sin, is certainly under the power of renewing grace, of saving grace: Psalm 119:140, "Your word is very pure, therefore your servant loves it." It is only pure grace that can enable a man to love the word for its purity. [2 Cor. 7:1. I have read of the ermine, that she will rather die than be put into the dirt and defile her beautiful skin. And rather than Joseph will defile his beautiful soul by defiling his master's bed, he will go to a dirty dungeon. He had rather that the irons should enter into his soul, Psalm 105:18, than that sin should enter into his conscience. He had rather that his chains should eat into his flesh, than that sin should pollute his soul. Isaiah 59:1-2; Amos 3:6; Acts 5:39.]
The apostle, to set forth the formidable evil that is in sin, expresses it thus, Romans 7:13, "That sin might become utterly sinful." He could find nothing more evil and odious to express sin by, than itself. Sin is so great an evil, that it cannot have a worse epithet given it. Paul can call it no worse than by its own name, sinful sin. Had the apostle said that sin might appear to be a snare, a serpent, a viper, a toad, a plague, a devil, a hell, etc., he would have said much—but yet not enough to set forth the transcendent evil which is in sin, and therefore he calls it sinful sin. All other evils are but outward, they only reach the name, the body, the estate, the life—but sin is an inward evil, a spiritual evil, an evil that reaches the precious and immortal soul, and therefore is the greatest evil. Death puts an end to all other troubles, namely, poverty, sickness, disgrace, scorn, contempt, afflictions, losses, etc. But sin is so great an evil, that death itself cannot put an end to it! Eternity itself shall never put a stop, an end—to this evil of evils. All outward evils can never make a man the subject of God's wrath and hatred. A man may be poor, and yet precious in the eyes of God; he may be greatly abhorred by the world, and yet highly honored by God; he may be debased by men, and yet exalted by God. But sin is so great an evil, that it subjects the sinner's soul to the wrath and hatred of God. All other evils do but strike at a man's present well-being—but sin strikes at a man's eternal well-being! All other evils can never hinder a man's communion with God. A man may have communion with God in poverty, in sickness, in prison, in banishment. But sin is so great an evil, that it interrupts communion with God, it cuts off communion with God. All outward evils are God's creatures: "Is there any evil in the city that the Lord has not done?" But sin is the devil's brat—it is a creature of his own begetting! Yes, it is worse than the devil, it is that which has turned glorious angels into infernal devils!
All other evils do not fight against the greatest good—but sin is that grand evil that fights against the greatest good. Sin fights against the being of God, the essence of God, the glory of God. Sin is a killing of God, it is a murdering of God. Sin is a universal evil, it is all evil, it is nothing but evil; there is not one drop, one spark of good to be found in any sin—but now in all outward evils there is some good; there is some good in poverty, in sickness, in war, in death—but there is not the least good in sin. Sin is the sole object of God's hatred; he hates nothing but sin; he is angry with nothing but sin; he has forbid nothing but sin; he has revealed his wrath from heaven against nothing but sin; so great an evil is sin. Sin is that grand evil which has midwifed all other evils into the world. It was sin which drowned the old world with water. It was sin which destroyed Sodom with fire and brimstone. It was sin which laid Jerusalem in heaps. It was sin which has midwifed sword, famine, and pestilence into the world. It was sin which laid the foundation of hell—which laid the corner-stone in that land of darkness; for before sin there was no hell, Judges 5:8; Psalm 107:34; Deut. 28:21. It was sin which crucified the Lord of glory, Romans 8:7. Now, oh how great must that evil be—which has ushered in all these great evils into the world!
Sin is enmity against God. God has no enemy in the world but sin, and those whom sin has made enemies. Sin has set all the world against the Lord of glory. It is sin which has turned men into incarnate devils, and which has drawn them out to fight against God, and Christ, and their own souls, and the things of their everlasting peace. Now, when a man looks upon sin as the greatest evil in the world, and his heart rises and is enraged against it, because of the vile, filthy, odious, and heinous nature of it, it is a clear evidence that such a man has the divine nature in him.
Take that one instance for all: Psalm 19:12-13, "Keep back your servant from presumptuous sins." But why does David pray thus? "So," says he, "shall I be innocent from the great transgression." Mark, he does not pray thus: Lord, keep me from presumptuous sin—that so I may be free from troubles without, and from terrors within, or from hell beneath. But, Lord, keep me from presumptuous sins—that so I may be innocent from the great transgression. He does not say, So shall I be free from the great punishment—but, So shall I be free from the great transgression. That is a heart worth gold, that is more sensible and more affected with the evil that is in sin—than with the evil that follows sin. It was a weighty saying of Austin: "That man," says he, "who only fears hell—he does not fear to sin—but fears to burn. But that man who fears to sin—he fears sin as he would fear hell."
Common grace never works a man thus to fear sin—but renewing grace does. Common convictions carry the soul out to look more on the evil which follows sin, rather than on the evil which is in sin. And hence it comes to pass, that souls under common convictions are more affected and afflicted at the fear of hell and dread of wrath and damnation—than they are affected or afflicted at the vileness, odiousness, and heinous nature of sin.
