Master, What shall I do to inherit eternal Life?
THE Enquiry which I told you, these Words gave me Occasion to propose, as of Importance to Persons educated, and continuing, in the Profession of the Faith of Christ, (in which Number, we, and all of later Ages, generally are) is this: What it is that the Gospel requires of Men, who believe in Jesus Christ, and have been baptized into his Religion, and acknowledge Him for their Master, in order to their Acquittance from any Sins they have at any time been wilfully guilty of, during their Christian Profession; and to their final Justification at the Day of Judgment; and to their Eternal Happiness after this. And, having in two several Discourses endeavoured to engage your Attention, and to raise your Sollicitude after Truth, in a matter of such unspeakable Moment; as well as to point out to you the true Method of your coming to well-grounded Satisfaction, (viz your examining whatsoever is at any time laid before you on this Head by all the plain, and intelligible Texts in the New Testament concerning it, carefully laid together, and sincerely compared;) I come now to a particular Resolution of the Question proposed which I think may be comprized under the four following Heads.
1. IT is required of a Christian, who hath been a wilful Sinner, that he renounce, and forsake, his Sins.
II. IT is required of him, that he sincerely and with Perseverance, practise the contrary Virtues. And tho' to these Two all other Terms may be reduced; yet it is very proper particularly to mention two more, viz.
III. IT is not sufficient that the Sinner forsake the Sins of which he stands guilty before God, and amend his outward Life; but he must entirely forgive the Offences, and Trespasses, of others against himself: which is so necessary a Condition, that without it even those Sins which he hath forsaken shall never be forgiven him.
IV. IN the Case of Injustice, or Fraud, or Oppression; it is required of the Sinner, if he ever hope for Pardon, and Acceptance, not only that he leave off Injustice for the future, and act justly, and honestly; (which alone is not sufficient;) but also that he make Restitution, in whatsoever instances, he hath by any ways or means, injured any one in the World.
THESE are the four particular Terms, or Conditions, upon which Christians, who have been wilful Sinners, may hope for Acceptance; and without which the Gospel gives them not the least Ground for such Hope. They may be all comprized in one general Proposition, viz. That it is required of Christians, who have the Guilt of any Sins upon them, to endeavour heartily, and sincerely, for the future, to practise the whole Will of God, revealed in the Book of Nature, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ: and that without this honest, sincere, and universal Obedience, they cannot hope to be accepted, for the Sake, and upon the Terms, of Jesus Christ. But it is fit to be more particular; and therefore I have chosen to speak of this Matter under the forementioned Heads: every one of which I design distinctly to consider, first, shewing that they are most plainly required; and then, shewing the Fitness and Reasonableness of them. And after we are fully satisfied concerning these, they will be so many infallible Directions to us; and prevent all fatal Mistakes, which otherwise may be occasioned by a too great Readiness to lay hold on any obscure, or misinterpreted, Passage of Scripture, for the Support of any other Notions concerning this important Matter.
THESE are the Points, I say, which I design particularly to handle. But the Enquiry now before us, relating, as you see; to the Case of such professed Christians as have been wilful Sinners, and so have need of other Conditions to be offered them, than that of a perfect and unspotted Holiness; it will not be an useless, or improper Digression; before I come to the particular handling of the Points now laid down, to consider, who they are that may be called wilful Sinners; and the several Sorts, and Degrees of such as are so: that so, we may be all sensible that the very best of us may have need of some or other of these Terms of Condescension offered us thro' Jesus Christ, and, for his Sake only, made Terms of Acceptance with God. And here, it being manifest that all Those may justly be called wilful Sinners, who sin, either first, against sufficient Light; or secondly, against the Dictates of their own Consciences to the contrary: it will be proper to shew who they are that may be said thus to sin, either against the one, or the other. Now,
1. ALL those may be said to act against sufficient Light, and sufficient Evidence to the contrary, who have fair Opportunities and Abilities of knowing their Duty; who profess a Religion, and live in any particular Place, or at any particular Time, in which their Duty is laid plainly before them. And here I must remark that not only those Sinners who have attended to this Evidence, and been sensible of the Directions of this Light, may be said to sin against it; but such also, as have wilfully refused to give any Attention to it, and have rejected the offers of its Direction, may equally be said to sin against it; because they wilfully refuse to pay any Respect, or Attention to it: and not only upon this account; but because they act against the Maxims which that is perpetually offering to their View, and which they might, if they pleased, be very well acquainted with. For no Ignorance that is wilful, and affected; or that proceeds from a Resolution to guard against better Information, and is founded upon an ill-disposed Mind; can avail a Sinner any thing, or distinguish him at all from the most wilful of Sinners. And this ought to be remarked, because many Persons seem to be so weak, as to chuse voluntarily not to be better inform' d, because they are pretty well resolved not to alter their bad Courses; and then to imagine that their Ignorance will be a sort of an Excuse for their Vices. Whereas this sort of Ignorance gives the Man all the Essence, and Guilt, of a wilful Sinner; nay, and makes Him a Sinner against that very Light and Evidence, to which he wilfully refuseth to attend. So that, with respect to persons who have professed to believe in Jesus Christ, and to receive Him for their Master, (of whom we are now particularly speaking) it may be affirmed that, not only They sin against the Light of his Gospel, who, at the very time of their committing Sin, know, and are sensible, that the Action they are going about is condemned by his Gospel; but also They who, after having professed Faith in Him, are wilfully careless and negligent in their enquiries after his Will; and chuse, upon very bad Principles, rather not to know, than to know, the Rules which He hath laith down. For this, I say, is manifestly sinning against the Light of that Gospel, which they wilfully refuse to consult, or attend to, upon a Suspicion that it may disturb them in their present Course, and consequently, upon a Resolution of continuing in it without that Disturbance.
THESE Two sorts of Christians therefore are wilful Sinners: such, as sin against the Rules of the Gospel, knowing that they condemn their Practice at the very time of their sinning; and such likewise, as sin against those same Rules, with an Ignorance which proceeds from a perverse and deliberate Desire of being undisturbed in their Course: an Ignorance, in which they wilfully entrench themselves, as some sort of Security against the Guilt of Sin; but which, in truth, is as great an Aggravation of it, as can well be imagined. The Difference between these Two, is only such a Difference as may be supposed between Two disobedient Sons of the same Father: the one of which listens to his Will, and hears his Commands, and afterwards transgresseth them; and the other, whenever his Father is going to declare his Will to Him, stops his Ears, and refuseth to hear his Voice, merely because he is resolved to go on in his own Way, without any Regard to his Will. And which of these Two is the moth criminal, it is hard to determine: only that there seems more Resolution of Disobedience in the latter. Such Persons as I have been now describing, must not expect to be reckoned by our Saviour amongst those Servants who know not their Master's Will, and so shall be beaten with fewer stripes than others: for the Servants meant in that Saying of our Lord's, are such as have not the Opportunity of knowing their Master's Will so fully as others have; not such as have the Opportunity and wilfully refuse to make use of it.
2. As there are Two sorts of Sinners, who may be said to sin against sufficient Light: so likewise, there are Two sorts of Sinners, who may be said to sin against their own Judgments and Consciences; and consequently, to be wilful Sinners. First, such as, at the very time of their sinning, perceive within themselves something which forbids that Action, and represents the Unreasonableness of it, and the Anger of God consequent upon it: and secondly, such as, tho' they have by a Custom of sinning worn off all sense of their Duty so far as to sin without any present Disturbance, and Uneasiness of Mind, at the very time of sinning; yet, before this habitual Practice of Vice, have often owned and acknowledged, or, during the continuance of it, do upon many Occasions, and in their most serious Intervals, judge and determine that the contrary Course of Action is truly their Duty, and what alone can entitle them to the Favour of God. Concerning the former of these, no one will doubt but that they sin against their Consciences because they are warned, and made uneasy, by them at the very time of sinning. And, as to the latter, I think it equally certain that they likewise do the same. For they sin against that Judgment which they have heretofore often made, before an Habit of Sin had made them insensible; they sin against their own Determinations in their most serious moments; they sin against a former Judgment of their Minds, which their Reason and Consideration hath never yet reversed, or ever determined to be false or groundless; they sin against that which was the Voice of their Conscience, when they had any awake in their Minds: and consequently, They may be truly said to sin against their Judgments, and Consciences; tho', at the very time of their sinning; they have no present Alarm and Disturbance from them.