When an unsanctified person is angry with sin, and chides sin, and fights with sin, and makes some headway against sin—it is either because it has cracked his credit, or clouded his honor, or hindered his profit, or embittered his pleasure, or provoked his friends, or incensed the magistrate, or enraged his conscience, or exposed him to shame, disgrace, or contempt here—and hell hereafter. But never because a holy God is dishonored, a righteous law transgressed, a blessed Savior crucified, or the blessed Spirit greatly grieved. The child will not touch the coal because it will burn him, and the prudent man will not touch the coal because it will smut him. A gracious heart rises against sin because of its defiling and polluting nature—but an unsanctified heart rises against sin because of its burning and damning nature. A sanctified person hates sin, because it pollutes his soul—but an unsanctified person hates it because it destroys his soul. A sanctified person loathes sin, and abhors sin—because it fights against God's holiness. But an unsanctified person loathes sin, and abhors it, because it provokes and stirs up God's justice. A sanctified person detests sin, because of the hell that is in sin. But an unsanctified person detests sin, because of the hell that follows sin, etc. But,
[7.] Seventhly, Where there is an irreconcileable opposition in the soul against sin—there is a saving work of God upon that man's heart.[The contrariety to sin, which is in a real Christian, arises from an inward gracious nature, which is opposite to the whole species of sin, and every kind of sin; as contrarieties of nature are to the whole kind; as light is contrary to all darkness, and fire to all water. So that this contrariety to sin arising from the inward man is universal to all sin, etc.]
Where there is such a detestation of sin, and such an enmity raised in the soul against sin, as that the soul cannot, nor will not, upon any terms in the world, admit of any truce or reconciliation with sin—there is Christ and grace formed in the heart. The war between a gracious heart and sin, is like the war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam: 1 Kings 14:30, "There was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam all their days."
The Cirrheans could not be happy unless they waged war night and day; no more can we, except we perpetually fight against our lusts. O friends! a gracious heart that is weary of sin, will certainly and habitually fall a-striving against it: Gal. 5:17, "The flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: for these two are contrary the one to the other." Now contraries are naturally expulsive each of other. Such a pair as a Jacob and an Esau; such twins as an Isaac and an Ishmael, cannot lie quietly together in the same womb; no, nor can they live quietly together in the same house—but there will be a mutual prosecuting and persecuting each of other. Fire and water may as well agree in the same vessel—as grace and sin in the same heart. True grace has a real repugnancy and contrariety to all sin.
Remember this once for all—that saving grace is not contrary to sin because it is open and manifest; nor is it contrary to sin because it is private and secret; nor is it contrary to sin because of this or that consequence. But saving grace is contrary to sin as sin, whether public or private, because both the one and the other are contrary to the law of God, the will of God, the glory of God, the nature of God, the designs of God, etc. As it is true with light, though it be but a single beam—yet it is universally opposite to all darkness; or as it is with heat, though there be but a small degree of it—yet it is opposite to all cold. Just so—true grace is opposite to all sin—it cannot comply with any known sin.
Look! as sin and grace were never born together, and as sin and grace shall never die together, so sin and grace can never be reconciled together. There is a natural contrariety between sin and grace, and therefore you can never reconcile them in the heart. The opposition that grace makes against sin is inward as well as outward; it is against sin wherever it is. Nothing will satisfy a gracious soul but the destruction of sin; Romans 6:6, "Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin." The Greek word which is here rendered destroyed, signifies weakened, and the strength of it broken, and made idle, fruitless, and ineffectual. So Psalm 51:2, "Wash me thoroughly" (or wash me multiple times, or play the fuller upon me), "from my iniquity." David looked upon his sin, his stain, to be so inveterate, so ingrained, that it would hardly be ever gotten out until the washcloth were almost rubbed to pieces! "And cleanse me from my sin." David was as desirous to be cleansed of the leprosy of sin, as ever any poor leper was willing to be cleansed of his leprosy under the law. And so verse 7, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."
All the sacrifices of expiation of sin in the old law, were done by blood, and that blood was sprinkled upon the people by a bunch of hyssop. In the legal sprinklings made with hyssop, was shadowed out the washing away of sin through the blood of Christ. The bride's garments are made white in the blood of the Lamb, and not by any washings in snow water, Rev. 1:14, Job 9:30. When a gracious soul looks upon sin, he cries out, 'Lord, raze it, raze it down to the ground; Lord, let not one stone be left upon another!' In every gracious soul there is such a detestation and such an indignation against sin, that neither mountains of gold, nor rocks of pearl, nor honor, nor applause, nor favor on the one hand; nor frowns, nor threats, nor neglects, nor scorns, nor contempt on the other hand—can win the soul over to sin, or make the soul one with sin.
Look how it was between the Lord and Amalek, so it is between a gracious soul and his sins. Now if you turn to that Exod. 17:16, you shall find how it was between the Lord and Amalek. "Because the Lord has sworn, that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation;" or, as the Hebrew has it, "The hand upon the throne of the Lord." God's hand is laid upon his own throne, as swearing to root out Amalek; or because Amalek's hand is lifted up against God's throne, therefore God will have perpetual wars with Amalek. God could as soon be reconciled to Amalek, as a gracious Christian can be reconciled to his sins.
Others sense the words thus, that Moses had a solemn oath, as it were, laying his hand upon God's throne, for asseveration and assurance, that he and the people will have an irreconcileable war with the posterity of Amalek. And so every gracious soul is resolved to make an irreconcileable war with sin.
But now, where there is only common grace, there a man deals by his sins as David did by his son Absalom, banish him his court for a time, and afterwards receive him into full favor, and court him as much or more than before. An unsound heart may fall out with his sin, and be very angry with its sin—for the consequence of it, for the shame it brings upon him, for the blot it leaves upon his name, and for the stinging guilt and painful fits which it causes in his conscience; and yet this very person remains in a very close and strict league with sin, and his heart inwardly and strongly adheres unto sin.
But a gracious heart will be still a-restraining of sin, a-curbing of sin, a-crossing of sin, a-making headway against sin, and a-withstanding it in all its workings. Anger may be reconciled—but hatred cannot.
[8.] Eighthly, Where the very prevailings of sin are ordinarily made serviceable to high and holy ends, to gracious and spiritual ends—there certainly is a saving work of God upon that man's soul, Ezek. 16:61, 63; Eph. 2:5-7. As when prevailings of sin produce more soul-loathing, soul-humiliation, self-judging, self-abasement, self-abhorring; or when they fill the soul with a greater admiration of the freeness and riches of grace; or when they keep down pride, and prevent the despising of others, or produce holy shame; or when they make the blood of Christ more precious and dear to the soul; or when they engage a Christian so much the more to watch and pray, and pray and watch, that he may either be kept from the hour of temptation, or in the hour of temptation; or when every fall makes sin more bitter to the soul than ever, and Christ more sweet to the soul than ever, and all the means of grace more delightful to the soul than ever, and heaven more desirable to the soul than ever; or when sin is made the prevention of further sin; or when sin, through the over-ruling hand of grace, is made an occasion of more grace, as that godly man said, "As I get hurt by my graces—so I get good by my sins."
You know all the falls, and knocks, and blows which children get—who are learning to walk, do but make them cleave the closer and hang the faster upon the father's arm, or about the mother's neck. So when all a Christian's falls do but work him to cleave the closer and hang the faster upon the strength of Christ, and to be still a-drawing more and more virtue and power from Christ—then is the prevalency of sin made serviceable to holy and gracious ends. And where God ordinarily thus works, there is certainly a work of God in power upon that soul: 2 Cor. 7:11, "Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such a readiness to punish the wrongdoer. You showed that you have done everything you could to make things right." This scripture I have fully opened in my eighth sign of godly sorrow in this book, and to that I refer you.
The mother, by allowing the child to get one fall, keeps the child from many a fall; and so it was with these Corinthians. Adam's fall was an inlet to abundance of grace; and his unrighteousness ushered into the world the most glorious righteousness of Jesus Christ. Hezekiah falls, and by his fall God gives him a clearer and fuller sight of his own heart than ever he had before in all his days, 2 Chron. 32:25, 26, 31. Sin is no gainer—but a loser, by every fall of the saints. God does and will, by the over-ruling hand of his grace, make the very sins of his people, to be glorious inlets to more eminent degrees of grace and holiness. God has a great revenue of glory from the very infirmities of the saints. And the saints have a great revenue of comfort from their very faults and sins—by the wise, powerful, over-ruling, and sanctifying hand of God. God is that powerful, that skillful physician, who can make an antidote and sovereign remedy out of sin—which is the most deadly poison in all the world. God does and will make the very sins of his people to further the salvation of his people, according to that golden promise, Romans 8:28.
God never allows his people to fall into any sin—but out of a design to break the neck and back of that sin which they fall into. God allowed David to fall into those two great sins of murder and adultery—but by these very falls, he broke the very back of those sins; for we never read that ever he fell into those sins the second time. And so God allowed Peter to deny him once—but by that sore fall, God broke the neck of that very sin; for we never read that ever he denied Christ any more. Yes, it is very observable that Peter's courage and boldness for the truth received a very high advance by those deep wounds that he had formerly given them, when he denied the Lord who bought him. After his sore falls, for courage and boldness he carries the bell from all the apostles, as you may see in Acts 4:12.
It is the nature of true grace to gather strength by every wound. Grace gathers strength by contraries, as fire does when it is compassed about with coldness, by opposition or counteraction. By all a Christian's falls—his graces grow brighter and stronger. In the long run—a Christian by all his falls, loses nothing but his dross, his chaff, his scum, his filth. Now, he who finds his sins thus over-ruled for the good of his soul, he is certainly a gracious soul.
O sirs! remember this forever, namely—that the oftener a hypocrite or a formalist falls, the more ground and strength his sins get upon him, and so will continue to do until all that grace and goodness which he seemed to have had, is quite extinguished. But,
[9.] Ninthly, Where a bare naked command of God is commonly, ordinarily of that power, force, and authority with the soul, as to curb sin, and restrain the soul from sin, and to arm and fence the soul against the encroachments and commands of sin—there is certainly a saving work, a powerful work of God upon that soul.When a man can say to heaven and hell, Stand aside for the present, and to precious promises, Stand aside for the present, and to divine threatenings, "Stand aside for the present—here is a command of God that forbids such and such actions, and therefore I cannot, I dare not do this or that wickedness, and sin against the Lord!"—there is certainly a principle of grace in that man's heart, Gen. 39:9. That is a great word of David, Psalm 119:161, "My heart stands in awe of your word." When a naked command from God does so overawe the heart, as that it dares not sin against God—then doubtless the heart is sincere with God.
A child does not stand in more awe of the rod, nor a servant of a beating, nor a favorite of his prince's frowns—than a real Christian, when he is himself, stands in awe of the word. So Psalm 119:11, "Your word have I hid within my heart, that I might not sin against you." When a man hides the word in his heart as a treasure, that he may not lose it—and as a rule that he may not transgress it—then his heart is indeed right with God. When the law of God in a man's heart arms him against the lusts of his heart and life—then doubtless his heart is sound with God.