ALL the Difference between the Two sorts of Sinners I have now mentioned, is the same that may be supposed between Two Servants of the same Master: the One of which having not shewn his Disobedience so often, the Master still attends upon him, and directs him in his Actions, hoping to keep him, by this means, from all bad and pernicious Practices, which nevertheless he sometimes ventures upon, even under his Master's Eye; and the Other having shewn the same Disobedience, under his Master's immediate Direction, more frequently, the Master thinks it useless any longer to attend upon Him, or to warn him against any particular Action. But yet, this Servant, tho' He offends not against his Master's, present express Warning to the contrary; He wilfully offends against all his past Rules, and all those Directions which He hath heretofore given him. So that his Case is worse than that of the Former, in this, that the Former hath not sinned beyond the Patience of his Master: or so as to forfeit his constant Attendance upon him: which He hath done; and still persists in that Disobedience. Just thus is with the Two sorts of Sinners now mentioned. Before an Habit of Sin hath made it otherwise; the Man hath generally the Remonstrances of his Conscience, whilst He is thinking to venture upon any Vice. But Conscience may at last be supposed to be weary of that good Office; and to find it fruitless to give so particular an Attendance upon the Sinner. Yet the Sinner nevertheless sins against it, because He continues to sin against all it's former Remonstrances; against that Judgment and Determination which He himself hath formerly acknowledged to be just and reasonable; and which He cannot think, or prove to be otherwise, even in the Heighth of his Wickedness. So that it is manifest that He sins against his own Judgment and Conscience, whose Conscience hath heretofore sufficiently warned Him against the Course He pursues, and sufficiently recommended the contrary to Him; as well as He whose Conscience still continues to do that good Office: and consequently, that both have equally the Guilt of wilful Sinners.
THOSE professed Christians, therefore, who do, in any single Action, or in any Course of Actions, transgress those Rules which they know to be laid down in the Gospel; and they also, who wilfully refuse to know those Rules, merely that they may the more quietly practise what themselves think fit; Both willfully act against sufficient Light, and Evidence: and therefore are both certainly wilful Sinners. So likewise, they who do, either in any particular Action, or in any Course of Actions, sin against the present Checks and Warnings of their own Consciences; and they also, who sin against the past Determination of their own Judgments, and the serious Result of their own best Reason, tho' wholly unmindful of it just at the time of sinning; both wilfuly sin against their Consciences: and therefore are both certainly wilful Sinners. And now, from what has been said upon this Subject, it will not be improper to observe more particularly the several Degrees, and Ranks, of those who may justly be stiled wilful Sinners. As
1. IT is plain that in the lowest degree of wilful Sinners are such Persons as have a sincere Desire of avoiding all Sin; such as keep up in their Minds a warm Sense of the Guilt of it and do, in the main Tenour of their Lives, demonstrate the Sincerity of their outward Profession of Christianity, by observing its Laws, behaving themselves according to its Rules, and resisting great and frequent Temptations to sin: but nevertheless are sometimes, through the Violence of some particular Temptations, hurried into such a Behaviour, and such Actions, as they know to be condemned by the Gospel they profess, and to be displeasing to Almighty God. But in this State they do not continue, or glory; but lament and abhor their Condition; and by Amendment raise themselves as soon as possible from it. These are wilful Sinners, in this particular Behaviour: because they do the thing which their Consciences condemn; and because they wilfully act in this Particular, against the Light of that Gospel which they enjoy. But it is hard to call such Persons by the Name justly bestowed on those whose main Course of Living is directed and governed by a quite contrary Principle: For as they are no denominated good and virtuous, from one or two particular good and virtuous Actions; whilst the greatest art of their Lives is filled up with the contrary Practices: so neither can the others justly be denominated wicked Men, from one or two particular Commissions of Sin, whilst the main of their Lives hath been dedicated to Virtue; provided that, by their Amendment in those particular Instances, they have given sufficient Proof of their Repentance. But what I observe at present is this, that such Persons, are in these Actions, wilful Sinners, for the Reasons before given; and that they certainly stand in need of an Act of Grace, from Almighty God, in order to be assured of Pardon and Forgiveness; because they have done what they themselves acknowledge they ought not to have done; and have wilfully committed what deserveth Punishment: what they cannot justify, but are forced to condemn themselves for.
2. IN the next Degree of wilful Sinners, may be placed such Persons as have some Sense of Religion, and same sort of Resolution of practising the Duties of it: but yet, when any considerable Temptation offers it self, yield up themselves to the power of it; and at that time, when only they can experience the Sincerity of their own Minds, viz. in the Day of Trial, do very often wilfully fall into grievous and deliberate Sins. I do not suppose these Persons to be so bad as to seek out Opportunities of sinning; or to harbour in their Minds before-hand any Designs of laying hold on such Opportunities; but thro' same great Defect, or Negligence in themselves, to be surpriz'd, by almost every Trial, into Sin; and to give themselves Proofs of little, thro' their whole Behaviour, besides the Weakness of their own Resolutions, and the ineffectual Sense they have of the Truths Religion. Of those, mentioned under the foregoing Head, it may be said that they are sincere, and settled in the Ground-work of Religion; because they resist many Temptations, and govern the main part of their Lives by the Rules of it: but of these, I fear, it can hardly be said that they do both truly understand, and heartily believe, the Nature, and Importance of what they profess; because whenever any considerable Trial offers itself, (which alone can prove whether a Man deceiveth himself in this Matter, or not,) they find no Strength, no Assistance, in those Principles which they suppose or profess themselves to have; but always renounce them for the sake of some present Profit or Pleasure in sinning. When none, or very little, Fruit is seen to proceed from the good Seed sown; it is a certain Sign that there is some Fault in the Ground in which it is lodged. But,
3. Is the highest Order of wilful Sinners, are to be placed those who are come to such a Pitch in Wickedness, as to contrive and design Evil before-hand; to lay Scenes of Sin, and to invite, or seek out; Temptations and Opportunities for it, with a Resolution of complying, and yielding to them. I cannot conceive any Degree of Sinners beyond this: and it will make but a small Difference in those of this Order, that some of them meet with much fewer Opportunities successful to their Wishes than others do. For in time Eye of God, and of Natural Justice, He hath all the Guilt of Sin, who deliberates and resolves upon the Action, whenever a fair Opportunity shall offer itself to him; and is always prepared for more and more Sins, as more and more Occasions present themselves. That He doth not always meet with these Opportunities, may be happy to others: but is no Alteration of his own inward Guilt. For the Guilt of Sins lies where the Wilfulness of it lies; and that is in the inward Design and deliberate Resolution; the longer Time any Person hath for the deliberating part, enhancing and encreasing the Wilfulness of the Action.
THUS, in the Account of the Gospel, Murthers; Adulteries, Fornications, and all Sins, are condemned, as in the Heart; and proceeding out of the Heart: that is, as designed, and resolved upon, within. In the Eye of our Lord, He is an Adulterer, who hath deliberately resolved upon the committing Adultery; whether the Opportunity doing it ever present itself, or not: And so He is a Murtherer, that is, He hath the Guilt of Murder before God, who hath resolved and decreed within himself to take away his Neighbour's Life unjustly; whether He ever meet with a favourable Opportunity, or not.