So Psalm 17:4, "By the words of your lips I have kept myself from the paths of the destroyer;" or as some read the words, "according to the command and charge of your words, I have kept myself from the sinful ways, manners, behaviours, etc., of the destroyer, or the cruel man." Christ commanded his apostles to make him known to the world, and to preach the everlasting gospel, and to make known those mysteries and riches of grace which were hidden in former ages, Mat. 28:18-20; Acts 10:36, seq. The Jewish authorities threaten them, and command them not to speak at all, nor teach in the name of Jesus, Acts 4:17-18. But the command of Christ holds sway with the apostles against all their threatenings and commands: verses 19-20, "But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God, to hearken unto you more than unto God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have heard and seen."
When the commands of authority run counter-cross to the commands of God, the commands of God must be obeyed, though the greatest authority under heaven should be displeased and enraged. God never gave authority to anyone, to act contrary to his commands. Disobedience to unlawful commands is no disobedience. Woe to him who obeys the commands of men—in opposition to the commands of God: 1 Cor. 9:16, "For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!" Now it is infinitely better to fall under the displeasure of men—than to fall under the woes of God. The Jews, under a pretense of their authority, command the apostles not to preach Jesus to the people. But the commands of Christ hold sway with the apostles against all their contrary commands. The apostles, who were like bottles of new wine—which must either vent or burst, knew very well that it was not obedience to men's absolutes that could excuse their disobedience to God's commands.
Just so, in the third chapter of Daniel, the commands of the great God held sway over the three children against all the dreadful threatenings, proud boastings, and idolatrous commands of king Nebuchadnezzar. Certainly the commands of sin are of all commands the vilest commands; they are all illegal; sin has no ground, no reason to command our souls. Sin is but a usurper, a traitor, and therefore has no authority over us. All sin's commands are absolutely sinful; they are plain and notorious rebellions against the laws of Christ, the life of Christ, and against the crown, honor, and dignity of Jesus. All sin's commands are grievous, burdensome, and painful commands; of all yokes, none so heavy as that which sin lays upon the sinner; hence sin is compared to a lead cover, Zech. 5:7, to show the weightiness and burdensomeness of it. And hence it is that sinners are said to weary themselves in committing iniquity, Jer. 9:5. And hence it is that wicked men are said to travail with iniquity, Psalm 7:14, to show what anxiety, pain and trouble they have, in bringing about their wickedness: "Behold he travails with iniquity;" or as the Hebrew has it, he shall travail, or he continually travails—he takes as great pains to go to hell as a travailing woman does to be delivered.
Wicked men are as laborious, and as restless and unquiet in the practice of wickedness, as a woman in labor is, when the pangs of travail are upon her, Proverbs 4:14-16. Sugared poisons go down pleasantly; oh but when once they are down—they gall, and gnaw, and gripe the very heart-strings asunder; it is so with sin.
Lastly, the commands of sin are extremely unreasonable. What an unreasonable thing it is to command a man to run into the fire, or to drown himself in the water, or to strangle himself, etc. Now all the commands of sin tend directly and intentionally—to the burning, drowning, strangling, and destroying of the sinner. All sin's commands tend to the dishonor of God, the breach of his righteous laws, and the damnation of the precious and immortal soul. Now where the commands of God do commonly hold sway, against all the commands of sin, there the soul is certainly sincere with God.
That we owe perfect obedience to God's will, to God's commands, is evident enough several ways, and in particular from the universal obedience of all creatures; I mean those which are without reason, sense, or life—for they inviolably observe his commands: Isaiah 48:13, "It was my hand that laid the foundations of the earth. The palm of my right hand spread out the heavens above. When I call to them, they stand up together," as prepared to execute his commands. The insensible parts of the world are so compliant with his will, as to contradict their proper natures to serve his glory. Fire descends from heaven at his command, Gen. 19:24; 2 Kings 1:10-12. And the liquid sea stands up at his command, Exod. 14:22. Now what a sad thing is it that Christians should at any time prove disloyal and rebellious, when all inferior creatures do with one consent serve and glorify the great God! But, etc.
[10.] Tenthly, Constant desires, and earnest and constant endeavors to avoid and shun all known appearances of sin—evidences the truth and reality of grace in the soul.[Where do you read in all the Scriptures, of any one hypocrite, who ever made conscience of shunning and avoiding the appearances of sin?] Certainly that man is a true Nathaniel, who makes it his business, his work, to abstain from all appearances of evil. A hypocrite loves the appearance of good—more than goodness itself; and a sincere Christian hates the very appearance of evil, as well as the evil itself. He who hates a person, loathes his very picture. A wicked man may abstain from broad-faced evils—but commonly he is very bold and venturous upon covert evils. Oh what vain apologies do many make in these days for long hair, gaudy apparel, antique fashions, spotted faces, naked breasts, wanton behaviors, ungodly alliances, and a thousand other suspicious practices and vanities!
But now a man who is truly gracious, he makes conscience, not only of shunning real, gross, known evils—but also of shunning the very appearance of evil. His heart does not only rise against real sins—but he is very shy of that which looks like sin. When Joseph's mistress took hold of him and said, "Lie with me! he left his garment in her hand and fled, and fled out," Gen. 39:12. Joseph would not be found in the company of his impudent, brazen-faced mistress, who could so openly and basely, so boldly and frequently, solicit him to defile his master's bed, and to damn two souls at once, her own and his—that so he might avoid the very appearance of evil, the very suspicion of sin. By lustful touches and dalliance, mental adultery is often committed. And therefore Joseph flies, as being unwilling to touch her, or to be touched by her.
And so Paul refused the using his liberty in taking a lawful maintenance for his labors, lest a sinister interpretation of covetous and mercenary affection should have been put upon it by his adversaries, 1 Cor. 9:11-15. And so the same apostle would needs have Titus and two others chosen by the church, to join with him in carrying the benevolent gift of the church of Macedonia, to Jerusalem, because he was very careful to avoid all suspicion of dealing ill in that business. 2 Cor. 8:20-21, "We are taking this precaution so no one can find fault with us concerning this large sum administered by us. For we are making provision for what is honorable, not only before the Lord but also before men."
Just so, Daniel would not defile himself with the portion of the king's food, Dan. 1:3, that is, say some, he would not defile his conscience by eating such unclean meats as were forbidden under the law, for the Babylonians did eat of many meats, as of swine, rabbits, etc., and of sundry sorts of fishes and fowls—which were forbidden by God unto the children of Israel, Levit. 11, Deut. 14; nor with the king's wine. But in the Hebrew the plural number is used, of his drinks, whence some gather that the king drank many sorts of wines, which were also set before Daniel and his companions; therefore he requested that he might not defile himself. Daniel's living at a full table, and his feeding upon kingly dainties, might have been, not only a means to ensnare him, and drown him in the sensualities of the court—but it would have carried with it also too great a show of Daniel's conformity to the court's manners and customs, and have been too great an appearance of Daniel's forgetfulness of the sore and miserable calamities and matchless miseries of the captive church, which sat sighing and groaning and mourning in her cruel bondage, and had none to comfort her, or speak peace unto her. And therefore Daniel purposed in his heart, or set it upon his heart, or laid it upon his heart, as the Hebrew may be read, that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's food, etc., that so he might avoid all shows or suspicions of evil.
It is very observable, that in the law of the Nazarite, who did for a time special consecrate himself to God, that besides his not coming near the dead; and not cutting his hair—it was ordained of God that he should abstain from these six things:
(1.) From wine and strong drink;
(2.) from the vinegar of wine or strong drink;
(3.) from any liquor of grapes, though it were but the water wherein they were steeped;
(4.) from the green or moist grape;
(5.) from the dried grape or raisin;
(6.) from the husk or kernel of them, Num. 6:3-4.
Had the Nazarite eaten but the skin of the grape or raisin, he would have broken the law. Now hereby the Lord would teach us, that those who separate themselves from the world, to be in a special manner serviceable to the Lord, they must avoid not only that which is plain sin, downright sin, or such sins that men may run and read—but also that they must shun and be shy of the very appearances of sin.
It was good counsel that Livia gave her husband Augustus, "It behooves you," says she, "not only not to do wrong—but not to seem to do so," etc. We must shun and be shy of the very suspicion and appearance of sin, if either we prize our credit abroad, or our comfort at home. Walking in the power of holiness lies much in shunning the very appearance of sin. The primitive Christians would not endure that any Christian should look towards Jerusalem praying, because they would avoid the least show of Judaism. And indeed there are great reasons why every Christian should avoid whatever may have the suspicion of sin. And this will be evident, if you please but seriously to consider of these eight following particulars:
(1.) First, Consider those clear and plain commands of God which makes this duty to be a duty, as that 1 Thes. 5:22, "Abstain from all appearance of evil." God requires us not only to abstain from all apparent sins—but also from all appearance of sin. We must do nothing which has a show or shadow of sin. It is duty to abstain from whatever is of an evil show, or an evil report. And so God commands us to hate the garment spotted with the flesh, Jude 23. Saints must abhor everything that carries with it but an appearance or suspicion of uncleanness. The apostle alludes to legal uncleanness, which was contracted by touching the houses, the vessels, or the garments of unclean people, Levit. 15. [Hence that saying of the Jews, Remove yourself from filthiness, and from all that which has an appearance of it.] Christians must not only hate uncleanness—but they must hate everything that looks like it, or that has the least communion with it. So in that Deut. 12:30, "Be careful not to be ensnared by their ways after they have been destroyed before you. Do not inquire about their gods, asking—How did these nations worship their gods?" God does not only command his people to abstain from gross idolatry—but he also commands them to take heed of all those ways and means and inquiries that might tend to draw them to idolatry, or that might carry with them the least show or appearance of idolatry.
It is observable in the law, that God commanded his people not only that they should worship no idol—but that they should demolish all the monuments of them; and that they should make no covenant, nor have any affinity with those who worshiped them. And all to avoid the very shows of idolatry, and to prevent his people from being drawn by those means to commit idolatry with them. And so Exod. 23:7, "Keep far from a false matter." Every godly man must stand aloof off, he must keep at a distance, both from the occasions of sin, and from the appearances of sin.
Just so in Proverbs 5:8, "Remove your way far from her, and come not near the door of her house." He who is farthest from fire, is safest from burning; and he who is most remote from the water, is in least danger of drowning. It is no small wickedness to approach near the door of wickedness; he who approaches near the door of a whore's house, is already in the door of whoredom, Proverbs 22:14, 23:27. It is too dangerous for anyone to knowingly, willingly, come near the door of of a whore's house. Oh how should a man dread the coming into that house, where he must needs either perish or else be overcome! Certainly it is infinite better not to be in danger of perishing, than being in danger not to perish.