AND tho' Human Governours cannot teach the Mind, or discover the secret Intention, but by the outward Act; and so cannot reasonably judge of Guilt but by the outward Act: yet there is all the Reason in the World that Almighty God should always judge of Guilt by the inward Act and Design; because it always lies there, and because He knows the inward Act of the mind in it self, much more perfectly than We can know it from any outward, or open Act. Nay, we ourselves never condemn the outward Action, but when it appears, at least, to have proceeded from a bad Design within. Who ever blamed a Machine, or Engine, or thought that guilty of Murther; because Men's Lives have been taken away by the Violence of it? Or who ever thought a Brute guilty, in the Sense in which a reasonable Creature is so, for having been the Occasion of a Man's Death? Nay, who ever condemned a Man as deserving Punishment, if, through unavoidable Inadvertance, or designing Good and Kindness, he hath proved the Interment of Death to a Person, to whom he is known to have meant no Evil? Yet in all these Cases there is the material Action which is in all Murthers; a taking away the Life of a Man: notwithstanding which, Guilt is not supposed to belong to it, because there wants the Design, the Deliberation, and the Resolution, knowingly to do the Action. All this shows plainly that it is in these that the Evil of Sin lies: and that by these, the Men who have but few Opportunities of bringing their inward Resolutions to outward Acts, may be made equal in Guilt to those who have many more Opportunities of carrying their designed Wickedness into Action; that is, if they have an equal Number of the same evil Designs within, and wicked deliberate Resolutions. We may, indeed, suppose an accidental Difference in this, that one Man's Heart may relent and alter, when the Opportunity offers it self; and another's may not. But of this God alone can judge: and therefore, to Him alone it belongs to do it. These are all the several Orders, and Degrees, of willful Sinners, which I can think of: and to one or other of these, All that come under that Name may be reduced.
I SHALL only observe farther the Difference between these Three sorts of wilful Sinners, with respect to the Habit of sinning. For though it be impossible to define exactly what Number of wiful Sins shall constitute an habitual Sinner; as it is, in any Case, what particular Number of Actions are necessary to constitute an Habit, or Custom: yet it is manifest that the first sort of Sinners cannot be called habitual Sinners, because the main Tenour of their Lives is governed by the Moral Rules of the Gospel; and it is only in some few particular Instances of Temptation that they have been overcome, and transported from the general Bent and Bias of their Lives, in the Course of which they have triumphed over many mote of the same sort of Trials, and Difficulties. It is manifest, in the next place, that the two other sorts of wilful Sinners may justly be called habitual: because even the better sort of them give themselves up to the Power of all considerable Temptations; suffering themselves to be carried by them into Sin; and much more frequently yielding to the Strength of the Trials they meet with, than using all the Force of their Souls to resist and overcome them. But with this remarkable Difference, that the one of them do not design or resolve upon Sin before-hand; or please themselves with the Thought and Deliberation concerning it: whereas the other sort have given up themselves to contrive their own Sins; to be their own Tempters, and to yield to their own Temptations.
BUT though there be this very great Difference between these Three sorts of wilful Sinners; yet they agree in this, that they have all, (the lowest as well as the highest Degree of them,) done what they ought not to have done; that they may all justly fear a Punishment from God, proportionable to their several Estates; that they all stand in need of an Act of Grace, and Favour, from the great Judge of the World; of Terms of Condescension, below those of exact and rigorous Justice: in order to their Reconciliation with an offended God; and to well-grounded Peace, and Satisfaction within themselves.
THE Terms of which Reconciliation and Favour, I laid down at the beginning of this Discourse: and shall distinctly prosecute, one after another; in my following Sermons.