Just so in Hosea 4:15, "Though Israel is a prostitute, may Judah avoid such guilt. O Judah, do not join with those who worship me insincerely at Gilgal and at Bethaven." Gilgal was once famous for sundry services performed to God. But now Gilgal was abased to idol worship. And hence it is that God charges Judah not to come near it, that so they might avoid both the show and danger of idolatry; and it is upon the same account that God charges them not to go up to Bethaven. By these scriptures it is evident that God would have his people to abstain from all shows and appearances of sin. But, etc.
(2.) Secondly, The holiness of God, and the honor of God, calls aloud upon all Christians to avoid the suspicion of sin.God is so essentially holy, so unmixedly holy, so universally holy, so eminently, so transcendently holy, so superlatively holy, so originally, radically, and fundamentally holy; he is so independently holy, so unchangeably, so constantly, and so exemplarily holy—that he cannot but hate and abhor the very appearance of evil. Look! as apparent sins stir up the judicial anger of God against sinners, so the appearance of sin stirs up the fatherly anger of God against saints. A gracious heart knows that "God is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity," Hab. 1:13, and therefore he keeps at a distance from the appearance of iniquity. Of all men in the world, none honor God at so high a rate as those who keep most aloof off from the appearance of evil. Many, by their apparent evils, have lived God, and Christ, and the gospel, and their profession, and precious ordinances—into disgrace, scorn, and contempt. And oh that we would all make it our great business, by abstaining from all appearance of evil—to live God, and Christ, and the gospel, and our profession, and precious ordinances—into a greater credit, praise, and honor than ever! He keeps farthest off from dishonoring God—who keeps farthest off from the appearance of sin. But, etc.,
(3.) Thirdly, This is the best of ways for a man to keep himself clear from other men's sins.That man who abstains from the appearance of sin is very rarely guilty of other men's sins. Men many times, by venturing upon the appearances of sin, come to wrap themselves up in the guilt of other men's sins. If Joseph had been dallying and toying, playing and sporting with his mistress in a wanton manner, how soon might he have enrapt himself up in the guilt of his mistress's burning lusts! He who would not tempt nor entice others to sin—must keep off from the very appearance of sin.
Certainly there is not the holiest man in the world, but has sins enough of his own to sadden him—though not to sink him; to humble him—though not to damn him; to abase him—though not to deject him. And therefore how much does it concern the best men in the world to abstain from the very appearance of sin—so that they may not bring upon themselves the guilt and burden of other men's sins. It is very well observed by some, that a more grievous punishment is reserved for those who cause others to sin; thus the serpent was punished more than Eve, and Eve more than Adam. And so Jezebel, who tempted and provoked Ahab to sin, was punished with a far greater and severer punishment or judgment than Ahab himself was. [2 Kings 9:30, seq., compared with 1 Kings 22:34-39.] To sin, has not so much perdition in it—as to make others to sin. And therefore, as you would never draw others to sin, keep off from all appearance of sin. Oh that all superiors, inferiors, and equals, would lay this counsel to heart! But,
(4.) Fourthly, The keeping off from all appearances of evil is the best and noblest way under heaven to keep a good name and to keep a good conscience.Now, a good name and a good conscience are jewels of more worth than all the scepters and miters in the world, and there is no wisdom in the world to that which leads a man by the hand to secure his name and his conscience. Proverbs 22:1, "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving-favor rather than silver and gold." So Eccles. 7:1, "A good name is better than precious ointment;" the one being but a perfume of the nostrils, the other a perfume of the heart. It is observable, the princely preacher does not say, "a great name is better than precious ointments," but "a good name is better than precious ointments." Ointments are here named, because in those eastern parts they were laid up in the king's treasury, even among his most precious things: Isaiah 39:2, "Hezekiah welcomed the Babylonian envoys and showed them his precious things—the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointments," etc. Precious aromatic ointments were things greatly in use and esteem among the Israelites, and a special part of their treasures, as is evident by these Scriptures. [Exod. 30:22-23; 28:41; 1 Sam. 16:13; Pa. 89:20; Heb. 1:9; Isaiah 61:3; Amos 6:6; Esther 2:12; Psalm 23:5; Luke 7:46; Psalm 92:10; Deut. 33:24; Proverbs 21:20.] And yet a good name, which has its foundation in virtue, and in a holy, innocent, blameless, harmless, and exemplary life—is better than these most precious ointments.
It was good counsel the moralist gave when he said, "Whatever commodity you lose, be sure to preserve that jewel of a good name." "A good renown is better than a golden belt," say some. "A man's eye and his good name can bear no jests," say others. "If I may but keep a good name, I have wealth enough," said the naturalist. O friends! as ever you would keep a good name, keep off from the very appearance of evil; for the very appearance of evil will both eclipse and wound a man's name and his conscience at once. Certainly a man were better not to live, than to outlive his good name. A man's good name is like a piece of white paper, which, if once blotted, will be very hard to be erased out, so as to leave no blotch.
A man's reputation is like a large structure—a long time being built up—but quickly ruined; or like a merchant's estate, long a-getting—but lost in a moment. And therefore how much does it concern every Christian to keep his name as he would keep his life! and this he can never do, except he keeps off from the appearance of evil. It is his name only, which shall be kept green and flourishing like the rod of Aaron—who keeps off from the appearance of evil. He takes the best and the wisest course to preserve his good name in the world, and to maintain the peace of his conscience—who is most studious and industrious to abstain from all appearances of evil. But, etc.
(5.) Fifthly, The appearance of evil may very much offend, scandalize, stumble, and tempt weak Christians.And therefore it highly concerns us to keep off from the very appearance of evil. The more grace any man has in his own heart, the more fearful he will be of stumbling or offending those who have less. Venturing upon the appearance of evil may not only defile my own conscience—but also wound my weak brother's conscience. And therefore it concerns me to be very shy of the appearance of evil. If in things of an indifferent nature I must deny my own liberty, as I must, rather than grieve, or offend, or wound the conscience of a weak brother for whom Christ has died, 1 Cor. 8:11-13, 10:25, 28, oh how much more, then, must I shun the very appearance of sin, considering how apt weak Christians are to be offended and stumbled when they see others so bold as to venture upon the appearance of evil!
Alexander's Macedonians having offended him, put on mourning apparel, and came running in troops to his tent, where, for almost three days, they remained with loud cries and tears, to testify their remorse for offending him. And shall we make nothing of offending those weak Christians who are the price of Christ's blood, and the travail of his soul? The Lord forbid!
Besides, our venturing upon the appearance of evil may prove a great temptation to weak Christians, not only to venture upon seeming evils—but also to venture upon real evils. Doubtless many weak Christians have been drawn to real evils, by observing others to venture upon the appearance of evil. It is commonly seen, that when strong Christians will adventure upon appearing evils, weak Christians will be emboldened thereby to commit real evils.
"But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol's temple, won't he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge." 1 Corinthians 8:8-11
When the weak shall see men of knowledge communicating with idolaters in their feasts, their consciences will be emboldened and confirmed in their old superstition about those idols which they were beginning to leave, returning now afresh to a more reverent esteem and service of them than ever, etc. O friends! as you would not offend the weak, as you would not tempt the weak—keep off from all shows and appearances of evil, etc. But,
[6.] Sixthly, Christians venturing upon appearing evils, will exceedingly harden and encourage wicked men to commit real evils.It is very natural and customary with wicked men to make use of the appearing infirmities of the saints, as excuses for their greatest enormities and wickednesses. "Why, did not such and such knowing eminent Christians do thus and thus? and we have gone but one step beyond them, and is that so great and heinous a crime? they have been playing and sporting themselves about the pit, and we are but slipped or stepped into the pit. They have been sitting and bibbing with such and such company, and we have but taken two or three merry cups more than ordinary in the same company—and is that so great a sin?" etc.
O sirs! as we should walk wisely towards the unconverted, so we should walk compassionately towards the unconverted, 1 Thes. 4:12. "Of some have compassion, making a difference," Jude 22. Did not Jeremiah wish that his head were waters, and his eyes a fountain of tears, that he might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of his people? Jer. 9:1. Did not Samuel mourn for Saul? Did not Christ weep over Jerusalem? Did not the compassionate Samaritan bind up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine—on the one who fell among thieves? Did not Paul weep over those who were enemies of the cross of Christ? Yes, shall we show pity and compassion to an ox or an donkey that is fallen into a ditch? Nay, shall David rather fight a lion—than lose a lamb? Shall Jacob rather endure heat by day, and cold by night—than neglect his flock? Shall Moses fight with dire odds—rather than the cattle shall perish with thirst? [1 Sam. 15:25; Luke 19:10; 10:30-35; Philip. 3:20; Lev. 19:17; 1 Sam. 17:34; Gen. 31:40.] Nay, shall Xenocrates, a heathen, show compassion to a poor sparrow, that being scared and pursued by a hawk, flew into his bosom for support? etc. And shall not we have that compassion on poor sinners' precious and immortal souls, as to abstain from the appearance of sin, which may more ways than one prove so exceeding harmful to them? etc.
Wicked men are greatly prone to watch for the saints' haltings, Jer. 20:10. Christians are lights upon a high hill; and therefore every man's eye is upon them, and if wicked men can but discern the least indecency, the least appearance of any eccentric or irregular motion, oh how readily will they let fly against God and the gospel, against true religion, and against all who have a profession of true religion! Now the honor of God, and the credit of the gospel, should be so dear and precious in the eyes of every Christian, that he should rather choose to die than to venture upon the least appearance of sin, whereby the honor of God may be clouded, or the credit of the gospel impeached or eclipsed, or the soul of a poor sinner endangered or worsted. Both the least sin, and the least appearance of sin, must be avoided and prevented.
The cockatrice must be crushed in the egg, else it will soon become a serpent! The very thought of sin—will break out into action, action into custom, custom into habit, and then both body and soul are in the ready way of being irrecoverably lost! Camerarius tells us a sad story of two brothers, who, walking out in the evening and seeing the sky full of bright spangling stars, one of them being a grazier, wished that he had as many oxen as there were stars in the sky; then said the other brother, If I had a pasture as big as all the world, where would you keep the oxen? He answered, In your pasture. What, said the other, whether I would or not? Yes! said his brother. The matter was very light; it was but a little evil, or an appearing evil—but it fell out very heavily; for presently they fell to angry words, and then began to fight, and in the end killed one another. O friends! as you love the lives of sinners, and as you love the souls of sinners, keep off from all appearance of evil. But,
[7.] Seventhly, Other precious saints have abstained from all appearances of evil.Witness Joseph, Paul, Daniel, etc.—but lately cited. And to these let me add that great instance of Augustine, who refused even ironies, because they had the appearance of evil. And so the primitive Christians would not set up lights at their doors, though for this they were persecuted as enemies to the emperor, because the temple and the doors of idolaters were accustomed to be thus garnished. And so David refused to take the threshing-floor, and threshing instruments, and oxen, etc., of Araunah as a gift—but would needs buy them at a price, and this he did, partly out of a divine nobleness, and partly to avoid the very show of covetousness, 2 Sam. 24:21-24.
Now why has God left all these famous examples upon record—but on purpose to encourage his saints in all ages to abstain from all appearance of evil. Certainly God desires that we should so eye the best, the highest, the worthiest, and the exactest examples, as that we should make it our great business and work to come up to them, and to imitate them to the life. O friends! the examples last cited should be very awakening, very persuading, very convincing, and very encouraging; because in them you may see that though abstinence from the appearance of evil be a difficult thing—yet it is a possible thing. Shall we love to look upon the pictures of our friends, and shall we not much more love to look upon the holy examples of those eminent saints who had the lively picture of grace, and the lovely image of Christ fairly stamped upon their hearts and lives? It is both our mercy and our duty to eye the examples, and to follow the footsteps of those Christians that have been most eminent in grace, as you may plainly see by comparing of these scriptures: Proverbs 2:20; Heb. 6:12; 1 Thes. 1:6; Philip. 4:9; 2 Tim. 3:10-12; Heb. 12:1; Philip. 3:17; 1 Cor. 11:1; Titus 2:7. He who would write well, had need have his eye often upon his copy. And he who would sincerely abstain from all appearance of evil, he had need often to eye the gracious examples of such who have made conscience of abstaining from the appearance of evils, as well as from real evils. But,
[8.] Eighthly and lastly, Consider what some refined heathens and civilized pagans have done in this very case.There are stories of heathens that would not look upon beauties, lest they should be ensnared. Democritus plucked out his own eyes to avoid the danger of uncleanness. Socrates speaks of two young men who flang away their belts, when, being in an idol temple, the lustrating water fell upon them, detesting the garment spotted by the flesh. Alexander would not see the woman after whom he might have lusted. Scipio Africanus, warring in Spain, took New Carthage by storm, at which time a beautiful and noble virgin fled to him for support; he being twenty-four years old, and so in the heat of youth, hearing of it, would not allow her to come into his sight for fear of temptation—but caused her to be restored in safety to her father. So when Demosthenes the orator was asked a large sum of money to behold the beautiful Lais, he answered, He would not buy repentance so dear, neither was he so ill a merchant as to sell eternals for temporals. Nor would Caesar search Pompey's cabinet, lest he should find new matters of revenge. Memorable is the story of the children of Samoseta, that would not touch their ball—but burnt it, because it had touched the toe of a wicked heretical bishop as they were tossing and playing with it.
Now shall some refined heathens, shall civilized pagans abstain from the appearance of evil, from occasions and temptations to sin? and shall real Christians fall short of them? Shall blind nature do more than grace? Shall men fallen in the first Adam do more than those who are raised and enlivened by the second Adam? But to prevent all mistakes, let me add, though many heathens have abstained from the appearance of some evil—yet they have not abstained from the appearance of all evil; neither have they abstained from the appearance of any evil out of a hatred of evil; nor from any principles of saving light, or life, or love; nor out of any regard to any royal law of God; nor out of any regard to the honor or glory of God—but either out of vain-glory and popular applause, the pole-stars by which they steered all their actions, or out of hypocrisy, which set a tincture and dye upon all their actions.
What writer has more golden sentences than Seneca against the contempt of gold. Yet if Tacitus and others of his contemporaries may be credited, none more rich, none more covetous than he, as if out of design he had persuaded others to cast away their money, that he himself might come and gather it up again, etc. And thus you see that there are very great reasons why every Christian should avoid the very show, suspicion, or appearance of evil, etc. But,
[11.] Eleventhly and lastly, He who sets himself resolutely, mostly, habitually, against his bosom sins, his constitution sins, his most prevalent sins, etc.—he has certainly a saving work, a powerful work of God upon his soul.True grace will make a man stand stoutly and steadfastly on God's side, and work the heart to take part with him, against the most darling sins, though they be as dear as right hands or as right eyes. True grace will lay hands upon a man's most beloved lusts, and cry out to heaven, "Lord, crucify them, crucify them! Down with them, down with them even to the ground. Lord, do justice, do speedy justice, do exemplary justice upon this bosom lust, this master sin! Lord, hew down root and branch! let the very stumps of this Dagon be broken all in pieces! Lord, curse this wild fig-tree, that fruit may never more grow thereon!"
Certainly God and Christ is set up highest in that man's heart, who bends most of his thoughts, strength, and endeavors against his constitution sins, against the sins of his place, calling, condition and complexion. It is very observable that the Jews, after they had been in the Babylonish furnace for idolatry, they ever hated and feared idolatry, as much as the burned child dreads the fire; yes, they would die any death rather than admit an idol. Josephus tells us how stoutly they opposed Pilate and Petronius, who would have set up Caesar's statue in their temples, offering their throats to the swords of the soldiers, rather than they would endure that idol in God's house.
Oh when once the heart of a Christian comes thus to be set against all his golden and silver idols, then we may safely say, "Behold a true Israelite, in whom there is no deceit." He who finds his lusts, his bosom, his darling lusts, begin to fall before him, as Haman once begun to fall before Mordecai, Esther 6:13, he may safely and confidently conclude that the seed of God abides in him, 1 John 3:9. But having discoursed so largely as I have concerning bosom sins, darling lusts, head corruptions, in my other writings, I need say no more at this time. And thus you see that there are eleven particulars in regard of sin and a Christian's actings about it, that manifests a true saving work of grace to be in the souls of the saints.